By Pink Prosecco
Last year the Lawyers’ Secular Society was instrumental in persuading the Law Society to withdraw its ‘practice note’ offering advice on Sharia compliant wills. Now it is supporting another venture, a Mohammed cartoon exhibition organised by Sharia Watch UK and Vive Charlie. In response to criticism, the LSS President Charlie Klendjian has written a long post defending the decision to share a platform with Geert Wilders and Paul Weston, Chairman of Liberty GB.
In the ‘about us’ section of the LSS site it is asserted:
‘The LSS is not anti-religious, and we are equally opposed to the religious or the non-religious being discriminated against.’
It is difficult to square that policy with having anything to do with Paul Weston. Although Klendjian is right to insist on the importance of free speech, there is no reason why one can’t defend this and other secular values robustly without getting involved with dubious individuals and organisations. It is implied that Weston is controversial because of his views on immigration, but this only scratches the surface of the problem.
Klendjian makes this passionate appeal to his readers:
“If Mohammed can’t be depicted then Islam can’t be challenged, at which point democracy dies a horrible death.”
But what kind of ‘democracy’ does Paul Weston support? The answer, according to his party’s manifesto, is one in which Muslims are barred from public office. And whereas some gloomily fret about a future ‘Eurabia’, dominated by Muslims, Weston is openly preoccupied, not just with religion, but with race:
“In England we only have 45 million whites and we have 11 million non-whites, and again we have to look at the fact that only 10 percent of that is aged under 16 on the white European side; and on the non-white side we’re looking again at figures of 30 percent aged under 16. So if you look at those figures we see that we today have under the age of 16 4.5 million whites in England and 3.3 million non-whites.”
Klendjian points out that the LSS used to share platforms with ‘an open communist’ (Maryam Namazie of the Worker-communist Party of Iran). But whereas many evils have been carried out in the name of communism, I can’t imagine Maryam Namazie condemns these any less strongly than the rest of us. She is also an uncompromising anti-racist.
Klendjian goes on:
“Another accusation against Wilders and Weston is that “they’re not secularists” or that they don’t share the other goals of secularists. I don’t even know whether they describe themselves as secularists and you know what? I don’t care.
“We can’t restrict the people we share platforms with to those who describe themselves as secularists or who sign up to the entire ‘shopping list’ of secularism causes (faith schools; Bishops in the House of Lords; council prayers, etc).”
This (at least if he knows the full extent of Weston’s views) is disingenuous. It’s one thing for ardent secularists to allow a bit of leeway to liberal allies who don’t oppose ritual slaughter and don’t lie awake worrying about Bishops in the House of Lords. But – barring Muslims from public office? This discriminatory policy is the very reverse of what secularists should stand for – ensuring that people from all faiths and none are treated equally.
And here’s another bad argument:
“The LSS’s priority should be to defend free speech and to support this event as fully as possible, and not to guard itself against baseless accusations of ‘racism’.
“In any case, as we have seen over the years, such accusations will be thrown no matter what.
“Look what happened to Charlie Hebdo. The Charlie Hebdo corpses are still regularly smeared as ‘racist’.”
This is like a BDS supporter saying there’s no point condemning Holocaust denial or even the Holocaust itself because some will see any opposition to Israel as anti-Semitic.
At one point in his post Klendjian states (and I’m not making this up – check it for yourself): “It is no exaggeration to say that fear of being called racist could quite easily dismantle the superstructure of western civilisation as we know it.”
And what about racism itself – is that not a threat to our values too, or are Paul Weston’s supremacist views acceptable?
Klendjian ends by quoting at length from Douglas Murray. Here’s just one paragraph of Murray’s argument.
“The organizers at the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, are not left-wing journalists but conservative activists; and because the Dutch politician Geert Wilders spoke at the opening of the exhibition, that added a layer of complexity for people who like labeling actions with political valences, rather than just seeing actions as apart from them. It seems clear, however, from the pattern of condemnations on one side and silence on the other, that a cartoonist may be worthy of defense if he is associated with a left-wing organization, but not if he is associated with a right-wing one.”
Murray is also being disingenuous in suggesting there’s a hypocritical distinction between attitudes to secularists from the left and right. Plenty of Conservatives have no time for Geller and Spencer. Those who dislike them don’t do so because of their views on fiscal policy or the size of the state. As for Weston – I’d expect Conservatives to oppose his horrific views as strongly as left/liberal types.
And I’m sure there are many on the left – like myself – who would be quite prepared to put differences aside to work together with centre right allies against theocratic fascists – or against Weston and his ilk.
Above: Rudy Giuliani
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
The controversy kicked off on Wednesday night when Rudy Giuliani, formerly Mayor of New York, accused Obama of not loving America.
“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Mr. Giuliani said at the event. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”
To call this a dog whistle is an understatement.
Now he’s compounded the problem by insisting that his remarks couldn’t possibly be considered racist.
“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”
Yes, logically, he might be able to claim that he wasn’t targeting Obama’s black/African heritage, but the way his mother brought him up, the milieu in which he was raised. But that’s pretty disingenuous given the way (some of) Obama’s opponents focus on his birthplace and his religion. Many of those gleefully applauding Rudy Giuliani’s speech won’t have parsed them with Giuliani’s own retrospective punctiliousness. The former Mayor has irresponsibly fuelled the suspicions of bigots, while maintaining plausible deniability.
Above: Moazzam Begg
Reactions to the sudden and surprising release of Moazzam Begg, who has been awaiting trial on charges of terrorism since March, have been predictably polarised.
5Pillarz is rejoicing at the news, and wheels out a spokesman from the extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir to tell us all how shocking it is that some people associate Muslims with extremism. Puleeze:
“Meanwhile, Taji Mustafa, media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain said he was pleased to hear about the release of Moazzam Beg, after months of incarceration and separation from his family. He said: ‘Moazzam’s case, along with others arrested for traveling to Syria, has been used to manufacture a climate of opinion that the government will use to further its policies regarding Muslims in the UK, in particular for their support of causes dissenting from British foreign policy.'”
By contrast, The Henry Jackson website rather sulkily reminds its readers that Moazzam Begg still isn’t very nice even if he is innocent of these particular charges.
But some have been asking whether he really is innocent after all. A report in the Times hinted at some shady dealings behind the scenes:
“Neither police, prosecutors nor intelligence sources would comment on whether the sudden abandonment was linked to behind-the-scenes efforts to free British hostages held by Islamic State in Syria.”
This invitation to speculate in a way unflattering to Begg has been picked up very readily by those of an Islamosceptic bent, as a skim read below the line (of the Times article) will demonstrate.
However, although my own views on Begg are much closer to the Henry Jackson Society than to 5Pillarz, there doesn’t seem any evidence that Begg has been let off as part of a deal with ISIS, nor does it seem a particularly plausible theory.
It certainly doesn’t fit with the CPS response:
“The Crown Prosecution Service said that it had reviewed the case after being made aware of material previously not known to the police investigation. A spokesman added: “If we had been made aware of all of this information at the time of charging, we would not have charged.”
He was charged back in March, well before any negotiations with ISIS over hostage release might have taken place.
It’s frustrating that there is so much mystery over Begg’s release – and to note that, in line with the stopped clock rule, 5Pillarz may have a point on this occasion. Here’s part of the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement:
” … we have said time and time again, that the best way to tackle extremism is to work with Muslim communities and have faith in our very British values of freedom, liberty and democracy.
“This means robust, intelligence-led policing that works with communities every step of the way and ensures full judicial oversight of the entire process. We should be proud of our commitment to due process, our tradition of free speech and anything that undermines them will only play into the hands of violent extremists.
“Today is a good day for British justice and the upholding of the rule of law in this case. What remains deplorable is the inclination of some of our political leaders to lapse into populist rhetoric when there are terrorism-related arrests, without waiting for due process.”
In the circumstances, unless some further evidence comes to light, that’s a fair comment. And, as Mary Dejevsky points out:
“At the very least this has been an egregious waste of public money.”
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Peter Tatchell is an admirable man who has campaigned bravely on LGBT rights and many other issues. However I cannot agree with the thrust of this post, recently published in Gay London. To summarise, he regrets the way in which the LGBT community has retreated from ‘radical idealism to cautious conformism’. He wishes instead that LGBT campaigners questioned the institution of the family and were generally less bourgeois, and complains that more timid types only jumped on the LGBT bandwagon when it was safe to do so.
But this can be turned round I think. One might conjecture that the handful of LBGT men and women who were prepared to campaign and be visible forty years ago were unusually independent and tough minded. They were perhaps thus also more inclined to be non-conformist and politically radical in ways that went beyond sexual orientation.
I should note at this point that the ‘pink’ in ‘pink prosecco’ only references my slightly sub-shirazian shade of politics. However personally I don’t see why LGBT people should be expected to be any more or less radical than anyone else. It’s a sign of progress not regression that people who are dull, or disagreeably right wing, are as happy to identify as LGBT as creative, radical, edgy types. Peter concludes:
“The unwritten social contract at the heart of the recent campaigns for LGBT law reform is that gay people should behave respectably. No more cruising, orgies or bondage. In return, the ‘good gays’ will be rewarded with equal treatment. The ‘bad gays’, who fail to conform to conventional morality will, of course, remain sexual outlaws. Is that what we want? A prescriptive moralism that penalises non-conformists within our own community?”
But why should bondage and a rejection of conventional morality be seen as LGBT specific issues?
Guest post from Pink Prosecco
Most people probably hesitate before commenting on contested rape allegations, We don’t wish to belittle the victim of an alleged crime, but are equally unwilling to jump to conclusions about someone who may have been quite unjustly accused. Whatever one thinks of the suggestion that those charged with rape should be granted anonymity, it is certainly easy to sympathise with Ben Sullivans carefully worded thoughts on the issue, given his recent experiences.
Mr Sullivan said: “I’m not as extreme as some who don’t think you should have your anonymity revealed until you’ve been convicted, or… after a charge. ‘What I don’t agree with, though, is that everyone’s identity is automatically revealed the minute they are arrested.” He added that he was “completely aware that it can be extremely helpful to police investigations” and “would never say that everyone’s identity in the circumstances should be kept secret”. “However, these are obviously incredibly poisonous allegations. They are incredibly difficult to deal with.”
Milo Yiannopoulos expresses his views in a less restrained manner. After asserting that it is quite common to regret a drunken sexual encounter, he continues: “Some people, however, decide to exact revenge on their sexual partners, sometimes in retaliation for their own poor choices, sometimes for a variety of other, peculiar psychological reasons. It’s what I call slut’s remorse, and it’s the reason we need to keep the names of rape suspects a secret until they are charged. For too long, men have been a silent class of victim in rape cases, unable to protect themselves from the consequences of victimless drunken fumbling and, yes, from vindictive bitches, whether male or female, lashing out in frustration about their own self-loathing.”
Obviously anyone who deliberately and maliciously makes a false accusation of rape is perverting the cause of justice and should be punished severely. But rape is an under-reported crime and it is not generally thought (although clearly it is impossible to be decisive about the figures) that false allegations are common. Consent is a complex area. It seems possible that there are cases where it would be inappropriate to charge, or convict, but where the accuser still does not fit the “vindictive bitch” image sketched by Yiannoupoulos. For people trying to negotiate these uncertainties the principle of “enthusiastic consent” may be a helpful one, and one which emphasises positive enjoyment, rather than just sternly warning “no means no” (though obviously it does).
But young men may find these guidelines confusing too, as Robyn Urback outlines here. ” And so, the suggestion that ‘yes’ might actually mean ‘no’ or at the very least, isn’t a complete ‘yes’ further complicates any attempt to really evaluate what’s going on. There’s no question that a ‘yes’ uttered under in response to a threat or under some other form of duress does not constitute consent. Nor does an intoxicated ‘yes,’ since an individual loses the capacity to consent when under the influence of alcohol and drugs. But the Forum on Consent takes the consent conundrum to an entirely new level by suggesting that a meek ‘yes,’ or a nonchalant ‘yes” or a ‘yes’ without emphatic body language does not constitute consent. According to the panel ‘It must be loud and clear.’
It’s a pity that those sympathising with men who have been wrongly accused, or young men experiencing confusion over consent, should so often express themselves in a way which is sneering and sexist. Here’s Peter Lloyd writing in the Telegraph: “This is precisely why a court of law armed with all the evidence, not a casual observer saddled with girl power grudges, should convict a defendant in a safe and fair way.” However it does seem as though a letter (no longer available by the way) calling on Sullivan to resign from the Oxford Union, and signed by many prominent media figures, was worded in a tendentious way, and may even have been in contempt of court. Lloyd’s reference to “girl power grudges” may irk, but he is correct in saying that these matters need to be sorted out in the courts.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Adam Deen, of the Deen Institute, has been coming in for a bit of flack from (some) Muslims over his ‘modernising’ approach to Islam. In particular he has spoken out against the marginalization of women in university ISOCs, the way they have been excluded from full participation. Now he is at the centre of another controversy, this time sparked by the Happy Muslims video, which you can see at the Pharrell – HAPPY BRITISH MUSLIMS! site here. Deen appears with other Muslims, including his wife Myriam Francois Cerrah, dancing and singing to the Pharrell Williams hit ‘Happy’.
Several different objections have been raised to this project. The most predictable focus on the supposed impropriety of the video:
“We’ve basically lost all meaning for what the word hijab means. I can’t even be bothered to explain this issue again, the fact that hijab is a state, not just a piece of cloth on the head. Anyway, whatever. This isn’t about the women anyway, this is about the mindset of *all* who support such things.”
Others complain that it is pandering to non-Muslim prejudices to put on a display of happiness and normalcy in order to counter stereotypes. A few just find it a bit cringey, and some feel happiness is rather misplaced when there is so much suffering in the world.
Here is an extract from one of the more aggressive responses, a post by Uthman Badar.
“What we have here is an attempt by Muslims to been seen as ‘normal’ by the mainstream non-Muslim white majority in response to overbearing stereotypes and allegations to the contrary. In the words of the producers,
‘We Brits have a bad rep for being a bit stiff, but this video proves otherwise. We are HAPPY. We are eclectic. We are cosmopolitan. Diverse. Creative. Fun. Outgoing. And everything you can think of.
This video is to show the world despite the negative press, stereotypes and discrimination we are burdened with we should respond with smiles and joy, not anger.’
There is so much wrong with this approach, I don’t know where to begin!
It has Muslims coming in to bat for ‘Brits’ and their bad rep. Reward for the excellent treatment received by Muslims in Britain and by Britain abroad? House-Muslim mentality?”
The quotation from the video’s publicity material, that Badar objects to above, in fact demonstrates that the participants are not complacent about anti-Muslim bigotry, yet still unequivocally identify as British, and want to reach out to non-Muslims with a positive message.
It’s a cheerful video – but I do wonder what it is for exactly. I don’t think EDL supporters will see the error of their ways after watching it – they’ll probably think the performers are practicing taqqiya. Those with more nuanced concerns may quite like the video – but wouldn’t have seen people like Julie Siddiqui as a problem in the first place.
I think Uthman Badar (and others like him) have got this all wrong. My hunch is that this video was never intended to influence non-Muslims, but rather to enable Deen and co. to position themselves in opposition to more conservative, or orthodox, Muslim voices. Participants such as Salma Yaqoob have sometimes seemed keener on differentiating themselves from Quilliam types than from Muslim ‘puritans’ (to use Deen’s term). It’s positive that the battle against real hardliners, usually waged by ultra-liberal Muslims and non-Muslims, is being joined by those who are only moderately moderate.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: Maajid Nawaz
If a Muslim expresses some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies, I tend to assume, not that they are an Evil Islamist, but that – they have some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies. These are things reasonable people may disagree about. However some recent responses to Maajid Nawaz’s decision to tweet a Jesus and Mo cartoon go beyond reasonable criticism.
He tweeted the picture after it featured (on a T shirt) on BBC’s The Big Questions, where it was the focus of a debate about free speech. This is the offending image in question.
Nawaz’s tweet has apparently caused many Muslims, including Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadan Foundation, to make a formal complaint to the Lib Dems. (Nawaz is the Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn.)
Of course it is quite proper to draw attention to bigoted remarks made by politicians, and expect the whip to be withdrawn, or some other form of censure applied, depending on the level of offence. But the fact some Muslims think it is inappropriate to depict Muhammad does not make Jesus and Mo offensive. Non-Muslims, and Muslims (like Nawaz) who don’t think pictures of Muhammad are taboo, should not be bound by others’ religious dogma.
Reactions to Nawaz cover a spectrum ranging from death threats to warm support – and many of his supporters are fellow-Muslims. In the middle of the spectrum we find people who would certain not condone or incite violence but who demonstrate clear hostility towards the reformist Nawaz. Not all of his antagonists are Muslims. Here’s Gorgeous George’s response.
“No Muslim will ever vote for the Liberal Democrats anywhere ever unless they ditch the provocateur Majid Nawaz, cuckold of the EDL”
5Pillarz, a blog written largely by and for British Muslims, has decided that Nawaz should be their top candidate for ‘Islamophobe of the Year’. The EDL is mentioned at the bottom of their list of suggestions, as a kind of afterthought.
As Maajid Nawaz says:
“Why are many on the “Left” largely silent on Muslim reformers. Want to defend minorities? Well, we’re a minority within a minority, defend us”
As someone from the ‘Left’ I’m happy to defend and support Maajid Nawaz – though I’d draw the line at voting for him.
Guest Post by Pink Prosecco
I have recently read an apparently thoughtful and informative piece on Israel’s security barrier by Alan Johnson over at That Place. Although associated with pro-Israel advocacy, Johnson appeared willing to engage with the complexity of the situation in Israel/Palestine, and attend to the Palestinian as well as the Israeli perspective.
“Because the constructive pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace approach we need has three characteristics:
First, it is open to the full force of the sheer bloody complexity of the conflict, and is willing to wrestle with that complexity, not evade it.
Second, it is fully aware of the determining contexts of the conflict, among which is security.
Third, it refuses to demonise either side, working with both parties, seeking co-existence, compromise, mutual recognition and peace.”
Ben White has now written a response to Alan Johnson’s piece. Sneering, smearing and insufferably smug he may be – but does his argument stand up? This seems reasonable:
“Even if that were all true — that the wall was only built as a response to suicide bombings, and that it was solely responsible for a 90 percent reduction in attacks — criticism of the barrier from a human rights and international law perspective remains valid.”
Security and liberty are not always fully compatible and it is appropriate to ask how far, and in what circumstances, it is permissable to curtail liberties in order to enhance security. And you can welcome the part the wall seems to have played in making Israelis feel more safe while criticising the way it has been implemented and acknowledging its impact on Palestinians.
White’s next points don’t really strike me as convincing. Just because some people wanted a physical barrier even before the violence of the second intifada does not prove that security is not its primary purpose. However elements in his concluding analysis – seeking to demonstrate that there is no (or little) correlation between the wall’s construction and the decline in violent attacks – seems worth engaging with. However (as usual) White seems to want to alienate readers who feel any sympathy for the Israeli perspective rather than encourage them to adjust their views in the hope of achieving the goals of mutual recognition, peace and compromise set out by Alan Johnson. White’s habitual lack of empathy for Israelis makes me doubt whether he has researched the issue of the security barrier in a spirit of genuine enquiry. But I’d be interested to know whether Shiraz Socialist readers find his arguments, or those of Alan Johnson, more compelling.
Guest post Pink Prosecco.
On Socialist Unity I have just read what struck me as a sensible and sympathetic review by Phil B C of Laurie Penny’s new book Cybersexism.
Before long John Wight (above – note left hand), scourge of moralisers, is muscling in below the line:
“There is nothing wrong with a good filthy fuck. Men and women are primal animals and lust is both healthy and entirely natural.
What is unnatural is the demonisation of sex.
I think this latest moral panic over porn is exactly that: an artificially whipped up moral panic with a political objective at its heart.”
Actually, Wight has said many stupider things, and this made me laugh:
“I don’t [know] about you, but the last thing I think about while approaching orgasm are “workers’ rights”.”
Then I noticed that there were no (identifiable) women commenting on this lively thread. I had a look at all the other posts currently in play, ten in total, attracting (so far) 182 comments and there were no identifiable women commenting there either. Funny that.
Above: the East Jerusalem neighbourhood Issawiya
Guest post from Pink Prosecco
It’s frustrating not being able to know exactly how the questions for a recent poll of Israelis about their views on the peace process were framed, but (based on the information which is being reported) there is no great reason for optimism here. Although it’s no surprise to learn that most Israelis are opposed to a full right of return, it seems only a small minority support even a watered down solution to one of the biggest sticking points for any negotiated settlement.
Asked about major issues to be decided during the talks, 77 percent of Jewish Israelis opposed Israeli recognition in principle of the right of return, with a small number of Palestinian refugees being allowed to return and financial compensation for others.
I support a two state solution, and thought the majority of Israelis did too. However:
62.5 percent opposed a withdrawal to the 1967 borders with land swaps; 58 percent opposed evacuating settlements except for Ariel, Maale Adumim and the settlement blocs.
Ariel, a controversial settlement, is another sticking point, so it’s depressing to see that even a deal which would represent quite a concession from the Palestinians is viewed askance by so many in Israel.
An interesting finding in another recent poll was that the transfer of Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem to the PA gets little more support from Israeli Arabs (55%) than from Israeli Jews (50%). East Jerusalem always seems to be the knottiest problem of all for those seeking peace, so it’s useful to be reminded that those most immediately affected, Arab Israelis in Jerusalem, aren’t all jumping at the chance of being citizens of a Palestinian state.