Blogger Washikur Rahman Murdered In Bangladesh

Bangladeshi blogger Washikur Rahman was not just killed. His head was cut wide open in several places. The madrassa students accused of murdering him were sending a message. That a brain thinking thoughts against theocracy, denouncing the use of politics to enforce Islam on others, would not be tolerated. They literally tried with meat cleavers to get at Rahman’s mind. To cut away the thoughts he held.

This was not just murder. This was butchery to silence a mind that was against the use of political power to enforce religion on others. Secularism cannot be tolerated by extremists because it defends all citizens to have the religious views they wish.

Some get very offended when their ideas are denounced. When those they love are belittled. To show off how important, some ideas get called religion, and those they love become the most beloved of God. Some popes say insulting their idea is like insulting their mother, so expect a punch. To love the prophet beyond your own children, beyond your own self, is the exaltation of the koran.

The madrassa students declared their love by killing an infidel. They are extremists. The moderate political islamists just want the state to hang atheists. You will recall how they rioted while demanding atheists could be hanged, while some bloggers were held for blasphemy, a few years back

Two students from a local madrassa took meat cleavers into their own hands to show how offended they were that anyone could think differently from them. It follows a few weeks from the brutal murder of blogger Avijit Roy. The fundamentalists are making it very clear.

A free inquiring mind will be hacked to pieces.

I would like to think the world would stand with the atheist bloggers of Bangladesh. We know that is not the case. Charlie Hebdo showed that, with articles denouncing how offensive, racist and bigoted they were. People that could not be bothered to learn the satirical lampooning nature of the magazine, or its left wing progressive and anti colonial stance, did not care they were pissing on the bloodied dead in their ignorance.

At the National Secular Society awards ceremony this Saturday gone in London, Charlie Hebdo won Secularist of The Year. No one from the magazine could be present because of the astronomical fees that security would entail. Even the nominations were kept a lid on. The fear in the world is having its impact.

Martin Rowson – the cartoonist who led a campaign for caricaturing Erdogan due to his attempts to imprison illustrators that insulted him – received the award on their behalf. He made a very offensive speech, one that Hitchens would have been proud of, in defence of free speech and the right of anyone to feel insulted.

For as he said, the greatest offence of all is the taking of another human life. The first person killed at Charlie Hebdo was the building maintenance guy. No one is safe from the rage of fundamentalists.

At the ceremony a very affable person approached me when I first arrived. That is as much of a description as I am prepared to give, because of the known lethal sensitivities in this world. They are the illustrator of the Jesus and Mo cartoon strip. One day I hope it will be safe for them to be personally recognised for their talented satirising and lampooning of religious pomposity.

When Rowson on stage mentioned their attendance, the biggest roar and cheer was heard of the night. The risks faced were brought home when the President of National Secular Society explained the prize money for Charlie Hebdo was going to a benefit fund helping the families of the dead.

It is not enough for us to mourn and be outraged for those killed. We have to be passionate supporting the rights of people to speak out against religion, against privileged Gods, clerics and leaders anywhere in the world. There is no limit to where an inquiring mind may go, and no offense that can demand it does not go there.

I find it very offensive seeing a man with his head cleaved into. I hope you do not need to see the photo I have to feel the same way. You better believe this feels personal. People I know are threatened, people I have spoken to have been shot at, people who think the same as me have had meat cleavers embedded in their skull.

I am not ok with this happening in the world. I am fed up with having to be told murderous passions must mean we should never give our opinions. That it is too dangerous to say this, draw that, or republish this. That theocracy is what others want over there, when the people saying they do not want it that live over there are being hacked to death. That this is too offensive to see the light of day.

I have restored the Scarlet B on twitter for this week. It is a small gesture. If enough of us show we will speak out against fundamentalists, we can show that some of us will promote a free inquiring mind against murderers that would deny our right to think freely.

A free thinking mind, is the idea to love. You celebrate it with discussion, inquiry, debate, argument, humor, art. Not only are people prepared to kill to stop this, even more are prepared to limit the celebration of what makes us truly human. It is the requirement that we die inside, so other’s views are not challenged.

That is why the argument must go on.

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My thanks to the National Secular Society for hosting the event, and to all participants that made the event very welcoming.

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The Betrayal Of Believers To Theocracy

Too often I hear that the vast majority of atheists have no issues with religion. Clearly they have enough of an issue not to be religious themselves. Worryingly, the use of anti-theism to denote hatred of religious people by atheists themselves, is up there with using islamophobia rather than anti-muslim hate.

It is as if theism was just another idea in the market place, just another product. One that desperately needs a health warning. It poisons everything. Including secular liberal principles.

Not least when an unholy alliance is being offered with theocrats by some atheists. I am dismayed by British Humanist Association (BHA) stance: 

In a debate with me a few years ago, the then Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips (now a BHA trustee) called Sharia courts “people’s right to religion”. Andrew Copson, its Chief Executive, has stated on Facebook on 8 December 2014 that he had visited a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council with three of his fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life and was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do”. [Maryam Namazie]

It is fine for a woman to go to arbitration for a faith where men say prayers thanking God they were not born a woman or where a woman has less standing in civil matters than a man. The tradition of patriarchy and demeaning women given sanction as religious freedom.

Thus do we betray feminism and the equality of citizens by bending over backwards to say we are not anti-religion by putting theocracy before these values. Religion having a role in civil law is a base camp for extremists to exploit. The radicals do not need the legislature when they can rule on family life in the community.

So we help to oppress the very people we claim have a choice. That is how people wash their hands of it.

In the Law Society debacle where the Society had endorsed discriminatory practices by issuing Sharia-compliant guidance on wills, the current BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, wrote: “The issue has been totally blown out of proportion… It’s just advice so that solicitors can provide a service to (Sunni) Muslim clients who want a will that fits with their beliefs. It does not claim to do any more than that.” 

Many women’s rights groups, including Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, Nari Diganta, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation and One Law for All disagreed and campaigned against the guidance, which was eventually withdrawn. The Law Society made a very public apology for endorsing discrimination. [Ibid]

It misses how religion impacts on society – how as Hitchens mentions religion poisons everything. In a race to say it is not religion, but people who are at fault, we forget religion is a creation of the human mind. As such it is subject to fault, to being a product of its time and the machinations of a believer or cleric. Where even good people can do terrible things because they think the unimaginable.

Religious freedom is about protecting people in their opinion on religion and in their practise. That cannot come from diminishing the equality of citizens before the law. That is the argument against religious councils ruling on civil matters. Why legal advice that promoted discrimination based on extreme interpretation of religious doctrine was inexcusable.

In the name of avoiding appearing anti-religious, I cannot betray the secularist principles that uphold the equality of citizens. We must not help religious hardliners in their community obtain power. The supposed tyranny of equality nazis is about ending discrimination in society and the use of the law to do so. For some reason, many want to abandon it where it does not directly affect them as non believers. Handing some keys over in the hope that it will prevent radicalization penetrating deeper. Neglecting that theocracy in the modern age only needs the run of civil matters, rather than the legislature, to influence the everyday life of citizens. The attitude of some atheists seems to be: the fringes are the front line let us appear to on the moral high ground.

When you see that wall of separation between church and state laid siege too, then once more unto the breach dear friends. Let us seal it with our arguments, for too many have done so with their bodies in the world. Under theocratic law and fundamentalist hands they died. Under one law for all we stand.

In this, to rally when many a leader has already called the retreat as they flee to the supposed high ground to keep themselves safe, do watch the video above which is a few minutes long. It is a highlight of Christopher Hitchens debate with Tony Blair. It is the reason why theism needs countering. Why secularism is important.

Watch, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and by argument shall we not let the wall fall. For we shall make it bigger.

Freedom needs to be defended. Both against fundamentalists and those cultural relativists that will willingly betray the human rights of others as long as they are ok.

I am against theism because I value humanity too much to see its freedoms and lives sacrificed to false gods. Universal human rights are for everyone – which is why theocracy must be opposed.

Update 25 March 2015

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association has written a full reply to Maryam Namazie’s article, from which I quote three paragraphs above.

It is republished with Andrew’s permission:

The BHA, on grounds of equality and human rights, opposes any legal recognition of norms which contradict these principles. We do not consider sharia to be ‘law’ and we do not consider the bodies advising on it to be ‘courts’. The secular civil and criminal law binds everyone and there should be no exemptions from it for any alternative jurisdictions within the UK. We have promoted this view to successive governments and to a wide variety of other public bodies over the years and today.

I have responded to some of the points in the blog you quote below. (The quotes from the blog are the bits in italics.)

In a debate with me a few years ago, the then Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips (now a BHA trustee) called Sharia courts “people’s right to religion”.

What Naomi said was that, in situations where parties were free from coercion and no laws were being broken, access to religion-based dispute resolution was a right for religious people in a liberal society that respects freedom of association. She also said that there should never be any implication that this sort of arbitration was law. Speaking shortly afterwards she said, ‘‘Many religious “laws” are inherently gender unequal, and as such are antithetical to the principles of democracy and the rule of law which we uphold in a liberal democracy. We welcome any clarification that religious laws, judges and tribunals should have no de facto or legal recognition in English law and have no standing in our domestic courts, as this new Bill may seek to do. Just as important is that government and others should undertake serious and wide-ranging work to ensure that women and men from every part of society, right from school age, understand their civil rights as citizens.’ You can see this statement at https://humanism.org.uk/2011/06/09/news-822/

Andrew Copson, its Chief Executive, has stated on Facebook on 8 December 2014 that he had visited a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council with three of his fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life and was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do”.

This is a misleading and selective quote as it gives the impression that I support sharia “courts” and that the BHA does. Both impressions would be untrue but in fact, this is a quote from a post on my personal Facebook wall made in a private capacity. As such, I consider it to be firmly in the realm of my private life. However, since it has been selectively quoted in this way and made public, I am willing to reproduce it in full for you, although with strong reservations about this conflation between my private life and my employment:

Visited the London Beth Din of the Chief Rabbi of the United (Orthodox) Synagogues and the Islamic Shari’a Council today as part of a fact-finding trip with three of my fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life.

Having heard how they operate, examined their cases, and spoken to the men and women who run them, I’m left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do. In civil matters, the Beth Din make arbitrations just as any other private organisation may do under law if the parties consent. The Shari’a Council was founded in 1982 to give religious divorces to women who were unable to get them and now makes judgments on religious matters alone which are quite outside of the law. They both seem to me to operate entirely within the private sphere and – where their activities intersect with anything that falls under English law – they do not act unlawfully.

I’m still left with a lot of humanist reasons why I wish people didn’t want to use them though. It’s a shame that religious people – like those I spoke to today – feel that they should comply with scriptural injunctions which treat men and women unequally and impose what I think of as unreasonable, unfair, and irrelevant restrictions on behaviour. And that they do this even though they agree that these principles are unfair – as some today did – amazes me!

If you want to do something about that, though, it has to be through culture rather than the law, right? Or *are* there ways in which public agencies should intervene to influence people not to use these voluntary services?

And here’s another question. One of the women who runs the Shari’a Council said how worried she was about growing literalism and conservatism (an imam I was speaking to last week said the same) of some Muslims and panels set up to make judgments under shari’a in the UK. What is a good response by wider society to that? Would encouraging the liberal shari’a councils, which interpret scriptural injunctions in light of moral contexts and social reality, risk legitimising them? And might it have the opposite effect anyway? Would giving approval to them risk undermining the liberal councils in the eyes of disaffected and defensive Muslims who would feel that those councils were (because sanctioned) less authentic than the more conservative and literal-minded councils to which they might then flock?

Lots to think about on this Commission!

I’m sure you will agree this is not an endorsement of sharia based decision making.

 

In the Law Society debacle where the Society had endorsed discriminatory practices by issuing Sharia-compliant guidance on wills, the current BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, wrote: “The issue has been totally blown out of proportion… It’s just advice so that solicitors can provide a service to (Sunni) Muslim clients who want a will that fits with their beliefs. It does not claim to do any more than that.”

Many women’s rights groups, including Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, Nari Diganta, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation and One Law for All disagreed and campaigned against the guidance, which was eventually withdrawn. The Law Society made a very public apology for endorsing discrimination.

This quote is taken from an email sent by Pavan to a private email group run by ‘End Violence Against Women’ in which she was arguing that the issue of the practice note had been blown out of proportion in the media and elsewhere. I think she was right – there was widespread public misapprehension that the law had somehow been changed, which was untrue.

Nonetheless, you can believe that something has been blown out of proportion but still not think it is good, and the BHA was against the practice note and not in favour of it as is wrongly claimed here. We met with the Chief Executive of the Law Society and other Law Society staff to voice our opposition to it. (As far as I know, none of the other groups listed here did so.) And we welcomed its withdrawal when it came (at which point we received the same letter from the Law Society that all other groups that had voiced their opposition received. You can see the story at https://humanism.org.uk/2014/11/24/bha-statement-withdrawal-law-society-practice-note-sharia-wills/)

Those who defend Sharia courts or Sharia-compliant wills as people’s “right to religion” don’t see or don’t want to see that Sharia law is one of the pillars of Islamist rule as is terrorism. It is in fact a form of terrorism against the population at large. This point of view will rightly condemn the hacking to death of Avijit Roy or Raif Badawi’s flogging but will tell those wearing Jesus and Mo cartoons or loudly proclaiming their apostasy that they are “out to offend”, implying that it is the way we criticise or mock Islam that brings on the threats. They also often conflate a criticism with Islam with an attack on Muslims, thereby implying that our the manner of our criticism feeds into racism and “Islamophobia”.

In relation to Jesus and Mo cartoons, we have never done anything other than actively championed the right of our student affiliates to free expression and worked hard to support them both with legal support and media assistance (e.g. https://humanism.org.uk/2013/10/04/lsesu-atheist-secularist-humanist-society-incident-freshers-fair/ and https://humanism.org.uk/2012/10/05/news-1124/ and many more) . We haven’t said any of the other things here either – in fact, we’ve frequently said the opposite.

Alom Shaha, a trustee of the BHA, said in a debate on Islam at the 2014 World Humanist Congress: “You can express whatever views you like but as people have pointed out the expression of your views has consequences, and if one of the consequences of your views, the expression of your views, is that there is hatred and intolerance of other human beings, I’m just simply suggesting that you consider how you express your views. I think the term Islamophobia is indeed problematic; perhaps I should have used the term anti-Muslim bigotry…”

At this event (at which we also invited Maryam to speak), Alom was of course not speaking on behalf of the BHA but as a prominent ex-Muslim and writer and thinker on these issues. Nonetheless, I can’t see anything wrong with what he is saying; he seems to me to be making a reasonable point.

Whilst groups like the BHA rightly condemn the Sharia court sentence of stoning to death for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in Iran, they cannot find “a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do” when it comes to Britain.

As stated above, this is not the position of the BHA.

I do not know why these claims have been made on this blog but I hope the responses above address your concerns.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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NUS Women Conference Request No Clapping, Jazz Hands Please

Having mentioned safe spaces at University in a previous post, this request at a conference to stop clapping is a good example. Restrain your cultural inclination to show approval and appreciation for speakers, because some cannot cope with the noise of clapping.

Sensory overload is something which I have to look out for when caring for my brother. New born babies crying – in fact just seeing a baby – would make my brother want to leave a room. He cannot cope with the possibility of the noise.

The idea that I would request everyone in a cafe to be quiet, especially young ones, so my brother could enjoy himself in the premises would be taking the piss. If it is too crowded, or a baby is present, we let him see, then he chooses to go back out. No fuss, no bother. Coffee can always be enjoyed somewhere.

Return to the conference. For whatever reason, there are people who cannot cope with the noise of clapping. They ask everyone to provide a safe space for them. Thing is, clapping is something that happens at conferences. You have to plan for that.

Here is how the request went down.

A feminist response:

A related note which I have been told today by one of my brother’s support workers. A local church allows a local school to perform the nativity play. However, the vicar solemnly reminded those congregated that this was a House of God where no clapping should ever take place. Children were said to be crest fallen at this invocation of divine etiquette.

Needless to say, some parents clapped the more for this to make up for the majority which agreed to acquiescent to this demand.

It is a strange world we live in. I appreciate some people have issues with how we show our appreciation. For those that say their culture prohibits you doing this anywhere, well mine encourages it.

If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it …

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University – A Free Not A Safe Space

Universities should not be safe places. The battle of ideas should make them free spaces. 

My final year at University, one of my courses was on contemporary philosophy. We discussed Rawls, Nozick. I recall leading a seminar discussion on Dworkin while I argued against utilitarians. Feminism and abortion, Peter Singer and infanticide. Passionate arguments with people that consumed books and fired off their own ideas at each other. This is what we did before Twitter.

There is much discussion about making Universities “safe places” for students. Not inviting certain speakers, reading certain books, or freely discussing certain topics which may trouble some students’ susceptibilities.

Yet open free discussion helped me get the most out of my education. The tutorial and seminar system developed an ability to stand up for your arguments. Years before I felt comfortable discussing atheism with family, I could here. Talking as an equal though from a state education with a class full of privately educated students.

I remember seconding a debate society discussion on morality – not wearing a suit. Quite sacrilegious. I explained this was not a moral failing on my part, but I made the choice to buy books over attire thus was skint. Clothing ourselves with knowledge is dressing for a civilised age. Sharpening that knowledge is to be challenged, to be forged in the fire of heated debate.

Do not garb students from debate by wrapping them in cotton wool, so depriving them of the world of ideas that they can sharpen their teeth on. There are opponents and enemies to be had. The ability to discern who they are is a vital life skill for University students to develop, and how to challenge them. They do not need to be sheltered by those choosing on their behalf who they are for them. It is a form of control no one should want – one should want to fly rather than live in a cocoon safe from the monsters whose ideas we need to know how to slay.

To be an active citizen is to wage eternal conflict in the body politic. There will be people – groups and individuals – that want to change things in civil society. Knowing who to shrill for and who to counter has an impact beyond imagining in the corridors of power we never get to walk down.

We need articulate, determined citizens to fight the good fight in civil society with a megaphone or a keyboard, rather than with violence or repression of others voices. Not shrinking violets that are concerned with how they feel about the jousting, the back and forth of political discourse. There is too much at stake not to play the game, let alone not know how to play it well.

Students need to be taught how to think, stand up for themselves, develop a self-worth. They need to know there are many ideas out there and how to critically assess them.

University is not a safe place. It is a dangerous place, where ideas from different cultures and history will come at you. Do not hide students from political, philosophical or religious arguments.

Arm them to do the battle of ideas in the global communication age safely. This needs to start way before university.

Anything less than that, is to betray their education.

More on free spaces can be read here.

The speech bubble picture comes from another blog post on the subject here.

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Mo Shafiq Apologises, For Incitement, To Maajid Nawaz Over Prophet Mohammed Cartoon

 


 

Finally, after over a year of berating by many of us on social media and blogging, Mo Shafiq has apologised for his conduct when Maajid Nawaz tweeted a Jesus and Mo cartoon of the prophet saying “How Ya Doin’?

To recap:

 

 
 



As I explained at the time in January 2014:

Mo Shafiq of the Ramadan Foundation tweeted that he would ensure the Islamic world would know what Nawaz had done though he stressed he did not want him killed, but meant he wanted to reduce funding for an anti-extremist think tank in the Islamic world. He also used the expression “Ghustaki Rasool these Quilliam people” which means “defamer of the prophet.” Ghustaki Rasool is a crime in Pakistan, where Nawaz has family and travels to, carrying the death penalty (capital punishment has a moratorium, but death for Ghustaki Rasool remains on the statute books). Accused of seeking self-publicity by critics they sure showed Nawaz this would not work by then publicising his name far and wide in the media.

Mo Shafiq told Andrew Neil that Maajid Nawaz needed to be deselected because he risked losing seats for the Liberal Democrats. Yes, Shafiq was using incendiary language that incited death and hatred to someone in the same political party as himself because of political repercussions – not just a desire to defend the prophet. During that interview, Maajid Nawaz could not take part in the discussion as police had warned against due to the death threats he received. 

We can all hope Shafiq has learnt not to play these dangerous games in the future – but it was not a one off. Before this in 2013, Shafiq completely misrepresented an article Nawaz had written. Shafiq claimed Nawaz had called for a state ban of the veil – when he had spoken against that.

Before that, Shafiq had led a campaign against Tom Holland which was equally misinformed regarding his documentary on Islam. Writing about these two incidents in November 2013, my conclusion was:

The regulator saw no case to investigate the complaints brought against the documentary. However, claims that Tom Holland was deliberately distorting the evidence to fit a biased narrative played their part in abuse and death threats he received. Honest academic research and inquiry into history met with abuse and hysteria. There at the beginning was Mohammed Shafiq whipping it up.


He is trying to do the same with Nawaz, misrepresenting, taking things out of context.

Mohammed Shafiq needs to be called on that – because it has repercussions for serious debate, let alone the safety of others when motives are questioned and emotions played on with such disregard to personal integrity by the antagonist. Shafiq has himself had a credible death threat; he rightly has the liberty to speak his mind, and a nation that values free speech should protect that.


When he twists and distorts others words and actions in the process he deserves our contempt and resolve not to get away with it.

Now in March 2015 Mo Shafiq apologises to Maajid Nawaz over the cartoon tweets:

 

The apology follows Shafiq’s appearance on the BBC The Big Questions, where apostasy in Islam was discussed. We need clear articulation that we must live with each other despite having different views and completely condemn any violence, discrimination or prejudice for dissenting opinions on religion or imposing them on others. 

Shafiq complained on the show that host Nicky Campbell was organising a witch hunt on certain individuals that come on. The following apology suggests this is more about laying a ghost to rest – that language and conduct that endangers others is never acceptable even in the heat of the moment. That maybe, it should not take over a year, and a public appearance on television, to realise you need to apologise for unacceptable behaviour. 

“Let’s forgive and move on” says Maajid Nawaz. Fair enough. 

 Doubt any of us will forget though. 

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The UK Government Criminalisation of Islam Joint Statement

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The joint statement that has been signed calls for an end to undefined words like “radicalisation” and “extremism” being used for normative beliefs. Beliefs which themselves have been left undefined in the statement. It is a muddle of incoherent ideas, being two faced while using double speak.

As to using such “highly charged words”, how about accusation of “criminalisation” of Islam in statement, summed up in the 5Pillarz headline:

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Let us dissect the statement piece by piece …

“This joint statement expresses a position with respect to the ongoing demonisation of Muslims in Britain, their values as well as prominent scholars, speakers and organisations.

I can think of two organisations off the top of my head: Hizb ut Tahrir and CAGE. Members of whom have signed this statement. Hizb ut Tahrir has stated democracy is against Islam and “calls the Muslim armies to give Hizb ut Tahrir the Nussrah (Material Support) so that Khilafah is established.” CAGE’s spiral from their abysmal press conference on Jihadi John and failure to condemn stoning for adultery or FGM, has resulted in big donors pulling money and now Amnesty breaking their links with them.

Pointing all this out is not demonising Muslims or Islam. It is criticising Hizb ut Tahrir and CAGE. As to the values which are demonised, let us see if the statement goes on to tell us what they are.

We, the undersigned Imams, sheikhs, advocates, activists, community leaders, community organisations and student bodies of the Muslim community, make the following points in this regard:

1) We reject the exploitation of Muslim issues and the ‘terror threat’ for political capital, in particular in the run up to a general election. Exploiting public fears about security is as dishonourable as exploiting public fears about immigration. Both deflect attention from crises in the economy and health service, but are crude and divisive tactics, where the big parties inevitably try to outdo each other in their nastiness.

Balancing security against liberty, or to be more accurate maintaining security while safeguarding liberty, is part and parcel of politics ever since fears of Big Brother. The suggestion is that people will not focus on issues like the economy or health service due to how politicians think they can make political capital with the electorate over dealing with the terror threat.

Most political pundits disagree with this. Political capital will be made more out of austerity, NHS, the economy, Europe and not being Ed Miliband. That is the bigger picture, though Conservatives have made a big play to introduce a Bill of Rights to replace European existing human rights legislation. Whilst deporting Islamic terror suspects has been a part of that narrative, this is more political capital on the European issue which has been a focus for the Conservatives for over a generation.

2) We deplore the continued public targeting of Muslims through endless ‘anti-terror’ laws. There have been around ten pieces of legislation since the year 2000, all giving huge powers to the state, which have fuelled a media hysteria even though in most cases no crime was committed. This has created a distressing and harmful backlash towards Muslims, especially women and children.

“No crime was committed.” Well, since 2000:

“2005 7 July: The 7 July 2005 London bombings conducted by four separate Islamist extremist suicide bombers, killing 56 people and injuring 700.

2007 30 June: 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack perpetrated by Islamist extremists.

2008 22 May: 2008 Exeter attempted bombing by an Islamist extremist, injuring only the perpetrator.

2013 22 May: A British soldier, Lee Rigby, was murdered in an attack in Woolwich by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, two Islamist extremists armed with a handgun and a number of bladed implements. Both men were sentenced to life imprisonment, with Adebolajo given a whole life order and Adebowale ordered to serve at least 45 years.” [Source]

Those that never came to fruition, which are listed and we know about:

“2000 17 November: Police arrested Moinul Abedin. His Birmingham house contained bomb-making instructions, equipment, and traces of the explosive HTMD. A nearby lock-up rented by Abedin contained 100 kg of the chemical components of HTMD.

2005 21 July: The 21 July 2005 London bombings, also conducted by four would-be suicide bombers on the public transport, whose bombs failed to detonate.

2007 1 February: The 2007 Plot to behead a British Muslim soldier

2007 29 June: 2007 London car bombs [aimed at a nightclub, linked to Galscow attack above]

2008 27 February: British police thwarted a suspected plot to kill Abdullah of Saudi Arabia during a state visit to Britain in the year 2007 a senior officer said.

2012 June: Five Muslims plotted to bomb an English Defence League rally in Dewsbury but arrived late and were arrested when returning to Birmingham. A sixth was also convicted.

2013 April: As part of Operation Pitsford 11 Muslims are jailed for a plotting terror attack involving suicide Bombers. [Source]

Most of us would regard these things as crimes, ones that the letter wilfully forgets suggesting bizarrely there have been none. Up for debate is whether additional legislation is needed to combat the terror threat, and in what form. Whether the media has sensationalised some stories that have increased anti-muslim hatred is a serious point to be addressed.

3) We reject the portrayal of Muslims and the Muslim community as a security threat. The latest Act of Parliament, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, threatens to create a ‘McCarthyite’ witch-hunt against Muslims, with nursery workers, schoolteachers and Universities expected to look out for signs of increased Islamic practice as signs of ‘radicalisation’. Such a narrative will only further damage social cohesion as it incites suspicion and ill feeling in the broader community.

Social cohesion is not helped by a narrative that muslims are viewed as a security threat either. Rather than the police leading, we need a community based approach which deals with extremism and helping young people access civil society. That should cover all forms of extremism, and the skills necessary to challenge. For example PREVENT encourages:

“promoting knowledge, skills and understanding to build the resilience of learners;
exploring controversial issues;
recognising local needs;
challenging extremist narratives;
promoting universal rights;
promoting critical analysis; and
promoting pro-social values.”

They sound like values we can all uphold. Education establishments need to look after the welfare of students, free speech and academic freedom are important. A drift to terrorism in a student should rightly ring alarm bells.

4) The expedient use of undefined and politically charged words like ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’ is unacceptable as it criminalises legitimate political discourse and criticism of the stance of successive governments towards Muslims domestically and abroad. We strongly oppose political proposals to further ‘tackle’ and ‘crack down’ on such dissenting voices in the Muslim community despite their disavowal of violence and never having supported terrorist acts.

“Criminalises legitimate political discourse” – if being shown to be an extremist holds up to public scrutiny, it should impact on their credibility in public discourse. CAGE springs to mind, with recent events forcing Amnesty to break their links with them because they would not condemn stoning or FGM publicly.

If we did not call the Taliban extremists, do we think foreign policy would be different? Maybe we have just misunderstood those that use children as remote controlled bombs. That is, when they are not massacring hundreds of children in a school themselves. Terror is not knowing if your school will be attacked by terrorists or whether that new kid might have a bomb in his rucksack.

We could do with much more condemnation and less apologism for their actions as being caused by “the West.” Similarly, countering conspiracy theories like Charlie Hebdo being a Mossad false flag operation, or ISIS being funded by the CIA and Israel, would be much appreciated.

Roundly condemning the murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists without “but” would be great – not wanting such cartoonists imprisoned as Muslim Action Forum would like or giving them an islamophobe of the year award as The Islamic Human Rights Commission did – would also suggest you are serious about discourse.

5) Similarly, it is unacceptable to label as ‘extremist’ numerous normative Islamic opinions on a variety of issues, founded on the Quran and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), implying there is a link between them and violence, using such labels as an excuse to silence speakers.

Newsflash: if you cannot condemn the killing just for being either an ex Muslim, member of the LGBT community, or adulterer under any circumstance – you are an extremist. If the shoe fits, I suggest you take it off rather than jump up and down while wearing them, complaining no one wants to listen to you for holding such an opinion. I am just sorry no one was looking down at your footwear for so long.

As Amnesty mentioned when breaking their relationship with CAGE:

Further to that, the refusal of a Cage spokesperson to condemn violence such as FGM and stoning – themselves examples of torture and degrading treatment that we are campaigning for an end to – is of huge concern to Amnesty and has made any future platform sharing with Cage impossible.” [Source]

6) We affirm our commitment to robust political and ideological debate and discourse for the betterment of humanity at large. The attempts by the state to undermine this bring into question its commitment to its very own purported values and liberal freedoms.

Debate is important. Oddly, charged language of colonialist, white saviour, islamophobe, coconut, liberal imperialist etc is used in the debate freely as well. They do not want to be closed down in a vigorous debate themselves, but often employ such terms to do just that. Pot Kettle.

7) We affirm our concern about peace and security for all. We, however, refuse to be lectured on peace-building and harmony by a government that plays divisive politics and uses fear to elicit uncertainty in the general public, whilst maintaining support for dictators across the Muslim world, who continue to brutalise and legitimate political opposition to their tyranny.

I in turn refuse to be lectured by people who support blasphemy laws, policies that oppress women, who undermine democracy, who give support to extremists, who are against the liberal principles and universal human rights that are essential for a free people.

8) We affirm our intention to hold on to our beliefs and values, to speak out for what is right and against what is wrong based on our principles, whether that be on matters such as the securitisation of society, corporate hegemony, war and peace, economic exploitation, social and moral issues in society, nationalism and racism. Not to do so would be dangerous and leave our community unguided.

By all means use free speech to say what you want to say, and debate what you want to debate. But you have given the game away as to your reasons: “Not to do so would be dangerous and leave our community unguided.” As ever people seek to speak for or guide muslims as a homogenous bloc. We need to get away from treating muslims like that, as either a scary entity or one that needs representatives telling them and others what they think as one.

9) We call on all fair minded people in Britain – including politicians, journalists, academics, and others concerned about fairness for all – to continue to scrutinise the scare tactics, fear-mongering and machinations of politicians, which do not bode well for societal harmony and only increase the alienation felt and experienced by Britain’s Muslim community.

This has to also include scare tactics of telling muslims they are being treated as “other”, subjected to McCarthyism, treated with suspicion by society at large. This only increases alienation and creates a narrative which makes engagement in civil society less attractive. Playing victimhood here is not about empowering change and engagement, but rather stressing grievance and that society has it in for muslims.

It is time that politicians stop diverting the attention of the British public away from its domestic crises and disastrous foreign policies by repeatedly playing the ‘Muslim’ or ‘national security’ card.”

In short, this statement is more about trying to take some of the heat off organisations in the public eye, and trying to give cover to extremist views under a bland undefined claim of normative religious beliefs. This is the politics of division which is done while using double speak when saying social cohesion.

The division being muslims from society while the cohesion is that muslims are one to be guided as one community, within their own identity box of islam under the watchful eye of pious community spokespeople. Using perceived grievance and victimhood as a means to try and herd people into line on religion.

Big brother is a reason to resist government legislation which takes away our civil liberties. We should also be concerned about people using our identity to empower their own political agenda which is not accountable to anyone.

The irony is the government itself has welcomed faith groups in the political process, legitimising religious identity as a fast track compared to non religious groups. The government has itself provided the incentive for the very thing that condemns it.

The resolve to face down extremism in civil society must continue.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Amnesty Break Link With CAGE

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The statement from Amnesty ending their relationship with CAGE, and doing their best at saving face while back peddling:

“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member. Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”

We had engaged with Cage together with several other organisations on the specific issue of UK complicity in torture abroad, on which they had particular expertise.

At the time that Gita Sahgal left Amnesty International, we commissioned an independent external review into our work with Cage and Moazzam Begg which concluded that it was reasonable for Amnesty to campaign with Cage and Moazzam Begg in his capacity as a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

Gita’s view was that it was inappropriate for Amnesty International to share a platform with individuals and organisations whose religious or political views were inconsistent with the full range of rights and women’s rights in particular. Amnesty International has never questioned the integrity of this view or the sincerity with which Gita held it. However, it is not uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others.

Based on an extensive review of comments made by Cage Prisoners (as it was then known) then available to the public, we concluded that limited cooperation with Cage on the narrow issue of accountability for UK complicity in torture abroad was appropriate, given their consistent and credible messaging on this issue.

Comments made by Cage recently have clearly changed that assessment and have led to our decision to terminate such relations. But this does not alter the fact the decision in 2010 to continue this limited work was taken for good reasons and after extensive reflection. Further to that, the refusal of a Cage spokesperson to condemn violence such as FGM and stoning – themselves examples of torture and degrading treatment that we are campaigning for an end to – is of huge concern to Amnesty and has made any future platform sharing with Cage impossible.”

~ Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director [Source]

They should have listened to Gita (pictured above) a lot sooner. Instead, they whipped up a shitstorm against her. No apology by Amnesty to her, rather a ridiculous attempt to suggest there was no obvious way they could have known what has been said recently.

Background to all this can be read in previous post on CAGE here.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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