The Cry of “Islamophobia” & the right to blaspheme.


This loathsome term [Islamophobia] is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliche conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics.
-Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, Muslim, Ex-Cleric.

As someone who considers himself to be on the centre-left of the political spectrum, I am increasingly unnerved by creeping rhetoric on the left that seems to shut down debate, by silencing discussion with fallacy and insult. This isn’t the secular, liberal, discussion based democratic left that I believe in. Challenging authoritarian ideas and concepts – be them political or religious, with critique and satire, with criticism and poking fun – should be considered uncompromisable and absolutely necessary.

To highlight this, I got thinking about a recent online “debate” between Owen Jones and Richard Dawkins. Jones made quite clear in a recently reposted article in the Independent from 2012, that he stands firm on the side of Mehdi Hasan when it comes to what they term “Islamophobia“. This was reposted after Hasan’s spat with Richard Dawkins on Twitter yesterday. Dawkins wrote:

dawkins

– An ill-judged, and inflammatory choice of words, no doubt. Interestingly, Dawkins has since made an apology and clarification. But I think Owen Jones is being curiously hypocritical, and himself guilty of fanning the flames of an undefined “Islamophobia” that he seems so keen to call out at every possible opportunity.

Jones’s hypocrisy takes on two forms; firstly Jones does not react with equal anger at any negative mention of other religions or religious figures. And secondly, he jumps to the unquestioning defence of Mehdi Hasan, despite Hasan’s equally disparaging remarks in the past, aimed at all non-believers. There is a distinct air of hypocrisy about Jones on this, but even more so with Hasan.

Dawkins went on a similar attack against Mitt Romney in the run up to the 2012 US Election, and his Mormonism. Stating:

mars

– And yet, there remained an eery silence from Owen Jones and Mehdi Hasan on this. No cries of “Mormonophobia“. Similarly, as Trey Parker and Matt Stone released “The Book of Mormon“; a mockery of Mormonism, in musical form, Owen Jones registered no disgust. Apparently Mormonism is fair game. Islam though, we must never mention Islam negatively.

Owen writes:

owen jones

– And yet, for all his apparent hatred of bigotry, another eery silence from Jones is brought to us, when we consider statements made (and very weakly defended) by Mehdi Hasan, in the past. For example, in 2009, Hasan gave a speech at the Al Khoei Islamic Centre, in which he quite openly states:

“The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God.”

In a separate speech, Hasan also said:

“We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”

– Is this not something along the lines of ‘Kuffarophobic‘? Mehdi Hasan dislikes me as a non-believer, without knowing me, insisting that I must live like an animal, simply for not believing the same myths that he chooses to believe. He is insulting me as a person, not my ideas or my beliefs, just as a person. This is bigotry. As is practically every opening verse to almost every chapter of the Qur’an, that seeks to dehumanise non-believers, and notes we’re only good for eternal punishment in the flames of hell. How is this not bigotry also?

Are we genuinely claiming that Richard Dawkins suggestion of the irrationality of Mehdi Hasan, is at all different to Hasan referring to anyone who doesn’t fit his narrow view of what is correct, as “incapable of the intellectual effort it takes to shake off blind prejudices“? Hasan often argues that tarring all Muslims with the same terrorist brush, is wrong. And in this, he is quite right. And yet, he seems more than happy to suggest that all non-Muslims are a people of no intelligence. We live like animals. Hasan has concluded (and shrouded his conclusion in ‘faith’, as if that makes it acceptable), that I must live like an animal (though it should be noted, that he has since backtracked, and tried – very weakly – to explain his comments. I deal with that in another article). Is this not the exact same form of bigotry that both Jones, and hypocritically, Hasan claim to disapprove so vehemently of? Can you imagine their feigned outrage, if Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins were to say that Muslims were to all be considered animals, unintelligent, and immoral, as a whole? The Guardian would have a heart attack. Owen Jones would spend his day on Twitter telling us how he’s an Atheist but disapproves of such vile bigotry.

There is no referring to Stone and Parker as bigots, for mocking Mormonism. No Presidential address in which we’re told the musical is “in bad taste” as we were told the cheaply made anti-Islamic film was in bad taste. No referring to Monty Python as bigots for mocking the story of Jesus in ‘The Life of Brian’. Only the Christian Right jumped in to attack “Jerry Springer the Opera” for its display of a grown Jesus in a nappy. The musical won Laurence Olivier Awards. Owen Jones, again, eerily silent.

Would the same respect for free expression be accepted, for the portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in a nappy? Given that Danish cartoons result in condemnation not only from Muslims demanding the execution of anyone associated with the publication, but also from liberals in Western countries, along with judicial inquiries, sackings of Ministers who supported the cartoons, and deaths… I’d suggest that a similar musical mocking Islam would not be met with the same respect. It is not just those of us who dislike Islam as a doctrine, who treat the faith differently from other faiths. So to, do those insisting on shouting “Islamophobia!” at every possible opportunity, shielding it from the treatment afforded to other ideas.

When States ban or openly discourage the challenging of one concept – such as the denying of the Holocaust – they are denying the Right of others to listen to dissenting opinions that might challenge us to inquire, and solidify, or modify our own perception of reality. It is almost criminalising the necessity to question. Why do I believe the holocaust happened the way it is consistently documented? I wasn’t there. I’ve heard about it from several sources. Shouldn’t I be given a plethora of ideas since I have no way of fully accepting just one, given that I wasn’t there to experience it first hand. By accepting the banning of unpopular, and offensive views, I am also harming the Right of others to hear a plethora of views and to educate themselves further. I am institutionalising a way of thinking that exists on the left of centre, whilst criminalising those on the fringes for saying words I do not like. This way, I become a slave to convention. I have learnt that this is unacceptable.

The word ‘Islamophobia’ is seeped in hypocrisy and inconsistency. It is a way to discourage free inquiry of ideas. To accept, without question, that this particular idea is off limits with regard criticism of any form. To suggest otherwise, gets us to the rather peculiar point in which even a cartoon of the Prophet, is “Islamophobic“, with people tending to focus more on how ‘offensive’ the cartoon is, than on the vicious and violent threats that it provoked. It is a victim mentality of the most irritating kind.

And yet, there is no balance by which those like Owen Jones pour scorn when certain undesirable features of Islam rear their ugly heads; Hasan’s speech for example. Or the fact that the Qur’an begins most chapters with a vivid description of how we non-believers deserve eternal torture. How is this not considered “Kuffarophobic”?
We can almost be certain of the scorn that would flow forth upon the writers, if a “Book of Islam” musical, were to be made in the mould of “The Book of Mormon”. There is no balance, no logic, just appeasement and a very twisted cultural relativist set of scales leaning dangerously to one side.

The vagueness of the term allows for it to be – oddly – linked to racism. This happened recently when Maajid Nawaz posted a cartoon of the Prophet, and was told he was playing into the hands of the EDL. I’d argue that it is those who demand special treatment for their faith, shielding it from criticism and satire, that not only play into the hands of reactive groups, but actually created the hand of the EDL in the first place. Grouping hostility and blatant racism and hate toward people (like non-believers who live like animals), in the same category as criticism, satirism toward ideas is dangerous for discussion and for the health of that idea where it exists in a secular framework upon which all ideas are up for the same treatment. It is also quite absurd.

It is not just a right, but an absolute necessity to criticise and satirise all ideas and concepts – religious or political – that seek control over the lives of others.

Racism, like sexism, is the institutional perpetuation of social privilege based on biological differences. There is no doctrine involved. To claim racism, alongside Islam, is like claiming a deep hatred for all people with brown hair, if we learn that most Muslims have brown hair. It is absurd. My contention is simple; to push discussion, criticism, satire, ridicule of an authoritarian idea – be it religious or political – out of the public sphere of acceptability, has the opposite effect. It creates a taboo, and it is latched onto by dangerous fanatics like those of the EDL, who undoubtedly do mix their dislike for a faith, with racism and Nationalism.

I doubt we would be degraded as bigots, if we were to mock or criticise the doctrines of conservatism. I see no difference. If you find criticism of Islam to be offensive, yet similar criticism of Christianity, or liberalism, or conservatism to be perfectly acceptable… it is you with the problem, not us.

I am quite unaware of what doesn’t constitute “Islamophobia“. Is it okay for example, to suggest that Islam, like Catholicism, is inherently homophobic? In fact, Hasan himself in an article on gay marriage, writes:

“As a Muslim, I struggle with the idea of homosexuality – but I oppose homophobia.”

– Irony at its finest. Homosexuality isn’t an ‘idea’. Islam is an idea. Sexuality is a natural spectrum much like eye colour, or hair colour, or skin colour. Consider a white supremacist saying: “As a white supremacist, I struggle with the idea of being black, but I oppose racism“. Irony.

Is it okay to simply argue that Islam is misogynistic (as I believe it is… as I believe Christianity is)? Is it okay to suggest that a secular UK is no place for horrendously patriarchal Shariah courts? Is it racist to say that punishment for apostasy or blasphemy, is unfathomably wrong? What qualifies as “Islamophobic“? Is it hate, or violence aimed at Muslims individuals? Is this not better defined as anti-Muslim hate (which I don’t deny exists)? Or is it distaste for the idea of Islam itself? If we are to alienate criticism of Islam as a concept or as doctrines, is this not a form of positive discrimination that has the opposite effect of what it sets out to do?

If we are to use the suffix “Phobia” to refer to criticism or mockery also, then we can also call out many religious doctrines and their adherents for being Feminismophobic Democracyophobic, Americanophobic, Westophobic? Most chapters of the Qur’an begin with a vivid description of how we as non-believers deserve nothing but torture. Is this not Kuffarophobic? It’s certainly horrifically bigoted.

It is my belief, that the freedom to satirise, mock, criticise, as well as question all authoritarian ideas, including all religions that themselves are openly critical of how those outside the faith live their lives, is the cornerstone of a progressive, and reasonable society. Indeed, the freedom to criticise authoritarian ideas is essential. These ideas include the freedom to satirise and criticise and question deeply held political ideals, including my own. We must not allow religions to be free from satire, nor criticism, simply because it is cloaked in ‘faith’. To close them to criticism/satirism by using State controls and violence, means that the idea becomes taboo, humanity cannot progress the idea, and it gives the idea an authoritarian above what it is reasonably justified in having, over the lives of not just its followers, but those who don’t wish to adhere to its principles. This is dangerous.

The openness by which ideas are debated, satirised, and critiqued, is the most important way in which their adherents are taken seriously, become integrated, and viewed equally to all others. This is different entirely to discrimination (demanding deportation of Muslims, or removal of rights that we all enjoy is quite obviously anti-Muslim hate, as is any suggestion that a Muslim shouldn’t be President of the US or Prime Minister of the UK, this is different from satire/criticism of the concept of Islam) If however, their adherents demand a special dispensation and protection from the treatment that all other ideas are open to, or seek to silence through dismissive and damaging rhetoric, then inevitably, they are treated suspiciously.

It is absolutely right for all to be free to question and to criticise and ridicule the idea of Islam; as it is right for all to be free to criticise and ridicule every faith and every idea, especially if that idea is authoritarian outside of the private life of the individual believer. This includes criticism and ridicule of Atheism, includes evolution, includes Conservative, includes Liberalism, includes Christianity, includes Mormonism, includes Communism, includes Capitalism. Islam is not, and should not be shut off from that, nor should it in any way, be linked to race from either the far right, or the far left. It is an idea. It deserves to be treated like every other idea. Those who shout “Islamophobia” at any hint of a dislike for Islam, lose all credibility the moment they do not apply the same criteria to the satire and mockery of other ideas, or when they seemingly refuse, or make excuses for people like Mehdi Hasan and his repugnant comments on non-believers.

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37 Responses to The Cry of “Islamophobia” & the right to blaspheme.

  1. Zed says:

    Americans are stupid bloody bastards futile democracy or ugly perverted white dude

  2. Thank you! But I’m English.

  3. tamimisledus says:

    For all muslims (NOT just *extremists*) allah is the source of all truth, as revealed in the koran, and that truth cannot be contradicted. In the koran, allah has shown to muslims (again ALL), through word and deed, that all non-muslims are worthless trash who will be tortured for infinity. That is just one of the very many reasons why muslims will never be fit for democracy. That is not a “feeling”, that is the only rational conclusion based on understanding the beliefs of muslims.

  4. […] POLITICAL FORBIDDING– The Cry of “Islamophobia”. “This loathsome term [Islamophobia] is nothing more than a […]

  5. Right on! And let´s see Richard Dawkins himself standing up for that which matters to him and the author of this piece the most: Free Speech!! http://www.lauralee.com/milton2.htm

  6. The Syed Atheist says:

    Reblogged this on The Syed Atheist.

  7. Matt says:

    A brilliant piece. A lot of what I’m thinking is set out in this article. Just wish I had the intellect and knowledge to articulate it like you’ve done.

    Keep up the good work.

  8. HorstMohammed says:

    I can understand that people with an inclusive view of society are much more reluctant to criticize or mock an out-of-power group like Muslims. Especially so when they’re already being subjected to unwarranted attacks from right-wingers simply because they don’t fit the dominant cultural template. But while being weak, suppressed, disenfranchised, and discriminated against on the basis of your faith are all perfectly valid grounds for receiving sympathy and support, it doesn’t make you right in each and every aspect or exempt your belief system from criticism.

  9. wlloyd019 says:

    A refreshing read. Islam is just another ideology and legitimate criticism of it should not be dismissed as a set of racist non-sequiturs.

  10. simon says:

    One of the best articles I have ever read on “Islamophobia” and the right to criticise religions. Well said!

  11. John Dickinson says:

    Sound logic. Insightful. Well presented… but… you need to be aware of correct use of commas. This erroneous quirk undermines the article.

  12. “reluctant to criticize or mock an out-of-power group like Muslims.”

    That’s a rather simplistic view of power. It’s perfectly clear that muslims are powerful where they have the numbers. Take Tower Hamlets, where they were able to leave a gay man paralysed outside a gay bar, and the media described it as “random knife crime”. Even when one of the 8 muslims was convicted (the rest were never identified), gangs of muslims returned to attack the gay bar and its customers. And the media didn’t even report the attack on the gay bar. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1162755/Fashion-student-paralysed-random-attack-brother-claims-left-looking-like-watering-can.html

    That’s power.

    Or take the impunity with which, in a 24 hour period 3 different groups of muslim men near Manchester abducted & raped a 12yo girl. Only one of them was convicted, and he was out in 3 years.
    http://www.youhavenotdefeatedme.co.uk/Featured/what-happened-to-sammi.html

    That’s power.

    The idea that muslims are powerless even in non-muslim countries is simply a pitying fantasy from those who live nowhere near them.

    Islamic-nazi groups can hold conferences in football stadia in England, and get 10,000 anti-democracy, murderously homophobic muslims to pay to attend. All from less than 5% of the population. No doubt when the BNP has a conference, they hold it above a pub, not in a football stadium.

    Who’s out-of-power? It isn’t muslims.

  13. Liam Quinn says:

    ‘Islamic-nazi groups can hold conferences in football stadia in England, and get 10,000 anti-democracy, murderously homophobic muslims to pay to attend.’
    Do you have a link or evidence to support this assertion?

  14. HorstMohammed says:

    See, that is precisely the problem that leads to these knee-jerk “Islamophobia” charges. Any criticism of Muslims, no matter how well-founded, could result in unintended support for the agenda of right-wing bigots like you, even if it’s just momentarily.

  15. Im happy to let Mehdi’s “kaffar” speech go unscrutinised, they are his beliefs and he is only eschewing them to others who share them in that context.
    However, Jones cherry picking that tweet in the same way Nesrine Malik did on CIF whilst they could have applied pretty much all of the same logic to some of Mehdis previous tweets is just unbelievable….

  16. CJ Rock says:

    The reason why you get ‘Islamaphobia’ is not because of articles like this. You get it because some people are unable to differentiate between religion, people and doctrine EDL person has decided to associate gay hate crime with an entire group and the actions a few hateful people as a representation of all.

    The EDL has decided to single put Islam as a representation of all the ‘ills’ in society which are found throughout society. As an atheist I believe that religion has to be challenged, I don’t believe however that I need to join groups like EDL(who also need to be challenged) a group who sole focus is Islam.

    I hope that ,make some kind of sense. In a way I think all bad ideas that prohibit society need to be challenged, but not at the cost of freedom and liberty to all.

  17. Scott says:

    I think the reason why people like Jones and other non-Muslim writers are so eager to defend Islam is because they feel as though they are a persecuted minority. So the Islamaphobia reaction is born out of good intentions, even though it’s based on a false premise.

    I think that writers like Hasan and Jones look at the Israeli occupation of Palestine and see that as a model for the way that Muslims are treated worldwide: wealthy non-Muslims persecuting poor Muslims, and so do anything they can to rectify this problem, which include insulating them and their beliefs from criticism. Their thinking seems to be along the lines of “Muslims have been through and are going through so much abuse all over the world. The good, liberal-minded thing to do is to stand up for persucuted people and since I can’t actually go over and fight on their behalf, I’m going to do whatever I can to help them over here which is protecting them from hurtful speech”.

    Again, I think the intention here is good and that Jones and others are very decent people who really care about the suffereing of others. But as the author clearly explained in the article above, shielding a particular group from criticism and creating a taboo is totally counter-productive.

    There’s no doubt that many Muslims are discriminated against across Europe and feel disenfranchised. But across the Muslim world, the vast majority of hurt and abuse suffered by Muslims comes from the hand of other Muslims. The help to people women and girls, homesexuals, religious minorities and other persecuted peoples across the Islamic world should – and hopefully will – come from other Muslims – writers and activists who fearlessly fight for progress and modernity at the risk to their own lives or careers. It will not come by fuelling identity politics and senselessly placating millions of Muslim adults and as though they were children who can’t bear to have their feelings hurt.

  18. natashakalantar says:

    Reblogged this on Write me into the history books. .

  19. Moeen says:

    What does xyz-ism or abc-ism have to do with Islam? Mehdi defends Islam and Owen Jones is a man with common ense who can easily prioritise between current affairs on the basis of higher probabilities of reaction also he knows that Muslims haven’t forgot their values in general so they cannot and will not ignore stuff against their valued religion.

    @Scott, I agree with the same perspective that Jones is doing it out of humanity and is a man with good heart. I further believe that he is a realistic being living among the capitalists and their vicitims may it across oceans (africans, Muslims, vietnamese etc)or their own poor fellows and countrymen.

    “Islamophobia” Its a powerfull enemy for the capitalism (because interest is haram/forbidden) and aetheism (because they can’t prove anything against it) Therefore Muslims can’t have stupid nobel prizes, they care about it? i seriously doubt it.

    I think even in these miserable times 1 in every 100 Muslims if studied only for their charities, taking an unbiased and realistic approach, can be nominated for nobels in general Muslims aren’t doing it for an acheivement in this world but are doing it for the hereafter which is promised to our fellow beings and taught by almost every religion.

  20. Mohseni says:

    Moeen — “hereafter”? What are you smoking dude? You must believe Mohammad the paedophile mass murderer flew on a winged horse? How daft. You are brainwashed.

  21. Mohseni says:

    Scott — Owen Jones is just a counter-enlightenment bigot who will shut down any criticism that does not meet his agenda. For the time being it is Islam and has nothing to do with Muslims, as Muslims are not children who need protection from the counter-enlightenment bigots.

    And you know what, majority of Muslims don’t really like Islam very much, especially the educated ones. For him to try to protect Muslims as opposed to just the reacitonary Islamics shows that he wants to paint all Muslims with the same brush stereotyping them without nuance and sensitivity or sophistication.

  22. Could you please share links to the sources you’ve quoted?

  23. Kenny Herbert says:

    When extremist Christian groups like the Westboro Baptist Church do ridiculous things, it is common for most mainstream Christian sects and organizations to criticize them or even protest them. When extremist Islamic groups do ridiculous things, there is a deafening silence from mainstream Islamic sects and organizations. Unless and until there is the same uproar from their own, then we need to speak out, loudly.

  24. Arkenaten says:

    Another superb piece.

  25. Arkenaten says:

    Reblogged this on A Tale Unfolds and commented:
    Something else about Islam every one should read.

  26. jigdood says:

    Its true, but we should all reach a level that instead of ridiculing criticize, of course the line between ridiculing and criticism is sometimes blurry, but if we want our criticism to do something it should not include ridicule, this is an ethical issue, beyond freedom of speech, an ideal, which is better if it exists

  27. Does that apply to all ideas? Can we not satirise political ideas either?

  28. Overleaf says:

    jigdood — ridicule is a form of criticism. If you ban ridicule, you ban criticism. And where do you draw the line between the two?

    You say Islam and Mohammad are “ethical issues”? This is comic. Islam is a metaphysical religious ideology. Mohammad is a real person, a warlord, and a mass murderer. Mohammad was an unethical charlatan.

    Why is it that Islam or Mohammad cannot be ridiculed, and that it is “beyond freedom of speech” — i.e. that an unethical Mohammad stands above human rights and freedom of speech? But why?

  29. mayamarkov says:

    Moeen, I would kindly appreciate a list of Muslims deserving Nobel nominations, and their achievements.
    We can also wonder why no Muslim society has instituted a prize comparable to the Nobel prize, for which non-Muslims would be happy to compete. Can you imagine this happening? No. Neither can I. And do you know why? Because Islam reliably keeps the society back and down.

  30. […] further reading, see my article on the right to blaspheme. For more further reading, see my article on Hakeem Muhammad and his claim that Atheism is a […]

  31. Cteemen says:

    My question to Joans will you ever raise your voice against the persecution of secular muslims at the hands of Islamists with even 10th of the enthusiasm you defend bigoted exclusionist kafirophobic religion of Islam?

  32. distanceleft says:

    What a robust defense, exploration and encouragement of the point, that it’s either ok to ridicule and dissect everything, or nothing.

    It’s like Rushdie asked “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

    Thanks.

  33. Dave Day says:

    Interesting what Owen Jones says. He’s an atheist. He doesn’t believe in bigotry when it comes to religious groups. (All seems ok so far.). But he supports Islamists who would take away women’s rights, kill homosexuals, and do all sorts of things that in our society today would be considered backward and barbaric. Maybe he doesn’t support bigotry and prejudice… but he seems to support those who do!

  34. Good article I shall use your coining of Kuffarphobic along with my own of Sunniphobic and shiaphobic

  35. srishti says:

    Why does any criticism of Islam a misogynist…includes a reminder that one has criticized Christanity?

  36. Dave says:

    Interesting that the Koran says that unbelievers are “incapable of the intellectual effort it takes to shake off blind prejudices“

    I can’t help but think of a kettle… pot… etc.

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