A few days ago, BBC Newsnight showed a programme by Maajid Nawaz entitled “Who speaks for British Muslims” (you can see it below). Over the past few days, there’s been a huge uproar about how he could have dared to include me – an ex-Muslim – as a “minority voice”.
In the programme I explained why I define myself as an ex-Muslim. It is not enough for me to call myself an atheist when I receive death threats for leaving Islam. Calling myself ex-Muslim is a public challenge to Islam, Islamism and its death penalty for apostates. Until people are free to come and go as they please and without fear, there is a political necessity to label myself in this way.
The point of the programme though is not that I represent the “Muslim community” but that regressive self-appointed imams and Islamist organisations do not necessarily do so. This is an important point that is often ignored in the media and by Government.
There is no homogeneous “Muslim community”. The “community” includes feminists, gay rights activists and those deemed apostates. Muslim does not equate Islamist; Muslim does not equate support for stonings, amputations, gender segregation and women’s inequality.
After all, people’s ethnicity, religion, gender, race, class, ability, sexuality, identity… do not define them; it is their politics and choices that do. Subsequently, Islamists can represent some non-Muslims like Ken Livingstone and George Galloway. And I can represent and have the support of some Muslims.
I always find it funny how people like me have always been readily included in statistics to show the vast numbers in the ‘Muslim world’. Islamists will even say that converts are actually reverts – that is until of course we dissent. Then people like me no longer have the right to speak on such matters.
But I have just as much a stake in this debate as anyone else – Muslim or not – because to a large extent my life depends on it. As Islamists tell me all the time, no one is allowed to leave Islam and doing so especially publicly goes beyond the matter of apostasy to a matter of treason. This is they say is deserving of capital punishment in all countries.
Identity politics has so shrunk the space for debate that it automatically excludes those who do not fit within the prescribed identity or “community”. You must be “Muslim” to speak about Islam and the most regressive Islamist at that.
But I am not asking for anyone’s permission to speak. I will speak and the Islamists and their apologists will just have to get used to that.