Free Speech: It’s not free unless it’s free for everyone

The below is Maryam Namazie’s opening remarks at Spiked Conference: The New Intolerance on Campus on “No Platform: should hate speech be free speech?”

Freedom of speech in British universities is under heavier assault than ever before in large part due to the proclaimed desire by the National Union of Students (NUS) to maintain student safety by turning university campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where students are apparently shielded from anything they might find offensive or hateful.

With the increasing numbers of people being no-platformed at universities, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that offence and hate are highly contested – which is why even legal codes dealing with them are so varied in different countries.

All too often, too, limits on speech are set by those with the loudest voices or the most political influence, like religious bodies or student unions or the state. Once limits are set, it’s a slippery slope with no end in sight.

In the name of tolerance of all, we end up with intolerance of all.

I know, of course, that hateful speech exists. My 10 year old son asked me recently if his Muslim grandparents (who have worked and lived in NY for over 30 years) will have to leave America if Trump becomes president. As an apostate from Islam and a migrant, I know that hateful speech – whether from Islamists or far-Right groups like Pegida – can be dehumanising and intimidating.

But banning speech deemed hateful doesn’t stop discrimination and of course anyone can be accused of it – even human rights activist Peter Tatchell. Also, it’s those with power that determine what constitutes hate – not to stop discrimination – but very often to regulate socially unacceptable speech and stifle “deviance” and dissent.

Per the NUS, for example, Islamic Societies can invite speakers who promote the death penalty for apostates from Islam yet my progressive counter-narrative is considered “hate” speech. Also, despite a context where apostates from Islam – a minority within a minority – are threatened with death for what is deemed blasphemy/ apostasy, criticism of Islam is seen to be the same as violence against believers even though there is a huge distinction between speech and action.

Moreover, even if we agree that certain speech is hateful – which we don’t – is banning it the best way to challenge it? If that were the case, there would have been no social movements against racial apartheid, for civil rights, for women’s, gay or refugee rights if you could defend people who are the target of hate speech by merely banning speech. Banning speech it is in fact dangerous as it lulls us into a false security and prevents us from doing the more important and difficult work of addressing and challenging hate head on.

It’s a false assumption that one can combat hate by censorship. Also when one considers that it is those in power who can most censor and also normalise discrimination and “hate,” the absurdity of banning hate speech becomes all the more apparent.

By their very nature, universities in particular should be places where orthodoxies are challenged and opinions questioned. Why go to university at all if you feel you have to be ‘protected’ from views you dislike?

Fundamentally, though, the NUS’ “concern” for “student safety” and sensibilities gives “progressive” cover to what is fundamentally a corporate approach to risk management in light of tuition fees. As does multiculturalism, not as a wonderful lived experience but as a social policy, where criticism of Islam and Islamism are erroneously conflated with an attack on Muslims.

Clearly, free expression is vital for any university and society at large. And it is not free unless it is free for everyone, including those whose views are deemed distasteful, “deviant” and even “hateful,” as long as they are not inciting violence.

What we need is not more restrictions on free speech, but the opposite. What we need is a change in NUS policies that stifle expression and dissent on campus.

“Limiting free expression is not just censorship,” as Salman Rushdie says, “but an assault on human nature.”

“Human beings,” he says, “shape their futures by arguing and challenging and saying the unsayable; not by bowing their knee whether to gods or to men.”

Apostasy, Blasphemy and Free Expression in the Age of ISIS

Below is my speech “Apostasy, Blasphemy and Free Expression in the Age of ISIS,” which I gave at Warwick University on 28 October 2015. I had been initially barred by the Student Union but the talk went ahead after protests. I gave a similar speech a week earlier at Trinity College Dublin, after my talk had been cancelled by a student group earlier this year after I refused last-minute restrictions on my talk.

You can read my talk below and/or watch the video:

I am glad to be speaking at Warwick University after I was initially barred because the Student Union absurdly decided that I was “highly inflammatory” and could “incite hatred” on campus.

The Student Union has since apologised, thanks to pressure from Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society and many of you.

And so here we are.

Conflating criticism of Islam (a religion) and Islamism (a religious-Rightwing political movement) with bigotry against Muslims (who are people like anyone else) is nothing new. This conflation has led to a disturbing trend towards censorship of much-needed criticism of Islam and Islamism on university campuses.

The days when unconditional free expression was championed by universities as a cornerstone of all rights is long gone.

It’s no longer unconditional free expression that is seen to be intrinsically good and progressive but a defence of censorship and self-censorship.

Of course, as writer Kenan Malik says, no one puts it that way. No one says they are pro-censorship (not even the most heinous regimes).

“‘I believe in free speech but…’ may well be a motto of our times,” says Malik.

“I believe in free speech, but” not if it undermines “security”, is “gratuitously offensive”, “provocative”, “inflammatory”, “Islamophobic”, and “discriminatory” or if it has the potential to “insult” and “hurt” religious sensibilities or “incite” hatred…  All things, by the way, which I have been accused of.

In particular, criticism of Islam and Islamism is seen to be so harmful as to be equated with bigotry against Muslims though of course this is not the case just as criticism of Christianity or Britain First is not bigotry against Christians.

Postmodernists, such as the Guardian’s David Shariatmadari  and the Labour Party’s Seamus Milne consider criticism of Islam “antisocial” and “even dangerous” – something, by the way, I have also often heard from their Ayatollah friends in Iran as well as the Saudi or Pakistani regimes.

In my opinion, criticism of Islam is deemed dangerous not because of some patronising “concern for minorities” but because in the age of ISIS, it subverts and challenges the sacred which has always been a tool for the control of society in the interests of the dominant class under the guise of defending “public sensibilities” and “morality.”

Criticism of Islam challenges religion in political power and opens the space for dissent where none is permissible or acceptable.

Ironically, the critics of religion have never been free to express themselves, yet we are the ones deemed harmful, and inciting hatred when in fact it’s the opposite. It’s the blasphemers and apostates who have faced persecution throughout the ages.

Clerics and the religious-Rightwing have always been free to promote religion – any religion. And religion has always had a privileged position in societies, and even more so where it has influence on the state or is in power – Britain included.

Clearly, freedom of expression without the right to criticise religion is meaningless. Such criticism has been key for social progress. Historically, it has been intrinsically linked with anti-clericalism.

It’s the same today.

Criticism of Islam and the state are analogous in many places like Saudi Arabia,  Islamic State, or Iran where anything from demanding women’s equality or trade union rights to condemning sexual jihad and the ‘Islamic cultural revolution’ (led by people such as Ali Shariatmadari, which banned books and ‘purified’ higher education) can be met with arrest, imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Of course, there is a distinction between Islam as a belief versus Islamism, which is a far-Right political movement.

But Islam is not just a personal belief – if it were we would be not be having this discussion. It plays a political role in the form of laws and policies and as states and extreme-Right political movements.

When the religious-Right are in power , “religion is at the centre of the struggle for change,” according to Iranian Marxist Hamid Taqvaee.  If you want to defend equality between women and men; or put an end to male guardianship rules: you will inevitably come face to face with religion.  You want gay rights; the right to organise 1st May rallies and the right to strike: you will eventually confront religion.

Religion is not just a personal matter between a believer and his or her god but regulations imposed on society with real and brutal punishments and repercussions for those deemed transgressors.

The veil, for example, is far from a personal “choice” and “right.” Socially speaking, on a mass scale, it is enforced through compulsory veiling laws and acid-attacks, imprisonment, fines, as well as pressures which look upon unveiled women as whores, immoral and sources of fitnah in society. Calling an “improperly” veiled woman in Britain – “Hoejabi” – is part of that pressure.

Under such circumstances, criticism of religion is key for the defence of rights and equality.  It’s also a critical necessity in order to dismantle and undermine the sacred and its political role.

And it’s not just about religion’s role “over there.” Islamism is a vast network with global reach.

The Islamic regime in Iran, for example, sentences artist Atena Faraghdani to over 12 years in prison for a cartoon and “illegitimate sexual relations short of adultery” for shaking hands with her lawyer and violating gender segregation rules whilst here in Britain, Universities UK endorses gender segregation (now withdrawn due to our protests) and a student organiser advises me not to shake hands prior to a debate on Sharia law out of “respect” for some Islamist (of course I made a point to shake hands as I have no respect for an idea that sees me as so haram that a man cannot shake my hands – call me what you will).

Islamism as a political movement is a global killing machine that affects people everywhere. Islamists hack atheist bloggers to death in Bangladesh whilst placing UK-based Bangladeshi bloggers on death lists and ‘lovely’ British jihadis kill for ISIS whilst a UK-based organisation CAGE promotes ‘defensive jihad.’

Limiting free expression to that which is acceptable for the Islamists (as it is those in power that determine the limits of expression) restricts the right to speak for those who need it most.  It is telling people like myself that we cannot oppose theocracies and religious laws we have fled from or that people living under the boot of the religious-Right or faced with segregation and “Sharia courts” right here in Britain must not refuse or resist. It’s “our” culture and religion after all. We have no choice but to submit.

Ironically, the post-modernist ‘Leftists’ pushing this line have one set of progressive politics for themselves (they rightly want gay marriage, women’s equality and the right to criticise Archbishops and the pope,  as well as the Christian-Right including Britain First or EDL) and another for us. We are merely allowed to make demands within the confines of Islam and identity politics and only after taking note of the “power imbalance.” As an ex-Muslim migrant woman, I am supposedly a minority within a minority but this “power imbalance” never seems to be part of any calculation.

If we speak, we are labelled “native informants” by so-called progressives.  And the far-Right accuses us of practicing taqiyaa if we oppose their scapegoating of Muslims and immigrants and their placing of collective blame on the “other.” I have also been accused of practicing taqiyya by the likes of Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller – that is whereby “we Muslims” (obviously we’re all the same and no one seems to be able to tell us apart) are allowed to lie to advance the cause of Islam – gaining the trust of naive non-believers in order to draw out their vulnerability and defeat them.

What those conflating Islam, Islamism and Muslims miss – both on the “Left” as well as the far-Right – is that many Muslims are also critics of Islamism and even Islam. In fact, Muslims or those presumed or labelled such – like myself – are often the first victims of Islamism and at the forefront of resistance. After all, not everyone in the “Islamic world” or “Muslim community” or those labelled “Muslim students on campus” are Muslims and even if they are, religion is not the only characteristic that defines them. Moreover, the rise of Islamism has brought with it a corresponding rise in the demand for atheism, secularism, and particularly women’s liberation. Also, ordinary Muslims – like all other believers – pick and choose and mould their beliefs to make them compatible with contemporary life, which is why they often don’t recognise their religion in the Islamists.

Conflating criticism of Islam and Islamism with bigotry against Muslims sees dissent through the eyes of Islamists and not the many who refuse and resist. For those who have bought into the Islamist narrative, there are no social and political movements, class politics, dissenters, women’s rights campaigners, socialists… – just homogenised ‘Muslims’ [read Islamists] who face ‘intimidation’ and ‘discrimination’ if an ex-Muslim woman speaks on an university campus.

This is the problem with multiculturalism and identity politics. The homogenised group identity is the only one that seems to exist. The “authentic Muslim” is always reactionary, fully veiled (throw in a burqa and niqab for good measure), pro Sharia courts and gender segregation, pro death penalty for apostates and gay people, anti-Semitic and of course always anti-free expression.

As Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas says: “What is most upsetting is the implication that oppressed people can only turn out as fascists, never revolutionaries. Is this really what the left in Europe now believes?” She adds: “Can the left accept that citizens are assigned a ‘minority’ identity against their will, on the basis of their name, or their geographical origin, or that of their families? Can the left accept that this communal identity supersedes their civil rights? This was done to the Jews under Nazism. Will the left accept that it be done to Muslims, and those presumed to be Muslims, regardless of their personal religious beliefs? If the left is serious about supporting oppressed minorities, it should realise that those who speak in the name of the community do not necessarily have the legitimacy to do so. By supporting fundamentalists, they simply chose one camp in a political struggle, without acknowledging it.”

“The result of all this,” says Kenan Malik, “is that solidarity has become increasingly defined not in political terms – as collective action in pursuit of certain political ideals – but in terms of ethnicity or culture.”   And since those in power determine the dominant culture, many Student Unions and those on the “Left” side with Islamism at our expense. They don’t see that at its core, this is a fight between theocrats and the religious-Right on the one hand and secularists and those fighting for social justice on the other. It’s a fight taking place within and across communities and borders, including and especially amongst those within what is labelled the Muslim community or world. [Read more…]

Warwick Student Union and the Islamist Narrative

Warwick Student Union (SU) has officially responded to the uproar surrounding their decision to refuse the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists’ Society (WASH) request to have me as a speaker in October.  They deceptively imply that the uproar over their denial is premature as a “final” decision has not been made.

And so the white wash begins.

The Warwick Atheists Society has published an excellent rebuttal, including correspondence from the SU, which confirms what was said from the outset: “..we are going to have to decline authorisation for her attendance on campus” citing “flags” and unnamed articles “written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus.”

You can see the screenshots below:

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Also as stated from the outset, WASH has appealed the decision and has been waiting for a response ever since.

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I have already briefly addressed the SU’s initial decision: the Islamists incite hatred, not us. But there is a serious question that remains unanswered: which articles, written by myself and “others”, have so concerned the SU? These need to be published in full – for the sake of transparency – and so we can all judge for ourselves.

The SU cannot accuse me of potentially inciting hatred – a prosecutable offence – and then deny me the evidence to defend myself. Needless to say, I am also very interested to learn of the “others” they have relied on.

I insist that these be made available without delay.

The issues for me are very clear.

“Incitement to hatred” is against people not ideas or the extreme religious-Right. You can dislike or even hate an idea like religion and a far-Right political movement like the KKK, Britain First or Islamism and not incite hate against people who are believers or members of political groups.

I think religion should come with a health warning – like cigarettes – it kills. I also think Islamism is a far-Right movement – the fascism of our era – but that is not same as inciting hatred against people. Don’t forget, even though I am an ex-Muslim, my loved ones, like my parents, are Muslims. My grandmother wore the hejab; my grandfather was an Islamic scholar.

This is not hard to understand. There might be members on the SU who are atheist, who think Christianity is superstition and who dislike and even hate the pope, the Christian Right, the EDL, and the BNP but don’t hate “Christians”. Also, they should be able to see that not all “Christians” are the same. Many are Christian in name only. And even though Britain has an established church and bishops in the House of Lords, they understand that the society is not Christian nor are many who are labelled as such. This is common sense. They just can’t seem to see it when it comes to the “other”. Then any criticism is seen to be “discrimination” against and “intimidation” of “Muslim students”. Isaac Leigh, president of Warwick Student Union, says as much in the Independent: “The initial decision was made for the right of Muslim students not to feel intimidated or discriminated against on their university campus… rather than in the interest of suppressing free speech.”

Why does Leigh think that my criticism of Islam and Islamism is an attack on “Muslim students”? Which Muslim students? All of them? Why did he not think that “Christian students” would be discriminated against and intimidated by the wonderful Philosopher AC Grayling and his talk on Atheism and Humanism?

It’s a racism of lower expectations – “Muslim students” must be protected from hearing any criticism of Islam or Islamism as if there are no dissenters and even closet ex-Muslims amongst them.

Clearly, the SU has bought into the Islamist worldview (and also that of identity politics/multiculturalism pursued by successive British governments) that “Muslims” are a homogeneous community that need to be managed by parasitical and reactionary imams, sharia courts and Islamist organisations rather than viewed as equal citizens and as students (with more than one characteristic that defines them). They cannot see that even “Muslim students” have the right to dissent and to hear dissenting voices.

If dissenters cannot speak, what does the SU suggest we do? I don’t want to be a Muslim. I was “born” Muslim out of no choice of my own – a lottery of birth. I want to be able to shout my atheism from every rooftop without looking over my shoulder. I abhor the veil and gender apartheid. I want to be equal to men. I don’t want my rights to be culturally relative. I want to, I need to, speak out against the Islamic regime of Iran and ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

Members of the SU speak as they choose but we cannot?

Says who?

Those in power restrict and limit free expression and determine what is acceptable to the status quo and what is not.

In Iran and Saudi Arabia and the Caliphate, they label it blasphemy, apostasy and heresy and call you kafir and murtad and immoral and kill and imprison and flog you and throw acid in your face. Here, they and their apologists call it Islamophobia to silence critics who are somewhat out of their reach.

The SU’s infringement of the right to criticise religion and that which is deemed sacred and taboo limits the free expression of those who need it most. Saying Islam and Islamism are off limits means first and foremost that the victims and survivors of Islamism are not allowed to do one of the only things at their disposal in order to resist. It is telling people they cannot oppose theocracies and religious laws and call for secularism in the Middle East and North Africa. It is telling people they cannot oppose sharia and call for universal rights for all. It’s telling women they do not have the right to be equal. It’s telling ex-Muslims they don’t have a right to live if they want to reveal that they are atheists. It’s telling people who need free expression most that they must remain silent and accept their lot in life.

But this is more than a question of placing limitations on the free expression and attempts at silencing dissenters. It’s buying into the Islamist narrative that blames the victims. The Bangladeshi government blames the bloggers, the Saudi government blames Raif for his lashes and equates atheists with terrorists, the Islamic regime in Iran blames Atena Farghadani’s cartoon for her 12 years in prison…

The blame, however, lies squarely on the shoulders of those who threaten, kill and actually incite hatred, not those of us who refuse and resist.

Warwick SU, publish the articles you refer to; give evidence for your serious accusation against me and if not, withdraw the accusation. Mostly, show some courage and decency and rectify your mistake so that I can come as planned and speak at your university without delay.

For me, it is not a question of if I will speak but when.

Free expression matters plus ISIS, Fatwas and Fast-Defying

Freedom of expression matters
30 June 2015
Interview with Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia Founder, including on Raif Badawi
Background: Freedom of expression matters. It is not a luxury, a western value and it’s not up for sale. Sometimes – actually more often than not – it is all we have to speak truth to power. In fact, free expression is a demand of those without power vis-a-vis the powers that be. It’s a cornerstone of other rights and freedoms and becomes most significant and finds real meaning when it criticises that which is taboo, forbidden and sacred.
Shocking news of the week: ISIS attacks on Kobane, Kuwait, Tunisia and France
Insane fatwa of the week: Saudi cleric says women should not look at footballers’ thighs
Good new of the week: 30 people on death row in Iran pardoned by families
Question of the week: On the veil and racism
Plus a drink in solidarity with all those being arrested and persecuted for defying fasting rules during Ramadan.
Protest Time: Urgent Action for Atena Farghadani sentenced by Islamic regime of Iran to 14 years and 9 months for a cartoon!

آزادی بیان مهم است، نان و گل سرخ با مریم نمازی و فریبرز پویا
۱ ژوئيه ۲۰۱۵
مصاحبه با جیمی ولز، بنیانگذار ویکیپدیا، از جمله درمورد رائف بدوي
اخبار تکان دهنده هفته: حملات داعش در كبانى؛ كويت؛ تونس و فرانسه
فتوای اخمقانه هفته: زنان و ران فوتبالیسها
خبر خوب: بخشش ۳۰ نفر در انتظار اعدام در ایران در يك ماه
سوال هفته : حجاب و نژادپرستی
به علاوه شراب در همبستگی با تمام کسانی که بازداشت و مورد آزار و اذیت مى شوند براى روزه خوارى
آتنا فرقدانیا وقت اعتراض:
کارگردان: رضا مرادی
ترجمه: خسرو قریب

Like Mukto-muna, we are united in our grief and remain undefeated

SIGN BELOW STATEMENT HERE.

We are outraged by the senseless and brutal hacking to death of well known scientist, atheist and writer Avijit Roy and the serious attack on his wife and blogger, Rafida Ahmed Bonya, by Islamists in Bangladesh.

Avijit had received numerous threats over the years for publishing articles critical of Islam, and promoting secular views, science and social issues on the Bengali-language blog, Mukto-mona (Free Mind), which he founded. He had travelled to Bangladesh from the US to attend a book fair where his book “The Virus of Faith” was being launched. It was whilst he was returning from the fair, that he was brutally killed.

This is not the first time atheists and secularists have been attacked in Bangladesh. In addition to the well known threats received by writer Taslima Nasrin, 29 year old blogger Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed and Ahmed Rajib killed in 2013. In 2004, Humayun Azad, a secular writer and professor at Dhaka University, was also attacked and later died.

Whilst Islamists have continued to threaten prominent bloggers and called for the “execution of 84 atheist bloggers for insulting religion”, the Bangladeshi government has done little to defend the lives and security of freethinkers. In 2013, the government even arrested bloggers and shut websites down instead of arresting the Islamists involved.

We stand united in our grief for Avijit Roy with Mukto-muna but remain undefeated. We unequivocally condemn the attack on Avijit and his wife and also the many threats against atheist, secularist and freethinking bloggers and call on the Bangladeshi government to prosecute the Islamists involved, guarantee the safety of dissenters and respect free expression. Freedom of expression, including to criticise Islam and Islamism as well as to blaspheme, is a basic right.

We are all Avijit.

Initial Signatories [Read more…]

On Paris and Copenhagen: Islam and the “culture of offence”: missing the point

I6HTgAfter the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, dissent and criticism of religion is a life and death necessity. It has been–and remains–key for human progress. See the full article here.

Dissent and criticism of religion has always been a crucial aspect of free expression. Historically, it has been intrinsically linked with anti-clericalism and the dismantling of that which is deemed taboo, sacred and untouchable by the gatekeepers of power.

Such criticism has been key for human progress and is still needed. In the age of ISIS, this criticism is a life and death necessity for those living under Islamism’s boot.

So yes, I am Charlie – no ifs and buts.

Those who condemn the massacre in Paris but blame Charlie for “offending Muslim sensibilities” (implying that they somehow got what they deserved) have bought into the Islamist narrative that “Muslims” are more offended by cartoons than mass murder.

This is validated by multiculturalism as a social policy and cultural relativism, which sees Muslim “communities” and “societies” as homogeneous and one and the same with the religious-Right.

So even though there is a rich historical and artistic tradition of depicting Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, over many centuries, it’s deemed offensive today.

And despite many Muslims or those labelled as such have sided with Charlie, it is the terrorists/fascists who are deemed to be the “authentic” Muslims.

The homogenised “culture of offence” discounts the many believing secularists, feminists, freethinkers, and atheists and socialists amongst those deemed “Muslim”.

It ignores the widespread dissent and resistance, which can also be seen in response to Charlie.

An Algerian copy editor Mustapha Ourad was gunned down in Charlie’s hallway.

Many “Muslims” joined rallies and held up “Je Suis Charlie” signs or pens.

A French Muslim cafe owner was threatened for putting up a “Je Suis Charlie” sign in his East London cafe.

Lassana Bathily, the Malian-born Muslim employee hid customers at the Paris kosher supermarket saving lives.

Even in Iran – a theocracy where blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, enmity against god, and another 130 offences are punishable by death – Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer showed her solidarity whilst journalists trying to rally in support of Charlie were attacked and prevented from protesting by security agents wielding clubs and chains.

An Iranian newspaper was shut down for publishing a photo showing solidarity with Charlie. In Turkey, two columnists from a daily are facing an investigation for ‘religious defamation’ after featuring the Charlie cover.

Cartoonists across the Arab world – from Egypt to Lebanon to Qatar and Jordan took a stand with Charlie and against the terrorists.

And still we are told that Charlie offended “Muslims” and must be held to account! [Read more…]

Islam and the “culture of offence”: missing the point

First published in Open Democracy on 12 February 2015

In the age of ISIS, dissent and criticism of religion is a life and death necessity. It has been – and remains – key for human progress.

Dissent and criticism of religion has always been a crucial aspect of free expression. Historically, it has been intrinsically linked with anti-clericalism and the dismantling of that which is deemed taboo, sacred and untouchable by the gatekeepers of power.

Such criticism has been key for human progress and is still needed. In the age of ISIS, this criticism is a life and death necessity for those living under Islamism’s boot.

So yes, I am Charlie – no ifs and buts.

Those who condemn the massacre in Paris but blame Charlie for “offending Muslim sensibilities” (implying that they somehow got what they deserved) have bought into the Islamist narrative that “Muslims” are more offended by cartoons than mass murder.

This is validated by multiculturalism as a social policy and cultural relativism, which sees Muslim “communities” and “societies” as homogeneous and one and the same with the religious-Right.

So even though there is a rich historical and artistic tradition of depicting Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, over many centuries, it’s deemed offensive today.

And despite many Muslims or those labelled as such have sided with Charlie, it is the terrorists/fascists who are deemed to be the “authentic” Muslims.  

The homogenised “culture of offence” discounts the many believing secularists, feminists, freethinkers, and atheists and socialists amongst those deemed “Muslim”.

It ignores the widespread dissent and resistance, which can also be seen in response to Charlie.

An Algerian copy editor Mustapha Ourad was gunned down in Charlie’s hallway.

Many “Muslims” joined rallies and held up “Je Suis Charlie” signs or pens.

A French Muslim cafe owner was threatened for putting up a “Je Suis Charlie” sign in his East London cafe.

Lassana Bathily, the Malian-born Muslim employee hid customers at the Paris kosher supermarket saving lives.

Even in Iran – a theocracy where blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, enmity against god, and another 130 offences are punishable by death – Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer showed her solidarity whilst journalists trying to rally in support of Charlie were attacked and prevented from protesting by security agents wielding clubs and chains.

An Iranian newspaper was shut down for publishing a photo showing solidarity with Charlie. In Turkey, two columnists from a daily are facing an investigation for ‘religious defamation’ after featuring the Charlie cover.

Cartoonists across the Arab world – from Egypt to Lebanon to Qatar and Jordan took a stand with Charlie and against the terrorists.

And still we are told that Charlie offended “Muslims” and must be held to account!

Clearly not all Muslims were offended, and even those who were did not go on to kill for it.

What is packaged as the “culture of offence” is really Islamism’s imposition of blasphemy laws and theocracy under the pretext of respect for “Muslim sensibilities”.

Only in Europe of course does this far-Right fascist movement use “offence” to silence and censor.

In countries where they have state power, there is no need for such niceties.

In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, the “offenders” are called what they are – apostates and blasphemers – and legally murdered in broad daylight in the same way Charlie Hebdo’s journalists were “executed”.

Terrorism and indiscriminate violence, including via Sharia laws, have been pillars of Islamist rule for decades, aiding in creating a climate of fear and as a warning to those who refuse to submit.

The “culture of offence” absurdly implies that civility and manners are all that are needed to stop abductions and the slaughter of generations from Nigeria, Iran to Algeria.

But the “culture of offence” is a smokescreen. It serves to legitimise Islamist terror and blame the victims.

It misses the point.

Islamism is an international far-right movement that has murdered innumerable Charlie Hebdos over several decades across the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, including many “Muslims”, who have dared to speak or mock or just live 21 century lives prohibited by the Islamists.

Being a woman, a freethinker, being gay, being unveiled, improperly veiled, an atheist, going to school, driving a car, having sex, falling in love, laughing out loud, dancing…  “offends” them.

Calling for civility, censorship, silence or “respect” for the “offended” is merely heeding the Islamist demand for submission at the expense of dissenters.

But as Rosa Luxemburg said: “Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters”.

So yes, I am Charlie but I am also the many Muslims, ex-Muslims and none who dissent day in and day out often at great risk to themselves.

I am freethinker Raif Badawi, sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for a website promoting public discussion of religion and politics which has been deemed “insulting of to Islam” by the Saudi regime.

I am 30 year old blogger Soheil Arabi, sentenced to execution in Iran for “insulting the prophet” on Facebook.

I am poet Fatma Naoot, on trial for “insulting Islam” in Egypt due to her criticism of Islamic animal slaughter.

I am 28 year old Mauritanian journalist and anti-slavery activist Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir who has been sentenced to death in December 2014 for “insulting the prophet”.

I am 32 year old Egyptian journalist Bishoy Boulous Armia who has been given a five-year prison sentence for causing “sectarian strife” and “insulting Islam” because he reported on the persecution of Christians in Egypt.

I am the artists and writers in the Gaza Strip who face a campaign calling for their murder for “insulting Islam”.

I am Jakarta Post editor-in-chief, Meidyatama Suryodiningrat , accused of blasphemy for a caricature on ISIS, which according to an Islamist group filing a complaint, has “insulted Islam”.

I am Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud who has had calls for his execution because of “insults [to] Allah”.

I am bloggers Tan Jye Yee, 26, and Vivian Lee, 25, charged in Malaysia under the Sedition Act for insulting Islam and Ramadan in Facebook.

I am women’s rights campaigner Souad al-Shammary who has been imprisoned since 28 October 2014 on accusations she has “insulted Islam” and the prophet in Saudi Arabia for demanding an end to male guardianship rules for women.

I am 47 year old British-Iranian Roya Nobakht was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Iran for “insulting Islam” when she said on Facebook that the Iranian regime was “too Islamic”.

I am 49 year old mother of five Asia Bibi has been in prison for five year awaiting execution for blasphemy in Pakistan.

I am 27 year old Mohsen Amir-Aslani hanged in September 2014 in Iran for insulting prophet Jonah and making ‘innovations in religion’ through interpretations of Qur’an.

And I am Muhammad Shakil Auj, Dean of the faculty of Islamic Studies at the University of Karachi, was shot dead by gunmen in September 2014 two years after being accused of blasphemy.

And the list goes on.

So yes, I am Charlie, Raif and Roya – no ifs and buts.

I am, we are, all of them.

This is a slightly adapted version of a speech by Maryam Namazie in tribute to Charlie Hebdo and others, given at the Conference on Sharia Law, Apostasy and Secularism held in London, 7 February 2015.

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.

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.

Bread and Roses: Nothing is Sacred. On free expression

.برنامه نان و گل سرخ مجله ای سیاسی – اجتماعی در کانال جديد. روز پخش ۱۸ ژوئن ۲۰۱۴

اين هفته در مورد آزادى ابراز عقيده و تمسخر مذهب. هيچ چيز مقدس نيست
با فريبرز پويا٬ بهرام سروش و مريم نمازى. مصاحبه با کمدين کيت سمورتويت. کارگردان: رضا مرادى مشاور برنامه: پونه راوى

Bread and Roses, 17 June 2014, On Nothing is Sacred. With Maryam Namazie, Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush.
Interview with Comedian Kate Smurthwaite. Director: Reza Moradi. Programme Consultant: Poone Ravi.

And so it should

Chris Moos and Abishek Phandis write:

We are delighted to learn that LSE has issued an unconditional apology for the appalling actions of its staff, which led to us being intimidated and harassed in a manner that does not behove a university. We welcome the LSE’s admission that its staff gravely misjudged the situation, and their acknowledgement that we were well within our rights to wear ‘Jesus & Mo’ t-shirts on campus and that this neither amounted to harassment nor contravened the law or LSE policies. Even though it caused us great distress to be publicly harassed and humiliated by LSE and LSE Students’ Union (LSESU) staff, LSE’s response vindicates our decision to stand up for our rights. Given that the LSESU officials were the ones who started the chain of harassment, it is of particular importance to us that the LSE has pledged to retrain LSESU officials and further work with the LSESU to improve their handling of such straightforward situations and events in the future, particularly where issues of freedom of expression are concerned.

Here’s LSE’s statement of apology.

And so it should.

Here’s a photo of me wearing their Jesus and Mo t-shirt to a debate on banning the burqa at LSE after the scandal taken for Vice:

DSC_0026a (1)

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…]

Murder of humans and animals

For some reason the final posts for the day did not go live on time. Here they are now…

The guest post for the Day of Agreement marking the International Day against the Death Penalty is from Nobel Prize Winner and Professor of Chemistry, Harry Kroto:

Murder is the most heinous crime one can commit but within this evil there are degrees.  Murder by an individual is evil and the shooting of a small brave girl demanding her right to knowledge yesterday by cowardly men egged on by religious orders in Pakistan fills all decent people with deep revulsion and sorrow for the human race.

However the ultimate evil is murder by the state.  The state draws an arbitrary line based on some dogma or other and that line moves in the 8th Century in Persia it was anyone who remained Zoroastrian, during the Dark Ages the Inquisition was arbitrary in decision-making in Germany in 1940’s it was Jews,  Gypsies  and Homosexuals.  Murder by the State for whatever reason is the most heinous crime of all and must end.

Here is a second guest post from writer Tarek Fatah:

Here is my blasphemy :-)

In two weeks time the Islamic world will erupt into a frenzy of bloodletting which in just one day will cost the lives of millions of goats, cows and camels. They will be slaughtered from Somalia to Surinam; Indonesia to Indiana as a way of Muslims re-enacting the pagan ritual of animal sacrfice to the gods, except Muslims will do it to commemorate the sacrifice patriarch Abraham was willing to offer to God when he put the blade to the neck of his son Ismail.

Kids as young as 5 years of age will be taken to witness this gory spectacle with blood gushing and heads decapitated. The entire day after Hajj this bloody exercise will unfold in the name of religiosity and piety with no Muslim daring to raise their voice and demand a stop to this ritual that has been discard by most of humanity, but has stuck to Islamdom and where little boys get desensitized to the sigh of throat slitting, blood letting and animals writhing in pain, unable to scream for their own rights as creatures of the divine who were here long before us.

Let me be the first to say, end this bloodshed. If you do feel the necessity to sacrifice something precious to God, why don;t you smash your iPhone or your Rolex wristwatch instead of a voiceless animal.

And if it is life that you need to offer to God, then why not your own? Go ahead make my day.

****

I’m blogging every hour on the hour (from 9am-6pm) for the Day of Agreement marking the International Day against the Death Penalty:

The first blog entry was dedicated to 14 year old Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban for demanding that girls go to school. This day is for her and the many like her who refuse and resist despite charges of offence, apostasy and blasphemy.

The second blog entry was entitled It is possible not to cause offence.

The third was a guest post from Marieme Helie Lucas entitled Honour the dissenters.

The fourth was on Salman Rushdie and the need for blasphemy.

The fifth blog post is Calling all blasphemers to submit their own acts of blasphemy to the comments section.

The sixth blog post shows why open mike nights just don’t work under Sharia law.

The seventh post is a guest blog from Sue Cox entitled Enough!

The eighth post is Nothing can appease the Islamists.

There is a need for blasphemy

In the recent BBC documentary on The Fatwa: Salman Rushdie’s Story, writer Hanif Kureishi says:

Rushdie speaks in the book for Muslims. This is an extremely important book. He speaks for their doubts. He speaks the bits of them that they actually think and feel sometimes – do I really believe in all this stuff – but can’t say. He, at considerable personal cost, has spoken a truth that millions of other people want to speak and for which he is being punished. If writers are devils it is because they speak in the face of the religious-Right.

In his new memoir, Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie argues that there is a need for blasphemy:

The writers of the French enlightenment had deliberately used blasphemy as a weapon, refusing to accept the power of the Church to set limiting points on thought.

Blasphemy against Islam is our weapon too. It is our refusal to submit, it is our anti-clericalism and the anti- the Islamic inquisition of our era…

***

This is the fourth blog post for the Day of Agreement marking the International Day against the Death Penalty.

The first blog entry was dedicated to 14 year old Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban for demanding that girls go to school. This day is for her and the many like her who refuse and resist despite charges of offence, apostasy and blasphemy.

The second blog entry was entitled It is possible not to cause offence.

The third was a guest post from Marieme Helie Lucas entitled Honour the dissenters.

No-one is safe, not even 14 year olds

Yesterday, the Taliban critically wounded Malala Yousafzai, the lovely and brave 14 year old Pakistani girl, on her way home from school.

Ihsanullah Ihsan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said they targeted Yousafzai because she generated ‘negative propaganda’ and was the ‘symbol of the infidels and obscenity’. If she survived, Ihsan said, the Taliban would try to kill her again.

Sounds familiar?

After all, she dared to  defend the right of girls to an education, particularly offensive to the Taliban which had banned them from attending school, amongst many other things.

When religion is in power, any challenge to it – even something as simple as a girl wanting to go to school – can be deemed offensive, obscene and blasphemous.

And this is exactly why no-one – not even a 14 year old – is safe.

In light of this stark reality, calls for blasphemy laws and censorship is nothing short of a defence of the Taliban herds and their vile Sharia rules because it denies people their thoughts, their words, their expressions, and their resistance and dissent.

All at the expense of sweet Malala and the innumerable like her – challenging Islamism day in and day out by demanding to live  21st century lives.

Today is for her and them.

***

This is my first blog entry for the Day of Agreement marking the International Day against the Death Penalty. I will be blogging every hour, on the hour, and will have some guest posts too.

Day of Agreement

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and One Law for All are calling on everyone to join the Day of Agreement.

It’s quite easy to do.

On 10 October, upload the day’s logo as your avatar on social media, Tweet #dayofagreement or try it with your colleagues, family and friends.

You can also join our five minute flash-mob at 6pm in central London. (Email for more details).

Just remember, you can’t disagree with anyone – your colleagues, spouse, lover(s), mates, neighbours, children, bosses, or even politicians…

You are not allowed to dissent, ‘offend’ or question.

And before anyone gets too excited, they have to remember that they must also agree with everything you say. It’s only fair…

Seems impossible?

But that is what is expected of those of us who question, criticise or choose to leave Islam, including many Muslims and ex-Muslims…

Try it.

And while it all seems a bit of fun – on October 10 International Day against the Death Penalty – don’t forget that there are many living under Sharia law who are daily facing threats, imprisonment and execution for merely expressing themselves.

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
BM Box 1919, London WC1N 3XX, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 7719166731
exmuslimcouncil@gmail.com
http://ex-muslim.org.uk/

One Law for All
BM Box 2387
London WC1N 3XX, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 7719166731
onelawforall@gmail.com
www.onelawforall.org.uk

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.

Urgent Action: Islam: The Untold Story must not be cancelled

Dear friend

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain would like to make public its support for Tom Holland’s Channel 4 documentary ‘Islam: The Untold Story’. We are indignant to learn that due to threats made on Holland, Channel 4 has cancelled a repeat screening of the historical inquiry into the origins of Islam similar to the kind of inquiry that has been applied to other religions and histories in Britain for many years.

The threats and concerted attempt to stigmatise the documentary and its producers by attacking its credibility and even legitimacy as a field of inquiry is nothing less than an attempt to impose a blasphemy taboo by stealth and coercion against programming that scrutinises Islam.

Caving in to the coercive pressure of Islamists will have catastrophic effects on free inquiry and expression where it pertains to Islam. It would not only further silence academic, historical and theological scrutiny of Islam but would also have the chilling effect of exerting added pressure on Muslims and ex-Muslims who wish to dissent from and question Islam.

CEMB spokesperson Maryam Namazie says:

“Here’s my question to Channel 4: what about the threats on our lives for being apostates, ex-Muslims, atheists, freethinkers, secularists, 21st century human beings?

“What part of our thoughts, lives, and bodies do you recommend we cancel to appease the Islamists?

“If only there was such an ‘easy’ ‘solution’ for those who are languishing under Islam’s rules.

“You may accept censorship and cowardly silence in the face of Islamist threats and intimidation but we cannot afford to do so. And we never will.”

The CEMB urges you to view the documentary (also available on Youtube and on liveleak) and write to Channel 4 and Ofcom (contact information below) calling for a repeat screening.

We look forward to your support. [Read more…]