When will LibDems side with us?

2014-01-22It’s not surprising that the Liberal Democrats have again sided with Islamist values at the expense of Muslims, ex-Muslims and others.

Not surprising but frustrating nonetheless.

In the latest saga, they have decided to admonish their candidate Maajid Nawaz who has received death threats for merely stating the obvious: he – like many Muslims – is not offended by Jesus and Mo cartoons. Muslims are not a homogeneous bunch after all but are treated as such by the LibDem Party.  To them, Muslim values are considered one and the same with Islamist values: medieval, intolerant, and forever offended… Which is of course why they are more concerned with a cartoon causing “unnecessary offence” then death threats made against Nawaz by one of their own members, Mo Shafiq, who has effectively incited violence against Nawaz through his deliberate use of the term ‘Gustakh-e-Rasool’, which means ‘enemy of the prophet’. It’s the same lack of concern they have shown when another of their members Salah Al Bandar threatened Nahla Mahmoud with death by calling her a “Kafira” and “Murtada” who has offended Islam and brought “fitnah”.

After all, in the world according to the LibDems, death threats is what “Muslims” do. But saying a cartoon isn’t offensive to Muslims – as Nawaz did – well that just shows a lack of sensitivity…

In a statement, they write: “The Liberal Democrats are a party of respect, tolerance and individual liberty. We fundamentally believe in freedom of expression and as such defend Maajid’s right to express his views. But as a party we urge all candidates to be sensitive to cultural and religious feelings and to conduct debate without causing gratuitous or unnecessary offence.”

What the LibDems and many others keep forgetting is that respect, tolerance and even liberty is for people not beliefs, not cultures and not religions. We do not need to respect or tolerate beliefs but we must do so when it comes to people.

Plus why does the person who threatens and feels offence represent cultural and religious feelings but not the likes of Nawaz?

Algerian sociologist said it best in her recent interview with Fitnah’s Unveiled:

There are two underlying questions here: the first one is about the limits to respect for ‘The Other’s’ culture/religion…; the second is about who speaks for culture; who speaks for religion?

On respect, the real question is: should everything be respected? Is Female Genital Mutilation to be respected because old men think that is their culture – and even if some women also think it is their culture? Should forced marriage or child marriage be respected? Should public flogging for adultery be respected? Should stoning to death be respected? Or for that matter should the death penalty be respected at all?

There is a relativist culture of non commitment and neutrality that has been expanding – certainly in the West, under the influence of liberalism, of human rights organisations and of political correctness and the fear of appearing racist. Accordingly, everything is equal; everything has to be respected on par – the right of the capitalist and the right of the worker, the right of the one who holds the gun and the right of the one who runs for his life away from the gun… It is high time to admit that there are conflicting rights, antagonistic rights.

It seems to me that progressive people have forgotten the virtues of being partisan. I want to stand for the right of the worker, not that of the capitalist, for the right of the man who runs for his life, not for the right of the man who holds the gun, and for the right of women to live their lives without interference from extreme-Right religious people.

There can be a principled response regarding respect for ‘The Other’ and its limits, but this first question can also lead to another: who decides that THIS is The Culture of a group?

We could immediately produce, of course, hundreds and thousands and even millions of people, in each specific country, who would vouch that ‘this’ (be it stoning, FGM, child marriage, etc…) is by no means their culture/their religion, not the culture they feel they belong to, or the religion they believe in. 

Do we believe that those presently standing in their own countries or in the diaspora against FGM, public flogging, death penalty for atheists, etc… have less legitimacy in representing their people, their culture, their religion than those who stand for it?

Are we really saying that women fighting against sex segregation today in their own countries are alien to their culture? That they are illegitimate representatives of their cultures?

This stems from a definition of culture as fixed in the past, a-historical, not as a moving, living, permanently changing, social organisation. But then WHEN is a culture arrested in history, in which year? In the years of slavery, in the years when women did not vote, in the years when women did not have access to contraception, or could not open their own bank accounts? In which of these historical steps is a culture ‘arrested’ to be seen as authentic?

To me, the women who fight against FGM or stoning for sex outside marriage or for gender equality, etc are the representatives of today’s culture in their country.

It seems to me that cultural relativists are furiously and deeply racist since they exclusively promote as true and legitimate the worst possible opinions of extreme-Right Muslims. If anyone, white, European, would utter similar opinions about their white European co-citizens, these same cultural relativists would shrink in horror and refuse to shake their hand. One can only conclude that cultural relativists think that a Muslim must be a horrible reactionary, otherwise s/he is not a true Muslim. Isn’t that racist?

For me and many like me, Nawaz represents a majority of Muslims and ex-Muslims and just plain 21st century humans. When will the LibDems side with them, with us, and stop aiding and abetting the Islamists and their apologists?

Sign a petition to support Nawaz, Tweet #TeamNawaz and contact Liberal Democratic party members, counsellors and MPs though I can only say good luck with getting through to them. We are still waiting for justice for Nahla and an acknowledgement that death threats against people are more serious than offended sensibilities over a cartoon…

(Via Chris Moos)

And so it should

Chris Moos and Abishek Phandis write:

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

Here’s LSE’s statement of apology.

And so it should.

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

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LSE Update

2013-10-04As I reported yesterday, two Atheist Society members were told to take off their Jesus and Mo t-shirts or be kicked out of the LSE (London School of Economics) Freshers’ Fair. Today, even though they went in with their J & Mo t-shirts censored, they were still told to remove it.

Nothing like a university defending, err I mean violating free expression, to warm the heart…

Well the fight’s not over. Chris and Abhishek aren’t giving in and neither are we. Let’s makes sure the LSE understands that free expression is not for sale.

As I said before, I’ll be wearing a Jesus and Mo t-shirt to my debate on the burka at the LSE on 15 October and I suggest the audience wear them too. Jesus and Mo just got in touch to see which one I want. I’ll definitely get the burka-related one.

Anyway, here’s Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis’ accounts of both days with today’s account listed first:

An account of events at the LSE Freshers’ Fair on Friday, October 4th:

We (Abhishek Phadnis and Chris Moos) arrived at the Fair at 10 am. In silent protest at our treatment the day before (see account of events of October 3rd), and still unsure as to what parts of the t-shirts had allegedly caused “offence”, we put tape (with the words “Censored”, “This has been censored” and “Nothing to see here”) over the faces of the “Jesus and Mo” figures on the t-shirts.

Shortly after midday, the LSESU Deputy Chief Executive Jarlath O’Hara approached us, demanding we take the t-shirts off as per his instructions of the previous day. We explained to him that we had covered the “offensive” parts this time, and offered to use our tape to cover any other areas deemed “offensive”. He refused to hear us out, insisting that if we did not take off the whole t-shirt, LSE Security would be called to bodily remove us from the premises. He left, warning us that he was summoning LSE Security to eject us.

At about 2:30pm, Paul Thornbury, Head of LSE Security, delivered a letter from the School Secretary Susan Scholefield. The letter claimed that some students found our t-shirts “offensive”, even though we had covered up the “offensive” parts of the t-shirts. It claimed we were in possible breach of the LSE Harassment Policy and Disciplinary Procedure, and that our actions were “damaging the School’s reputation”, and “undermining the spirit of the LSESU Freshers’ Fair and good campus relations at LSE”. It concluded by asking us to “refrain from wearing the t-shirts in question and cover any other potentially offensive imagery”, and warning us that the School “reserves the right to consider taking further action if warranted”.

Shortly thereafter, having completed our work at the stall, we began packing up. As we were about to leave, Paul Thornbury returned to confirm we were leaving. We told him that we were, and as we left the room, we saw that he was accompanied by several security guards, LSESU General Secretary Jay Stoll and Deputy Chief Executive O’Hara. The Security officials left the building at the same time as we did, confirming our impression that they had only been there to monitor us, like the two security guards positioned at our stall the day before to stop us attempting to put our t-shirts back on.

We can confirm that the aforementioned Students Union and LSE Security staff were the only visitors to our stall who expressed offence at our clothing. We had students from all kind of backgrounds come to us to express their support and astonishment about the heavy-handed actions of the LSE and LSESU, including several students who self-identified as Muslims.

We are still in shock about the intimidating behaviour of the LSESU and LSE staff. Again, we strongly reject the claim that our clothing or behaviour could be reasonably interpreted as “harassing” or “offensive”. In any case, we believe that in an open and multi-cultural society, there can be no right not to be offended without undermining freedom of expression, which is essential to the functioning of universities as much as of wider society. [Read more…]

LSE: What happened to freedom of thought

Update: Here are some other LSE related posts:
Charges of Offence and Islamophobia are secular fatwas
LSE Student Union supports criticism of religion – just not Islam
The Right to offend is fundamental to free expression

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Chris Moos and Abishek Phandis of the London School of Economics Atheist Society are being threatened with being kicked out of the LSE Freshers’ Fair for – get this – wearing Jesus and Mo T-shirts. Around ten guards had surrounded them – it’s down to two now. They have been told to remove their T-shirts; if they refuse they will be physically removed from the university.

LSE: what ever happened to freedom of thought?

Yes, we know people have a “right” and “choice” to wear the burka (which is a mobile prison for women) but two LSE students don’t have a right to wear a T-Shirt poking fun at religion?

Listen up LSE: I am coming to your university for a debate on 15 October on the burka, and guess what I’m wearing? A Jesus and Mo T-Shirt. Now where can I get one of those quick?

By the way, below is the offending T-Shirt and also the latest Jesus and Mo comic. I’d suggest you look away or call the guards now if you are one of those pathetic people who is so afflicted with cultural relativism and multiculturalism that you can no longer tolerate anything that is deemed offensive to Islamists. I say Islamists because “Muslims” are people just like you and I (shock, horror). Some will be offended by Jesus and Mo; others will find it funny. Most will not threaten or kill for it. It’s the Islamists that do that and who silence criticism and dissent day in and day out and evidently also today with the help of LSE guards. Shameful don’t you think?

T-shirt 1T-shirt 2

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A cartoon is offensive?

Have you heard about the two young Tunisians, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, who have been sentenced to seven years in prison for posting cartoons of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, on Facebook?

Seven years…

And yet we keep hearing how cartoons are offensive!?! Oh boo hoo.

For those of you who keep worrying about how cartoons offend ‘Muslim’ sensitivities’, remember this. It is Islamist sensibilities that are offended and that you are defending.

And it’s not just at the expense of Rhys Morgan or the students at Queen Mary, LSE or ULU who can still carry on with their lives despite absurd accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ after posting a (shock, horror) Jesus and Mo cartoon.

Also it’s at the expense of innumerable young lives facing imprisonment, torture and even execution for cartoons and Tweets across the Middle East and North Africa. Here are a few of them.

Now that is offensive.

Jesus and Mo is the point

Some atheists are not happy with One Law for All’s use of the Jesus and Mo cartoon on leaflets to promote the 11 February Day in defence of free expression. They feel that since the Jesus and Mo cartoons have been deemed offensive, it is best not to use them.

But that’s the whole point isn’t it?

We’re rallying in order to say that the right to offend is part of free expression. No one needs to rally for inoffensive speech, do they?

And if I hear one more hypothetical on why we shouldn’t offend if we can avoid it, I might just scream. The latest one: ‘If a Muslim comes to your house you will not plaster the Jesus and Mo cartoon all over to offend them on purpose now will you?’

Look my Muslim parents don’t remove their Korans, hands of Fatima or whatever they have hanging everywhere when I enter their home, now do they? They don’t rush about saying we must hide all religious symbols and books since our atheist daughter is arriving. They assume that I can manage to enter their home, have a wonderful visit, all without being offended and screaming atheism-phobia.

Correspondingly, why is it that you think I would need to remove a Jesus and Mo cartoon from my fridge let’s say if my parents visit or for that matter other Muslim family members and friends?

Ahh the well-meaning. If only they were not always so well-meaning at my expense…

On a serious note though, this is what happens when you buy into bogus accusations. If people believe that you must even censor yourself in your own home/Facebook page to avoid causing offence, can you imagine what they expect you NOT to say in the public space…

Please, if we leave it to them, this is the beginning of the end of free expression. But luckily we’re not.

It’s London School of Economic’s turn

Now it is the London School of Economics Student Union;s turn having instructed the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH) to remove cartoons featuring Jesus and Mohammed from their Facebook page. LSESU ASH is not complying with the instruction and has appealed to LSESU to withdraw it.

Good on them.

LSESU ASH President Chris Moos, who will be speaking at the 11 February rally for free expression, made the following statement on behalf of the Society’s committee:

‘There are no reasonable grounds for the LSESU’s instruction because we are in no way violating their policies or byelaws. The cartoons on our Facebook page criticise religion in a satirical way and we totally reject any claim that their publications could constitute any sort of harassment or intimidation of Muslims or Christians. [Read more…]

Guess whose meeting wasn’t cancelled?

Queen Mary Islamic Society held a meeting today on ‘Traditional Islam’ with Abu Zabair as its speaker. It was advertised on ummahforum.com where the following call to disrupt [read threaten with violence] the 16 January meeting at which Anne Marie Waters was speaking on behalf of One Law for All on Sharia Law and Human Rights was also posted:

Brothers, the Queen Mary Athiest Society, sister of the shaytaani UCL Athiest Society (which published pictures of Rasoolullah(saw)) are holding an event today at Queen Mary University of London at 7:00 pm on ‘ Is Shariah in violation of human rights’.. We need your presence. Who gave these kuffar the right to speak? Let me ask you – if a bunch of kuffar got together and were given the right to touch your mother up and analyse her, then would you stand by and let it happen? Then what about your deen?!! Remember, these guys hate religion and are not looking to have an unbiased debate. Please be here by 7 pm. to let them know what we think. Back in my day no-one in UNi would dare even look the wrong way at a muslim, because we used to represent our deen and didnt take kindly to it being insulted. It is only when the pacifists ecame numerous that the kuffar dared to raise their heads. @ david sizer lecture theatre- francis bancroft building.

Anyway I digress.

Abu Zubair has said the following as transcribed by Spittoon.org here:

Anybody who mocks Allah or his messenger or anyone or any aspect of religion which is known from the deen [religion], by necessity is a kaffir and a murtad [apostate] and is subject to execution because the prophet said “execute the one who changes his religion”. [Read more…]

It’s not just about you or Jesus and Mo

Recently, there have been a number of high profile attacks on free expression by Islamists often supported by educational institutions and others.

What I find most absurd about it all is how the fundamental debate on Islam and free expression has become framed within a context of offence, racism and discrimination.

What has happened here in the west is that the Islamic movement’s inhuman, barbaric and medieval sensibilities and values are portrayed and excused as the offended sensibilities and values of all ‘Muslims’.

Islamist threats, violence and terrorism are tactics and pillars of the political Islamic movement, and have nothing to do with ‘Muslim sensibilities’. Whilst we are all offended at least some of the time (and very often by Islam itself), most of us – religious or not – Muslim or not – never resort to death threats and violence. If they were really people’s own sensibilities and beliefs, Islamic states and movements wouldn’t need to resort to such indiscriminate violence and to Sharia law. [Read more…]

17 year old forced to remove Jesus and Mo image to evade expulsion

Ophelia Benson and Jen McCreight alerted me to the case of 17 year old UK Student Rhys Morgan who was called into a meeting with his head of year at his sixth form college about the Jesus and Mo image and told that they were considering expelling him if he didn’t take the cartoon down. He reports being harassed at school and being ostracised for posting the cartoon.

I just emailed him to see what we could do to support him. He wrote back saying:

‘Unfortunately, given the extreme situation, I’ve removed the image in question.

‘They thanked me for being “co-operative”, even though the reason I did it was purely selfish – not being expelled.

‘They didn’t actually state whether I was going to be, but based on their wording, it’s obvious that is what they were threatening.’

I know a lot of people are appalled by this and other recent events to stifle free expression by Islamists and their apologists or appeasers.

I say, let’s take to the streets to show we mean business.

Anyone available for a rally on 11 February in the afternoon?

A press release will soon follow.

Jesus and Mo an act of discrimination? Who knew?

The UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society (ASH) President has just published a statement on their Facebook page on the Jesus and Mo image censorship attempt by the UCL Union saying: ‘We can now tell you that the University College London Union has recognized that mistakes were made and that the initial correspondence with our society was flawed. The Union is to review its stance on such matters and has said that this will not happen again. They can no longer call on us to withdraw the image. We welcome these developments, which set an important precedent for other universities.’

Good news indeed.

However, ‘the Union has considered the possibility that posting the image might have constituted an act of bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination.’

Really? How so? [Read more…]

Don’t barter away our free expression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The right to offend – even more crudely and savagely than Jesus and Mo

The University College London Union has insisted that the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society (ASH) remove a Mohammad-related image from a web-comic from its Facebook event on the grounds that it may cause offence to Muslim students and as a result of ‘complaints’.

The group is fighting back and has set up a petition, which must be unequivocally supported. Finally a pulse in the atheist, secular, humanist student movement (but I will get to that in another blog entry)!

The Treasurer of UCLU Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (the same group Anne Marie and I debated on Sharia law at the UCL in December) says that whilst the Society ‘are within their legal rights to keep their cartoon up and indeed, as they have done so, to put up more cartoons, regardless as to other people’s religious sentiments,’ they should remove it because it causes offense.

Of course in usual doublespeak, he adds that it may be that ‘the UCL Union is within their rights to request the UCLU ASH to remove the cartoon. The UCLU ASH is a branch of the Union and as such must abide by a particular code of conduct set out by the Union. It should be remembered that an act must be judged by its intention. It is obvious that the purpose of these cartoons is not to initiate discussion or reasonable criticism of Christianity or Islam but to insult and poke fun at. If the Union therefore judges this action as being deliberately hurtful and asks the UCLU ASH to remove the cartoon, it may be that UCLU ASH does not have reasonable grounds to resist. The Union must look to the sentiments of the whole of its student population and, being a branch of the Union, the UCLU ASH must abide by that decision.’

There has been huge support for the UCLU ASH Society. However, those supporting it because Jesus and Mo is ‘anything but savage and crass’ or because it is not ‘in any way driven by a wish to offend – they are quite witty, not crude or aggressive – and the ASHS might quite reasonably have assumed that those likely to be offended wouldn’t be hanging out on their Facebook page in any case’ miss the point. [Read more…]