Tell MAMA appoints Nathan Lean to its advisory board…. why?

September 3, 2015

I like Tell MAMA. At times I find it conflates criticism, mockery, or even hate for Islam as doctrines and dogma, with anti-Muslim bigotry, but on the whole Tell Mama is a necessary force for documenting and fighting anti-Muslim bigotry, that is undoubtedly a problem. But it seems their concept of anti-Muslim bigotry differs somewhat from mine, in its recent appointment of Nathan Lean to the Tell MAMA advisory board:
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When the late Christopher Hitchens released his book ‘Missionary Position‘ exposing the abuses of power of the much loved Mother Theresa, there was silence from the New Illiberals. No cries of Catholicophobia. No pronouncements on the offensive nature of the title of the book. Nothing. By contrast, when the late Christopher Hitchens released his book ‘God is not great‘ – a play on the chant ‘God is great‘ by Muslims – the New Illiberals lost control.

Back in 2013 Nathan Lean published an article called ‘Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens: New Atheists flirt with Islamophobia’. In it, Lean says:

“Until 9/11, Islam didn’t figure in the New Atheists’ attacks in a prominent way. As a phenomenon with its roots in Europe, atheism has traditionally been the archenemy of Christianity, though Jews and Judaism have also slipped into the mix. But emboldened by their newfound fervor in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the New Atheists joined a growing chorus of Muslim-haters, mixing their abhorrence of religion in general with a specific distaste for Islam (In 2009, Hitchens published a book called “God Is Not Great,” a direct smack at Muslims who commonly recite the Arabic refrain Allah Akbar, meaning “God is great”).”

– A quite bizarre link, given that ‘God is not great‘ does not focus ‘specifically‘ on Islam at all. That’s simply the title of the book. Even more bizarre, given that ‘God is not great‘ as a title is not anti-Muslim hate, as the paragraph implies, but satire. And the last of the bizarre reasoning from Lean is evident in the fact that Sam Harris released a book with a ‘specific distaste‘ for Christianity rather than Islam in his 2006 book ‘Letter To A Christian Nation‘. What Lean means is, a few people have actually mentioned Islam several times, and he doesn’t like that. Even when it comes from Muslims themselves, as we’ll see shortly.

The point I’m trying to make – as I’ve made several times over – is that Nathan Lean, CJ Werleman, Reza Aslan, and other New Illiberals are less interested in tackling anti-Muslim bigotry, and instead obsessed with attacking what they see as white, imperialist, ‘New Atheists‘ criticising or satirising Islam in any way whatsoever. This obsession and given that the narrative they convey is so very flawed, then ironically tends to manifest itself in anti-Muslim bigotry, and racism.

Earlier this year, Nathan Lean decided that a book he hadn’t read, critical of conservative Islamic principles and Islamism, could only be penned by a white man (who just so happens to be one of the ‘New Atheist‘ sect that Lean is obsessed with), and – quite tellingly – his ‘Muslim validator‘:

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– The anti-Muslim, racist bigotry is evident. Firstly, criticism of Islam is given a skin tone, which naturally leads to problems when we consider non-white atheists equally critical of Islam. CJ Werleman faces that same problem in his recent rants. For Lean, it is assumed that ‘white‘ Sam Harris takes the lead, with Maajid Nawaz simply there to ‘validate‘ Sam’s criticisms. The depth that Maajid goes into in the book, and his thoughts and reasoning is completely dismissed. A dismissal, incidentally, not shared by Lean’s new colleague on Tell MAMA’s advisory board, Mohammed Amin:

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– In fact, Amin actually reviewed the book that Lean hadn’t read, and quite positively concluded:

“The issues discussed are also very important for Muslims living as minorities who see their children being attracted by the bloodthirsty nihilistic fantasies cloaked in Islamic language promoted by organisations such as the so-called “Islamic State”. Maajid Nawaz has been thinking about these matters for many years, and this book offers an excellent insight into what he has learned.”

– So, one of Tell MAMA’s new advisory board members, is convinced brown Muslims critical of aspects of Islam are simply ‘validators’, whilst the other offers an indepth analysis of the book, and is generally supportive of liberal Muslims. When Lean was taken to task for his clear bigotry, he played the same game, this time reducing Maajid down to a ‘lap dog‘ in the game played by white ‘New Atheists‘:

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– Note the absurd, and irrational anger aimed at ‘New Atheist‘ Sam Harris in the first instance. This is why I believe the New Illiberals have very little interest in fighting anti-Muslim bigotry, a form of bigotry that they instead use to relentlessly attack ‘New Atheists‘. We can see it here. Whilst Amin calls the dialogue ‘very important‘, Lean calls it ‘smug‘ to actually publish a dialogue in the first place; something people have been doing for centuries. How smug Plato and Socrates must have been. How smug it is to publish the words of the Prophet Muhammad. How smug it is to publish interviews on TV shows, podcasts, and in magazines and newspapers. Incidentally, here is a published conversation that Nathan Lean had with Muscat Daily.

Lean then goes on to call Maajid a ‘lap dog‘ for Sam Harris. Again, Maajid’s contribution to the book is entirely dismissed, with Maajid dehumanised. Indeed, for Lean, Maajid’s expertise is irrelevant. The white man is the one leading, the brown Muslim man is assumed to play an inferior role in the set up, thus denying Maajid his own free faculties, simply because Maajid is a Muslim man who doesn’t fit into Nathan Lean’s neat little box of angry, oppressed Muslim. The problem for Lean and others like him, is that they assume that Muslims are one homogeneous group, with one thought process, and any deviation from an expected course created by the New Illiberals, any suggestion that perhaps Islam requires reform at any level whatsoever, must only be the result of an individual Muslim having become the pawn of white supremacist New Atheists. Essentially, Lean and others like him have created a “Muslim” box, Maajid escaped, and Lean is shouting “get back in your box!” It is a thoroughly bigoted narrative, it dehumanises not only Maajid, but other liberal Muslims fighting the same illiberal, conservative Islamic principles whom we should all be supporting. It works to not only silence non-Muslim critics of Islam (which, contrary to Lean’s absurd implication, is perfectly reasonable, given that non-conservatives criticise conservatism, and non-socialists criticise socialism, and non-Monarchists criticise Monarchism etc), but crucially it also implies that liberal, secular Muslims are somehow being mislead from their perfectly crafted box, and so strips that individual Muslim of his or her critical faculties. For Nathan Lean and others like him, those Muslims are the wrong type of Muslim. It is a betrayal of liberty.

I would consider Lean’s dismissal of Maajid’s views, and his quickness to portray liberal Muslims as ‘lap dogs‘ for white atheists, as a form of anti-Muslim bigotry. And so I would be interested to know how Tell MAMA reconciles Nathan Lean’s views, with Tell MAMA’s principles, and the polar opposite views of other board members.


The hysteria of the Labour Leadership.

August 21, 2015

The Labour leadership contest has descended into a playground argument. All sides of this drawn out election battle are one step away from a full of fist fight, and blaming the other for starting it. The Tory Party must be sitting back with glee, recalling their similar breakdown in 1997.

On the one side, if you scrutinise Corbyn’s clear excuses for religious fascists, you’re referred to as ‘tabloid journalism‘ by Corbyn. Indeed, If you dare to criticise Hamas to a Corbyn supporter, be prepared to be told you’re an evil war mongering Zionist. Here:

zionist
– One has to wonder what it is these people consider “social justice” when they read Hamas’ Theocratic charter.

But you would be forgiven for thinking after all the protestations of Corbyn’s supporters using abusive “You’re a Tory!” language directed at the the Cooper, Burnham, and Kendall camps, that they weren’t playing the exact same game of child-like abuse themselves, just a little more subtle. Take these two headlines from The Guardian recently:

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– The hypocrisy is clear. Burnham finds it unacceptable to be labelled a Tory (meaning not true Labour) whilst insisting that a vote for the other guy is a vote to turn Labour into a ‘Party of protest‘ (which I’d presume he believes is also… not true Labour). Dan Hodges of The Telegraph similarly is unhappy with ‘personal abuse‘ whilst at the same time referring to new members as ‘rent-a-Trot‘:
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– We shouldn’t be all that surprised, from a commentator of a newspaper that today ran with this corker:
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Back to Burnham. I take issue with this ‘Party of protest‘ line. If you’re complaining about being labelled ‘Tory‘ whilst dismissing my beliefs as nothing more than ‘party of protest‘… you’re a bit of a whining hypocrite. The ‘party of protest‘ line is based on the presumption that you win an election from the centre, but it seems to me that the centre moves based on the narrative of the victorious party, and so the job of the opposition must be to reframe the narrative, thus shifting the centre on their terms. The Tories have moved as far to the right as permitted by their five years of rhetoric aimed at dehumanising all those who inevitably suffer from the subsequent policies, and they’ve become electable from that position. This isn’t winning from the centre, it’s winning from the right. You may recall a few years back that when Mick Philpott murdered his children in a house fire, George Osborne – the Chancellor of the UK – used it as a reason to take to the airwaves to bemoan welfare. Less than six months later, Labour – instead of ceaselessly pointing out just how utterly hideous this tactic was – chose to chase the Tories on this portrayal of welfare, with shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves insisting that Labour ‘would be tougher‘ on welfare, than the Tories. Recently, Andy Burnham referred to the proposed mansion tax using that trusty Tory phrase: “the politics of envy“. Labour are chasing the Tories to the right, by playing to a Tory narrative & using Tory rhetoric in the hope that it might win back Tory voters. They don’t seem to be able to shape political discourse, or understand what it is they actually believe. The implication from that weak position, is that the Tories are right, and Labour are trying hard not to say it, whilst thinking it. To charge that the choice is either austerity or ‘unelectable party of protest‘ is a worrying development for the Labour Party. It is designed to shut out dissenting voices.
Earlier this year, Liz Kendall refused to condemn massive cuts planned by the Conservatives, with Yvette Cooper responding by insisting – and reflecting comments by Corbyn supporters that Kendall is some sort of closet Tory – that some of her colleagues were “swallowing the Tory manifesto“. Kendall said:

“The only thing I’ve swallowed is the sheer scale of defeat that we faced at the election and the huge changes we need to win again. People didn’t trust us with their money and the economy.”

– This is a convenient way to frame the debate in her favour, but it’s not entirely true. Labour were neck and neck with the Tories in the polls, just five years after leaving government in the midst of a massive economic crisis. Five years later, and after constant attacks on the most vulnerable, blaming the concept of welfare for child murders, TV show after TV show – like ‘Benefits Street‘ – aimed at dehumanising those struggling, and a Chancellor telling us to take it easy on bankers (the ones who caused the crisis). We were subjected to millionaires on TV telling us how a mansion tax would harm them, whilst hearing almost no stories of how the bedroom tax and the increased need for food banks was harming those who aren’t millionaires. At this stage, the Labour Party were neck and neck, with Miliband the clear favourite to be the next PM. That’s a massive achievement. In the final two weeks, the tide was turning – i’d argue – due largely to fear of the SNP. A good family friend who never votes Tory, did so in 2015 because he told us he feared for the country with an SNP partner in government. Negative Tory campaigning whipping up English nationalism, a press convinced that the Earth would collapse with an SNP partner in government, and a Miliband camp that had no idea how to counter this new widespread fear, was enough for the Labour campaign to collapse.

So, Corbyn fans referring to opponents as Zionists, Cooper insisting that Kendall swallowed the Tory manifesto, Burnham tantruming at being labelled Tory whilst insulting those on the left as nothing more than ‘protesters‘. Let’s also not forget that Kendall is no stranger to refusing to actually focus on substance, instead using subtle, fanciful phrases to insult her rival:
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– This hysteria was then backed by a name from the past. David Miliband has spent more time criticising Jeremy Corbyn, then he’s spent opposing any Tory policy of the past five years. He is convinced that until the sun burns out in a few billion years time, we are going to have a perpetual Tory government, because only a shift to the right – which won an election on a ‘massive‘ 35% of a 60% turnout in 2005 – is ‘credible‘:

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– It is as if we’re taking lessons on mass hysteria from the US Tea Party movement convinced in 2008 that a vote for Obama was a vote for a Communist takeover.

It is frustrating on so many levels. I don’t have a preferred candidate, I quite like parts of each of their platforms, and thoroughly dislike others. As a Labour voter, I do not have any faith in any of the candidates, that they can win in 2020.


Dear Mr Corbyn… You demanded that we should “respect” religions. Here’s why you’re wrong:

August 17, 2015

Dear Mr Corbyn,

Firstly, I think I should lay out my beliefs; I quite like those who satirise ideological frameworks of power. Whether it be Charlie Hebdo with a picture of Muhammad, or Monty Python with ‘The Life of Brian‘ or Have I Got News For You satirising modern politics… I think one of the main weapons against ideas becoming far too powerful and having too much of a say over the lives of others, is our right to laugh at it as an illiberal concept, especially if in countries that don’t have the benefit of protection for free expression, it is considered a punishable offence to do so. In fact, I’m quite certain that those seeking to protect Islam from satire, are the ones who perpetuate its status as a taboo concept that is somehow different, which in turn, empowers those who use it to harm others. That’s where I stand, but I’m a little concerned that you don’t agree.

Back in 2006, you joined a 5000 strong crowd gathered at Trafalgar Square to protest the publishing of cartoons that satirised Muhammad by Danish publication Jyllands-Posten. The event – called ‘United Against Incitement and Islamophobia‘ – was organised by The Muslim Council of Britain, who, as i’m sure you’re aware, are themselves are no strangers to ‘inciting‘ bigotry, when they opposed the repeal of Section 28 on the grounds that:

“…homosexual practice as equivalent to marriage or in a morally neutral way is deeply offensive to Muslims”

– At the event organised by a religious group who do not simply hold their faith to be inner, spiritual, a personal guide, but also containing a political element (which, as I’ll go on to point out, opens it up even more to free expression given that it is a power structure), placards insisted that to satirise that particular power structure and its figurehead is to be “Islamophobic“. At that rally, you said:

“We demand that people show respect for each other’s community, each other’s faith and each other’s religion.”

– I wondered if you still believe that religions are inherently respectable? Because I don’t. And here’s why:

For me, religion is simply a grouping of the outcome of moral debates from an era that pre-dates science. It is the anchoring of morality to a specific time and place, and so it is often very misogynistic having grown up in patriarchal societies, it is often very homophobic, it builds and maintains power by threatening non-believers with unseen damnation, and it often permits power over other people. Christianity does this, Judaism does this, Islam does this. All three have control over the lives of others, all across the World. Human beings are threatened if they question it. Others killed for leaving it. I wonder then, what is it about religion, that you think should be inherently respected?

It seems to me that if satirising a religion, its figurehead (for whom believers try best to emulate, and use his sayings to judge others), or its dogmas can lead in any way to you being murdered for doing so, to bloggers in Bangladesh being cut to pieces, to Raif Badawi tied to a wooden post in Saudi Arabia and whipped, to the murders of cartoonists in Paris, to Salman Rushdie having to go into hiding for writing a book, then that religion, its figurehead, and its dogma are a system of power that must be criticised, ridiculed, and satirised at every possible opportunity in order to strip it of its perceived superiority (this is not to be confused with anti-Muslim hate, or calls to disenfranchise & dehumanise individual Muslims, which is entirely different and of course must be opposed). Would you not agree? If not, why not?

It is clear to me that in countries in which Islam is institutionally enshrined, free expression and inquiry is suppressed violently. I was recently asked by a gentleman in Tunisia, why it is I wasn’t Muslim (he presumed I was, because I have a spectacular beard… seriously, you should see it). I quickly remembered that it is illegal to proselytize Muslims. If I had explained why I didn’t believe in a God, I could potentially be breaking the law. My liberty as an adult to speak my mind, and the gentleman’s liberty to hear other ideas, are both caged by religious supremacists. To me, this is a sign of great weakness and insecurity, if you must silence others to preserve your perceived right to keep them caged. Indeed, if 99 people out of 100 believe one thing to be true, they have absolutely no inherent right to persecute the 1 remaining dissenting voice. We must support that 1 remaining voice to be free to be heard. The 99 do not have a monopoly on expression. Nevertheless, and more worryingly, it is also clear that in democratic countries, free expression and inquiry is suppressed psychologically. The motives are the same; the preservative of the perceived relevance of that particular power structure, in a World that has discovered empowering individuals. In her book ‘Allah, Liberty, and Love‘ Irshad Manji recalls messages she receives from young Muslims from across the World, scared to express themselves through fear of upsetting their conservative Muslim families who place group-identity above individual rights of expression. I would argue that you empower those same illiberal, conservative people and their delusions of superiority and perceived right of control over others, when we insist that Islam is off-limits to forms of criticism – like satire – that all other ideas are open to. Indeed, by doing so, we create a taboo out of that one religion, further empowering those who believe that breaking that taboo should be punishable. In reality, it isn’t a taboo, it is an exercise in free expression. How do you propose we empower individuals who do feel their voices are caged by imposed conservative dogmas, if you condemn all those who do criticise religious structures that you believe must be “respected“? By claiming that they must be “respected” you immediately cast those dissenting voices as undesirable, or bigoted, or negative, because they’re – by definition – doing something that you don’t consider “respectable“.

And finally, would you not agree that the freedom to believe and express that non-believers are destined an eternity of violent torture in hell – alongside our apostate and LGBT friends – or left-leaning Mehdi Hasan’s belief that we non-believers live “like animals“, is my freedom to openly mock that ridiculous (and frankly, offensive) belief? Would you not accept that if a religion impacts upon the lives of anyone but the individual believer, if it criticises the beliefs and lifestyles of others, it instantly becomes a system of power that requires all the scrutiny and criticism, especially from those who would – and do – ultimately suffer if it were to have state power? Why would you ‘demand‘ those of us who absolutely do find religion to be fundamentally offensive, and who are told we will be tortured for non-belief, as well as critics threatened across World for ‘offending‘ those beliefs that we must simply ‘respect‘ those religions? I am quite certain that you find certain ideologies offensive, are you obliged to respect them Mr Corbyn? Do you ‘respect‘ fascism? Do you ‘respect‘ Soviet Communism? Is this different because they don’t begin their oppressive words & dogmas with “God says…“? I would argue that you are confusing respect for the right to believe as one choices according to one’s conscience, with respect for the belief itself. The former must be defended by anyone who wishes the same right for themselves, the latter is not inherently respectable, if an individual simply doesn’t. As a liberal, you should know that. If you are not confusing those two, and you genuinely do believe we should all inherently “respect” religion… we should all be concerned if you ever became Prime Minister.

Sorry Mr Corbyn, but you do not get to claim to be liberal, to be fighting for human and civil rights, free from oppression, if you believe some structures of power are off-limits, and should be inherently “respected“. Especially if you do this, whilst offering words of support to groups – like Hamas (whose shockingly illiberal ideas you referred to as “dedicated to social justice“) – that seek Theocratic control across an entire region. If criticising or mocking an illiberal power structure can cause such uproar (including death) as it did in 2006, whilst maintaining its violent control in states that enshrine it, why would you join that uproar, give credit to that uproar and the perpetuation of the oppressive notion in those states that it is ethically wrong to satirise that illiberal idea, rather than defend and promote basic liberal values like the right to express ideas that ‘offend‘ that power structure?

Kind regards,

Jamie.

PS:
I notice that you weren’t present when Christian supremacists ‘Christian Voice‘ were busy picketing “Jerry Springer the Musical” for satirising their religion and prophet. Why is that?


‘Christian Voice’ and Liz Kendall.

August 15, 2015

Stephen Green, the national director of Christian lobby group ‘Christian Voice‘ is a controversial figure. He has in the past supported the death penalty for homosexuality, lending his voice to the hideous Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill. His ex-wife accused him of domestic abuse. His group believes marital rape is simply not a thing, and they equate abortion to the holocaust. Green has attempted in the past to pursue private prosecution against General of the BBC Mark Thompson for blasphemy, and in 2005 they threatened to picket cancer charity, Maggie’s Centres if the Centres accepted a donation from ‘Jerry Springer The Opera’. Maggie’s Centres – who offer palliative care to cancer sufferers thus felt they had to decline a £3,000 donation.

In 2010, Christian Voice threw its support behind the ‘Westminster Declaration of Faith‘ initially drafted by the Christian Medical Fellowship and signed by a number of people, including a number of MPs and candidates. Along with the absurd fundamentalist positions of Christian Voice, the CMF on their website wrongly describe marriage as:

“Stable marriages and families headed by a mother and a father are the bedrock of society and the state has a duty to protect the uniqueness of these key institutions. There is considerable evidence (2) to show that marriage leads to better family relationships, less economic dependence, better physical health and longevity, improved mental health and emotional well-being, and reduced crime and domestic violence. Same-sex marriage, in comparison with marriage, is an unproven and experimental social model.”

– Wrong, because almost all studies show children of same-sex parents are not in any way held back by the sexuality of their parents. But let’s not allow facts to get in the way of a good supremacist narrative.

Back to Christian Voice. They posted the entire declaration on their website. One of the points of The Declaration states:

“We pledge to support marriage, the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. We believe it is divinely ordained, the only context for sexual intercourse, and the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all. We call on government to honour, promote and protect marriage and we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage. We commit ourselves to continue affirming what we believe as Christians about sexual morality, marriage, and the family.”

– The distinctly homophobic organisers of The Declaration apparently took it to Parliamentary candidates with a watered-down, slightly more secular and palatable version. Christian Voice attached it to the entire declaration. It states:

“The Westminster 2010 organisers say: ‘We did not ask candidates to sign the Westminster declaration itself, but only to make the pledge to “…respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience”. ‘
Their website lists those candidates who made that pledge. Christian Voice has extracted the successful candidates who signed, and also those who refused. It is shocking that so few MP’s – just 57 – could bring themselves to promise to maintain Christian liberties, and that 16 – real enemies of the Gospel – went out of their way to refuse to sign.”

– One of those 57 MPs – according to Christian Voice (and Christian Today) – was Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall. But here’s the thing…. It turns out since researching this a little deeper, Kendall didn’t sign the declaration at all. That’s not to say that a number of MPs didn’t sign it, because they did, and to be clear; whilst the MPs were not given the full declaration, only a slightly more secular, palatable version, I would still argue that it represents a massive lapse in judgement for Parliamentary candidates to sign any old declaration without first checking who it is they’re signing for. For example, if we didn’t know who the National Front are, it would be hugely contentious for MPs to sign a declaration – regardless of how watered-down that declaration was – that is written, and promoted by racial supremacists, and so equally it must be considered contentious to throw any words of support behind religious supremacists. At the most it represents a worrying set of beliefs for a candidate, and the very least it represents a huge lapse in judgement.

Yesterday I linked to the Christian Voice page that features her name, and asked Liz Kendall’s social media team to clarify her position (and here’s a mistake that I should admit; I thought she had signed it, due entirely to Christian Voice’s website). I got this response:

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– Confused, I figured the only two options were that Kendall did sign the watered down version, and just didn’t know who it was for, or that Christian Voice were lying. Though I don’t trust much a politician will say, I trust Christian Voice even less, and so I checked.

Two points stuck out; firstly Liz Kendall has consistently voted for LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage and challenged anti-abortion bills that used contentious phrases like “the unborn child“. Liz Kendall is no Christian fundamentalist, and has voted for measures that remove religious privileges from state matters. It would be a little bizarre if she suddenly rushed to sign a document created by religious supremacists. And secondly, and most importantly…. it seems her name doesn’t actually appear on the list at all, and some of us – including me – were duped by Christian Voice.

I worked my way through 28 pages of names on the list from the official website of ‘The Westminster Declaration‘ and there was just one mention of Liz. But that’d be ‘Lizzie Kendal‘, not Liz Kendall:

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– And so it would seem that Christian Voice saw that entirely different name, decided it was Liz Kendall MP, and put her on a list featuring 56 other names they may have picked out in much the same dishonest fashion. Interestingly, they also have Lib Dem leader Tim Farron’s name on their list, and yet when I search the official website, his name doesn’t appear at all, not even with a slightly different spelling.

Whilst she may not be my preferred candidate for Labour leader, Liz Kendall has rightly voted to remove barriers to same-sex rights, and opposing pro-life rhetoric, thus breaking down walls to liberty imposed by the very religious fundamentalists who now use her name to further their cause. Most importantly; she is not on their list of signatories. And when it comes to Christian Voice; it is perhaps best that we question absolutely everything that awful, supremacist group, and their hideous leader says at all times.


Khirbet Susiya: A tale of disenfranchising, dispossessing, and dehumanising.

August 14, 2015

Susiya

Area C of the West Bank makes up about 60% of the West Bank. Prior to 1971, Jordanian Planning Law applied to the region, giving local planning committees (communities in the area) the ability to zone and plan. District Committees could approve community plans and were represented by people from surrounding communities, offering appeals for any grievances. In 1971, a number of provisions were abolished including the two above. And so now, to build on the land in Area C requires permission from Israeli Civil Administration, which has absolutely no Palestinian representation. According to a UN report in 2009:

“Palestinian construction is effectively prohibited in some 70 percent of Area C, while in the remaining 30 percent, a range of restrictions virtually eliminate the possibility of obtaining a building permit.”

– As a consequence of a vastly discriminatory policy toward settlement building (Israeli settlements – according to the UN report – by contrast, include settlers in the planning and zoning process), and the inability in law for local communities to have any input into planning and zoning, Palestinians in Area C are forced into creating tiny villages, without basic human requirements, that Israel – having completely abandoned its responsibility toward the welfare of all who live in Area C – considers ‘illegal’ (it’s easy to refer to people as ‘illegal’ when you’ve taken away their right to have any say over the process of planning). Thus villages like Khirbet Susiya.

The EU, the UK, the US, Palestinians, Rabbis For Human Rights, and Israeli activists are united in the fight to save the tiny Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya in the occupied territories from being demolished by Israeli authorities. It is a village of around 300 Palestinian people, next to an Israeli settlement and an archaeological site, both of which were inhabited by Palestinians prior to a string of evictions and the building of Israeli settlements & sites. Whilst most of the World notes how one-sided & discriminatory the settlement building project is in the West Bank, the Israeli right wing – in all its desperation – has decided upon a quite bizarre claim in order to justify the demolition of the village. Nadav Abramov- manages the declared national heritage site at the ancient Jewish village Susya – says:

“…there is no village here. This is a hamula, a family (of Arabs) that arrived 20 years ago from (the nearby town of) Yatta; they settled on agricultural land upon which building is forbidden, including the archaeological site of Susya, they built tents and tin shacks all while illegally squatting.”

– This is a lovely little victim blaming narrative, but it lacks that important element of basic truth. Take for example the quickness to claim Susya as an archaeological site. This is true, but it was declared an archaeological site after Palestinians living on it were expelled from it in the 1980s, from there they were moved to a nearby village, in 2001 they were expelled again, and from there they moved where they are now. Their threat of eviction is due entirely to the discriminatory planning laws. According to al-monitor, a 70 year old villager named ‘Muhammad Nawajeh’ has been forceably moved on from his home in Tel Arad in the 1950s, and then from his home in Susiya, and now from his home in Khirbet Susiya. He isn’t a man trying his best to undermine the state of Israel, he isn’t an Iranian general who thinks Israel should be wiped off the map, or Hamas dedicated to a Theocratic hellhole. He is a man who has lived his entire life under the threat of eviction simply for existing in an area of the World dominated by the political ambitions of religious fanatics.

Then take the claim that the village never existed. Again, false. British Mandatory maps from 1885 through to 1940 show the village, with a 1982 legal opinion by Plea Albeck acknowledging that:

“The synagogue is located in an area known as the lands of Khirbet Susiya, surrounded by an Arab village, which is situated among ancient ruins. The lands of Khirbet Susiya are registered with the Israel Land Authority (ILA) as territory spanning 3,000 dunams and privately owned by numerous Arabs.”

– Whilst Israel’s right wing insist the village was built illegally (a word that the UN General Assembly, the UNSC, & the ICJ use to describe Israel’s continued settlement building projects in the area) Israeli planning laws are so vastly discriminatory in the region, that make it easy for Israeli settlements to expand and prosper (a key block to any peace negotiation) whilst making it practically impossible for Palestinian people to gain permission to live on land that they should never have been removed from in the first place.

The World Bank in a report in 2008 noted that harsh one-sided controls over planning and zoning in Area C – which has a knock-on effect for Palestinian communities across the West Bank, given its agricultural significance – mean that Israeli policy in the area:

“… “has become an increasingly severe constraint to [Palestinian] economic activity.”

– The World Bank continues:

“Using the powers of the 1967 Military Order that requires permits for all water structures, Israel monitors and intervenes to control all water related activities in Area C. There has also been use of military control in Area C to enforce Israeli authority over water resources … Even rainwater harvesting cisterns have been destroyed by the IDF.”

– Israel has a responsibility to the people in territory that it occupies, to ensure their needs are met, and the communities can thrive. It must not discriminate or privilege its own people. At the moment, it is still breaking that responsibility. In 1995, the Interim Agreement describes Area C as:

“…areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B, which, except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with this Agreement.”

– And whilst the Interim Agreement clearly implied gradual transfer of power from the Israeli Civil Administration to the Palestinian Authority to be completed by 1999, today Palestinians still have absolutely no role in planning and zoning in the region. And so, with no control, and discriminatory policy by the ICA, Palestinians build “illegally” on land that was either theirs originally, or that they’ve been disenfranchised from having any say over by an occupying force, with the threat of demolition and displacement looming daily. This is the case with Khirbet Susiya. The cruel evictions of people who are not a threat, they are not Hamas, people who have already been evicted and replaced by Israeli settlers & sites whilst their own needs haven’t been met by the occupying force, has angered communities across the World, that it is now being met with manipulative narratives from the Israeli right wing. That the Israeli right wing does not get to rewrite the history of powerless Palestinian communities, is an important acknowledgement to make if a peaceful future for the region is ever to be achieved.

Khirbet Susiya must be protected, it must be given the opportunity to thrive; linked up to water and power supplies, the people’s right to health and education in an occupied region must be guaranteed by the occupying force, but most of all, its people must be given key input into its continued growth. Privileging your own citizens in occupied territory whilst sisenfranchising, dispossessing, and dehumanising others is not a policy upon which peaceful relations and any future permanent deal can be achieved. They have suffered for long enough.


Romanticising the Caliphate.

July 29, 2015

Let us be clear; a Caliphate is a totalitarian state.
There is no room for nuance there. It is a state run by religious supremacists, privileging one religious sect and its irrational base of law, with the rights of the rest of us decided upon by self appointed ‘scholars‘ of that particular religious sect. From birth, a human being’s liberty is chained completely to the religious belief of others. It is a cage. Those who fight for that state, should not be appeased, or ‘brought to the negotiating table‘, or compared to Mandela (as, bizarrely, Corbyn’s fans are doing with Hamas across social media) by anyone proud to call themselves a liberal. From here on, I will use the term ‘totalitarian state‘ rather than ‘Caliphate‘, because it is right to call it out for what it is.

There appears to me to be a gap in the explanation of what it is driving young people toward Islamism. There are simplistic critics determined to reduce the entire issue down to “Blair did it“. Equally, there are those convinced that all Muslims are violent Jihadists in the making. Both reduce the problem to a narrative that fits their prejudices. Lingering somewhere in between, and not often spoken of, is the romanticising of a totalitarian Islamist state.

CAGE is one of those organisations that promotes itself as a human rights organisation, whilst simultaneously promoting the concept of imposing law derived from a religion. Thus, it becomes spectacularly easy to pick apart CAGE’s self-proclaimed defender of human rights label. This is because Human rights, and a totalitarian state that privileges one sect of one religion, that places religious dogma above reason if reason & science contradict the religion, are of course incompatible. We see across history and across the World today, where religion has a protected and privileged place in law, victims of that religion are abundant. From Christian Uganda, to Islamic Saudi Arabia. So Whether CAGE is treating Emwazi as a victim whilst perpetuating his ideal of a totalitarian state, or if CAGE is unable to answer the very simple – and Theocratic – question of whether stoning adulterers is wrong, CAGE has a consistency problem. Their opposition to the Prime Minister’s speech on extremism shows this inconsistency in quite a spectacular light. In the article, Asim Qureshi writes:

“For David Cameron, the starting point of the War on Terror was 9/11, as if there was a complete vacuum when it came to the West’s relationship with the Muslim world before then.”

– And here is the consistency problem. Whilst Qureshi accuses the Prime Minister of believing history to begin in 2002, Qureshi himself then goes on to say:

“The emergence of groups such as the Islamic State, condemned by Muslim scholars across the globe, are a phenomenon borne of decisions made by governments in 2002, not from ideology.”

– The problem CAGE has, is that it doesn’t consider long held Islamist views to be particularly extreme, or worthy of an effort to eradicate. And not too many ‘Scholars’ that I know of, completely discredit the concept of a totalitarian state. Indeed, Qureshi himself has spoken at events organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir; a vicious Islamist group, who have this little gem of freedom in their draft constitution:

“Those who are guilty of apostasy from Islam are to be executed.”

– CAGE seems to consider challenges to those views – the oppression of the LGBT community, the idea that adulterers should be violently harmed, the state run by Muslim men only, apostates abused – to be, as they claim with Cameron’s speech, “malicious“. A term, by the way, they don’t use at all to describe Mohammed Emwazi, whom they open their victimhood article with:

“Mohammed Emwazi is a British citizen who was subjected to security agency harassment for at least four years.”

– An interesting choice of words, and slightly – only slightly – glossing over the fact that Emwazi was a man responsible for beheading aid workers in Syria. Instead, it’s the Prime Minister who is malicious, for highlighting the poisonous narrative that Emwazi subscribed to.

Contrary to CAGE’s revisionist history that places Islamist groups as the victims, resulting from government policy only, Islamist groups did not suddenly begin life in 2002. They didn’t suddenly decide a totalitarian state was desirable after 2002. Islamism emerged through a complex web of geopolitics, but also dogma. This indeed includes foreign policy, but it also includes lack of openness in conservative Muslim households, it includes restrictions on expression & inquiry in countries that enshrine Islam (too often supported and perpetuated by Western governments), it includes a response to liberal, secular, democracy, and a social framework that grants equality over religious privilege, and empowers people that Islamists would otherwise like to harm. Islamism is the desperate clenching to values that liberal, secular, democracy resists. But it isn’t new. For a quick review:

Taqiuddin al-nabhani founded Hizb ut-Tahrir in 1953 (a group that The Guardian recently gave a sympathetic platform to). He spent his early years studying Sharia, became a Sharia jurist, and went on to envisage a World in which Islam is not simply an inner system of reflection and self improvement, but encompasses the economic and political sphere (in other words, controls other people). The viciously oppressive nature of this romanticised state is reflected in al-Nabhani’s draft constitution:

“Every sane Muslim of legal age, male or female, has the right to elect the Khalifah and to give him the Ba’yah. Non Muslims have no right in this issue.”

“Furthermore, the Khalifah must not appoint any female or non-Muslim governor”

– A state, based on one interpretation of one religion, in which male members of that religion are given state privileges, special rights, and control over the lives of everyone else. al-Nabhani was an Islamist, whose group is an Islamist group, emerging long before 2002.

Ayman al-Zawahiri is currently heading up al-Qaeda. But back in 1994, he was the last emir of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, busy planning to blow up the Khan el-Khalili marketplace in Cairo & the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan on the same day. The plan was later changed, and resulted in the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan alone, killing 20 people and injuring many more. This was an Islamist group, using terror to further their ends. Egyptian Islamic Jihad emerged from a group set up by al-Zawahiri as a teenager, dedicated to:

“…overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamist state.”

– They were more than prepared to use terror to help progress this ideal, long before 2002. My complaint is the same then, as it is now. If you are convinced the current regime is oppressing you, the proper reaction is to promote anti-oppressive ideals; free expression, the right to equal participation in society through free and fair elections, freedom of conscience, free inquiry, the right to your own liberty to pursue your own happiness restricted only when you seek to restrict that same liberty for others. Seeking to overthrow one illiberal regime to replace it with your own, is not freedom fighting.

The intellectual powerhouse that informed al-Zawahiri’s ideal of an Islamist state, was Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was good friends with al-Zawahiri’s uncle Mafouz Azzam. al-Zawahiri was a keen student of Qutb. Qutb penned many works that inspired generations of Islamists, including “Signposts in the Road” and “Milestones”, the latter includes the paragraph:

“This need demands that the law which governs the social affairs of human beings should be in accordance with the general law of the universe; it demands that man submit to God alone, with the rest of the universe, and that no man should claim lordship over others.”

– The irony in this, is of course the idea that whilst ‘no man should claim lordship over others‘ follows a sentence in which Qutb envisages Muslims claiming lordship over every other human being. It is a self deluded claim of superiority of privilege for one faith.

Al-Zawahiri, Sayyid Qutb, al-Nabhani, along with Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, Israr Ahmed,Siraj ul Haq, and a plethora of other names give an abundance of philosophical justifications for a Islamic totalitarian state. Even today, the idea of a totalitarian is romanticised, with some believers not understanding why advocating such a state, might be considered a bit extreme. On the BBC Website, Joy Ahmed from South London says:

“Now they’re telling me about how Sharia law is barbaric. It’s like everyone became professors in Sharia all of a sudden.”
“As Muslims we are under the microscope. Day by day there’s been an alienation of Muslims in the UK over issues like the hijab, halal meat, Muslim men being made out to be radicalised.
“If there was a fully established caliphate it would provide somewhere for Muslims to call their own,”

– How could anyone possibly believe that law derived not from reason, but from the anchoring of morality to 7th Century Arabia to be ‘barbaric‘? Surely not? Sharing this concern, Siema Iqbal writing for The Guardian asks:

“Why anyone would join Isis is beyond my comprehension, so having the ability as a parent to stop my child ever coming to harm would be welcome. But just out of curiosity, if my child’s passport is confiscated, would they then be labelled a “non-violent extremist”…”

– Yes. They absolutely would be considered an extremist. Much like white supremacists seeking to resurrect the Confederacy might be considered extremist. That’s because your child in your scenario is preparing to run to a totalitarian state that throws gay people from buildings and beheads aid workers. Iqbal then says:

“Like others before you, including Tony Blair, you say your objection isn’t to Muslims and Islam but towards violent jihadism. It’s difficult for me to believe in your sincerity though, when you’ve created a society where just talking about certain aspects of Islam is now considered extremist.”

– Created a society that opposes illiberal ideas? And that’s a bad thing is it? We secularists believe you have a right to believe whatever bigoted nonsense you so wish, according to your conscience, but you don’t get the privilege of perpetuating bigotry without challenge. Complaining that oppressive religious values are demonised as ‘extreme‘, is simply recognising that society has progressed & you haven’t.

The final sentence of Iqbal’s piece links to an article by Owen Jones in which he references homophobia, so I’m going to assume by “certain aspects of Islam” she means homophobia. And so do I consider the perpetuation of homophobia, the fear it instills into children born gay, the bullying it entails, and the oppression across the World by religious supremacists that it informs to be extreme? Absolutely I do. Bigotry doesn’t get a free pass just because it is coated in a Qur’an.

Yasmin Khatun also from London, says:

“When you look at what’s happening in Syria and Gaza, there’s just this feeling that they will not protect Muslim civilians and, as a result, you have some Muslims who feel a caliphate would better protect and represent them.”

– We agree that in Syria and Gaza, citizens aren’t protected. That includes all citizens. That includes Muslims, but also non-Muslims. In Gaza, Hamas protect no-one, especially those who don’t fit their Islamist narrative & desire for a totalitarian state. The answer to both, should be the enshrining of equal protections for the civil – not religious based – rights for all citizens, recognised by the international community, regardless of gender, belief, sexuality, or ethnicity. By contrast, an Islamic totalitarian state may indeed protect Muslims… by privileging that one specific religion, whilst absolutely not offering any sort of right to representation – or life itself – to those that the religion deems to be sinful. Again, white supremacists would feel much better protected and represented in a white supremacist state. This is in no way a good argument for a racial totalitarian state.

When two brothers ran to join IS from Oadby in Leicestershire, the Mosque insisted the boys had not been radicalised at the Mosque. And yet, whilst the Mosque in Oadby has taken a much welcomed proactive approach to community outreach, it also romanticises a religious totalitarian state:

“Muslims believe that Islam is a total and a complete way of life. It encompasses all aspects of life. As such, the teachings of Islam do not separate religion from politics. As a matter of fact, state and religion are under the obedience of Allah through the teachings of Islam. Hence, economic and social transactions, as well as educational and political systems are also part of the teachings of Islam.”

– Whilst it is right to include foreign policy in a discussion on radicalisation, let’s not discount the possibility that centuries of advocating a state that punishes blasphemy, harms the LGBT community, decides that Muslims have a superior role to play over state affairs, and doesn’t particularly deal too well with apostates, isn’t a problem. I have no idea why we pretend that it’s an unimportant aspect of the relationship between Islam and modern secular, liberal, democratic frameworks.

It isn’t that Islamism – a desire to marry mosque and state and impose one interpretation upon society – is a new development born out of the Iraq War, but more that Islamism is incompatible with a World moving toward liberalism, and so Islamism’s nasty illiberalism is amplified and then cries for our respect. Any analysis of the rise of groups like IS would be wholly incomplete without a discussion on foreign policy – specifically the West’s failure to act over Syria, and the West’s continued inexcusable support for regimes like that in Saudi Arabia – but equally it is wholly incomplete to discuss the rise of groups like IS, without acknowledging the history of Islamist thought, the totalitarian state it, and its continued romanticism within the Muslim community.

Islam is entering a phase of its existence in which reflection is more important than ever. Whether it emerges as a religion dedicated to enriching the soul of the individual, giving hope and guidance to the believer, or whether it emerges as a religion that inherently requires state power and authority over the lives of other human beings (whilst grotesquely requiring the rest of us respect that notion), is perhaps one of the most important inner battles that it will ever face.


Take a Left to Corbyn’s Hamas.

July 14, 2015

There is increasingly a bizarre section of the Left that often fights so hard in Western countries for equal rights and for the fall of oppressive power structures, but that completely abandon those principles if the abusers of those principles happen to dislike Israel or the US. Indeed in this case, the hatred for Israel is so penetrating that liberal values are shelved in order to join hands with those with an equal hatred for Israel regardless of motives or aims. The values of the enemy of the enemy are either pushed aside entirely, or excuses are made for them, highlighting wonderfully that which Bertrand Russell referred to as the fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed. Jeremy Corbyn did this in 2009 shown in the video above, in which he – now famously – refers to Hamas as his friends.

Corbyn was scrutinised on these hideous comments last night by Krisnan Guru-Murphy, whereby he deflected blame onto the media outlet for doing their job by scrutinising him – a man standing for leader of a Party, and hoping to be Prime Minister – rather than Israel. He goes on to insist that he only meant that Hamas should be brought to the table for discussions on peace. Which is of course contradicted, given that in the same video from 2009 a few moment later, Corbyn goes further and comments on their principles by insisting that Hamas are – and yes, he seriously says this – dedicated to “social justice” and “peace“. On Channel 4, Corbyn when questioned says:

“The wider question is Hamas and Hezbollah are part of a wider peace process. Even the former head of Mossad says that there has to be talks involving Hamas.”

– A wonderfully creative deflection; simply tell the interviewer what he should be saying in order to take attention away from yourself. I’m sure when you’re scrutinised for claiming an organisation dedicated to re-establishing a Theocracy over the entire region, is rabidly homophobic, and teaches kids to hate Jews.. is actually “dedicated to social justice“…. the ‘wider discussion’ becomes one in which attention is deflected from you.

One wonders which of his friends in Hamas are committed to “social justice” and “peace“. Perhaps it was Hamas’ former Minister for Culture Atallah Abu Al-Subh, who gave a sermon in which he states:

“The Jews are the most despicable and contemptible nation to crawl upon the face of the Earth, because they have displayed hostility to Allah.”

– Or perhaps he’s close friends with those beacons of social justice over at Hamas’ Ministry of Refugee affairs, when asked to comment on the UN’s plan to include teaching the horror of the holocaust to Palestinian refugee children:

“We cannot agree to a programme that is intended to poison the minds of our children…Holocaust studies in refugee camps is a contemptible plot and serves the Zionist entity with a goal of creating a reality and telling stories in order to justify acts of slaughter against the Palestinian people.”

– Or perhaps he enjoys a friendly chit-chat with Hamas MP Ahmad Bahr, who – dedicated to “peace” as he most definitely is – said:

“If the enemy sets foot on a single square inch of Islamic land, Jihad becomes an individual duty, incumbent upon every Muslim, male or female. A woman may set out (on Jihad) without her husband’s permission, and a servant without his master’s permission. Why? In order to annihilate those Jews. Oh, Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters.”

– Everyone knows we liberals should support anyone who believes land is to be owned and controlled by one single religion, that women require permission to go out the house, that servants and master’s is an acceptable social hierarchy, and the death of anyone who doesn’t fit its narrative. It’s “social justice” after all. Or perhaps Corbyn is really close friends with Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar, a man who in 2005 described his theocratic dream:

“We are part of Allah’s promise that Islam will enter Palestine and every home in the world, with a revelation of the power of Allah the Omnipotent, and a revelation of the inferiority of the infidels. Hamas is leading this plan in Gaza, the West Bank, and the 1948 territories, and the Muslim Brotherhood is leading it everywhere else. This is part of Allah’s predestination.”

– This, by the way, is the same Mahmoud Zahar whose idea of “liberation” doesn’t extend beyond his own sexuality, referring to the LGBT community as:

“…a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick.”

– The LGBT community of Palestine – completely abandoned by people like Corbyn – who are just as Palestinian, as anyone else there, just as entitled to civil protections and human rights, are obviously not to be considered in this “liberation” movement for Palestinians, given that in April 2011, Hamas’s Al-Aksa TV presented Syrian Writer Muhammad Rateb al- Nabulsi, who grotesquely said:

“Homosexuality involves a filthy place, and does not generate offspring. Homosexuality leads to the destruction of the homosexual. That is why, brothers, homosexuality carries the death penalty.”

– Back to Mahmoud Zahar. Zahar who spoke at the funeral of suicide bomber responsible for the murder of four people Reem Riyashi (an attack that attracted widespread criticism in Palestine, including by her own brother-in-law) to say:

“She [first Hamas woman suicide bomber] is not going to be the last because the march of resistance will continue until the Islamic flag is raised, not only over the minarets of Jerusalem, but over the whole universe.”

– This, by the way, is the same Mahmoud Zahar – co-founder of Hamas – who explained what it is he doesn’t like about Israel, and reflected the words of Hamas’ Charter:

“We don’t recognize the state of Israel or its right to hold onto one inch of Palestine. Palestine is an Islamic land belonging to all the Muslims.”

– If Jeremy Corbyn was any sort of liberal, democratic, secularist, he would denounce Hamas as a theocratic organisation using terror as a means to an end. That end being the submission of the entire region for the privilege of one sect of one religion. A homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic death cult that cannot and will not rest until the land and everyone in it is wholly owned by a religious sect of thugs. To call them his “friends” is one thing, but to misrepresent them as dedicated to “social justice” and “peace” is a betrayal of both liberal principles, and the human beings who would – and do – ultimately suffer at the supremacist hands of terrorist groups like Hamas.


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