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?
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?