I was interviewed by Anne-Marie Tomchak for thirty minutes for BBC Trending on 26 November. Despite my also having referred 4 ex-Muslims, including those who maintained anonymity whilst Tweeting for #ExMuslimBecause due to fears for their safety, the programme spoke to Mobeen Azhar and Rashid Dar, two men who identified themselves as Muslims, about my segment which was highly edited for BBC World Service on 28 November.
The presenter Tomchak and the two Muslim men framed the entire discussion about apostasy and the basic human right to leave and criticise Islam without fear into one that was “hateful,” “bigoted,” “an attack on Muslims,” “Islamophobic,” “opportunistic,” “quite offensive”…
By doing so, they intentionally blurred the distinction between the criticism of Islam (an idea) and Islamism (a far-Right political movement) with bigotry against Muslims. For far too long, apologists like the BBC have conflated the three in order to silence critics by deeming any criticism of Islam and Islamism as bigotry against people. This despite the fact that Muslims are not a homogeneous community or society. There are many secularists, freethinkers and even ex-Muslims amongst them (as the trending of #ExMuslimBecause shows). For every Muslim who opposes ex-Muslims, there are others who support the right of ex-Muslims to leave or criticise Islam without fear.
Nonetheless, Tomchak and her “experts” insist that #ExMuslimBecause was “bad timing” due to the Paris attacks. For apologists, the timing for dissent is never right.
Whilst we mourn our dead in Paris, we must not forget the countless others killed by ISIS and Islamists, including this very month in Lebanon, Nigeria, Mali, Iraq, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan… as well as those executed perfectly legally via Sharia laws in Iran, Saudi Arabia… The refugee crisis is in large part due to this unbridled brutality.
In fact, if there ever was a “right” time to challenge Islam and Islamism, it is now.
Yet Tomchak says: “quite a strident tone coming from Maryam Namazie and the way she uses the term Islamists,” whilst Azhar says: “it’s quite uncompromising since there are many shades of grey amongst Islamists; lumping Islamists together is not going to be most helpful”… Luckily, many Muslims do not have the sympathy for Islamism that Azhar and Tomchak show. After all, Islamism kills more Muslims than anyone else.
What is embarrassingly obvious in this BBC report is that along with the misinformation on the “theory” behind apostasy laws which kills apostates as we speak, any patronising “concern” for Muslims is fundamentally about defending Islam and Islamism at the expense of dissenters.
That’s why their response to #ExMuslimBecause is so hateful; it sees dissent through Islamist eyes.
It is also why the report widely misses the mark for basic standards in objective journalism.
Maybe this example will help Tomchak and the BBC understand what they have got so very wrong (though I am not holding my breath). What they’ve done in their report on #ExMuslimBecause is similar to labelling critics of the Magdelene Laundries or Symphsiotomy as “strident,” “Catholic bashers” or “openly hostile to the Catholic Church.” Such accusations do a gross injustice to those who are merely demanding what Tomchak and the two Muslim men take for granted – the right to believe in what one wants without fear.
I know the BBC and its “Muslim community specialists” would have preferred us to raise #ExMuslimBecause in private over coffee. Regressive laws and fascist movements, however, are not pushed back over private chats but via normalising the taboo and through very public challenges and renunciations.
Every movement – from the demand to end racial apartheid, for gender equality, and LGBT rights – were battles fought in the public square. The right to apostasy and blasphemy is no different.
Remove all the BBC’s bogus accusations and one fact remains: the right to religion comes with a corresponding right to be free from religion. #ExMuslimBecause is part of the effort to bring about that hugely important change.