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


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?

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

  1. Maggi Howell says:

    What a good article, articulates exactly how many of us feel about those who stand on their liberal platforms but are actually 1,000% less liberal than most of the population.

  2. kpspong says:

    Mr Corbyn does seem to be of the opinion that oppression is something that is done by ‘the west’, and what happens elsewhere is just ‘their culture.’

  3. Anti_Theist says:

    Very well said, these liberals are all in favour of equal rights for religion, but always forget about how anti gay, anti women, anti Jewish etc etc they are.

  4. Har Davids says:

    Religion is/was a tool keep people ignorant, poor and scared, how can anyone in his right mind respect that? I might be able to respect a religion like the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but I can’t imagine any other one.

  5. pasta bolognese says:

    @Har Davids

    I’m glad you respect the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, otherwise I would be offended and have to kill you.

  6. mark taha says:

    I’m not sure that Corbyn does believe in free speech for those who disagree with him or his-allies? Apart from the Muslim cartoons, he’s certainly not supported it for fascists, racists, homophobes or printers of 3-type pinups.

  7. David Amies says:

    Christianity, Islam and Mormonism were all founded by men who experienced or claimed to experience highly unusual phenomena. Mohammed and Joseph Smith claimed to have met angels in caves who dictated stuff to them. Saul of Tarsus, the man most responsible for the spread of Christianity, claimed to have encountered and angel on the way to Damascus. I suggest that if any of these persons showed up in a copmpetent doctor’s office today with such stories, the doctor would likely call for the men in white coats. Each story is evidence of delusion or deception. If delusion, then the tellers were probably psychotic.

    Amazing, is it not, that such tales have persisted for so long and have influenced so many people.

    That being so, why then are the rest of us required to respect those that adhere to religions founded on such skaky premises?

    Good article, by the way.

  8. Keep Religion Private says:

    Mr Corbyn has to say nice things about religion if he is to get elected.

  9. Finally someone offers hope beyond the Tory/Blue Labour Thacherite consensus and here they come, the real bigots, crawling from under their stones, trying to pin whatever evil intent they can upon our hope;- “anti semitic”,soft on nonces and now this.
    Get behind Jeremy and address your minor concerns once we’ve dealt with the real issue of the rich sucking our life blood.

  10. coreluminous says:

    The Vatican, and all other Institutions that permit the indoctrination of small children, laced with threats and sanctions, are all Power Structures.

    They operate under a single directive – to maintain, enhance, expand and project their power.

    They all utilise grooming and manipulation, and in this they are no different to the secular power structures which dominate our lives.

    They all mirror the psycho-dynamics of the abuse family dynamic, with the various roles played out…

    The issue of the rich sucking our blood is a symptom – few understand that great wealth is a tool, not an end in itself. The view that greed drives the urge to amass great wealth is inaccurate, it is one of many outcomes of a life that is unexamined, and it is carefully inculcated, because that view protects power (we all ‘understand’ greed, or rather we think we do….)

    Good article.

    And as for ‘hope’, that’s a spurious notion indeed.

    The facts are that Corbyn did not seek the candidacy – he accepted the call by many, many people to represent a growing understanding, a depth of understanding that goes beyond the futile rich vs poor,that is deeply humane And it is not his task to solve the problems – that task belongs to each and everyone one of us.

    He is not perfect, nor is he to be the sole carrier of our hopes, aspirations, nor the do-er of the work we need to do. He has said this himself, and that reveals an understanding of the shituation that many of his ‘supporters’ have yet to grasp.

  11. barrythebee says:

    Your article is very interesting but you don’t say what it is that you think Jeremy Corbin was “saying” by consorting with bigoted, sic, Muslims. I, fancy Jeremy was saying something along the lines of – don’t show prejudice to Muslims. Maybe I’m wrong, what do you think he was saying? Maybe you just think he was foolish and not showing the judgement required of a leader of a political party, but at the time of the meeting he was on the fringes of the Parliamentary establishment. It was not necessary for him to appease the party leaders because, partly as a result of his integrity, he was going nowhere in the party, and because he was intent on making his point about the need to oppose racism and its’ associated bigotry. It’s important not only for you to imply a meaning, but to be specific, because if you don’t your readers will have to use their own judgement or maybe their own prejudices to put a name to his “crime.” You have left plenty of room for speculation.
    You quote Jeremy as saying, at a meeting called by The Muslim Council of Britain, “We demand that people show respect for each other’s community, each other’s faith and each other’s religion.” Personally I find this an innocuous statement encouraging tolerance. It may not be relevant to this argument but I find some Religions very distasteful, in fact all of those with which I am familiar, however in my opinion most people of religious faith are inherently decent. I think most of them were indoctrinated at an age when they were unable to apply logic to what was being whispered in their ear and once you’ve accepted superstition it’s difficult to shake it off. I believe that the decent human instincts of these people cause them to “close their eyes”, in one way or another, to the more outrageous statements in the holy books. If I am right and you follow my logic then why not associate with religious people to protest about something you both oppose, namely Racism and bigotry.
    You say, with reference to Jeremy Corbin, “I would argue that you are confusing respect for the right to believe as one choices (chooses) according to one’s conscience, with respect for the belief itself.” On what do you base this? This argument does not stand. There is nothing in what Jeremy has said or done at any time in his political career to imply a suggestion that we should believe the hocus pocus spouted by extremists or anything written in their holy books.
    I believe that the root problem, virtually all the media, including the BBC, newspapers and on-line blogs, have with Jeremy is not that he is dishonest or dishonourable but that he is too honest and too honourable, both traits
    Do you think that Jeremy Corbin is honest; do you think his intentions are honourable, though you might say mistaken; do you think he does not agree with all that the people he associates with believe?
    I think that’s a yes, yes, yes from most, including his opponents for the labour leadership, and many Tories of his acquaintance, if BBC reports are to be believed. If you find that you have to answer yes as well, then what was your motive in writing as you have?

    Barry Adams
    Ps Why didn’t Jeremy Corbin support the Christian sects opposed to the Jeremy Springer musical, perhaps because Christians are part of the establishment in the UK and Muslims are the underdogs. I think it quite obvious; Jeremy likes to support the underdog.

  12. A very “BIG” text! I have rarely read such a demonstration of Wisdom, Justice, Prudence, Temperance coming from a human being.

    As I have always thought and said and as I will continue to think and say until I die even at the risk of my life :

    “YES THERE ARE PEOPLE OF GOODWILL ON EARTH THEN LET THEM SPEAKING FREELY AND SAFE”..

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