The Guardian: Through Islamist Eyes

I emailed The Guardian on 2 October to ask for the right to reply to David Shariatmadari’s apologetics for Islamism. My article, Why I Speak against Islamism, was finally published on 13 October at 5pm after much delay and back and forth over “edits.”

On 8 October, the Acting Editor for Comment is Free wrote to say a “very light edit” had been done on my article including “a few tweaks for flow, house style, and to make the piece as accessible as possible for non-expert readers.”

Shockingly, the “light edits” included substantial changes, including the removal of references to Ali Shariatmadari and CAGE prisoners as well as all the relevant links, which would have helped “non-expert readers.”

Moreover, where I mentioned Islamism as a killing machine with an example of Bangladesh, Islamism was changed to “violent jihadis”. After asking that it be kept as is (since even those not deemed violent jihadis by the Guardian are killing people via “Sharia” laws for example), it was changed to “violent Islamists”, which I again challenged. The sentence was then tweaked to what it is now.

Despite my insistence, however, references to Ali Shariatmadari and CAGE were not included (which meant I had to remove the Emwazi reference as it was linked to the CAGE example). I was told: “The line about CAGE and defensive jihad was removed on the advice of our lawyers” and that “the description of the Islamic cultural revolution as “Ali Shariatmadari’s ‘Islamic cultural revolution'” would be confusing to readers.”

Clearly, the problem is not just David Shariatmadari’s but the Guardian’s editorial line in favour of the Islamists.

Below I publish my original piece for all to see.


Through Islamist eyes
Maryam Namazie

Warwick University Student Union’s reversal of its initial decision to bar me from speaking about Islam and Islamism on campus at the invitation of Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society has been widely celebrated as a small win for free speech but ruffled the feathers of Islamists and their apologists.

Historically, criticism of religion has been a crucial aspect of free expression and intrinsically linked with anti-clericalism and the dismantling of that which is deemed taboo and sacred by the gatekeepers of power. Such criticism has been key for social progress. It’s also a matter of life and death for many living under Islamist rule like in Saudi Arabia,  Islamic State, or Iran where criticism of religion and the state are analogous. There, anything from demanding women’s equality or trade union rights to condemning sexual jihad and Ali Shariatmadari’s ‘Islamic cultural revolution’ (which banned books and ‘purified’ higher education) can be met with arrest, imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Where Islamists are not in power but have influence, like in Britain, critics face accusations of racism and Islamophobia to deflect legitimate outrage against Islamism – a killing machine and network with global reach: Islamists will hack atheist bloggers to death in Bangladesh whilst placing UK-based Bangladeshi bloggers on death lists and ‘lovely‘ British jihadis will kill for ISIS whilst a UK-based organisation CAGE promotes ‘defensive jihad.’

The labelling of much-needed criticism of Islam and Islamism as ‘antisocial, even dangerous‘ by ‘Left’ apologists sees dissent through the eyes of Islamists and not the many who refuse and resist. How else are we to show real solidarity with those who struggle against the theocracies we have fled from – if not through criticism?  The fight against Islamism and the need for international solidarity does not manage to enter into their calculation.

Even their paternalistic ‘concern’ for British Muslims is incoherent. After all, aren’t many critics of Islamism, Muslims too? In fact, Muslims or those labelled as such are often the first victims of Islamism and at the forefront of resistance. Also, not everyone in the ‘community’ 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 women’s liberation.

At its core, this is a global 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. Notwithstanding, this ‘Left’s’ ‘concern’ only encompasses the ‘authentic Muslim’ which to them is the Islamist. It has become their go-to catchphrase to deflect criticism by dishonestly conflating condemnation of Islamists with the demonisation of people so as to justify siding with the religious-Right at the expense of dissenters.  In fact, conflating ordinary Muslims with Islamists does nothing to challenge anti-Muslim bigotry but reinforces it.

In their ‘anti-colonialist’ worldview, which unsurprisingly coincides with that of the ruling classes in the ‘Islamic world’ or ‘Muslim community,’ dissenters are either ‘native informants‘ or contributing to the ‘demonisation of Muslims.’

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 politics of betrayal denies universalism, sees rights, equality and secularism as ‘western,’ justifies the suppression of women, apostates and blasphemers under the guise of respect for other ‘cultures’ – imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the religious-Right. In the world according to them, the oppressor is victim, the oppressed ‘incite hatred’, and any criticism is bigotry.

Ironically, these post-modernist ‘Leftists’ have one set of progressive politics for themselves (they rightly want gay marriage, women’s equality and the right to criticise the pope and Christian-Right) 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.’ [By the way, an ex-Muslim migrant woman like myself is a minority within a minority but that ‘power imbalance’ does not concern them.]

Islamism must be challenged by an enlightenment not a reformation. [Some would argue that ISIS is Islam’s reformation.] For this, the right to criticise religions and the religious-Right (including the Christian-Right, Buddhist-Right, Hindu-Right and Jewish-Right) is crucial as is international solidarity and an unequivocal defence of migrant rights, secularism, equality and citizenship.

Clearly, those in the business of defending Islamism make a mockery of traditional Left values and are incapable of fighting for social justice on multiple fronts – including against the religious-Right, racism and xenophobia, fascism of all stripes, UK Government’s restrictions on civil liberties as well as for free expression, amongst others.

Now is the time to reclaim the Left and the values it represents for us all – irrespective of ‘community,’ beliefs and borders. In the age of ISIS, this is an historical task and necessity.


It takes courage to go against the grain

fabrica-fgm_0x440By now you must have heard about the campaign by a 17 year old girl Fahma Mohamed with the Guardian to end FGM. The petition, which has received nearly 200,000 signatures, has succeeded in getting Fahma a meeting with the Education Secretary to raise a very simple yet effective solution to this horrendous problem in Britain.

FGM has already been banned since 1985 without even one prosecution (though this is all about to change) meaning that around 20,000 British girls are at risk of being mutilated every year without anyone being held to account. It’s particularly dangerous during holidays when families take their girls back to be cut or have them mutilated right here – a period known as “cutting season”. Fahma is suggesting that schools teach about FGM before the holidays. Simple and effective.

This campaign will help bring an end to FGM in Britain because it heralds a real change in attitudes. Not of the public at large per se because it has been a while now that FGM has been considered child abuse by large numbers of people (thanks to the tireless efforts of many campaigners over many many long years). But it’s a palpable change in the attitude of “Guardian-types” – the ones who defend culture and religion despite all human cost.

The fact that the Guardian is leading this campaign says it all. It’s the beginning of the end for FGM in Britain.

It’s certainly cause for celebration.

A little more than 6 months ago, the NSPCC’s helpline for FGM victims was deemed “racist curtain-twitching”. A little more than a year ago, when asked about the lack of prosecutions in Britain, Commander Simon Foy, the child abuse specialist at Scotland Yard, said “I am not necessarily sure that the availability of a stronger sense of prosecution will change it for the better” and that “Inspection almost at times is considered to be a form of abuse in itself. We should not encourage behaviour if that behaviour is in itself child abuse”…  This culturally relativist attitude – that the Guardian excels in – has stopped Britain from addressing FGM for so long because it has deemed it racist to demand an end to inhuman cultural or religious traditions and practices. It’s this “tolerant” attitude (that is in reality tolerance of the intolerable for the “other”) that has resulted in a teacher saying “that’s nice” when her student tells her she was cut during the holidays and caused the likes of “feminist voice” Germaine Greer to say banning FGM is “an attack on cultural identity” and that “One man’s beautification is another man’s mutilation”…

Yes, the tide has definitely turned from the days when I was scolded by “women’s rights campaigners” in the 1980s for calling it mutilation; “call it circumcision and respect culture and religion!”, they said.

What is important to remember, and which will soon be forgotten, is that it doesn’t take much courage to oppose inhumanity when the tide has turned; it takes courage to oppose it when everyone else is defending it. This is what someone like teacher Lisa Zimmermann did; I do wonder if Fahma would be standing where she is if it were not for her. Instead of saying “that’s nice”, Lisa Zimmermann was horrified when she found out some of her students had been cut; she co-founded the “Female Defence League”, which started off with 4 girls writing anonymous poetry. They were accused of making pornography when the girls made a film against FGM. Now the group has over 100 members and the rest so to say is history.

There are obvious lessons here well known to any campaigner who wants to see positive change. Swimming against the mainstream is difficult and may at times seem impossible, but it does eventaully have an impact.  The tide will eventually turn as it will on segregation of the sexes, on Sharia courts in Britain and on the burqa. Just wait and see.