Earlier this year, Maryam Namazie was approached by the production company making the BBC documentary ‘When Tommy met Mo’, about the interaction between Tommy Robinson and Mo Ansar. They asked if we could put them in touch with any women who had been discriminated against in British sharia courts. We declined to help because framing the issue in this way was severely detrimental to the women in question, who could potentially be portrayed as siding with the leader of the EDL, an organisation responsible for intimidating Muslims and pushing forth a racist agenda of collective guilt.
We discussed this in a letter from the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. (Whilst circumstances changed during the filming leading to a different narrative direction, our warning remains relevant to any and all discussions surrounding Islam and Islamism in modern Britain.)
Sharia courts and the issue of Islam and Islamism are important issues of universal rights, secularism and one law for all and of combating misogyny and religious obscurantism – issues that should not be framed within the context of two far-Right extremes of Tommy Robinson on the one hand and the faux-progressive, reactionary apologia of Mo Ansar on the other.
As you well know, Tommy Robinson leads a racist movement that engages in collective guilt against all Muslims… Not only does providing him with publicity by making him engage in a high profile programme like this confer a legitimacy on him, it also allows those who wish to stifle all critical scrutiny of certain precepts of Islam to stigmatise them as being in the realm of a far-Right response. This allows reactionaries to effectively usher in a narrative that conflates a secular rational critique of Islam with the bigoted agenda of the likes of Tommy Robinson. It is just one way of asserting a kind of proxy blasphemy code into the debate around religion in modern Britain, and it is something that ex-Muslims have to deal with already. This is deeply disheartening to us.
Moreover, whilst giving publicity to Tommy Robinson, this documentary will also give publicity to the reactionary Mo Ansar who will use the platform provided by you to position himself as a moderate and progressive when he is actually far from that. Mo Ansar has cultivated a media image of being benign, tolerant and “progressive” in his views, and has used the profile of an opponent of the far-Right EDL to project this image. But many secularists, liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims have been concerned at how easy it is for a social reactionary like him to gain this perception amongst parts of the Left and the media… Moreover, Mo Ansar engages with Islamist organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir and Cordoba Foundation. He also supports the Islamist coalition, Hefazat, that amongst other things seeks to execute vocal atheists in Bangladesh. The many reactionary positions of Mo Ansar has been catalogued here. A man with ties to Islamism who advises a domestic abuse victim to remain with her abuser is in no way merely a “Muslim commentator and interfaith advisor” as you call him.
Relegating important issues such as Islam, Islamism and Sharia courts to two polarising and far-Right figures ignores the complexities and does a disservice to the issues and the many dissenters who oppose both.
Clearly, your “documentary” will empower reactionaries, stifle progressive dissent, and marginalise truly progressive voices at a time when these are the voices that should be heard.
Tommy Robinson has now left the EDL and is working with the group Quilliam. We sincerely hope that he is a changed man and that in the future he will not engage in his former rhetoric or actions, nor will he apologise for or give succour to the kind of marches that were the hallmark of the EDL. We are cautious about his re-invention and must wait for proof of actions and not just words in order to ascertain whether he is indeed a changed man.
A word to the BBC: How much longer will the BBC be fixated with the apologists for Islamism and the far-Right? When will the media subject reactionaries like Ansar to as much critical scrutiny as nationalist reactionaries, and allow the voices of Muslim dissenters, secularists and ex-Muslims to be heard?