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.”

On Salah al Bander’s hate campaign against Nahla Mahmoud: Police and Lib Dems must act

nahlaThe Liberal Democrats member and the former councillor, Salah al Bander, who led the Takfir/Hate campaign against Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s Spokesperson Nahla Mahmoud last year is now back with other death threats.

In last week’s ‘A View Point’ which al Bander hosts (episode No 109 also available on his Facebook page), he discusses ‘Extremism and ISIS’ within the Sudanese Diaspora in the UK and says that Nahla Mahmoud is an extremist as dangerous as ISIS:

“Our youth are faced with two extreme choices, the choice of ISIS which is a savage path, and the choice of Nahla Mahmoud which is a shameful scandalous path, and one which no morals would accept”. He adds that Nahla is “a woman who is deviating the youth, insulting Islam and promoting infidelity”. He calls on people to take action against her and adds: “We will not tolerate what she is advocating: promoting the addiction and drinking of alcohol in public, insulting people’s beliefs, offending Islam and the Sudanese traditions and culture. We believe that her goals of promoting Ridah/Apostasy and encouraging people out of Islam, besides her missionary role to insult people’s beliefs is a dangerous project which should be fought against.” He also says: “This issue needs clear awareness, caution, preparation and serious handling to tackle the extremism we are facing so that our youth are not forced to either path if that was the path of ISIS or the path of Nahla.”

In the programme, he uses – without permission – personal photos from Nahla’s social media accounts, photo-shopped phrases and edited segments from her online articles. He also uses a recording of a phone conversation with Nahla Mahmoud’s mother, edited and recorded without her knowledge or permission.

A number of other activists are attacked, including Maryam Namazie, Founder and Spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, who he claims is “a mentor of Nahla” who has “insulted Islam” herself.

The show is in Arabic as was his previous Takfir/Hate campaign.  He is still using “double-speak” – saying one thing in English to dupe his English speaking audience and another in Arabic. His speech in Arabic clearly incites hatred against Nahla who has merely expressed her views, promoted freethought and secularism and lived a life of her choosing. Al-Bander shamefully compares her to ISIS, which kills people like Nahla every day, whilst he himself promotes Islamist ideas of hate, misogyny and the targeting of apostates not very different from that of ISIS.

Despite al-Bander’s hate campaign, Spencer Hagard, Chair of the Cambridge Liberal Democrats found the former’s threats “groundless” and said that his inquiry into Nahla’s complaint “increased his previously high esteem for al Bandar”.

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain is outraged at the callous disregard for the safety and well being of one of our activists and calls on the Lib Dems to investigate this incident of hate speech  – properly for a change.

We are also fed up of the police’s inaction when it comes to threats against apostates and call on them to investigate and reopen Nahla’s case against al Bander. This is the third incident reported to the police against al Bander without any action taken.

Calling someone Murtad/ Kafir/Zindeeq, claiming they have “insulted Islam” and targeting them within a context where Islamists and Islamic states kill and threaten freethinkers is a direct threat and a form of hate speech.

CEMB calls on the authorities to ensure the safety of those who are deemed apostates. People, including Muslims, must have the right to express dissent and leave Islam without threats, and fear of their lives.

For more information, please contact:

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
BM Box 1919, London WC1N 3XX, UK
tel: +44 (0) 7719166731

Really iERA? Legal action?

Below is an email I just received from iERA – the organisation we recently exposed  as a hate group (not charity) in our report entitled Evangelising Hate.

They are now threatening the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) and myself with legal action unless we remove one paragraph on my blog (though they are also “taking legal advice on the whole report”).

Really iERA? Just one teeny tiny little paragraph though we have over 40 pages of the organisation’s hate speech documented in our report?

In the letter, the hate group says they have never called for anyone’s death. Well, we beg to differ and we think the facts speak for themselves.

And to prove our point, after the report was published, a number of iERA supporters/activists have called me a “murtad” and “munafiq”, which are clear death threats for anyone who knows the Islamist movement. There have been death threats against me on their Facebook page (which have now been deleted). Plus one of their speakers we exposed in our report, Adnan Rashid, has been calling me Janazie (which means a corpse)…

iERA: If anyone should face legal action it is you lot.

And no we will not be removing anything.

Here’s their letter, which if looked at carefully just exposes them even more…

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you in relation to your “Evangelising Hate” report against iERA as well as further comments made by Maryam Namazie on the website entitled FreeThoughtBlogs ( where she wrote:

“The iERA has sent the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) two T-shirts. You know, the yellow ones which their dawah teams wear on the streets of Britain to hate-preach misogyny and death to apostates, gays, Jews, unveiled women, Muslims who don’t agree with them….”

We are taking legal advice on the report as a whole because we believe there are some blatant untruths and twisting of many matters. As for the paragraph above, this contains outright falsehood as iERA has never called for the death of anyone. In fact, iERA does not know of any mainstream organisation in the West who has called for the death to unveiled women or Muslims who don’t agree with them. We advise you to take down this paragraph as this puts Ms. Namazie and your organisation at considerable risk of legal action.

I look forward to your confirmation of taking down this quote.

Yours faithfully,

Abdurrahman bin Jaseem

You want to ban hate speech? Isn’t that what religion is?

I was on a panel discussion this past weekend on free expression.

In such discussions, there are always those who are proponents of banning ‘hate’ speech because they say it causes emotional distress and can lead to discrimination.

My response is that much of religion is hate speech. Have they read the Koran or Bible recently?

Whenever I hear a sura of the Koran, I feel distressed. And by the way, every time we hear religious edicts that say apostates should die, or that women are subhuman, can’t that also be considered adding to the discrimination apostates or women face?

We have been tortured, executed and stoned to death with ‘Allah O Akbar’ ringing in our ears:

(The singer says, with Allah O Akbar, we have been totured, executed and stoned to death.)

Nonetheless, you can’t ban religion because it is hate speech.

Of course I know when people defend the banning of hate speech, they don’t mean banning religion – that’s always off-limits; what they usually mean is that they want a ban on the uncompromising criticism of religion.

I say let the religious bigots – and for that matter all bigots – express themselves freely.

And we will too.

Speech – however distressing or hateful – is not the same as physical harm.

And anyway, you can’t stop hate with censorship. You can only stop it by challenging it head on.