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:
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‘:
– 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:
“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‘:
– 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.