I won’t treat Muslim people like children

But apparently Anjem Choudary will continue to.

I tweeted this in response to him yesterday

Plenty of people are discussing opposing Islam, the radical aspects of its tenets and community – and of course ex-Muslims are not being referred to or included. Regardless, I thought I’d respond to Choudary’s view that, for some reason, USA Today decided to host on its platform. There’s something to be said about providing “both” sides of the debate and one of those is give it to someone who isn’t himself spouting bigotry and undermines a whole group of people.

First, look at the title and subtitle.

People know the consequences: Opposing view

Why did France allow the tabloid to provoke Muslims?

I don’t know if that’s Choudary’s choice or not, but regardless, it’s belittling and victim-blaming.

The “consequences” of publishing cartoons is that people will hopefully laugh. The consequences of publishing The Satanic Verses was that people read it. Thugs wishing death for these works’ creators is also a consequence. And if we operated on the consequences threatened by the most violent, thuggish, brutish people in the world, we’d all be living in Hell. We assume most people are gentle; that most can handle even offensive comedy. That, at most, people will yell at us in comment sections or worse: ignore the work entirely.

A British citizen like Rushdie and French citizens like the Hebdo employees don’t live in a warzone; they live in spaces where freedom of expression is not only expected but part of that society. Adults being offended is part of living with other adults who have different opinions and aren’t afraid to express them. And yes, even in warzones, we should want people to feel free to do the same – but if we’re talking consequences, we make some distinction between secular democracies with freedom of speech and those dominated by conservative religion and strife. And, in either case, we still blame the thugs – not the victims.

I still wouldn’t blame, say, Ugandan gay activists who are literally breaking the laws of their country – unlike the Charlie Hebdo employees – for the homophobic attacks on their lives. I’d blame the homophobes and the shitty laws. I blame Rushdie’s harassers. I blame the gunmen who killed employees at Charlie Hebdo.

I don’t blame Charlie Hebdo. Why does Choudary?

Extremists don’t need a reason to hurt: they kill schoolkids, their own wives, police.

But we want a reason – one we can control: “Don’t want violence, don’t do x!” We can’t dictate the actions of dangerous bigots who seem to have little grasp on reality. That’s terrifying. It means we are all potential victims of violence.

The thing is: Yes. We are – as attacks on harmless and innocent people, in financially stable democracies show. Again and again.

Choudary says:

Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people’s desires.

People can claim their belief says left is right, but that presumably doesn’t mean we’d give them driver’s licences. A secular society has laws that aim to protect all citizens and allow free expression, regardless of offense. The reason that Choudary and other bigots can be heard at all is due to the same right he’s now saying apparently all Muslims don’t believe in.

He goes on to make the word “consequences” again sound as threatening as possible:

In an increasingly unstable and insecure world, the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Yes, the consequence of laughing, ignoring and dismissing such insults. The one most people in the world offered, the one most Muslims, like those who are Muslim in my family, had because they’re adults – not reactionary children.

Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be dearer to them than that of their parents or even themselves.

He’s missing a “should” as in “should honor” – since I’d struggle to believe my family and acquaintances who are Muslim really put a prophet they’ve only read about above the people who fed and clothed them. (Excuse the poor sampling size, but I’m only highlighting Choudary’s conflation of what his view of Islam dictates versus the messy reality of all Muslim people in a digital world.)

To defend [the Prophet’s honour] is considered to be an obligation upon them. The strict punishment if found guilty of this crime under sharia (Islamic law) is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic State. This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, “Whoever insults a Prophet kill him.”

However, because the honor of the Prophet is something which all Muslims want to defend, many will take the law into their own hands, as we often see.

If you’re waiting for Choudary to condemn the Prophet’s word and those taking the law into their own hands you won’t find it. I have little doubt Choudary is against the murders, as any decent person is – but you won’t find it in this piece. Please look for it. It’s not there.

Second, how does Choudary reconcile free speech being dismissed because of Islam apparently, but says people who act to “defend” the Prophet’s name are “taking the law into their own hands”. Which law?

If it’s the law of the country, then he must believe in free speech as outlined by a secular state. If it’s Islam, then human laws – as he himself highlighted – can be dismissed because Islamic laws “are determined by divine revelation and not based on people’s desires.”

I’m uncertain how he solves this.

He goes on:

So why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk?

Notice how he paints satire as “provoke Muslims”, much as any apologists talk: revealing clothes “provoke men”, marching people “provoke police” – as if all in that “provoked” group are mindless animals, incapable of deciding violence is not an option. Most men are not rapists, most cops are probably not violent – yet by talking about them as “provoked”, apologists who claim to speak for them undermine their humanity.

They’re not capable of saying no, they’re a force of retribution, of “consequences”, of effect – this is the view of the apologist toward Muslims, men, etc. Instead of blaming Islamist thugs, violent rapists, etc., we circle back to the alleged provoker. We give them all the agency – agency so wide it means controlling an apparent mindless sect of people. Women are not that powerful, Charlie Hebdo employees do not control the hands of others, Rushdie didn’t make anyone declare the fatwa.

Again: just look at the majority response. Most people do not act violently to these alleged “provokers”. So why do victim-blamers assume everyone will act, like clockwork, to the point where we can say the cause is solely the target?

To answer Choudary’s question: Because free expression matters more than any one group’s feeling of offence. Because I imagine most Muslims are adults capable of handling criticism of their beliefs – even if they feel offended. Choudary is painting the picture right wingers want: an entire group of people, perched on the spring of outrage, ready to march with billboards at the slightest case of “offence”.

Muslims must speak out against this caricature and be on the frontlines defending free speech, even and especially if it offends them. And media spaces must improve and find better spokespeople.

Choudary finishes:

It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world’s population was protected.

No it isn’t. It’s time for the opposite. Sanctification is the problem, since it instils the view you are defending something holy, divine, above you. This means you can take on humanmade laws (spoiler: they’re all human made) because they matter less than your sacred object.

What the world needs more of is blasphemy and breaking of taboos – not treating certain groups with kidgloves, just because a small violent sect and some who get columns in USA Today demand it.



  1. Anne Fenwick says

    What the religious need to understand is that freedom of expression MUST extend to whatever they consider blasphemic if it is also to extend to things like this:

    Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.

    That’s one of the Quran’s more offensive passages. I believe it is available in most bookshops and libraries as well as all over the Internet. My should anyone else’s offense be worth more than mine?

  2. Bruce says

    The supposed logic used by Choudary seems invalid to me. By his way of thinking, it would be a predictable and inevitable consequence that every Muslim who moved to Britain should have understood that they could no longer be an active Muslim, and no longer advocate for being one. By his logic, he should be quiet.
    It is fortunate for him and his free expression that nobody in Britain takes his so-called logic seriously. So nobody is so rude as to say to him that maybe he should accept the dominance of the culture of the area his family moved to. To me, this makes it clear that it makes no sense to expect others to submit to one’s own personal views.
    He should have freedom of speech, but he should try to be less inconsistent and less illogical.

  3. Ichthyic says

    No it isn’t. It’s time for the opposite. Sanctification is the problem

    yup, and it’s been the problem for literally thousands of years.

    It’s way past time we try an entirely different approach.

  4. StevoR says

    I would treat Muslims like children – but only if they actually were Muslim children. Muslim adults, not so much.

    • StevoR says

      Pretty sure there are more than just three Muslims in Paris.

      Actually a quick wiki-check finds :

      Islam is the second-most widely professed religion in France behind Roman Catholicism by number of worshippers. With an estimated total of 5 to 10 percent of the national population, France has the largest number of Muslims in Western Europe (European Turkey and European Russia each have higher Muslim populations)

      Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_France

      I’m pretty sure y’already knew that but still.