Ayatollah BBC and #ExMuslimBecause

6I 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.

When Tommy met Mo

b03ghfypEarlier 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?

Opposing Censorship

cwtat

Following One Law for All’s statement on Channel 4 and the BBC’s censorship and blasphemy-law-by-stealth of a film adaptation of DV8 Physical Theatre’s “Can We Talk About This?”, they have issued the following statement entitled ‘Opposing Censorship’:

Human rights activist Maryam Namazie recently posted a blog about the reluctance from Channel 4 and the BBC to produce a film adaptation of Can We Talk About This?

Here is a statement from DV8 Physical Theatre:

DV8’s company name stands for both ‘deviate’ and ‘dance and video 8’. From the company’s very beginning we have been committed to recording our work on film. Our very earliest works were recorded on video 8 film. As the company’s reputation grew, our films were commissioned by the major broadcasters and produced professionally. They have been screened worldwide, and are taught as part of the National curriculum of dance, theatre and performance studies. We are aware that much of the company’s reputation is based on these films – their reach is many times more than that of a live touring production. But the films don’t only benefit DV8, they were hugely successful to the commissioning broadcasters, too: jointly the four DV8 films have won 31 international awards including three Prix Italia, an International Emmy, and a Rose d’Or.

Read the rest of their statement here.

Oppose Channel 4 and BBC’s censorship when it comes to Islam

cwtat2Dear Friend,

You may remember Lloyd Newson’s verbatim hit play ‘Can We Talk About This?’ which enjoyed a successful run at London’s National Theatre and Sydney Opera House amongst others. The play focused on the reluctance of media and political figures to openly discuss the dangers of Islamism and Sharia law.

Featuring speeches and interviews with leading figures from across the political and cultural spectrum, including One Law for All’s Maryam Namazie and Anne Marie Waters, the play explored issues of freedom of speech, censorship and violence, as well as the impact of significant events such as the ‘Rushdie Affair’, the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh, and the Mohammed cartoons.

‘Can We Talk About This?’ received rave reviews around the world and won several high profile awards, including ‘Best Dance or Ballet’ (Helpmann Awards, Australia 2012) and dance ‘Production of the Year’ (Germany, 2011/12).

Channel 4 decided not to commission the play due to the ‘current climate’ even though Lloyd Newson’s last film, the Cost of Living, was commissioned for Channel 4 and won 17 international awards, including a Prix Italia and the coveted Rose D’or. Similarly the BBC, which had commissioned previous films from Newson, declined to film the play though they broadcast ‘Jerry Springer – The Opera’ (which featured Jesus Christ in a nappy). So much for the supposed ‘bravery’ of Channel 4 and the ‘impartiality’ of the BBC when it comes to Islam! [Read more…]