Tim Wise: Misrepresenting Hamas.

April 27, 2015

There is a tendency – since passions are high in the debate – for the partisans on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict to creep into the realms of bigotry to make their case. With anti-Semitism on the rise across the World, it is sad to see those who ordinarily stand against bigotry and privilege, crossing the line into a subtle anti-Semitism in order to strengthen their position. To highlight this, I had noticed that Tim Wise – the usually excellent anti-racial privilege writer – had attempted to completely rewrite the goals of Hamas, downplaying their bigoted & supremacist intentions and history, in order to strengthen his own position:

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– Here, Tim Wise has compared the goals of Hamas to the goals of Einstein and secularists. He stops at that. Hamas want an end to a Jewish state. This is a wildly simplistic and manipulative re-imagining of what it is Hamas actually wants; the basis of which is articulated – contrary to any secular thought processes – in Article 14 of Hamas’ Charter declares:

“For Palestine is an Islamic land…”

– A reader with a basic grasp of 20th Century European & Middle Eastern History will understand that far from having anything in common with secularism – or Einstein, who supported a bi-national state that favoured no single group or religion above any other – Hamas and their ideological struggle – as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood – are the product of 1930s/40s Western Fascism infused with a delusional sense of religious ownership of land.

Far from the implication that Hamas share common goals with secularists, in reality, Hamas are an extension of the political far-right, fused with religious dogma; an obsession with a global Jewish conspiracy, that has its birth in Medieval Christendom, perpetuated hideously by the Catholic Church – especially in Germany – only to be exported by the Nazis, and Haj Muhammad Amin el-Husseini – Grand Mufti – to the Muslim World in the 20th Century, and appropriated by the Brotherhood. For the Mufti, anti-Semitism was a religious duty. For the Fascists, it was a socially racist necessity. The mixing of the two gives us Hamas. Mahmoud Al-Zahar of Hamas epitomises that link perfectly. As well as insisting that religious persecution of Jews throughout history, is there own fault (a victim-blaming narrative entirely), al-Zahar had this genocidal warning for the future:

“…there is no place for you among us, and you have no future among the nations of the world. You are headed for annihilation.”

– The desire to eradicate Jewish people has been the thread (and often successful – as with the massacres in Baghdad, of Jews in 1941) that has held Brotherhood offshoots – like Hamas – to the Mufti’s ideals and the Brotherhood since its early days. Indeed, in the 1920s, the Grand Mufti – prior to his support for the holocaust – disseminated literature that included the phrase:

“O Arabs, do not forget that the Jew is your worst enemy and has been the enemy of your forefathers.”

– Further, as the Nazi’s were making their way through Egypt in the mid-1940s, the Mufti was given free reign to air radio broadcasts direct from Berlin. In one example, he stated:

“kill Jews wherever you find them for the love of God, history and religion.”

– Alongside the Mufti, the Muslim Brotherhood were instrumental in translating both the anti-Semitic forgery ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ and ‘Mein Kampf‘ into Arabic, and continue to spread both. Hamas references the Protocols in its Charter here:

“Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present [conduct] is the best proof of what is said there.”

– The Brotherhood obsession with a global Jewish conspiracy is reflected not just with Hamas, but also in Egypt – the birthplace of Islamism (not Saudi, as many believe) – after the fall of Morsi and his Brotherhood supporters. Both sides of the fight for power have accused the other of being ‘Jewish’ and attempting to implement the Protocols. Hamas continues to do the same.

Contrary to Wise’s misrepresentation, Hamas’ Charter doesn’t simply call for the end to a “uniquely Jewish State“. Allow me to highlight exactly what Hamas’ Charter states:

“As to the objectives: discarding the evil, crushing it and defeating it, so that truth may prevail, homelands revert [to their owners], calls for prayer be heard from their mosques, announcing the reinstitution of the Muslim state. Thus, people and things will revert to their true place.”

– It continues:

“The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it.”

– Waqf, in this context, means owned by that single religion. Hamas’ opposes a Jewish state, because it believes the entire region must be subjected to the rules and regulations of their one sect of their one faith. They are religious supremacists. This is reflected in how they police areas in which Hamas has control. For example, Shaul Ganon, of Agudah, a gay rights group in the region, said:

“I know of two cases in the last three years where people were tried explicitly for being homosexuals,they were both beheaded.”

– But what about any peace initiative? Any at all:

“[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion.”

– Unless a peace initiative is designed to completely eradicate Israel, with power in the hands of one religion, and its believers, Hamas are not going to support a peace settlement.

“Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the nonbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam. Since when did the Unbelievers do justice to the Believers? “And the Jews will not be pleased with thee, nor will the Christians, till thou follow their creed. Say: Lo! the guidance of Allah [himself] is the Guidance. And if you should follow their desires after the knowledge which has come unto thee, then you would have from Allah no protecting friend nor helper.” Sura 2 (the Cow), verse 120 There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad.”

– Here, the reason given for opposing a secular and inclusive structure to a Palestinian settlement, is the Jews, and Christians. It is backed by a victim narrative. The Charter isn’t finished with simply declaring the entire region Islamic – and all who live in it, which never ends well for the LGBT community or apostates forced to live under such brutal Theocracies – it then explains who its enemies are. You’ll perhaps note that it has very little to do with an Israeli occupation, and far more to do with the ethnicity of the people, as is consistent with a Brotherhood/Nazi obsession with eradicating Jews:

“Within the circle of the conflict with world Zionism, the Hamas regards itself the spearhead and the avant-garde. It joins its efforts to all those who are active on the Palestinian scene, but more steps need to be taken by the Arab and Islamic peoples and Islamic associations throughout the Arab and Islamic world in order to make possible the next round with the Jews, the merchants of war. “We have cast among them enmity and hatred till the day of Resurrection. As often as they light a fire for war, Allah extinguishes it. Their effort is for corruption in the land, and Allah loves not corrupters.” Sura V (Al-Ma’idah—the Table spread), verse 64.”

– Hamas’ issue with Israel is not simply with perceived oppression in the territories, but with Jews in general. Hamas, in Article 32 of their Charter, calls upon Muslims across the World to oppose the Jewish population, as a precursor to a religiously-ordained ‘next round’ with the ‘merchants of war’.

Article 7 of Hamas Charter quotes Bukhari:

“The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree (cited by Bukhari and Muslim).”

– Two key themes run through Hamas’ Charter, as ran through the Muslim Brotherhood’s purpose. Firstly, the entire region must be brought under the control of one religion. A Theocracy. Secondly, supported by their own interpretation of religious dogma, and mixed with 20th Century fascism; Jews are the enemy. Not Israel. Jews. To both ends, Hamas uses the same anti-Semitic propaganda, the same victim of Jewish aggression narrative, the same Jewish global conspiracy narrative, and a call to fight Jews, to further its end-goal of the region entirely engulfed by their particular brand of religious supremacy. Hamas inherited and furthered the 20th Century Islamist & Nazi narrative. They have nothing in common with secularists. For Tim Wise to downplay the role of religious supremacy and its Fascist origins in Hamas’ Charter – and thus, downplay almost a century of genocidal Brotherhood intentions that inform Hamas – is so vastly dishonest, offensive to the principles of secular liberty, and quite clearly crosses the line into anti-Semitism.


Corruption aside….

April 24, 2015

Sometimes it’s better just to admit you might have backed the wrong man. You might have made poor excuses for him, and you might have been taken in by his manipulations. Unfortunately, humans have a great deal of pride, and so it was inevitable after the Election Commission found former Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman guilty of election fraud yesterday, that his ardent apologists would be trying to salvage their misguided – and frankly wrong – picture-esque view of a man found to be using religious intimidation, and vote rigging to win power. So I thought I’d share some of the desperation of those who cannot quite bring themselves to admit they might have been too quick to cry Islamophobia:

Predictably Mo Ansar is convinced of a shady conspiracy of fear involved:

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The leader of the shady conspiracy, is of course, Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who rightfully documented Rahman’s dealings over the years:

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– “Corruption aside“. Let’s just put aside the fact that the allegations of corruption turned out to be true, put that aside guys, move on. If not; Islamophobia.

Critics of Rahman have now for years been dismissed as ‘Islamophobes’, for basic scrutiny of a public official. If one was to highlight Rahman’s backing from the Islamic Forum of Europe (working for “Islamic social, economic and political order”) and the diverting of funds to IFE fronts, they did so because they’re ‘Islamophobic’. Legitimate scrutiny had been reframed as racist. Ansar continuing that now false narrative, highlights the intellectual bankruptcy of Rahman’s apologists.

Lee Jasper of the ironically titled Respect Party played the Galloway-game of invoking Western imperialism to explain away misdeeds:

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– The implication is that Rahman was never to be given a fair trial. An oppressed victim of the megalithic colonial, racist, judge. If you’re playing apologist bingo at home, you will only need “neo-cons!” to get a full house. Keep a look out for that one.

Ansar and Jasper are not the only ones to imply that the suspicion that Rahman was far less than admirable was in fact an ‘Islamophobic’ colonial smear campaign. Back in 2010, Mehdi Hasan gleefully wrote:

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– This was in response to some of the excellent work Gilligan did investigating the shady dealings Rahman had taken. For example, Gilligan helped to document – and rightly so, given that he’s a journalist, and Rahman isn’t immune to scrutiny – Rahman’s links to the Islamic Forum of Europe. He further reported on the awful campaign leaflet from the Rahman campaign that included the false claim that his opponent – Helal Abbas – was a ‘wife beater’. One wonders if Hasan was equally appalled at the amount of time Gilligan spent investigating claims of the ‘sexed up’ Iraq dossier a decade ago. I suspect not.

Cage – famed for blaming Mi5 for Islamists beheading aid workers – joins Jasper in suspecting a racist element, and have now decided that it isn’t Rahman’s fault at all. He’s actually the victim of neo-con (BINGO!) ‘white supremacists’:

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– Unsurprising from CAGE, whose managing director – Muhammad Rabbani – was once a senior activist for the Islamic Forum of Europe. But an utterly absurd comment nonetheless. The implication is that Andrew Gilligan and others like him investigated Rahman, because of his ethnicity, and not at all because he was running one of the most appallingly corrupt and aggressive campaigns in a very long time. Perhaps the fact that he turned out to be corrupt, was just a coincidence.

The absurd claim of ‘white supremacy’ was dismissed by one of the petitioners who had called for the Mayoral election to be declared void. Azmal Hussain said:

“The people who have really suffered are ordinary people of all races who were supposed to accept corruption because it comes from someone claiming to be against racism. It is corruption, pure and simple, and it should be challenged.”

Cage then went on to retweet a comment by Moazzam Begg (but narrated by Middle East Eye during a debate on radicalisation) that I’m still yet to fully comprehend:

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– Bizarrely, this implies that full scrutiny of corrupt officials, if they’re Muslim officials, increases the chance of radicalisation. Is this to be considered true for all different forms of identity? Does investigating corruption in the Catholic Church lead to more Catholics becoming radicals? Perhaps Woodward & Bernstein should be dismissed as Republicanophobes radicalising US Republicans. It is as if the book shelves of Hizb ut’Tahrir across the World have replaced Qutb’s rantings, with the journalism of Andrew Gilligan to inspire the resurrection of the Caliphate.

The tone is one of complete denial, that usually comes accompanied with deflecting blame. From Mo Ansar’s implied shady conspiracy, to claims of colonialism and white supremacy, the narrative is designed to paint Rahman as an innocent victim of an undefined ‘Islamophobia’, because to accept that they might have been wrong, is to accept that the victim narrative up until now had been entirely misjudged. So the charade has to continue. Indeed, the tone is a sort of inability to comprehend the idea that trying to couple legitimate scrutiny, with anti-Muslim hate – under the umbrella term ‘Islamophobia’ and then further building on that flawed idea with absurd shouts of white supremacy and radicalisation – will, as cases like this highlight, inevitably prove to be an entirely false narrative. The ‘supremacy’ is not in subjecting officials (or doctrine for that matter) of a particular faith to scrutiny, the ‘supremacy’ is in fighting to protect those officials & doctrine from scrutiny, because they’re of a particular faith.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali & the illiberal ‘liberals’.

March 30, 2015

In the past few months a string of new books ‘explaining’ the rise of ISIS have appeared on the shelves of the big book stores across the country. One of which is ‘ISIS: The State of Terror‘ by The excellent Jessica Stern & JM Berger. I wondered if perhaps this book – given that the authors are highly credited – would acknowledge at all the underlying problem of religious dogma (that is, the anchoring of morality to a single time & place, and belief in the universal viability of that), or if it begins from the premise that Islamic extremism is at its core geopolitical in nature, with religion as a sort of side note. My curiosity was answered on the first page, when we’re presented with a timeline, that begins “March 20th 2003 – President George W Bush announces the start of war against Iraq“.  Whilst it may go on to discuss Al Zarqawi’s beginnings and rise, the premise seems to be that we can blame everything & everyone else for the conditions in which Islamism flourishes, rather than the supremacist dogma itself. For those seeking to minimise the problem of religious dogma when accounting for conflict in the Middle East, there are two lines of attack. Firstly, claim the rise of groups like ISIS can be entirely divorced from religious dogma, and can instead be attached to geopolitics only (this feeds the larger Chomsky-esque narrative, that the US is the problem). Secondly, demonise any detractors who do focus on the problem of religious dogma. The latter – a tactic not used to quell criticism of any other concept on the planet – was surprisingly given credit this week, by anti-racism and anti-privilege writer and public speaker Tim Wise, when he posted a link to Max Blumenthal’s latest manipulation:

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Ironic, given that the man who wrote the article has several of his own less than true ideas exposed by historian and journalist Eric Alterman in a beautifully concise manner. Nevertheless, It is a matter of consistency for me, that systems of oppression & supremacy – whether they’re based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or religion – must be resisted and dogma that informs those systems, discredited and opposed by anyone considering themselves liberal, and secular. This doesn’t seem to be the case with some ‘liberals’ who rightfully fight racial supremacy, yet find it difficult to retain consistency when it comes to illiberal dogma found in a certain religion. The product of which, is a curious holding of hands between those ‘liberals’, and the systems of oppression they should otherwise be opposing.

In his latest piece – Exposing Anti-Islam Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Latest Deception Max Blumenthal goes all out to attack Ayaan Hirsi Ali in what I can only describe as reworded Wikipedia article on Hirsi Ali, and a few extra manipulative additions to aid his overall premise (with the added joy of “Neocon!” yelled at anyone who calls him out on his manipulations). Take for example this paragraph:

“In Heretic, a polemic recycling many of her past arguments against Islam, she calls for the emergence of a Muslim Martin Luther — the authoritarian 16th-century zealot who called for burning down the synagogues of Jews, whom he compared to a gangrenous disease.”

– We might here be tempted to play the illiberal ‘liberal’ game, and refer to Blumenthal as Lutheranophobic for his critique of Martin Luther. But putting aside the silly tactics that those seeking to silence critique of Islam play, you’ll perhaps note here the big manipulation in the paragraph. Hirsi Ali is not at all suggesting that Islam needs a Medieval authoritarian willing to burn down Jewish temples. Hamas already exists. Blumenthal purposely recast the point to focus on Luther’s character, when in fact, Hirsi Ali is actually suggesting that Islam needs a reformation, that opens it up far more to individual critique, that it is too dogmatic as it is, too unable to progress with the rest of the World. A critique that is either disliked, discouraged, or punished in much of the Islamic World, and dismissed as ‘Islamophobia’ in the Western World. The character of Martin Luther is irrelevant to that discussion. But if there is to be a focus on the character of historical revolutionaries, I’m more than happy to start with religious Prophets.

Blumenthal then accuses Hirsi Ali of defending Anders Breivik. This too is a crude manipulation. He says:

“Junketed to Berlin in 2012 to receive the Axel Springer Honorary Award from the right-wing German publisher, Hirsi Ali appeared to blame liberal defenders of multiculturalism for the killing spree committed by the Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik, claiming they left Breivik with “no other choice but to use violence. (Breivik cited Hirsi Ali’s work in his 1,500 page manifesto explaining his plans to commit a series of terrorist attacks across Norway.)”

– It’d be just terrible to get praise from a right winger….. Like Max Blumenthal did, when the website of white supremacist David Duke praised Blumenthal’s book. Or when – as Hirsi Ali later pointed out in a conversation with Sam Harris – Bin Laden cited Noam Chomsky in a recording obtained by Al Jazeera back in 2010. We can all play the “you’re supported by extremists!” game.

Onto Blumenthal’s main manipulation in that particular paragraph. Hirsi Ali was not blaming liberals, because actual liberals are fine with, and promote the notion that all ideas – religious included – should be open up to criticism, satire, and inquiry, and that no idea – religious included – should be shielded. Especially ideas that create barriers to the secular liberty of others. Her criticism is of those vastly illiberal ‘liberals’ who work to prevent criticism of one single idea – by, among other forms, silencing ex-Muslims with manipulative articles – that create an atmosphere in which one idea is considered taboo, and that is deeply unhealthy for any liberal, secular, democracy. In other words; to push discussion, criticism, satire, ridicule of an authoritarian idea – be it religious or political, thus confirming the zealots insistence that ‘blasphemy’ is a terrible crime of expression – out of the public sphere of acceptability, has consequences. It creates a taboo around that one idea, and it is latched onto by dangerous fanatics like Breivik, who undoubtedly do mix their dislike for a faith, with racism, Nationalism, and their grotesque delusions of power. As she rightly says:

“In the long run, you get more jihadist ghettoes and intolerant right-wing enclaves. ”

– I’m fine with illiberal ‘liberals’ disagreeing with this contention, but rather than debate the point, Blumenthal has decided to claim this is “defending Breivik” – when it quite clearly isn’t. This is not an acceptable, nor respectable form of challenging an idea. It is a silencing technique, and it works only to create the conditions that Hirsi Ali speaks of.

Later, Blumenthal recounts the tale that Hirsi Ali had told the Netherlands authorities when applying for asylum, and giving a modified version of her name, and age:

” “Yeah, I made up the whole thing,” Hirsi Ali admitted on camera to a Zembla reporter who confronted her with her lies. “I said my name was Ayaan Hirsi Ali instead of Ayaan Hirsi Magan. I also said I was born in 1967 while I was actually born in 1969.”

– Now let’s look at the actual story behind the quote, rather than the simplified line Blumenthal has used. In an interview with Sam Harris, Hirsi Ali is quite clear on why she felt she had to hide her identity:

“When I arrived in the Netherlands, in 1992, I misrepresented the year of my birth at my intake interview. I said I was born in 1967, but I was born in 1969. I also changed my grandfather’s name. In many tribal societies, instead of a surname you have a string of names—I am Ayaan; my father is Hirsi; and my father’s father, when he was born, was named Ali. But later on, when he grew up and became a warrior, he was called Magan (Somali for “protection” or “refuge”), because he protected some of the peoples whom he conquered. Magan is, basically, a nickname that he acquired later in life. Technically, I did not lie about Ali, because that was also his name. I used it deliberately, because I figured that if I could get this intake interview, then my father or the man he married me off to could come and say that they were looking for Ayaan Hirsi Magan, born November 13, 1969, and they would find me very easily. I wanted to prevent that, so I called myself Ayaan Hirsi Ali and changed my birth year to 1967. I was trying to cover my trail just enough that I wouldn’t have the fear of being immediately found. I had never before lived in a system where there were any protections put in place for me.”

– Blumenthal wasn’t done with simply misrepresenting that part of the story either. He goes on:

“Hirsi Ali’s claim of honor killing threats also appears to be empty; she remained in touch with her father and aunt after she left her husband. In fact, her husband even came to visit her in the Dutch refugee center where she lived after leaving him. Even though he had paid her way to Europe on the grounds that she would join him in Canada, Hirsi Ali’s husband consented to the divorce she sought.”

– None of this is new information. Only the hideous way Blumenthal frames it, is different. Hirsi Ali herself has already spoken on her visit from her husband, in the same interview with Harris:

“I was terrified that either my father or some of our clansmen—or the man whom I had been married off to—would come looking for me and find me. And they did come! My ex-husband was accompanied by three other men when he showed up at the asylum center where I was. But by then I had been in the country for something like four to six months, and even in that very, very short period, I came to understand that I had rights.

On the day that they showed up, I went to the reception center and confessed everything to one of the people working there. Her name was Sylvia, and she said, “You don’t have to go with him if you don’t want to. You’re over the age of 18. In fact, here in the Netherlands, your marriage isn’t even recognized, because he is Canadian and the marriage took place somewhere else. So we will just protect you. I’ll simply call the police.” It was in this period that I found my independence. I had been able to live on my own for months, so I thought I could live on my own for longer.”

– The shameful manipulative nonsense of Blumenthal’s piece aside, I find there’s a bigger, and far more fundamental issue. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, A woman from an African country that consistently scores the very lowest score possible for political freedoms, and civil liberties, is abused by a very patriarchal system underpinned by religious supremacy, is mutilated as a child by a system underpinned by religious supremacy, watches as her female family members are not allowed to leave an airport without being accompanied by a man, is forced into a marriage by a system underpinned by religious supremacy, then – someone who has more right than any to call out the oppressive elements of a religious system of power – blames religious dogma for much of the trauma she and others face on a daily basis, and dedicates herself to fighting for the rights of victims of illiberal religious dogma across the World. She does this, whilst threatened with death notes pinned to the murdered body of a filmmaker she collaborated with because someone somewhere is “offended” by the content of the film. The implication is that she should just shut up about her experiences. Then come the white, upper middle class American men, not focusing at all on the supremacist dogma that informs the horrific abuse she’s suffered, or the violence she faces for speaking out, but instead they choose to focus on their own methods of silencing her with manipulations and misdirection, thus protecting the very oppressive ideas she’s fighting.

The privilege it takes for those who have never lived through her experiences, to dismiss her rather than challenge her ideas with debate, and to manipulate her calls for a reformation within the faith, in order to protect one specific religion, represents a massive confused betrayal of liberal principles, but one that we are all becoming very familiar with when illiberal ‘liberals’ put pen to paper.


The Theocrats crying discrimination.

March 12, 2015

As someone who writes, and occasionally speaks on religion and its unearned privileges, I’m more than aware that often claims of oppression from the religious, tend to be just a backlash against a society having progressed far beyond the barbarism of the more conservative religious sects and what they advocate, and so inevitably tantrums erupt. Christians unhappy that they can’t stop a gay couple from expressing their commitment through marriage insist they are oppressed, or Jehovah’s Witnesses unhappy that the concept of disfellowshipping is particularly frowned up. There is something about religion, that demands privileges.

Yesterday, the Guardian published a statement signed by – among others – several conservative Muslims in Britain, having what appears to be a collective tantrum over the fact that their fringe views, are not unquestioningly respected:

“This joint statement expresses a position with respect to the ongoing demonisation of Muslims in Britain, their values as well as prominent scholars, speakers and organisations.

– The statement goes on to firstly present a false dichotomy between a state that can only possibly focus on either Islamist extremism, or the NHS and economy, and then proceeds to list a variety of grievances, including two particular connecting points that I wanted to pick up on here, especially with regards to the people who actually signed the statement:

“5) Similarly, it is unacceptable to label as ‘extremist’ numerous normative Islamic opinions on a variety of issues, founded on the Qur’an and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), implying there is a link between them and violence, using such labels as an excuse to silence speakers.

7) We affirm our concern about peace and security for all. We, however, refuse to be lectured on peace-building and harmony by a government that plays divisive politics and uses fear to elicit uncertainty in the general public, whilst maintaining support for dictators across the Muslim world, who continue to brutalise and legitimate political opposition to their tyranny.”

– The implication of point five is that oppressive views are not to be labelled as such, simply because they are “normative Islamic opinions“. As if where they come from, is at all important. It is a desired privilege. Contrary to the aggressive tone of point 5, we are all within our rights – especially in a secular, liberal country – to label any ideological view point – regardless of what it is based upon – as extreme, if it includes the control & oppression of other people. The right to an opinion is to be protected, but the opinion itself is absolutely open to all forms of criticism, and mockery, especially If those views include the lives of anyone else, chained to the religious rules of another. It does not matter if it is “based on the Qur’an and Sunnah“. It does not matter if an opinion is a “normative Islamic opinion”. Neither of those reasons, makes the opinion any less extreme. To highlight this point, it is prudent to consider two signatures on the list; that of Reza Pankhurst & Dr Abdul Wahid, of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Note that in point seven, the focus is on “concern about peace & security for all”. Consider that claim, when analysing Article 7C of Hizb’s own draft constitution:

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

– I guess “peace and security” is far more likely if you just execute anyone who leaves the religion. Here they are, reaffirming that same belief. It isn’t just apostates exempt from Hizb’s “concern for peace & security“, Hizb’s African sect wrote:

“Homosexuality is an Evil that Destroys Societies!”

– Obviously here they offer no actual evidence for such a petty and vicious claim (that undoubtedly they teach to younger, impressionable minds, further perpetuating homophobia). They’re not finished with apostates and gays either. Hizb in Bangladesh wrote:

“The Muslims joining the demonstration called upon the Muslim armies to march forth to fight the Jews, eradicate Israel and purify the earth of Jewish filth.”

– And so it appears that demanding the murder of apostates, whilst dehumanising homosexuality, and calling for the ‘eradication of the Jewish filth” is – according to Hizb – absolutely fine. But referring to those hideous ideas as ‘extreme’ is completely unacceptable.

Dr Pankhurst has a bit of a history of having a tantrum at the way Hizb are treated. When The Times published an article linking him to Hizb, he responded:

“Rather, this is a wider debate in which there seems to be an attempt to demonise anyone holding ideological opinions the British government doesn’t like, in a manner that the dictatorial “hereditary democracy” that is Egypt would be proud – hounding them into either remaining silent or else face being forced out of their profession.

– Still, I suppose “demonising” oppressive theocratic beliefs is a little more civilised than executing anyone who changes religion. Pankhurst goes on to make the most amusing statement I think I’ve ever heard from a member of a group who believe in disenfranchising non-Muslims, limiting ultimate power to male Muslims only, punishing homosexuality, and killing apostates:

“I would like to point out that no other religious or political grouping is treated in such a manner, whereby because someone is a Muslim who believes in Islamic values and the revival of an Islamic State in Muslim countries means that their professionalism is automatically questioned. This is actually a form of discrimination.”

– That’s right! It’s a form of discrimination to demonise the idea that apostates should be executed and homosexuality oppressed. It’s like the KKK claiming discrimination on account of the fact that their particular brand of supremacy is demonised. In the light of Pankhurst’s tantrum about discrimination, it is worth noting that Article 112 of Hizb’s draft constitution enshrines constitutional discrimination based on gender:

“It is not permitted for a woman to assume responsibility for government”

– It seems to be more the case that grown ups with such ingrained and bigoted supremacist views, views that dehumanise and disenfranchise millions whilst elevating one group of people to power and perpetual terror over everyone else based on nothing more than their belief in one particular god, play the cowardly victim the moment those views are under examination.

The LGBT community are targeted by another signature on the statement. Abdurraheem Green of iERA once wrote on his blog:

“The “harm” of the punishment for adultery is offset by the need of the “benefit” and protects the wider society. All of this also goes some way to help understand way acts of homosexuality are simlarily treated so harshly.”

– What “Green” means by “wider society” is actually the opposite; a very patriarchal, heterosexual dominated society. It is true that breaking irrational and oppressive barriers to liberty, erected originally by people like Green, for the benefit of people like Green, is a threat to people like Green. I am absolutely fine with that.

Another signature is that of Shaykh Tauqir Ishaq of the Muslim Action Forum. Ishaq arranged a protest in London in February over depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in cartoon form, as offensive to Muslims. I am yet to see Ishaq arrange protests for those of us who aren’t too keen on hearing that non-believers are likely to burn in hell. Indeed, Ishaq’s freedom to believe that non-believers are destined for an eternity of violent torture in the pits of hell, is my freedom to openly mock that ridiculous (and frankly, offensive) belief and any man (considered a Prophet or not) that may have uttered the words. But this isn’t what Ishaq is having a tantrum about. He wishes the right for religious folk to believe, and perpetuate out-dated, bigoted & offensive ideas, whilst protecting the religion itself from criticism and satire. As mentioned at the beginning, this is a case of the religious struggling to deal with not being afforded special privileges.

Mohammed Hamid was convicted and jailed for training terrorists for a failed attempt at a second attack in London in 2005. In court, the jury heard recordings of Hamid speaking on those murdered during 7/7 London attacks, in which he said:

“Fifty-two? That’s not even a breakfast for me.”

– It may amaze you, but such a grotesque human being with so little sense of human decency has at least one supporter. That supporter is Uthman Lateef. Lateef signed the “concerned about peace & security” statement shown in The Guardian yesterday. Here is Lateef on his Facebook profile:

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– So to neatly summarise yesterday’s tantrum, several of those signatures are from an illiberal group whose constitution and the author of that constitution calls for death to apostates, oppression for women, dehumanising non-believers (a joyful existence we’re expected to pay for), controlling the minds of our children for the sake of the perpetuation of the faith, the suppression of free expression, oppressing homosexuality, anti-Semitism, and all out war on Israel, followed by another signature from a man who offers his support to a hideous convict unhappy that not enough people had been brutally murdered in the July 7th attacks. The irony of the entire statement is that several of those accusing the government of “crude and divisive” tactics, themselves are some of the most crude and divisive, illiberal, and anti-secular people in the country. They just want us to be a little bit nicer to them.

For another excellent response to yesterday’s joint statement, see Homo Economicus Blog.


ISIS and the theology of end-times.

March 10, 2015

“The spark has been ignited in Iraq, and its flames will grow until they burn the Crusader armies in Dabiq”
– Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Less than 3000 people live in the small Syrian town of Dabiq. It sits right in the north of the country in A’zaz district. It is an unassuming town that would command little attention, if it wasn’t for the fact that ISIS has carried out brutal beheadings, and even named its magazine ‘Dabiq’ in its honour.

When discussing the motivations for ISIS’s brutal regime, we find Western commentators quick to deflect from religious dogma, by narrowing the context to the Iraq war, or Blair, or Bush, or more recently… MI5. They insist that not all religious folk are out beheading aid workers, and so religious dogma can be dismissed, failing to apply the same logic that not all those opposed to the Iraq war are out beheading aid workers either. The importance of the geo-political context must be taken into consideration, but not at the complete dismissal of Islamic dogma. Dabiq is central to that dogma.

ISIS chose Dabiq for one very specific reason; a Sahih-Muslim Hadith states:

“The Last Hour would not come until the Romans land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them)”

– Dabiq is centre stage for the coming apocalypse to take place between Muslims, and Christians. A battle between Romans (whom no longer exist, and so Islamists – rather than accept that their Prophet might have been wrong, have decided “Romans” is code for “Christians”) and a resurrected Caliphate (as well as the conquest of Istanbul) is necessary to usher in the end of days. ISIS, is an end-times cult.

End times (eschatology) is central to all of the Abrahamic traditions (including offshoots – like Heaven’s Gate). The concept of the final confrontation between the chosen few, and the enemy, cannot be divorced from the religions that spawn them. They tend to see certain World events – natural and man-made – as evidence that the end is on its way. Indeed, the earliest traditions of Jesus in the Bible have him as what appears to be a man convinced that the end of time will occur within the lifetime of his followers. To this day, Christians in the US predict the World is about to end at least once a year. By the time the Biblical Jesus’ companions had died, Christians began becoming suspicious that end-times may not be on the way. Contradictory writings attributed to Paul in the Bible try to deal with that, but simply work to confuse the matter more; 2 Thessalonians sets out conditions required before the day of judgement occurs, directly contradicting 1 Thessalonians that insists that Jesus’s return would be sudden and that the Thessalonians should be prepared. By the time Islam comes along, the writers of the Qur’an make sure not to make the same mistake, and to be as teasing and ambiguous as possible:

“Lo! the Hour is surely coming. But I will to keep it hidden, that every soul may be rewarded for that which it striveth (to achieve)
Surah 20:15”

– It’s far easier if a Holy Book has God teasing – like a child – His creation. Though this is also problematic, because a truly all-knowing God would be able to look down the line and see the violent mess that His little tease had inspired, and perhaps be a little more cautious. But that’s a digression.

The arguments from all major religions for end-times – and the expectations placed on believers by their God – tend to be Theologically wide. They are divisive by their very nature. They provide – by the judgement of a divine overlord as of yet unproven to exist – a dichotomy between the morally good, waiting to be saved, and the evil non-believers deserving of the torture that awaits them. The dogma creates the extremist atmosphere, independent of the geopolitical context.

The reason ISIS chooses to murder innocent people in Dabiq, and to make sure we all know it is Dabiq, is in order to fulfill a religious prophecy of provoking the ‘Romans’ to confront the Islamic State there, bringing on the conditions for the return of Jesus, the Mahdi, and the end of times in which they will be saved. Several ISIS propaganda videos are filmed in and around the town of Dabiq for the same purpose; to fulfill a theological prophecy, providing legitimacy to their incredibly flawed cause.

This was perhaps most notable when ISIS horrifically murdered Abdul-Rahman Kassig. After the murder, the ISIS killer said:

“Here we are burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.”

– Suddenly, ‘Romans’ actually means ‘Americans’ (not at all what Muhammad supposedly said, requiring a great deal of creative rewriting of his words to justify). But it goes back further than 2014. Before his death in 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq – had already alluded to the importance that Dabiq would play in the following years. In 2004 al-Zarqawi said:

“The spark has been ignited in Iraq, and its flames will grow until they burn the Crusader armies in Dabiq.”

– Iraq may have been the spark, but the fuel itself was the religious dogma that inspires such an irrational and violent desire to watch the World burn. The beheading of Western aid workers, is not in response to the Iraq war, or even the civil war in Syria, instead it is an attempt to provoke a fictional battle – rooted entirely to the context of the time period that Sahih-Muslim was put together – in order to fulfill a religious prophecy. Religion is at the very core of the hideous acts of violence that have taken place – and publicised across the World – in and around Dabiq.

In the fourth edition of the magazine ‘Dabiq’, ISIS produced an article entitled:

“The revival (of) slavery before the Hour”

– The article calls for the re-establishing of slave holding, and the kidnapping of women, before the final judgement. The implication is that out-dated religious rules must be re-established prior to the anticipated apocalypse. The consequence has been the capturing and sexual abuse of Yazidi women and girls.

It is worth noting that provoking the conditions necessary to fulfill the prophecy is not the only reason for ISIS to use Dabiq in its media propaganda, it also works as a recruiting technique. The constant reference and use of Dabiq emphasises the distinctly Islamic nature of the cause (with Hadith to back it up), by linking back to the purported words of the Prophet and highlighting the idea that the final battle is on the horizon, in the hope of enticing young, disaffected kids seeking a purpose with a divinely promised victory.

The fact that a state based almost solely on what is deemed to be the necessary rape, torture and murder bestowed upon innocent people required to bring about the end of the World, is being left to flourish in an already volatile region, is hugely unnerving. Those who adhere to the end-times theological narrative cannot be defeated simply by dismissing them as “not real Muslims” (the far-right – in bizarre agreement with Islamists – also dismiss liberal, progressive Muslims as “not real Muslims”, leaving a completely undefined religion). Nor is it acceptable to dismiss the clear religious dogma that ISIS are based upon, in order to progress a very anti-Western narrative, as many on the Western ‘liberal’ left insist upon progressing far too often. Islam as a set of ideas, words, and deeds, rooted to the time in which it sprang, must be scrutinised, its most out-dated elements detoxified, and the extremes made as undesirable as Soviet Communism is to the modern left, if groups like ISIS are to be defeated. The religious element must not be dismissed.


Stephen Fry, Giles Fraser & the capricious God.

February 3, 2015

In what has become a sort of viral must-see recently, Stephen Fry took to RTE Ireland this week to express his views on the Christian concept of God, to ‘Meaning of Life’ presenter, Gay Byrne. When asked what he’d say to God, if he met him at the pearly gates, Fry replied:

“I will say bone cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you, how dare you create a world that has such misery that is not our fault. It is not right. It is utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is full of injustice and pain?”

– Naturally, this has caused a flurry of responses across media platforms. I thought I’d address a few of the points raised in a couple of those responses.

Over at ‘Christian Today’, author Krish Kandiah says:

“In a godless universe we lose any concept of ultimate justice, good or evil. The universe is ultimately impersonal and indifferent to any of these concerns. For Dawkins, atheism’s answer to the problem of suffering is basically “Tough luck. Bad things happen. Deal with it.” Why should anyone expect anything other than blind indifference from an impersonal, randomly generated universe?”

– Firstly, I’d be quick to note that ‘atheism’s answer to the problem of suffering’ is not “tough luck” at all. We atheists say that we as humans must keep searching, studying, inquiring, testing, and developing answers and cures to nature’s hideous diseases. The responsibility is ours. No matter how hard you try, you wont find a cure to illnesses (including psychological issues that have taken on the religious-like phrase ‘evil’) by praying, or searching through a book of ancient Palestinian myths. The choice is not ancient deities or “tough luck”. The dichotomy is entirely false.

Secondly, the key problem you’ll note with Kandiah’s position, is that Kandiah expects the universe owes something to humanity. He asks; why should we expect anything other than blind indifference from an impersonal universe? I’m not entirely sure why we’d expect help from outside anyway? It strikes me as a case of passing the buck. He delegates responsibility away from humanity, to a concept that he doesn’t actually prove exists first, and cannot seem to understand that we as humans can and should assume responsibility that we’d otherwise hope an invisible force might sort out for us in an afterlife. An indifferent universe is irrelevant. Humanity is not indifferent. The indifference is in a man expecting everything to be okay in an afterlife, and so passing responsibility on from himself.

Thirdly, it is simply wrong to imply that without a divine law giver, we ‘lose any concept of justice, good, or evil‘. He has simply rehashed an old argument for God, based on morality. But on the contrary, morality does not require God. In fact, any definition of morality that predates Darwin is entirely incomplete and can – and should – be dismissed as such. Kandiah ignores human evolution entirely in his idea of human morality, ignores our survival as a group species, the evolution of empathy and so forth, and instead implies it is entirely reliant on a supernatural force. Essentially, the God of the gaps. Incidentally, for my take on the evolution of morality, see here.

Over at the Guardian, Church of England Priest, and journalist Giles Fraser tried his hand at criticism of Fry’s comments. In it, Fraser bizarrely says:

“For if we are imagining a God whose only power, indeed whose only existence, is love itself – and yes, this means we will have to think metaphorically about a lot of the Bible – then God cannot stand accused as the cause of humanity’s suffering. Rather, by being human as well as divine, he fully shares in it. This is precisely the point of Christianity: that God is not some distant observer but suffers alongside all humanity.”

– It’s true… you really do have to “think metaphorically” (in other words, dismiss what it actually says) in order to believe the God of the Bible promotes “love“. It takes a real creative mind, to imagine that God’s request to Abraham that he sacrifice his son to prove his devotion, before stopping him at the last minute, or insisting Jephthah follow through on his promise to sacrifice his child in return for victory in battle, is anything but a show of cruel self indulgence, from a God whose idea of “love” is completely linked to just how willing others are to murder for His glory. It seems self evident to me that a finite human being, with such precious little time on this Earth, offering to spend that time loving you for just being you, is a far greater love than an infinite being, unrestricted by time, offering to love you or torture you depending on how well you adhere to His list of demands, and the hideous sacrifices you’re willing to make to show your devotion to Him. Therefore, the human capacity for love, is far greater and far more advanced than that of the God of Christianity.

Secondly, Fraser completely remodels the Christian God by taking away His implied omnipotence. Suddenly God is one with humanity, restricted by natural laws, and completely at the mercy of the forces of woe that he is unable to control. He ‘suffers’ with His creation. This strikes me as defeating the point of a universal creator in the first place. I’ve always been under the impression that the Christian concept of God begins at the premise that He created everything, that He can see everything – from the beginning of time until the very end, that He can intervene at any moment (and in fact, has done, several times) and by doing so, He can transcend natural laws, implying that He is not governed by those laws. He cannot possibly suffer, given that He is the grand designer of the chain of events that lead to that suffering in the first place, and – given that He can see all of time (because, again, He isn’t restricted by time) – He knew it was going to happen this way. And so, if Fraser is correct and if God cannot be accused of the cause of humanity’s suffering, we are left with three options;
1) God is the all knowing, all seeing creator, natural laws flow from Him, and as such, He is not restricted by those laws. Time itself, is His creation, meaning that Time is a tapestry that He has full control over (otherwise, He cannot be described as all-powerful). This further implies that He knew exactly how the course of human history would be affected by the onset of Christianity, including centuries of violent oppression, and – as Fry points out – cancer in children, all to take place for the sake of a grand scheme that He refuses to reveal until we’re dead. This is appealing because it allows for the all-knowing, all-powerful God, yet leaves a lot to be desired for the notion of an all-loving God, seeming as it does to imply that God is playing a cruel game with human beings who have no choice.
2) God is restricted by time, cannot see the long stretching consequences of His actions, suffered with humanity, and is not responsible for human suffering at all, which implies He is not all-knowing, nor all-powerful, is restricted by natural laws and time, and if we look back over the course of history of the religion, reads like a series of bad decisions by the divine. For this – the God of Giles Fraser – we need to completely dismiss the Christian concept of God right up until Giles Fraser re-imagined Him to suit a weak argument criticising Stephen Fry.
3) There is no God, and the flawed species of humanity is responsible for its own shortcomings.

The concept of the God of Christianity, as with Judaism & Islam is simply a personification of the moral & social fabric and upheaval of the time in which it was conceived. This naturally brings issues with it when humanity inevitably outgrows those moral ideals of that single time and place. Indeed, most – if not all – religious folk have outgrown the moral framework laid out by their Holy Books centuries ago, which is why we end up with very absurd arguments desperately re-imagining God, like Giles Fraser attempted to do in his article. Stephen Fry is right to suggest that a God – with the traditional attributes set out above – is nothing more than a capricious maniac.


Charlie Hebdo & the importance of free expression.

January 15, 2015

For the most part, the response to the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week, has been one of staunch solidarity with the values that separate the civilised from the barbaric. The freedom to express ones thoughts and ideas, the right to criticise and satirise ideas, the rule of law; values that were attacked that day in the centre of Paris. This includes the freedom for religious folk to believe and express ideas that I myself find incredibly offensive. But every so often, we hear voices referring to themselves as liberal, or as progressives, making excuses for the violence whilst trying desperately to insist that they’re not making excuses for the violence. As the new edition of Charlie Hebdo went on sale this week, with a picture of Muhammad on the front, Sky News apologised for showing it live on air, and several commentators referred to it as needlessly ‘provoking‘ Muslims. The excuses tend to start with a line like “There can be no excuse for murder, but….” followed by a tirade of victim blaming. For example, Mehdi Hasan’s obscene article for the Huff Post here in which he begins by suggesting it is those who pronounce “Je suis Charlie” who are playing an “us vs them” game, and then himself goes on to play that very game far better than anyone else, by manipulatively implying that Charlie Hebdo focused entirely on Islam, when in reality it mocks the Pope often, Judaism, and Christianity, along with political figures across the World… Here:

“And why have you been so silent on the glaring double standards? Did you not know that Charlie Hebdo sacked the veteran French cartoonist Maurice Sinet in 2008 for making an allegedly anti-Semitic remark? Were you not aware that Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published caricatures of the Prophet in 2005, reportedly rejected cartoons mocking Christ because they would “provoke an outcry” and proudly declared it would “in no circumstances… publish Holocaust cartoons”?
Muslims, I guess, are expected to have thicker skins than their Christian and Jewish brethren.”

– He must have been asleep (or, as he puts it “so silent”) when Charlie Hebdo printed this:

charliehebdo5
– He must also not be aware that Catholic organisations have attempted to sue Charlie Hebdo on countless occasions for ‘offending’ them. So you see, contrary to Mehdi’s false game of us VS them, Islam is one in a list of ideas that Charlie Hebdo satirised. After this manipulation, Mehdi then proceeds to inform us that he isn’t sure why we’d feel the need to mock religions, but not the Holocaust. One being a 7th Century idea, the other being 6 million people murdered less than a century ago.

There are then several issues I take with the response outlined above. Firstly, I think it is vastly counter-productive. It implies that Islam is in some way different, and must be treated differently to other ideas, and that a protected space must be carved out specifically for one ideological framework of power (in this case, Islam), that no other system of belief is granted. That sort of subtle demand, is then backed by false narratives, like Mehdi’s. There was no anger or claims of racism when Charlie Hebdo mocked Catholicism. If Have I Got News For You mock conservatism, it isn’t usually followed by the suggestion that the show has ‘taken free speech too far’, nor Mehdi Hasan suggesting that Have I Got News For You should consider satirising 9/11 just for some balance. These ideas – Catholicism, conservatism, liberalism, Hinduism, capitalism – are all rightly granted no implied protection. Thus, they are considered on a level playing field, open as they should be, to criticism, mocking, and satire (despite the Pope’s bizarre insistence today that we shouldn’t ‘offend’ religious beliefs). There is no legitimate reason to protect religion – or a single religion – from the forms of criticism that all others are open to. It is in fact vital, that all religions – and in fact, ideas in general, be open to that criticism and mocking. Contrary to what detractors may assume – anti-Muslim hate (that is, the abuse of Muslims, the denial of rights, the demand for denial of equal rights, dehumanising) is not in any way to be compared with mocking the religion. One is violence aimed at human beings, the other is dis-empowering an ideological narrative, & system of morality. To conflate the two, is deeply problematic for a whole host of reasons, and the complete antithesis of secular, liberal inquiry and free expression.

In other words, it is not those of us who openly criticise, or mock Islam that create a taboo around that particular faith. On the contrary, we treat it like any other ideological framework of power. We do not seek to deny Muslims equal rights, we believe those who commit anti-Muslim hate, those who attack Mosques, are grotesque human beings lacking any sense of decency, and we will always defend equal rights & dignity for all, including Muslims. People deserve that, not ideas. Ideas must be open to critique and satire. It is those who seek to protect Islam from mockery (whilst themselves defending the freedom for the religious to continue to believe and express a belief in offensive ideas to the rest of us), that not only create a taboo out of the faith – hence, counter-productive – but also give credit to the extreme idea that one must be a little less forthcoming with our expression on one particular idea, if it might ‘offend’ believers in that one particular idea.

I would also suggest that it is a betrayal of those Muslim voices fighting for secular, liberal values, & free expression against a poisonous narrative within their faith, for liberals who should be on their side of the fight, instead choosing to give credit to the narrative on the extremes.

Secondly, it is a reflection of the authoritarian nature of a religion, when its followers suggest we should either unquestioningly respect the faith, or else keep quiet. Which, in turn, means it is vital that it be open to criticism and satire. If satirising that religion is even a matter of debate, it already has far too much power.

Indeed, your freedom to believe that non-believers are destined an eternity of violent torture in the pits of hell – alongside our apostate and LGBT friends – is my freedom to openly mock that ridiculous (and frankly, offensive) belief. The freedom for Mehdi Hasan to refer to believers as keeping the moral high ground, whilst non-believers as those who “live their lives as animals“, is my freedom to express a distinct lack of respect for that particular moral anchor. Any less, implies that your belief that I am morally lacking, to be eternally tortured, is deserving of a level of unquestioning respect, that my objection (however I express that objection) simply isn’t. Further, if your religion – or political ideal – in any way, extends beyond the individual, to the lives of others (be it non-believers, apostates, the LGBT community) – not only in belief, and writing, but also in practice in many countries on this planet – then it is absolutely vital that that religion be open to the same criticism and satire as every other system of oppression. Indeed, the greatest indicator that a religion so desperately requires being opened up to free expression in all its forms, is if it can result in your murder for doing so.

Islam – like Christianity – is a system of power, regardless of how it is framed by those seeking to protect it. When it has any sort of political power, it is oppressive. This is why it is vital to stand up for the necessity of free expression. But on a purely individual basis; if your religion insists that I am to be burned for eternity in hell for non-belief, then I’m afraid you’re not going to get away with telling me that it is I who is the one being ‘offensive’ for mocking that belief. The freedom to express one, is the freedom to express the other.


France’s March for Unity: A who’s who of global oppression.

January 12, 2015

jesuischarlie, world leaders at french unity rally

It has always bewildered me the level of hypocrisy necessary to demand curbs on expression deemed ‘offensive’ to an Islamist ideological World-view that itself daily offends apostates, non-believers, women, Muslims that aren’t considered Muslim enough, and the entire LGBT community. Nevertheless, Paris was at the centre of the World last week when three gunman brutally murdered 17 human beings for publishing cartoons. France – including all sections of society – reacted in a show of unity, strength and respect for the fundamental right to free expression. But among the marchers were those who seem so entirely out of place. Indeed, Islamists were not the only ones to display hypocrisy this week in France.

The unity march – including 1.4 million people – through the streets of Paris included over 40 World leaders, some of whom, are not too keen on the fundamental human right to free expression:

Queen Rania of Jordan.
Linking arms with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Queen of Jordan presides over a country that is far from an advocate of free expression. In Jordan, if you happen to dislike the King, and you express that particular dislike, you can face up to three years in prison. Similarly, if you ‘insult’ Islam, you may face up to three years in prison (predictably, you may use the Qur’an to insult non-believers with threats of eternal torture). In 2006, two Jordanian journalists were imprisoned and fined for reprinting the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons. In 2003, the newspaper Al Hilal was closed for two months and three of its journalists arrested for publishing an article discussing Muhammad’s sex life. In February 2009, student Imad al-Ash was arrested for sharing “controversial religious opinions” online, and sentenced to two years in prison.

Prime Minister Davutoglu of Turkey.
Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code makes it an offence to insult ‘Turkishness’. In 2008, this was changed from “Turkishness” to “The Turkish Nation”. It brings with it a two year jail sentence. Internet regulation from 2014 allows the Telecommunication and Transmission Authority to ban websites it deems inappropriate. This includes websites that ‘insult’ the state. In 2007, Turkey banned YouTube, for a video that insulted Ataturk. They demanded YouTube remove the video. Rightfully, YouTube refused. In 2008, richarddawkins.net was blocked in Turkey. In 2014 Tayyip Erdogan insisted he’d “wipe out Twitter”, and subsequently, Twitter was blocked.

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban.
In 2013, the Hungarian Parliament passed a Bill that includes three years in prison for ‘harming another person’s dignity‘ in a video or voice recording. This includes political satire. The law further makes it an offence to harm “the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial or religious community.

Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra.
Algeria – that enshrines Islam as its state religion, and bans anyone from spreading any other religious idea, punishable with three years in prison – is run by its longest serving President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Under his rule, the newspaper ‘Le Matin’ was censored and closed down, and its journalist imprisoned for exposing corruption. Journalists can be fined for insulting foreign diplomats or politicians, under reforms the media law of 2012.
Article 144 ratified June, 2001:

“It is punishable by imprisonment from 3 to 5 years, and by a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Algerian Dinars — or, one of these two punishments only — whoever insults the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), any of the other Prophets, or denigrates the practices or rituals of Islam, regardless of whether it is through writing, drawing, declaration, or any other means.”

In 2006, 26-year-old Samia Smets was arrested and imprisoned (later overturned) for blasphemy for accidentally dropping a Qur’an into some water. At the 2008 Algiers Book Fair, the Ministry of Religious Affairs banned over 1000 books that they deemed to contain blasphemy. Al Jazeera was banned in 2004. Web services providers can be fined for granting access to sites that are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” It is bizarre to me that the Algerian government believes it has a monopoly on morality, and that ‘public opinion’ is a static concept free from challenge.

UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In 2008 three Filipino workers were imprisoned for ripping out a page of the Qur’an. Their right to work in UAE was revoked. Further, The Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information and Culture bans any books, leaflets, or in fact, any form of written literature, if it is deemed offensive to Islam. Access to websites supportive of democracy & secularism is prohibited.
Article 312:

“Shall be punishable by confinement and by fine or by one of these two penalties any individual who commitsany of the following offences:
1. Offence against any of the Islamic sacred things or rites.
2. To insult and revile any of the recognized divine religions.
3. To portray disobedience in a positive light, to incite thereto, to promote it or to procure any meanssusceptible of tempting people to disobey.
4. To knowingly eat porkmeat while being a Muslim.
Where any of the above offences is committed in public, the punishment shall be either confinement for aminimum period of one year or a fine.”

– Whilst UAE’s foreign minister marched in unity in France this weekend, back home it is illegal to dare to speak your mind, if your mind does not conform to the religious dogma of those who have taken it upon themselves to declare their beliefs supreme.

Prime Minister Jomaa of Tunisia.
The interim Prime Minister joined the march, and also signed the book of condolence at the French embassy in Tunisia on Saturday. This, despite the fact that Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari was tried for insulting state officials and sentenced to three years by the military, for criticising the military on Facebook. Article 91 of the Code of Military Justice makes it an offence to criticise the “dignity, reputation and morale” of the army. In 2012 Jabeur Mejri was jailed for posting ‘insulting’ pictures of Muhammad on Facebook… or, as the the courts in Tunisia call it; “transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order“. He was released in 2014 after two years in prison.

Whilst it was pleasing to see so many people stand together in defence of free expression during the Paris march for unity, it is equally worrying that so many World leaders linking arms that day operate incredibly oppressive restrictions including violence for criticism they can’t handle, perpetuating the notion that ‘blasphemy’ should be restricted & punishable, enshrining one religion into the framework of state, whilst so shamefully out in a show of unity for that same free expression they can’t themselves handle.


The nature of religious privilege…

December 29, 2014

On BBC local radio here in the UK after the Sydney cafe siege, the presenter had a conversation with a local Imam on the subject of religious extremism. The Imam reiterated that the attacker was a lone nut, who didn’t represent Muslims. The conversation was one of damage limitation and worry for Muslims who may be abused and attacked in the aftermath. The rise of anti-Muslim hate must be addressed – one would hope with the promotion of civil rights & protections for all – but I was unsure that the conversation on BBC local radio that day was particularly helpful, when at one point, the presenter insisted that ‘all religions promote peace and love‘. To begin from that uncritical premise – as if it is a matter of undeniable fact – is just as problematic as beginning from the premise that all religions are violent and oppressive. The problem of religious dogma – that is, the chaining of morality to a single time and place (usually very patriarchal, middle eastern tribal squabbles) – is suddenly dismissed, and other explanations for extremism take its place. The rise of ISIS was blamed on Blair, Bush, and the Iraq war, sometimes on Israel, but little attention payed to religious dogma. It is almost as if it is too uncomfortable to accept that such ingrained religious traditions & much loved religious ideas may present issues within themselves and autonomous of surrounding context. And so it is a distinct religious privilege, to free its problematic dogma from shouldering any blame for extremism, instead blaming everyone else for its problems. No other ideological framework of power has that privilege. But it isn’t the only privilege religions currently enjoy…

When the debate over same-sex marriage came up before Parliament last year, the only dissenting voices – and those who believed themselves to have the privileged right to tell others whom they can and can’t marry – were those of the religious. It is as if “it’s unnatural, because Leviticus says so” is a legitimate argument in a 21st century that has extensive knowledge of the natural spectrum of sexuality. It is therefore a religious privilege for Christians to believe that firstly they own the institution of marriage; Secondly, that they and they alone have the right to tell others whom they can and cannot marry based on discredited myths; and thirdly, that breaking the barriers to equal rights and freedoms regardless of sexuality, is an assault on Christianity.

It is breathtakingly delusional to believe that extending rights that you have always enjoyed, to those traditionally oppressed by your faith, is oppressing you. It is even more delusional to assume that the institution of marriage is a solely Christian, unchangeable institution. Hebrew society engaged in polygamy much of the time, it certainly wasn’t frowned upon. Monogamy in a marriage is a pretty new development. We know that the Mohammad married Aisha when she was 6 years old. In Ancient Rome, marriage was civil, it was not overtly religious. In India, if the bride was born when Mars and Saturn are “under the 7th house”, she is considered cursed and could end up murdering her husband. And so to break the curse, the bride must first marry a tree, the tree is then destroyed, and the bride is free from the curse forever. In the Tidong community in Northern Borneo, after marriage, the couple must not urinate for three days. Marriage is not official within the Neur tribe in Sudan, until the bride has had two children. It was only in 1967, that the US allowed interracial marriage. By 1910, Arizona, California, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah had all banned interracial marriage. And what was used to justify anti-miscegenation laws in the US? Of course it was the Bible. The destruction of all other concepts of marriage, to the benefit of just one concept – the Christian concept – and then attempting to ensure that single concept reigns supreme, is wildly oppressive to say the very least.

A couple of months ago on the Bill Maher show over in the United States, in a debate on extremism Sam Harris referred to Islam as the ‘mother lode of bad ideas‘. Consequently, actor Ben Affleck- also appearing on the show – referred to Harris’ statement as ‘racist‘. It is a curious criticism and one that had me considering the unique nature of religious privilege, the language that sustains it, and its lashing out – by among other things, demonising criticism – when challenged. It is a religious privilege to be able to claim racism at criticisms of an idea. As a secular liberal, I define racism as the institutional disenfranchising and denial of equal civil rights based on ethnicity. Language can & does of course further add to the perpetual dehumanising of an ethnicity. Also as a secular liberal, I believe all ideas must be up for inquiry, criticism, satire, and mockery. Religions are not immune to this, nor should they be. Racism is not criticism, or even complete contempt for a religion. Much like racism is not criticism, or even complete contempt for a political ideology. Further, and by implication, I would argue that if words that offend a religion are to be deemed racism, then equally words that offend non-believers must also be deemed racism. And so, left-leaning commentators like Mehdi Hasan would be deemed racist, for rants like:

“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.”

– I am quite certain that if Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris had referred to all Muslims as ‘living like animals’, Hasan would be the first to call racism. Further, the New Testament, Old Testament, and Qur’an would be deemed incredibly racist books. Most chapters of the Qur’an begin with God explaining how great he is (a little arrogant), followed by a lovely little description of the fate that awaits those of us who have not been convinced that a God exists:

“[10:4] To Him is your return. This is Allah’s promise that will certainly come true. Surely it is He Who brings about the creation of all and He will repeat it so that He may justly reward those who believe and do righteous deeds, and those who disbelieve may have a draught of boiling water and suffer a painful chastisement for their denying the Truth.”

– Whilst Sam Harris simply referred to a religion as a bad idea and was deemed racist for doing so, Holy Books go beyond criticism, and become threats of eternal torture for non-belief. This of course would also mean that the idea of a Caliphate – in which non-believers are barred from highest office – is institutionally racist. It would mean that South Carolina was institutionally racist when Herb Silverman ran for the post of Governor in 1992 but was discarded from the race for refusing to swear an oath to God. It took five whole years for the courts to rule in his favour. It is therefore a massive religious privilege to demand and expect respect for a book that threatens people like me, with religious institutions that disenfranchise anyone ‘outside’ of the religion, whilst yelling racism if I am to call that book the ‘mother lode of bad ideas’. If one is to be considered racism, so must the other.

Along with compulsory worship in schools, and a Monarch whom also happens to be head of the Church of England, it is a religious privilege in the UK, for over 25 Bishops to have a permanent position in the national legislature, as if they have some sort of natural right to consider legislation based solely on which invisible being it is they believe in. To be called ‘Lords Spiritual‘, as if spirituality is a supernatural phenomena consigned to the religious only. The perpetuation of privilege based on the bizarre belief that a deeper understanding of a very unproven deity somehow grants one a position to legislate above the rest of us. It is worth noting that no religious scholar has any more of an idea about what happens after we die, than the rest of us, and that filling in that gap in human knowledge with myths is a ‘science’ consigned to the history books in every other realm of human understanding, yet when it comes to this particular question, we put Bishops in the Lords for their adherence to 1st Century Palestinian myths. It is also worth noting that spirituality does not in any way require a belief in God, or an afterlife, and is a perfectly natural and human trait. Religious supremacy has no more place in a national legislature, than racial supremacy, sexuality supremacy or gender supremacy. The very fact that structures of religious supremacy are not treated with the same contempt as those of racial, or gender supremacy, is in itself, a vast privilege milked for every drop it is worth by those in positions of religious power.

Often, religious privilege is sustained by the powerful few, & the denial of many. Those who are so invested in their religion, refuse to accept that it might be flawed. Jumping back to the racism theme, not too long ago Twitter exploded in rage at Lady Gaga wearing a full face veil. The charge was that she – a white westerner – had ‘appropriated’ a cultural symbol of the Islamic east. It is a wildly hypocritical religious privilege to claim the veil for one religion, thus dismissing it from every other culture that has ever used the veil, whilst refusing to acknowledge that Islam has appropriated Christian & Pagan stories, Temple Mount, the Hagia Sofia, the Palestinian freedom cause (Palestinians are all who live there – not simply heterosexual Muslim men), every piece of land deemed to be “Muslim land” (no land belongs to a religion), and when Mo Ansar recently mentioned the French invading Muslim Tunisia in the 19th Century as an act of western imperialism, he neglected to mention that Tunisia was only “Muslim” by the 19th Century, because imperialist Arab Muslims had invaded it and established the Arab Aghlabids dynasty in the first place. It is a religious privilege to rewrite history by deflecting onto others, the often violent ‘appropriation’ of cultural symbols into its own black hole.

It is a religious privilege for Christianity to be so enshrined into state constitutions, that it requires a national constitution to protect everyone else:
Arkansas’ Constitution:

No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this
State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Maryland Constitution, Article 37:

That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Mississippi Constitution, Article 14, Section 265:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this State.

South Carolina Constitution, Article 17, Section 4:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee Constitution, Article 9, Section 2:

No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.

Texas Constitution, Article 1, Section 4:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

The list of religious privileges is endless. It includes Jehovah’s Witness families torn apart if a member decides they don’t believe any more. It includes apostates dehumanised and abused for leaving Islam & then referred to as ‘Islamophobic’ if they dare to speak out. It includes women covered from head to toe so as to not arouse the apparently uncontrollable lust of men. It includes Uganda’s Christian Minister for Ethics condemning homosexuals to a life of fear, whilst insisting that the rape of young girls in his country is, and I quote:

“… the right kind of child rape. It is men raping girls and that is natural.”

– It includes Pakistan’s grotesque blasphemy laws that punishes the ‘offending’ believers, whilst institutionalises the ‘offending’ of non-believers. It includes the Boy Scouts of America prohibiting the inclusions of atheists and whose charter states:

“The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.”

– It includes ‘In God we trust’ and ‘One nation under God’ placed on US institutions in blatant disregard of the secular founding. It includes Iran murdering gay people because an ancient, unenlightened, out-of-date myth condemns homosexuality and is taught to impressionable young minds as truth – despite the fact that many of those young minds, will be gay – whilst neglecting to teach the actual biology and genetic base for sexuality. It includes all of these things causing little uproar, whilst a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, or a “There is no God” billboard on the side of buses causes the religious to insist that their faith is under severe attack. It is the moment the religion of one, extends to control the liberty of another. In short, the nature of religious privilege.


The brilliance of humanity & the shackles of religion.

November 12, 2014

Rosetta's Philae touchdown.

Rosetta’s Philae touchdown.

Since the dawn of humanity, we have been a species addicted to discovery. Our ape-like ancestors braved the unknown as they left Africa and spread to every corner of the Earth. We tamed fire, and we built machines to carry us across oceans. We innovated with bronze tools and placed a flag on the Moon. Our natural curiosity is a wonderful trait that despite attempts throughout history, cannot be suppressed. Over ten years since its launch, the European Space Agency successfully landed a man-made machine – Rosetta – on the surface of comet 67P travelling at speeds of up to 135,000km/h. This wonderful ingenuity is a reminder of the greatness that humanity can achieve.

Our natural inclination toward discovery is a product of our desire to understand the World around us. Today, the civilised World has the scientific method – with a flawless track record – to keep that desire to understand on the right path, free from dogma and superstition, continuously re-evaluating itself, attempting to prove itself wrong, and open to all regardless of thoughts, words, beliefs, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality. It is at its core non-discriminatory and open to all who seek knowledge. This wonderful framework for applying Mankind’s continued search for knowledge is a freedom we may take for granted, whilst much of the World clings as they do to archaic and very much discriminatory methods of discerning knowledge, of which only a select few unjustifiable privilege themselves according to old myths, to the misery and detriment of everybody else. We know this as religion.

Whilst the scientific method this week landed a craft on the surface of a speeding comet, Pakistan arrested Tufail Haider on ‘suspicion’ of voicing his opinion about the companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, Haider’s opinion differed from those who bizarrely believe themselves to be granted the inherent privilege of violently punishing anyone who happens to think differently. It is the obscenity of considering the lives of others to be so chained and dependent on your beliefs only. Haider – who was Shiite – was then murdered by a policeman with an axe. This comes a few days after the young couple Sajjad Maseeh and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi were attacked by a mob, had their legs broken so they couldn’t escape, and were thrown to their deaths into a kiln after being wrapped in cotton wool (to catch fire quickly) by hundreds of people, for “blasphemy”. It was rumoured that they had burnt a page of the Qur’an. To that barbaric mob, burning human beings alive is far more acceptable, than accidentally burning a page of something the mob quite likes to think is divine (of which, they haven’t actually offered any evidence for). Similarly, in the case of Haider, the police referred to him as ‘mentally unsound’, rather than the policeman willing to kill a man with an axe for expressing negative thoughts about a group of people who lived 1400 years ago.

Humanity is capable of placing a man-made craft on a speeding comet, whilst murdering other human beings – including a pregnant woman – for saying unkind words about a magic invisible sky man who cannot do His own dirty work. It seems to me that if we are to base concepts of justice on how offended one may feel by the beliefs or words of others, it is non-believers – insulted and threatened on practically every page of most Holy books – who should be the main beneficiaries of such a policy.

Whilst my fellow atheists at times tell me that at its core, religion is the promotion of peace and love, I see nothing but what Sam Harris recently described as the mother lode of bad ideas. It would seem self evident to me that if religions are to be considered fundamentally peaceful, then the fundamentalists must be peaceful. The opposite is the case. Human suffering caused directly by religious dogma, is a clear result of anchoring human knowledge & moral ideals, and the human search for knowledge to a single time and place – often patriarchal – far removed from our own and that we as a species outgrew both intellectually and morally centuries ago. Indeed, a significant – if not the most significant – barrier to individual freedom, happiness and social and scientific progression, is the assumed privilege of religious supremacists. Over too vast a geographical spread, it plunges individuals whom tend not to fit its very narrow moral structure into fear and silence, which not only robs the individual of their right to a happy and dignified life, but also robs humanity of countless great minds. What if the cure for cancer is in the mind of a gay man in Uganda right now?

Humanity cannot be so great until it universally accepts that no single ideology or religion is inherently gifted the privilege to control the lives of others, to tell others that they are not to be included in society, or to withhold the talents of much of the population based solely on their skin tone, or gender, or belief, or sexuality. The minds and lips of all, free to believe and to utter according to the conscience of the individual alone, is the absolute prerequisite for a free and civilised society, and one in which the talents of all can be utilised. I see no greater flaw in our species than our ability to be so wonderful, to move with the times, to change based on the constant updating of human understanding, to free those traditionally oppressed by unjustifiable power structures, to create machines capable of landing on what is essentially a speck of sand in a cosmic ocean; yet at the same time be so willing to coerce and harm others in order to enforce – and make excuses for – the mother lode of bad ideas, regardless of the endless misery it so clearly causes.


‘Islam without extremes’ – by Mustafa Akyol. A Critique.

October 12, 2014

islamwithoutextremes

Perhaps you may think it an exaggeration, but I am quite convinced that the World will be shaped over the next several decades predominantly by how it responds to the threat from Islamist extremists. More than simply a war between those groups like Hizb or ISIS and the rest of the World, more than a war for the freedom of human beings from the oppressive structures imposed by supremacists, this is a civil war within Islam for its future. Whether Islam comes out of that war as a religion for the individual; an inner, spiritual system of guidance, or whether it is to be defined as a political structure that extends beyond the individual and chains others to dictates, can only be decided by Muslims. Attempts within the Islamic community to provide counter-narratives to extreme illiberal Islamist dogmas are vital. We do see this through the important work of think tanks like ‘Quilliam‘, or groups like ‘British Muslims for Secular Democracy‘. Writers can also have a lasting affect on how the war for Islam is shaped. I recently finished reading ‘Islam without extremes’ by Mustafa Akyol. I thought I’d share my thoughts on the book here.

I have several criticisms and I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. It is worth noting from the beginning that ‘Islam without extremes: A Muslim case for liberty‘ is an excellent attempt to dispel the myth that prevails in both Islamist quarters, and the Western far right, that groups like Hizb are in fact synonymous with Islam. They are not. Islam is a wide spectrum of belief that encompasses violent extremism, and secular liberalism. Akyol’s book presents a far more liberal, and secular strand of Islamic history that tends to get drowned out by Wahhabi interpretations in recent years. The book’s discussion of the back and forth fight for Islam over the centuries between traditionists and rationalists is compelling and fascinating reading. That being said, the book seems to present Islam less as a faith that promotes liberty, and more as a faith that is illiberal, and anti-secular, but a little bit less so than extremists suggest. And so as a ‘case for liberty’, it isn’t successful, and I’ll to give my reasons for that conclusion:

For example, after a brief discussion of pre-Islamic Arab society, in which women were not permitted the right to own property nor inheritance, Akyol says:

“… the Qur’an also decreed that females should receive a share of inheritance. It was only half of what their male siblings would get, but in a society in which men were considered to be responsible for the care of the whole household, this was a generous amount.”

– This seems to me to be a way to have it both ways. The very basis of Islamic belief, is that the Qur’an is the final message from God. It is the book of rules for all time. There will be no other message. It comes from a being that transcends time. He is able to give a new message, in more enlightened times if he wished, that ensures equal inheritance regardless of gender. But that isn’t the fundamental idea of Islam; that the Qur’an is the final message. ‘Rights’ are defined for eternity. And yet, more often than not, Muslims invoke the ‘context of the time’ excuse for illiberal Quranic rules. Akyol does that here. Whether the share of inheritance is nothing, or whether it is half that which men are to gain, it is illiberal. An improvement is irrelevant if it is to end at that improvement, and not be permitted further improvement toward equal treatment. In this case, the Quranic rule on inheritance is an institutional patriarchal structure, and worse than that, it is to be instituted for all time. Any further improvement would be an admission that the Islamic God was constrained by the time period, or that He was simply wrong. The ‘context’ excuse seems to me to be an attempt to placate in the mind of the believer, the suspicion that the Qur’an may not be all that liberal after all. A recognition that the individual believer has morally outgrown his/her God.

On page 67, Akyol says:

“The dhimma system was just one of the many implications of a basic idea that the Qur’an introduced: Humans have rights ordained by God, and no other human can violate those rights. This idea would allow Muslims to create a civilisation based on the rule of law”.

– I find these sentences to be self defeating. My rights have already been violated by other human beings, the moment those human beings decide for themselves that my life is to be chained to their faith and that the ‘rule of law’ is to be based on that one faith. Law is subsequently based less on evidence, if it contradicts the dogmatic beliefs of the privileged religion (more often than not, the privileged religion tends to be very patriarchal and very heterosexual, and so – surprisingly – heterosexual men seem to benefit the most from upholding that system). Institutional privilege for one faith is not a good example of the ‘case for liberty’. Quite the opposite. It insists that anchoring moral standards to one place and one time, is an excellent base for law, and that all must abide by it, whether Muslim or not, whilst those who aren’t Muslim must pay a tax to uphold this system.

In an attempt to promote Muhammad as a friend of Jews and Christians, Akyol tells us – on page 60-61 – that the Prophet spared the frescoes of Jesus and Mary when he stormed the Ka’ba, and that the Qur’an granted the right of Christians and Jews to live and practice their faith… under the rule of Islam. You will perhaps note several problems with trying to argue the case for liberty within a faith whose leader destroys the Gods of other faiths, saving only those that are depicted in the Qur’an, and then has the nerve to “grant the right” for others to live according to their own conscience… under the rule of Islam. This is not liberty. A man fighting for any concept of liberty would not have destroyed the Gods of others, nor have believed himself divinely ordained to decide upon the rights and the lives of others. I may dislike the Christian & Islamic God, I don’t then destroy Churches and Mosques. We rightly prosecute those who do.

Muhammad – by Akyol’s own admission – has now destroyed the Gods of other Pagan systems of belief. If I were to claim to have received a revelation from God, and proceeded to destroy shrines to other faiths proclaiming “truth has come! Falsehood has vanished!” – which, along with many other Quranic verses and traditions of the Prophet significantly negates the ‘no compulsion’ line – whilst telling Muslims that my new God has granted them certain rights, I would expect to be told that I do not get the privilege of handing out rights according to my own personal beliefs alone whilst destroying the right of others to believe according to their own conscience. The lives of others, are not mine to control or define. The same is true here. Muhammad was not promoting liberal values, he was assuming for himself a significant position of privilege to control the lives of others. Akyol then seems to accept that Muhammad instituted a sort of semi-theocracy with new liberties thrown in. He quotes Karen Armstrong who said:

“Muhammad could not produce a full-blown individualism to satisfy our present Western liberal ideas, but he had made a start.”

– The word ‘start’ should be replaced with the word ‘end’, because again, the Qur’an is the final message. She is right that Muhammad could not produce a full blown liberal, secular, democratic society protecting the civil liberties of all, at that moment and place in time. We as atheists must accept that he was just a man – impressive at times, flawed and disastrous at others – but believers who attempt to promote Islam as a faith that enshrines liberty – as Akyol attempted to do – have the uneasy burden of accepting that their God transcends time, and so the rules He sets out, and the man whom he chooses to empower with that message, must be the perfect form of liberty, and must not be rules that others over the centuries will try to mimic, causing misery across the globe. This is the problem of foresight – a subject I wrote on here – shared by the God of all the Abrahamic traditions. Indeed, those rules – if they are to extend beyond the individual in any way – must protect and empower men and women, muslims and atheists, homosexuals and heterosexuals, of all ethnicities, without prominence or privilege to any sect of any faith, otherwise it is simply a book of oppression and no amount of redefinition can fix that. And whilst Mustafa Akyol’s book certainly provides a narrative that takes the more extreme elements of recent years away from the faith, it fails to produce a narrative that its title – ‘A Muslim case for liberty‘ – suggests, and fails to tear Islam away from political ideology by entertaining the notion that it is perfectly reasonable for Muslims to define the rights of non-Muslims.

The conclusion I came to after reading Akyol’s book – and getting past the predictable religious tendency to blame everyone else except religious dogma for its deficiencies – was that Islam is by its nature illiberal, it is just a little less illiberal than the extremists believe, and was a little more liberating than previous Theocracies centuries ago. A leap forward once upon a time perhaps, but thoroughly archaic today.


Defining Islamism.

August 31, 2014

There has been a curious holding of hands in recent years between the Western political far right and those of the Islamist persuasion, both insisting that any individual interpretation of Islam and the definition of Islamism are in fact one in the same. The rhetoric from both is eerily similar in many instances. They both do not care too much for equal secular and liberal protections, and seek to restrict liberty for those they don’t particularly like – this is clear from the Bendigo Mosque case, and the anti-secular opposition to it – and they both insist that a state controlled by the dictates of one faith, is a duty for every Muslim to work to fulfill; a narrative used to justify oppression from both sides of that aisle. The implication is that anyone identifying as a Muslim, but not subscribing to a World domination interpretation of their faith, is not a ‘real‘ Muslim. When it comes to conflating personal faith, with political ideology, both the Western far right and Islamists agree.

The implication that any Muslim not actively pursuing a Caliphate is not a ‘real Muslim’ is a weak one of course, because no single Muslim has the privilege of speaking for the entire faith, nor carrying the definitive interpretation of the faith. Belief is dependent on a variety of concepts, not least personal life experience, socio-economic status, all working in unison to produce an individual interpretation. Islam; the Qur’an and Hadith are so vast in content, anchored to a time and place we know so little about, with a long history of contradiction that no one in the 21st Century can claim a definitive interpretation. Indeed, whilst we see Islamists insisting that homosexual people must be oppressed in the most abhorrent ways, we also see a Swedish Imam blessing a Muslim same-sex marriage last week, and wonderful Islamic gay rights groups like the Al-Fatiha Foundation working to protect and advance the rights of the Muslim LGBT community. Whilst we see ISIS beheading its way across the Middle East, justifying its hideous actions with Quranic passages, we see Imam’s like Dr Usama Hasan issue religious edicts condemning the group, using Quranic passages also. The scope for interpretation is so vast, that for anyone to claim to be speaking for the entire faith, speaks only to their own deluded sense of superiority.

So what do we mean by Islamism? Some claim it is a term that is so diluted, it is indefinable. I disagree. I think it has a clear definition. I’ve had this debate on social media over the past few days, and I’m yet to come across a notable objection to the term, that offers any reason to think the term itself is indefinable.

How I define & use the term Islamism:
A desire to enshrine Islam into the mechanisms of state, with law and rights based on the Shariah. The desire to elevate Islam to state privilege and power.
You may reasonably be described as Islamist, if you believe that I should be free, until my freedom contradicts the Shariah.

Indeed, the Sudanese Islamist leader Hasan al-Turabi uses the term ‘Islamism’ as I use it, in his book ‘Islam and Government‘. Al-Turabi notes that Islamists are:

“Political Muslims for whom Islam is the solution, Islam is religion and government, Islam is the constitution and law.”

– That’s it. It’s that simple. If an individual believes my liberty should be dependent entirely on the dictates of Islam – believing Islam having any inherent jurisdiction over my life whatsoever – this is Islamism. this is Islamism. Erecting institutional barriers to freedom according to the principles of Islam (however you interpret the principles), is Islamism. If an individual believes Islam must be granted state privilege of any variety, this is Islamism. If an individual believes my right to pursue my own goals ends where the religion of Islam begins, this is Islamism. The means of achieving that end may vary between democratically elected heads of state like Erdoğan slowly de-secularising a country and privileging one faith, or violent extremists willing to go the extra mile and wipe out all opposition (note; that is not to say that all violent extremists are Islamists). Indeed, the two may vehemently disagree with each other on progressing the end goal, or may differ theologically (some may argue that apostates deserve execution, others may not; the fact that both believe they have a right to decide whether an apostate lives or dies, rather than neither a believer nor an apostate having any right to decide who lives or dies, is the point), but the end goal remains the same. Whether you parade the streets of London with a sign reading ‘Freedom go to hell!’, or you wear a suit, attend a nation’s Parliament and seek to impose Islam by restricting equal civil liberty via an outwardly respectable legislative process; the end goal is the same.

When I peer out of my window, I see two trees, both of different appearance and levels of imposition. There’s a big tree with red leaves that blocks direct sun light from entering my window after a certain time. There’s a tiny tree with green leaves that balances precariously during windy nights. The two are very similar yet contain nuances that suggest differences; we still call both a tree, because the nuances do not negate the roots. It is fair to say that all ‘isms’, though rooted to the same principles, contain degrees of nuance to the point where one may refer to another as ‘not a real…[insert ism as applicable]’. An ‘ism’ is an umbrella term for a set of ideas. Socialism has a wildly varying degree of proponents from the peaceful to the violent, all seeking a similar goal. With Islamism, the nuances – the means of achieving control of the apparatus of state for Islam; thus the lives of others – may differ, but the principle itself remains the same. If you believe the liberty of others should be chained to the religious dictates of the faith of Islam – however you see that goal achieved – this is Islamism. I am yet to understand why this is a controversial definition, though I suspect it is less controversial, and more uncomfortable for some who fall under this definition.

One objection appears to be that we do not share similar terms with those of others faiths working toward the same end. I agree with this objection to a point, though fail to see how it negates the solid definition of the term ‘Islamism’. It simply – and rightly – suggests inconsistent use elsewhere. In the past, we have used ‘Clerical fascism’ – a well defined term focused on Christianity. In the 21st Century, we tend to refer – perhaps sloppily – to those we should refer to as Christianists as the Christian-right. We don’t refer to Islamists as the Muslim-right. This isn’t a distinction without meaning. We do this largely because by the 1950s, what we should call Christianism started to become aligned to the mainstream political right wing, especially in the US, and had several successes, not least ‘In God We Trust’ placed everywhere, slowly chipping away at the principle of church/state separation. The Christian-right are to this day aligned to the Republican Party, continuing its fight to enshrine Christian privilege into the mechanism of state (particularly Oklahoma). It is a similar tale in the UK. It was unsurprising that the voices of dissent over the UK’s same-sex marriage bill, were almost all conservatives (Tory and UKIP), using a Christian narrative in order to withhold equal rights for others. Tony Abbott’s right winged Liberal Party in Australia, appears to favour Christian dogma, over secular liberalism. That relationship between Islamists and mainstream politics isn’t as clear as it has been for their Christianist counterparts and so the term ‘Muslim-right’ would be wholly inadequate. So we use ‘Islamism’ – a term that seems to have gained its rebirth as an new concept in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution through to 9/11 and beyond; and so both ‘Christian-right’ and ‘Islamism’ are founded upon a social, historical context, both with a very clear foundation in the desire to impose the faith of one, over the lives of others through the functions of state.

Perhaps our familiarity with the term ‘Christian-right’ is a reason we do not change it to ‘Christianism’, we already have an established term. Indeed, whilst the term ‘Christianism’ and ‘Christianists’ is at times used – A Time article and Guardian article use it – I would argue that it isn’t used enough (on this blogging platform ‘Islamist’ is recognised as a real word, whilst ‘Christianist’ is underlined to suggest a spelling error) and that it is an objection Muslims are right to raise, though not in the context of negating or diluting the clear definition of ‘Islamism’ (as the Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, Mohammed Amin implied here, whilst bizarrely questioning why the media doesn’t offer a positive image of Islamism from time to time).

As noted at the beginning of the previous paragraph, the lack of a similar word (not a lack of any word, because we absolutely do use other terms to describe them that mean the same thing) for those of other faiths progressing the same desire, does not negate the definition of Islamism as an ideological narrative that seeks to control the lives of others, according to the dictates of Islam. This is a political narrative, and regardless of what both Islamists and the Western far-right insist, is not a term to be used interchangeably with Islam. And so as far as I can tell, the definition of Islamism may be uncomfortable for some, but stands as a perfectly adequate definition.


The fallacy of religious ‘objective morality’.

August 29, 2014

All atheists have come up against it at some point in their lives. Along with ‘so you think everything came from nothing?’, it is the main weapon in the ever shrinking theist arsenal. I’m talking of course, about the obsession with ‘objective’ morality and the absurdity that follows; ‘How can you condemn Hitler? By what standard?’ At first glance, it sounds like a philosophical conundrum that we may find troubling to deal with. But scratch the surface, and it really isn’t that difficult to respond to, without even having to begin to quote vastly immoral passages from those books.

There are several key problems, but the one I wanted to focus on is the misguided belief that religion provides a desirable objective moral standard. It is simply untrue that a moral
Statement magically transforms from ‘subjective’ to ‘objective’ by preceding it with a simple “my God says….”. I thought I’d highlight where I see the problems:

Firstly, to insist on an ‘objective’ moral base sent straight from heaven to humanity – the very base upon which a ‘subjective’ moral conclusion becomes ‘objective’ – one must conclusively prove the existence of your particular God. This means not simply convincing yourself of the existence of God, but convincing the rest of us also. Otherwise, the word ‘objective’ seems very familiar to the word ‘subjective’ and any moral judgement can be declared ‘objective’ if it is preceded with the phrase “My God said…“. We often hear from the religious the rather manipulative dichotomy presented as ‘Man’s law, or God’s law‘. Without first proving the existence of your God, what that dichotomy actually breaks down to, is 21st century Man’s law, or 1st/7th century Man’s law. If you cannot conclusively prove the existence of your God (this requires first proving the existence of a creator, followed by proof that the creator is all ‘good’ rather than all ‘evil’, followed by the leap from creator to your specific God) – through more than simple philosophical guesswork – the case for ‘objective morality’ or ‘God’s law’ falls before it’s even begun.

Secondly, both the Bible and Qur’an are subject to a myriad of interpretations and continual revisions depending on the context of the time and place, and the individual believer. Sit a liberal, secular Christian in a room with the Westboro Baptist Church, and the differences between them will be an ocean the size of the Pacific. Indeed, we see members of ISIS differing intensely in interpreting Islam’s ‘objective moral base’ from that of their immediate family members. If members of the same faith, in the same household, cannot agree on the meaning of countless ambiguous passages, nor can scholars over the course of time agree, constantly revising its meanings to fit a more modern narrative, it doesn’t get the luxury of being referred to as an ‘objective base’ for morality. If a divine being sent down obscure passages that believers in the same house hold cannot agree on, I’m afraid that reflects terribly on God’s ability to convey his message.

Thirdly, our nature is often – not always – in direct conflict with the idea of objective moral standards. Religion did not inform us that senseless murder is wrong (often, religion permits murder). We know this intuitively, and we punish murder, because murder contradicts our evolved ability to empathise with others, whilst posing a direct threat to our survival as a species if accepted universally. We empathise; that is to say, we imagine ourselves in the position of the other. Is that a basis itself for objective moral standards? Perhaps, though not in the form crafted by the religious, of an outside standard that transcends humanity. It is as much a part of our nature, as breathing. It is not separate from humanity. If indeed morality were a set of distinct rules, separate from humanity, existing prior to humanity, set out by a God, it would make sense – if God is to be considered ‘good’ – for those rules to be succinct and lacking ambiguity when handed to humanity. For those rules to be ambiguous, requiring 200,000 years of human suffering and violence to attempt to work out, implies a vastly immoral game by the divine rule giver.

It is then essential to note that humanity is not perfect. We are a wonderful yet very flawed species, and that reflects on our collective ideals over time, as we learn and grow. Morality is informed by complex interactions, including but my no means limited to our collective knowledge, our history, our mistakes, our experiences, and our evolved human intelligence – this essentially includes empathy and the ability to rationalise – at any given time. We are a complex species with deep flaws. Morality does not escape that. It evolved from our basic need to cooperate in order to survive the harshest of conditions, and grew as we grew. It is a natural condition in which without it, humanity would not have survived. Indeed, morality is essential for the survival of our species, yet not confined to our species. We see through the research of primatologists like Frans de Waal that our ape cousins show basic forms of moral reasoning; cooperation, conflict resolution etc. Morality is natural, and ever evolving. As with most natural occurrences – sexuality, gender, spirituality – religions tend to try to grab hold of nature, as if they own it, and shape it to fit the dictates of the faith, which in turn has the most awful consequences for those ‘outside’ of its narrow spectrum of what is to be considered God’s plan. In the case of morality, chaining moral progress by attempting to anchor moral ideals to tribal squabbles of 1st Century Palestine or 7th Century Arabia, and the obscurity of the passages that emerged as a result of those squabbles, is a distortion of nature, an attempt to reshape our nature, and by extension will without exception always end in oppression, because it cannot abide the nature of updated knowledge that contradicts 1st or 7th century far less informed dictates. From lands that were very patriarchal and very heterosexual dominated, it should come as no surprise that heterosexual males are the ones who coincidentally, God seems to offer the most privileges and power.

Further, there is a bizarre suggestion from the faithful, that no divine objective set of moral standards implies all moral conclusions are to be considered equal. For me, this isn’t true. One moral conclusion may be based on the available evidence and data, applied on a framework of our natural inclinations encompassing empathy among others, whilst the opposing moral conclusion may lack all evidence basing itself on mere belief, dismissing all contrary consideration. The two are not to be considered of equal weight. This is why I object to the reductive terms “objective” and “subjective” when speaking of morality. I don’t accept either.

So, we have noted that what the religious refer to as ‘objective’ requires as a bare minimum the conclusive proof of the existence of their particular God to begin its journey to actual objectivity; that what they tend to call ‘objective’ right now is simply their own subjective interpretation of ambiguous passages; and that anchoring morality to the moral ideals of a specific time and place is both unnatural, and by definition oppressive. So when theists insist that you as an atheist do not have an objective moral base distinct from humanity itself, by which to make moral judgements, the simple answer is; neither do you.


The Island of Secular, Liberal, Democracy.

July 15, 2014

Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800

Involving myself in several debates this week with members of Hizb and their supporters threw up one consistent theme; secular liberal democracy oppresses Muslims, and so by advocating a return of Khilafah, they are in fact fighting oppression (nothing says ‘fighting oppression’ quite like ISIS beheading ordinary people). The obvious question then becomes; how does a system that advocates – according to Hizb’s constitution as drafted by al-Nabhani – the execution of the ex-Muslims (essentially, genocide), and the oppression of the LGBT community, whilst forcing non-Muslims to pay to uphold it and disallowing women from holding high office, get to be considered anything but oppressive?

The response was predictably deflective, the points raised were not addressed (save for the ill-informed “being gay is unnatural” argument often used to defend the hideous oppression of the gay community by religious supremacists), instead opting on far more occasions than I ever considered possible, to just keep insisting that secular, liberal, democracy is in fact an oppressive religion itself. Whilst I’ve argued the case for secular, liberal democracy on several occasions pertaining to the specifics – the veil, or sexuality, free expression, or the building of mosques – I thought I’d use this article to explain my fundamental reasoning behind why I believe secular, liberal, democracy is the opposite of oppression.

Let us imagine there are ten of us on a desert island. We propose to come up with a governing system. Two of the new inhabitants are Muslim. Two Atheist. Two Christian. Two Hindu. Two FutileReligion (my new faith for the purpose of this article). The ten on the island consists heterosexual people, homosexual people, bisexual people, men and women, lighter toned skin and darker toned skin, red haired, blonde haired, blue eyed, green eyed people.

When coming up with our system, we all agree that the green eyed people – on account of having green eyes – have no inherent right to state privilege, nor the blue eye’d people, nor the blonde haired people, nor those with light toned skin. If we were to suggest that green eyed people are entitled the distinct privilege of law making, we imply that no one else is capable. We imply the superiority of one eye colour, to the inferiority of all others. We do so, without any reasonable justification. We therefore not only chain the rights of others whilst privileging green eyed people, we also chain green eyed people who could have their lives improved by the ideas in the minds of the non-green eyed people for improving island living. It is an absurdity. We acknowledge the equality of all when it comes to eye colour. And so we must then ask; if we accept that one particular eye colour isn’t naturally privileged, nor do we accept that the island is naturally a white supremacist island, why would we presume one particular faith must be granted state privilege and supremacy? And if we do believe one particular faith should be permitted an inherent right to state privilege, whose religion shall it be?

Well, the FutileBelievers believe the state should be theirs, and so all Christians and Muslims should be executed immediately for their sinful religion, because FutileGod insists that they are in fact unnatural. We presume that if we call it “God’s law“, it somehow permits it a privileged position to control and punish according to its rules, even those who don’t consider it to be “God’s law“. According to the two Muslims, the state should be Islamic with everyone else paying jizya to uphold the system and that the three gay people on the island should be immediately executed, and the four women disqualified from high office. The four women and the three gay people aren’t given a say in this, because the Muslims automatically presume a right to control those lives, simply on the basis of their personal religious belief. Again, an absurdity. The Christians believe the system should be completely controlled by Christians, with no Muslim being allowed high office, they also seek to burn any condoms they find and your private sex life will essentially be handed over to the two Christians. Muslims don’t get a say over whether they are allowed power in this Christian state, they simply have to deal with being institutionally inferior to their Christian rulers, who have taken it upon themselves to declare supremacy. So, who in this scenario gets to enshrine their particular religion into the framework of state?

Contrary to Hizb and other religious supremacists bizarre notions of oppression, you may note that secular, liberal, democracy enshrines the right to believe whatever it is you choose to believe. It protects that right fully for the individual. No single sect can take that away from you, in a secular, liberal, democracy. It is not anti-religious, it is anti-religious supremacy and privilege. To achieve a state that enshrines religious privilege, and supremacy, requires force and it requires the institutional subduing of others. It is the definition of oppression.

Let us be clear; by privilege I mean the institutionalising of one belief – and so, the power of state handed to two people on the island at all times – into the framework of state; perhaps insisting that gender and sexuality of all inhabitants must be subject to the rules of one faith. I do not mean banning those people from invoking their beliefs when it comes to island debate. Simply, the institutionalising of one belief; The perpetual chaining of everyone to the dictates of the faith of those two. Who gets to make that decision? How might we expect the other 8 react, if the two FutileBelievers were to say “… right, we’re in charge, we now run this place. First thing’s first, all Qur’ans and Bibles are to be burnt“. I imagine they’d react in the same way Catholics reacted when Protestants permitted themselves state privilege and oppression ensued. Or how Shia react when Sunni permit themselves state privilege and oppression ensues. It is a recipe for perpetual oppression and inevitable conflict, because it relies on the oppressed staying quiet and resigning themselves to an inferior status, and history teaches us that if you chain people to the privileged few, those in chains will fight to break them.

We have a situation in which ten people are currently free and equal. Eye colour does not get to control other eye colours, hair colour does not affect our right to participate in society and to an individual life. We extend that principle to belief. The freedoms are equal to all. There are no barriers erected to our liberty. None of those people were born attached to the religious beliefs of any of the others. Therefore, the burden is on those seeking to chain others to their religious beliefs, to convince others to hand over their liberty to that particular belief. As of yet – not just on our island, but on the entire planet – no one has succeeded in convincing others to become subservient to the beliefs of one individual, through anything other than threat and force.

So, how do we develop this impasse into a framework of state? Well, we could all insist that our particular religion is deserving of institutionalised state privilege, that others must be chained to our supernatural beliefs, thus putting us in constant conflict with everyone else on the island who similarly believe themselves privileged, and everyone else subordinate. This is unlikely to end in anything other than violence, when those threatened with the rules of the faith of the other start to break the chains. Or, we could enshrine into the framework, our acceptance that we should all be free to practice our own religion where it does not encroach on the same freedom for others, and where our freedom on the island is not chained to the beliefs of anyone else. We devise a system that is constituted firstly to protect each other, from each other. That is the primary basis of a free and equal society. The freedom of Person A – regardless of sexuality, or gender, ethnicity, or faith – does not end where the religion of Person B begins.

Once individual liberty, to pursue our own goals, is protected through a constitutional framework, we can then all jointly involve ourselves in the political process. The structure of the democratic institutions – be them Parliamentary, or Presidential, direct or representative, comes next. We compromise on decisions that effect us all, we split power, we get it wrong at times, but we learn and we move forward, and our participation in the political process is in no way dependent on our belief, gender, sexuality, hair colour, eye colour, ethnicity, if we’re missing a toe on one foot, or any other biological trait. All of those are irrelevant to our ideas and our participation within society, and so the initial protection of us all is the only possible way to allow everyone our full potential without fear of repression. The burden is on those who seek to remove our liberties, to explain why we should be forced to give them up.

The 10 person society is run on the basis of compromise and free and open debate and discussion. We can inquire, scrutinise, and progress without our ideas and creativity and contribution withheld simply because we have a particular eye colour, gender, or sexuality. If you disagree with a policy, you are free to protest, to run for office on your platform, to scrutinise, to mock, to critique. This is as true for you, as it is for me. This is secular, liberal democracy. It isn’t a religion, and it privileges no single individual or belief above any other. It is the neutral protection of all, from all, and the freedom for all to participate in the process of state. The governing of state in no way inflicts restrictions upon your right to live according to your religion, where your religion does not damage the liberty of anyone else.

To believe secular, liberal democracy is oppressing you, is simply another way to say you believe your faith should be granted state privilege to harm the liberty of others. This isn’t oppressing you, this is denying your determination to oppress others. And on that charge, I absolutely agree, and that is exactly why liberal, secular democratic institutions are the only way to guarantee civil protections for all.


“What makes stoning objectively wrong?”

June 5, 2014

I recently had a discussion with a Muslim guy at a Daw’ah table in the city centre, who held some incredibly extreme views and refused to accept contradictory thought. Afterwards, a friend of mine who considers himself a liberal Muslim, advocates free expression, LGBT rights, and considers the Shari’ah to be a system between him and his God only, told me – quite emotionally – that he does not recognise the Islam that the man at the Daw’ah table was espousing. I was reminded of this fundamental – and growing – split in Muslim thinking during a Newsnight debate between Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam and headteacher Ibrahim Hewitt of Interpal on the subject of extremism in schools. Nawaz asked Hewitt if he would condemn the practice of stoning, homophobia, or amputation of limbs for theft. After deflecting the question, Hewitt said it was a “complex issue”. I took exception to this, finding it particularly unnerving that a headteacher would not openly condemn executing people by throwing rocks at them, chopping off limbs, and dehumanising the LGBT community. After taking issue, I was asked on Twitter:

“But what makes stoning objectively wrong?”

– This curious – and rather grotesque – question echoes a lot of conservative religious apologists when seeking to defend abhorrent and archaic practices, by philosophising on objectivity in the hope of giving themselves a base by which they can legitimise the oppression of others. I find the framing of the question to be aimed in the wrong direction, and based on an incredibly faulty premise. The question presumes that the burden is on those of us who do not wish to be controlled by a single faith, to provide an explanation as to why our life is ours, and not owned by their religion.

The framing of the question – by presuming the burden is on us – implies a self evident privileged position for those that claim stoning is ‘objectively right‘, and that it is up to the rest of us to argue that it is in fact, wrong. The premise of the question itself is not proven first, and so the actual question has no reasonable basis. The premise is one in which I am wholly owned and subject to that particular faith, without offering proof as to why that should be true, whether I like it or not. It further implies that if I wish to free myself from the faith of those claiming ownership of my life, I must argue why their self-proclaimed right to subject me to religious punishment, is “objectively wrong“. This is an untenable position to start at, because at its core it permits religious folk the right to control me according to their faith, me the right to control their life if I simply say “My God says it’s objectively right“, it permits my neighbour the same right, and her neighbour the same right, and we end up in a situation in which all of us believe we have some sort of divine right to force others to abide by our personal religious beliefs. It is one big hellish Hobbesian condition of war. It offers no reasonable position as to why I shouldn’t be allowed to viciously oppress Muslims, if I simply add the phrase “… because God said so” at the end of an oppressive judgement, without first proving the validity of my premise; or indeed, the existence of my God. On the contrary, it appears to permit that state of all out God-wars. Each of us would thus begin from the position that our belief is true and must be inflicted upon others (whose beliefs must be presumed “objectively” false), without having to first offer conclusive proof. This seems entirely self defeating and based solely on who can subdue the other the quickest.

It seems to me that the only basis for a progressive and civilised society, is one that permits each the freedom to believe and to worship according to one’s conscience, but restricts that freedom at the point in which it inflicts upon the freedoms of others. So the case must be made that it isn’t my burden to explain why it is “objectively wrong” to punish me – with stoning or any other form of punishment – according to your faith. I begin life completely free from ideological dogma and chains. If you seek to erect barriers to my freedom, according to what your faith demands of you, you’re going to have to convince me to go along with it, otherwise it is simply oppression. Your faith does not own me at birth. If you believe it does, conclusively prove it, convince me. If you fail to do so, you have absolutely no authority by which to subject me to the punishments of your religious beliefs. Whether I live or die, must not be decided upon by the religious beliefs of anyone else. Therefore, the burden is yours to explain why it is “objectively right” that I be ideologically chained to your faith in the first place, before I am at all required to offer a rebuttal. It is not up to me to prove that I shouldn’t be subject to your religious beliefs, it is up to you to prove that I should. Good luck with that.