Defending Rasheed

Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed, a Maldivian blogger, journalist and free speech advocate, has been brutally attacked near his home on 4 June 2012. His throat was slit through the trachea and he survived only because a vital artery was missed by millimetres. He is recovering. Whilst police are still investigating, it is believed to be the work of Islamists.

Rasheed had previously been attacked and received a number of death threats. On 10 December 2011, his skull was fractured when he attended a rally for religious tolerance, which was attacked by Islamists. On 14 December, he was arrested and held for three weeks after members of the Adhaalath Party accused him of blasphemy. Rasheed reported that he faced mistreatment and degradation whilst in custody. Before his release, his detention was extended twice on the request of investigating officers in order that the Islamic Ministry might provide him with counselling to “bring him back to Islam”.

The Government of the Maldives has made no effort to arrest Rasheed’s attackers despite credible photographic evidence of the attack. Moreover, the Government has blocked his website on the order of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs on the grounds that the site contained anti-Islamic material. Rasheed has said he was being censored for expressing his version of Islam, and called for more freedom of interpretation within the faith. [Read more…]

Where do you draw the line?

On 26 May 2012 from 4.30 – 6pm at the Brighton Dome, Pavilion Theatre, I will be joining a panel discussion staged by Index on Censorship and Free Word as part of this year’s Brighton Festival called ‘Where do you draw the line?’

Open dialogue is the key to a healthy, cohesive society, but some fear the disruptive, dangerous potential of truly free speech. Inspired by themes of DV8’s show Can We Talk About This? the event presents an interactive conversation about how, when and why we censor ourselves. Chaired by Kenan Malik, author of From Fatwa to Jihad and regular guest on The Moral Maze, the discussion moves between panellists and the audience using electronic polling terminals, with poll results screened live.

To buy tickets and for more information, click here.

Richard Dawkins

Here’s Dawkins speech at the 11 February free expression rally. Best lines: A scholar usually needs to have read more than one book, people need to ‘stop being so damn respectful’ and that without freedom of speech, society would be a ‘scientific, technological, moral dark age’.

By the way, here’s Richard Dawkins’ comment on the 11 February free expression rally and also the culturally relativist position of the police in dealing with honour-based violence and crimes. He met some people at the rally who had not be helped by the police since it is ‘part of their culture’:

Don’t barter away our free expression

The UCL Atheist, Humanist and Secular Society (ASH) has published a report on the December event where Anne Marie Waters and I debated members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association on Sharia law. The debate can be seen here as can my blog entries on it here and here.

The report highlights an affliction that many humanist groups in particular, including student groups, have when it comes to dealing with Islamic groups.

The UCL ASH report’s unfortunate conclusion is a case in point. It says that apparently ‘the two sides of the motion maintained different concepts of ‘Sharia Law’, i.e. as it is practiced versus as it is truly described – which concept is the most relevant today is a question to brought forward’.

I wonder if they would reach the same conclusion had proponents of canon law been adamant that the inquisition had nothing to do with the tenets of Christianity…

This affliction arises partly because of the gullibility of these groups. They believe Islamists at face value despite all evidence to the contrary and are keen to label anyone they can as a ‘moderate’. In that specific December debate on Sharia for example, when I spoke of the Hadith on stoning, the Ahmadiyya speaker said none existed in order to prove that his Islam was not the Islam being practiced in countries where stoning to death takes place. Immediately, this was seen as proof of there being ‘different concepts’ of Sharia law. But the speaker was lying and admitted as much. To those saying he should not have lied, the speaker Ayaaz Mahmood later commented: ‘Had Maryam asked me, “Has the Holy Prophet (sa) ever ordered that a man be stoned to death?” To this, I would have had to answer yes, and then hope and pray that the moderator would give me a minute or two (which isn’t really enough) to explain the whole background of those specific Ahadith… But of course, at the time, the opportunity did not afford itself to give this entire explanation. So I gave her the direct answer to her question, which was a big, “NO”. Only to silence her. Because I didn’t want to get into this whole issue during the debate…’

Ayaaz Mahmood did the same with the verse in the Koran on wife beating (he said it was not a beating as no marks could be left!) and on Aisha’s age (she was 18 according to him but still playing with dolls) and so on… Rather than seeing through this, the group sees the discrepancies as ‘different concepts’ of Islam.

The affliction also arises partly due to the hegemony of a ‘pragmatic’ approach in the Humanist movement that is keen on promoting inter-faith work and coalitions irrespective of their consequences and actually seems to prefer it especially since it opens a space for humanism on par with religions.

Which brings me back to the current censorship attempt on the UCL ASH for using a Jesus and Mo image on their Facebook page. The UCL ASH and the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) insist that this has nothing to do with the Ahmadiyya Association. I am not so sure, particularly since this fiasco quickly follows a heated debate on Sharia law. And whilst the ASH has been insistent that the Ahmadiyya Association finds the publication of the image within its legal rights, the Ahmadiyya Association treasurer has also said that the Union might be within its legal rights to ask for the removal of the image… See the doublespeak? [Read more…]

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…]