Tag Archives: Blasphemy

Copenhagen Shootings – Fight The Fear Together Not Alone

[This article, minus cartoons of Mohammed, can now be read on Huffington Post]

Imagine university students concerned about a platform being given by their debating society to a “radical feminist” that took a chainsaw to a crucifix while bare breasted. As far as they are concerned, it goes against religious sensibilities, is playing to the patriarchy that sexually objectifies women. Other students see her as anti sexual workers, given the early beginnings of the feminist movement she is a part of. What unites them is their tactic of no platforming by protest and if needs be direct action so the event gets canceled.

The person described is Inna Shevchenko, and she was speaking at a Copenhagen cafe this Valentines Day, when a gunman opened fire from outside, having been denied entry. His contribution to the “Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression” debate being hosted was firing over thirty bullets. A Danish film maker was killed and five police officers injured. Later he went to a Synagogue celebrating a bat mitzvah, where a security guard barred entry to him. The gunman killed him before fleeing.

Silence falls in many ways. One by the sound of the gun having the last word with the victim. Threats of violence, as the fatwa on Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. The debate in the cafe was marking the anniversary of that fatwa. Then the fear of meeting with people at such venues, or debating such topics openly – the very reason the event continued in the aftermath.

Lars Vilks, who organized the debate in Copenhagen, drew this cartoon of Mohammed as part dog.

Stop Attacking the God Damn Muhammad Cartoonists

Some conservative Muslims see dogs as unclean. Also, as you are no doubt aware, drawing Mohammed can be extremely hazardous to your health. I have already written about Charlie Hebdo and the need to be more outraged at drawing blood than drawing cartoons. Here the point is as Islam is for human rights and animal rights, than assaulting or cruelty to other living beings would be as an assault on the prophet. Nothing artistic should provoke you into such an action because of your faith.

That was his point in 2007. In 2015 despite activists and cartoonists being shot at and killed, we still have to contend with such messages as: do not provoke.

Even after Paris, even after Denmark, we must guard against the understandable temptation to be provocative in the publication of these cartoons if the sole objective is to establish that we can do so. With rights to free speech come responsibilities.

That seems to me the moral approach, but there is a practical issue here too. There is no negotiating with men with guns. If progress is to come, it will be via dialogue with the millions of faithful Muslims who would never think to murder but also abhor publication of these cartoons. We cannot have that conversation in a time and spirit of provocation. And to have it would not be an act of weakness. The strong approach is not necessarily to do what is possible, but to do what is right.

So ends Hugh Mir in The Guardian. Well, there is a point to the cartoon above. Which can only really be described by showing. Lars Vilks and the people at the cafe, need support and solidarity rather than – you are part of the problem. As Inna states “We are in the middle of ideological war in Europe.They fight us with guns,we have to fight them with cartoons, street protests, speeches etc.”

If Charlie Hebdo, Lars Vilks, Raif Badawi, Aliaa Elmahdy, FEMEN & others would NOT be alone in this fight, we would NOT become a [target].

This is how solidarity works. I do not think religion, Gods or prophets are anymore than fictions, which at best promote a common heritage, helping to shape a shared cultural identity and legacy. At worst, they become dogmatic, resilient to freethought and ideas which challenge their perceived wisdom in society. At their deadliest, extremism calls for blood for blasphemy in an ideal religious state. Fundamentalists are not prepared to wait for such a state, and will carry out the sentence anywhere in the world, against muslim and non muslim alike.

I recognise not all Muslims are extremists let alone fundamentalists in Europe and bigotry suggesting that they all are needs calling out for what it is. It would be ridiculous to excuse attacks on muslims because of the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia which has funded and exported extreme salafism around the world. Yet when it comes to attacks on Jews this has been readily excused as being provoked by the actions of Israel against the Palestinians (from conversation here). Anti-semitism might get mentioned as a factor, or dismissed entirely as Karen Armstrong did:

 “We’re piling all the violence of the 21st Century on the back of religion, sending it away, saying we have nothing to do with religion. While we still have to deal with the political situation. The supermarket attack in Paris was about Palestine, about Isis. It had nothing to do with antisemitism; many of them are Semites themselves.

It feels that some are in denial that anti-semitism exists, just as anti-muslim hatred exists. Make it all political, all about foreign policy, forget religious extremism and hatred and that part of the problem is supposed to go away. To not provoke is to accept blasphemy as a social taboo even for an innocuous cartoon – as Maajid Nawaz tweeted of Mohammed saying “How ya doin’?”


That tweet, and the fallout that followed, was a year ago. Since we have seen blood spilt over the issue in Paris and Copenhagen. We have seen what religious hatred can do in a kosher supermarket and outside synagogue. A rise in attacks on muslims too. Now is the time for us all to speak up for each other’s rights.

Instead, far from showing that support even if you disagree, I am left wondering if Inna would be allowed to speak at all English Universities. As a letter to The Observer from academics and others made clear:

“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists.

This came to a head with the recent cancellation of comedian Kate Smurthwaite’s show. As Nick Cohen explains:

Last week, students at Goldsmiths College in London banned a performance by the fantastic feminist comedian Kate Smurthwaite in an act of neurotic prudery that bordered on the insane. Her show was on freedom of speech – yes, yes, I know. She told me that Goldsmiths did not close it because of what she had planned to say, but because she had once said that the police should arrest men who go with prostitutes and that she was against patriarchal clerics forcing women to wear the burqa. In the demonology of campus politics, these were not legitimate opinions that could be contested in robust debate. They marked her as a “whoreophobe” and “Islamophobe”, who must be silenced.

Nick talks about other things happening – lecturers told not to discuss religion or feminism, secular groups banned from displaying Charlie Hebdo survival front cover. “Rather than being free institutions where the young could expand their minds, British universities were becoming “theological colleges” where secular priests enforced prohibitions.”

By student groups actively no platforming, young people are themselves prohibiting the very controversy, offense and contrarian opinion which civil society needs to inform, stimulate and educate. Right now, people are failing to show solidarity when gunmen strike. Instead the message is do not provoke, do not dare to express anything that will inflame sensibilities. Do not even learn how to make a counter argument to those that you disagree with. Win by not letting them show up.

We cannot stop being alive, we cannot stop noticing the harm religious extremism and hatred causes. We will point out what fundamentalists are trying to do. We will show the limits they try to impose. We will show how people give tacit let alone explicit support to those that wish atheists, apostates and blasphemers dead.

The least you can do is not sympathise with the gunman as you blame the victim. If you are not prepared to take a flying bullet for them, you may at least be prepared to give a platform to the people that face them from fundamentalists.

Fight the fear together not alone.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog


Filed under atheism, British Society, Culture, politics, Religion, World

Charlie Hebdo Gun Attack – Freedom Is The Lifeblood of Humanity Not Oil To The Flame


Three gunmen in Paris, killing journalists at the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, cannot be allowed to dictate a response on their terms. Neither violence nor censorship – nor fear to challenge extremists – can be be how we react.

Shouting “we have avenged the Prophet Mohammed” gunmen made their point. Rather than living to show Islam is a religion of peace they marked out the staff of Charlie Hebdo for violence. By death they wanted the ultimate last word against cartoonists, editors and writers.

The response cannot be along the lines of the Roman Catholic La Croix to earlier cartoons by Charlie Hebdo: “editorial responsibility requires an assessment of the consequences of what one publishes … fuelling the flames to show one’s noble resistance to extremism leads to offending simple believers.”

The insult to the religious as simple, while that extremism must be cowed down to as you surrender your opinion with the pen to the man with the gun. Charlie Hebdo understood better “if you say to religions they are untouchable, we are screwed” as one editor put it to Le Monde.

It is no mistake in that Le Monde article the magazine mentioned the hope that one day Islam may be talked about like Catholicism. As a religion that can be criticised, mocked, ridiculed. As well as worshipped and followed.

We must show solidarity with those murdered today. We must not be intimidated that our opinions and humour are never to be expressed for fear of a violent backlash.

This is not an open opportunity to hold Muslims as accountable for the crimes of the gunmen. Free speech works both ways. Anyone has the right to express in words how offended they are. How much The Prophet and their religion means to them. We in turn can point out that not having blasphemy laws protects all citizens in expressing their opinion, including Muslims too.

Those that promote violence to make their point need to be held to account. We cannot allow restrictions of free speech, nor rely on making press offices fortresses, as a substitute for tackling the preachers of hate against pluralism and free thought.

Without those values of toleration being promoted, but violence being considered an appropriate reaction, we will never escape the shadow of the gunman.

If publications reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, it is not putting oil to the flame. The fundamentalists do that for themselves. Rather, we are showing that freely expressing our words and opinions are the lifeblood of humanity. They surge through us, they are a part of who we are.

To deny them is to make us dead without a shot being fired.

Background to Charlie Hebdo and Blasphemy can be read here.

At the time of writing this was the latest news (from BBC at 15:06 today).

Gunmen have shot dead 12 people at the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in an apparent militant Islamist attack.

Four of the magazine’s well-known cartoonists, including its editor-in-chief, were reported among those killed, as well as two police officers.

A major police operation is under way to find three gunmen who fled by car.

President Francois Hollande said there was no doubt it had been a terrorist attack “of exceptional barbarity”.

The masked attackers opened fire with assault rifles in the office and exchanged shots with police in the street outside before escaping by car. They later abandoned the car in Rue de Meaux, northern Paris.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog


Filed under politics, Religion, secular, World

Asia Bibi Faces Death For Blasphemy in Pakistan


The sun is blazing down as you work the field, and having a drink of water you offer some to another labourer. They refuse to be served by you, stating you are unclean as a Christian. Further, they suggest you purify yourself by a ritual to convert to islam. Your kind gesture rudely rebuffed, you make a comment about The Prophet …

The Supreme Court of Pakistan will now decide whether the death sentence for blasphemy will apply to farmworker Asia Bibi, who has already been beaten by a mob. Forget the shambles of a trial that cannot even repeat the allegation for fear it corrupt the soul of the Islamic nation, or the souls of those present may burn a little longer in hell.

Blasphemy laws should not exist in any form. They are the product of the insider outsider distinction that religion uses to divide people. To entrench state control on the way citizens think and behave about religion. No one is free to understand the Nature of God, when the courts will rule on your thoughts and punish you for them.

The condemnation should be loud not just for the sentence of death on Asia Bibi, but that Pakistan has a blasphemy law. Yet the voices raised even to reform the law are met by the sound of a gun. Governor of the Punjab Province Salman Taseer took an interest in Bibi’s case. He was assassinated by his own bodyguard for doing so.

In an interview, Taseer remarked (follow link for whole Q&A worth reading):

Nearly 90% of the media in Pakistan has spoken out against this. I have watched talk shows, spoken to anchors, read numerous columns and opinions, and barring those with a deliberate agenda, not just every media person but also guests on talk shows have openly condemned the Blasphemy Law. They all say it should be amended, which is something which has been the most encouraging result of my move. Because I took a stand, many people have lined up and taken a stand and that, in turn, will empower judges and law-enforcement agencies to the extent that they may not bow to pressure. I think that now a policeman registering a case of blasphemy or a judge hearing a case will investigate before registering or at least think twice before hearing such as case.

In this situation nothing less than solidarity with those trying to abolish the blasphemy law and the victims of the legal system is vital. Bibi may have to wait a further three years for the Supreme Court to rule. She was incarcerated in 2010.

It is tempting to suggest the fundamentalists are running Pakistan, not least when they openly celebrated the bodyguard’s murderous actions. They are running rings around a political establishment that dare not take them on. As Taseer remarked in the above interview:

The real problem is that the government is not prepared to face religious fanaticism head on. This also gives us a bad name in the world.

Stand with the people of Pakistan determined to take their country back from fundamentalists.

They face the mob, bullets, and the courts. The least we can do is voice our support. Or our silence will be complicit in the actions of fanatics.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog


Filed under Religion, secular

Dark Horse video: Katy Perry Opposing Allah Petition


It was not just a man being disintegrated along with his Arabic “Allah” necklace that sparked demands for youtube to remove Katy Perry’s Dark Horse. Shazad Iqbal’s petition, which had over 65 thousand signatures, also claimed Katy Perry was in opposition to God with her powers in the pop video.

Such goes to show, that blasphemy is clearly conveyed in the video, since Katy Perry (who appears to be representing an opposition of God) engulfs the believer and the word God in flames.

This is not just about whether an act of blasphemy was committed – I am inclined to agree with views that it was bling jewellery which no one realised was the word “Allah.”

Rather, a personal interpretation of a pop video that a woman was destroying a believer as a challenge to God. Rather than the story of a woman that was rather exacting on would be suitors; where dating her was like playing with magic. Watch out!

The lyrics of the song make that clear enough and the video takes it’s cue from them:

    Make me your Aphrodite
    Make me your one and only
    But don’t make me your enemy, your enemy, your enemy

    So you wanna play with magic
    Boy, you should know what you’re falling for
    Baby do you dare to do this?
    Cause I’m coming at you like a dark horse
    Are you ready for, ready for
    A perfect storm, perfect storm
    Cause once you’re mine, once you’re mine
    There’s no going back


So while the video has been edited not to show the necklace anymore (see photo above) Iqbal has failed to have the video removed. Some questioned why as a Muslim he watched music videos like this:

There has been a mixed response to this discussion some For and some Against many people comment why was he watching the video in the first place? My answer

I’m a regular 22 year old I do watch music videos this particular one I didn’t watch it was brought to my attention and felt disgusted by it. Also even if I was a devout Muslim that shouldn’t be watching “sexed up videos” this does not take away the fact that the name of the Lord was used in an inappropriate, manner what do you expect us to not watch it and turn a blind eye? Unlikely.

Still, while there are bigger battles and issues out there a peaceful petition was used and responded to. That is at least preferable to intimidation and violence whether you consider offence to yourself deliberate or unintentional. The concern is distorting what art is trying to convey and censoring. The call was to ban rather than edit.


Iqbal is right though that Katy Perry does oppose his version of Allah, stating:

“I don’t believe in a heaven or a hell or an old man sitting on a throne. I believe in a higher power bigger than me because that keeps me accountable. Accountability is rare to find, especially with people like myself, because nobody wants to tell you something you don’t want to hear. I actually don’t trust people who start to turn on me because they get scared of telling me the truth. I’m not Buddhist, I’m not Hindu, I’m not Christian, but I still feel like I have a deep connection with God. I pray all the time—for self-control, for humility. There’s a lot of gratitude in it. Just saying ‘thank you’ sometimes is better than asking for things.”

To be more honest the Egyptian theme interested me more in the video. MTV on the Egyptology of the video:

“While there is clearly an amalgamation of other cultures and Egyptomania at play in the video (Is that a Viking ship in the opening? Spinning rims on the chariot?),” Creasman wrote to MTV News in an email, “Perry’s modern take on ancient Egypt is refreshing. With Perry’s star power and Juicy J’s beats, I expect enrollment in Egyptology classes will see a welcome surge this year.”

A surge in learning Egyptology rather than blasphemy allegations against artists would be more than welcome. Claiming art and story telling as against God is religious fundamentalism we all need to oppose.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog


Filed under Culture, Poetry and Music, Religion, secular, World

Bangladesh Atheist Bloggers Indicted


Moshiur Rahman Biplob, Subrata Odhikary Shuvo, Russel Parvez and Asif Mohiuddin – the four atheist bloggers in Bangladesh who spent months in custody before being bailed, on blasphemy charges – have been indicted. November 6 is when the trial begins Associated Press reports.

Regular readers to the site will notice the red “B” that has been on the side bar for almost six months, clicking takes you straight to a post of mine in April here which gives more background.

For me this is what The Out Campaign is meant to be all about. I hope that Richard Dawkins can use his foundation, celebrity and the brand recognition of the campaign to raise awareness, promote solidarity and galvanise action – that a second, let alone up to fourteen years incarceration, is unacceptable for blasphemy.

If you are in the European Union, member states have a duty in foreign policy to encourage internationally the decriminalising of blasphemy laws. Remind them of this obligation.

As I mentioned in a letter to William Hague:

Such concern over free people expressing their conscience and views the world over are part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,”

For all that value freedom of religion and freedom from religion, with no compulsion or coercion on free thought and free speech, please show your support.

Update 11 September: more on via Rational Association

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog

Leave a comment

Filed under atheism, OUT campaign, secular, World