DV8 Physical Theatre ‘Can we talk about this?’ opens tonight

DV8 Physical Theatre’s ‘Can We talk about this?’ opens tonight at The National Theatre. You can buy tickets here. By the way, I’m a character in it. I’ll be going to see it soon too and will also be speaking at the NT Platform on 19 March with DV8 Director LLoyd Newson and Inayat Banglawala on Freedom of Speech, Multiculturalism and Islam. Here is more information on talk.

The Saudi government will be held accountable for Hamza Kashgari’s life and security

We demand immediate freedom for Hamza Kashgari!
Open letter to the Saudi Embassy in London-UK

To Whom It May Concern:

We are outraged to learn that 23 year old writer Hamza Kashgari is in prison after being deported to Saudi Arabia from Malaysia where he had fled in fear of his life. The deportation of a person with a well-founded fear of persecution is a violation of human and refugee rights. We demand that he be immediately released and his life safeguarded.

Kashgari is not a criminal; as a poet and writer, he was merely Tweeting an imagined conversation with Mohammad, Islam’s prophet. This is his basic human right to free expression and would not be deemed a crime in many countries world-wide. It is because he is a Saudi national and due to Sharia law that the expressions of Kashgari and others, including many Muslims who question, criticise and challenge Islam, become matters of life and death. His persecution is within a context of on-going state repression, lack of social justice, and restrictions on rights and freedoms for all citizens via Sharia law and repression.

We call on the Saudi government to immediately and unconditionally release Hamza Kashgari. It is not Hamza who must in condemned but the officials and clergymen calling for his death. His persecution is not justice but barbarity.

Any harm or punishment meted out against Hamza will be met with world-wide public outrage. Countless groups and individuals have already come to the fore demanding his release. Here is one such petition in his defence supported by well known writers, campaigners and defenders of free expression.

Needless to say, the Saudi government will be held accountable for Hamza Kashgari’s safety and life.

We look forward to your earliest response on this urgent matter.

Sincerely,
Yanar Mohammed, President, Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Iraq
Houzan Mahmoud, International Spokesperson, Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran

***

Please sign the petition in support of Hamza Kashgari. Tell your friends, family and colleagues to sign it. The more we keep the spotlight on his case, the more difficult it will be for the Saudi government to harm him. Sign it nowwww! Please!

(Photo via Free Hamza Kashgari Facebook Page, which you should join too.)

11 February 2012: An Important Stand for Free Expression

One Law for All held a successful rally in defence of free expression on Saturday 11 February 2012 opposite the Houses of Parliament. Hundreds braved the cold weather to join the rally at Old Palace Yard.

The rally followed several incidents in London recently where freedom of expression was curtailed in favour of fear of causing offence. In one incident, a talk on sharia law by One Law for All’s Anne Marie Waters was cancelled following threats of violence. Rhys Morgan was told by his school to remove a picture of Jesus and Mo from his Facebook page – a picture he had used in solidarity with the University College London Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society who had been asked by their student union to remove the same image. Both UCL and the London School of Economics have since passed draconian motions which will further restrict religious criticism or satire at their schools.

Speakers at the rally included A C Grayling, Nick Cohen, Caroline Cox, Gita Sahgal, Keith Porteous Wood, and Rhys Morgan. The event was sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK and featured Richard Dawkins who told the crowd to ‘stop being so damn respectful’ and that without freedom of speech, society would be a ‘scientific, technological, moral dark age’. [Read more…]

The Walrus and the Carpenter

Hassan Radwan just sent me a link to the video clip of the Saudi Sheikh Nasser Al Omar crying whilst relating the ‘offence’ that Hamza Kashgari has committed by tweeting about Mohammad, Islam’s prophet. As is expected, the Sheikh quickly gathers his emotions and calls for Hamza’s death.

The sheikh’s crocodile tears remind me of the Islamic mourning ceremonies I have been to in Iran where the mullah cries during his sermon. He seems inconsolable but then quickly stops ‘crying’, and starts eating and gossiping as if nothing has happened.

All in a day’s work.

Or as Hassan puts it:

I don’t why but he reminds me of the Walrus in Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” who cried tears of pity for the Oysters while greedily eating as many as he could.

It would be funny if it wasn’t a matter of life of death… See the Sheikh’s fine acting qualities for yourself:

By the way, don’t forget to support the campaign to free Hamza; please sign the petition.

Join Free Hamza Facebook Page.

There must be more people who want Hamza to live not die

The Facebook page الشعب السعودي يريد القصاص من حمزة كاشغري ‘The Saudi People Demand Ghisas [Retribution] for Hamza Kashgari’ has 22,500 members as of now.

And the Free Hamza Kashgari page you ask? 2,500.

Facebook sees no problem with the first Facebook page though complaints have been made. It’s ‘their culture’ after all.

But a call for Ghisas under Sharia law is a call for ‘retribution’ and be assured that it doesn’t mean tweeting a poem offensive to Hamza…

Now I know there are more people that want Hamza to live not die, many of them in Saudi Arabia.

Well, let’s see it please.

Join Free Hamza Kashgari Facebook page.

Also, please sign the petition.

Freedom for Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari

On 12 February, Malaysian police deported 23 year old Saudi columnist Hamza Kashgari, who fled Saudi Arabia after making comments on Twitter claimed by some to be “insulting” to the prophet Muhammad. There have been widespread calls from Islamists for his execution; in Saudi Arabia, blasphemy is punishable by death.

Theocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia will not tolerate the most basic freedom of thought and expression. We defend the right of everyone in the world to freely express their views, including to criticise religion. We condemn the Malaysian government for detaining Kashgari who had fled the country and handing him over to the Saudi authorities. We are also concerned to learn of reports that INTERPOL may have promulgated a Saudi government warrant for his arrest. The implications of this mean that no asylum seeker or refugee is free from persecution even after having fled.

We demand that the Saudi authorities immediately and unconditionally release Kashgari. He has not committed any crime.

To support the campaign, please sign the petition.

Join Free Hamza Facebook Page.

Initial Signatures: [Read more…]

INTERPOL, you have done this before…

INTERPOL has issued a statement saying it is not involved in the arrest or deportation of Saudi blogger, Hamza Kashgari:

‘INTERPOL confirms that it has NOT been involved in the case involving a Saudi blogger arrested in Malaysia and deported to Saudi Arabia. No INTERPOL channels, its National Central Bureaus in Kuala Lumpur and Riyadh nor its General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, France were involved at any time in this case.

If it says so – though I am skeptical especially since it has done this before.

In 2009, a number of us wrote to its office complaining about Iranian opposition leaders being included on its wanted list at the request of the Islamic regime of Iran! In a response to Fariborz Pooya’s complaint this is what its Legal Affairs Office wrote:

From: Office of Legal Affairs – General Secretariat

Our Ref.: OLA/35010-176/5.2./CG/EH/vp

Date: 15 January 2010

Subject: Your request to INTERPOL dated 13 December 2009

Dear Mr Pooya,

The INTERPOL General Secretariat acknowledges receipt of your message on 13 December 2009, concerning Mr Kurosh Modaresi.

Please be informed that should Mr Modarsi wish to access to or challenge the information registered in INTERPOL’s files, a request must be sent by postal mail to the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files, which is the independent expert body in charge of processing requests for access or modification of information recorded in INTERPOL’s files….

Really?

I am not sure how Kashgari would have had the time or information to challenge INTERPOL’s files had they promulgated an arrest warrant issued by a state [corrected].

INTERPOL needs to rethink warrants instigated via oppressive regimes. This may be the case that will ensure that it does.

But a young man’s life is still at stake…

Malaysia must pay for this and Saudi Arabia too: Hamza must live

Police have confirmed that Hamza Kashgari was sent back to Saudi Arabia on Sunday despite protests. A friend has emailed to say the Malysian authorities refused to allow a lawyer to talk to him.

Malaysia’s home ministry has said that ‘The nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities’. Which basically means that any asylum seeker or refugee must be returned as it is a case for the government in question!?

Malaysia must be made to pay for this heinous act of returning someone to their possible death (something that Western governments also do all the time by deporting asylum seekers).

And Saudi Arabia must feel such rage that it dare not touch a hair on Hamza’s head.

Saudi Arabia be warned. We will not let you kill Hamza. Be warned.

A campaign for Hamza will be announced shortly.

(via Sigmund)

But you cannot shut us up

It was a good day for free expression. Hundreds turned up in the freezing cold in London to defend it and there were solidarity rallies and actions in various parts of the world. A report will follow soon, including videos on Youtube and photos, but in the meanwhile you can hear the brilliant speakers on the Pod Delusion.

To start with, here’s the Jesus and Mo author’s statement for the rally. More speeches will follow.

When was the last time you rushed into a place of worship while a service was taking place, and told the preacher to shut up? My guess is that you have never done this while sober.

Because you know that it is impolite to butt in to other people’s conversations and demand that they stop talking.

And yet that is what would-be censors are always trying to do. At St Mary’s College, on other people’s Facebook pages, at literature festivals, and on the website of Jesus and Mo, they have butted in with their rude – and sometimes menacing – demands for silence.

It is the height of bad manners. Those of us who understand the value of free expression wouldn’t dream of being so discourteous.

In fact, far from telling believers to shut up, we WANT them to keep talking. Because that is how their ideas are exposed to light and – inevitably – laughter. [Read more…]

Free Expression Day: Today I go for Hamza, Alex, Asia, Zaniar and Loghman

I go today to the 11 February Rally in London for Free Expression for all those who cannot be there because of efforts to silence them. Their lives are intertwined with ours and this day is about them more than anything else. It’s about putting people first not religions and beliefs.

I hope you will all join me – if not in London than wherever you are across the globe – to defend this right.

For more information on the events today, or to post reports of your own, go to One law for All.

I won’t voluntarily agree to self-censorship

Islamist Inayat Bunglawala says the amount of negative stories is “demonizing” Islam and calls on the government to do all it can to “ensure a fairer portrayal, a more balanced portrayal of the faith of Islam” in the British media when appearing before the Leveson Inquiry (which is looking into increasing government oversight into the media, including bloggers).

Err, it’s easy to have a balanced portrayal. It’s Islamism that’s demonizing Islam more than anything else. We’re merely reporting on the ensuing carnage.

Getting rid of Islamism will do a lot to help save Islam at least as a private affair but that is not what Inayat wants, now is it? He wants us to stop talking so he and his buddies can bulldoze over civil society. Which is why he interchanges Islam and Muslim in order to make it seem as if criticism of a belief and a person are one and the same…

And of course everyone is so keen to appease at our expense. Lord Justice Leveson expressed sympathy for Bunglawala’s plea and said that any government regulation of the British media would have to extend to the Internet and include blogs.

Lord Hunt, Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, has even gone so far as to invite bloggers on current affairs to voluntarily agree to regulation.

Well sorry but that’s not happening. I won’t agree to self-censorship even if you try and force me by regulating what I can say.

This tiny little thing called free expression is all I have at my disposal to fight Islamism, and no one is going to stop me from saying what needs to be said.

(Link via Roy Brown)

Religion in power is the end of any form of democratic politics

The below is a section of Maryam’s speech On the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa at a meeting in Stockholm, Sweden on 4 February 2012:

The ‘Arab Spring’ represents a period of revolutions. It’s exciting, isn’t it?

People in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya… have rise up against dictatorships. It’s a period of immense human development. It shows how it is still possible for people to come out onto the streets and revolt and that revolution is truly the most civilised form of resistance against oppression. It has proven the anti-revolution and pro-status quo politicians wrong. It has also signalled the beginning of the end of the racist social policy of cultural relativism and multi-culturalism where people are boxed into imagined homogenous ‘communities’ with dictatorship and Islamism being deemed as part of their ‘culture’.

If anything the similarities in form and content between the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa and the 99% movement or occupy Wall Street or where have you prove this. Both are based on the actual occupation of public spaces – citizens taking back control. Content-wise, too, their demands are deeply rooted in a criticism of the current economic crisis, capitalism, inequality, mass unemployment, and poverty. The revolutions in the region were sparked by Mohammad Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate, who set himself on fire when banned from selling fruit to make a meagre living.

Whilst some have already started calling it an ‘Arab Winter’ and surrendering to Islamists on people’s behalves, these have not been Islamist revolutions. The foot soldiers have been workers, the unemployed, youth, women, the poor… Islamists didn’t spearhead the revolutions nor were they instrumental in them. They were nowhere to be seen. And the revolutions’ demands were not Islamist ones. After all, Islamism has certain characteristics – such as the demand for Sharia law or veiling, which were not people’s demands when they took to the streets. [Read more…]

This is why we’re defending free expression – for the likes of Hamza Kashgari

Hamza Kashgari, a young journalist, was banned from writing in Saudi Arabia by the Saudi Minister of Information and has reportedly been forced to flee after being accused of blasphemy, atheism, and apostasy and following calls for his head.

His crime? Tweeting about Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, including about how he’s equal to him and how he hates some of Mohammad’s characteristics… (Only some?)

The Saudi Minister of Information ‘wept’ upon reading Hamza’s tweets ‘offending’ the prophet (and not as you might expect when he heard that someone must flee for his life for merely tweeting and despite having had to apologise)…

And, dear readers, this is why we’re defending free expression on 11 February – for the likes of Hamza Kashgari.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: It seems the Saudi government is trying to get Hamza back from wherever he has fled to in order to prosecute him. We need to step in and defend him so watch this space so we can see what we can do to help him.

(Via @SaudiHope on Twitter)

11 February: Be there or be square!

Join the International Day for Free Expression
Defend the right to criticise religions and beliefs
Saturday 11 February 2012

London, UK
Rally at Old Palace Yard (across from the House of Lords)
2:00-4:00pm

Speakers are: Richard Dawkins (Scientist); A C Grayling (Philosopher); Alex Gabriel (Blogger); Anne Marie Waters (One Law for All); Caroline Cox (Peer); Derek Lennard (Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association); Faisal Gazi (Spittoon.org); Gita Sahgal, (Centre for Secular Space); Hasan Afzal (Stand for Peace); Jennifer Hardy (Queen Mary Atheism Humanism and Secularism Society); Jenny Bartle (National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies); Jim Fitzpatrick (MP); Kate Smurthwaite (Comedian); Kenan Malik (Writer); Lilith (Poet, Anti-Injustice Movement) ; Marco Tranchino (Central London Humanist Group); Mark Embleton (Atheism UK); Maryam Namazie (One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain); Nick Cohen (Writer); Nick Doody (Comedian); Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters); Rashid Ali (Centri); Rhys Morgan (Student activist); Roy Brown (International Humanist and Ethical Union); Rupert Sutton (Student Rights); Sohaila Sharifi (Equal Rights Now); Sue Cox (Survivors Voice Europe); Sundas Hoorain (London School of Economics Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society); Susan Zhuang (University College London Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society); Keith Porteous Wood (National Secular Society); and Yasmin Rehman (Campaigner). There will also be messages from Jesus and Mo creator. Iranian Secular Society’s Fariborz Pooya will be the Master of Ceremonies. For more information, go to its Facebook Page. [Read more…]

If we are really a majority, which I believe, can we please see it on the streets for a change?

One Law for All spokesperson Maryam Namazie was interviewed for this week’s Pod Delusion at the recent Centre for Free Inquiry conference on Blasphemy. She spoke about the need to support Atheist societies on campus and called for people to take to the streets to defend free expression on 11 February.

“I think the rally is important for two reasons. One is that Atheist student groups don’t feel alone, because they are being bullied, they are being intimidated, and they’re being called all sorts of things, for merely posting a ‘Jesus and Mo’ image on their Facebook page, or expressing their beliefs. I want to give them a sense that they’re not alone. There are a lot of people who support them, who’ll defend their right to free expression. [Read more…]

More from the marketplace of outrage

Sikhs offended by Jay Leno’s comments have filed a lawsuit against him for his ‘racist’ comments. His crime? He made a joke about the US Presidential candidate’s wealth, saying that the Sikh Golden Temple was Romney’s summer home.

In an ironic turn of events, the Ahmadiyyas who were so outraged by the Jesus and Mo cartoon and ‘politely’ requested that the UCL atheist group remove it from their Facebook page have now in turn been told by the Kirklees Muslim Action Committee that they have no right to put on an exhibition about the Qur’an, as they ‘are not even Muslims’. Despite causing offence, the Ahmadiyyas say: ‘We believe the Holy Qur’an is our holy book and we hope to show it to the public.’ The exhibition has been postponed on police advice.

And so the saga continues…

In Kenan Malik’s interview with author Monica Ali for his book From Fatwa to Jihad, Ali says:

What we have developed today is a marketplace of outrage. And if you set up a marketplace of outrage you have to expect everyone to enter it. Everyone now wants to say, “My feelings are more hurt than yours”.

And that my dear friends is why not causing offence is NOT a principle.

(Ahmadiyya link via Sigmund; Harry’s Place link via Adam Barnett)

Jesus and Mo is the point

Some atheists are not happy with One Law for All’s use of the Jesus and Mo cartoon on leaflets to promote the 11 February Day in defence of free expression. They feel that since the Jesus and Mo cartoons have been deemed offensive, it is best not to use them.

But that’s the whole point isn’t it?

We’re rallying in order to say that the right to offend is part of free expression. No one needs to rally for inoffensive speech, do they?

And if I hear one more hypothetical on why we shouldn’t offend if we can avoid it, I might just scream. The latest one: ‘If a Muslim comes to your house you will not plaster the Jesus and Mo cartoon all over to offend them on purpose now will you?’

Look my Muslim parents don’t remove their Korans, hands of Fatima or whatever they have hanging everywhere when I enter their home, now do they? They don’t rush about saying we must hide all religious symbols and books since our atheist daughter is arriving. They assume that I can manage to enter their home, have a wonderful visit, all without being offended and screaming atheism-phobia.

Correspondingly, why is it that you think I would need to remove a Jesus and Mo cartoon from my fridge let’s say if my parents visit or for that matter other Muslim family members and friends?

Ahh the well-meaning. If only they were not always so well-meaning at my expense…

On a serious note though, this is what happens when you buy into bogus accusations. If people believe that you must even censor yourself in your own home/Facebook page to avoid causing offence, can you imagine what they expect you NOT to say in the public space…

Please, if we leave it to them, this is the beginning of the end of free expression. But luckily we’re not.

Charges of offence and Islamophobia are secular fatwas

Here is my speech at today’s Blasphemy Conference in London:

There have been a number of recent attacks on free expression here in the UK. They include 17 year old Rhys Morgan being forced to remove a Jesus and Mo cartoon or face expulsion from his Sixth Form College and demands by the UCL Union that the Atheist society remove a Jesus and Mo cartoon from its Facebook page. There has also been a threat of violence, police being called, and the cancellation of a meeting at Queen Mary College where my One Law for All co-spokesperson Anne Marie Waters was to deliver a speech on Sharia. More recently, LSE’s Student Union has passed a resolution ‘No to racism; no to Islamophobia’ and told the Atheist society to remove its affiliation with the Student Union again over a Jesus and Mo cartoon on its Facebook page.

None of this is new. Having been involved in the fight against Islamism and the Islamic Republic of Iran for some 25 years now I have faced many such threats, attempts at intimidation and censorship, bans, calls for the cancellation of events, and bogus accusations.

But for Islamism, this is business as usual even if it is a university Student Union acting as its go between. Islamism has been wreaking havoc in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere for several decades – with a majority of its victims being ‘Muslims’ or those labelled as such. Where it has political power, Islamists forgo all niceties reserved for western public opinion about ‘respect’ and ‘not causing offence’ and imprison and murder anyone who speaks their minds and ‘offends’ their norms and sensibilities.

Despite their track record, it is absurd how the fundamental debate on Islam and free expression here in the west is framed within a context of offence, racism and Islamophobia.

In some ways, these bogus accusations serve Islamism in the same way that Sharia law serves them where they are in power. It helps to threaten, intimidate and silence criticism and dissent. In my opinion, charges of offence and Islamophobia are the equivalent of secular fatwas. [Read more…]