Sheffield ASH doesn’t like my anti-Islamist stance

Updated at bottom of post

A student at Sheffield University messaged the University’s Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society suggesting that they invite me to speak there.

The message the student received is below.

Let me just say that I didn’t realise one could be too “hard” on the Islamist movement. Far be it for me to upset the Islamic Circle and interfaith wheeling and dealings. It can’t be easy having to listen to ex-Muslims talk about their right to apostasy. I wonder if the Sheffield ASH realises that it was the Goldsmiths ISOC brothers who tried to disrupt and intimidate my talk and not the other way around?

Moreover, I didn’t realise opposing Sam Harris’ views on profiling of Muslims as well as defending open borders for those fleeing persecution (including of course many Muslims) does a pariah make.

But live and learn.

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After having written to the Student Group – here is their further response and mine:

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Confronting Islamism with Secularism, Free Expression and Citizenship Rights

The below is my speech prepared for European Parliament meeting on 23 February 2016.

Today, I would like to focus on the importance of defending secularism, universalism, free expression, and citizenship rights in confronting Islamism.

To begin with, let me clarify the distinctions between Islam (an idea), Muslims (people) and Islamism (the religious-Right). The three are often conflated to the advantage of the Islamists and to the disadvantage of dissenters and freethinkers.

Let me explain.

Islamism is a political movement with state power. Whilst it relies on religion as well as terror and violence, it is firmly rooted in political equations for the extreme-Rightwing restructuring of society.

All religious-Right movements – whether it’s the Hindu-Right, Christian-Right, Jewish or Buddhist-Right are fundamentally comparable, albeit with differences as in any phenomenon and depending on their power and influence.

The fight for secularism and universal values is first and foremost a fight against the religious-Right in general and Islamism in particular – whether in Europe or globally.

Islam on the other hand is a religion like all others and can and must be open to criticism, even mockery and blasphemy. When you can be killed for leaving Islam, the celebration and normalisation of blasphemy and apostasy  are important forms of resistance.

This is increasingly difficult, not just in countries under Islamic law, but here in Europe too where much-needed criticism is often equated with bigotry and discrimination against the “Muslim minority.” Accusations of Islamophobia are often used to scaremonger people into silence rather than out of any patronising “concern for minorities” – as if “minorities” do not need or have the right to criticise religion and the religious-Right.

This homogenisation of entire “communities” and societies refuses to acknowledge that there are many within those who are considered “Muslims” who oppose Islamism or disagree or dislike some or all of the tenets of Islam just like there are those who oppose the Christian-Right and disagree with or dislike tenets of Christianity. Equating criticism of Islam with bigotry aids the Islamists in their imposition of “secular” blasphemy laws using rights language to censor and limit the right to free expression. Freedom of expression without the right to criticise religion is meaningless. Such criticism has been key for social progress. In the age of ISIS, it is also crucial for the defence of rights and equality.  It helps to dismantle and subvert the sacred and its political role and open the space for dissent where none is permissible or acceptable by those in power.

When masses of people are homogenised and seen to be one and the same with the Islamists, the right to free expression is reduced to a western demand rather than a universal one. But no one needs free expression more than those challenging or living under the boot of the religious-Right – where criticism of religion is often seen to be analogous with criticism of the state with serious consequences.

This gives added importance to the free expression of those of us who live here in Europe. Our criticism can help push open the space for dissent particularly for those who are unable to do so or who are paying with their lives.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain is an excellent example of this. When CEMB was formed nearly 9 years ago to break the taboo that comes with leaving Islam and to challenge apostasy laws, there were hardly any ex-Muslims willing to speak publicly. Today there are many who do so, asserting their right to atheism, including in countries where it is a prosecutable offence – primarily via social media.

In December 2015, for example, the CEMB initiated #ExMuslimBecause; within 24 hours it had trended on Twitter with 120,000 Tweets from 65 countries. This despite the fact that atheism is seen as a serious challenge to Islamic states. Saudi Arabia, for example, introduced a law in 2014 that defines “atheism as terrorism.” And 14 states impose the death penalty for atheists: Afghanistan, Iran, Islamic State, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Even in Europe, many ex-Muslims remain in the closet and fear upsetting their families, facing ostracisation or placing themselves in danger. Ex-Muslims are often seen though Islamist eyes with labels of Islamophobic, “native informants,” and “coconuts” and are accused of “inciting hatred and discrimination” against Muslims.

Nonetheless, the right to religion has a corresponding right to be free from religion, including for those labelled “Muslims.”

Though dissent is often portrayed as a betrayal or an attack on the “Muslim community,” it is in fact very much part of everyday life as I mentioned before. Everything from the veil, Sharia Law to gender segregation… are highly contested and challenged. Yet because of the homogenisation of “Muslims” and their conflation with Islamists, there is this absurd perception that there is no dissent. It’s as if we don’t have any atheists, secularists, free thinkers, women’s rights campaigners, socialists, democrats… amongst those labelled Muslims. From this point of view, the default and “authentic” Muslim is always the Islamist.

Identity politics and multiculturalism (not as a lived experience but as a segregationist social policy) including the Iraq-isation of the world has so essentialised “Muslims” that solidarity with or opposing bigotry against “Muslims” usually means that the postmodernist Left end up in siding with Islam and Islamism rather than with dissenters and political and social movements and ideals.

This is why, for example, the Feminist Society and LGBTQ+ Society at Goldsmiths University absurdly issued a statement of solidarity with the Islamic Society whose “brothers” attempted to disrupt and intimidate my talk on “Apostasy, Blasphemy and Free Expression in the Age of ISIS,” rather than with me.

“What is most upsetting” in all this, says Marieme Helie Lucas “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.”

This has also been the position of successive British governments whereby multiculturalism and multi-faithism has been promoted as social policies to defend religion’s role in the public space, impose religious identity as the only marker to define citizens, and hand large sections of citizens to be managed and controlled by regressive Islamist organisations and imams.

There are no more citizens but segregated communities with their own faith schools, faith-based services and even faith-based courts: Separate and Unequal.

But you cannot be a 21 century human being and live under Islamic rules – whether in Europe or elsewhere – and not clash with it. It’s impossible. You don’t need to draw a cartoon of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, to do this.

Just celebrate Valentine’s Day and see what happens. From Indonesia, to Pakistan, to Iran, there are edicts and directives trying to stop people from celebrating it – without success. Last year in Saudi Arabia, five Saudi men were arrested by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and sentenced to 32 years in prison and 4,500 lashes for holding a Valentine’s Day party with “unrelated women, drinking and dancing.” In Islamic schools here in Europe, Valentine’s Day is frowned upon as un-Islamic.

Take any other aspect of people’s lives and this clash is evident. Take music.

ISIS recently beheaded a 15 year old boy for listening to western music on his CD player at his dad’s shop.

In Iran, a metal band called Confess face the death penalty for blasphemy; “advertising against the system”; forming and running an illegal band and record label in the “satanic ‘metal & rock’ music style”; writing anti-religious, atheist, political and anarchist lyrics.

In Mali, the Islamists have banned music. Aliou Toure, the lead singer of Mali’s Songhoy Blues says: “We had no idea that one day we could be forbidden from playing music, because music is universal… It’s like being forbidden to see the woman you love. Music for us is like a woman we love.”

In Britain, too, groups like the Muslim Council of Britain advise that children of Muslim parents should avoid “harmful” music.

As I said, people’s daily lives clash with Islamic rules. If it didn’t – if it was people’s culture and religion, there would be no need for absurdly titled “Commissions for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” or the “morality police. “Islamists would not need to impose their laws with such indiscriminate violence and repression.

In fact, the terrorism we have witnessed in Paris and London but mainly mosques and markets and schools in many cities across the “Islamic” world is just the tip of the iceberg. Sharia law controls and restricts every aspect of people’s lives making clashes inevitable, particularly since a large majority of the populations in the Middle East are under 30.  And of course this does not even begin to include those who risk their very lives by criticising Islam directly. People like:

Raif Badawi, sentenced to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes in Saudi Arabia

Bangladeshi bloggers, like Avijit Roy, hacked to death for criticising Islam

Hesameddin Farzizadeh, 23 year old writer and student who has been sentenced to 7 years in prison, 74 lashes and the death penalty for apostasy in Iran for a book examining the history and questioning facets of Shi’a Islam

Abdulaziz Dauda, also known as Abdul  Inyass, an Islamic scholar sentenced to death in Nigeria for blasphemy for a lecture which was deemed to be blasphemous against Islam’s prophet

Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet and artist who lives in Saudi Arabia, who has been sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ for his poetry which the regime claims has questioned religion and spread atheism

27 Sudanese Muslims from the Qurani sect, charged with apostasy and disturbing the public peace for considering the Quran holy but believing that the Hadith are not authentic

Or Egyptian poet Fatima Naoot given a 3-year sentence for insulting Islam Eid Al-Adha’s tradition of slaughtering sheep as the “greatest massacre committed by human beings”…

The list is endless.

It makes me laugh to hear Sam Harris say “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.” Or the far-Right like Pegida  saying that they are the only ones “critical of Islam,” crying crocodile tears for the victims of Islamism whilst dehumanising and vilifying its victims and survivors, including by equating refugees with ISIS – all in order to defend what is fundamentally a “white, Christian Europe” against what they perceive to be the Muslim/migrant “savage hordes.”

The defence of the clash of civilisations theses ignores the fact that “Secularism and fundamentalism are not ideas stitched into people’s DNA,” according to writer Kenan Malik. In reality, there is a clash between theocrats on the one hand and secularists, including many “Muslims” on the other.

What is often forgotten in all this talk equating Islam and Islamism with “Muslims” is that Islamism has been build on the mass graves of our dissenters – Muslims, Ex-Muslims, religious minorities, political dissidents, transgressors and others.

In Iran, an entire generation has been slaughtered for this movement to maintain itself in the state. There are similar stories in many places such as in Algeria where the term “green fascists” was coined.

One has to see this immense dissent in order to begin to separate people from the Islamists and to ally with and show solidarity with progressive social and political movements and see the commonalities in our fight for secularism and against Islamism in Europe and across the globe.

Identity politics ignores and negates the plurality and dissent and fails to see the social and political struggles and class politics.

“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.”

This is the story of our lives.

Take the example of 27 year old Farkhunda accused by a mullah of being an “infidel” who burnt verses of the Koran in Afghanistan. She was attacked by a mob in Kabul, lynched, stoned, run over, burnt and her body thrown in a river whilst onlookers and police stood by.

What could she expect when she goes against “Muslim sensibilities” tweeted one of these absurd liberal Left do-gooders who only seem to do good for religion and the religious-Right but never women? But wasn’t Farkhunda Muslim too? Actually she was very devout and had gone to the local mullah to tell him to stop selling amulets to women.

What became very obvious after her murder was that not all Afghans or Muslims or Muslim men have the same “sensibilities.” Women carried her body– going against Islamic customs – to her gravesite and with her family’s permission encircled by a chain of men to protect them. They surrounded her coffin right until the end, gave her the respect she deserved, and chanted: “we are all Farkhunda.” And when a mullah who had justified Farkhunda’s killing, tried to join them, they refused, created a circle around her gravesite, and forced him to leave.

Azaryun, a youth activist says, “That is what Farkhunda teaches me: together we can change the narrative that others write about women. We stood up against the most respected mullah. We carried the coffin and buried her.”

Neayish, a medical student, said: “It was the first time I realized my real power and told myself that I’m breaking the boundaries of tradition.”

So “the people” of Afghanistan do not all agree. “Muslims” are not all the same. And I place Muslims in quotes since not everyone living in Afghanistan or Iran are Muslims or Islamists just like not everyone is Britain is Christian or Pegida.

Everywhere, from Iran to Afghanistan and Algeria and in the heart of Europe there are women and men who break taboos and change narratives and stand against religion’s encroachment in people’s lives and against Islamism.

Islamism’s culture is not the culture of the many who refuse and resist. It’s not ours.

As Women Living Under Muslims Laws says: Islamism’s ” main target is the internal democratic opposition to their theocratic project and to their project of controlling all aspects of society in the name of religion, including education, the legal system, youth services, etc. When fundamentalists come to power, they silence the people, they physically eliminate dissidents, writers, journalists, poets, musicians, painters – like fascists do. Like fascists, they physically eliminate the ‘untermensch’ – the subhumans – among them ‘inferior races’, gays, mentally or physically disabled people. And they lock women ‘in their place’, which as we know from experience ends up being a straight jacket…”

Of course with the rise of Islamism, appearances of religiosity increases but much of this is imposed or as a result of pressure and intimidation and state-driven or political “revival.”

In the past several decades, the rise of Islamic states and movements in many countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, Europe; the constraints on free expression; the imposition of Sharia law, increased veiling and gender segregation are the direct result of a rise of Islamism and not due to people becoming more devout.

Let’s not forget that Islamism was brought to centre stage as a political tool in aid of US foreign policy during the Cold War in an attempt to create a ‘green belt’ around the then Soviet Union. In contemporary history, the rise of Islamism can be linked to the establishment of an Islamic regime in Iran on the back of a suppressed left-leaning revolution. Of course, now, it is a movement that stands on its own two feet and brings misery wherever it rears its ugly head.

Despite this, let’s also remember that the rise of Islamism has seen a corresponding rise in atheism, women’s liberation and secularism in “Muslim” societies and communities – a form of backlash and resistance.

Social media and the internet have had similar effects to the printing press, giving masses of people access to ideas and information normally censored and suppressed by Islamist state controlled media. It’s also given people the opportunity to say the unsayable, break taboos and question the status quo. A quick look at only the Arab atheist pages recently censored by Facebook gives a small idea of what I can the tsunami of atheism.

There are countless examples of this huge political fight against the Islamists by those deemed to be of “Muslim heritage” and how these contestations are ignored in Europe with only Islamism’s narrative given credence.

In Iran, for example, women are fighting hard to enter sports stadiums where they are banned due to gender segregation rules. In Britain, however, gender segregation is actively promoted. One good example of this is when in December 2013, Universities UK, a regulatory body, endorsed gender segregation in its guidelines on external speakers, saying: “Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.” (The familiar separate but equal arguments we heard during racial apartheid in South Africa.)

UUK was eventually forced to withdraw its guidance after women’s rights campaigners and secularists protested the guidelines; as a result of our campaigning efforts, the Equality and Human Rights Commission ruled against it saying: “Gender segregation is not permitted in any academic meetings or at events, lectures or meetings provided for students, or at events attended by members of the public or employees of the university or the students’ union.”

Sharia family codes are another area where women’s rights campaigners have fought hard to oppose discriminatory laws. Under Sharia’s civil code a women’s testimony is half that of a man’s, women have limited right to divorce whereas men have unilateral right to divorce, child custody is given to the father at a pre-set age irrespective of the welfare of the child and marriage contracts are entered into between the man and the woman’s male guardian.

The Islamic Sharia court in Britain explains why a woman’s testimony is half that of a man’s: ‘If one forgets, the other can remind her.’ It’s the difference between a man and a woman’s brains.’ ‘A woman’s character is not so good for a case where testimony requires attention and concentration.’ It goes on to say it is not ‘derogatory’ but ‘the secret of women’s nature.’

According to human rights campaigner Gita Sahgal, “there is active support for sharia laws precisely because it is limited to denying women rights in the family. No hands are being cut off, so there can’t be a problem …”

But this is an area of fightback for many years.

In Algeria, women’s rights activists singing for change label 20 years of Sharia in the family code as 20 years of madness.  They sing:

“I am telling you a story

Of what the powerful have done

Of rules, a code of despair

A code obsessed with women…”

“This law must be undone…!”

In Iran, after the establishment of Sharia law there, the Iranian Lawyers’ Association came out in full force against the new religious codes only to be met with arrest and exile; some opponents were even charged with apostasy, which is a “crime” punishable by death…

But here, the British government has so far failed to defend women’s rights and equality and even groups like the British Humanist Association state that Sharia courts are people’s “right to religion;” its Chief Executive has stated after visiting a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council that he was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do.”

Also, despite its discriminatory nature, the Law Society in Britain issued a practice note for solicitors on how to draw up ‘Sharia-compliant’ wills, stating that:

“… illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs … The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir … Non-Muslims may not inherit at all … a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir…”

The note was withdrawn only after the protests of women’s rights campaigners and secularists.

It’s the same with regards the veil, burqa and niqab, which are highly contested.

In Iran, for example, there is an unveiling movement though improper veiling and unveiling is punishable by a fine, arrest, and up to two months in prison.

In Iran, billboards will compare unveiled women to  unwrapped sweets – free for the taking. Here in Europe, pressures include calling improperly veiled women “hoejabis.” Despite this, “progressives” often defend the hijab as a “right” and a “choice” when, socially speaking, it has been imposed by brute force. Defenders of the veil here in Europe forget that there is a corresponding right to unveil and for unveiled women not to be perceived as whores and sources of fitnah.

What I want to say is that in areas where there is a huge fight taking place, like against Sharia law, the veil or gender segregation, rather than siding with those defending women’s rights and equality, there is often a defence of the Islamists under the guide of defending “Muslims.”

How to change things? We need to go back to basics. It is the human being who has rights, deserves respect and equality, not religions, cultures and beliefs and certainly not the religious-Right.

“Muslims” or those labelled as such – whether citizens of Europe for generations or migrants who arrived today – are individuals not to be collectively blamed or held to account for Islamism’s crimes. Also religion or culture cannot trump human rights. A defence of universal rights in the face of cultural relativism is most needed and urgent.

Key in all this is secularism.

Secularism (the separation of religion from the state) is a precondition for safeguarding individual rights; is not western but universal; and is a fundamental right and necessity for all, particularly for those living outside of the west or in minority communities here in Europe.

In fact, the articulation and defence of secularism is more urgent than ever given the encroachment on civil rights and freedoms by the religious-Right (particularly Islamism) and the urgent need for solidarity with the palpable fight-back in many communities and societies.

Whilst secularism is often portrayed as anti-religion, it in fact guarantees the right to religion and belief.

This is not the case when religion has a role in the state. The death penalty for apostasy or blasphemy, including against believers, is one example of many. In Iran 130 offences are punishable by death, including heresy and enmity against god.

Secularism also defends the right to expression of belief even whilst limiting the role of expression in the public space. For example, the Christian-Right calls for laws forbidding reproductive rights for all citizens yet laws granting such rights do not force Catholics to practice either contraception or abortion.

On the flip side, there are sharia law courts in Britain, where women’s rights are discriminated against. Where the law is secular, women have equal rights and access not available to them under religious laws. Restricting these sharia courts would still allow women to give up their rights to alimony or child custody in a civil court if they felt they deserved nothing whilst protecting the many who don’t want to or are coerced into giving up their rights under sharia.

What is often touted as ‘religious rights’ here in Europe is in fact an imposition by the religious-Right and Islamists and aims to implicate the state in the implementation of inequalities in the name of rights. There is, however, no right to oppress and discriminate against.

As author and human rights lawyer, Karima Bennoune says:

“…in applying freedom of religion, both those who believe and those who choose not to believe, as well as those who seek to manifest belief and those who do not wish to be coerced to do so, must be taken into consideration. This is only possible in a framework of secularism…

“…The term secularism here means emphasis on the temporal over the religious in law and an accompanying minimization of the role of religion in the functioning of the state and legal system. The significance of the temporal for human rights is not that it is always morally superior to the religious, [though I would argue it is] but rather that it is contestable. The temporal allows space for dissent which the ‘you cannot argue with God’ paradigm forecloses.”

Those who consider a demand for secularism as ‘culturally inappropriate,’ ‘western,’ or ‘colonialist’ are only considering Islamism’s sensibilities and values, not that of the many who resist. Islamism is a form of colonialism though it is seen as ‘authentic.’ Islamists in Niger or Mali are de-Africanising the “lived Islam” there, for example, and the niqab and burqa were unheard of in many countries just a few decades ago.

Plus even in many western countries the fight for secularism is not over. Britain for example, has an established church. The queen is the head of the Church of England. There are unelected bishops in the House of Lords and daily prayers in Parliament. Even in France, which is renowned for its secularism, judges take Sharia law into account in, for example, the annulment of marriage and have even introduced Sharia’s civil code for some of its citizens of North African descent via bilateral agreements.

Also, what is often forgotten is that believers can be secularists too.  Recent surveys in France show that about 25% of the population in France is atheist, with the same percentage being Christian and also Muslim. 75% of the population, however, are secularists.  Research carried out by Southall Black Sisters in the UK shows that many women, including those who are ‘deeply observant want to be able to traverse different religious spaces for their social and emotional lives and secular spaces for their activism and advice.’

There are strong secular movements in so-called Muslim-majority countries like Iran, Pakistan, Algeria and Mali, despite the great risks involved. Karima Bennoune has brought to light many such groups and individuals in her recently published book, the title of which is based on a Pakistani play where the devotional singer who is beaten and intimidated for singing deemed ‘un-Islamic’ retorts: ‘Your fatwas do not apply here.’

The uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, such as the mass protests against Islamists for the assassination of Socialist leader Chokri Belaid in Tunisia; the vast secular protests in Turkey against Islamisation; the Harlem Shake in front of Muslim Brotherhood headquarter in Egypt and the largest demonstration in contemporary history against the Muslim Brotherhood – 33 million people – are all evidence of that.

The systematic and theorised failure to defend secularism and people’s, particularly women’s, civil rights in many countries and communities, only aids and abets the religious-Right to the detriment of us all – believers and none.

As British philosopher AC Grayling has said: secularism is a fundamental right. Today, given the influence of the religious-Right, it is also a precondition for women’s rights and equality and for rights and freedoms in the society at large. It must be actively defended, promoted, and articulated.

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.”

For ‘Regressive Left’, all Roads End in Supporting Islamism

For ‘Regressive Left’, all Roads End in Supporting Islamism, Bread and Roses TV with Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya
Interview with Nora Mulready, Labour Party Activist
In this week’s programme: Ongoing migrant crisis, Turkish government’s attacks against Kurdish areas, Obama’s mosque visit and gender segregation, another insane fatwa on blasphemy, and defiant joggers turning Baghdad’s road of death into highway of hope.

براي چپ عقب رو همه راه ها به طرفدارى از اسلام سياسى ختم ميشود؛ برنامه نان و گل سرخ با مریم نمازی و فریبرز پویا
مصاحبه با نورا ملردى؛ فعال حزب كارگر انگليس
در برنامه این هفته: بحران مهاجرت، حملات دولت ترکیه علیه مناطق کردنشین، اوباما و مسجد و جنسیت تبعیض نژادی، یکی دیگر از فتوای دیوانه در توهین به مقدسات، و تبدیل جاده مرگ بغداد به جاده اميد
ترجمه : مچمد باشم
زیرنویس: بهرام م
اديت: فرىبرز پويا
تهيه كننده: مریم نمازی

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MARYAM NAMAZIE: Why I had to face down the bullies trying to silence my supposedly ‘offensive’ stance on Islam

2FEAE44E00000578-3391194-image-a-30_1452297932020Original published in Daily Mail on 9 January 2016

This week marked the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

The atrocity was a brutal attack not just on human life but also on the principle of free speech, one of the pillars of human civilisation. In the aftermath of the killings, people across the world united to express their support for that essential liberty.

Yet today, freedom of speech in British universities is under heavier assault than ever before.

In this case, the weapon of destruction is not the barrel of a gun but the proclaimed desire to maintain student safety by turning university campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where students will be shielded from anything they might find offensive.

Within our society, there should of course be safe spaces – such as women’s refuges – for victims of violence, discrimination and abuse. But it is wrong to hijack this concept as a means of stifling open debate within the higher education system.

By their very nature, universities should be ‘unsafe spaces’ 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? That is a recipe for intellectual paralysis. Indeed, most human progress stems from a willingness to embrace ‘unsafe’ or ‘offensive’ ideas.

Moreover, what is considered ‘offensive’ or ‘hate speech’ is highly subjective. All too often the limits of speech are set by those with the loudest voices or the most political influence, like religious bodies or student unions or the state authorities. Once the limits are set, it’s a slippery slope. Limiting free speech silences and censors dissenting voices which most need to be heard.

That has certainly been my recent experience of British university life. I am an Iranian-born ex-Muslim woman who campaigns against Islamism and is critical of all religions, including Islam.

The central theme of my work is the promotion of equality, secularism and universal rights for all, including ex-Muslims, Muslims and migrants.

Despite my progressive outlook, my opposition to Islamism has led to regular attempts to silence me through so-called ‘safe space’ policies. To the ‘safe space’ brigade, I must be ostracised because of my supposedly ‘offensive’ stance on Islam, even though I am the target of frequent abuse and even death threats.

In one recent example of this trend, the Islamic society at Goldsmiths University in south London tried to get my talk to the students’ Atheist Society cancelled on the grounds that I would violate their ‘safe space’ policy by inciting ‘hatred and bigotry’. When this attempt to gag me failed, the Islamic Society president and its ‘brothers’ sought to create a mood of fear and intimidation at my talk.

It was the same story at Warwick University in October, when the student union tried to bar my talk to the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society (WASH) because I am, apparently ‘highly inflammatory and could incite hatred on campus’. Fortunately, the student union’s decision provoked a wave of protests, and my visit was able to go ahead.

By their very nature, universities should be ‘unsafe spaces’ 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?

But these two cases show very clearly how ‘safe space’ policies are being used to silence critics by promoting the Islamist narrative, which conflates criticism of Islam and Islamism with bigotry against Muslims.

The Goldsmiths Islamic Society’s approach is all the more absurd given that it has invited speakers who defend jihad and the death penalty for apostates.

In the fashionable tale of victimhood cultivated by Islamic Society leaders and their Student Union allies, there is a deeply patronising view of Muslim students as a single, homogeneous body with one regressive mindset. But this is completely false.

During my talk at Goldsmiths, Muslim women and migrants of Muslim background spoke up against the aggressive behaviour of the Islamic Society members.

I have also received letters from other Muslims at the talk who agreed with me, but felt too intimidated to act. So when student unions side with Islamic societies against people like myself, they are not ‘protecting’ Muslims against bigotry, but siding with Islamists.

In their campaign to stifle free speech, the ‘safe space’ ideologues seek to equate ‘offensive’ speech with real harm. But their argument could hardly be more hollow. The expression of ideas, even if offensive and hurtful, is not the same as causing mental or physical injury.

That’s not to say that hate speech doesn’t exist. Groups like Britain First express hatred against migrants, Muslims and apostates every day. But you can’t stop hate speech by stifling free expression. Free expression is vital for any society. And it is not free unless it is free for everyone, including those whose views are deemed distasteful and even hateful, as long as they are not inciting violence.

What we need is not more restrictions on free speech, but the opposite.

For that, we need an end to the bullying ‘safe space’ policies adopted by the National Union of Students.

Video: Goldsmith University Islamist thugs fail to disrupt speech on blasphemy and apostasy

SEE VIDEO BELOW

Maryam Namazie spoke on “apostasy, blasphemy and free expression in the age of ISIS” on 30 November 2015 at Goldsmiths University at the invitation of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH).

Goldsmiths Islamic Society (ISOC) called for the talk’s cancellation saying Maryam’s presence is “a violation to [their] safe space,” and that she will “incite hatred and bigotry, at a very sensitive time for Muslims in the light of a huge rise in Islamophobic attacks.”

When the talk went ahead as planned, ISOC “brothers” attended the meeting in order to disrupt and create a climate of fear and intimidation. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ISOC “SISTERS” AND OTHER MUSLIMS ATTENDING DID NOT SUPPORT OR DEFEND THEIR THUGGISH BEHAVIOUR.

Despite the many attempts of the ISOC “brothers,” the meeting ended successfully and raised critical issues, including that criticism of Islam and Islamism are not bigotry against Muslims who are often the first victims of Islamism and on the frontlines of resistance. The meeting also helped expose the Islamists for what they are – thugs who cannot tolerate dissent.

Freedom of expression and the right to criticise and leave Islam without fear and intimidation is a basic human right.

For more details on what happened, see this link.

You can also see a clip of a similar speech at Warwick University.

Filmed by Sarah.

The answer is a global human resistance to Islamism

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FRENCH: Attaques sur Paris : la réponse doit être une résistance humaine globale à l’islamisme

We mourn our dead in Paris today and stand in solidarity with the people of France – no ifs or buts.

And whilst we mourn the dead, let us not forget the many other civilians who whilst going about their daily lives have been slaughtered by Islamism – a global killing machine.

This month alone, the dead comprise 7 Hazara, including a 9 year old girl, beheaded by ISIS and 19 year old Rokhshana, stoned to death by the Taliban in Afghanistan; a mass grave of Yazidi women uncovered after ISIS was routed from Sinjar (see photo on left); roadside bombings in Baghdad and Sadr City, which killed 41 people; twin explosions in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed at least 43 people; a downed Russian airliner killing all 224 on board; at least 4 killed in suicide attack in Sinai, Egypt; a secular publisher killed and 3 others wounded in Bangladesh; at least 32 people, including four children, killed in a suicide attack in Pakistan; 30 people killed and dozens injured in twin suicide bomb attacks in Nigeria’s Borno State…

Countless others have also been killed – not by “jihadis” but legally by Islamic states via Sharia laws: 100 have been executed in Saudi Arabia during a 6 month period with 700 executions in Iran during the same time-frame. The current President Rouhani, who planned to visit France, has overseen the execution of 2000 civilians during two years in office… Many more languish in prison – people like Raif Badawi and Atena Faraghdani – or face male guardianship rules, compulsory veiling,  gender segregation, even bans on laughing out loud or music…

U2 lead singer Bono says the Paris massacres, especially the attack on the music concert, is Islamic State’s first “direct hit against music” but music has been the target of Islamists for decades. In Mali, for example, Islamists have banned music in the north of that country. In Iran, women cannot sing solo in front of men…

The Islamists target music, art, love, and always civilians.

French President Hollande says the Paris attacks are an act of war. True, but this war has been raging for decades. People in many countries across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia have lost a generation and been fighting this movement at great risk to their lives. This “war” is one of the main reasons for the mass migration.

Despite the devastation, there is hope. Just this week, women came out to oppose Rokhshana’s stoning, tens of thousands came out against the ISIS beheadings in Afghanistan and Kurdish fighters liberated Sinjar from ISIS, lowering ISIS’ flag and raising the Kurdish flag.

Protests in defence of the people of Paris are part and parcel of this global protest movement against Islamism’s inhumanity and brutality. Our success will lie in recognising the global resistance against Islamism and seeing how it is intrinsically linked to our own.

It will also lie in our ability to target Islamists and not just jihadis. We cannot win against ISIS whilst wining and dining heads of Islamic states like Rouhani and the Saudi regime or appeasing, funding or even arming “moderate” and “soft” Islamists, which are part of the problem.

We also won’t be able to win if we place collective blame on migrants or Muslims. Many “Muslims” (or those presumed to be Muslims) are the first victims and on the frontlines of resistance. Also, many migrants are fleeing Islamists or dictators like Asad in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan…

Those who kill indiscriminately in Paris or in Raqqa include the European-born. This is not an “anti-imperialist” movement to be excused and justified nor is this about “identity.” It’s about politics – regressive, fascist politics that needs no justification to kill and slaughter. Where Islamism begins, rights, freedoms, democratic politics and freethought ends.

To push back this movement, we must oppose it all – not just jihadis – and not just in Europe. Keeping the people of Europe safe is intrinsically linked to keeping people the world over safe. In this we have many allies amongst the people of Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq to Algeria who have been standing up to and resisting Islamism for decades.

Today we mourn but we also resolve to continue the fightback on behalf of people everywhere.

Onwards towards a global, human resistance to Islamism.

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…]

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.

 

No honour in killing

Here is this week’s Bread and Roses TV deemed “immoral” and “corrupt” by Iranian regime. Hope you like it.

No honour in killing, Bread and Roses TV with Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya
8 September 2015
Interview with Deeyah Khan, Filmmaker, on honour killings
Also the drowning of Aylan, the migrant crisis, revenge rape in India, refugee welcome committees, and a fatwa against roller skating in Mecca.
Director: Reza Moradi
Translation: Mohammad B
Background: The UN conservatively estimates that 5,000 women and girls are killed each year by members of their own family, often fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins – and sometimes mothers and other female relatives. ‘Honour killings’ are usually premeditated and intended to restore a family’s ‘honour’ by ‘cleansing the shame’ which a woman or girl is said to have brought. Clearly, there is no honour in killing.

هیچ افتخارى در قتل ناموسى وجود ندارد، برنامه نان و گل سرخ با مریم نمازی و فریبرز پویا
۹ سپتامبر
مصاحبه با ديا خان، فیلمساز، در مورد قتل ناموسی
همچنین در مورد غرق شدن آيلان، بحران مهاجرتى، تجاوز و انتقام در هند، کمیته خوش آمدگويى پناهندگان و فتوایی علیه رولر اسکیت در مکه.
کارگردان: رضا مرادی
ترجمه : محمد ب
بر مبناي تخمين هاي محافظه كارانه سازمان ملل هر ساله ٥٠٠٠ زن و دختر توسط اعضاي خانواده خود كه اغلب پدر، برادر، عموها و گاها مادران انها هستند كشته ميشوند. قتل ناموسی معمولا با طرح و برنامه ریزی از پيش تعيين شده با هدف بازپس گيري ناموس یک خانواده اجرا ميشود. پاکسازی شرم که ظاهرا یک زن یا دختر براي خانواده به ارمغان آورده است، با از بين بردن وجود او بدست ميايد. واضح است که هیچ افتخاري در قتل وجود دارد .

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Atheism Association of Turkey is fighting for a better Turkey

This week’s Bread and Roses TV – A Political Social Magazine on New Channel TV
With Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya

Atheism Association of Turkey is fighting for a better Turkey
Interview with Morgan Elizabeth Romano and Zehra Pala  of the Atheism Association of Turkey
Background: The Atheism Association in Turkey is second public atheist organisation formed in what is known as a Muslim-majority country, the first being Morocco. In less than a year of its founding, its website was blocked by a Turkish court citing Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Law, which forbids “provoking the people for hate and enmity or degrading them.” Meanwhile, the Association has had to install a panic button in their office due to death threats.
Shocking new: Rise of child ‘marriages’ in Iran
Insane fatwa: Fatwa against discount coupons
Good news: Legislation in France barring supermarkets from wasting unsold food
Director: Reza Moradi
Translation: Mohammad B

برنامه نان و گل سرخ مجله ای سیاسی – اجتماعی در کانال جديد
با مريم نماۯى و فريبرۯ پويا
سازمان آتئیسم در ترکیه براى تركيه بهترى مى جنگد
مصاحبه با مرگان رمانو و زهرا پلا از انجمن بى خدايان ٺركيه
سازمان اته ايستهاي تركيه بعد از مراكش دومين سازمان علني اته در كشورهاي با اصطلاح اسلامي است
دو كمتر از دو سال بعد از بنيان گذاري اين سازمان سايت اينترنتي ان بوسيله دادگاه جنايي تركيه تحت عنوان و با رجوع به قوانين عدم تحريك مردم و اشاعه نفرت و دشمني با مردم بلوكه شد
در حقيقت اين سازمان براي يك تركيه بهتر ميجنگد
اخبار تکان دهنده جدید: افزايش ‘ازدواج’ کودکان در ایران
فتوای احمقانه: فتوا بر علیه کوپن های تخفیف
خبر خوب: قانون در فرانسه عليه اتلاف مواد غذایی به فروش نرفته
کارگردان: رضا مرادى
ترجمه: محمد ب

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Promoting Secularism in the Age of ISIS

140624160439-lv-isis-tshirt-for-sale-online-00001526-story-topThis is my speech at the 5th Imagine No Religion conference in Vancouver, Canada during 5-7 June 2015.

The global rise of Islamism in particular and the religious-Right in general has turned the demand for secularism into an urgent task and necessity.

There are those in academia who theorise about a ‘post-secular’ world and insist that secularism lacks relevance, particularly for ‘non-Westerners.’  In the age of ISIS, though, you don’t have to look far to see that secularism is not only still relevant but that it’s a matter of life and death for countless people across the globe. In fact, no-one understands the need for secularism better than ‘non-westerners’ living under the boot of the religious-Right.

The post-secularists tell us that the rise of Islamism and the religious Right is linked to a religious revival. But this is not true. Of course with its rise, there are political pressures to keep up religious appearances, homogenise religious identity, and define religion as the only characteristic of entire societies, communities and people but this is very often enforced by violence.

‘Any classification and labelling has a purpose behind it,’ says the late Iranian Marxist Mansoor Hekmat. ‘Islam has been around in Iran for one thousand four hundred years and has obviously left its mark on certain things. But this is only one element in portraying this society – the same way that oppression, monarchy, police state, industrial backwardness, ethnicity, language, script, political history, pre-Islamic way of life, people’s physical characteristics, international relations, geography and weather, diet, size of country, population concentration, economic relations, level of urbanisation, architecture, etc. are. All of these express real characteristics of the society. Now if out of the hundreds of factors that create differences between Iran and Pakistan, France and Japan, someone insists on pointing to the presence of Islam in some aspects of life in this society and brands all of us with this label – from anti-religious individuals like Dashty, Hedayat and you and I to the great majority who do not see themselves as believers and are not concerned about Islam and the clergy – then they must have a specific agenda. Iran is not an Islamic society; the government is Islamic. Islam is an imposed phenomenon in Iran, not only today but also during the monarchy, and has remained in power by oppression and murder.’

The labelling of entire people, societies and communities as Muslim or Islamic is part and parcel of the Islamist agenda to feign representation and gain power and control.

And let’s be clear, it is more about power and control than religion. This distinction between religion and the religious-Right (a political movement) is clearer if you look at other religious-Right movements like the Buddhist-Right in Burma or Sri Lanka and their progroms against Muslims, the Hindu-Right’s massacre of Muslims in Gujrat, the Christian-Right’s bombing of abortion clinics or the Jewish-Right’s assault on women or as settlers in the Palestinian territories. Like the Islamists, they use religion to justify violence (or discrimination – depending on their influence) but you cannot explain these movements by religion alone.

Islamists, for example, are not all doctrinaire, literalist or fundamentalist and include a wide range of groups from ISIS, to the pragmatic and conservative factions of the Islamic regime of Iran to ‘soft’ Islamists (they don’t want to kill you just yet via terrorism) and even ‘Islamic Protestants or reformers’ like Abdolkarim Soorosh. Islam is the banner for their extreme-rightwing restructuring of society. But their movement is firmly rooted in political equations to gain power – primarily through violence and terror.

As Algerian sociologist and founder of Secularism is a Women’s Issue Marieme Helie Lucas says, this movement ‘is by no means a tool of the poor against the rich, of the Third World against the West, of people against capitalism. It is not a legitimate response that can be supported by the progressive forces of the world. Its main target is the internal democratic opposition to their theocratic project and to their project of controlling all aspects of society in the name of religion, including education, the legal system, youth services, etc. When fundamentalists come to power, they silence the people, they physically eliminate dissidents, writers, journalists, poets, musicians, painters – like fascists do. Like fascists, they physically eliminate the ‘untermensch’ – the subhumans -, among them ‘inferior races’, gays, mentally or physically disabled people. And they lock women ‘in their place’, which as we know from experience ends up being a straight jacket…’

In fact, it’s this internal opposition that makes the Islamists so brutal. They would not need to use such unrelenting violence if it were people’s culture and religion… if everyone submitted. The hijab, for example, which is the first imposition by Islamists when they gain influence is not a personal choice for a vast majority of women today though it is touted as such. It is highly contested and challenged as in the women’s unveiling movement in Iran and is one of the main areas of fight-back as is ‘Sharia law.’ Of course countless liberals here in the west – groups like the British Humanist Association – defend the burqa as people’s right to dress and Sharia courts as people’s right to religion.

We are often made to believe that this is clash of civilisations or an antagonism between a ‘secular West’ and a ‘religious East’ but it’s not. It’s a global struggle between secularists, including many Muslims and believers on the one hand, and theocrats and the religious-Right on the other taking place within and across borders around the globe.

We’re also told this is about racism and discrimination against minority communities or societies in the South, but it’s not. It’s a defence of people and universal rights against the religious-Right.

After all no society or community is homogeneous. There is dissent and political and social movements and class politics at play.

Take the example of 27 year old Farkhunda accused by a mullah of being an ‘infidel’ who burnt verses of the Koran. She was attacked by a mob in Kabul, lynched, stoned, run over, burnt and her body thrown in a river whilst onlookers and police stood by.

What could she expect when she goes against ‘Muslim sensibilities’ tweeted one of this absurd liberal Left do-gooders who only seem to do good for religion and not women? But wasn’t Farkhunda Muslim too? Actually she was very devout and had gone to the local mullah to tell him to stop selling amulets to women.

What became very obvious after her murder was that not all Afghans or Muslims or Muslim men have the same ‘sensibilities.’ Women carried her body– going against Islamic customs – to her gravesite and with her family’s permission encircled by a chain of men to protect them. They surrounded her coffin right until the end, gave her the respect she deserved, and chanted: ‘we are all Farkhunda.’ And when a mullah who had justified Farkhunda’s killing, tried to join them, they refused, created a circle around her gravesite, and forced him to leave.

Azaryun, a youth activist says, ‘That is what Farkhunda teaches me: together we can change the narrative that others write about women. We stood up against the most respected mullah. We carried the coffin and buried her.’ Neayish, a medical student, said: ‘I was just crying.’ ‘It was a long trek… but all my energy was focused on giving Farkhunda a respectable burial. It was the first time I realized my real power and told myself that I’m breaking the boundaries of tradition.’

So ‘the people’ of Afghanistan do not all agree. ‘Muslims’ are not all the same. And I place Muslims in quotes since not everyone living in Afghanistan or Iran are Muslims or Islamists just like not everyone is Canada or Britain is Christian or fundamentalist.

Everywhere, from Iran to Afghanistan and Algeria, there are women and men who break taboos and change narratives and stand against religion’s encroachment in people’s lives and against Islamism. To accept the label of Islamic and the homogenisation of entire populations is to accept Islamism’s narrative and not that of the many who resist.

In Bangladesh, for example, there are Islamists killing and threatening beloved atheist bloggers like Avijit Roy but there is also a deeply secular movement against them, including 24 villages that have become known as Jamaat free villages – or terrorist free villages.

Religion is not the only marker for our societies nor is it the most important. [Read more…]

Council of Ex-Muslims: We need to do more with your support

Dear friend

As you know, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain was established in 2007 to break the taboo that comes with leaving Islam and religion. We have done this by challenging apostasy and blasphemy laws and facilitating a public renunciation of Islam and a rise in atheism. We have also been there for many ex-Muslims facing persecution by Islamists or family members – around 300 a year – including one-on-one support. Our web-forum has given thousands a network to rely on, including threads in Arabic and Urdu. The ex-Muslim movement has grown tremendously since our establishment with affiliated councils in a number of countries such as France, Turkey and Morocco.

The CEMB’s campaigning work (with One Law for All and other allies) is also finally paying off. Atheism has been recognised in Britain as a grounds for asylum with legal decisions no longer guided by whether the apostasy can be kept private. Also, the Law Society has withdrawn its discriminatory Guidance on Sharia wills and Universities UK has taken back its guidance endorsing gender segregation. Sharia courts are now being scrutinised after many years of silence and appeasement.

Thanks to your support, the CEMB has made a huge difference in the lives of countless people and society at large. But we have a lot more work ahead.
In the coming year, we aim to further focus on women ex-Muslims, organise a tribunal against Sharia, produce a report and video on women apostates, organise a secular film festival, set up the International Front for Secularism as well as exposing Islamist “hate speech” against ex-Muslims and Muslims who dissent with others.

To so do, we are in desperate need for funds, including for an office computer and printer, production costs and expenses related to organising the high profile events.

Any support you can provide will help us make our plans a reality, will be greatly appreciated and will continue to make a huge difference.

If you are able to donate, please make your cheque payable to ‘CEMB’ and send it to BM Box 1919, London WC1N 3XX. You can also donate via Paypal.

Thanks again for your on-going help and support.

Warmest wishes

Maryam

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

Original Art is Dangerous

Original Art is dangerous
28 April 2015
Interview with Tunisian Filmmaker Nadia El Fani
Background: According to Salman Rushdie, “original art is never created in the safe middle ground, but always at the edge. Originality is dangerous. It challenges, questions, overturns assumptions, unsettles moral codes, disrespects sacred cows or other such entities. It can be shocking, or ugly, or… controversial. And if we believe in liberty, if we want the air we breathe to remain plentiful and breathable, this is the art whose right to exist we must not only defend, but celebrate. Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it’s a revolution.”
Happy International Workers’ Day: May Day support for jailed labour activists in Iran
Shocking News of the week: Rise in executions in Iran and April 25 day against executions in Iran
Insane fatwa of the week: Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs says toilet paper is halal!
Good news: Thousands of Turkish students demand Jedi and Buddhist temples in response to mosque at university

هنر نوآور خطرناک است
۲۹ آوريل ۲۰۱۵
مصاحبه با فیلمساز تونسی نادیا الفنی
به گفته سلمان روشدى “هنر نوآور نه در محيط بى خطر بلكه در لبه پرتگاه بوجود مى آيد
هنر نوين خطرناك است٬ به چالش ميكشد، مورد سوْال قرار ميدهد، فرضيات را واژگون ميكند. كدهاى اخلاقي را به هم مى ريزد، به گاوهاى مقدس بى احترامى ميكند. مى تواند شوكه آور، زشت و يا بحث انگيز باشد
و اگر ما به آزادى اعتقاد داريم، اگر مى خواهيم هوايى را كه استنشاق مى كنيم فراوان و تازه باشد، اين هنر است كه نه تنها بايد از حق وجودش دفاع كنيم بلكه بايد آن را گرامى بدانيم
هنر سرگمى نيست، در عالى ترين شكلش، انقلاب است”
روز جهانی کارگر: حمایت اول ماه مه در دفاع از فعالان کارگری زندانی در ایران
اخبار تکان دهنده هفته: افزايش اعدام ها در ایران و روز 25 ماه آوریل عليه اعدام ها در ایران
فتوای احمقانه هفته: کاغذ توالت حلال
خبر خوب : هزاران نفر از دانش آموزان ترکیه خواهان معابد جداى (از فيلم جنگ ستارگان) در پاسخ به مسجد در دانشگاه

On murder of Washiqur Rahman

The International Front for Secularism expresses great concern about the assassination of another atheist in Bangladesh and calls on secularists and progressive people around the world to speak up publicly in defence of endangered atheists and to clearly identify the murderers of Washiqur Rahman as part of a far-right political movement, masquerading as a religious one, that needs to be combated the world over.

Signatories
(To add your name to the list of signatories, please post as a comment below and your name will be added to this list on a regular basis) – updated 10 May 2015
[Read more…]

We are all Farkhunda

I AM FARKHONDEH

The below is a shortened version of my speech at Marea Feminist Review and Consulta Torinese per la Laicita public events in Genoa and Turin, Italy during 27-30 March 2015.

Today, we are all Farkhunda.

You know her by now – a 27 year old woman accused by a mullah of being an “infidel” who burnt verses of the Koran. She was attacked by a mob in Kabul, lynched, stoned, run over, burnt and her body thrown in a river whilst onlookers and police stood by. (See full report here.)

Immediately after her brutal murder, some Afghan officials like Senator Zulmai Zabuli and deputy minister of information and culture Simin Hasanzada sought to justify her killing. A mullah of Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque, Ayaz Niazi also justified it and said: “At such a situation, there is no need to go and check the girl whether she is sick or okay,” he warned following reports that she had mental health problems. He added: “Be careful O people! It will be a big mistake if they [perpetrators] were sent to the jail. The people will stand against this and then they cannot be controlled” – the usual threats – by religious gatekeepers of power – in support of the perpetrators on behalf of “the people”. Of course we heard justifications here in the west too. Someone Tweeted: “what does she expect if she burns the Koran” as if a book is worth more than a human life. Back in Kabul, her family was advised to leave their home for safety reasons; it was in fact they who had said she had mental health problems in order to safeguard their lives…

So far, this is a story we have heard many times over many years. A woman accused of a crime against religion or religious morality – real or imagined – who is tried and executed either by mob (or Islamist) violence or by the state’s violence in the form of Sharia law on behalf of “the offended sensibilities of the people”.

But “the people” as Mullah Ayaz Niazi learnt well includes many – led by women – who were outraged by Farkhunda’s brutal murder and would not justify it.

The ensuing protests meant that her family did not have to flee their home but could stand their ground. Her mother was able to say “I am proud of my daughter” and her brother, Najibullah, was able to announce that he is changing his second name to Farkhunda in memory of his sister.  It showed that people would respect her and not “the people’s offended sensibilities”. A group of young people renamed the street leading to the area of her attack as Farkhunda’s Street and a tree was planted on the spot where her body was thrown. Also 28 men have been arrested with 13 policemen suspended following the attack. And all because of protests – most important of which included that women carried Farkhunda’s body– going against Islamic customs – to her gravesite and with her family’s permission. They surrounded her coffin right until the end, gave her the respect she deserved, and chanted: “we are all Farkhunda”.

And when Ayaz Niazi, the mullah who had justified Farkhunda’s killing, tried to join them, they refused, created a circle around her gravesite, and forced him to leave.

Azaryun, a youth activist says, “That is what Farkhunda teaches me: together we can change the narrative that others write about women. We stood up against the most respected mullah. We carried the coffin and buried her.”

Neayish, a medical student, said: “I was just crying.” “It was a long trek… but all my energy was focused on giving Farkhunda a respectable burial. It was the first time I realized my real power and told myself that I’m breaking the boundaries of tradition.”

What the protests around Farkhunda’s murder show are that “the people” of Afghanistan do not all agree. That “Muslims” are not all the same. Just like “Christians”, Italians and the Church and pope and Northern League are not one and the same.

In Afghanistan, too, there are women and youth who break taboos and change narratives and there are many men who stand with them against religion’s encroachment in people’s lives and against Islamism – the religious-Right. [Read more…]

I am in Italy for the next few days

I AM FARKHONDEHI am travelling today to Italy to join celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of Marea Feminist Review (yes there are feminists in this world who stand with us against Islamists and the religious-Right rather than excusing them).

I’ll be joined by FEMEN’s Inna Shevchenko​, Tunisian Filmmaker Nadia ElFani, and Algerian Sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas. Can’t wait.

At every public meeting I speak, I will say “I am Farkhondeh” till I can speak no more.

Here are the events I will be taking part in for those of you who are near Genoa and Turino:

27-31 March 2015
Marea Feminist Review Anniversary, Italy
Maryam Namazie will be speaking at the anniversary celebrations of a feminist review in Genoa and Torino, Italy with Inna Shevchenko, Nadia El Fani, Marieme Helie Lucas and others.

Details of Genoa event can be found here.

Details of Turin event can be found here.

You See Trinity College Dublin, it is possible to hold events without adding last minute restrictions to silence dissenters of Islam and Islamism…

Defending Charlie and Opposing Terrorism is not enough; You need to stand up to Sharia Courts

This is a shortened version of my speech for a public meeting organised by the NE Humanists on 19 March 2015.

Dissent and criticism of religion has always been a crucial aspect of free expression. Such criticism has been key for human progress and is needed more than ever in the age of ISIS. For many of us, therefore, standing with Charlie, honours our own dissenters.

Those who condemn the massacre in Paris but blame Charlie for “offending Muslim sensibilities” have bought into the Islamist narrative that “Muslims” are Islamists who are more offended by cartoons than mass murder. This erroneous conflation between Muslims and Islamists is often promoted in the media by Guardian types and the pathetic excuse of a Left – and I say this coming from the Left myself – to justify its cosy alliances with and appeasement of “our” fascists against “their own”.

The far-Right also makes this conflation so as to promote its anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim agenda.  And of course the Islamists use it to deflect any criticism as racism and an attack on a community or people. It is useful for the British government too in “managing” its “minorities” on the cheap by handing them over to parasitical imams and self-appointed “community leaders”.

This conflation is validated by multiculturalism (not as a wonderful lived experience but as a social policy) and multi-faithism, which segregates and divides people into homogenised religious and cultural “communities” and sees people as one and the same as the religious-Right.

“Muslims” in Britain are outsourced to Islamist groups to do as they wish with “their communities” – Sharia courts, forced marriages, child marriages, the burqa, Islamic schools, segregated university meetings… The “other” is different so doesn’t deserve the same rights and freedoms.

But clearly no “community” or society is homogeneous. There is dissent; there is class politics at play. There are social and political movements contesting and challenging the Islamists, Sharia law and Islam day in and day out.

Amongst those “Muslims”, which Islamists feign to represent, there are atheists, socialists, secularists, women’s rights campaigners like me… And also many believing Muslims – who call themselves Muslims – but who are opposed to Islamism, the veil, and Sharia and do not murder even when they are “offended” by cartoons.

Conflating Muslim with Islamist does a disservice to the many dissenters. It places collective blame. It implies that the “authentic” Muslim is a terrorist and fascist.

And it’s wrong to equate the two. It’s like conflating the BNP with the British, the English with the English Defence League and Sharia Watch, Americans with the Tea Party or the Christian-Right and Indians with the Hindu-Right.

You can see the distinction between Muslims and Islamists– if you want to. After the attack on Charlie, many  “Muslims” or those labelled as such sided with Charlie.

What is packaged as “offence” is really Islamism’s imposition of blasphemy laws and theocracy under the pretext of respect for “Muslim sensibilities”.  Only in Europe does this far-Right fascist movement use “offence” or Islamophobia 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, blasphemers, enemies against god, the corrupt of the earth, heretics – 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.

Raising the question 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 “offence” is a smokescreen. It serves to legitimise Islamist terror and blame the victims. It’s no different from blaming a woman who was raped for the rape – if only she had been better dressed. If only she had not had so much to drink. If only she had stayed home like good girls do instead of wandering the streets at night. If only…

These “explanations” are not meant to clarify the context but to condemn the woman who has been raped. The same is true of those who explain the terrorists’ mindset – they were angry at the depiction of Mohammad, they were not integrated, they faced racism… the aim of such justifications is to put the blame on Charlie, on the murdered, on the innocents slaughtered by Islamism.

Blaming Islamist terrorism in Paris on Charlie’s cartoons is like blaming Avijit’s book for his being hacked to death or Raif’s website for his lashes. What did Malala Yousefzai do to warrant being shot in the head on a school bus? She shouldn’t have “offended” the Taliban by going to school? What did the abducted girls in Nigeria or the 54 killed in one day in separate suicide attacks including on a busy marketplace in Nigeria do? Were the Islamists who killed dissenters like Avijit or Salwa  – including via the state apparatus – “not integrated enough”, had they faced racism in their societies; were they abused by the security services? And what about the many who have been abused by the Islamists or US militarism, who have faced racism, who have been disenfranchised and marginalised and have instead joined protest movements, unions and progressive actions that defend human beings and their rights and lives and not beheadings.

Cage Prisoners, a “human rights organisation” (which Amnesty International was working with despite criticism from Gita Sahgal, their head of gender unit and supported by the likes of the Socialist Workers Party and John Rees) recently described Mohammad Emwazi or Jihadi John as a “beautiful young man” and blamed the beheadings he had carried out on his being beaten and threatened by the security services.

But I have been badly beaten by NYPD (when protesting against the 1991 Gulf war parade) and have been threatened with beheading by Islamists. I have faced racism. I am also outraged at US intervention in Iran. I am particularly incensed at how the powers that be decided at the Guadaloupe Conference that they preferred an Islamic state to the left-leaning revolution in Iran during the Cold War and still I do not, would not, behead for anything.

Imagine all the people in Iran or Saudi Arabia languishing in prison or the many who have lost their loved ones to this killing machine? If they all resorted to beheadings – no one would be left.

An unequivocal condemnation of terrorism and a defence of the terrorised – no ifs and buts are the only principled and human response. But it’s not enough. It’s also important to stand firm against Islamism and its “political wing” that has permeated British society – what Southall Black Sisters’ Director Pragna Patel calls Shariafication-by-stealth, which includes the rise of Sharia courts, the burqa and gender segregation at universities (which is an attack on women) as well as Islamic schools, which deny children rights because they were born into Muslim families. This is where even more get it wrong, including the British Humanist Association. (This in no way implicates all humanists and secularists – after all some of our greatest supporters have been local humanist groups and well known humanists.)

In a debate with me a few years ago, the then Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips (now a BHA trustee) called Sharia courts “people’s right to religion”. Andrew Copson, its Chief Executive, has stated on Facebook on 8 December 2014 that he had visited a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council with three of his fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life and was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do”.

Copson Sharia courts

In the Law Society debacle where the Society had endorsed discriminatory practices by issuing Sharia-compliant guidance on wills, the current BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, wrote: “The issue has been totally blown out of proportion… It’s just advice so that solicitors can provide a service to (Sunni) Muslim clients who want a will that fits with their beliefs. It does not claim to do any more than that.” [Read more…]