The Sharpest ‘Injuries’ – Words.
The Guardian Opinion desk Editor David Shariatmadari commented yesterday on the case of Warwick University Students’ Union attempting to ban Maryam Namazie, from addressing a meeting of its Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society.
There’s nothing misguided about the left’s concern for Muslims. David Shariatmadari.
Namazie’s supporters two things were very clear: first, this was a direct attack on free speech; second, lefties were once again siding with religious conservatives because of a misguided belief that Muslims, as a minority group, should be protected at any cost.
Shariatmadari starts poorly,
First – was the move to block Namazie’s appearance really an attack on free speech? She should certainly be at liberty to express herself within the law. The Guardian has in the past published her work. But does the withdrawal of an invitation really amount to censorship? Her words have not been banned, the state has not gagged her. Is Namazie’s capacity to share her ideas diminished if she doesn’t appear in front of 50-odd students? After all, she can still tweet and blog, as she showed over the weekend. If anything, the whole episode has increased her audience.
So, Warwick University SU’s decision was small beer.
The state has not banned her.
Namazie, can still speak. She can write, go on Facebook, she can tweet. She can mumble to the wind.
No need for secularist uproar.
“All we’re really seeing is one student body’s messy weighing up of which values it wants to endorse, and which it wants to reject – and exercising its own right of free expression to make that choice.”
But until the SU reversed the decision she could not address the Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society. That is the province of the SU who can decide, or not decide, if her speech is acceptable to them.
And they – as he indicates, have some reason to be wary, then they can tell their student members what they can and cannot listen to.
Shariatmadari makes clear there were reasons for the Students’ Union to be worried.
That leads us to a second point: what motivated those who didn’t want the event to go ahead? Were they really “kowtowing to Islamists”? Namazie is often described as a secularist, championing enlightenment values and defending the rights of women against conservative religious ideology. These are positions that most progressives would find it easy to get behind. But the way Namazie articulates her arguments might give them pause.
Indeed, he continues, the Guardians of what or what not Warwick students should be allowed to hear at their meetings, were right to pause.
At the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in 2011, she set out her stall as an equal-opportunity critic of religious belief. “In my opinion, all religion is bad for you. Religion should come with a health warning, like cigarettes: religion kills.”
However, she does regard Islam as a special case. She believes it is defined by the concept of “inquisition”. She contrasts it with Christianity, arguing that “a religion that has been reined in by the Enlightenment is very different from one that is spearheading an inquisition.” This would seem to hold out some hope for the “Reformation” of Islam. (Personally I feel that the analogy with 16th-century Europe is flawed. It misrepresents the nature of hierarchy in Islam, as well as being anachronistic.) And yet at the same time, Namazie denies the possibility of change and evolution.
She says that “under an inquisition things like ‘Islamic feminism’, ‘liberal interpretations of Islam’ – these are all in quotes for me – ‘Islamic reformism’ … are impossible. A personal religion is impossible under an inquisition.”
One might at this point note that comrade Namazie is Iranian ( Shariatmadari is proud to signal in his own background, that “My 90-something uncle, whom I’ve met three times, was a religious nationalist politician in Iran, but I was brought up in a secular household.).
Perhaps he has also met modern Iranian secularists. Perhaps he has heard about the censorship, the religious ‘legality’ of Iran, the repression, the torture, the gaol sentences for Namazie’s comrades, and the deaths of the beloved martyrs for secularism and the left, under the Islamist theocracy.
No. Shariatmadari goes to what he considers is the quick.
So, at a stroke, she denies the agency of all would-be Muslim reformers, Muslim feminists in particular. She undermines those imams and scholars who do preach a liberal, open version of Islam. She appears to think that Muslims with non-judgmental views about sex and sexuality are kidding themselves. In fact, she speaks as though she would actually like to shut down debate in these areas. At one point she quotes the Iranian political activist Mansoor Hekmat: “This is the religion of death.”
Hekmat is the author of many works on Marxism and Islamism, which have had a deep impact on the international left (see Wikipedia). He was the founder of the Iranian Worker Communist party.
This the article referred to, by comrade Hekmat said about Islamism, in fuller form, and not the Guardian’s abbreviated version.
Islam and De-Islamisation
I realise that the interests of some require that they rescue Islam (as much as possible) from the wrath of those who have witnessed the indescribable atrocities of or been victimised by Islamists. I also realise that the extent of these atrocities and holocausts is such that even some Islamists themselves do not want to take responsibility for them. So it is natural that the debate on ‘true Islam’ vis-à-vis ‘practical Islam’ is broached over and over again. These justifications, however, are foolish from my point of view (that of a communist and atheist) and from the points of views of those of us who have seen or been the victims of Islam’s crimes. They are foolish for those of us who are living through a colossal social, political and intellectual struggle with this beast.
The doctrinal and Koranic foundations of Islam, the development of Islam’s history, and the political identity and affiliation of Islam and Islamists in the battle between reaction and freedom in our era are too obvious to allow the debate on the various interpretations of Islam and the existence or likelihood of other interpretations to be taken seriously. Even if the debate were in the future and on other planets where the most basic rights and affections of humanity were not violated. In my opinion, it shows the utmost contempt for the science and social intelligence of our times if every excuse and justification that Islamists fling into society whilst retreating is scientifically analysed and dissected… In Islam, be it true or untrue, the individual has no rights or dignity. In Islam, the woman is a slave. In Islam, the child is on par with animals. In Islam, freethinking is a sin deserving of punishment. Music is corrupt. Sex without permission and religious certification, is the greatest of sins. This is the religion of death. In reality, all religions are such but most religions have been restrained by freethinking and freedom-loving humanity over hundreds of years. This one was never restrained or controlled. With every move, it brings abominations and misery.
What does this imply for free speech?
Moreover, in my opinion, defending the existence of Islam under the guise of respect for people’s beliefs is hypocritical and lacks credence. There are various beliefs amongst people. The question is not about respecting people’s beliefs but about which are worthy of respect. In any case, no matter what anyone says, everyone is choosing beliefs that are to their liking. Those who reject a criticism of Islam under the guise of respecting people’s beliefs are only expressing their own political and moral preferences, full stop. They choose Islam as a belief worthy of respect and package their own beliefs as the ‘people’s beliefs’ only in order to provide ‘populist’ legitimisation for their own choices. I will not respect any superstition or the suppression of rights, even if all the people of the world do so. Of course I know it is the right of all to believe in whatever they want. But there is a fundamental difference between respecting the freedom of opinion of individuals and respecting the opinions they hold. We are not sitting in judgement of the world; we are players and participants in it. Each of us are party to this historical, worldwide struggle, which in my opinion, from the beginning of time until now has been over the freedom and equality of human beings. I will not respect the superstitions that I am fighting against and under the grip of which human beings are suffering.
Given the action of Daesh, shown last night on Channel Four News training children to slaughter, one can’t help feeling that comrade Hekmat had a point – whatever we think about the details of the politics of the Workers-Communist Parties.
What kind of “respect” should we show these Islamists?
Freedom of speech does not mean deference or pandering to the intolerable.
By contrast, this is what Shariatmadari considers important.
What might lead people to decide they’d rather not give a platform to such rhetoric? Recognising the pressure British Muslims are under – surveilled by the state, victims of verbal abuse, vandalism and arson – could it be that some students felt welcoming a person who believes Islam is incompatible with modern life would be wrong?
He consdiers that many would not wish to live in a society ruled by Islamic values – glossing over the fact that even many moderate Muslims believe in some version of Shariah ‘law’ which by its very principle is a discriminatory – against Women, against non-believers – and is the rule of God, not of Democracy.
No, this is what matters,
However, the fact remains: at this historical moment, in this country, Muslims are subject to greater demonisation than almost anyone else. Absolutists may not like it, but this power imbalance must enter into the calculation.
So an Iranian woman whose views on Islamism stem from the experience of actually existing Islamic counties, contributes to those who wish to “insult and injure” Moslems.
How does this enter the calculation of the “power balance”?
He notices that,
We are lucky to live in a pluralist democracy, with freedom of choice in politics and religion. These are things we should cherish, but they are not in any serious danger. Were they really threatened – by the emergence of a theocracy, by the drafting of racist or misogynist laws – the left would oppose that with every sinew. I hope that more citizens in Muslim-majority countries can one day enjoy the level of political and social freedom that we do, and I support the men and women who try to bring that about.
But in the meantime it’s okay to call a halt to those who wish to insult “injure” (with no doubt the shparest of weapons – words), Islam.
Earlier this year Shariatmadari expressed great concern about the word “terrorism”.
Modern “terrorism” has the peculiar property that it relies on its enemies to grant it victory – and why not have a special word for that? Why not use it to describe the Charlie Hebdo attacks, which, in my view, fall into that category?
But the word itself casts a shadow of fear. Politicians deploy it to justify illiberal measures. The panic it evokes ramps up prejudice against minorities. It is even used to win support for wars. Wielded carefully, “terrorist” could still make sense, à la Fromkin. Used to frighten, cajole or slander, it’s one of the most toxic words of our times.
No doubt he will feel equal concern at those of the description of Iran, and all states whose ‘laws’ are based on the Shariah as theocratic monsters.
No doubt he will point to liberal elements in their regimes and the need for careful language.
And no doubt he will wince at those of us who call Daesh genociders.
Tough: that’s freedom of speech.