This Easter Remember Asad Shah


I wrote last year about my fears that theocratic killers would strike against other Muslims and ex Muslims in the UK. That we needed to challenge the theocratic justification that is disseminated to kill them.

This has come too late for Asad Shah. An Amahdi Muslim, the message he put up in his newsagents wishing Christians a Happy Easter summed up their philosophy of love for all, hatred for none. Hours later a Muslim stabbed him to death multiple times, and sat on his chest laughing. 

The reports saying it was another Muslim that killed him, misses the nature of the attack. Shah was the wrong kind of Muslim. His killer plunged the blade into someone he regarded as an apostate – someone worthy of death. 

To those of you that say, well it is only a theocratic state that is meant to do this under certain conditions, so this is the work of madmen. This misses the Islamic State claims such powers as a caliphate. It misses the persecution that religious minorities suffer under Islamic State constitutions – not least the Ahmadi in Pakistan. It misses the distinction between people who have no rationality, and those with a bloodlust to have their way by calculated means of terror. 

Solidarity by saying “I am Ahamdi” is the counter narrative to such justifications. Muslims recognising the Ahmadi as Muslims, challenging the dehumanising of them that occurs. We all have a part to play in this. 

Some were quick to call this murder islamophobic. I hope they will be equally quick to condemn the sectarianism and religious fundemantalism behind the killing. To decalre Ahamdi Muslims as part of the Umma, to be one with them as with all humanity. To call them Muslims. 

Shah wished all, regardless of their faith or none, love and happiness. He ultimately died for living up to those values. There is no resurrection on the third day for him, but those values can be our salvation this Easter as Europe once again comes to terms with a Jihadist attack in Brussels.  

The theocrats want to divide us, to hate, to treat differently. They must not succeed. But unless Government and civil society act and take all forms of extremism seriously, this will not be the last such murder here. 

For more on tackling such extremism look at the FATE (Families Against Terrorism and Extremism) initiative. 

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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To The Woman That Went In Front of The Train At South Kensington Station

[Update 23/5/2016 4:50PM]

I have just spoken to British Transport Police in case they needed a witness statement. I can report that the woman was struck by the train, went under it, but was rescued by emergency services, though current status regarding treatment is unknown. Contacting next of kin is ongoing according to the initial press release of the incident.

The incident is not considered suspicious, but the investigation is ongoing. So if you were on the tube platform at around 22:43 Saturday 19/3/2016 and witnessed, please contact British Transport Police on 0800 40 50 40.

I have changed the blog post heading to reflect she did not die at the incident. The heading reflected my disbelief as an eyewitness someone could, and of course I hope she makes a full and speedy recovery. I regret not being circumspect in the heading, as I was in the poem. 

The response to my poem has on the whole been positive. However, one person has suggested I deleted it in case anyone is offended or distressed by it.

I can only answer the poem is how I am dealing with the incident, and if it helps further witnesses to contact the police with their investigation, then that is something positive. 

I have no idea how the people that witnessed what they saw on the metro in the recent Brussels attacks will cope, or express themselves. My advice is to let them. It might be by tweets, blogging, poetry, art or just talking. But they need to be able to do as they can.

Now, here is the poem as originally blogged.

Full of life full of joy

Revellers, flags in hand

Waved to the Land

Of Hope and Glory

Marched as a high spirited army

To South Kensington from the Albert Hall.


The tube came in

A collective gasp raised

That sucked in the air

Flags were pointing to the ground

No one was making a sound

And all I could think to ask

Was did she jump or fall?

The army, shell shocked went 

Above the ground

To the siren of evacuation

The solidarity of silence broken

As people scrambled for cabs.

Life had returned in the open air

Save for one 

With alternative travel arrangements

Left deep underground by all. 

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Sam Harris and Omar Aziz Email Exchange

Imagine Sam Harris invited me to discuss my blog post “Sam Harris Mistackles His Critics” on his podcast. I am given the chance to read it out, for him to comment as we go, and for me to add or discuss in response. To even bring what I want into the conversation.

I would jump at the chance. To discuss and challenge what we think is the pinnacle of a free society.

Omar Aziz was given that very opportunity based on this piece he wrote in Salon, though he complained about the format. Harris felt the resulting four hour recording was unbroadcastable. Omar Aziz complained this was against free speech, and was a cover for unpalatable views expressed by Harris, in his latest Salon piece.


Unfortunately for Aziz, Sam Harris has on his podcast broadcast the relevant parts of their discussion. If you listen to the exchange above, Aziz does not come across well.

Aziz also quotes in Salon from his email exchange with Harris. Below I reproduce part of their email exchange. It provides a different perspective from what Salon readers may have expected from the partial quotes.

Hi Sam,
Thanks for the clarifications. I really hope you were not literally intending for me to come on and read my essay on your podcast with you stopping me every other sentence as if I was in some kind of deposition or trial. This would be a totally fruitless conversation. I assume your readers have read the essay, and I’d welcome specific questions you’d like to raise in a debate/discussion format.
Rather than me reading my essay line-by-line, I suggest we each propose a handful of broad topics and we have a conversation on each. We can alternate who kicks off the discussion for each topic.
Looking over the essay, here’s a rough chronological outline of the issues I’ve raised:
1. Reforming Islam
2. The history and tradition of Islam (and what that may reveal about radical jihadists)
3. Holy War (past and present)
4. Hate crimes against Muslims
5. Your views on torture, Ben Carson, and Noam Chomsky
6. Anything else we don’t get to
I’m up for a discussion on all these topics, their ethics, their politics, their implications. If you have other suggestions, please let me know.
January 12 at 1 pm sounds good.
No, I’m serious about you reading every word your essay. Here are my reasons:
1. Most of our listeners will not have read it and never will.
2. It is the reason I’m having you on the podcast. You took the time to write it, and the charges you level at me are clearly expressed and deserve to be discussed.
3. Part of my interest in having this discussion is to see if we can bridge the distance between a Salon-style hit piece (which you wrote) and an actual conversation. I want us to move back and forth between the text of your essay, my response to it as a reader/listener, and your response to my response. It remains to be seen whether this will produce and interesting/useful conversation or a “fruitless” one. But I’m pretty sure no one has ever attempted something like this before.
So this is how I want us to approach the podcast—with you reading what you wrote and our stopping to talk about each point, wherever relevant. Again, you can say anything you want in this context, and I won’t edit you (though if our exchange truly is “fruitless,” as well as boring, I reserve the right not to air it).
January 12th works. Are you in or out?
Hi Sam,
What you call a hit piece I call an essay-length review of your book. I find it highly revealing that you will not have a traditional debate or discussion around themes or topics but insist on me reading my essay word for word and you reserving the right to stop me whenever you want. Unless you are a state prosecutor putting on a show trial, this seems like a highly dubious way to proceed. It should come as no surprise that “no one has ever attempted something like this before” — they actually did in the old totalitarian states when writers went off message and had to be publicly censored by the state — because depositions where one party is stopping the other every few seconds to “correct the record” are a highly denigrating form of intellectual exchange, and most writers would not allow themselves to be condescended to in such a way.
However, I will still come on and abide by all these restrictive guidelines you want to pre-emptively impose, but I will add a couple of my own.
1. Instead of reading all 2800 words on your podcast, why don’t you highlight which sentences/paragraphs are the most inaccurate, misguided, offensive, insulting (whatever adjective you want to use here), and I will read those. This way, we can actually have a conversation around the most contentious charges, and we can let the conversation flow as it will.
2. I reserve the right to make my own recording of our discussion in case it is fruitless or “boring” from your perspective, but fruitful and interesting from mine.
So, once again, I gladly accept your invitation to come on, despite its restrictive, questionable, and one-sided terms, and I look forward to the 12th.
Are you in or out?
The fact that you view my offer to put you on my podcast and let you say anything you want to my audience unedited in terms of “show trials” and other forms of totalitarian coercion suggests to me that having a productive conversation will be a challenge. Yes, I want to hold you accountable for every word in your essay. You took the time to write it, and nearly every sentence exemplifies what is wrong with our public conversation on these topics. Is the fact that you appear reluctant to stand behind your work “highly revealing”? I’ll let you decide. But there’s nothing about the format I propose that would prevent us from talking for ten minutes at a stretch on any specific topic, or digressing upon others. Can you seriously believe that I’d be dodging debate/discussion by allowing you to present the sharpest, written version of your charges against me on my podcast and then discussing them at length? You think this gives me some kind of unfair advantage? While reading your essay, you can expand upon your points, or refine them, or do anything else you want. I’m simply asking that every word of the text also be read, so that our listeners can hear every point, and I can respond (or not).
Honestly, Omer, life is too short for this. If you were going on CNN for an interview with Fareed Zakaria, would you reserve the right to record your own version of the interview? That’s not how things work. I’m inviting you on my podcast. It takes a lot of time and money to produce. If you turn out to be a terrible guest—producing a river of empty insults with no coherent arguments—I reserve the right to kill the show. And no, I don’t give you permission to record and broadcast our conversation in some other forum.
Is there enough good will here for us to continue? Perhaps I should mention another portent of doom: I just noticed for the first time that Murtaza Hussain is one of your friends/collaborators. That doesn’t bode well, because I consider Hussain to be the most unscrupulous person I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter online (and that’s saying a lot). I certainly would never attempt anything like this with him. I have great respect for the power of conversation, but I’m not a fool (or a masochist).
But I also detected a ray of hope: I read your fine piece in TNR, “The Soul of a Jihadist,” [Link] and agreed with every word of it. Part of my interest in attempting difficult conversations like this is to reconcile the seeming paradox that you and I can agree about so much and still find ourselves so far apart. I honestly have no idea whether we can bridge the gap. But I’ll let you decide whether or not we should try…
Should I book you for the 12th? If so, we still need to get you a microphone.

Harris commented his reason for sharing this part of the email exchange: “Given that Salon published an edited version of my emails with him, I could release the whole thread. You’ll see that it reveals him to be a fairly paranoid, victimology type. I won’t bore you with the whole thing, but here’s the heart of the exchange.”

I am surprised that Harris went through with taping a podcast. Doing so at least shows someone willing to try and engage their critics. The excerpts from the recording demonstrate why it was not broadcast.

Update 12/3/2016

After pressure from fans and detractors alike, Sam Harris has announced he will be publishing the full four hour podcast.

I think one of the comments below summed it up that though the conversation might be boring, and disingenuous, it would show how the argument plays out involving Sam Harris. And that would in itself make it worth listening too.

Careful what you wish for … it sometimes happens.

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Blasphemers Should Be Taken To Court Says Mo Shafiq


With base expectations, we may celebrate that Mo Shafiq does not want blasphemers killed. The jubilant crowds would be none existent. You have to kill someone for blasphemy to get that kind of reception in Pakistan. No, Shafiq would never stoop that low for attention. 

Low enough to make clear that those assassinated for blasphemy should be very much alive and answering for it in court.

Shafiq wanted to spread the word that Maajid Nawaz was a blasphemer in 2014, and all that work for the Quilliam Foundation, which Nawaz chairs, were “ghustaki Rasool these quillium people.” Which means “defamer of the prophet.” A year after doing this, he apologised for his behaviour in 2015 saying he would never support violence. 

Now, it is 2016. What did Mo Shafiq want to make clear regarding the assassination of Govenor Salman Taser and his assassin, Mumtaz Qadri?

If Salman Taseer was guilty of blasphemy then he had the right to defend himself in a court of law; this was not afforded to him. I am not defending his actions, nor what type of lifestyle he led, but regardless of this he had the right to be heard in the court of law. Mumtaz Qadri decided he was guilty and therefore decided he was going to kill him – this action was wrong.

The “lifestyle he led” – let us be clear that sympathy for a man shot in cold blood by his bodyguard for suggesting the blasphemy law needed reforming, only goes so far. Mo Shafiq wants freedom to discuss so:

we could debate, disagree or challenge each other without resorting to insults, swearing or denigrating one’s intentions.

But if you are accused of blasphemy, off to the courts with you. No freedom to debate, disagree or challenge in the public sphere. Come along quietly in Pakistan, before the mob gets there to kill you 

The problem in the UK is being exuberant and celebrating the murder of blasphemers. You are rather letting the side down according to Shafiq:

…When it comes to tackling terrorism we have to be consistent and sadly over the past few days we have allowed the narrative to build that the Sunni/Sufi community supports some terrorism or killing in the name of defending the honour of the beloved Prophet (pbuh).

This is alarming and deeply damaging for our community and our ability to address the issue of extremism. This cannot be allowed to continue to the point where we are just seen as terrorist sympathisers or apologists which clearly is not true – God forbid the next atrocity will happen and our scholars will be challenged, ridiculed and condemned for being selective when it comes to terrorism and killing of individuals.

Muslims are not a political collective. Islamists want them to be one. So do the far right. It is a giveaway when people treat them as a monolith. Also, when criticism of the views of a person are considered an attack on Muslims generally. This delusion goes like this: I speak for Muslims defending Islam, therefore when I am attacked, Muslims and Islam are. 

These are my sincerely held views and I am certain regardless of what I say there will still be some haters who will continue the campaign against Islam and denigrate so many Muslims.

So to make clear, Mo Shafiq does not want you killed by anyone for blasphemy. You should be in the dock for doing so. Otherwise, take whatever views on the issue and debate. And bear in mind Shafiq is a Sunni. 

you can disagree with me but do not suggest that I am any less of a Sunni than you because of this post.

But you can say of Maajid Nawaz: 

When it comes to speaking for or defending Muslims Maajid and his cronies are on the other side supporting the other side.

The secret is to learn when you should denigrate other Muslims and their lifestyle, but demand no one do that back to you. Mo Shafiq plays it so well. 

So in the debate watch out for non violent extremists that want you in court and the violent extremists that want you dead, when you do. There seem to be a few of them about in this world. 

As Govenor Taseer or Asia Bibi testify to. 


Twitter exchange here.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog
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Mumtaz Qadri and Blasphemy

In their thousands they came to mourn. Flowers strewed the procession route. People kissed the image of the dead man. They wept, unconsolable. Was this a Gandhi that had so touched the hearts of a nation freed from an imperial power, or perhaps a beloved former princess killed before seeing her son ascend a throne?

No, this is Pakistan. Where the assassin of Govenor Salmaan Taseer, killed for daring to suggest the blasphemy law might need adjusting to prevent miscarriages of justice, was treated by some as a national hero after being hanged for his crime

It was not even a proposed repeal of the blasphemy law, that caused his bodyguard to shoot the Govenor. He was this week hanged for his crime. And so many wept for him, as a martyr defending the prophet.

When people claim that you must love the prophet beyond your own children, how far do you think fundamentalists will take this charge of devotion? To the discharging of a gun. Others showed their love weeping for the gunman as a hero. 

Such a killing could never happen here in the UK, we try to reassure ourselves. Nor be supported. If we choose to forget what happened with Salman Rushdie, we might be able to delude ourselves. I fear it is a matter of time. The ideology is already in place. 

Meet an iman in the UK, talking about the assassin:


The fundamentalist ideology is here, and it needs pushing back. We cannot let extremists win by making us fear all Muslims, or silence us from critiquing how Islam is practised or Mohammed is viewed. 

That is why I support the Quilliam Foundation, Tell MAMA and the Council of Ex Muslims. We need a human discourse that dispels hatred and mistrust. That challenges the fundamentalist narrative about Islam. If we do not have this in civil society, we know what tomorrow may bring. 

Whatever our views on religion, that is a dawn that we do not want to see on the horizon. 

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Sam Harris and Maryam Namazie – Wake Up to Disagreement

If you lost two hours of your life listening to the Waking Up podcast between Sam Harris and Maryam Namazie, do not despair. For it revealed in those two hours a debate that needs to be had. Or rather two different debates seemed to be crossing one another, for most listeners. Minds rather than being changed, were left shaken as a result.

It makes no sense to use the word profiling, as Sam does, and then halfway decide what you mean is anti-profiling. At odds when you state wearing a niqab means you should be profiled as a potential jihadist. Nor does it help when you say not all Muslims are jihadists, but because all jihadists are Muslim, we must profile Muslims as potential terrorists. Such profiling by any other name, would have a consequence on anyone of Muslim heritage, regardless of their actual beliefs or ideology.

Maryam pointed out conservative or orthodox Muslims are not the same as jihadists just because of their religious identity. Sam agreed that behaviour was key, but was adamant that if we did not go with all jihadists are Muslims, the authorities would be wasting time checking out the Amish congregation rather than a mosque. Maryam countered the real world does not work that way when assessing threats – the greatest issue is the resources put in place following up suspected targets who follow through with their deadly designs.

I had hoped the dialogue with Maajid Nawaz that became the book “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” might help – that Islamism and political allegiance to its ideals with support for jihadism, would be the behaviour that needed looking out for. Yet it was Maryam that brought that up first. Sam agreed.

When you say the identity of a religious believer or of a neo-Nazi makes profiling fair (as Sam did) the equivocation is not the same. Maryam pointed out you can make the case for similarities between Islamism and nazism, but not for Muslims. Sam once again agreed.

That was the pattern of conversation – Sam I agree, Maryam no we do not. Gone from the argument was Harris saying he should be profiled because of his age (as he did on the Rubin Report). The focus was on those identifying as Muslim. A civil rights discourse to show the problem with that in practise was attempted by Maryam.

Namazie expained the practical problems profiling posed – and how white supremacists would not be used to justify profiling white Christians. She also mentioned her experience of vetting immigrants. That would have been something to explore – the practicalities of policies in action. Instead, Sam wanted to stay on track because he wanted it taken back that his approach  to such issues could ever be considered bigoted. That was the validation he seeked from Maryam, and when he did not get it from her, he suggested Maajid Nawaz agreed with him on a family to exclude from security, while they were both at an airport. It reminded me of Nathan Lean’s contemptible remark about Maajid being his “Muslim validator.”

When Sam suggested Tommy Robinson is being “pre stigmatised” but then had to admit he only knew what Robinson said on the Rubin Report, it was a defining moment. As in the past when Sam had suggested the only people talking sense on immigration are the far right, you come across as validating the wrong people in civil society. Some sections of the left did this with Islamists – the regressive left. Some on the right are now doing this with the far right in an attempt to have a new grouping of alliances.

Maybe Sam should know what the prestigmatising is: Tommy Robinson illegally entered the United States, has a string of criminal convictions: fraud, possession of a class A drug, kicking a police officer in the head, and has shown a talent for reinvention based on using anti-Muslim hate (see Robinson’s interview for his book “Enemy of the State”). If Sam can still be taken in by such a character, it may be from a misplaced sense of injustice. For Sam is often accused of hatred at people, rather than at religion and extremism.

The fallout from the podcast on social media shows the need for free spaces – to discuss ideas and have an exchange of views without worrying how you come across or how soundbites will be used, as you try to formulate your opinion. I genuinely am grateful Harris does this. He takes me out of my comfort zone, and stops me taking for granted the views and opinions I have. With Sam his intention is one thing, but how he communicates can let him down. He can also, as in his profiling anti-profiling, be inconsistent. And wrong.

Maryam tried to show we have to go beyond theorising and look at the real impact on people in society. Profiling and attitudes to immigrants affect ex Muslims as well as Muslims. When we challenge Islamist bigotry we do not need to use the bigoted language of the far right – especially if we have no intention of supporting them. Or else we are creating the friendly fire in the discourse and saying do not shoot back I was not aiming at you, you hurt me saying I shot you, would you mind not bleeding over me in response?

To support secular Muslims and ex Muslims, we need to be attentive to what they say about racism in society. We need to give them a voice.

Then we need to listen. And it is not going to necessarily make us feel comfortable.

Photo of Sam Harris taken by Chris Boland of Maryam Namazie from her twitter profile

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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EU: Gove’s Leaving Statement


June 23rd will settle one of the longest rows that has existed in modern British politics – whether the UK remains in or leaves the European Union.

Gove’s statement making the case for leaving had a few choice phrases in it:

“The EU is built to keep power and control with the elites rather than the people”

That is rather the problem with most democracies – check the background of the people at the Cabinet table next time Gove, and bear in mind 65% of the people not voting for your party still gives you a majority to control legislation.

“your government is not, ultimately, in control in hundreds of areas that matter.”

To which end, Gove gave an example of olive oil being contained in maximum five litre containers. No mention this is about standardisation, and purity control by amount stored. Or that Member States can go beyond this amount, but our own government after a consultation where one respondent (out of seven people in UK that had) asked for such an increase was refused by our own Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA):

Also, spare a thought for domestic moggies living in newly built housing being kept a minimum distance from birds on heathland. How dare we think of preserving wildlife as best we can. British born cats should be given the freedom to hunt migrating birds as much as possible, in Gove’s new independent UK. Might help keep migration numbers down. 

Given Gove invoked the American War of Independence, one might have thought we might see flashes of Jeffersonian inspiration. Alas, we did not. If Gove had written the Declaration of Independence, America might still be a colony.

The EU provides a mechanism and an institutional infrastructure for elected governments to come together and take on issues which are of mutual concern and benefit: security, trade and environment to name but a few. If we want to increase democracy I am all for the European Parliament making legislation as opposed to passing or amending what is put to them. The petition system to raise concerns is hardly a substitute for that.

Ironically that would challenge domestic legislatures – so the idea never really gets off the ground. Such democratising of the EU would mean ever closer union. As such, the Council of Ministers of elected government have the real power and checks.

The idea that we can remain in the EU and reform all this, is rather a pipe dream. It remains so national governments have control, but little accountability to us for how such accords are produced by the Commission.

The EU has only worked as a top down driven processes while economic security was provided. The troubles of the Eurozone, the real austerity and suffering that Greece has gone through, together with Southern Europe trapped with higher unemployment due to no monetary lever – they call the whole process into question.

The bigger picture is not clear cut. There will be scaremongering on both sides as to the future, if we vote one way or the other. Notice Iain Duncan Smith saying we will have a Paris Attack, as if London did not already have a sufficient threat for that to happen.

If you want value free analysis, well let me know where you can find it. The decision is going to be yours alone, and everyone is going to distort and scare you to be on one side or the other.

Do not expect an Olive branch from the other side when you have made your mind up.

Photo by Vincent Brassine used under Creative Commons

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Edit: added “Might help keep migration numbers down.” And “they call the whole process into question.” 


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