Category Archives: Secularism

Maajid Nawaz an “Anti-Muslim Extremist” according to Southern Poverty Law Center 


The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists Maajid Nawaz as an anti-Muslim extremist. Though if you read the extreme right they accuse Maajid Nawaz of being a jihadist, such as:

Despite his outward facade of secularism and liberalism, Nawaz is in fact a deeply devout Sunni Muslim supremacist, operating far behind enemy lines in the Dar al-Harb, the House of War

We expect that sort of nonsense from The Gates of Vienna Blog, as quoted above. What though of the Southern Poverty Law Center? Perhaps we should look at just a few of the points in what they say about Maajid Nawaz.

Secret list given to government accusing people and groups of sharing an ideology with terrorists 

As The Quilliam Foundation responded to the accusation in The Guardian:

This accusation repeated here by the Guardian is simply false. There was no ‘Terror List’. We produced a briefing document entitled ‘Preventing Terrorism: where next for Britain?’, that we sent to all government departments and not just the OSCT. This document set out reforms we felt were necessary to the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. The Government’s strategy was eventually reformed almost exactly as we had advised. The document was sent in private so as to not play out the debate about reforming the Government’s counter-extremism strategy in the press. However, the copy we sent to the OSCT was eventually leaked by a civil servant.


Maajid Nawaz wants to criminalise the veil/niqab in many public spaces

In a great piece of quote mining, they neglect to mention that Maajid Nawaz does not call for criminalising as they  claim. In the Daily Mail article they quote from, Nawaz mentions:

Here’s my test: where a balaclava, motorcycle helmet or face mask would be deemed inappropriate, so should a niqab. It’s simple really.

It is simple, unless you want to make someone out to be an extremist against Muslims. 

Long term readers of this blog may recall Mohammed Shafiq tried to accuse Maajid Nawaz of criminalising the veil. At the time I called this a dangerous game of accusing people, that may be more liberal than yourself, of things which fundamentalists are prepared to kill you for. 

“Nawaz tweeted out a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad — despite the fact that many Muslims see it as blasphemous to draw Muhammad.”

Being “blasphemous” makes you an extremist it seems. The Southern Poverty Law Centre is devoid of context that Maajid Nawaz said he did not find a cartoon picture of Mohammed and Jesus saying hello together to be blasphemous or a challenge to his faith. Two students at a London School of Economics student freshers fayre were ejected for wearing them to advertise their Atheist Humanist Secular society, and this was discussed on a BBC show. Hence [the] Maajid Nawaz tweet. 

A reminder that this led to death threats for Maajid Nawaz. No mention of that by the SPLC. 

More on this can be read in my Huff Post article. 

Nawaz went to a strip club for his stag do

Let us recap. You are an extremist if you give evidence to government departments, if you share a cartoon of a prophet saying “How Ya doin'” and if you go to a strip club on your stag  do, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre.

Is this meant to be a joke? Problem is this is no laughing  matter – where muslim activists challenge fundamentalism and extremism that tries to impose a religious Islamic orthodoxy, this is not just dangerous. It is reprehensible.

There is no fact checking, or counter view. This is a hatchet job. The sort to defame and have circulated by people who cannot be bothered to check the context for themselves.

Regarding the intro to Maajid Nawaz, yes the government gave seeding money to help the Quilliam Foundation get set up – an issue was how quickly that should end. Not everyone has $300 million in funds to keep their civic action going in the future as the SPLC has. It should also be noted Quilliam has not received ongoing taxpayer money for a number of years.

Maajid Nawaz began leaving Islamism during his incarceration in Egypt. He was not the finished liberal secular product when he came back to the UK. He has mentioned that, and how in a short time after being released he realised he had to make a clean break from his former politics and religious affiliations, in his book Radical.

There had been hopes Tommy Robinson might go on a similar journey when he left the English Defence League. That has not happened, but that is for Tommy Robinson to answer. He had the opportunity, he did not take it.

None of what the Southern Poverty Law Centre has said points to Maajid Nawaz being an extremist. Let alone anti-Muslim. The bar set by this report will make any liberal activism by Muslims as being against all Muslims. 

If you are the “wrong” sort of muslim you are to be branded an extremist. You will be declared a blasphemer. This is irresponsible, and dangerous. It also shows why The Quilliam Foundation and the work Maajid Nawaz does is necessary. 

We expect the fundamentalists and extremists to declare people blasphemous or to be traitors of the faith. For others to act as their willing mouthpiece brings shame to the Southern Poverty Law Centre. 

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Demons Do Not Help Explain Terrorism or Mental Illness 

Theo Hobson latest piece is “Secularism’s view on violence is less humane than Christianity’s.” How the separation of church and state, the liberty for us all to live by our conscience in matters of faith without being subject to any violence by anyone, has anything to do with this misses his purpose. That you need faith to be more humane, being a humanist cannot match it, is the claim.

The use of the word secularism here is to attack the secular minded society as less caring. Hobson does this without obvious irony by using what is one of the most cruelest ideas that exists in the New Testament. The idea that people are possessed by demons. “I think that the old-fashioned language is still largely fit for purpose.” We will come to how it is not in a bit, but he goes on to conclude about those killing for terrorism or because of mental illness:

We should see them as possessed by demonic forces. In fact, this New Testament view of the matter underlies the vague orthodoxy I have just described. And this model can also be applied to terrorists – they are possessed by a demonic idea. The French priest whose throat was slit knew this – he died saying ‘Get away from me, Satan’ – he understood the terrorists not as intrinsically evil but as agents of evil. The old religious view of these things is actually more humane than any newer one: it sees the human agents of these horrors as redeemable, but the acts as utterly evil. A secular view either denies the full scale of the evil or, in tabloid headline fashion, over-identifies it with the perpetrator, who is human like us.

If you remember the New Testament, the people possessed by demons were not inherently evil. They had the hallmarks of epilepsy, learning disabilities and mental illness. Jesus did not bring a secular understanding to these things. He cured a few people, sometimes casting the supposed demons into the nearest pigs, but the science or care these people needed (the modern “secular” approach if  we must) was not part of his plan when saving others. So for hundreds of years, exorcisms and treating them as possessed was very much a Christian perspective. 

I would have to call this evil – exorcism really was not the way forward in caring for one another. We might excuse a primitive people; the Son of God playing to that ignorance (or to be more accurate, the gospel writers) a little less so. 

There is no excusing Theo Hobson on this. In trying to defame humanists and secularists (who are not necessarily the same thing) he reminds us that ideas can be evil in the Good Book. Possession is one of them, an idea in the bible we need to move away from rather than a language to make use of to convey ideas today. If we are going to understand why people take the lives of priests and others while shouting “God Is Great” we are going to have to use an investigative approach.

That might suggest looking at the link between violence and religion as a starting point. We should not need violence to make us give the care and attention the most vunerable  in society need. The risk is more often from society, as the President of The Royal College of Psychiatry said in the wake of the Russell Square knife attack today in London:

 

No Amen is necessary to take that advice.  

The top photo comes from this blog post with more quotes on casting out demons.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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The Lord’s Prayer Meets Star Wars and I review Spectre

Our Darth Vadar which art in heaven, 

Anakin be thy name. 

Thy Emperor destroyed. 

The force be done on earth, as it is in a galaxy far far away. 

Give us this day our light sabre. 

And forgive us our impatience, as we forgive other Jedi. 

And lead us not into fear, which leads to hate, which leads to suffering, but deliver us from the dark side. 

In the name of the father, Luke Skywalker and the force, Amen

The Church of England wanted to run an advert before the new Star Wars Film: “The Force Awakens” which featured the Lord’s Prayer. Maybe as Dawkins says, you would need to be thin skinned finding that offensive. Though if you have been brought up in the apocalyptic Christian tradition you will know that “Thy Kingdom come” is not something to want lightly. Still, I can laugh about it now. 

At the time, I really thought 99% of us were going to die horribly, with all of us wishing we were not alive to see Armageddon. How the living will envy the dead – no wonder so many focus instead on other passages in the bible. I personally avoided using the Lord’s Prayer as a child, wanting as many spared as possible before Judgment Day.

Commercial decisions mean most cinemas will not show religious or political advertising here in the UK. The same rule applies to everybody. Still, some free publicity for the church and Richard Dawkins on your side is a result for the Church narrative that secularisation has run amok. Maybe they should watch more films at the cinema to realise that society is going to hell in a gore of CGI with no soul.

Admittedly Anglicanism is fluffy cuddly compared to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Except when they act like them, like banning Harry Potter at one of their schools, or even deciding to have shares in Arm manufactures to help fight the good fight. Bless them, it’s all for a good cause fixing the church roof, and if the dividend does not cover the costs they can always try and get unsuspecting homeowners to settle the tab through arcane laws.

Who pays for a cinema ticket then chooses to sit through advertising as though a captive audience? Presumably those that think saying a prayer absolves them from actually doing something. Myself, I use the time instead at the bar, preparing for something thrilling but idiotic. Like Bond. 

Spectre

I loathed the new Bond film Spectre – all it needed was Daniel Craig to wink to camera at the end to make it the modern “Never Say Never Again” of Bond films. It looked good, but was as convincing as a secret organisation suddenly trying to kill a secret agent on a crowded buffet car, a woman being knocked out twice in the ensuing fight but rather than needing medical attention afterwards makes passionate love to someone who, ten minutes earlier, they said epitomised what they despised in life. 

That whole scene on a train is in the film. You might call it a spoiler, but this is a warning. There are more that could be said.

Bond nicks a prototype Aston Martin that has been allocated to 009. In a chase, rather annoyingly Q branch have not loaded any ammo, but they have loaded 009’s music library which Bond accidentally plays.  

They may as well have said, move over Grandad you are passed it. If you cannot figure out the controls to a modern car, and have not worked out that a woman knocked out twice in the last ten minutes who had made clear beforehand she did not fancy you in the slightest, probably cannot consent from a legal standpoint. The only bed you should be putting her in is a hospital one. 

As for the Bond villain – Wile E coyote had more depth. Wasted opportunity. The money was on screen, but no one seems to have bothered with making the dialogue, story and characterisation reach what Casino Royale and Skyfall managed. Even Quantum of Solace was interesting in its plot. Spectre promised so much, but strip it of the action leaves the most unintelligent and muddled of the Daniel Craig Bond films. It joins the dots like a children’s colouring in book, but that will not make a movie masterpiece to remember.

I have a bad feeling about the new Star Wars film but, for my sins, I am an optimist so will still go to see it. Hopefully it’s more Epsiode IV than Episode I. 

May the force be with you.

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Paris Means We Have To Get Real About Jihadism

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As jihadism goes, the Paris attack last week was a spectacular, and ISIS twitter accounts roared as if the explosions of suicide bombers were fireworks. While Parisians who were enjoying a Friday night out with a drink, music or sport ended up painting the town red in their own blood.

Cosmopolitan secular cultured Paris met the monolithic theocratic anti-culture of Jihadists. One of these must have a future while the other has to be consigned to history. Standing up for and living our secular liberal values are not enough. We cannot pretend that letting ISIS get on with raping Yazidi women and butchering Kurds is not our fight. Being human means nothing, if we are not prepared to come to the aid of others in need. Just as people in Paris did, queuing up to give blood, despite fears of further attacks.

When analysing the Islamic State’s multi pronged terrorist (MPT) attack on Paris, it is too easy to stand on the corpses of hundreds and use them as a pulpit. “Islam is the enemy of the west”, when neglecting the many more Muslims killed by Jihadist groups around the world. “Islam is a religion of peace”, neglecting the political ideology that causes someone to blow themselves up is done with confidence that martyrdom has been achieved as a first class ticket to eternal paradise, avoiding the hell fire waiting room most people have to go through first.

The Islamic State aims to become the political geographic caliphate for all Muslims. Part of achieving that is making ISIS a global brand for Jihadists around the world to buy into. The PR campaign has been impressive. As Sara Khan of Inspire mentioned at the Home Affairs Select Committee this week, civil society is behind the curve when it comes to the organisation of ISIS on social media and the internet. The irony: that we are to be brought to a backward looking age by the most modern of communication systems.

Where many islamists talk the talk, jihadists go on the rampage. We saw that in the MPT attack in Mumbai, 2008. As ISIS look to supplant Al Qaeda, it was always a danger they would go for this tactic as well. Paris makes sense as a target: former French colonies have active Jihadist groups, and France has not been shy in flexing its muscles against them. ISIS has shown: swear allegiance, and your enemies are ours too.

To blame foreign policy for ISIS is simplistic, given that their survival must appeal to Jihadist groups to survive and grow. If we do not recognise there is a global jihadist insurgency happening around the world, we miss that liberating Raqqa will not be the end of it. Yes ISIS want to lead it, but cutting off the head will be an epic milestone rather than a total victory.

ISIS needs fighters, and as many fronts in this war as it can have. It needs to sow confusion and traumatise those that would oppose them. The last thing to do is see the man who has killed hundreds of thousands in Syria, Assad, as an ally. He gave the conditions and space for ISIS to form, regroup and conquer. He is the problem, and not the solution, when it comes to the Jihad insurgency.

We can talk about civic values, and standing for human rights in a pluralistic society. We also require a military response, and drone attacks like the one that killed Jihadi John. We need to infiltrate the communication, training and finance of global jihad networks. We need to show the people in regions affected by jihadism that they are not alone in this fight. In doing so, we must not let down those that died demanding freedoms from autocrats in the Arab Spring.

Solidarity for all victims requires nothing less, if our common humanity has any meaning. Otherwise ISIS have already won the culture war. We might want to imagine peace, but that is not the reality being offered by Jihadists.

Above photo by Amber McDonald, at a New York memorial to the Paris attack. Used under creative commons license – please do likewise if reproduced.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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My interview: Adam Deen Joins Quilliam Foundation

  


Adam Deen has joined the Quilliam Foundation. I sat down with him at the Quilliam offices to discuss why he had joined and what he was hoping to achieve.

The narrative of changing your mind is not one with a single eureka style moment he tells me. About ten years ago Adam was a member of an Islamist extremist group Al-Muhajirou, a now illegal group that once had the infamous Anjem Choudhary heading it. Such a mindset takes time to shake off, even when you leave an extremist group. If there was an idea which never sat comfortably for Deen, even during his extremism years ago, it was death for apostasy. One reason he set up the Deen Institute was to have the debate and inquiry into what Islam is. As he mentions in his reasons for joining Quilliam:

“For me, the last few years in particular have brought to light a ‘religious’ minority of Muslims whose interpretation of Islam is anti-rationalistic and at odds with basic ethical principles. These protagonists have a disproportionate stronghold on the religious community and merely provide lip service to a rational Islam.”

He goes on to mention “a forgotten rationalist heritage of the Islamic tradition” and mentioned to me how he hopes to push this issue in debates with Islamists, but also in reaching out about Islam. To pin down where Islamism is going against the Koranic teaching, thus exposing the extremism which is often “hiding behind a dogma of unity” then trying to prevent discussion and critical inquiry by holding on to a victimhood mentality. One that seeks to pass the total blame on western foreign policy rather than an irrational view of Islamic theology.

The decision to join Quilliam followed months of discussions with Haras Rafiq, who is the Managing Director of the foundation. It seems atheists like myself tweeting Deen over the years really did not help in this move from extremism to a human rights model calling for “Islam’s own enlightenment” in countering extremism. I asked how his critics might have helped at the time. He replied asking him to examine, within Islam, counter-views to his own positions would have.

In making now the counter-extremist argument, Deen emphasised universities rather than Mosques as key. With Islamic Societies on campus, often having new staff members at least every three years, the main speakers on the circuit to invite are those that promote an Islamist view. Students lacking a theological understanding of Islam makes countering it from such seasoned speakers that much more challenging. They need the tools to do so.

There needs to be Muslims not just questioning such things as apostasy killings, but pinning down other Muslims who use a “rational double-talk” in debates to obfuscate what they would admit privately as their position. Rather than this being seen as “isalmophobic” or being a “house Muslim” this is about tackling the toxic theocratic ideology that underpins extremism.

Not everyone welcomes that. But Deen feels that is what Islam needs right now, and in countering extremism joining the Quilliam Foundation for him is part of that vital work.

Talking this all over with Deen, I could sense here was a man hungry to stop the extremist manipulation of a faith he cares passionately for. Someone who wants to bring heat and light to the discussion. I look forward to seeing him in action.

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Warwick Student Union Will Allow Maryam Namazie To Speak

  
Warwick Student Union has admitted that it’s procedure regarding external speakers was not followed, and that Maryam Namazie would never be excluded from talking when it was. 

In a statement released late tonight, they wrote:

Warwick SU has a process for assessing any potential risks or legal issues associated with any external speaker, and it is now very clear to us that in this case that process has not been followed. Speaker invitations that may involve such issues are routinely considered by the SU President, who will also take advice from senior SU staff. This did not happen on this occasion. Neither the SU President, nor senior SU staff, were consulted as they should have been. This is a significant error for which there can be no excuse. There is a great deal that we now must put right, …

Among these things to put right, is to ensure the event goes ahead as planned by Warwick Atheist Secular and Humanist Society, and issuing an apology to Maryam.

They ended on a positive note:

We want to assure everyone of Warwick Students’ Union’s continued commitment to free speech. We also want to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone who has expressed concern, or disappointment, or who has been hurt by this significant error and, as we said above, we will be issuing a full and unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie.

Maryam, thank you for all the hard work you have put into secularism, equality and freedom. It was the very least any of us could have done in appreciation, to mention how important it is for your voice to be heard on these issues.

Update: As The British Humanist Association point out (follow link for more), this incident is hardly unique:

The Warwick incident is the latest in a long line of overly censorious actions by universities and students’ unions. Other incidents in recent years include UCL Union banning a ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon from appearing on a UCL AHS [Atheist Humanist Society] Facebook event poster; a talk by an anti-sharia activist at Queen Mary AHS being cancelled as a result of death threats; Reading University AHS being ejected by their Union from their freshers’ fair as a result of a pineapple being labelled ‘Mohammed’; LSE AHS being threatened with election from their freshers’ fair by their Union and University if they did not cover up Jesus and Mo t-shirts; and London South Bank AHS having posters taken down by their Union that featured the flying spaghetti monster.

In every case after the incident, the Union and/or University has backed down and apologised after the relevant incident.

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Maryam Namazie Blocked From Speaking By Warwick Student Union

 

From Harry’s Place:

If you haven’t yet caught up with this story an excellent summary of Warwick Student Union’s disgraceful decision can be read on Student Rights. Briefly, Namazie had been invited to speak by Warwick’s Atheists Secularists and Humanists society [WASH] on 28 October, but her invitation has now been blocked by the SU on the grounds that ‘she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus’.

Although Warwick University is not a serial offender when it comes to extremist speakers, the SU’s position is clearly inconsistent. As Student Rights points out, Ken O’Keefe was given permission to speak earlier this year

(Read more of Sarah’s post here)

Nick Cohen has retweeted an article on Maryam he did some years back. As he says, liberals should be supporting her:

… Maryam Namazie’s obscurity remains baffling. She ought to be a liberal poster girl. Her life has been that of a feminist militant who fights the oppression of women wherever she finds it. She was born in Tehran, but had to flee with her family when the Iranian revolution brought the mullahs to power. After graduating in America, she went to work with the poor in the Sudan. When the Islamists seized control, she established an underground human rights network. Her cover was blown and she had to run once again. She’s been a full-time campaigner for the rights of the Iranian diaspora, helping refugees across the world and banging on to anyone who will listen about the vileness of its treatment of women.

There is a petition to sign, started by the WASH President Benjamin David. As he mentions, quoting George Benard Shaw:

Lest we forget: “censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship” (George Bernard Shaw)

It is absurd. Maryam has campaigned against theocracy and Islamism not least because it kills and oppresses so many Muslims; not just ex muslims or others. It is not a crime, nor an offence, to be an atheist. It seems being an outspoken one may insult others; yet that same quality makes a speaker appropriate for what WASH stands for. Question and challenge her if you disagree with her. 

Critics of theocracy are imprisoned and flogged.  A state executioner will behead, or an indoctrinated extremist will machete on the public street. This does not happen in the UK, where free speech and religious freedom walk hand in hand.

The Warwick Student Union are in danger of joining hands with the oppressors of free thinkers and religious minorities in other countries by suppressing an event one of their society has organised. 

It is not too late for them to support feminism, secularism and freedom – however laid bare and outspoken it might be. 

Update: latest response by WASH on what they comment is a misleading statement by the Student Union claiming only reviewing if Maryam can speak. 

They include screen shots from their correspondence with the Student Union, that a decision had been made to ban her.  

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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