On Paris and Copenhagen: Islam and the “culture of offence”: missing the point

I6HTgAfter the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, dissent and criticism of religion is a life and death necessity. It has been–and remains–key for human progress. See the full article here.

Dissent and criticism of religion has always been a crucial aspect of free expression. Historically, it has been intrinsically linked with anti-clericalism and the dismantling of that which is deemed taboo, sacred and untouchable by the gatekeepers of power.

Such criticism has been key for human progress and is still needed. In the age of ISIS, this criticism is a life and death necessity for those living under Islamism’s boot.

So yes, I am Charlie – no ifs and buts.

Those who condemn the massacre in Paris but blame Charlie for “offending Muslim sensibilities” (implying that they somehow got what they deserved) have bought into the Islamist narrative that “Muslims” are more offended by cartoons than mass murder.

This is validated by multiculturalism as a social policy and cultural relativism, which sees Muslim “communities” and “societies” as homogeneous and one and the same with the religious-Right.

So even though there is a rich historical and artistic tradition of depicting Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, over many centuries, it’s deemed offensive today.

And despite many Muslims or those labelled as such have sided with Charlie, it is the terrorists/fascists who are deemed to be the “authentic” Muslims.

The homogenised “culture of offence” discounts the many believing secularists, feminists, freethinkers, and atheists and socialists amongst those deemed “Muslim”.

It ignores the widespread dissent and resistance, which can also be seen in response to Charlie.

An Algerian copy editor Mustapha Ourad was gunned down in Charlie’s hallway.

Many “Muslims” joined rallies and held up “Je Suis Charlie” signs or pens.

A French Muslim cafe owner was threatened for putting up a “Je Suis Charlie” sign in his East London cafe.

Lassana Bathily, the Malian-born Muslim employee hid customers at the Paris kosher supermarket saving lives.

Even in Iran – a theocracy where blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, enmity against god, and another 130 offences are punishable by death – Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer showed her solidarity whilst journalists trying to rally in support of Charlie were attacked and prevented from protesting by security agents wielding clubs and chains.

An Iranian newspaper was shut down for publishing a photo showing solidarity with Charlie. In Turkey, two columnists from a daily are facing an investigation for ‘religious defamation’ after featuring the Charlie cover.

Cartoonists across the Arab world – from Egypt to Lebanon to Qatar and Jordan took a stand with Charlie and against the terrorists.

And still we are told that Charlie offended “Muslims” and must be held to account! [Read more…]

Islam and the “culture of offence”: missing the point

First published in Open Democracy on 12 February 2015

In the age of ISIS, dissent and criticism of religion is a life and death necessity. It has been – and remains – key for human progress.

Dissent and criticism of religion has always been a crucial aspect of free expression. Historically, it has been intrinsically linked with anti-clericalism and the dismantling of that which is deemed taboo, sacred and untouchable by the gatekeepers of power.

Such criticism has been key for human progress and is still needed. In the age of ISIS, this criticism is a life and death necessity for those living under Islamism’s boot.

So yes, I am Charlie – no ifs and buts.

Those who condemn the massacre in Paris but blame Charlie for “offending Muslim sensibilities” (implying that they somehow got what they deserved) have bought into the Islamist narrative that “Muslims” are more offended by cartoons than mass murder.

This is validated by multiculturalism as a social policy and cultural relativism, which sees Muslim “communities” and “societies” as homogeneous and one and the same with the religious-Right.

So even though there is a rich historical and artistic tradition of depicting Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, over many centuries, it’s deemed offensive today.

And despite many Muslims or those labelled as such have sided with Charlie, it is the terrorists/fascists who are deemed to be the “authentic” Muslims.  

The homogenised “culture of offence” discounts the many believing secularists, feminists, freethinkers, and atheists and socialists amongst those deemed “Muslim”.

It ignores the widespread dissent and resistance, which can also be seen in response to Charlie.

An Algerian copy editor Mustapha Ourad was gunned down in Charlie’s hallway.

Many “Muslims” joined rallies and held up “Je Suis Charlie” signs or pens.

A French Muslim cafe owner was threatened for putting up a “Je Suis Charlie” sign in his East London cafe.

Lassana Bathily, the Malian-born Muslim employee hid customers at the Paris kosher supermarket saving lives.

Even in Iran – a theocracy where blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, enmity against god, and another 130 offences are punishable by death – Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer showed her solidarity whilst journalists trying to rally in support of Charlie were attacked and prevented from protesting by security agents wielding clubs and chains.

An Iranian newspaper was shut down for publishing a photo showing solidarity with Charlie. In Turkey, two columnists from a daily are facing an investigation for ‘religious defamation’ after featuring the Charlie cover.

Cartoonists across the Arab world – from Egypt to Lebanon to Qatar and Jordan took a stand with Charlie and against the terrorists.

And still we are told that Charlie offended “Muslims” and must be held to account!

Clearly not all Muslims were offended, and even those who were did not go on to kill for it.

What is packaged as the “culture of offence” is really Islamism’s imposition of blasphemy laws and theocracy under the pretext of respect for “Muslim sensibilities”.

Only in Europe of course does this far-Right fascist movement use “offence” 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 and blasphemers – 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.

The “culture 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 the “culture of offence” is a smokescreen. It serves to legitimise Islamist terror and blame the victims.

It misses the point.

Islamism is an international far-right movement that has murdered innumerable Charlie Hebdos over several decades across the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, including many “Muslims”, who have dared to speak or mock or just live 21 century lives prohibited by the Islamists.

Being a woman, a freethinker, being gay, being unveiled, improperly veiled, an atheist, going to school, driving a car, having sex, falling in love, laughing out loud, dancing…  “offends” them.

Calling for civility, censorship, silence or “respect” for the “offended” is merely heeding the Islamist demand for submission at the expense of dissenters.

But as Rosa Luxemburg said: “Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters”.

So yes, I am Charlie but I am also the many Muslims, ex-Muslims and none who dissent day in and day out often at great risk to themselves.

I am freethinker Raif Badawi, sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for a website promoting public discussion of religion and politics which has been deemed “insulting of to Islam” by the Saudi regime.

I am 30 year old blogger Soheil Arabi, sentenced to execution in Iran for “insulting the prophet” on Facebook.

I am poet Fatma Naoot, on trial for “insulting Islam” in Egypt due to her criticism of Islamic animal slaughter.

I am 28 year old Mauritanian journalist and anti-slavery activist Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir who has been sentenced to death in December 2014 for “insulting the prophet”.

I am 32 year old Egyptian journalist Bishoy Boulous Armia who has been given a five-year prison sentence for causing “sectarian strife” and “insulting Islam” because he reported on the persecution of Christians in Egypt.

I am the artists and writers in the Gaza Strip who face a campaign calling for their murder for “insulting Islam”.

I am Jakarta Post editor-in-chief, Meidyatama Suryodiningrat , accused of blasphemy for a caricature on ISIS, which according to an Islamist group filing a complaint, has “insulted Islam”.

I am Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud who has had calls for his execution because of “insults [to] Allah”.

I am bloggers Tan Jye Yee, 26, and Vivian Lee, 25, charged in Malaysia under the Sedition Act for insulting Islam and Ramadan in Facebook.

I am women’s rights campaigner Souad al-Shammary who has been imprisoned since 28 October 2014 on accusations she has “insulted Islam” and the prophet in Saudi Arabia for demanding an end to male guardianship rules for women.

I am 47 year old British-Iranian Roya Nobakht was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Iran for “insulting Islam” when she said on Facebook that the Iranian regime was “too Islamic”.

I am 49 year old mother of five Asia Bibi has been in prison for five year awaiting execution for blasphemy in Pakistan.

I am 27 year old Mohsen Amir-Aslani hanged in September 2014 in Iran for insulting prophet Jonah and making ‘innovations in religion’ through interpretations of Qur’an.

And I am Muhammad Shakil Auj, Dean of the faculty of Islamic Studies at the University of Karachi, was shot dead by gunmen in September 2014 two years after being accused of blasphemy.

And the list goes on.

So yes, I am Charlie, Raif and Roya – no ifs and buts.

I am, we are, all of them.

This is a slightly adapted version of a speech by Maryam Namazie in tribute to Charlie Hebdo and others, given at the Conference on Sharia Law, Apostasy and Secularism held in London, 7 February 2015.

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.