Tag Archives: free speech

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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Bake Me A Cake – Opening Pandora’s Box?

A bakery in Northern Ireland was found guilty of discrimination for refusing to decorate a cake with a pro gay marriage message. The bakers cited their Christian views as a reason to refuse service. The media have exploded with “what if” someone asked a Muslim baker to decorate a cake with the picture of Mohammed on it? On the TV show “Loose Women” Nolan Coleen said what about a cake where the icing supported ISIS?

There seems to be confusion over what the Equality Act means, free speech and religious freedom. Different issues, all important as they overlap. So let me try to unpack all this in a short post. What follows is not legal advice – and any lawyers reading please feel free to comment or correct.

Ashers bakery refused an order for a cake which would have said “support gay marriage.” This failed the Equalities Act because it meant discriminating against gay people who would have wanted decorated cakes linked to being gay. Religious objections were invalid for a bakery, in a way they may not be for a religious organisation. The secular principle as workers and customers we are equal citizens first would apply.

The Mohammed on a cake example (the assumption being the Muslim would refuse service), cited by Simon Jenkins in an article and mentioned by Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You, is not the same. Both mention a Christian asking for this decorative cake from a Muslim. Such a cake has nothing to do with being a Christian. Refusal of service would not be based on the faith of the customer, nor indirectly linked to it (as in the support gay marriage).

If you want to argue free speech means they must bake the Mohammed cake, for the baker must be detached from their creation to serve the wants of their customer, bare in mind there is no legal obligation to bake. The ISIS cake asks are there red lines that are understandable for the conscience of a baker, or are all irrelevant? Rather than call for Coleen to be sacked, I would say here is the bottom line: if it does not breach the Equalities Act, a baker can refuse service to someone. So that Mohammed or an ISIS cake could be refused, because making those cakes are not an equality issue regarding discrimination to the person asking.

There are more interesting hypotheticals that the QC defending Ashers bakery could have used instead: a Christian asking a Muslim baker to make them a batch of hot cross buns for a Church celebration at Easter or a butcher legally required to supply halal meat if asked, or would they be discriminating against muslims if they object against Islam requiring this? If the Muslim baker declined, would the law state both have protected religious characteristics. If the judgment in Northern Ireland may be read you cannot discriminate against religion, it would mean that anyone supplying a made to order service would have to supply a religious festival or dietary requirement they disapproved of if their objection was they disagreed with it.

Pandora’s cake box is opened much wider than the discussion may have led you to believe. Religious freedom either means all citizens must be catered for by services offered to the public, or services are recognised as being staffed by citizens whose religious freedom means they can refuse citing their own religious freedom to disagree in participating. The law is favouring universal service to end discrimination of customers. The question is will this lead to unintended consequences.

In summery: you cannot cite religious objections if that leads to discrimination or indirect discrimination that contravenes the Equalities Act. Being gay is a protected characteristic, as is being religious, for customers or potential customers. Denial of service by the bakery was discrimination. A Christian denied a Mohammed cake would have to prove discrimination based on their being a Christian – something which would fail the direct or indirect discrimination case in examples mentioned above. By contrast, a Muslim given a Mohammed cake might well have a case for harassment if it was known they were a Muslim that would object. A butcher may not be able to say “I disagree with Islam on this” as a reason to refuse obtaining halal meat.

Hopefully I have given you food for thought. This is one subject where it may give indigestion trying to have your cake and eat it.
Additional originally written as a comment by me:

I am explaining the Equality Act – being gay is a protected characteristic from discrimination. The judge was satisfied the defendants knew he was gay. The judge mentioned getting the non Christian employee to do the icing or sub contracting the icing to another bakery. Their main point was that if the bakery was prepared to bake a “support heterosexual cake” then it was discriminatory not to bake the other.

It should be noted reading the judgment, if the cake was meant to be shared with other gay people, even if purchaser had been heterosexual, the judge would still have held as discrimination. Also, they had agreed to bake the cake, but then changed their mind over the weekend.

I am not defending the judgment but *explaining it* and the ramifications – including how the Equality Act may be interpretated. I don’t think a Muslim baker should be compelled to make hot cross buns, or a non Muslim butcher to stock halal produce, under the Equality Act.

This judgment makes those a step closer, which is why I am against it. We should all be free in our religious opinions and not compelled to provide an additional service which counters it.
I would love to live in a country where free speech would be seen as a virtue, so they would have baked it even though against their sentiments. That they would have refused to bake this cake for anyone to my mind suggests a bigoted view on gay marriage, but not a discriminatory one.
NB I am going to be at the Hay Festival this Sunday night till Wednesday morning. So do say hi, and feel free to get in touch via twitter, if you want to discuss things if you are there. Ideally over a drink.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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University – A Free Not A Safe Space

Universities should not be safe places. The battle of ideas should make them free spaces. 

My final year at University, one of my courses was on contemporary philosophy. We discussed Rawls, Nozick. I recall leading a seminar discussion on Dworkin while I argued against utilitarians. Feminism and abortion, Peter Singer and infanticide. Passionate arguments with people that consumed books and fired off their own ideas at each other. This is what we did before Twitter.

There is much discussion about making Universities “safe places” for students. Not inviting certain speakers, reading certain books, or freely discussing certain topics which may trouble some students’ susceptibilities.

Yet open free discussion helped me get the most out of my education. The tutorial and seminar system developed an ability to stand up for your arguments. Years before I felt comfortable discussing atheism with family, I could here. Talking as an equal though from a state education with a class full of privately educated students.

I remember seconding a debate society discussion on morality – not wearing a suit. Quite sacrilegious. I explained this was not a moral failing on my part, but I made the choice to buy books over attire thus was skint. Clothing ourselves with knowledge is dressing for a civilised age. Sharpening that knowledge is to be challenged, to be forged in the fire of heated debate.

Do not garb students from debate by wrapping them in cotton wool, so depriving them of the world of ideas that they can sharpen their teeth on. There are opponents and enemies to be had. The ability to discern who they are is a vital life skill for University students to develop, and how to challenge them. They do not need to be sheltered by those choosing on their behalf who they are for them. It is a form of control no one should want – one should want to fly rather than live in a cocoon safe from the monsters whose ideas we need to know how to slay.

To be an active citizen is to wage eternal conflict in the body politic. There will be people – groups and individuals – that want to change things in civil society. Knowing who to shrill for and who to counter has an impact beyond imagining in the corridors of power we never get to walk down.

We need articulate, determined citizens to fight the good fight in civil society with a megaphone or a keyboard, rather than with violence or repression of others voices. Not shrinking violets that are concerned with how they feel about the jousting, the back and forth of political discourse. There is too much at stake not to play the game, let alone not know how to play it well.

Students need to be taught how to think, stand up for themselves, develop a self-worth. They need to know there are many ideas out there and how to critically assess them.

University is not a safe place. It is a dangerous place, where ideas from different cultures and history will come at you. Do not hide students from political, philosophical or religious arguments.

Arm them to do the battle of ideas in the global communication age safely. This needs to start way before university.

Anything less than that, is to betray their education.

More on free spaces can be read here.

The speech bubble picture comes from another blog post on the subject here.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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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

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Fatima Naoot and The Intended Sacrifice of Isaac


Egyptian poet Fatima Naoot threatened with imprisonment, for saying the intended sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham was a nightmare and the sacrificing of animals during Eid Al-Adha is a massacre. Yet that story, and notion of child sacrifice, needs to be heard.

One way to prevent criticism of religion is to call it insulting, offensive and blasphemous. To even suggest that your criticism is designed to cause violence and discrimination against others. That is an easy charge to dismiss – no one should be killed or discriminated on account of religion. Also religious people can make the same observation. Criticising religion, its stories, characters and figures is not the same as demonising and dehumanising people as a group. Conflating the two is sophistry, which we have seen too many times to prevent the free speech of others that challenge supposed orthodoxy.

For there comes a point where the tenet of a faith, like Abraham being so willing to obey God that he would kill his son for Him, must be challenged for the idea that it perpetuates. Abrahamic faiths celebrate this moment, with the hand holding the blade raised ready to obey, as the love of Him even before the life of their own child. Your child must be expendable to God.

Egyptian poet Fatima Naoot is appearing before the courts for making this observation of how Islam commemorates the intended sacrifice:

“Happy massacre,” Fatima Naoot wrote on her Facebook page in October during Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice.

Animals are slaughtered during Eid to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to fulfil God’s command to sacrifice his own son, although in the end God provided him with a sheep.

“Massacre committed by men over the past 10 centuries and followed by men each year with a smile,” Naoot wrote at the time.

“Annual massacre observed because of a nightmare of one (prophet) about his son… ,” she wrote in Arabic.

“Although the nightmare has passed for the prophet and his son, each year helpless animals pay with their lives the price of this sacred nightmare.” [France 24]

It is a nightmare that religion continues to remember. Whether the ritualistic slaughtering of animals (Eid), that the first born of Egypt were sacrificed to deliver the Sons of Israel (Passover), or that God’s Son was sacrificed to deliver humanity (Easter). It reverberates in the consciousness of Abrahamic religious culture throughout the world.

We do not dwell on the terror of a blade reflecting the rays of the sun, as a son contemplates his last sunrise. Nor the screaming of Egyptian parents holding their lifeless child. All because a God that could part the Red Sea for Moses, and make the Sun stand still for Joshua to slaughter a routed enemy, could not whisk his chosen people away. He could kill children on mass, with the angel of death, no problem. Angel of transportation was a wing and a prayer too far.

Do we think of the drenched cold sweated Jesus beseeching God to remove the burden of crucifixion on his last night? Maybe we could imagine Isaac doing the same, as he is led to his intended place of execution. Instead Christianity is grateful for the suffering that Jesus went through. His death saved you with his blood, from his nailed hands and feet, made you clean. As he gave up his spirit you were no longer tainted by original sin. This is your good news: to rejoice in the torture of a human being to death, to bathe in the blood of the lamb. Hallelujah indeed. Not in my name would anyone have to do that for me.

To believe any of this is historically true is a nonsense. To want this to be theologically true and ordained by God is twisted by any ethical standard. For here is the bitter irony for those pro life agitators outside abortion clinics. Real child sacrifice rituals in human history had an impact on your holy texts, and you cherish the concept as part of your modern faith. It is even possible that some versions of the original story had Isaac killed, that it was carried through as God had commanded. For the love of God would you do this? Or would you repeat Hitchens to anyone that demanded it of you “no, fuck you!” as the righteous answer.

Fatima Naoot saw no contradiction to her faith calling out that moment as a nightmare, and the ritual animal slaughter as a massacre. Yet she faces up to three years in prison for contempt of Islam, promoting sectarianism and disturbing the public peace. Because she dared to speak the truth about killing animals, and anyone ordering a father to kill his son.

[Human rights groups] also say those seen as offending Islam have been targeted by the state and jailed on charges ranging from blasphemy to contempt of religion – but say this has been happening since the 2011 overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, not just since Mursi was deposed following mass protests.

The country’s courts convicted 27 of 42 defendants accused of contempt for religion in 2011-2013, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. [Reuters]

Religion has stories which are the product of it’s time. I live in a country where my freedom of speech allows me to say what I will about religion, without holding back. The nightmare today is so many in the world lack that freedom in matters of religion.

That is a misery for the world. Too many side with the offended and not with the Fatima Naoot and Raif Badawi of this world. Let alone a Charlie Hebdo cover of Mohammed crying, which the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation deemed an “extreme act.” Satirists of religion are the extremists, just as atheists are terrorists, to Saudi Arabia where the organisation is based. A country where they behead and flog liberals and apostates, oppress violently the Shia minority viewing them as to be hunted down and killed. A policy they have done much to regionalise. No God cries out to them to sheath their blade.

The British government in turn shows it’s friendship to the House of Saud, by lowering the flag on the death of it’s King. Their allies want the oil to flow, and let the blood spilt as clerical jurisprudence wash away. The British government has shown this by deciding now is a good time to send civil servants to assist with the Saudi Arabian prison system, as a commercial undertaking, but giving no assurances they will uphold human rights or not take part in facilitating their breach.

If faith sets you free, it has to let those that question your belief be so too. Yet, if God can make Abraham holy by being prepared to kill his son for him for no reason, what chance do poets, bloggers, or cartoonists have when they offend devout religious sensitivities? When our own secular governments are prepared to do business and even condone the theocratic system that incarcerates them, the need for us to stand up for freedom of conscience is even more pressing.

This might mean being less free with your offence, as you try to prove that you love God more than your own children. Too many are losing their freedom because of this. Instead, be more vocal for the freedom of religion and free speech which protects what the devout and what the infidel have to say as equal citizens. Let the story of Abraham and Isaac tell you that today no child should be made to suffer for the faith of their parent.

For the love of God love your children more, and teach them that they are free to make up their own minds on religion. Make that the world they will inherit.

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