What’s a ‘Cultural Muslim’?
Above: Muslims for Secular Democracy demonstrate against fundamentalists
For years Saif Rahman has been an agnostic and an ex-Muslim activist. So why is he thinking of calling himself a ‘cultural Muslim’?
For years I’ve been an ex-Muslim activist.
My transition from being a Muslim to ex-Muslim was sudden. After spending years frustratedly attempting to reconcile my personal and religious beliefs, I realised I was being intellectually dishonest and often bending Islam to fit with my personal ideals. My religious cousin from Pakistan crystallized this perfectly when he came to stay with us.
We would often get into long debates about Islam, lasting long into the night. They would often end on a heated note, where he would say something like “You are either Muslim or you are not” or “Either accept everything in Islam is right because it’s been produced by an infallible God, or don’t call yourself a Muslim.”
I can’t recall which contentious issue broke the camel’s back, but on one occasion I was not willing to compromise and called his bluff. I conceded that he was right, and that I was no longer a Muslim. His face registered his shock. In an effort to reverse the damage he asked me to write all my arguments down so he could take them to a learned scholar of Islam.
I did so in an eleven-page letter. I eagerly anticipated his response and even copied in each of my siblings. After three months my brother received a phone call from the cousin saying that he hadn’t forgotten and was still working on the reply. It’s been eight years, and I still haven’t heard back. I turned the letter into a blog post which has since been viewed 50,000 times. That post morphed into my book The Islamist Delusion.
I now run an online forum, Debating Islam, that has 7,300 members, evenly split between Muslims and ex-Muslims. I took over this group from moderate Muslims, who had originally set it up in support of the Imam of Leyton Mosque, Usama Hasan, on whom a fatwa had been declared for his defence of Darwinian evolution in a mosque lecture. When the forum became overrun with extremists trolls issuing death threats it was dissolved and I took over the carcass and repurposed it as a free speech site dedicated to hosting debates between current and former Muslims. The same extremists tried the trick again, and even hacked the site, but eventually with the help of other ex-Muslims, we chased them off. During these battles I collected 139 death threats, but, for me it’s worth it when I see yet another Muslim embracing humanism. I keep a public record of people who have renounced their faith on the site – the Murtad (Infidel) Register – and there is literally no more space for another name.
Yet, despite my busy life as an ex-Muslim activist I’m growing less convinced that “ex-Muslim” is always a useful description. It can come across as confrontational and overly simplistic, and has the tendency to close down debate before it starts. Read the rest of this entry »
Shahnaz Nazli, a teacher at a girls’ school in the Northwestern Khyber district of Pakistan, was murdered earlier this week. Officially, the motorbike-riding killers are “unknown” but they are clearly the same brand of gynaephobic fascist bastards who tried to kill Malala Yousufzai. The killing was quite widely covered by the likes of CNN, but I could find nothing in the Guardian or on the main liberal-leftist websites.
Can it be that sections of the Western liberal-left have come to simply accept that this kind of thing is inevitable in certain cultures? Or that sections of the so-called “left” even harbour a degree of sympathy with the Taliban as some kind of “resistance” movement?
Maybe Nick Cohen has a point.
And this book is essential reading.
Above: Egyptian women wave a flag showing pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut and anti-Muslim Brotherhood banners during a demonstration in Cairo, marking this year’s International Women’s Day.
The Muslim Brotherhood has issued a statement denouncing a proposed statement by the UN Commission on the Status of Women because it “contradicts principles of Islam and destroys family life and entire society.”
The 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), taking place from March 4 to 15 at UN headquarters, seeks to ratify a declaration euphemistically entitled ‘End Violence against Women’.
That title, however, is misleading and deceptive. The document includes articles that contradict established principles of Islam, undermine Islamic ethics and destroy the family, the basic building block of society, according to the Egyptian Constitution.
This declaration, if ratified, would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies.
Ah yes good old “moral specificity” that makes it ok to pretend women are inferior and subordinate, along with good old pseudo-anti-imperialism used to shore up theocratic imperialism. It’s a cute trick, pretending that rights for women amount to “intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries.”
A closer look at these articles reveals what decadence awaits our world, if we sign this document:
3. Granting equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships.
4. Granting equal rights to homosexuals, and providing protection and respect for prostitutes.
5. Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger.
6. Equal inheritance (between men and women).
That’s decadence, is it? Not treating women who have non-marital sex as having no rights – that’s decadence? Not treating marital rape as perfectly fine is decadence?
7. Replacing guardianship with partnership, and full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as: spending, child care and home chores.
Jesus god – it’s decadent to treat women and men as equals as opposed to making men the guardians of their wives, as if women were children?
8. Full equality in marriage legislation such as: allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, and abolition of polygamy, dowry, men taking charge of family spending, etc.
9. Removing the authority of divorce from husbands and placing it in the hands of judges, and sharing all property after divorce.
10. Cancelling the need for a husband’s consent in matters like: travel, work, or use of contraception.
These are destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution; they would subvert the entire society, and drag it to pre-Islamic ignorance.
The Muslim Brotherhood urges the leaders of Muslim countries and their UN representatives to reject and condemn this document, and to call upon this organization to rise to the high morals and principles of family relations prescribed by Islam.
And these are the people who are in power in Egypt, along with the Salafists, who are even worse.
”As the church develops it faces new challenges and new questions but to say you have to change everything – I don’t agree … I prefer the word ‘repentence’ to [the word] ‘reform’” – Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor on Radio 4′s ‘Today’ Programme, 4 Mar 2013 08:25
O’Connor and C of E chum: ecumenical bigotry
Anyone who heard O’Connor’s semi-coherent, stumbling but strangely confident and supremely complacent performance on the ‘Today’ programme (BBC Radio 4) this morning, will realise that the Roman Catholic hierarchy, of which he is Britain’s leading representative, is quite simply incapable of reform when it comes to matters of sexuality. This is only of concern to atheists like myself insofar as it will perpetuate the misery being inflicted by the Church upon people round the world, and dash the hopes of many decent Catholics who are presently in despair. The immediate issue behind the interview was the de facto admission of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, an outspoken opponent of gay relationships, that he had himself engaged in gay sexual conduct.
But the hypocrisy and self-delusion of this sad man is really the least of it. The Catholic Church’s record on paedophilia, AIDS, womens’ rights and (of course) gay rights are the real issue: as interviewer John Humphrys put it to the wretched O’Connor this morning, “If the abuse that went on in the Catholic Church had gone on in a lay organisation, it would be shut down.”
The AWL’s Sean Matgamna (as ‘John O’Mahony’) wrote this open letter to O’Connor back in 2007, when O’Connor together with the C of E’s Rowan Williams, was trying to interfere in the implementation of Britiain’s sexual orientation equality legislation in order to exempt religious believers:
Dear Mr Murphy O’Connor,
Courage in “Defence of the Faith” is, I suppose, a requirement of your office. Even so, I find it hard not to admire your courage — or bare-faced cheek — in attempting to “lay down the law” to the British government and the people it governs on what legal rights gay people in the UK should have and what legal rights granted to others should be denied them.
You are joined in this by your “brothers in Christ” Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, Archbishops of Canterbury and York respectively.
What you and your Anglican brethren demand here is that in the way it treats gay people, Britain should be ruled by the laws and prejudices of your churches and by men like yourself, who are, to put things plainly, either lifelong celibates or thoroughgoing hypocrites.
You want the state to back you in forcing those who reject your religion, including gay Catholics who reject your teaching on this point, to live by your religious rules. You claim it as a right of conscience for Catholics to be legally empowered to act punitively against those who reject your rules.
In what way is what you demand anything other than a demand for Catholic religious tyranny over gay people, including gay Catholics?
In what way is it not a demand to be given the right to impose your views on others who reject them?
In what way is your demand anything other than an assertion that the rights of gay citizens are less important than the “conscientious” right of Catholics’ to deny them those rights?
The blunt truth is that here you are demanding the right to inflict on others ethical concerns and rules of behaviour which are not theirs but yours! The rights of your religious consciences must, you insist, be elevated above other people’s civil rights!
You attempt to use blackmail, threatening to close down Catholic orphanages if you don’t get your way. That, Mr. Murphy O’Connor, shows how much you really care about the children you present yourself as being so keen to protect from the contamination of love and care by gay foster parents. Doesn’t it? If you are not allowed to inflict your own narrow mindedness on others, then, as far as you are concerned, the orphan children can, so to speak, go to Hell !
It does take courage – or a well-founded brass neck! – for a leader of a minority church to claim in the name of his religious conscience the right of his own co-religionists to determine how society treats others, here gay people. You want the religious tail to wag the large, de-facto secularist dog, Mr Murphy O’Connor!
Your “courage” here is, however, not the courage I have in mind.
For a couple of decades now, your church has repeatedly been shaken by the revelations that in Catholic care homes and schools all across the Western world, children have been subjected to systematic sexual abuse by clerics.
Such scandals have broken out all across the world, from the USA to our own Pope’s Green Ireland.
In Ireland, behind the façade of a bourgeois democracy, your church ruled for most of the 20th century over what was in effect a theocracy. So much so that Ireland was — as a 1950s writer could truly say in the Maynooth seminary’s magazine — like one great monastery, where people’s lives were in every respect governed by religion. That is by priests and bishops!
There, Mr Murphy O’Connor, where people like you ruled over a country to a degree unequalled, probably, since the Middle Ages, you made life a hell for children in the schools which, with minimal “interference” from governments, you ran, and in the orphanages and reformatories where children were at the mercy of priests and nuns.
Former child victims of such sexual mistreatment by Catholic priests and nuns, in Ireland and in many other countries, have brought a vast number of court cases and won large amounts of compensation from your church for its treatment of them when they were helpless small defenceless children.
These victims of sexual abuse have had serious psychological damage done to them. They have gone and still go through adult life blighted by their mistreatment by your priests and, typically by way of saavage violence, nuns.
By priests and nuns who themselves were victims, most of them from early childhood, of religious indoctrination, which induced them to accept a way of religious living built on the repression and condemnation of some of their own most-powerful, and most volcanic, instincts.
One does not have to think their abuse of children anything other than damnable — in your sense and mine! — to feel some sympathy for such people.
The children in that vast, world-wide archipelago of Catholic orphanages and schools had their childhoods and, many of them, their entire lives, blighted by priests and nuns whose own lives were blighted by trying to live within a rule of life-long celebacy, that was both inhuman and, for large numbers of them, untenable. The children were the victims of that system.
And you Mr Murphy O’Connor, in the name of an international organisation which, in the 20th century, functioned as a sort of International Paedophiles Anonymous — in which priests sought not cure, but licence and abundant supplies of victims – you, instead of questioning in the light of such experience your own beliefs, and the fitness of your church, and of men like yourself, to lay down rules for anyone, you claim the right to penalise gay people for not accepting the rules imposed by the clergy — the rules which so many, so very many, of your clerical brethren honoured in the breach rather than in the compliance!
As Jesus said: First remove the mote from your own eye!
Mr Murphy O’Connor, you cloak your religious prejudices in hypocritical concern for the children. What exactly is it that you fear?
Of course, any properly run adoption or fostering agency will check out the suitability of all potential foster parents, be they hetero or homosexual. It will be on guard, watching for possibilities of abuse, for predatory paedophiles, for potential violence, and so on.
For sure, the record of non-Catholic as well as Catholic foster homes, in Britain and elsewhere, as places where vast number of children were abused in various ways over many decades, does not suggest complacency about such things.
Nor do such terrible incidents as social service workers in deference to “cultural pluralism”, allowing little Victoria Climbie to be murdered by a religious maniac Christian aunt. Decent people can not be satisfied with the state of things in these institutions.
But that is an entirely different issue to the one we are discussing: whether Catholics should be allowed to discriminate against gay would-be foster parents.
Apply your approach to adoption by gay people to other matters of conscience Mr Murphy O’Connor and you will get very strange results.
After all there are still people who think witches with Diabolical power exist, and that they work their malign practices on good Christian people. There are people who believe that Jews, or some Jews, do similar things and that they drink the blood of “Christian children”.
Isn’t it a violation of their religious rights and of their conscience to deny them the right to persecute and kill witches and Jews by burning them alive or by driving stakes into their hearts? The right to act in relation to such obnoxious and sinful people according to their own morals and consciences?
The religion-crazed Christian aunt of the little girl Victoria Climbie did just that with a child her religious beliefs and state of mind led her to brand as a witch possessed by demons. There are, apparently, many small, Africa-rooted Christian churches whose members commonly hold beliefs like this. Why don’t they have the right to act according to their consciences? Why are the consciences of such people less important than the consciences of Catholics like yourself?
Shouldn’t you campaign for Marie Therese Kouao (Victoria’s aunt) to be released from jail?
Why is it right to treat sinful gay people as you want and not right to treat witches in the good old witch-burning time-honoured way? Who decides where the line is drawn?
Vast numbers of women were burned as witches in Europe some hundreds of years ago. Witch-burning was, as I understand it, much more a phenomenon in early Reformation Protestant states than of Catholic Europe. (After all, episcopal urbanity has to be of some use!) But it did happen in Catholic countries too.
And, of course, notoriously, the Catholic Church burned heretics, whenever and wherever it was strong enough to do it. The Catholic church backed or helped initiate the systematic coercion by Louis XIV, after 1685, of French Protestants that almost wiped out Protestantism in France.
Rowan Williams’ and John Sentamu’s church inspired, backed and administered the savage coercion of Irish Catholics, under which your ancestors and mine were condemned to social and legal outlawry for over two hundred years.
For a certainty there are individual lunatics lurking in your Church and in that of Rowan Williams whose consciences would dictate to them that they should now do things like that. Quite apart from the fact that Rowan Williams and yourself would not agree on exactly who should be persecuted, you would not, would you, advocate as a matter of conscientious right, that Catholic (or Protestant) lunatics should be allowed to burn those they thought were witches, kill obnoxious Jews, persecute Protestant, Catholic or Jew or Muslim? Why not? Because you know better?
Because you live in more enlightened times — times in which the desire to continue behaving as your’s and Rowan William’s churches behaved in the past would brand such “traditionalists” as out and out lunatics?
Because you accept that the law that forbids, and would punish severely, such behaviour towards “witches”, Jews, “heretics”, Papists, etc, is a more enlightened law than the laws under which such things were done in the past?
The point, Mr Murphy O’Connor, is that so, too, is the law that now — since very recently, and very belatedly — forbids and would punish violence and discrimination again gay people.
It is a law to regulate citizens’ behaviour according to standards that are, I submit, greatly superior to your own prejudiced, Dark-Ages-rooted, mind and conscience on the rights of gay people.
Nor is your own Catholic morality immutable, as the things of the past which I have mentioned demonstrate.
Older Catholics and ex-Catholics will know very well that articles of faith in which they were educated, and trained to obey, on pain of the threat of damnation, ceased in the 60s and 70s to be Catholic law. Your attitude to gays is part of a complex of teachings on sexuality and procreation of which your attitude to contraception is also part. Such things as your churchs prohibition of contraception will, almost certainly, eventually be jettisoned, like so much in the past.
There are, perhaps, signs of that already.
You make the point, Mr Murphy O’Connor, obviously with Ruth Kelly in mind:
“It would be deeply regrettable if in seeking, quite properly, better to defend the rights of a particular group not to be discriminated against, a climate were to be created in which, for example, some feel free that members of the government are not free to hold public office on the grounds of their faith affiliation.”
The point here, though, is that no one has the right to be a minister, and impose their own faith-derived beliefs on those who reject them.
Let us, indeed, take the case of Ruth Kelly.
One could make a strong case in favour of Ruth Kelly. In contrast to most of the Blair Government’s ministers, Kelly, Minister for Women and Equality, and former Education Secretary, comes across as a proper and possibly likeable human being, a bright young woman who has managed to combine having a sizeable brood of kids, still young, with a high flying political career.
On one level, even Kelly’s Catholicism might be taken to recommend her. In contrast with most ministers and most MPs, her affiliations suggest that she believes in something other than her career and getting on in the world. She is a fervent, old-fashioned, practicising Catholic.
Though she approaches things differently, she probably believes, more than most Labour ministers, in some of the values socialists believe in. Catholic Popes have sometimes criticised capitalism for its predatory, cancerous cultural commercialism and its idolatry of the market.
Here too Ruth Kelly stands in favourable contrast with most of her government colleagues and New Labour MPs, whose capacity for belief and care is exhausted by their over-fervent belief in and care for their own careers.
But Ruth Kelly is a member of the militant Catholic cult, Opus Dei (the Work of God) — or as near to membership as a miserable, weak, sinful, inferior woman can get with this organisation. A member of an ultra-Catholic, semi-secret cult that originated in fascist Spain (and the dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco was very much a Catholic dictatorship, just as the civil war through which that dictatorship was established, was on that side very much a Catholic crusade).
Therefore, despite all the things one might say for Ruth Kelly, it is nothing less than an outrage that Kelly should have been Minister for Education, and is now, Minister for Women and Equality, in charge of deciding how the rights accorded to gay people by the British Parliament will be implemented in particular cases such as adoption policy.
Her support for the proposal that Catholic orphanages arranging adoptions and fosterings should be exempt from the legal obligation to treat gay the same as heterosexual couples, is evidence that Kelly is unfitted by her faith to hold such positions.
And of course it isn’t just a question of Kelly’s views. The Prime Minister is a crypto-Catholic, who, like Charles the Second, will formally convert to Catholicism at the end of his career. He, most likely, shares Kelly’s doctrinal guidelines on matters like this. He, after all, appointed her.
Kelly’s successor as Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson, is not a member of Opus Dei or even a Catholic. Yet Johnson bowed to Catholic objections to imposing on Catholic and other religious schools an obligation to take in a percentage of non-believers as pupils.
Under pressure, Johnson buckled and settled for vague assurances from yourself, Mr Murphy O’Connor, and others who run the big network of Catholic schools in England.
Believing Muslims do not, as far as I know, dominate the present British government. Yet this wretched government has legislated to outlaw “incitement to religious hatred” — the freedom to criticise, denounce and mock religion — in a desire to placate Muslim leaders, for whom any sharp criticism of Islam is an insult and an outrage. (You, of course, also wanted such legislation. )
Blair and his colleagues thereby showed themselves to be as far from serious liberal thought in their approach to these matters as you yourself are.
Ruth Kelly is important not only because she is a member of Opus Dei in charge of ministries in which her own strong religious beliefs come into conflict with the liberal norms of the society presided over by the New Labour government, but because she dramatises the conflict between liberal social arrangements and serious, believing, Christians, Muslims and others.
She demonstrates how preposterous it is to have Ruth Kelly, or Tony Blair the crypto-Catholic, in government positions where conflict arises between the personal beliefs of the minister and the norms and expectations (and, here, laws!) of an advanced liberal bourgeois democracy such as that in which you and I, Mr Murphy O’Conno, live.
Yet the root problem is not the religious beliefs of individual ministers, or even the Prime Minister. The root problem is the framework of institutions, laws, norms and expectations within which British governments work.
You, Mr Murphy O’Connor, and Ruth Kelly and Tony Blair, can only play the role you are playing in this discussion because British institutions so far lag behind those of France and, even, the USA, in putting organised religion in its proper, subordinate, place — in constitutionally ruling out attempts by the religious to decree how non-believers will live in a common society with them.
Both France and the USA have experienced radical bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Britain, whose bourgeois revolution was made much earlier, in the 17th century, when social and class interests were cloaked in religious garb and expressed in terms of religious dogmas and disputations, is here, simply backward.
Ignorant, bigoted, backwards religion — which is often very anti-Catholic, to be sure — is a great force in the USA. It has given to the world the Magi gift of President George W Bush. They are busily attacking the secularist political traditions of US public life. Even so, the separation of church and state, established in America at the end of the 18th century, remains a great force for public good, despite such antics as Donald Rumsfeld, when he was secretary for defence, holding daily prayer meetings in his office.
By contrast, Britain has a State Church, the Anglican Church, whose titular head is the monarch, the British head of state.
Arguably the worst thing which the Blair government has done in its decade in office has been to encourage the growth of “faith schools”. A later generation, and maybe the present one, will be faced with the consequences of the religious segregation of children — religious segregation which in some cases coincides heavily with ethnic segregation. A terrible price may have to be paid for that.
Even so, put the case against Blair at its strongest, and it is still true that Blair has only built on and expanded existing traditions. Blair has sowed his poisoning crop in a garden that was laid out long before his time.
It is now almost forgotten — you won’t have forgotten it! — what an uproar greeted the proposal at the beginning of the 20th century for the British state to endow Catholic schools. Catholic schools which mainly catered for the children of immigrant (Irish) workers, much as Muslim schools do now.
Paradoxically, then as now, the argument for faith schools, for an intrinsically-divisive, religious-run system of education, for extending support to Catholic, and now to Muslim, schools, rested on the high ground of egalitarianism: the right of Catholics, as now of Muslims, to equal treatment.
Anglican schools were then already endowed, as now, when we discuss Muslim faith schools, thousands of Anglican, Catholic and Jewish state-funded schools already exist. For you, Mr Murphy O’Connor, that is how it should be.
It is a terrible judgement on the backwardness of Britain in such matters – a backwardness which your own involvement in this discussion loudly proclaims – that the separation of church and state was realised in the USA over two hundred years ago and is still unrealised in the UK!
For those of us who reject the idea that the obscurantist doctrines of archaic religions should have any influence in shaping the social laws through which we regulate our lives, a different conclusion follows.
The whole framework needs to be changed!
• The very possibility of any sort of privileging of the viewpoint or the representatives of any religion, the privilege you are now demanding for Catholics when you demand that they should have the right to discriminate against gay people — that possibility should, as far as possible, be eliminated.
• Religion must be made into a private matter in relation to society.
• Religious men and women like yourself must be, in your capacity of religious leaders, excluded from any role in the state system of education greater than that to which you are entitled as an individual citizen having a citizen’s rights.
• Catholic and other religious-run orphanages must become the property of society, rather than what they are now, receptacles in which young and vulnerable children are held at the mercy of religious indoctrinatiors.
• In every area of society, I repeat, the church should be separated from the state.
• The Anglican church should be disestablished, and disendowed, its property must be made public property.
• As part of the separation of church and state, all faith schools should be taken over and turned into secular state schools — schools in which no religion is taught and religion is studied only as comparative religion.
Paradoxically, this would have as one of its effects the strengthening of freedom of religion, which is and must be an inalienable right of the citizen.
Right now, the sniping and speculation about Ruth Kelly’s religion and its possible relationship to her judgements as a minister, is inevitably intrusive. It probes and prods at her and her religion. That is because, under the existing system, her private believes are a legitimate concern of people who know that Kelly’s religion – and yours, and Tony Blair’s — will play a part in the resolution of the current crisis.
Kelly does not have to have a placard around her neck proclaiming that homosexuals are evil and deservedly damned, etc, for people to know very plainly that she has such views and that her views cannot but influence her attitudes.
There will always be some areas in which the practices associated with or forbidden by some religion will, in the interests of others, place some limitations on the practitioner’s role in society.
The idea that a woman with her face veiled should teach was absurd, and the woman concerned was rightly sacked. Even though she had the right as a citizen to wear the veil, she had no right to teach while veiled.
You too, Mr Murphy O’Connor. You have and should retain the right to believe any absurdity you like. And the right to lay down any absurd rules you like for people who voluntarily accept what you, or your Pope, decree, as rules for themselves. You have no right to inflict your own opinions, to cramp and curtail the lives of others by the bigoted imposition on them of rules of living which they reject.
The absurdity of a compulsorily celibate man, part of a large world wide caste of compulsorily celibate men and women, championing the “traditional family”, and demanding sanctions against those who take a different view, is not only a crying, but also a vicious, absurdity!
So too is the whole British system of relationships between the state and the churches.
To adapt a slogan from the women’s movement:
Keep your hands off our bodies, Mr Murphy O’Connor! And our minds!
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: “Islamophobia” or “legitimate criticism”?
In a recent article, Dr Leon Moosavi asserted that Muslims in the UK face “stereotyping, discrimination and even harassment.” Anyone who has glanced at tabloid headlines much over the last few years, or who follows organisations and blogs which seek to counter this bigotry, will probably agree that Moosavi has a point. He continues:
‘For example, in November 2012, the Leveson Inquiry which examined news media conduct from many angles concluded that Muslims, along with asylum seekers, immigrants and travellers, are commonly derided in the mainstream press.
‘ More recently, a couple of weeks ago, Keith Vaz MP tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament suggesting that Islamophobia be recorded by police forces across Britain so that it can be better understood.’
Towards the end of the article I began to question elements of Moosavi’s argument:
’There are also protagonists who actively seek to dismiss Islamophobia as a concept because they claim it is one that prevents free speech and criticism of Islam as a religion.
It is important here to distinguish between legitimate criticism of a religious ideology and generalisations and attacks against those who have a Muslim identity. Just like it is possible to disagree with Jewish theology without being anti-semitic, it is possible to disagree with Islamic theology without being Islamophobic.’
Is Moosavi right to say that “legitimate criticism” of Islam is not in itself a problem? I suspect that many commentators Moosavi would consider Islamophobic manage to avoid even verbal, let alone physical, “attacks against those who have a Muslim identity.” But when people criticise Islam with single-minded and passionate dislike, when they cherry pick sources to exclude less conservative interpretations of the religion, then it is hard to say that such discourse doesn’t have an impact on people’s treatment of individual Muslims.
However Moosavi is also in danger of making “Islamophobia” embrace much that one wouldn’t want to ban or even censure. There is a potentially huge contested area between “legitimate criticism of a religious ideology” and “attacks against those who have a Muslim identity.” What about illegitimate criticism? And who gets to decide what is legitimate? Some people, for example, took great exception to Tom Holland’s documentary about Islam, based on his book The Shadow of the Sword. That was a serious project; but what about Charlie Hebdo, The Innocence of Muslims, Jesus and Mo? It would have been better (assuming this is what he thinks) if Moosavi had made a stronger and more unequivocal defence of freedom. And unfortunately some of the most vocal opponents of Islamophobia (though not, as far as I am aware, Moosavi) are happy to weaponise that word in order to smear leftists, liberals and secularists who would probably be very willing to make common cause with them against racists like the EDL.
But the EDM (945) Moosavi is urging MPs to support seems like a reasonable and limited measure, responding to a genuine problem, and I have asked my MP to support it.
Reblogged from Tendance Coatsey:
Chokri Belaid: Tunisian Patriot, Marxist and Secularist Killed by Islamists.
At the of January Chokri Belaïd wrote, “Official violence and that of the militias is present, with the political assassination in Tataouine, and warnings and calls for the liquidation of political competitors without the authorities responding. The situation that gave birth to December 17, 2010 is still current.” (Hat-tip Paul F)
His party the Mouvement des patriotes démocrates (حركة الوطنيون الديمقراطيون) is Marxist, pan-Arab and Secularist.
It is part of the Front Populaire, (الجبهة الشعبية) ou Front populaire pour la réalisation des objectifs de la révolution (الجبهة الشعبية لتحقيق أهداف الثورة) * which unites left parties in opposition to the Ennahdha, Islamist-led Tunisian government.
Belaid has been described as the “bête noire” of the Islamists, particularly after the lawyer defended freedom of expression, and the film Persepolis.
On Wednesday morning he was shot outside his front door.
Tunisia Live reports,
Leftist politician and leader of the Popular Front coalition Chokri Belaid was shot to death this morning outside of his home.
Shortly after news of his assassination consumed the airwaves and social media, protesters took to the streets to express their indignation over Belaid’s assassination.
Over the course of the day, demonstrators made their way to the Interior Ministry in Tunis’ main thoroughfare, Habib Bourguiba avenue, where they showed solidarity with Belaid and chanted slogans against the ruling Ennahdha party.
The situation turned violent at around 2:30 p.m. with police resorting to tear gas and batons to empty out and lockdown Habib Bourguiba avenue.
Protests have spread across the country, and some of Ennahdha’s regional headquarters have been attacked.
As today’s General Strike is underway this is what people are saying,
They are also crying anti-Ennahdha slogans, such as “Ghannouchi (Ennahdha founder), you are a predator,” “dégage (get out, in
French),” “This will be the last day for this government,” and “Bring down the oppressor of the people, bring down the Brotherhood party.”
Belaïd’s family openly accuse that government of responsibility.
Le Monde reports,
L’assassinat de Chokri Belaïd n’a pas été revendiqué. Mais partisans et sympathisants de l’opposition dénoncent déjà à l’unisson le “premier assassinat politique“ en Tunisie depuis la chute de l’ancien dirigeant Zine El-AbidineBen Ali en janvier 2011 et affirment : “On a assassiné un démocrate”. Tous les regards se portent en particulier contre Ennahda, ouvertement accusé par la famille d’être responsable du meurtre de l’opposant.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the assassination of Chokri Belaïd. But opposition supporters and sympathisers have already denounced, in chorus, the “first political assignation in Tunisia since the fall of the former leader, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. “They have killed a democrat”, they have declared. All eyes have turned towards Ennahda, openly accused by the deceased’s family of being responsible for the murder.
Le frère du défunt, Abdelmajid Belaïd, a ainsi lancé: “J’accuse (le chef d’Ennhada) ached Ghannouchi d’avoir fait assassiner mon frère”, sans plus d’explication pour étayer cette accusation.
The brother of the deceased, Abdelmajid Belaïd, has launched this charge, ‘I accuse Rached Ghannouchi of the assassination of my bother”, he said, without giving details to back up this accusation.
The Islamist Government has denied that this is the case, deeply regretting the murder.
But as, Nadia Chaaban, (left Tunisian deputy) says,
Tout le monde savait que Chokri Belaïd était menacé. Aucune mesure de protection n’a été prise. En laissant se propager des discours violents dans des espaces tels que les mosquées, ce gouvernement laisse faire et cautionne.
Everybody knew that Chokri Belaïd was under threat. There were no measures taken to protect him. In letting violent speeches (Note, by the Salafists) flourish in such places as mosques, the government has let this happen and endorsed it
Others point to Ennahdha’s ”ambiguous” relations with violent Salafists (Here)
Nor is Ennahdha completely above suspicion.
Their persecution under the Ben Ali regime should not make us forget that even this ‘moderate’ Islamist party has a past acquaintance with violence, for example, in the bombing of tourist hotels in the 1980s.
Last year opposition trade unionist protester, Lotfi Naguedh, was killed fighting with Ennahdha thugs.
The most that one say with certainty, on the present evidence, is that this murder did not happen in a political vacuum and that the ruling Islamists did not protect its opponent.
In 2011 George Galloway said of this party and of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,
I welcome the imminent victory of the Islamic movements in Egypt and Tunisia, which I think will provide very good governments on the Turkish model.
The once savagely repressed progressive Islamist party An-Nahda (Ennahdha) won the Tunisian elections this week on a platform of pluralist democracy, social justice and national independence.
His paper has frequently offered space to Ennahdha supporters.
The governing coalition of secularist and Islamist parties is now in its second year. Despite their differences, these parties have clearly demonstrated the possibility of reconciliation, co-operation and partnership between moderate Islamists and moderate secularists, an important model for the Arab world.
Others who claim to be on (Western) the left, have, with varying degrees of hostility, judged the Tunisian secular opposition, and left, harshly.
The latest news is that a “technocratic” government of national unity it being formed around Ennahdha.
Many Tunisians seem not to share Milne or Galloway’s assessment of the party.
The coming days will see them out r protesting against Ennahdha in force.
With one death already this promises to be a very serious challenge.
* Front Populaire.
- Parti des travailleurs tunisiens de Hamma Hammami
- Parti du travail patriotique et démocratique, aile menée par Mohamed Jmour
- Mouvement des patriotes démocrates de Chokri Belaïd
- Patriotes démocrates (Watad) de Jamel Lazhar
- Parti de la lutte progressiste de Mohamed Lassoued
- Ligue de la gauche ouvrière de Jalel Ben Brik Zoghlami, trotskiste
- Parti populaire pour la liberté et le progrès de Jelloul Azzouna, socialiste
- Front populaire unioniste d’Amor Mejri, panarabe marxiste
- Mouvement du peuple de Mohamed Brahmi, nationaliste arabe nassérien
- Mouvement Baath d’Othmen Bel Haj Amor, nationaliste arabe baasiste
- Parti d’avant-garde arabe démocratique de Kheireddine Souabni, nationaliste arabe baasiste
- Tunisie verte d’Abdelkader Zitouni, écologiste
Written by Andrew Coates
“Again, nothing infuriates the current crop of evangelical atheists more than the suggestion that militant unbelief has many of the attributes of religion. Yet, in asserting that the rejection of theism could produce a better world, they are denying the clear evidence of history, which shows the pursuit of uniformity in word-view to to be itself the cause of conflict. Whether held by the religious or by enemies of religion, the idea that universal conversion to (or from) any belief system could vastly improve the human ot is an act of faith. Illustrationg Nietzsche’s observations about the tonic properties of false beliefs, these atheists are seeking existential consolation just as much as religious observers” - John Gray in the New Statesman, 30/11/12)
Here at Shiraz, we’ve previously had occasion to identify him as probably the most profoundly reactionary writer in respectable, mainstream journalism today. Gray can be difficult to follow precisely because his writing is vague, evasive and often illogical. In the New Statesman article from which the quote at the top of this piece is taken, for instance, it is difficult to discern even what he understands by the word “toleration” (as opposed, for instance, to “indifference”) and why he seems to think that irrational beliefs are a positively good thing. His repeated approving references to Nietzsche do, however, provide a telling clue.
Like Nietzsche, Gray despises humanity in general, and enlightenment humanism in particular. I’m not sure whether Gray would share his hero’s dismissal of democracy (“liberal” / “bourgeois” or otherwise) in favour of the artistocratic ideal of the Übermensch. Gray certainly seems attracted to Nietzsche’s emphasis (present from the first in in Die Geburt der Tragödie) on the unconscious, voluntaristsic ‘Dionysian’ side of human nature, as opposed to the rational ‘Apollonian’ side. Also, like Nietzsche, Gray is in fact an atheist, but seems to regard this as being entirely unconnected to any rational belief system, and simply a personal judgement that the ignorant masses cannot be expected to understand.
Gray’s contempt for humanism (and humanity) was well expressed in an earlier piece he wrote for the New Statesman:
“The idea that humankind has a special place in the scheme of things persists among secular thinkers. They tell us that human beings emerged by chance and insist that ‘humanity’ can inject purpose into the world. But, in a strictly naturalistic philosophy, the human species has no purpose. There are only human beings, with their conflicting impulses and goals. Using science, human beings are transforming the planet. But ‘humanity’ cannot use its growing knowledge to improve the world, for humanity does not exist.” - John Gray, ‘Humanity doesn’t exist’, New Statesman (10/02/11)
I’m not arguing, by the way that Gray’s views shouldn”t be published, or are unworthy of debate. I would question, however, what such an enemy of the Enlightement is doing as lead book reviewer in a publication whose strap-line is “Enlightened Thinking for a change.”
By the way, Nietzsche’s thinking contains an essential contradiction (explained by Antony Flew, thus): “Of course, Nietzsche goes on to use his views about the essentially ‘falsifying’ nature of language, and therefore of rational thought, to give theoretical backing to his favourite belief in the superior veracity of action and ‘will’. But here the central paradox in Nietzsche’s theory of knowledge emerges: he cannot himself, in all consistency, take that theory too seriously.”
Or as a letter to the New Statesman in response to Gray’s article, put it: “It is amusing to read yet again a rational man, John Gray on this occasion (‘Giant Leaps for mankind’, 30 November), arguing rationally for how very irrational we all are.”
Ophelia (“Butterflies and Wheels’) Benson on Gray, here
As usual, excellent comment and analysis from Juan Cole, though I personally do not agree with his opposition to the possibility of Morsi being removed by “crowd action” – JD
Egypt Polarized as 200,000 Tahrir demonstrators and Crowds in other Cities protest Morsi’s “Temporary Dictatorship”
Posted on 28/11/2012 by Juan Cole at Informed Comment.
On Wednesday morning, in the wake of a huge demonstration downtown Cairo, the crowds assembled in Tahrir Square faced tear gas barrages whenever they moved out of the center of the square. Some 36 persons were wounded in Port Said in clashes Wednesday between anti-government forces and the Muslim Brotherhood. The fight began when three Ultras (soccer fanatics) of the Green Eagle soccer club in the city were attacked when they passed near the Muslim Brotherhood HQ.
Liberals, leftists, nationalists, Muslims, Christians, trade unions, professionals, movie stars, lawyers and judges united on Tuesday throughout Egypt to deploy a whole range of protest techniques against last Thursday’s Executive Order of President Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which put him above all judicial authority. Some clashes broke out with Morsi followers, and some 76 were injured.
The crowd at the downtown Tahrir Square was estimated by some newspapers at 200,000, among the largest demonstrations held since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011. It is worrisome that many in the crowd have started to demand ‘the fall of the regime’ and the ‘departure of Morsi.’ Since he is an elected leader, it would be undemocratic for him to be unseated by crowd action, and the danger that the Muslim Brotherhood might be radicalized by losing the fruits of both of its electoral victories is great.
The spokesman for the Egyptian military Pointedly underlined that the army is there to defend the interests of the nation and that its sole loyalty is to the people. He did not say anything about protecting the government, raising the question of where the army’s loyalty might lie if the political polarization worsens.
Performing artists had their own column in the march in Cairo.
Journalists and attorneys were organized by their guilds to participate. Even a group of judges marched, single file, into Tahrir Square. Cairo’s courts were closed and on strike for the third day running in protest against the insult of the president’s decree. A huge procession walked from the slum of Shubra to Tahrir Square Tuesday, joined by Muhammad Elbaradei (former head of the IAEA). About half of the densely packed population of Shubra is Christian, and as a working class district its parties include the Free Egyptians, the Social Democratic Egyptian Party, the Popular Coalition, and the Revolutionary Socialist Movement. Unfortunately, they are good at mobilizing for marches and rallies, but not good at winning elections. They insisted on the abrogation of Morsi’s Executive Order.
Among the demands of the protesters was that the Constituent Assembly writing the constitution be reconstituted. It had begun with 100 members, but 22 have withdrawn, along with 7 reserve members, and the remaining 78 are disproportionately loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood, raising fears that the constitution will be overly religious in character.
There were similar demonstrations, some of them quite large, in other cities, including Alexandria, where crowds invaded the HQ of the FJP and tossed papers out the window. In the Delta city of Mansoura, 25 were hurt when an angry crowd set fire to part of the HQ of the Freedom and Justice Party, the civil wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. In al-Mahalla just north of Cairo, a working-class city of factories, 50 were injured in clashes between protesters and the Muslim Brotherhood. Euronews reports:
Morsi’s claim of extra-judicial power struck many Egyptians as a creeping dictatorship, and there are fears that the Brotherhood was plotting to bring back the dissolved parliament of fall, 2011, which was dominated by members of the Brotherhood party, Freedom and Justice, and by hard line Salafi fundamentalists. With the presidency and parliament and an established principle that both were beyond the authority of the judiciary, the Brotherhood could hope to rule Egypt as a virtual one-party state, succeeding the one-party dominance of Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic party.
Reblogged from the Israeli site, Challenge
by Yacov Ben Efrat
What do the top leaders of Israel and Hamas have in common? They share the same enemy: PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Abbas embodies all that Ismail Haniyeh despises: secularism and compromise with Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, hates Abbas because his moderation threatens Israel’s control of the West Bank. Abbas wants to achieve peace with Israel on the basis of the 1967 lines, including dismantlement of the settlements. He threatens Netanyahu’s political future, for in paying the price of peace, the Israeli PM would have to part from his extremist right-wing allies, as well as the Land of the Patriarchs.
Netanyahu and Haniyeh, who have led their citizens into yet another round of bloodletting, share something else in common: their tacit agreement concerning the fate of the Gaza Strip, and in consequence of the West Bank too. Netanyahu greatly loves the schism within Palestinian ranks between Hamas and Fatah. It gives him a marvelous pretext to continue his mantra that “There is no partner for peace.” Haniyeh, for his part, in order to preserve the separate status of Gaza, deepens the rift with Fatah at every opportunity, ever seeking ways to destroy the “partner,” Abbas.
The real partners, then, are Netanyahu and Haniyeh, and they know it. Neither believes in peace. Haniyeh repeats ad nauseam that he will never recognize Israel. Netanyahu, though compelled by Obama to utter the words “two states,” has clearly demonstrated by his behavior that he will never recognize a Palestinian state. The ideal for both is not peace, rather an amorphous situation that goes by various names, such as hudna, tahdiyya, cease fire, or mutual deterrence.
Like Siamese twins
These things came to clear expression in a speech of Haniyeh’s on the second day of the current conflict. The TV channels hyped it in advance. We waited in suspense: Haniyeh’s words would no doubt determine the fates of people on both sides of the Gaza fence. At precisely 8:00 p.m., the man appeared, features somber and tense. For the first twenty minutes of his half-hour speech, he eulogized Ahmad Ja’abri, the Hamas commander whose assassination by Israel sparked the current round; he heaped praise on the other Hamas martyrs as well. In the remaining ten minutes he praised Egypt for its energetic steps, which amounted, in fact, only to the recall of its ambassador from Tel Aviv and the sending of its prime minister, Hisham Kandil, for a visit on the following day. Haniyeh included himself in the Arab Spring with the rest of the Muslim Brotherhood. He had only one more thing to ask of Egypt. Not the cancellation of its peace with Israel, not to threaten war, only this: to open the Rafah Crossing (the border point in Sinai between Egypt and Gaza).
Haniyeh’s speech showed what he was aiming for. He made no mention of a Palestinian state. He didn’t threaten to turn to the United Nations for international recognition. Nor did he bother to appeal to the entire Palestinian people. In fact, when he named the Palestinian martyrs, he mentioned Ahmad Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, but he had no word for the PLO leaders who had likewise been murdered by Israel, such as Fatah founder Abu Jihad, author Ghassan Kanafani, and Abu Ali Mustafa, leader of the Popular Front. Palestinian history according to Haniyeh began with Hamas, whose mission is to establish the State of Gaza, which is slowly gaining recognition.
In tandem with Haniyeh’s speech, the Israeli TV studios hosted Likud ministers who were sent to justify the operation, which Israel calls “Pillar of Smoke” (Exodus 13:21). Their job was to blur the facts and mobilize the public for this new round. Yisrael Katz, who is coordinated with Netanyahu, explained that the operation’s purpose is not to unseat the Hamas regime, but to arrive at a long period of quiet like that on the Lebanese border since 2006. Katz claimed that Israel needs gradually to stop supplying Gaza with electricity and fuel, as well as essential products. That is exactly what Haniyeh demands from Egypt: Open the Rafah Crossing for the passage of goods and people to Egypt, and then the border between Gaza and Israel will be quieter.
We should note that whenever the Likudniks appear in a studio, the Opposition is also invited—an election campaign is on, after all, so time must be apportioned equally. As expected, the representatives of the “opposition” express total support for the government’s military moves, while trying nonetheless to insert now and then a shy little word for peace. They agree that it’s important to impose a long-term cease-fire on Hamas, but if one wants to solve the problem and prevent the renewal of warfare, one should talk to Abbas and reach a comprehensive solution. The Likudniks, in turn, break into the “opposition’s” remarks with phrases like, “What’s the connection?” or “We won’t do Abu Mazen’s job and overthrow Hamas,” and of course, “Abu Mazen is weak and doesn’t have control, so there’s no one to talk to.”
It isn’t so easy
These then are Siamese twins: the Israeli Right, which hopes to perpetuate its rule in the West Bank, and Islamic fundamentalism, which hopes to perpetuate its rule in Gaza. There is, however, a fly in the ointment. In order for this common dream to be realized, the Rafah Crossing must be opened, freeing Israel from the yoke of Hamas and Hamas from dependency on Israel. Without Egypt that won’t happen. The opening of Rafah would mean the political demise of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), hence the death of the never-born Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s desire is the nightmare of Egypt’s President Muhammad Morsi, who conditions the opening of Rafah on the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah, of Haniyeh and Abbas, so that the Crossing will come under PA control.
Thus everything comes back to Abbas, the non-partner, the irrelevant and impotent butt of ridicule. The Americans, the Europeans, and the Egyptians understand very well that the de facto recognition of Hamas will prolong the conflict in the West Bank. It will cement the fundamentalist group’s control of Gaza, while the Palestinian question will continue to bubble and endanger the region.
Four years ago, just before Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, Hamas accused the Mubarak regime of collaborating with the Occupation because it refused to open the Rafah Crossing. Today the issue of Rafah remains unresolved, despite the fact that Mubarak has been replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The key to a solution in Gaza does not depend on broadening the military operations. Seventy thousand Israeli soldiers won’t do the trick, and like Cast Lead, this Pillar of Smoke will disperse. The only way to secure calm in the south, as well as in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, is to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. Four years ago, after the conclusion of Cast Lead, I wrote the following in a piece called, “Israel and Hamas Won, So Who Lost?”:
“Today, when the truth is clear to all—that a solution requires return to the 1967 borders—Olmert, Barak and Netanyahu do all they can to shirk an agreement. The Israeli leadership refuses to negotiate about East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. It continues to finance the settlers. The ineluctable result of this policy will be more blood, without justification, point or aim.”
Four years later, amid sirens and blasts, these words again become relevant. Operation Cast Lead, headed by Olmert and Livni, brought Netanyahu to power. Today, as elections approach, it is upon everyone who wants to build an alternative to the fundamentalist right wing, and prevent more wars, to proclaim loud and clear: Stop this war, end the Occupation, tear down the settlements, and at last make peace!
H/t: Andy Newman