Charges of offence and Islamophobia are secular fatwas

Here is my speech at today’s Blasphemy Conference in London:

There have been a number of recent attacks on free expression here in the UK. They include 17 year old Rhys Morgan being forced to remove a Jesus and Mo cartoon or face expulsion from his Sixth Form College and demands by the UCL Union that the Atheist society remove a Jesus and Mo cartoon from its Facebook page. There has also been a threat of violence, police being called, and the cancellation of a meeting at Queen Mary College where my One Law for All co-spokesperson Anne Marie Waters was to deliver a speech on Sharia. More recently, LSE’s Student Union has passed a resolution ‘No to racism; no to Islamophobia’ and told the Atheist society to remove its affiliation with the Student Union again over a Jesus and Mo cartoon on its Facebook page.

None of this is new. Having been involved in the fight against Islamism and the Islamic Republic of Iran for some 25 years now I have faced many such threats, attempts at intimidation and censorship, bans, calls for the cancellation of events, and bogus accusations.

But for Islamism, this is business as usual even if it is a university Student Union acting as its go between. Islamism has been wreaking havoc in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere for several decades – with a majority of its victims being ‘Muslims’ or those labelled as such. Where it has political power, Islamists forgo all niceties reserved for western public opinion about ‘respect’ and ‘not causing offence’ and imprison and murder anyone who speaks their minds and ‘offends’ their norms and sensibilities.

Despite their track record, it is absurd how the fundamental debate on Islam and free expression here in the west is framed within a context of offence, racism and Islamophobia.

In some ways, these bogus accusations serve Islamism in the same way that Sharia law serves them where they are in power. It helps to threaten, intimidate and silence criticism and dissent. In my opinion, charges of offence and Islamophobia are the equivalent of secular fatwas. [Read more…]

The right to offend is fundamental to free expression

Here’s One Law for All’s statement in support of LSE ASH:

One Law for All calls on the London School of Economics Student Union to respect and uphold the rights of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH), in particular its right to freedom of expression.

Their accusation that the publication of a cartoon featuring Jesus Christ and the Prophet Mohammed amounts to ‘racism and discrimination on campus’ is both absurd and dangerous.

The right to offend is fundamental to the right to free expression. Indeed, offence is a highly subjective concept, thereby rendering every word, drawing, or speech potentially offensive.

The LSE SU should understand the difference between prejudice against a group of people and criticism of a set of beliefs.

The ASH must be allowed to continue their activities unhindered and any action against them dropped. [Read more…]

Freedom of expression is not just for Islamists

Adam Walker, Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association spokesman, says: ‘The principle is more important than who is being attacked – this time it is Muslims and Christians but in the future it could be atheists themselves’.

But not causing offence is not a principle the last time I looked.

If it were, they would be the first to be censored because every other word that comes out of them, the Koran, the Hadith, Islamic jurisprudence as well as the Bible and Torah… is offensive.

I know the UCL Union, Queen Mary College security, the BBC, and apologists for Islamism are all more concerned with causing offence than they are with free expression.

But dear readers, it is freedom of expression that is the principle and that is something that we will need to teach the ‘moderate’ Ahmadiyyas and the Islamists.

First lesson: Freedom of expression is not just for Islamists and the religious.