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World

Banning Jehovah’s Witnesses In Russia

Refusing a blood transfusion to the point of death is, by any definition, an extreme response. In Russia they are using this to outlaw the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organisation

I had a piece of paper in my pocket, cut out from a booklet, saying I would rather die than have a blood transfusion administered because under any circumstance God’s command came first. Death did not terrify me. Being alive when the apocalypse came did. Seeing those I loved dying because, unlike me, they did not call on the name of Jehovah to be saved. 

Dying via obedience to God would be like picking up a monopoly card that read: go directly to Paradise Earth, collect eternal life. Persecution would be in a perverse sense a welcoming sign of the end of days and vindication your faith was true. The cost of which would be beyond anyone to endure, save for faith in Jehovah. 

This all made sense to me as a ten year old, with what would become an increasingly dog eared piece of paper in his pocket. It would make sense to any student of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society publications, given the tales of those in the bible who put their obedience to God before their own lives, let alone any court or leader of the land. 

For me the proposed ban is more than the Russian legal system fed up with Jehovah’s Witnesses rejecting a doctor’s treatment. This is about proscribing an American organisation, whose theology is contrary to Russian Christian orthodoxy. Their evangelising is seen as propaganda undermining traditional Russian culture and values. 

This ban is a small part in helping Putin to create a nationalistic united Russia. The 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2,000 congregation cannot be tolerated. They are against his vision of what Paradise on earth looks like. The JWs are in the way of unity under one man. 

Whilst on this blog I do warn of the blighted  lives caused by the fundamentalism of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a ban would make it even worse. It would make leaving the organisation that much harder – you were a criminal and you may have family and friends who still are in the eyes of the state. It would make ensuring people had the medical care they needed that much harder if they may need a blood transfusion. 

Human rights are universal or they are nothing. Do not ever think you can use the past experience of those of us that grew up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses to justify denying basic human rights. It is bad enough being shunned by family, without thinking we would want them locked up for it. 

I would rather be woken up from a lie in at the weekend by them proselytising on my welcome mat, then a Jehovah’s Witness arrested in the dead of night as they slept for what they thought. Because they may have strange dreams, ones I still remember, but there are worse nightmares that we must never wake up to. 

Thank you Putin for reminding me that I had the freedom to believe and then not to believe, without the state passing any judgment. It is one all Russians should enjoy too.  

Update: follow up blog post to Supreme Court decision to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.  

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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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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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Video: How Three Al Jazeera Journalists In Egypt Got Caught In The Middle

Mohamed Fahmy

Mohamed Fahmy

In a five minute must watch clip, one of the sentenced journalists in Egypt details how his news network, Al Jazeera, let them down in a political game between Egypt and Qatar.

In Egypt three Al Jazeera journalists have been sentenced to three years in prison. There had been hopes that at least they might have been sentenced to time already served in detention. Instead, they return to the terrorist dungeon wing of a prison as a result of a political game between Egypt and Qatar. Qatar own Al Jazeera and support the Muslim Brotherhood, who President Sisi led a coup against as an army General on his path to taking power and outlawing the Islamist organisation. One of the journalists, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, details in a must watch five minute clip below, how all this has played out just prior to being sentenced.

Al Jazeera, or those working for them, were supplying equipment and support to the Muslim Brotherhood, something Fahmy reveals in the clip. The result has been to put their journalists at risk of exactly this sort of political retaliation. One where at their initial trial, they had been accused of working with Satan.

That is about as credible as the evidence ever seemed against them.

My thanks to Roxane for sharing the video with me.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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In Bangladesh Secular Bloggers Are On The Run From The Police and Machete Wielding Fundamentalists

5th blogger killed since 2013

In a must read post on the situation Bangladeshi secular bloggers find themselves, with the brutal machete murders of four of them this year, you may think police might be trying all they can to protect such bloggers.

The alternative alas, is the police reminding them they could face 14 years in jail, if the fundamentalists do not kill them first:

At a press briefing at the Police Headquarters on Sunday, he [chief of police] also suggested notifying police if anyone’s blog was found to be offensive to religions.
 
“There will always be free thinkers. I have enough respect for them. But we need to remember that hurting religious sentiments is a crime according to our law.
 
“Any offender of religious beliefs may get the highest punishment of 14 years (in jail)…

The post ends: ‘Can anybody help the bloggers? Can the rest of the world stop assuming Bangladesh is Secular? What will the world do now? will the killings continue?’

Please read the whole of this post here.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Hay Festival: Tom Holland Gives Christopher Hitchens Lecture

  

Bumping into Peter Hitchens after his General Election discussion, and Tom Holland delivers the inaugural Christopher Hitchens Lecture on Deradicalising Mohammed.

It’s like a book camp holiday at Hay, as you look to see what talk you haven’t booked, rush to get a ticket, listen then queue to get your book signed. Collapsing drunk on words whirling through your mind, inside your tent, at the end of the day. An intelligentsia assembly line has been constructed on a welsh field. What motivates the workers here to unite is the inspiration of ideas and personality of the speakers. 

I bumped into Peter Hitchens having bought his “The Rage Against God” and mentioned our conversations on twitter. His bug bear is people not engaging with what is said, and the block button will follow if they do not. His analysis of British politics explains why I do not belong to a political party – it’s not about what citizens or activists think. Money and interests talk over us, and the Conservatives are playing New Labour so well Labour did not have much to say – while all turn a blind eye to mounting debt (national and private) that may lead to another financial crisis on the horizon.

One festival goer remarked feeling dejected by such talks. Yet the truth helps us see what may come, and at least puts things in the proper perspective. She had just come out of Tom Holland’s talk on deradicalising Mohammed. Forget the reformation Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks of – the salafists are that historical parallel and the internet has taken on the role of the printing press. If we wish to deny Jihadists the role model of a violent warrior prophet we have to acknowledge that the historical Mohammed hardly exists. Instead we rely on bibliography and sayings collected two hundred years after his death.

This is not without challenges – it questions a literal interpretation of Mohammed’s life. It suggests that accounts may be wrong, unreliable or deliberately bogus. Or as Tom put it: rather than treated symbolically they started in modern times to be taken literally. An academic understanding can reveal and centre Mohammed in his time – and if we can get over the “Great man” idea of historical figures with him – we might end Mohammed as the pin up for bloody jihadists to emulate.

Yet the real catalyst for peace and the transformation of ideas in the Middle East will have to be a despair of bloodshed. A point which might take way too many lives in the years to come. Tom mentioned the thirty years war. Where I differ, he does not think ground troops would help the situation against ISIS. In the thirty years war great powers got involved, but the bloodshed escalated rather than helped. Hearing Tom speak you can feel the emotion as he talks of the people being killed, and historical sites threatened. After the talk people spoke about his gentility. They warmed to him during the talk.

In the social media and blogosphere exchanges to do with Islam, I cannot help but feel that is the spirit we need more of, even if we disagree with each other.  

I spared a thought for Christopher Hitchens – this was the first memorial lecture in his name at Hay. Two completely different personalities are Holland and Hitch. Yet neither shying away from a controversy. 

It was a honour to have heard all three men above speak in person in my lifetime. For what gives me hope in these times are people facing the issues and using their intelligence and humanity to get through them. 

If you want to debate ideas, Hay is the place to come.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Interview With Charlie Hebdo’s Robert McLiam Wilson

Friday night I had an email exchange with Robert McLiam Wilson, an Irishman that has found himself working at Charlie Hebdo. We discussed satire, writers objecting to PEN America giving on May 5th the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo, and how social discourse copes with terrorism and political correctness.
Before we get into food fights at PEN America giving an award to the magazine, and where people seem determined to draw the line for cartoonists and kill satire if not satirists themselves – what were you doing that you ended up working at Charlie Hebdo?

I’m not quite sure. It’s pretty typical of Charlie how haphazardly it came about. The very fine French writer, Marie Darrieussecq suggested it to me. And I naturally said yes without hesitating. I had written a piece (in Libération – shorter English version) in the Big Issue after January’s attack which is perhaps what made Marie think of me.

I don’t think anyone at Charlie Hebdo really has a clue who I am. I think I send my stuff in and they go “Shit, is it that Irish bloke again? Christ, what’s he on about this time?”. They’re nice about it. But a little bewildered.

Your article in The New Statesman sums up the frustration that free speech when denied by the assassin must be defended [still]. There really should be no “but” in that situation. That does not seem to stop people that have no idea commenting on a French publication tackling racism and the far right. The goal posts move if you explain one cartoon. How do we get passed that, without losing our own sanity?

Personally, I think that this is how you get past it. This is the incredibly moving and extraordinary moment when Mme Christiane Taubira gave a eulogy at the funeral of Tignous, one of the the murdered cartoonists. I really sincerely believe that this is the silver bullet. The Charlie Hebdo cartoon which portrayed this brilliant and daunting woman as a monkey was the big, BIG problem in the English-speaking world. It is a shocking and repellent image. It is meant to be so. Because what it is lampooning with horrible viciousness is a far right campaign against this black, female Minister of Justice. A campain of such gross, infantile ugliness that I simply refuse to repeat it any way. Suffice to say, it involved bananas! A thing of toe-curling shamefulness.

 

Charlie mocked this vileness by trying to show how nauseating it was, how infantile and pathetic. If the Charlie cartoon is a racist disgrace, then why is the subject of that image speaking at the funeral of a Charlie contributor???

 

I have never met Mme Taubira nor spoken to her. It would be interesting to hear her views. Perhaps, I would be surprised by them myself. But clearly, this victim of Charlie Hebdo’s ‘racism’ did not think they were racist. To be honest, I think it is, if not racist, certainly incredibly presumptuous to think that this educated, powerful woman needs the protection of a bunch of hapless novelists.

If I could have one wish, it is that the boycotting writers would watch this. Even without French, is not her emotion absolutely evident? I don;t think these writer are wicked or stupid people. I think they are ill-informed and extremely sure of themselves. I have always felt that this is a pretty poor combination.

I am desperate for the discourse to become more civil, more measured. And perhaps more respectful of the facts. The abuse heaped upon the PEN boycotters has been personal and vicious (I am not speaking of Salman Rusdie, who can do no wrong in my book…almost).

I beseech them to inform themselves more fully, more humbly. I don’t challenge them to do so. That’s a bellicose idiom and there are no enemies here. I entreat Joyce Carol Oates, whom I admire, to look again at her assumptions. I beg Teju Cole, the unfortunate begetter of much of the Taubira cartoon misinformation, to listen to what she says. I would ask Rick Moody if he thinks I must be racist because I write for Charlie Hebdo.

 

We should all be talking about the grotesque loss of life almost every week amongst desperate people sailing across the Mediterranean toward countries that do not want them.

 

That’s a moral issue worth getting all riled up.

I remember mentioning [Mme Taubira] and the cartoon when countering Mehdi Hasan’s New Statesman article  – I hope people watch that video you link to. The emotion needs no translation.

Hopefully people will try to learn about Charlie Hebdo and its place in French political culture, and why SOS Racisme has been vocal in it’s support.
[Here is a translation of the President of SOS Racisme, Dominique Sopo, comments:]
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Will satire ever dare to be the same again? Luz will no longer draw Mohammed. Editors at an event today, Free House in DC, mention not being a symbol but making people think and love  It feels like the writers do not see satire and cartoons as a way to think about the world. The terrorists found the cartoons too funny, the writers staying away say they are not funny because it is about religion.

Well, writers don’t like anyone but writers. And they don’t like most of them generally. We tend either not to understand cartoonists, photographers, painters or performances artists or to simply dismiss them. I have some sympathy. Me, I hate musicians. What a bunch of bastards! No excuse for musicians.

Seriously, there’s a limit to how much or how accurately you can comment if you don’t speak the language. I made this point in the New Statesman and some people (very few) actually riposted, ‘duh, what an arsehole! Has he never heard of Google Translate?!’. Clearly, I can’t do much to help people who think that way. But I would seriously suggest that everyone should be more humble before making breathtakingly confident comment about texts in a language they can’t read. And there is generally text – even in cartoons (except when it is clipped off, Teju).

But who knows? Maybe SOS Racisme is wrong. Fuck, maybe is SOS Racisme is racist too! Wow, wouldn’t that be something? I may give serious thought to boycotting those supremacist motherfuckers.

The latest twitter storm showed once again the limits to people using Google translate without finding out the context in the google search box.

Martin Rowson gave a moving – and colourful – acceptance speech on behalf of Charlie Hebdo when they won Secularist of The Year. Hosted by the National Secular Society. Declaration – I had a fabulous three course meal during. He mentioned that the most offensive thing anyone could do was kill another person. I despair that people cannot see the difference between mocking a religious figure as an ordinary human being and something that dehumanises a group of people. Religion is a powerful thing, and all power is accountable to people, not least artists and writers.

I see that Queen’s University Belfast is finally going to host a conference on Charlie Hebdo. Do you think people can be persuaded to be open minded?

I come from Belfast where you learn early in life that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a top lad and a great writer but that he didn’t know much about ordinance. The guys who come to your door with the 9-MM or the AK47 disprove le contrat sociale pretty thoroughly. Those guys are the custodians of your rights. They decide what’s going to happen to you. And the hardware is not a promising sign.

I think this is all about displaced emotion. About the death of politics. In my view, political correctness was one of the most spectacularly successful political movements of the 20th century. Within a generation, it civilised public discourse to a remarkable degree. Not perfect, but absolutely fucking astonishing compared with even as recently as the 1970s.

Identity politics or cultural relativism is something else. For me, there’s only one kind of politics, class politics. And class politics when waged successfully and sincerely will encompass race, gender, sexuality, disability, everything. Because class politics is not about the white working class. It’s about all disadvantaged classes. And sees them as one class.

Queens University did something difficult and classy. They changed their minds. They admitted the mistake. I am now not interested in the reasons. And I hope people don’t sneer or crow now about pressure from outside forcing it or anything like that. And I don’t care about investigations to the Nth degree into the truth of the original decision.

They showed some class. Now, it’s our turn. Well done, Queens. Debate is never a bad idea.

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