Charlie Hebdo: There is no “culture of offence”

mohammed-cartoons-charlie-hebdo-muhammed-cartoons-2012-2Below are my opening remarks at a 29 January panel discussion organised by UCL Atheist Society entitled “Living in outrageous times: Charlie Hebdo and the culture of offence”.

The two other panellists debating the issue reminded me of Caroline Fourest’s saying: “Racism must not excuse fundamentalism and fundamentalism must not excuse racism”. Peter Bradley, director of Speakers’ Corner Trust and Charlie Klendjian of the Lawyers’ Secular Society did just that. Bradley was of the opinion that if one was going to offend, they should be held accountable(!?) whilst Klendjian trivialised racism and prejudice and conflated Islam, Islamism and Muslims. (As an aside, I wish the debate had been filmed as it would have been the end of the Lawyers’ Secular Society or at least Charlie Klendjian. Having worked with the LSS in the past (but no longer doing so), I do hope someone will save the organisation from Klendjian who – along with his cohorts at Sharia Watch and UKIP – are taking the LSS down the path of xenophobia and bigotry.)

Anyway, here are my initial remarks:

If I was to make only one point on the Charlie Hebdo massacre it would be that the main issue is not “the culture of offence” because in reality we are all offended all the time whatever our beliefs – Muslim or atheist, Christian, Jewish… I’m offended right now – the fact that I must have this debate in the 21 century offends me.

Offence is subjective and what offends one is funny or completely insignificant to another – even when it comes to that which is deemed sacred and taboo by the gatekeepers of power.

Take the image of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet. There is a rich historical and artistic tradition of depicting Mohammad over many centuries but it’s not allowed today. Why?

“The culture of offence” is just the packaging which blames the victims and provides legitimacy to the Islamists and their unbridled violence and terrorism. You will often hear – especially in the British press – that the Charlie massacre is to be condemned BUT the cartoonists did offend “Muslims” thereby implying that they deserved what they got.

What the “culture of offence” packaging conveniently ignores is that not all “Muslims” are offended by the cartoons. Muslims are no more a homogeneous group than Christians, Jews or the French or British. Also, many are not practising Muslims; there are atheists and agnostics amongst them. And many are believers who are also secularists and feminists and anti-Islamists and gay and unveiled who eat bacon and don’t feel offended by the cartoon Peppa pig.

This is obvious. Even in the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a Muslim policeman, Ahmed Merabet was killed whilst an Algerian copy editor Mustapha Ourad was gunned down in Charlie’s hallway. Many Muslims (or those of “Muslim heritage”) joined rallies and held up “Je Suis Charlie” banners. You have heard of the East London French Muslim cafe owner who was threatened for putting up a “Je Suis Charlie” sign in his cafe. There’s Lassana Bathily, the Malian-born Muslim employee who hid customers at the Paris kosher supermarket and saved lives. And it’s not just people in Europe who supported Charlie. In Iran – a theocracy where blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, enmity against god… and another 130 offences are punishable by death – a rally of journalists in support of Charlie Hebdo was attacked and broken up by security agents wielding clubs and chains. A newspaper was shut down for publishing a photo showing solidarity with the publication. Over 180 journalists who condemned the attack are facing threats from the regime. In Turkey, two columnists from a daily are under investigation for ‘religious defamation’ for featuring the Charlie cover…

So there is no homogeneous “culture of offence”. Some are offended, some are not and most of those who are offended will not go on to kill for it.

The “culture of offence” is a smokescreen. It doesn’t exist. What is packaged as the “culture of offence” is really Islamism’s imposition of blasphemy rules and theocracy under the guise of “Muslim” culture. This is validated by multiculturalism as a social policy and cultural relativism, which sees “communities” and societies as homogeneous and one and the same with the Islamic states and far-Right political movements imposing their rules via force and intimidation.

In Europe, Islamists hide behind a “culture of offence” and also terms like Islamophobia to impose their rules and silence and terrorise dissenters. In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Syria, they have no time for such niceties. There, the “offenders” are called apostates and blasphemers and legally murdered in broad daylight in the same way Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists were “executed”. If you don’t see this, you miss the bigger picture. You need to see Islamism for the international fascist movement that it is and you also need to see the many Charlie Hebdos in Iran, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia – across the globe (including many “Muslims”), who speak and mock that which is deemed sacred by the religious-Right at great risks to their lives.

Whilst many hold the cartoonists responsible for provoking the violence, in reality the cartoons are an excuse. What did Saudi freethinker Raif Badawi do to provoke a sentence of 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes? Or Soheil Arabi sentenced to death in Iran? Or the schoolchildren in Peshawar? Or the girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria? What about the gay men thrown off a building by ISIS? What did they do to “provoke” the threats and abductions and massacres?

Like the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, I am often told not to challenge Sharia or apostasy and blasphemy laws by publicly saying I am an ex-Muslim or not to challenge the Islamists’ hatred of women’s bodies via nude protest. I am told day in and day out to “stop provoking them”. But Islamists need no provocation. All those living 21 century lives are “provocations”. Being a woman, a freethinker, being gay, being unveiled, going to school, driving a car, having sex, falling in love… “provokes” them.

More importantly, though, it is Islamism and the religious-Right, which are the real offence. They are the real provocation and it is they who should be held to account not the many who refuse and resist.

Target the Islamists via mass and political mobilisation and unequivocally without any justification or excuses.

Not Muslims. Not immigrants. [Read more…]

Living in outrageous times: Charlie Hebdo and the culture of offence

ucl-ashI’ll be speaking at the below event tonight:

Living in outrageous times: Charlie Hebdo and the culture of offence
UCLU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society hosts this highly topical panel discussion with three excellent speakers.
29 January 2015
Chadwick G08, UCL
18:00 hours

In light of the recent events in Paris, we ask: do you have the right not to be offended? And if so, at what cost?

For more information, go to Facebook Page.

من چارلى هستم

من چارلى هستم

۱۵ ژانويه ۲۰۱۵

مصاحبه با فعال سياسى بهرام سروش

در مورد كشتار ١٢ نَفَر از كاركنان نشربه طنز چارلي هبدو وسبعا در دنيا محكوم شد. اما بعضي اين ترور را نتيجه كاريكاتور هاي تحريك آميز انها نسبت به اسلام ميدانند. واقعيت اين است كه چارلي هبدو همه مذاهب و قدرت ها را نقد مي كرده است. سوْال اين است كه چرا اسلام بايد حق ويژه اى داشته باشد؟ و آيا سكولاريستها و آتئيست ها هم مستحق  إبراز بيان و وجود هستند؟ به نام به احترام به مذهب صحنه را به اسلامى ها  واگذار کردند- امروز بيش از هر زمانى انتقاد به مذهب لازم است-

اخبار تکان دهنده هفته: شلاق رئيف بدوى

فتوای احمقانه هفته – فتوا عليه خال کوبى از ترکيه

Je Suis Charlie Hebdo

Je Suis Charlie Hebdo
Bread and Roses TV with Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya
14 January 2015
The massacre of 12 at French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo by Islamists has been strongly condemned by people everywhere. Some, however, see it as a consequence of Charlie’s provocative cartoons on Islam and Mohammed. In fact, Charlie criticised all religions and all those in positions of power. Why should Islam have special privileges? And do secularists and unbelievers not deserve the same freedom of expression as believers. In the name of “respect” of religions, Islamists and the religious-Right have been given centre stage at the expense of free expression, which without the right to criticise religion is meaningless. In the era of ISIS, this criticism is needed more than ever. #IAmCharlie #JeSuisCharlie
Shocking News of the Week: Raif Badawi flogged 50 of 1000 lashes after Friday prayers in Saudi Arabia
Insane Fatwa of the week: Turkey’s top religious body has issued a fatwa urging Muslims who have tattoos to repent or have them surgically removed.

A defence of Charlie Hebdo must also turn into defence of other blasphemers and apostates

FRENCH: Toute défense de Charlie Hebdo doit également devenir celle d’autres blasphémateurs et apostats

SPANISH – BELOW

Those of us who have openly criticised Islam and Islamism have faced many a threat and intimidation from the far-Right Islamist movement.

I have had phone calls saying I will be decapitated to recorded messages from the Islamic regime of Iran saying my time is near (yes, they have so many threats to make, they need to use recordings!). I’ve been called every derogatory and threatening term you can imagine from kafir, murtad, munafiq to fitnah and janazie (corpse)…

I don’t think there are many atheist, ex-Muslim or secular activists (including Muslims) like myself who have spoken up publicly and not faced some form of threat or intimidation.

So for us, Charlie Hebdo’s refusal to back down when so many have has meant a great deal over these years. Also, though, in addition to the rage one feels at any such tragedy, the massacre is personal for us.

It could really have been any of us. We are truly all Charlie Hebdo.

With the focus now on Charlie Hebdo and the crucial need and right to criticise Islam and religion, though, let us not forget the many across the globe who face execution or imprisonment for “insulting the prophet” and criticising Islam. Below you will find some examples which include Muslims, believers and atheists; the charges aim not to protect “Muslim sensibilities” as we so often hear in the west but to protect the status quo and the political power of Islamists.

A defence of Charlie Hebdo must also be turned into a defence of the many who refuse and resist.

Most urgent is the case of Raif Badawi who tomorrow on 9 January 2015 faces his flogging sentence. Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” in Saudi Arabia. he is to receive the first 50 torturous lashes tomorrow after Friday prayers.

Columnist Fatma Naoot, accused of insulting Islam, will stand trial on Jan. 28 in Egypt on allegations she criticised Islamic animal sacrifices. [Read more…]

After the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, Support those Fighting the Religious-Right

FRENCH: Après le massacre de Charlie Hebdo, Soutenons ceux qui se battent contre la droite religieuse

SPANISH: Below

1908487_10205228738736122_6331463129153098_nAfter the massacre in Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, expressing indignation, as so many are doing, is not enough.

A quick look at the English-speaking media shows that whilst many condemn the violence itself, they also assert that Charlie Hebdo courted (and maybe deserved?) a strong response from “Muslims”. Charlie’s regular cartoonists did not spare Islam, any other religion, nor fanatics and bigots.

This trend in the media requires our attention. Apparently secularists, agnostics and atheists must keep silent and do not deserve the kind of respect that believers are entitled to; nor can they enjoy free speech to the same degree.

In the name of “respect” of religions and of the religious sentiments of believers, it is indeed the fanatical religious-Right that is being supported and given centre stage. Meanwhile, those who are on the forefront of countering armed fundamentalists are left to their own devices. It is high time to give these secularists prominence, to recognise their courage and their political clarity and to stop labelling them “Islamophobic”.

In October 2014, secularists – including atheists, agnostics and believers from many countries, in particular many Muslim-majority countries, met in London to denounce the religious-Right and to demand being seen as its alternative. It is high time to learn from their analysis and lived experiences.

The tragic massacre in Paris will undoubtedly give fuel to the traditional xenophobic far-Right and the immediate danger is an increase in racism, marginalization and exclusion of people of Muslim descent in Europe and further.  We do not want to witness “anti-Muslim witch hunts” nor do we welcome the promotion of “moderate” Islamists by governments as official political partners. What is needed is a straightforward analysis of the political nature of armed Islamists: they are an extreme-Right political force, working under the guise of religion and they aim at political power. They should be combated by political means and mass mobilisation, not by giving extra privileges to any religion.

Their persistent demand for the extension of blasphemy laws around the world is a real danger for all. France has a long – and now growingly endangered – tradition of secularism; which allows dissent from religions and the right to express this dissent. It has had a rich tradition to mock and caricature powers that be – religious or otherwise. Let us keep this hard won right which cost so many lives in history, and, alas, still does – as Charlie Hebdo’s twelve dead and numerous wounded demonstrate.

Signed:
Marieme Helie Lucas, Algerian Sociologist and Secularism is a Women’s Issue Founder
Maryam Namazie, Iranian-born Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, One Law for All and Fitnah and Co-host of Bread and Roses TV
Karima Bennoune, Professor and Martin Luther King Jr. Hall Research Scholar, University of California, Davis School of Law [Read more…]

For Charlie Hebdo: Rage and Solidarity

la-nouvelle-une-de-charlie-hebdo-sorti-ceI6HTgMy message to Charlie Hebdo’s editor in chief, Gerard Biard:

Dear Gerard

I spoke on a panel with you in November last year at the International Feminist and Secular Network in Paris.

I am writing to express my outrage at the cold-blooded murder of freethinkers at Charlie Hebdo today and to give my unequivocal support.

Freedom of expression and the criticism of religion and Islam are basic rights. Clearly, free expression without the right to criticise religion is meaningless. Throughout history, criticism of religion (that which is deemed sacred or taboo) has been intrinsic to human progress.

In the era of ISIS and the religious-Right, this criticism is a historical necessity and needed more than ever.

The Islamists who killed today said they were “avenging” Islam’s prophet but Mohammed cartoons are merely an excuse. The aim of such acts of terrorism – whether in Paris or Afghanistan – are to defend their theocratic and inhuman values. They must know that we too will defend our human values – secularism, equality, citizenship, the right to religion and to be free from religion, the right to criticise and mock religion… which are not “western” values but universal ones.

Today’s killers are part of the same movement that massacres schoolchildren in Peshawar, throws acid in the faces of “improperly veiled” women in Iran and crucifies secularists in Kobane. They need no excuses to commit murder and mayhem.

The battle to commemorate the lives lost today is an ongoing one. It’s a battle between secularists versus theocrats everywhere. And it is a fight that we have to win. No ifs or buts.

In solidarity

Maryam Namazie

We condemn the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo by Islamic terrorists

The murderous attack today by Islamic terrorists on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo has aroused people’s anger and disgust around the world. Charlie Hebdo is a left, progressive satirical weekly which criticises and ridicules religion and religious beliefs, prejudices and taboos. In 2011 the magazine’s office was firebombed by Islamists for publishing a caricature of Muhammed, and its editor and writers have repeatedly received death threats. In today’s attack 12 people, including the magazine’s editor and three well-known French cartoonists, were killed. This is a direct attack on freedom of expression, on freedom to criticise religion and on civilisation and humanity. [Read more…]

Bravo Charlie Hebdo

In a climate where Islamist murder, violence and intimidation is cowering many into silence and submission,  Charlie Hebdo’s insistence on poking fun at Islam on par with all religions and its refusal to back down despite calls for censorship is one that will be remembered when Islamism is in the dustbins of history.

French professor Marlière writes in the Guardian that the magazine’s aim to reassert its leftwing secular tradition in this climate is more anti-Islamic than anti-clerical.  But anti-Islamism is this era’s anti-clericalism.

He adds that the cartoons are ‘unhelpful’ in a ‘climate of religious and racial prejudice’ but like the Guardian and many a liberal and post-modernist leftist, he misses the point. What is ‘unhelpful’ is Islamism’s murder and mayhem.

Criticising Islam and Islamism is not about prejudice – that is Islamism’s narrative – which has been bought hook, line and sinker by those calling for censorship. In fact, in this day and age, criticism is a historical necessity and legitimate challenge to our era’s inquisition.

Also, what the professor and the Guardian seem to forget is that those most at threat of the Islamist herds are not satirical French publications or even US and French embassies worldwide but the many countless human beings living under Islamism and Sharia law  – a lot of them Muslims – who daily face threats, imprisonment and death for their dissent from and criticism – like Saudi Hamza Kashgari, Indonesian Alex Aan, Egyptian Alber Saber and Pakistani Asia Bibi.

When will the professor and the Guardian side with them?

As the most wonderful Salman Rushdie says: we “need to be braver”.

Yes, clearly we do if we are going to stop this barbarism once and for all…

As an aside, of course Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon is different from the despicable and racist Christian Right film, the Innocence of Muslims. But free expression is not just for those we agree with. And let’s not forget a bad film is just a bad film. The real problem that needs to be addressed head on is Islamism and censorship is the wrong response.

Sorry but Islam and Mohammad are not off-limits

Charles Hebdo, the French publication that was firebombed a few days ago for mocking Islam and Islam’s prophet Mohammad is gathering messages of solidarity to publish in its next issue, which will be out this Wednesday in France. Here’s mine:

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo’s office but the attack does bear the hallmarks of the political Islamic movement as – for them – this is business as usual and all in a day’s work. They bomb offices, threaten anyone who criticises Islam and Islamism, and where they have political power they slaughter those who speak their minds in cold blood and in broad daylight.

Those who condemn the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo’s office whilst also criticising the publication for mocking Islam’s prophet Mohammad are (at best) missing the point (and more likely apologists for the Islamists). [Read more…]