A bad week for free speech

January 22, 2012 • 9:57 am

If you’ve been following the secular websiteosphere at all, you’ll know about some of the free-speech intimidation that’s occurred this week, including the dissolution of a meeting of the Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism Society at Queen Mary College in London after a Muslim began filming the meeting (a talk by Anne Marie Waters critical of sharia law) and then threatened to kill those attending.  I have found little about this incident in the press (try Googling it), and nobody but atheist bloggers calling attention to the religiously-based threat.  And why hasn’t that guy who filmed and threatened the audience been arrested?

At any rate, there are two other incidents worthy of mention, including the unfortunate attack on a Jesus and Mo cartoon at University College London (and the resignation of the student—president of a secular society—responsible for its publication and Salman Rushdie’s decision to cancel his appearance the Jaipur literary festival because of death threats.

According to Joan Smith at the Independent, who summarizes these incidents, press coverage has not only been minimal, but there has been a fair amount of sympathy for those Muslims whose feelings were hurt.

Two of these incidents happened in Britain; the other in India. Both countries are secular democracies. Free speech is the backbone of those democracies, and, except for a few intimideated democracies like Canada and Ireland, free speech applies to all forms of criticism, political or religious.

Most religions are pernicious, but Islam, with its ridiculous displays of hurt feelings, its threats to kill not only apostates but critics, and its claim to be a “religion of peace,” is the most pernicious of all.  Where are the “moderate” Muslims condemning this kind of bullying? I haven’t been able to find any, though I’m sure some dedicated reader can find an obscure criticism or two from the Islamic world.

As usual, Muslims who claim not to be extremists stand by silently while their coreligionists try to dismantle freedom of speech via threats of death.  The silent ones are enablers.  And until I hear a chorus of condemnation from Muslims throughout the world, I will claim that the concept of “moderate” Islam is a fiction.  “Moderate” Islam is largely confined to those countries in which Muslims are a minority.  When they predominate, the real face of that faith shows itself.

118 thoughts on “A bad week for free speech

  1. to pint out that an incident has not been widely covered in the media and then complain it has not been widely denounced seems a little inconsistent.

    1. So? It is only inconsistent if you claim that muslims should not take responsibility, that they don’t need to be on top of this.

      But Coyne is arguing the reverse.

  2. I don’t know if it is in order to make a plug for the blasphemy event to be held at Conway Hall in London next Saturday: http://www.cfilondon.org/2011/11/24/blasphemy/

    I expect we might get some objections from some of the more sanity-challenged members of the Islam club. Incidentally I have changed my facebook avatar to the a Jesus & Mo cartoon in support of the UCL guys and I would encourage others to do the same.

    1. Reading that article you cite, the threat is not a lie from Rushdie but from the local police, to keep Rushdie away. In other words, the threat to free speech that Jerry points out was real. Maybe this version is even worse than the version that attributed the death threats to Islamic terrorists. In this version, agents of the state are inventing death threats to scare Rushdie into avoiding the festival.

      Incidentally, if anybody doubts that there are serious free speech issues in the festival, google it and you will see that the four speakers who read from Rushdie’s book to show solidarity with him are under investigation by the police, and the organizers themselves feel threatened and are falling all over themselves to disavow the actions of the four speakers.

      The speakers may get off on a technicality–seems they were reading excerpts from Rushdie published in a magazine, not from the forbidden book itself. I didn’t quite understand that part….

  3. I agree with Chuckie. It sounds like you are asking for someone in a Muslim majority country who reads the atheist blogosphere (or at least Joan Smith’s recent article) AND has a large enough platform themselves to suitably denounce what’s being done by British Muslims.

    1. I read it as an appeal for moderates to take responsibility.

      If they need read the atheist blogosphere to know about their religion’s doings, they are failing in that. If they need a platform outside of the one they have, their churches, to publish articles, they are failing in that. And if they are not using the platforms they have, they are failing in that.

      1. ‘Their religion’s doings’…? So a billion people are somehow supposed to all know what each other does?

        Don’t get me wrong there are high-profile incidents that might qualify for this argument, but by Jerry’s own admission this is not one of them.

    2. It’s not too late, why don’t you get on the horn to your muslim friends. I’m sure they will speak out as soon as they hear about it – or not! Go ahead contact the muslims lets see what you and Chuckie have Simon.

    1. One obvious difference here is that according to linked article, the putz who made the statement apologized and was suitably chastised by other Jewish groups.

  4. “”Moderate” Islam is largely confined to those countries in which Muslims are a minority. When they predominate, the real face of that faith shows itself.”

    That’s funny mr.Coyne, when I say stuff like that, even on Pharyngula, I am immediately called a racist islamophobe.

    The automatic defense you get from supposed atheists when you tell a simple fact like that is astonishing. It makes you despair for the future if even atheists are that idiotic, spineless and weak-minded.

    1. Other than your usual, and meant to be disparaging, identification of Jerry as “mr.Coyne”, I’m damned if I can figure out what you’re trying to say. But it could be me.

      1. Yes it is apt. I’m a little confused, however, about the next part of Mettyx’s note which I read in two different ways.

    2. Can you really deny that a large amount of anti-Muslim sentiment is based on racism rather than high-minded objections to Islam’s conflicts with free speech? I understand it’s frustrating to have your motives impugned but it’s your responsibility as a critic of Islam to make it clear what you are criticizing and why. If you don’t make this clear then you will be accused of racism because the most vocal and acerbic critics of Islam are racists.

        1. Pamela Geller comes to mind as one example in the US. Marty Peretz is another. If you look at European far-right politicians there’s even more examples eg Jean-Marie Le Pen.

      1. When I was involved in Anti-Apartheid and similar anti-racist organizations it was fairly clear what racism meant. However its current definition seems to be “Saying or doing something that could possibly upset a group of people some of whom might possibly not be white.” Personally I don’t care if some idiots accuse me of racism. I don’t need their approval to express my views and if you really think that the most vocal and acerbic critics of Islam are racists then you should reflect on the fact that this will be even more the case if non-racists cease their criticism.

  5. ” And until I hear a chorus of condemnation from Muslims throughout the world, I will claim that the concept of “moderate” Islam is a fiction. ”Moderate” Islam is largely confined to those countries in which Muslims are a minority. When they predominate, the real face of that faith shows itself.”

    I both agree and disagree with this statement. To find the distinction I think a consistency test is in order: When atheists or Jews commit a crime or infringement on human rights, are atheists or Jews required to seek out the news media to condemn the action? I’d say “No.” The actions of people I am unrelated to do not obligate me to take positive steps to condemn their actions.

    I think that Moderate Muslims who refuse, when asked, to condemn the actions of these anti-free speech, anti-free society thugs can rightly be condemned as enablers. But I’m less sure the same can be said of those who may disapprove but don’t take positive steps to seek out media attention for their point of view.

    1. The real face of all religion has shown itself throughout history whenever it’s in a majority and in power.

    2. Your test is flawed.

      When atheists or jews or anyone else commits a crime they seldom do it in the name of atheism etc, so your comparison is incorrect. However, if an atheist or jew committed a crime in the name of their sect, then yes, you would call on others of the same sect to comment. It is insufficient for islamists, however strong or weak is their stripe, to remain silent when death threats are made against others in the name of their particular cult.

      1. “When atheists or jews or anyone else commits a crime they seldom do it in the name of atheism etc, so your comparison is incorrect. However, if an atheist or jew committed a crime in the name of their sect, then yes, you would call on others of the same sect to comment. “

        Yes, that is an argument I’ve used myself. But is also the case that Christians are not responsible for all people who call themselves Christians, and so to for Muslims. And if a Christian or Muslim says the offending people aren’t showing the true spirit of their religion then we, as atheists, can just point out that they are playing the No True Scottsman card.

        It is the case that there is no atheist ideology that all atheists have in common–it is not a belief system any more than not collecting stamps is a belief system. But, at the same time, just because two people say they are Muslim doesn’t mean they have anything else in common. Don’t get me wrong, I think Islam is an inherently theocratic threat to human rights and free expression. And I do think that “moderate” Muslims are generally enablers of those threats. However, I’m wary of making it some kind of rule that if someone otherwise unrelated to you holds some belief that is similar to your own that you are somehow responsible for their behavior and that you are obligated to seek out the media and condemn them for any wrongheaded acts they commit. I don’t go around demanding Jews come out and condemn Israel, nor do demand that Muslims must rise up and condemn Muslim extremists.

        This is a nuanced issue, and I hope to see it treated as such.

  6. it is the majority of the moderates implicitly supporting the crazies, which makes death threats possible and so powerful….eg the Nazis, Bolshevists, Cultural Revolutions, Khymer Rogue, etc.

  7. I am curious why Canada gets a slap on the wrist for bringing a teacher who was pushing holocaust denial in his classroom and testing his students on it (the only reference i can find to Canada under that wiki link) and not the 17 countries where it is actually illegal….

    1. Actually, there are 3 separate incidences of holocaust denial in that article. I think that Jerry’s point was that Canada did not apply freedom of speech.

        1. I found that link really odd, too – specifying ‘Canada’ and then linking to a general wiki on holocaust denial? I assumed the link was a mistake. In fact, I still think that’s the best explanation.

          1. Wasn’t the point that Canada doesn’t have laws against holocaust denial and yet they nevertheless decided to impose restrictions on certain holocaust deniers? Perhaps I, too, misread it.

      1. Holocaust denial is one of the stupidest intellectual (?) activities currently circulating in the world. In addition to testimonies of people oppressed by the Nazis and corroborating testimony from countless soldiers who liberated Nazi death camps, mines of Nazi documents have been found outlining their strategies! What part of reality do these idiots not understand???????????

    2. Canada doesn’t deserve a slap on the wrist–it deserves a fist in the face:

      A man who works as a makeup artist for movies decided to hire models and make them up as zombies got charged with corrupting youth.

      A man put an antisemitic message on his own answering machine. He was fined and ordered to remove his message. He refused and got sent to jail.

      A man wrote on his Facebook page that some Minister (maybe the Defence Minister, I don’t recall) that he was glad the Minister’s daughter was killed and that if he (the Minister) liked death penalty so much, maybe he should go to Texas and witness an execution. He was charged with death threats!!! Even the Minister admitted that those were not really threats. Yet, the man was charged.

      Just a few examples.

  8. And when an atheist commits a horrendous crime, are you an “enabler?” I have never heard a chorus of condemnation from atheists over an atheist committed crime. Since I’ve never heard of it, surely it doesn’t exist, right? Please, Muslims have much more important things in their lives than seeking out obscure crimes from across the globe and publicly denouncing them. You know, lives, work, families.

    1. The distinction is that when an atheist commits a crime, it isn’t done in the name of their non-religion. Even when a Christian or Muslim commits a crime, it’s typically not done in the name of their religion.

      But sometimes Christians or Muslims commit crimes specifically in the name of their religions and that is what’s being talked about here.

      1. Exactly. If gangs of atheist hotheads went around threatening and assaulting people in the name of atheism, I would certainly expect Dawkins, Harris, Coyne, and so on to stand up and say “These thugs do not speak for me.”

      2. microraptor, the problem is not that someone might do something horrendous in the name of religion but that they do it because any reasonable interpretation of their religious laws tells them to. Then “moderate” members of that religion at least owe us an explanation of why these laws are not binding on them.

        1. How reasonable or unreasonable an interpretation of the laws of a religion are is irrelevant, because most religious laws are a Rorschach Test to begin with and they tend to contradict each other.

    2. First of all, feel free to point to an atheist committing crimes in the name of atheism, and we’ll talk. Otherwise, you’re putting forth a false equivalence.

      Second of all, I frequently see prominent atheist calling out other — often more obscure — atheists for holding nonsensical or repugnant views, and those aren’t even crimes. (That’s how I first heard of Christopher Hitchens, in fact.) I guess they don’t have lives, work, and families.

      Or maybe they’re just not enablers.

      1. I think you need to be a bit more specific.
        Do you agree or disagree with something I wrote? If so, specifically what, and why?

      2. Doh! Scrolling error on my part. You weren’t responding to my post. However, I still think substantive argument is to be preferred over bald ad hominems.

    3. Hey happytippy – atheists don’t restrict people from saying things. We are talking about idiot religionists who want to restrict speech cause their feelings are hurt… boo hoo.

      And your claim that we don’t speak out about crime is bull shit. Who speaks out more? What crimes are you talking about?

      Really lame post happy

    4. What a dufus.

      When an atheist breaks into a meeting of muslims, takes their pictures, threatens to kill them if they say anything bad about atheism then atheists should (and would) condemn that action.

      When that does happen get back to us.

    5. Happytipp, you are not comparing like with like.
      Suppose someone, atheist or not, were to hold that Mein Kampf or the collected work of Lenin were absolute truth or even metaphorically true and were to commit an horrendous crime specifically on account of this then I would expect anyone of a similar opinion, atheist or not, to condemn the crime.
      To claim to be a Muslim is, in part, to claim to hold the Qur’an to be infallibly true. When someone commits a crime specifically on account of holding this opinion then again I would expect those of similar opinion to condemn them. There is nothing special about this expectation I have of “moderate” Muslims. It is exactly the same expectation I would have of the “moderate followers” of any other book.
      The claim to be an atheist is not a claim about the truth or otherwise of the contents of any book.

          1. No, I had it right the first time: If you use death threats to suppress freedom of expression you can FUCK OFF AND DIE. Pretty simple, really.

  9. My take: maybe moderate Muslims feel threatened by their own radicals; sometimes speaking out carries some risk.

    I haven’t done any research to back up this conjecture so I don’t know if it has any validity.

    1. That seems a reasonable hypothesis. Apostasy is punishable by death, is it not? A moderate who speaks out against a fundamentalist could feel that the fundamentalist may consider that to be apostasy. Maybe not risking life, but certainly risking retaliation.

  10. “Where are the “moderate” Muslims condemning this kind of bullying?”

    The vast majority probably don’t know about these types of incidents. Regardless, most people worry about their daily lives, and not what some crazies are doing across the world.

    1. So there are no Muslim bloggers, no Muslim Twitterers, no Muslim public relations organizations, no Muslim media outlets, nobody who has a voice and might follow what’s going on outside their city.

      You’re either desperately excusing enablers, or you’re pointing out a significant piece of the problem.

      1. Yes, that’s right, I’m “desperately” excusing enablers by stating that most people don’t know about these incidents. I mean, these events have been covered so very well, you know. /s

        Have you checked or done any searches? I’ll be honest, I haven’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are at least some Muslim bloggers/twitterers/organizations who denounce this type of stuff.

  11. I would place this under a bad week for free speech, if not free-speech intimidation because it seems this nominal democracy lacks it:

    “Civil servant Alexander Aan, 31, is now in protective police custody after he was attacked by an angry mob earlier this week.

    He may also lose his job over his posting on the social networking site.

    Atheism is a violation of Indonesian law under the founding principles of the country.”

  12. Both countries are secular democracies.

    Britain is most certainly NOT a secular democracy.
    Not whilst mandatory positions for many un-elected bishops are reserved in their Upper House of parliament.
    Not in any way, shape, nor form is that practice either secular, or democratic.

    1. And of course we still have a monarch and heaps of absurd traditions and no written constitution.

      Democracy is meaningless without liberal values, and those values are eroding around the world more and more each day.

        1. OK, so it is a constitutional monarchy, with an established church. Aside from the bishops in the House of Lords (which privilege ought to be abolished in the coming reformation – I fully agree with you there), The monarch has little to do with the national politics, and the church mostly splutters ineffectually.

          Having said that, our elected (and supposedly secular) government now seems to be heading on a course that encourages the setting up of faith schools, a retrograde step which is being opposed by secular and humanist societies. I suspect this is a cynical attempt by the government to save money on education by passing the cost onto faith organisations, without full consideration of the law of unintended consequences, rather than an attempt to bring back religion.

          I guess I’ve wandered off my point, which is that in spite of these problems, I don’t think that you can fairly characterise the UK as being “the absolute antithesis [of a secular democracy]” such a label would more properly be applied to the likes of North Korea or Iran, IMO.

          1. Agree.

            The UK is fundamentally a democracy.

            The monarch is supposed to be apolitical and the “Royal Assent” is merely a formality. The monarch’s reserve power to withhold assent was last exercised by Queen Anne when she withheld Royal Assent from the Scottish Militia Bill 1708. For the Queen to so nowadays seems highly improbable.

            The House of Lords is anomalous, but has been and continues to be reformed. It does have a valid moderating effect on proposed legislation and peers (especially life peers) bring their experience and insight to the review of legislation. In a sense, the House is a meritocracy, although life peers aren’t always created with a view to what skills they can bring to the process. And the presence of hereditary peers and Lords Spiritual (i.e., the Bishops) are flies in the meritocratic ointment, of course.

            The UK is fundamentally secular.

            According to British Social Attitudes 28, 2011-2012 Edition, 50% of the UK population have no religion.

            • 20% Church of England/Anglican
            • 9% Roman Catholic
            • 15% Other Christian
            • 6% Non-Christian

            Having CofE Bishops in the House of Lords is unrepresentative my multiple yardsticks. Not only are they not going to be abolished, but the number will be relatively increased in comparison to hereditary peers, iirc.

            To say, “the church mostly splutters ineffectually” is true, but the Bishops have had a negative impact on some proposed legislation — on choice in dying, for example.

            I have grave misgivings about the growth of faith schools, that it will promote sectarianism, for example (and you’d have thought we’d have learnt that lesson from Northern Ireland), but secular organisations have at least been able to ensure that faith schools cannot promote creationism, etc., within science classes.


            1. *by multiple yardsticks

              I should also say that having a state religion with the monarch being head of state and head of the CofE is anomalous. But to abolish that without abolishing the monarchy altogether seems constitutionally fraught. (And I will say that I am not a republican: I think it is desirable that the titular head of state should be apolitical, a representative of the country rather than of a particular socioeconomic ideology.)


              1. Because the head of state shouldn’t be an ass.

                Joking aside, whoever the head of state is — and, granted, they needn’t be a hereditary monarch — they should have at least some level of competency and gravitas on the international stage.


              2. Personally I think the whole notion of a head of state fosters the notion that the rest of us are subservient. I don’t want to be a serf! But if people insist that some symbolic entity must fulfill this rôle, then a donkey would be an excellent choice.

              3. Thanks Ant, you have stated in more detail exactly my take on the UK.

                The great advantage of having a constitutional monarchy is that the head of state spends a lifetime being trained to do the job. Like you, I should prefer to disestablish the church, but the main thing would be to get rid of the bishops in the House of Lords, which, as you point out, doesn’t seem to be happening this time round. I personally find this appalling, as Mrs Brains and I are campaigners for legalised assisted dying.

                Apart from any other consideration, the Queen makes for a much better tourist attraction than your average donkey

              4. I don’t really like the idea of a head of state either, but if you are going to have one then I certainly don’t want it to be a politician (in any sense).

                And if you’ve got a descendent of Alfred the Great hanging around with nothing else to do…..

              5. @TJR: You wouldn’t want a politician acting as head of state? Does that mean you wouldn’t want to get an appendectomy from a surgeon? Or drive over a bridge that was built by an engineer?

                Seriously, this whole anti-politician meme is what got the Tea Baggers so many seats in the House & Senate in the last 3 years, where they’ve gone on to block any sort of bipartisan actions and threatened the credit rating of the US because they wouldn’t vote in favor of allowing the US to pay off its debts.

              6. microraptor. As far as I am concerned the whole thing is about power. If we have to have a head of state then the head of state should have no political power whatsoever and be prevented from financially profiting from the position. But this makes the head of state a mere bauble to be brought out on ceremonial occasions. The only reason anyone would want such a position is that is might make them look important. If the rôle has to be taken by a person, then I suggest it should be done by random selection and the position only last for a week. Thus citizens would be expected to do “head-of-state” service much as they are expected to do jury service. It seems absurd to go to the expense of electing such a person and equally absurd to feed someone the human equivalent of royal jelly from birth to prepare them for such a position.
                As I have said my preferred option is a donkey. Can anyone tell me what is wrong with a donkey going to meet the Pope or the president of the USA when they arrive on British soil?

              7. @ microraptor It’s important to note that in the UK, the head of state (the Queen) is distinct from the head of government (the PM). So, nothing wrong with a politician taking the latter role – It’s practically a necessity – but in the former? No. This isn’t anti-political. For example, the Queen represents the state in court cases (“the Queen vs. …”) – it would be very wrong to cast those as “the PM vs. …”.

                @ Bernard Already answered by H4B and me. Whether or not any head of state should meet the Pope (that is, as a head of state in his own right) at all is quite a different question.


  13. While you’re on the job, Jerry, let me take the opportunity to add to this thread the current #MTRsues (search for this hashtag on Twitter, which is where much of the online discussion has been) controversy in Australia this past week.

    Short description: so-called “feminist” activist Melinda Tankard Reist (whose agenda is evidently that of a Christian theological conservative, since it includes opposition to abortion as well as pornography) has her lawyers send a letter of demand to blogger Jennifer Wilson, threatening a defamation action.

    Good ol’ defamation law can still be used to chill freedom of speech, as in this example. The dispute has received a lot of mainstream press coverage in Australia, though unfortunately most of it has been more about who can or can’t count as a feminist rather than about the threat to freedom of speech.

  14. Actually the story is more complicated (and more shameful for me as an Indian citizen) in the Rushdie case. Rushdie was sent an email by a Rajasthan* government source, saying that there were intelligence reports that named hitmen from the Mumbai underworld had been hired to murder him, and that there might be a threat to his life if he came. So far so good.

    It now turns out now that high officers in Mumbai police have gone on record saying that they they shared no such intelligence report with the Rajasthan police, and indeed, the hitmen mentioned in the email are unknown to them. The Intelligence Bureau (IB), India’s highest domestic intelligence agency, has also said that its central bureau of information about possible terror threats did not receive any such information.

    So all indications are that the Rajasthan Police actually lied, possibly under pressure from the Rajasthan government, to prevent Rushdie from coming. Now, spreading fears through false rumours is a cognizable offense in Indian law, and I hope someone doe file a PIL (public interest litigation) against the Rajasthan Police for illegally spreading false rumours .

    *Rajasthan is the Indian state in which Jaipur, where the litfest is being held, is.

  15. “Both countries are secular democracies.”

    Not sure about Britain, but India is a secular democracy only in principle. In reality, it is a Multi religious society, where the state panders to every idiotic religion. Tax payer money is freely wasted on religious rituals. Religious thugs generally are given license to obstruct public life and frequently resort to violence in order to avenge ‘hurt emotions’. India is religious chaos that can erupt into a nasty street fight anytime.

    1. Religion is nowhere near as bad a problem in the UK as it is in India.
      However there are people who would happily make it so. There are also “moderate” religionists who would never resort to violence themselves but think it is “understandable” that others might. One explained it like this: “If you beat a dog would it surprise you if it bit you?” And I suspect (I put it no higher than that) that many religionists would ask a similar question.
      But, of course, drawing a cartoon or saying something “insulting” about a religion is nothing like as hurtful as a beating so in finding the violent reactions “understandable” one is implicitly assuming that the perpetrators have less intelligence than dogs.
      The religious incursions on free speech that occur in the UK may be trivial compared with what happens in many other parts of the world. However once one concedes the principle that such incursions are OK, all bets are off. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

  16. It totally irks me that the dude who put the Jesus and Mo image on his Facebook page created such a stir that the school officials pressured him to take it down. This should not even be an issue for the school.

    How ’bout those Muslims get some non-violent interdiction for what they did? Occupy Oakland shut down the port for most of a day and #D12 Houston shut down the old gates and got the Port CEO to resign.

    When free speech is under attack, you need to attack back and put the fear in them. They suppress speech, strike where they live and shop. convince them that they are welcome only as long as they support free speech. Make them afraid to do anything of this kind ever again. Law and government are corrupt. Direct action is the solution.

  17. The actions of the muslim dude who intimidated the crowd are unconscionable, but words should be said about the nature of the anti-Shariah meeting he disrupted; that whole deal is purely xenophobia-spreading hysteria.

    He was disrupting a meeting he saw (rightly) as overtly antagonistic to his people. His actions were wrong, but his anger does not exist in a vacuum.

    ”Moderate” Islam is largely confined to those countries in which Muslims are a minority. When they predominate, the real face of that faith shows itself.

    So you really judge the population of a country by the action of its government and/or religious leaders? You realize that every muslim country is full of people who do not have a microphone that reaches your computer? You realize that our country, over the past 60 years, has engineered and toppled and bombed governments to protect its interests, at the expense of muslim democracy and self-determination?

    Hey, ever think that maybe some Muslims judge the US as simplistically as you do them, assuming that since the US government bombs them and supports their brutal dictators, US citizens must all be equally imperialistic immoral assholes?

    1. Really? “the anti-Shariah meeting he disrupted… is purely xenophobia-spreading hysteria.”

      I’d refer you to Maryam Namazie’s words (in the article that Jerry links to) [my emphasis]:

      Again, this is not about lacking cultural sensitivity or discrimination as the pathetic UCL Union thinks. It is not about racism and ‘Islamophobia’. It is not our fault for raising the issues. We are not to blame for ‘provoking’ the Islamists; they need no such provocation…

      It’s about being able to criticise and speak out against that which is taboo and the barbarism of our century. Free expression is all we have at our disposal to do so.


      1. Well, of course they say that. People also say “I’m not racist, but…”

        The enactment of Shariah law is not a creeping threat to Britain, America, or anywhere. It just isn’t. Pretending it is is xenophobic hysteria.

        Britain is using one-size-fits-all religious tribunals that allow shariah law arbitration between Muslims. This is unfortunate, since I agree Sharia law is misogynistic. But AFAIK UK laws are still in effect so this only applies to civil affairs.

        The argument should be against religious arbitration, not specifically Shariah. There’s flavors of judaism that are equally misogynistic.


        1. Yet 61% of British Muslims want Islamic courts (according to a survey Jerry cites in a new post).

          Even if sharia is restricted to religious tribunals, it is invidious if some British citizens are subject to this while others are not. And saying, “this only applies to civil affairs” is misleading: civil cases in England are covered by the laws of England and Wales just as much as criminal cases.

          If Judaism is equally misogynistic, we should be equally critical of Judaism in that case. And that does not, of course, make Muslim misogyny &c. right.


        2. Are you aware that Maryam Namazie is an Iranian who had to flee the country because of her opposition to the Islamic regime and because she is an apostate? At a meeting in Denmark she once answered a question with “Of course I’m not anti-Muslim, I an an ex-Muslim, my parents are Muslims; what I oppose is political Islamism.”

          She and many other members of One Law for All Campaign are part of the “Muslim community” that extremist organizations like the EDL wish to demonise.

          You may think you are a fiend of the “Muslim community” but with friend like you who needs enemies?

          Incidentally, she will be speaking on this very subject in Conway Hall next Saturday (Link in previous post). If you can get there you can argue your case with her. She doesn’t bite, but I can guarantee you will feel a little bit silly afterwards.

    2. “words should be said about the nature of the anti-Shariah meeting he disrupted; that whole deal is purely xenophobia-spreading hysteria.”
      What a load of utter bollocks.
      This wasn’t some Pamela Geller style anti-immigrant tea-baggers. In the UK there is an enormous difference between the xenophobes (who do exist) and the secular groups like the ‘One Law for All’ group that was giving the talk that was targeted for death threats. The xenophobes in the UK are associated with fascist groups like the English Defense League and the British National Party. They are pro christian organizations that are opposed to secularism (but find it useful to target muslims as they are the most visibly and culturally distinct immigrant group.) The EDL/BNP would have nothing to do with ‘One Law for All’, as OLFA is for the most part, run by immigrant women, and dedicated to a secular agenda.
      The same muslim group that targeted OLFA were in the news last year for sending death threats to a London Imam who had the temerity to suggest that evolution was true and should be taught in schools.

      1. Looking more into it, OLFA does seem to be a much more nuanced organization. I regret lumping it in with other groups. Sorry.

        Maybe the muslim zealot didn’t do his research either!

        1. I’m sure the zealot DID do his research. The BNP/EDL are complete skinhead thugs. There is no way you would run into their meeting and issue threats without the firm expectation of getting your head kicked in.
          Secularists are an easy target for intimidation because they don’t resort to violence.

        2. Oh the Muslim zealot did his homework alright. Muslim zealots regularly target OLFA activities. I expect them to do so on Saturday.
          Incidentally I have been on a march organized by OLFA that was targeted by both the EDL and militant Islamists.

    3. Muslim democracy? What the hell are you prattling about? Muslims are adherents to Islam. Maybe you could opine Egyptian democracy or Syrian democracy, but Muslim democracy I think not.

      I can concede the US has made contemptible blunders and I retain the privilege to castigate and excoriate the governmental directorate for these errors. Can Muslims confess they have participated and are participating in sexist, racist, homophobic, child abusive, rapist, criminally violent, sexually repressive, and intellectually oppressive behavior? I imagine not, but they resolve to enfold others under the microscope of answerability while declining to accept their own imperfections. Hypocrisy?

      The bombings and removal and/or insertion of brutish despots were covert operations carried out by the US government lacking the endorsement, promotion, or cognizance of the American denizens. Jihad, cruelty, and bigotry is buttressed, vociferated, and embraced in every communal forum in every Muslim country. Also, every solitary Muslim on the planet is aware of it. Distinction.

      Please, never equate American democracy to Muslim tyranny. Apples and oranges.

  18. I’m a US citizen (and a strong atheist) living in Bosnia which is predominantly Islamic. I have spent the last decade living and working in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. I can say with certainty that there are masses of moderate Muslims every where I go (even in Afghanistan). Bosnia is a prime example of an Islamic country where moderates thrive and outsiders are very welcome though people in the US would never know it based on the media they get about this country.

    The issue is one of two things:

    1. In some countries, moderates are even more intimidated than outsiders and of course they aren’t going to speak up for their own safety -> this is the issue in most of the Middle Eastern countries I have worked in
    2. That moderates just don’t care (similar to the reactions of Christians when horrible things are done in their religion’s name and their response is to dismiss it not to question how their religion produces such derangement in the first place) -> this is the issue in countries like Bosnia and Turkey

    Couple that with a media that is unwilling to speak out, and this is the situation you end up with. But, make sure the right people are taking the blame, not the easy targets…

    1. How would you define moderate? Would they allow joking about the prophet to go unpunished? Would they be willing to support evolution?

      1. I would define moderates as the Muslims I meet who do not care that I am an atheist. Under this definition, that is the vast majority. Of course, the sample is biased because obviously the more militant a person’s beliefs are, the less likely they are to have direct contact with Western aid workers. I would not begin to guess what the actual % of moderates vs. fundamentalists is; but the point is that I have personally met a lot of Muslims who could care less about me being an apostate.

        As far as evolution, there is virtually no science education in the Middle East, so the vast majority have little exposure to it, and are not inclined to understand or ‘believe’ in it. There is an appalling lack of general education throughout that part of the world that is hard to comprehend without seeing it first hand. And, this in my opinion, is one of the primary drivers of the current situation.

        On the other hand, in Bosnia, the populace has access to a diverse and fairly advanced education system. Science acceptance is significantly higher, although, very unimportant to many people here.

  19. Pingback: Enablers
  20. here are our questions:

    – if someone claims to make death threats for religious reasons, how do we know that religion is causal? if someone’s brain is so broken that they make these threats why should we believe anything they say?
    – religious moderates defend, to the death, the special nature of criminal behavior which is tagged as being part of their religion. All one has to do is mention god and the normal standards of civil behavior and the law are dissolved. should that be allowed?

  21. The BHA is now talking about this. From its newsletter:

    The right to offend

    Living in a free society means that we have the right to offend people, and in turn be offended by others. A free society does not ban books, nor does it stop people from voicing their opinions, nor allow people to be blackmailed and intimidated. In a free society we can, and should, challenge each other’s beliefs, through free and open debate, and rely on rational argument and reason rather than threats and censorship.

    One event in particular last week brought the question of blasphemy and censorship to the fore. A talk on ‘Sharia Law and Human Rights’ organised by the Queen Mary Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society, which had to be cancelled after threats of violence interrupted proceedings.

    Free expression, the free exchange of ideas and free debate are hallmarks of an open society; violence and the threat of violence should never be allowed to compromise that. No one has the right not to have their most profound beliefs challenged.

    This weekend the BHA, in association with the Centre for Inquiry UK, and Conway Hall, is hosting a day conference in London to explore blasphemy, religious hatred, and human rights. Tickets for this increasingly relevant discussion are still available from the BHA website.

    The BHA is supporting One Law for All’s rally in defence of free expression in solidarity with our affiliate society at Queen Mary’s, deploring the threats they received and the chilling effect this has had on the free exchange of views on their campus. Violence and the threat of violence should never be allowed to compromise the principles of our open society.


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