‘Heaven On Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law’ – A Critique.

February 10, 2016

kadatI confess that I am only at the very beginning of Sadakat Kadri’s book ‘Heaven on Earth; A Journey Through Shari’a Law‘ and yet on every page of the opening chapters, I find myself compelled to comment.

Kadri presents a time period before the Qur’an as much in need of revolutionary ideas. Infanticide if the child was female is the norm, stoning of those accused on flimsy evidence is rampant. Pre-Islamic Arabia is a cruel and divided land, for Kadat. And yet, when the similar cruelties of the religion that rapidly took over the area, and the dictates of its leader are highlighted, Kadri seems to excuse the most grotesque behaviour. For example, Kadri writes:

“The criminal justice provisions instituted at this time, as reflected in the text of the Qur’an were straightforward enough. God required humanity to punish four sins, known as haddood. Theft was said to merit amputation of the right hand, fornication earned a hundred lashes, and falsely accusing someone of the same crime was punishable by 80 strokes. The gravest crime, the ‘waging of war against Islam or spreading disorder in the land’, was attended by an entire battery of punitive possibilities: exile, double amputation, suspension from a cross, and decapitation.”

– We must take from this, the dangerous idea – belonging to a faith that is taught to children – that God believes chopping someone’s limbs off is the morally correct way to handle theft. That physically harming someone, is morally better than stealing someone’s property. After such a gruesome back catalogue of violent attacks upon the individual, and the unquestioned assumption of religious supremacy over the individual, a page later Kadri bizarrely writes:

“Torture, which was routine under the Christianised Roman law of Byzantium, found no place in the Qur’an.”

– It takes an extraordinary mind to note that hands were ordered to be put on blocks and chopped off, for theft, and to follow that note up with a denial of torture. I suspect the one receiving a double amputation, or being decapitated may consider themselves tortured. One may claim that it was the context of time, that believers nowadays know better, but that of course requires dismissing the fact that this is all conceived by a divine rule giver who transcends time, and so is supposedly morally superior to not only Muhammad 1400 years ago, but also believers today. Context of time is irrelevant when dealing with a time-transcending being.

Kadri goes on to note that whilst stoning to death for illicit sex is prescribed in the Qur’an, it is actually progressive insomuch as it makes the penalty far harder to impose than that which came before. Kadri relates a story of Muhammad and an adulterer, quoting an Islamic criminal law book from the 20th century:

“Calling a spade a spade, (the Prophet asked) ‘Did you **** her? Ma’iz said ‘yes’. He asked ‘Like the kohl stick disappears into the kohl container and the bucket into the well?’ He answered ‘Yes’. Then he asked ‘Do you know what zina means?’ He said ‘Yes, I did with her unlawfully what a man does with his wife lawfully’. Then the Prophet asked ‘What do you intend with these words?’ He answered ‘That you purify me’. Then he ordered him to be stoned.”

– This vicious story, a story of a man who died from rocks being hurled at him by a man who claims (not proves) to be a messenger of god thus permitting himself the right to decide who lives and dies. A story of stoning human beings considered less morally questionable than having sex with someone you’re not married to, is a story that Kadri spends the next two pages making excuses for. For example, he says:

“Pious Muslims see only extraordinary restraint on the Prophet’s part, and they often point out additional signs of his mercy; the fact that he made no attempt to track down the woman concerned, for example. At the opposite end of the spectrum are people who focus on nothing but the outcome. But a single perspective on a controversial event never makes for balance…”

– It is difficult to know where to begin with this. Perhaps at the point where just a few pages earlier, Kadri highlights Muhammad’s forward thinking policy that ‘the killing of a single person was meanwhile tantamount to the killing of the whole of humanity’ apparently negated a few moments later, by his order to stone a man to death. Or perhaps that the point where Kadri implies that those who praise Muhammad for ‘extraordinary restraint’ for not slaughtering the woman involved also are of a similar short sightedness with those of us who ‘focus on nothing but the outcome’. The outcome in this instance, is the taking of the life of a human being, for having consensual sex with someone. Focusing on anything else is to relegate the life of that human being, to less as important as the philosophical reasoning behind it. Focusing on anything else is to accept without question a man’s self imposed right to decide who lives and dies based on the delusional supremacy of his own beliefs. Kadri clearly thinks that those of us who focus on that, on murder, are short sighted. I would argue that those who focus on anything other than that murder, or try to trivialise that murder, the brainwashing of a young man to believe he need be punished for sex, and the brutal order to stone him, is not only short sighted, it excuses cruelty. Kadri continues his excuses:

“…. and as soon as other hadiths are taken into account, a subtler picture begins to emerge. One of them states that the execution divided Muslims into two camps, and another has Muhammad asking the killers of Ma’iz ‘Why did you not leave him alone? He might have repented and been forgiven by God’. At least two more suggest that Ma’iz’s real offence was not illicit sex, but indiscretion. One contemporary was heard to ruminate many years later that the young man had been punished only because he insisted on telling everyone he was guilty.”

– Far from a ‘subtler picture’ emerging, we simply change the reasons for murdering a man from having sex, to saying he’s had sex. As if this is any more of a legitimate reason to end the life of another human being with rocks. Either way, we are given clear evidence that Islam was never simply reserved as a guide to how to live one’s life, to better oneself, a spiritual system of inner peace. It was always a system of control, because it decided who does and doesn’t deserve to be murdered by other believers. A political system, like liberalism, fascism, communism, capitalism, and thus open to all the criticisms that all other systems of power must be open to.

But for now, I will continue to make my way through Kadri’s book, fully in the knowledge that he begins from the premise that Muhammad’s cruelty can be excused if we simply focus on other things, and just not question the relationship between a man of his time, a transcendent god, and binding moral laws anchored to 1400 years ago. A tactic that continues to permit some from turning their heads to religious supremacy and the dangers of idolising moral squabbles from centuries ago.


The birth of liberty…

February 2, 2016

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

It may seem peculiar to some that the word ‘Christendom‘ is no longer used except in the context of historical analysis. We don’t use it to describe Christian supremacy in Uganda or elsewhere in Africa, strangely. ‘The Muslim world‘ is still a term that summarises not an Islamic romanticised ‘Ummah‘ but countries with Islam built into its framework and its institutions, in much the same way (though applied a little differently – Islam certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of Papal power) that ‘Christendom‘ once worked.

Christianity as a Theocratic power, it may be said, is a victim of its own oppressive nature, with ‘Christendom‘ a term that died with the Enlightenment in Europe. The 16th century saw Martin Luther pin his 95 theses to a University door in Germany, sparking a vast revolution against Papal authority, it encouraged the printing of criticisms, and most importantly for our purposes here, the right – in many cases – to read the Bible in one’s native language rather than have it read out in Latin, thus allowing the individual the right to think about the text for themselves. Whilst this wasn’t a freedom – an unintended consequence from the deeply oppressive mind of Luther – that came without its oppressive caveats (Acts of Uniformity, by the very term, aren’t exactly freedom inducing), it sparked a movement toward the breaking down of oppressive barriers, and the freeing of the individual that eventually gave us the Enlightenment, with all its emphasis on free expression, representative government, secular constitutions, science, and rationalism. Christian Theocracy died because humans are born free.

It is an often repeated phrase, that Man is ‘born free’ – indeed the UN Declaration of Human Rights begins its very first article with it – but the implication & significance is seldom discussed, so I thought I’d elaborate here.

The liberal proposition is clear, though often confused by cultural relativists; empower the individual, not the group. It is that simple. We do not sacrifice the individual on the alter of culture. Cultural norms are not worth protecting, if they harm the individual. Cultural relativists tend to act as if protecting the cultural norms or religious dictates – especially if those cultures or religions are perceived to be a victim of Western bullying (a curious tactic employed by several people on the BBC’s Sunday morning The Big Questions this past week to disguise deeply unpleasant beliefs) – of oppressive societies is worth more than individuals within those cultures or religious theocracies whose freedom is chained to the beliefs of others. Indeed, the  premise of any religious control of other people (and cultural relativists who defend the principle) – be they non-believers, ex-believers, women, or the LGBT community – is ownership of the individual. And that’s a concept that seems wholly illegitimate to me.

Let me explain the basis for the liberal proposition. Above I note that we rely on the premise of empowering the individual over the group. Why is that, what makes you right, and where does the very premise come from, you might ask. Let’s take you, the reader, as the example. It must be clear to all that you were not born naturally attached to any ideological framework of power. This is not a ‘Western value‘, it is a universally observed truth, because the opposite is not only unproven, lacking any form of evidence, but it is also quite obviously absurd. Indeed to claim the opposite is to claim an ideology preceded humanity, and is intrinsically a part of each individual, not only that, but a controlling part. That the individual must submit to the rules of that ideology that preceded humanity without definitive proof of its reality, is as close to the definition of irrationality as I may ever be made aware of. To claim such a grotesque absurdity requires not simply your individual belief, but as much proof as 1+1=2. Further, it implies that we can all argue the same, if we simply precede an ideological demand with “My god says…”. To argue for your own privilege based on your belief (not proof) is to argue for everyone else’s privilege to treat you the same according to their belief. To prevent the other from doing the same to you, requires oppression. It is a Hobbesian state of perpetual war. It is therefore not only irrational, it is irresponsible and dangerous, whilst having the joyful effect of advertising your belief as psychopathic. What makes me right? Well, I concede that I might be entirely wrong, I might be born intrinsically attached to a single ideological framework that I am compelled to submit but in my evil rebelliousness I have chosen not to, sinning my way through life as I do. I concede it is a possibility, but I’m yet to encounter a convincing (or even basic) argument to imply that humans are not born endowed with liberty.

The birth of liberty, is the liberty of birth. From that basic truth, springs progression; the right to free expression, the right to freedom of conscience and belief, the right to love whomever you fall in love with regardless of gender, the right to the pursuit of happiness regardless of gender or ethnicity, the right to your property over your own person. To argue that anyone must be compelled to follow, or be judged by the dictates of your religion, first requires you to prove that your presumed right to ownership over another individual is factually based and inescapable (which of course, is untrue of any ideology). Otherwise, it is meaningless and can be dismissed as such.

Liberalism is the equalising of all, according to the clear principle that no one is born naturally superior to anyone else. It frees all to participate in society – regardless of natural human distinctions like sexuality, gender, ethnicity – whilst allowing all the right to a private existence free from oppressive barriers erected by others for the love of their supernatural sky man. It is the spring from which creativity, innovation, love, democracy, and plurality shoot. It recognises our evolutionary nature as both a group species, and individuals within groups, and it aims to free the individual to participate as fully as possible within the group, to develop our own ideas, to express ourselves, to debate openly, to be happy and free, right up until the individual seeks to harm the same natural freedoms for others.

The history of the past 500 years of Christian power in Europe and the United States has been one in which the barriers erected by that power have slowly eroded, to reveal humans in a much more natural state of being. We have progressed more since the Enlightenment, than at any time in our history. This is how a grown up, civilised society operates. Liberals must not excuse illiberal cultural norms, for the sake of opposing Western colonialism, because we recognise that illiberal cultural norms – in so much as they chain the individual – is a form of colonialism itself. And so It isn’t that I believe ‘Western culture‘ to be supreme, it is that I recognise any society that trends toward liberation of the individual more than it trends toward oppression, to be supreme.


A liberal response to the refugee crisis.

January 8, 2016

The grotesque coordinated sex attacks on women in Cologne on New Years has rightfully sparked a discussion in the Western World on the issues that the refugee crisis has brought with it across Europe. The response seems to range from a willful refusal to engage with the issue through fear of being labelled a bigot, to the dogmatic idea that all refugees should be blocked from fleeing to safety. When the liberal left fails to create a narrative, the far-right pounces. I thought I’d offer my perspective, but before I do, I think it prudent to note that I genuinely have no idea how to solve such a complex issue, and that in itself aids a bizarre far-right narrative:

refugeecrisis

– I say I don’t know how to solve the issue, he hears an apologist for sex abuse. His response implies just two choices; either European women, or sex attacking Syrians… who do you choose? A simplistic and weak straw man. But this highlights an important issue; if liberals have no basis by which to start the conversation, we lose the base to the far-right, and that has always been exceptionally dangerous.

There is a risk when appealing to our philosophical and political values, that we treat the people we are essentially discussing the future of (as if we have that inherent right anyway) as an abstraction, a variable, an object in our philosophising. It is dehumanising to an extent and makes it easier to offer illiberal solutions, as those human beings stand with Assad’s gun at their backs, and Europe’s far-right fist to their face. I will endeavor to express why liberalism must focus on those people as individual human beings first and foremost, and not a collective, nor an abstraction.

It is important to know that refugees are fleeing persecution. That is to say, they have had their rights as human beings with property over their own person – liberty we are all naturally born with, regardless of the political framework we are born on to – completely and unjustly stripped from them by abusers. It is a sense of terror that we cannot imagine, given our entire existence has been within a framework that grants us those rights without question. The liberal World, the World that understands and protects those natural liberties must therefore predicate its response on restoring those natural liberties and rights, to people fleeing. It must not abuse them further. This is done in several ways.

Firstly, there must be a global effort to end the conflict that causes so many to flee their homes and take an extremely dangerous trip to the safety of Europe. If you are willing to put your child on a small boat and make a terrifying journey across seas and land with no guarantee of safety, you are desperate for help, and no country that basis its framework on the protection of civil rights should refuse you entry simply for where you came from. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be refused entry for other reasons. But our obligation toward those fleeing persecution is not to be compromised based on ethnicity or country of origin. For too long the rest of the World has simply sat by as human rights were so cruelly abused in Syria, despite having the power to prevent it. The only way to stop people fleeing persecution in the long run, is an end to the refusal to recognise and protect the rights of those refugees, which is to say, an end to civil war.

Secondly, hand-in-hand with ending persecution in Syria, is a frank and honest discussion on illiberal policies, cultural norms, and religious oppression and supremacy. This includes highlighting illiberal notions in our own society. For example, you might be under the impression if you listen to certain anti-refugee sections of society, that refugees disproportionately commit crimes. This is wrong, and works to fuel a dehumanising narrative of suspicion. Indeed, ‘Die Welt’ using police reports, notes that refugees are no more likely to commit crimes than German citizens.

That isn’t to say that cultural attitudes outside of our own are not an issue also. We must not be afraid of critiquing culture. Culture is not off-limits, it is not to be protected from criticism. If a specific culture has obscenely illiberal misogynistic norms, we musn’t be scared to say so and to empower and defend voices of dissent in those cultures. We must champion the rule of law, secular humanist values, gender and sexuality equality, liberal civil rights, democracy, and speak up for those seeking democratic reform in cultures with deeply entrenched oppressive structures. The freedom to inquiry and express, and the same rights and dignity applied to all regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and belief is what separates the civilised from the barbaric, and we must champion the civilised, holding to account those who defend and excuse the barbaric. We must not be afraid to highlight the fact that religious doctrine and dogma, influences behaviour, and that doctrine of moral ideals from a single time and place centuries ago, might be problematic in the 21st century. This discussion is too often cut short by fear of being labelled bigoted, or racist. I do think we can have a debate on cultural regressive attitudes and dangerous religious dogma that limit so many chances across the World, without resorting to racist stereotypes and dehumanising rhetoric.

We must not meet regressive and violent attitudes, with a victim-blaming mentality. Maajid Nawaz writing for The Daily Beast highlights the obscene letter from Martin Thalhammer, the headmaster at Wilhelm-Diess-Gymnasium, in which he advises parents to make sure their children dress ‘modestly’ simply because refugees are accommodated close by. The letter says:

“The Syrian citizens are mainly Muslims and speak Arabic. The refugees are marked by their own culture. Because our school is directly next to where they are staying, modest clothing should be adhered to, in order to avoid discrepancies. Revealing tops or blouses, short shorts or miniskirts could lead to misunderstandings.”

– This is obscene for two reasons. Firstly, it implies that ‘misunderstanding’ are the responsibility of the people at the gym to prevent, to change their behaviour, rather than the fault laying with the attitudes of individuals who might be offended or use it as an excuse to attack. It is classic victim blaming. Secondly, it implies that the refugees – as a collective (we shall come onto this shortly) – are somehow unable to help themselves. It is bigoted as well as victim-blaming. Regressive attitudes must not be met with victim-blaming. It must be met with progressive attitudes. As Nawaz says:

“The only person to blame for rape is the rapist. Employment and education among migrant males will be a more conducive and far more consistent approach than asking European women to change how they dress or when they go out.”

Thirdly, if liberalism is to mean anything it is to place and empower the individual above the group. We pride ourselves on advancing the freedom of individuals to be themselves, to express themselves, to love whom they choose to love, to vote how they choose to vote, to pursue their own happiness, to dress how they choose to dress without coercion from the ‘group’, where it does not harm the same liberty for others. If we believe this true for ourselves, we must defend it for others, and we must be consistent with how we apply it. I support helping refugees in this country, because I see no other way of protecting those rights and freedoms they were born with immediately.

We believe in the fewest restrictions on the individual by others as is necessary to protect each other from each other, so that the individual is empowered with their own life to achieve and enjoy such a short time on the planet as they see fit. And so the response from some, that no refugees should be granted safety in Europe, thus arguing for the complete withholding of the core concept of liberty that we hold so dear, for people who have committed no crime, simply for the country they were unlucky enough to be born into, is to me unfathomable at best, and an admission that our values are not universal and so are completely worthless at worst.

We do not equate the individual with the collective, we do not hold responsible an individual within a loosely defined collective – ‘refugees’ – as responsible for the actions of other individuals within that collective. We do not ban men from teaching in schools because they might be a sexual predator. Indeed, we do not ban American military personnel from Europe, despite Donald Trump’s statistic that implies – if we are to be consistent – that they might be dangerous:

trump

The rights of person A to security and liberty must not be determined by the actions of person B. Individuals are responsible for individual actions. Their belonging to a group – and a group not of their choosing, but of necessity – must not infringe upon their right to life. The Syrian families who live in the city that I am from, whose children are now safe, and who are not harming anyone are the lucky few who escaped and are protected. Others like them must not be cast out into the ocean by a liberal, democratic nation, for the crimes of those who attacked so many women in Cologne.

To summarise; liberals must pressure governments to work together to end the conflict. Liberals must feel free to critique illiberal and oppressive power structures across all cultures without fear of being stigmatised, whilst supporting our democratic, secular, liberal friends within those cultures working hard for reform. And lastly, liberals must not equate the individual with the group, nor decide who is deserving of rights based simply on nation of origin. Whilst I do not have the answers to how we solve the refugee crisis, I do not believe that compromising liberal principles is at all a basis upon which to start the conversation. Much the opposite; we must be stronger in our values in the face of inhumanity, than we are at any other time.


If we can drop bombs on IS, we can drop food on Madaya.

January 7, 2016

It is one of the most harrowing videos you are likely to watch, from the comfort of yours and my safe home. A child who hasn’t eaten in days and will only get weaker and weaker, a baby who eats water and salt because there is no milk left. A new mother helplessly watching her baby starve to death. The computer screen is a horrific barrier between children suffering the most obscene deliberate starvation enforced by adults, and your ability to reach in and pull them out. Indeed, if they tried to escape, and presuming they get through the landmines placed around the town, Hezbollah and Assad’s forces will kill them.

When the debates arose over whether or not to extend British airstrikes against strategic IS positions in Syria, I was swayed by the lack of alternatives. Indeed, it seemed the anti-air strike position rightly called for regional powers and the West to come to a long term peace settlement, whilst refusing to acknowledge that this is a process that takes a long time, and crucially does not aid allies on the ground right here and now. It was a nice sentiment, one that sounded peaceful, but one that inevitably requires more beheadings, more girls taken as slaves, more sex attacks, more gay people thrown from buildings whilst we wait patiently for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Hezbollah, the US, Israel, Iraq, and President Assad to actually come to a table and settle centuries of differences. And so I was swayed to support air strikes for the simple fact that waiting for political solutions whilst not providing our allies on the ground with much needed air support, is nothing less than abandoning those allies. I supported air strikes on IS targets in Syria, for humanitarian reasons.

For the same humanitarian reasons, I support immediate food drops on the besieged town of Madaya.

Madaya is a small town not too far from Damascus. As we speak, 40,000 citizens of the town are besieged by troops loyal to President Assad and Hezbollah. Those citizens have no food. A kilogram of rice, currently costs £170. Stories have flooded onto social media of children forced to eat leaves, starving people killing their pets for valuable nutrition, and utterly horrific images detailing the horror as President Assad uses a familiar tactic of his, and deliberately starves an entire town.

The siege and starvation tactic, is said to be in retaliation for Jaysh al-Fateh attacking and besieging the two Shia towns of Fua and Kefraya. An appalling excuse. It takes the mentality of a monster to believe you defeat an enemy, by deliberately starving children.

The siege is maintained, by Hezbollah placing landmines all around the town, and setting up checkpoints to prevent anyone from leaving. In the meantime, mothers cannot find milk to feed their babies, babies who cannot speak, they cannot tell you just how starving they are. Babies. Anadolu Agency of Turkey has reported that six children died last month through starvation, with eight people killed after trying to escape and hitting landmines.

The situation emphasises just why President Assad must not be included in any political solution. He must be held accountable for some of the worst human rights abuses the 21st Century has witnessed, he must not be allowed to get away with starvation as a tactic of war. He is not an ally. He is not to be engaged with. He is deliberately and cruelly murdering children. This is not a statesman.

Waiting for a political solution to stop Assad starving his victims does nothing to aid the problem now. And right now, if the Western World can defend our values by dropping bombs on IS, we absolutely and immediately must help those victims starved to death by monsters, by dropping food.


Twisting Charlie.

January 6, 2016

There was a distinct lack of irony in the Vatican’s statement about the new cover of Charlie Hebdo’s publication, to coincide with the anniversary of the murders:

“Behind the deceptive flag of uncompromising secularism, the weekly is forgetting once more what religious leaders of every faith unceasingly repeat to reject violence in the name of religion – using God to justify hatred is a genuine blasphemy, as pope Francis has said several times,”

“In Charlie Hebdo’s choice, there is the sad paradox of a world which is more and more sensitive about being politically correct, almost to the point of ridicule, yet does not wish to acknowledge or to respect believers’ faith in God, regardless of the religion.”

– Ironic that an institution dedicated as it has been, to murdering heretics, to waging imperial wars, to crushing blasphemy, to backing the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, to scaring people into rejecting birth control, to Cardinal Turkson (a candidate for the Papacy) rejecting calls for human rights for gay folk, suddenly has the nerve to tell anyone that it rejects violence in the name of religion. I’m also not sure why claiming that religion might have a violent element represents a “deceptive flag of uncompromising secularism”. The reason secularism is a thing in the first place, is because religion didn’t deal too well with human rights when it had power. Indeed, it has power now in much of the World, and has very little respect for basic human rights. For the Vatican, not much has change, the Pope believes that if you commit blasphemy, you should expect a violent reaction:

“if my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.”

“It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

– The Vatican is violence in the name of religion. It wishes to hold illiberal ideas dear, to empower those ideas across the World politically, whilst desiring that no one criticise or satirise on fear of attack.

But the Church is not the only place you’ll still find anger at Charlie Hebdo. It seems to loom mainly on the regressive left of the political spectrum, from those who simply do not understand that Charlie Hebdo is a left-leaning, publication satirising the right wing, in much the same way that Stephen Colbert manages so brilliantly in the US. The point of the publication is to exaggerate right winged stereotypes, to absurd levels, whilst keeping the fundamental arguments they often make. Regressives struggle with this.

Max Blumenthal – no stranger to inventing what other people say or mean – stripped all context away from this, when he posted the front cover of a Charlie Hebdo publication, on Twitter:

charlie-hebdo-racist-monkey-cartoon copy

– The clear implication is that Hebdo is a racist magazine, that has just called France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, a monkey. As if the cartoonists have sat around a table, and decided it’d be really funny, to compare someone with dark skin, to an ape. What Blumenthal predictably left out, was that the picture was actually commenting and satirising the views of Anne-Sophie Leclere, a former Front National local election candidate who had recently compared Christiane Taubira to a monkey several times across media platforms. In the photo, you see the logo of the Front National. Further, Le Pen at this time was on a PR mission to reposition the Front National as less racist as they come across. She had started a group called “The Marine Blue Gathering” or “Rassemblement Bleu Marine”. The words in the photo satirise the attempts to reposition the Front National, replacing the word “Marine” for “Raciste”. The publication is essentially saying, you can try all you want…. you’re still a racist party, and here’s why…” thus the image on the cover is not devoid of context. Blumenthal left out the context, instead choosing to allow people to believe that Charlie Hebdo had just compared Christiane Taubire to a monkey.

Further, the image was drawn by the Charb; the late Editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo. His funeral was attended to by…. Christiane Taubire. The same Christiane Taubire who also delivered a wonderful eulogy to another murdered Hebdo journalist, in which she spoke so eloquently in support of Enlightenment values, and so wonderfully of the Hebdo journalist Bernard Verlhac (Tignous):

“The violence of these murders, of these assassinations, the barbarity of these crimes, the numbing, the stupefying horror, let us recognize it, has smashed our everyday sense of security, our routine, and, let us admit it, our drowsiness about these values, which we thought we had inherited from the Enlightenment, but about which we had forgotten that they carried with them the necessity of vigilance. And at the end of these horrible crimes, we can see that something was in the process of going lax in us. And this alarm reminds of our ambitions—which have been too long silent, too easily abandoned—for social justice, equality, education, and attention to others. We must find again that humanity and that uncompromising outlook that characterized Tignous.”

– She characterises Bernard Verlhac (Tignous) as dedicated to equality, to education, and to social justice. Meanwhile, Blumenthal implies that Charlie Hebdo just randomly decided to show a cartoon of a black lady as a monkey.

Political satire, that focuses on the victims of hypocrisy and indifference is not new. This piece for the Financial Times includes a similar photograph of the victims of Congo’s looted wealth, whilst the UN turns a blind eye. No one is implying that the cartoonist is mocking the victims. No one is implying white supremacism at the Financial Times. Charlie Hebdo is deliberately misinterpreted much of the time in a way that no other satirical publication or media outlet is.

On the anniversary of the murders of Charlie Hebdo’s writers and cartoonists, we liberals must defend and speak up consistently for the right to criticise and satirise political settlements, ideological frameworks of power (including religions), indifferent and illiberal responses to events, regardless of whether it be through satire, through serious critiques, through art. This is how we progress. We hold human rights, civil rights to be indestructible and undeniable, whilst ideas are simply targets to be scrutinised. We do not demonise for the scrutiny of ideologies. The scrutiny of ideas and the real World effect of those ideas, is a value we do not compromise for the sake of protecting bad ideas. Hebdo understands this. The Vatican, Islamists, and the regressives do not.


The Racism of the Regressives.

January 2, 2016

A constant theme that runs through the thought processes of the regressives – as I’ve noted several times – is racism. Their often excitable attempts to claim ‘New Atheists’ as white supremacists with colonial ambitions, is swiftly dealt with by pointing to numerous non-white, non-western atheists who seem to fit the neat little ‘New Atheist’ box. When those non-white, non-western atheists are mentioned, the humble thing to do would be to back down and re-evaluate your narrative. The regressive response has been to engage in unbelievable irony.

They tend to describe those non-white atheists or liberal Muslims using exceptionally racist language. Whether it be Nathan Lean referring to Maajid Nawaz as a ‘lapdog‘ for Sam Harris, or CJ Werleman referring to Ali Rizvi as ‘brown faced white mask water carrier for empire’, it is a desperate attempt to salvage a failed narrative – failed, because those critical of Islamic doctrines are from across the World, failed because liberal, secular principles and values are not ‘Western‘ nor have they been framed by white people only – and in the meantime it strips non-white folks of their individual faculties of reason. It tells us that anyone with darker skin, who does not share CJ Werleman’s ‘white supremacist’ narrative, is simply a pawn used by far more intelligent white folks who have manipulated the poor ‘brown faces’ into doing their bidding. Ironic, because it is this that happens to be deeply white supremacist in principle, and deeply colonial. Ideas are given a skin tone, and incredibly intelligent people, with their own memories, stories, thoughts, ideas, are simply reduced to the shade of their skin.

I’ve said all of that before (see my article on the racist bigotry inherent in CJ’s rhetoric, and my article on Nathan Lean’s dismissal of Maajid Nawaz on account of the apparent supremacy of Sam Harris’ skin tone) and tried to highlight the inherent racism to the regressive left’s failed narrative, but today a regressive on Twitter highlighted my point perfectly during a predictable rant over my previous article in which I criticised his hero, CJ Werleman, and so I figure it is always worth pointing out the hideous bigotry to their arguments.

For a bit of clarity before we go into the inherent racism that permeates his – and the regressive left in general’s – arguments, here is who we’re dealing with:

liberalsecularvalues– After referring to me as an ‘apologist for empire’, I responded. A quick side note, the regressives over the past year have succeeded in misrepresenting and distorting the points raised by others. Glenn Greenwald did this over the past week with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris faces it daily, and you’ll never fail to see one of them refer to Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a huge fan of Anders Breivik. Regular readers of Stephen Knight’s The Godless Spellchecker blog, will already be aware of him, after GSpellchecker masterfully responded to previous distortions from Spooner. So it wont surprise you to see that when I responded by saying I value liberal, secular, principles ‘Johnny Spooner’ seems to have heard ‘I really love drone strikes on children’. This is who we’re dealing with.

I wanted to know what he considered to be oppressive, and whether the language CJ Werleman had used to describe Ayaan Hirsi Ali – “brown faced white mask” – was acceptable or oppressive, in its clear attempts to strip her of her own opinions and thoughts:

casebycase
I would hope that for anyone considering themselves a liberal, racist language is racist language regardless of whether or not we agree with their views. With Ayaan, I disagree with her on occasions, and agree with her on others. At no point do I consider racial abuse and stripping her of her agency to be acceptable. Whether someone resides on the left, the right, or in the centre, racist language is unacceptable. For the regressive left, racist language is to be judged on a ‘case by case’ basis, which appears to mean, if an African woman does not agree with the regressive left perspective, they open themselves up to racist abuse, it’s their own fault. I think here, Spooner has unwittingly given us an insight into the mind of a regressive.

So you see, having been abused by an oppressive system in her native land, Ali now faces it from those who should not be compromising their support for her right to her own views even if those views are not identical to your own.

And then, having already displayed his racial prejudices, he decides that it’s not racist at all:

notracistI’m not sure where anyone has ever suggested that it is ‘racist‘ to question the motives of anyone who sides with oppressors. I don’t find it ‘racist‘ for Jeremy Corbyn to side with Hamas every so often. I find it hideous, but not racist. But the phrase “brown face white masked” is language heaped in racism, and if you cannot criticise Ayaan’s arguments, without attacking her for the colour of her skin, you are not simply ‘criticising‘ her motives, you are a bigot.

And then he backtracked.

conservativeI suspect he may have become uncomfortable with his own argument, and rightly so. We have gone from defending the idea that African intellectuals who do not fit the regressive narrative are merely “white masked water carriers for empire” – a white supremacist empire, if you (like Spooner) are hooked on CJ’s bizarre narrative – to the much less racially charged, colourless term “conservative policy“. The goal posts have shifted all of a sudden. But here lies more stripping of agency. It automatically assumes ‘conservative policy’ to be a white thing. As if we should be surprised that ‘brown people’ might be conservatives too, coming to the conclusions they come to, all by themselves. What a wonder!

Spooner’s narrative – like CJ’s – is simple. First it was necessary to paint this new enemy – ‘New Atheists’ – as white supremacist, imperialist, Western colonialists simply for their often outspoken criticisms of Islamic dogma and the practical implications of that dogma. When it then becomes clear that critics of that kind are not all so simply boxed in as bigoted white men, and when in fact it includes liberal Muslims as well as atheists, well now they have a problem. They suddenly need to keep the absurd narrative alive, whilst also dealing with those who don’t fit it…. and thus racism is the only answer.

True liberals do not judge an argument by the skin tone, the sexuality, the gender, the belief of the one making the argument. We would consider it an absurdity to judge an argument based on the eye colour, or length of hair, or density of freckles on the arms of the one making the point, the same is true for any other human trait that does not correspond at all to the argument being made. We judge it on its merits, we encourage open debate on the topic, we support the right of all to come to their own conclusions, to inquire, to express, and to cultivate an individual perspective on the World free from the judging chains of racism, of sexism, of homophobia, or bigotry. These are values we expect to be granted to all, and we do not compromise on that, we do not let ideas off the hook regardless of where they come from, if those ideas are the complete opposite to our values. We do not sacrifice those values at the alter of cultural or religious relativism.

I’ve said it a million times before, because I am convinced that the narrative of the regressive left abandons those principles of liberalism and that it requires the embracing of racism, like humanity requires oxygen, in order to survive.


The Rise of the Regressives.

December 31, 2015

If there is one thing we political bloggers can say is true of this year, it is that 2015 was the year the regressives took centre stage and let us all know that they’re here to confuse liberal principles, to distort, and to manipulate for some time to come.

Back in March Max Blumenthal wrote a largely discredited piece filled with distortions about the life of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Take for example this paragraph:

“In Heretic, a polemic recycling many of her past arguments against Islam, she calls for the emergence of a Muslim Martin Luther — the authoritarian 16th-century zealot who called for burning down the synagogues of Jews, whom he compared to a gangrenous disease.”

– We might here be tempted to play the illiberal ‘liberal’ game, and refer to Blumenthal as Lutheranophobic for his critique of Martin Luther. But putting aside the silly tactics that those seeking to silence critique of Islam play, you’ll perhaps note here the big manipulation in the paragraph. Hirsi Ali is not at all suggesting that Islam needs a Medieval authoritarian willing to burn down Jewish temples. Hamas already exists. Blumenthal purposely recast the point to focus on Luther’s character, when in fact, Hirsi Ali is actually suggesting that Islam needs a reformation, that opens it up far more to individual critique, that it is too dogmatic as it is, too unable to progress with the rest of the World. A critique that is either disliked, discouraged, or punished in much of the Islamic World, and dismissed as ‘Islamophobia’ in the Western World. The character of Martin Luther is irrelevant to that discussion.

A few months later, after his absurd article was dismissed for the distorted nonsense that it was, Blumenthal decided to try the same tactic again:

Blumenthal1
Of course, this is not what Ayaan did at all. She critical of the patriarchal symbolism, and the reality facing millions of people across the World because of that symbol. Blumenthal – like all illiberals, happily abandons those fighting to break down oppressive barriers, to carry on his angry grudge against something he and the regressives hate the most; a woman, a woman of colour, a woman of colour who happens to come from a very conservative Islamic background and is an outspoken critic. He cannot help himself. But it’s not even subtle manipulations, and so it’s easily discredited.

Back in June, Nathan Lean – now with Tell MAMA – criticised a book by Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris, in exceptionally racist tones:

lean2
Whilst the rest of us see a collaboration between Nawaz and Harris as two people having a conversation and sharing thoughts, Lean sees the book as a white supremacist, and his non-white ‘validator‘. Note the set-up is that the white man, is the one leading, thus denying the brown-skinned Muslim man an independent thought. Why not argue that Sam Harris is the ‘validator‘ to Maajid Nawaz? This is the racism inherent to trying to silence criticism of one idea, by falsely linking criticism to ethnicity, and then desperately clinging to it when it’s quite clearly false. You end up boxing thoughts and ideas into very specific groups by skin tone, and then you have to try to justify it when it’s clear that it isn’t true. Which of course, makes your case even worse.

Speaking of those seeking to dismiss the thoughts of all those who aren’t white, CJ Werleman took to social media yesterday, to accuse a 7 year old Richard Dawkins of  loving”colonialism“:

Werleman1
To the average reader, Richard Dawkins is actually remembering how happy he was as a child. I was pretty happy as a child too, despite the war in the Falklands. To CJ Werleman, 7 year old Dawkins was actually a young white supremacist, expressing his delight at colonialism.

This bizarre attack from Werleman comes a few days after his usual racist bigotry, in which he strips anyone who isn’t white and doesn’t fit into his neat little white-supremacist narrative, of their ability to think for themselves. Of Canadian writer and physician Ali Rizvi – an incredibly intelligent man with a Masters Degree in BioChemistry – Werleman quite hideously wrote:

Werleman2
Take that in for a second. If you do not fit into CJ Werleman’s regressive narrative, if you are not white and you are critical of illiberal religious practices and ideas, Werleman will strip you of your individual faculties, your intellectual achievements, and dismiss you as a “white masked water carrier for empire“. It couldn’t be more racist if it tried.

Beyond racism and anger at a 7 year old, Werleman then jumped on an unsubstantiated allegation that Ex-Muslims of North America were encouraged not to criticise Sam Harris after he donated to them. EMNA completely deny the allegation, but Werleman treated it as if absolute fact. He responded:

Werleman3

Quite. Which is why it’s perhaps important to remember that CJ Werleman currently writes for ‘Middle East Eye’. According to Company Check, the sole director of M.E.E LTD is Jamal Bessasso. I might be incorrect here, but it would seem that Bessasso is the same Bessasso who is the former director of Samalink TV, which happens to be the  registered agent for Hamas’ Al Quds TV’s website. Feel free to search how many times Werleman is critical of Israel, and how many times he’s critical of Hamas. The imbalance might force you to agree with his statement that you lose ‘agency‘ when you work for an ‘agent‘. Werleman at this point, disagrees with himself:

Werleman4He has ‘no idea‘ that the named sole director might have links to Al Quds TV. So to summarise, Ali Rizvi loses his agency to whomever he writes for. Werleman – the white man in this – doesn’t. But it’s the ‘New Atheists‘ who are racists. Of course.

Werleman isn’t the only one. Glenn Greenwald has become so regressive in 2015, there is a striking new verb making its way into 2016:

Greenwald1

Greenwald wasted no time …… Greenwalding ….. Richard Dawkins in the past few days. You see, Richard Dawkins attended the Royal Society meeting launching a brand new Stephen Hawking Prize for Science Communication. At that meeting, Dawkins agreed to leave the conference, to answer questions on the prize, on condition that it wouldn’t be questions on religion. Immediately, a journalist from the New Statesman began questioning him on religion. Dawkins left the questioning after the journalist admitted to believing in flying horses. A journalist trying to question a scientist, at a science event, after agreeing to talk about science, hitting with questions on religion. I would have ended the questioning too. It wasn’t the purpose of the questioning or the conference. Of course, this was the perfect opportunity for Greenwald to completely invent what actually happened:

Greenwald2
A wonderful manipulation. The top tweet implies that Richard Dawkins has ‘announced‘ that all Muslim journalists are banned from interviewing him. Interestingly, Greenwald didn’t seem too concerned when Richard Dawkins did announce that he would no longer debate young earth creationists. I guess that’s just fine.

The bottom tweet implies that Richard Dawkins ‘terminated‘ an interview ‘on the grounds someone‘ was a Muslim. If that Muslim journalist was asking about the prize they were there to actually discuss, I’m quite certain that Richard Dawkins would not have refused to answer. Both times, Greenwald has knowingly distorted the facts for the sake of his own, massively manipulative narrative.

Ryan Kearney, lowered the intellectual tone of the New Republic by sharing Greenwald’s criticisms and ALMOST coming to the fact of the matter itself:

“I happen to share Dawkins’s opinion of religion generally, and of winged horses specifically. What’s truly pathetic, though, is his excuse for walking out on Ahmed. Dawkins has debatedcreationists, cardinals, and rabbis, but he refuses to be interviewed by a journalist who also happens to be a devout Muslim?

His reasoning, as has become increasingly true of late, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. After all, Dawkins has submitted to such an interview before, in which the journalist likewise admits to believing that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse.”

Leaving aside that Dawkins no longer debates creationists (something Kearney fails to mention), he didn’t ‘refuse‘ to be interviewed. He simply wasn’t there to discuss religion. I’m not open to discussing religion when I’m in a supermarket buying my weekly shop, it doesn’t mean I hate Muslims. The implication that Kearney tries to draw is bizarre, given that he then goes on to accept that Dawkins does debate Muslims, when he debated Mehdi Hasan. On a side note, Hasan once referred to Atheists as a “people of no intelligence“, called us “cattle” and that we live “like animals“. If Dawkins had said that of Muslims, I suspect Kearney and the regressives like him, would have exploded in rage.

If we could say that 2015 was the year we saw the rise of the regressives, one can only hope that as their clear distortions become highlighted more and more, 2016 will witness their fall into irrelevance, leaving the arguments for liberalism to come from the actual liberals.


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