Gordon Birtwistle Illiberal Democrat MP?

You may have thought this story was laid to rest, just as Maajid Nawaz wants as will be mentioned later in post. Step forward Gordon Birtwistle Liberal Democrat MP – who needs just over a 2% swing in the next general Election to lose to Labour. He is one of those Lib Dems that Mo Shafiq fears will lose their seat because of Maajid Nawaz tweeting a bland cartoon of the prophet.

Background regarding Maajid Nawaz posting a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed read here.

Gordon Birtwistle is alleged to have written this letter:


Whilst some have doubted the authenticity of the letter we have this subsequent quote from the MP in a local newspaper:

“I’m in favour of people having free speech, but if they decide that free speech allows them to abuse other people and other communities when they’re a Lib Dem candidate, it then puts me in the same team as them, and I don’t want that person in my team. To me, that’s not acceptable from a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate.”


[Photo credit: Chris Boland]

Now here is the question not answered. Is he referring to posting the cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed or is he referring to swearing at other twitter users by Maajid Nawaz who objected to tweet? Or both?

Because remember swearing was an issue addressed in the joint statement Nawaz and Shafiq made on January 28:

“We are both Liberals and support the principle of freedom of speech. But we also understand the importance of respect for others’ views and of moderation of language. In so far as this second principle of moderate language has been breached in the heat and passion of the current debate, we regret this and call for all those who have differing views to ensure that any debate which continues on this subject should use language and attitudes which conform to Liberal standards of respect and moderation. [emphasis added]

5Pillarz website reported that the MP’s letter:

… was responding to a complaint about Nawaz’s tweeting of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and Prophet Isa (as) which many Muslims deemed to be offensive.

Maybe I am being overly cautious compared to others on this story. I have been misquoted and taken out of context in local newspapers to make a better story. Birtwistle’s silence on twitter has not helped to clarify directly from him – but I would argue if letter and quote are genuine he is at best behind the curve on events (viz swearing) and at worst illiberal in being against Nawaz’s intended desire for open debate in showing a cartoon of the prophet saying “How ya doin’?

Maajid Nawaz Facebook Apology


On the 13 February Maajid Nawaz made this statement:

    This is a message for my fellow Muslims, among whom an activist-core remains quite angry at recent events.

For the sake of our religion, our communities, for peace and for my Muslim family’s sake, I ask you to consider the below:

1) I reassert my faith as a Muslim. I believe in Allah and His messenger Muhammad (upon him be peace). I also take this opportunity to repent for my faults and ask Allah to forgive me for both my deliberate and unintentional deeds. I have stood by my faith through the most difficult of times, including through Mubarak’s jails, and I intend to stand by it now.

2) I am not against you. Even the Islamists among you, I oppose your ideology as being dangerous to my religion, but I do not oppose you as individual people. Nor do I oppose your right to peacefully express your Islamist ideology. In fact, I have defended that right consistently in the UK and abroad. I simply maintain my right to disagree with such an ideology. I remain one of you – a Muslim – and speak from among you. I am not your enemy and nor do I wish to be. I am also not a “Muslim community representative”, and nor do I wish to be. I speak on my own behalf, and yet address issues that I believe concern us all, for the betterment of us all collectively, from my own perspective and in my humble opinion. I am happy to hear your feedback, and only ask that your views do not contain spamming, violent abuse, Takfir (excommunication) or libelous content.

3) I am clearly not perfect. I have and will continue to make mistakes. For those mistakes I have made in the past I have expressed regret and I say again that – while I continue to defend the compatibility of Islam and liberalism – I am genuinely sorry if in rushing to express my views I have caused some of you hurt, that was absolutely not my intention. [emphasis added]

4) I try my best to be consistent and fair in the views that I advocate, which are essentially guided by my commitment to individual choice (I call it liberalism), democracy and pluralism all through the lens of human rights. Using the human rights framework, I attempt to challenge extremism of all shades. It is for this reason that I have in the past opposed the extra-judicial killing of suspected jihadists, opposed drone strikes, criticised the policy of torture and rendition in the “War on Terror”, opposed the banning of non-terrorist Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir in the UK and the execution of Islamist Jamaat members in Bangladesh; it is due this same belief in these principles of human rights that I continue to challenge the Islamist ideology and those who would seem to treat others in a similarly illiberal way if they were in power.

Many accusations that have been levied against the work of my organisation have been grossly exaggerated, and I ask that you read this for reasonable replies to most of them: http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Setting-the-Record-Straight.pdf

5) Finally, I ask you to allow us all, for the sake of our religion and relations in wider society, and for the sake of my Muslim family who are your brothers and sisters too, to move on together from the events of the last two months. I am happy to meet Muslim activists in person and have already started. In coming months I will keep meeting you so that we can arrive at a better understanding together. I bid you all peace and ask you now for your respite, there are so many other important causes out there that need our attention, and Allah is the Most-Forgiving, and Most-Merciful.

I have just received my copy of “Radical” by Nawaz which I look forward to reading as opposed to MPs playing to the gallery against liberal principles.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog


1 Comment

Filed under British Politics, British Society, secular

One response to “Gordon Birtwistle Illiberal Democrat MP?

  1. Thanks to Edward Reach for pointing out Birtwistle has no “h”

    Edited post accordingly.

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