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World Press Freedom Day Sees List of Honour Back Charlie Hebdo as 145 Writers Join List of Shame.

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The List of Honour of those who Back Charlie and Freedom.

Not in our name: World Press Freedom Day 116 days after Charlie Hebdo.

On World Press Freedom Day, 116 days after the attack at the office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that left 11 dead and 12 wounded, we, the undersigned, reaffirm our commitment to defending the right to freedom of expression, even when that right is being used to express views that we and others may find difficult, or even offensive.

The Charlie Hebdo attack – a horrific reminder of the violence many journalists around the world face daily in the course of their work – provoked a series of worrying reactions across the globe.

In January, the office of the German daily Hamburger Morgenpost was firebombed following the paper’s publishing of several Charlie Hebdo images. In Turkey, journalists reported receiving death threats following their re-publishing of images taken from Charlie Hebdo. In February, a gunman apparently inspired by the attack in Paris, opened fire at a free expression event in Copenhagen; his target was a controversial Swedish cartoonist who had depicted the prophet Muhammad in his drawings.

But many of the most disturbing reactions – and the most serious threats to freedom of expression – have come from governments.

A Turkish court blocked web pages that had carried images of Charlie Hebdo’s front cover; Russia’s communications watchdog warned six media outlets that publishing religious-themed cartoons “could be viewed as a violation of the laws on mass media and extremism”; Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi empowered the prime minister to ban any foreign publication deemed offensive to religion; the editor of the Kenyan newspaper The Star was summoned by the government’s media council, asked to explain his “unprofessional conduct” in publishing images of Charlie Hebdo, and his newspaper had to issue a public apology; Senegal banned Charlie Hebdo and other publications that re-printed its images; in India, Mumbai police used laws covering threats to public order and offensive content to block access to websites carrying Charlie Hebdo images. This list is far from exhaustive.

Perhaps the most long-reaching threats to freedom of expression have come from governments ostensibly motivated by security concerns. Following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, 11 interior ministers from European Union countries, including France, Britain and Germany, issued a statement in which they called on internet service providers to identify and remove online content “that aims to incite hatred and terror”. In the UK, despite the already gross intrusion of the British intelligence services into private data, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that the country should go a step further and ban internet services that did not give the government the ability to monitor all encrypted chats and calls.

This kind of governmental response is chilling because a particularly insidious threat to our right to free expression is self-censorship. In order to fully exercise the right to freedom of expression, individuals must be able to communicate without fear of intrusion by the state. Under international law, the right to freedom of expression also protects speech that some may find shocking, offensive or disturbing. Importantly, the right to freedom of expression means that those who feel offended also have the right to challenge others through free debate and open discussion, or through peaceful protest.

On World Press Freedom Day, we, the undersigned, call on all governments to;

  • Uphold their international obligations to protect the rights of freedom of expression and information for all, especially journalists, writers, artists and human rights defenders to publish, write and speak freely.
  • Promote a safe and enabling environment for those who exercise their right to freedom of expression, especially for journalists, artists and human rights defenders to perform their work without interference.
  • Combat impunity for threats and violations aimed at journalists and others threatened for exercising their right to freedom of expression and ensure impartial, speedy, thorough, independent and effective investigations that bring masterminds behind attacks on journalists to justice, and ensure victims and their families have speedy access to appropriate remedies.
  • Repeal legislation which restricts the right to legitimate freedom of expression, especially such as vague and overbroad national security, sedition, blasphemy and criminal defamation laws and other legislation used to imprison, harass and silence journalists and others exercising free expression
  • Promote voluntary self-regulation mechanisms, completely independent of governments, for print media
  • Ensure that the respect of human rights is at the heart of communication surveillance policy. Laws and legal standards governing communication surveillance must therefore be updated, strengthened and brought under legislative and judicial control. Any interference can only be justified if it is clearly defined by law, pursues a legitimate aim and is strictly necessary to the aim pursued.

PEN International
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Albanian Media Institute
Article19
Association of European Journalists
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Belarusian PEN
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Centre for Independent Journalism – Malaysia
Danish PEN
Derechos Digitales
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
English PEN
Ethical Journalism Initiative
Finnish PEN
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Fundamedios – Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study
Globe International Center
Guardian News Media Limited
Icelandic PEN
Index on Censorship
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Malawi PEN
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Media Watch
Mexico PEN
Norwegian PEN
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión – OLA
Pacific Islands News Association
PEN Afrikaans
PEN American Center
PEN Catalan
PEN Lithuania
PEN Quebec
Russian PEN
San Miguel Allende PEN
PEN South Africa
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
Swedish PEN
Turkish PEN
Wales PEN Cymru
West African Journalists Association
World Press Freedom Committee.

Good on all who back this letter.

Vous serez honoré(e)s parmi toutes les Nations. 

Partisans de la ligne de Charlie, Moblisez-Vous!

Here is the declaration of Shame.

Junot Díaz, Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Eric Bogosian and Michael Cunningham are among the 145 writers who have signed a letter protesting PEN American Center’s decision to award its “freedom of expression courage” award to the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, because the award seems to endorse drawings of the prophet Muhammad and other images that “must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering” among France’s embattled Muslims.

“It is clear and inarguable that the murder of a dozen people in the Charlie Hebdo offices is sickening and tragic,” the letter states, referring to the attack by Islamic extremists in Paris in January. “What is neither clear nor inarguable is the decision to confer an award for courageous freedom of expression on Charlie Hebdo or what criteria exactly were used to make that decision.”

By honoring Charlie Hebdo, the letter said, “PEN is not simply conveying support for freedom of expression but also valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.”

New York Times.

I’ve got a little list — I’ve got a little list…..

PEN Members Decline to Defend Press Freedom.

with 12 comments

Forbidden to Ridicule, Say Some PEN Authors.

New York Times.

The decision by PEN American Center to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has prompted six writers to withdraw as literary hosts at the group’s annual gala on May 5, adding a new twist to the continuing debate over the publication’s status as a martyr for free speech.

The novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala, at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdo’s editor in chief, and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a Charlie Hebdo staff member who arrived late for work on Jan. 7 and missed the attack by Islamic extremists that killed 12 people, are scheduled to accept the award.

The Guardian carries this comment from the US,

I was quite upset as soon as I heard about [the award],” Prose, a former PEN American president, told Associated Press during a telephone interview on Sunday night. Prose said she was in favor of “freedom of speech without limitations” and that she “deplored” the January shootings, but added that giving an award signified “admiration and respect” for the honoree’s work.

“I couldn’t imagine being in the audience when they have a standing ovation for Charlie Hebdo,” Prose said.

As somebody who’s not heard of Prose until today I can’t imagine being in any audience with her.

This reaction is worth remembering,

Salman Rushdie, a former PEN president who lived in hiding for years after a fatwa in response to his novel “The Satanic Verses,” said the issues were perfectly clear. Mr. Ondaatje and Mr. Carey were old friends of his, he said, but they are “horribly wrong.”

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Mr. Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

Little Atoms, Charlie Hebdo: why is solidarity so difficult for some writers?    cites a PEN statement,

“The rising prevalence of various efforts to delimit speech and narrow the bounds of any permitted speech concern us; we defend free speech above its contents. We do not believe that any of us must endorse the content of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons in order to affirm the importance of the medium of satire, or to applaud the staff’s bravery in holding fast to those values in the face of life and death threats. There is courage in refusing the very idea of forbidden statements, an urgent brilliance in saying what you have been told not to say in order to make it sayable.”

Padraig Reidy then makes the comments many of us would agree with,

It is all very well to state one’s support for free expression as an abstract, as almost everyone does, but if one cannot express solidarity with people who are murdered for exercising their free expression, then you don’t support free expression. It actually is that simple. I wonder sometimes if the likes of Carey and others tie themselves in knots over these things because the simplicity itself is unappealing: “Where’s the angle?” they think. “Where’s the fresh perspective I can bring?” “What’s the clever thing to say here?”

But while they might reject simplicity, they embrace certainty. They are quite sure that they will never be Charb, they will never be Charlie, they will never be Rushdie. They, being good and right, will never find themselves in the middle of a global storm, or staring down the barrel of a gun: not because they are scared to provoke, but because they only speak and write in self-evident truths with which no one could disagree.

Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi join a list of people who hold their liberal noses in the air when it comes to real fight for freedom of expression.

Charlie’s liberty is the freedom to ridicule abuses, to hold the bigoted up to account, and to “laugh at everything”(rire à tout).

It is the liberty to attack intolerance head on.

Follow the line of Charlie!

Update: Correspondence about this within PEN (just published).

How the story is being perceived in France: Charlie Hebdo, témoin de “l’arrogance culturelle des Français” (Des écrivains apprécient mal qu’on récompense le journal…)

PEN Charter,

Literature, national though it be in origin, knows no frontiers, and should remain common currency among nations in spite of political or international upheavals.

In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art and libraries, the heritage of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion.

Members of PEN should at all times use what influence they have in favor of good understanding and mutual respect among nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class, and national hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in the world.

PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and among all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in their country or their community.

PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. It believes that the necessary advance of the world toward a more highly organized political and economic order renders free criticism of governments, administrations, and institutions imperative. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood, and distortion of facts for political and personal ends.”

More here.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 27, 2015 at 11:56 am

American Muslim Groups Refuse to Recognise Armenian Genocide.

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Exactly 100 years ago, on 24 April 1915, the Turkish government arrested 250 Armenian intellectuals and cultural leaders in Constantinople, so beginning the Armenian genocide.

From late spring of 1915, massacres were carried out throughout Turkey. The government organised the genocide by creating death squads, passing laws to sanction deportation and confiscation, using the then cutting-edge railway and telegraph technology, and wrapping the whole thing up in the nationalist ideology of pan-Turkism.

Peter Balakian concluded,

Turkish denial comes in many forms. This year, one of its tactics aimed at undermining the memory of the genocide includes holding a centennial event for the Battle of Gallipoli on 24 April – the day Armenians worldwide remember the genocide – rather than 25 April, the usual Gallipoli commemoration date. The offence is compounded by the attendance of Prince Charles and Prince Harry at this politically concocted gathering.

That is why it was so important that last week Pope Francis affirmed that the slaughter of the Armenians was the “first genocide of the 20th century”. He showed that he would not be bullied by the Turkish state. Nor would he be cajoled by Turkey’s specious rhetoric suggesting that if he used the word “genocide” he would create a crisis between Muslims and Christians. The pope took the moral issue even further when he addressed the corruption of Turkish denial: “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.”

On the centenary of the genocide, Turkey would do its national honour well if it listened to him. There can be no reconciliation until there is truth.

“If Armenian-American college students felt betrayed in the past day, I would not blame them. So many of them came out to support student resolutions at several universities across the country demanding divestment from the Israeli occupation.  And yet, one of the largest American Palestine solidarity organizations in this country just told these students that their grandparents’ stories still need to be verified. If you do not know what I am referring to please read this statement put out by the United States Council of Muslim Organizations.

In this statement, member organizations of the USCMO, including American Muslims for Palestine, make the case that President Obama should not refer to the “events of 1915” as a genocide without further investigation. They call for a more “balanced” approach through academic consensus based on Turkish archives that Turkey refuses to open to establish a “just memory.” The statement also refers to the importance of Turkey as an ally in the fight against ISIS. What is even worst is that it was released on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the genocide.

http://twitter.com/ramahkudaimi/status/589905206072213505/photo/1

The fact that this statement came from every major Muslim organization in America is outrageous in itself. The fact that American Muslims for Palestine signed on to this statement is doubly heinous.

How American Muslims for Palestine does not recognize the moral hypocrisy of such a denial is beyond me. Palestinians as a people have spent decades demanding the world recognize our ethnic cleansing from our homeland. For years, it was the stories of our parents and grandparents against the denial of the entirety of Israeli society. Even after the opening of Israeli state archives (that only Israeli academics had access to) confirmed what we have always known to be true, we still fight to have the Nakba and our right to return recognized. On top of all this, AMP must have forgotten that there are Armenian-Palestinians who survived this genocide.

What kind of logical acrobatics did AMP have to undertake to avoid seeing the moral hypocrisy of this statement?

To fully appreciate the self-deceit required for AMP to be a co-signor to this denial of history, one only need replace ‘Turkey’ with ‘Israel,’ ‘Armenians’ with ‘Palestinians’, ‘genocide’ with ‘ethnic-cleansing,’ and ‘ISIS’ with ‘Islamic terrorism.’ These are some of the sentences you would be reading:

‘…characterizing the events of 19(48) as (ethnic cleansing) without proper investigation of these events by independent historians will not only jeopardize the establishment of a just memory pertaining to these events, but will also damage the efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation between (Israelis) and (Palestinians).’

‘As Americans, we are concerned about alienating a key ally, (Israel)’

‘Our government has been closely cooperating with the (Israeli) government on defeating (Islamic terrorism)…’

The writers of this statement could work for the US State Department.

Thankfully, progressive Muslims, Palestinians, and solidarity activists across the country are expressing their outrage.”

The USCMO statement has been disowned by many groups:

MLFA Response to USCMO Statement on Armenian Genocide

April 20, 2015 – DALLAS – Representatives from Muslim Legal Fund of America are clarifying their organization’s position on a statement released today by United States Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) regarding the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Khalil Meek, Executive Director of MLFA, said the organization he represents does not take positions on or make public statements about international issues. As a domestic-only organization, Meek emphasized that 100 percent of MLFA’s focus and efforts remains within the borders of the United States of America.

“It is not MLFA’s place nor is it part of its mission to question the Armenian genocide,” said Meek. “I apologize if the inclusion of MLFA’s name in this statement caused any confusion to our donors, supporters or anyone else.”

 The British Government has also refused to recognise the Armenian genocide.

Christian and other religious minority communities are again under threat in the Middle and Near East.

It would be interesting to see how British Muslim organisations plan to respond to the anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

Protests Grow at Katie Hopkins Migrants are “Cockroaches” Column.

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Rwanda: Never Forgotten. 

This is how Rwandan local radio incited the Hutus to violence:
‘You have to kill the Tutsis, they’re cockroaches.’
‘All those who are listening, rise so we can fight for our Rwanda. Fight with the weapons you have at your disposal: those who have arrows, with arrows, those who have spears, with spears. We must all fight.’
‘We must all fight the Tutsis. We must finish with them, exterminate them, sweep them from the whole country. There must be no refuge for them.’
‘They must be exterminated. There is no other way.’

 

Katie Hopkins petition calling for her to be sacked as The Sun columnist has almost reached 200,000 target, just three days after launch.

Katie Hopkins inspired the wrath of thousands when she described migrants desperate to reach Britain following humanitarian disasters in their own countries as “feral humans” and suggested the government deploy “gunships” to stop them landing on shore.

Her column for The Sun, in which she further labelled refugees “cockroaches”,  became the subject of heated debate over whether the language she used – and the tabloid published – broke editorial guidelines.

Not that the British public were about to wait for the results of an inquiry. An online petition quickly sprouted up on Change.orgcalling for her sacking from the paper.

From the Independent. 

Comrade  says why we are protesting.

On immigration, the language of genocide has entered the mainstream.

I have no interest in the personality of that exoskeleton of solidified bile that is Katie Hopkins. None. But as dead bodies are taken out of the sea, destined for unmarked graves, we might ask how the language she speaks, and the flaunting of murderous wishes towards people who have nothing but the clothes they are found in, has become so mainstream.

To see the vocabulary of genocide casually used by Hopkins in her Sun column has disgusted many, but it does not come out of nowhere. The “debate” around immigration is rarely a debate at all; it has become a void which people fill with more and more extreme and disconnected statements.

Those who preach “honesty” – Nigel Farage staring down the camera, telling us that we at home are thinking what he is thinking, that unlike other politicians he will “tell it as it is” – are lying. The far right’s fantasy of pulling up the drawbridge to stop this great flow of desperate humanity in transit is just that: a fantasy. The politician who promises control of all borders, and pledges to further strengthen that control by withdrawing further from Europe, is selling a simplistic idea. This idea is now indeed itself Europe-wide, as the toxic language around immigration has moved from the margin into the mainstream.

More at the Guardian. 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 20, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Top New Statesman Writer, Francois-Cerrah, Spits on Charb and the Charlie Martyrs’ Graves.

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Charb: Took Advantage of Own Death to Make Money, Says New Statesman Writer.

M Francois-Cerrah

Myriam Francois-Cerrah

New Statesman writer; FL journo; Oxford PhD researcher; France, MENA, postcoloniality. Views=own. http://journalisted.com/myriam-francois-cerrah

 

 

These are some extracts (adapted)  from the book she is referring to:

“Racism and not of Islamophobia“The term ‘Islamophobia’ is badly chosen to designate the hatred that some cretins have of Muslims. It is not only badly chosen but it is also also  dangerous.”Charb wrote:”Communitarian activists try to impose on the judicial and political authorities the notion of ‘Islamophobia’. This has no other purpose than to push the victims of racism to assert that they are Muslims (…) If tomorrow all French Muslims converted to Catholicism or abandoned their religion, this would not change the main racist discourse: that foreigners or those who are French but of foreign origin are and will be always be held responsible for every kind of fault. “

“The Qu’ran or the Bible does not read like Ikea assembly instructions”

If he criticised the term “Islamophobia” Charb recognised that there is indeed a fear of Islam. But if this worry is “absurd”, it “is not a crime,” he said.

“The problem is not the Koran or the Bible, which are sleep-inducing, incoherent and poorly written novels. The problem comes from a believer who reads the Qur’an or the Bible as if they were the instructions of an Ikea shelf-kit.”

The author also believed that racist speech was unclenched under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy and his ‘debate’ on national identity:

“When the highest  authority in the State said (in effect) to every moron and fool, “say what you want, you lot’, what do you think these morons and fool will do? They began to say out loud what they had been content to yell at the end of every, well-oiled, family meal. “

 Francois-Cerrah has a very different book on the “soporific” romance of the Qur’an.

“The Qur’an was pivotal for me. I first tried to approach it in anger, as part of an attempt to prove my Muslim friend wrong. Later I began reading it with a more open mind. The opening of Al-Fatiha, with its address to the whole of mankind, psychologically stopped me in my tracks. It spoke of previous scriptures in a way which I both recognised, but also differed. It clarified many of the doubts I had about Christianity. It made me an adult as I suddenly realised that my destiny and my actions had consequences for which I alone would now be held responsible. In a world governed by relativism, it outlined objective moral truths and the foundation of morality. As someone who’d always had a keen interest in philosophy, the Qur’an felt like the culmination of all of this philosophical cogitation. It combined Kant, Hume, Sartre and Aristotle. It somehow managed to address and answer the deep philosophical questions posed over centuries of human existence and answer its most fundamental one, ‘why are we here?'”

We knew that she is one of the brigade of vultures who said of flocked around the attack on Charlie.

As she wrote in the New Statesman on January the 9th.

….they mocked the sacred symbols of many groups, but those of Muslims on a particularly frequent basis and in a distinctly racialised tone.

Not that this should ever warrant a violent response, but the eulogising of the magazine for some sort of mastery of European satirical tradition is a white wash of its chequered history as well as a capitulation to a simplistic narrative of “you’re either with the racist satirists or you’re with the terrorists”.

In weasel words she continued,

We must ensure slogans of solidarity become more than just narrow and questionable support for the targeted publication and instead provide resistance to all those voices which seek to divide France, to entrench camps and harden the already worrying divides.

Poor old Francois-Cerrah…..

Just couldn’t resist another dig at the corpses of our martyrs.

More on Charb’s much more interesting book:

A book written by the late editor of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, Stephane Charbonnier – known as Charb – is set to be published posthumously.

The book, which upholds the right to ridicule religion, was finished two days before Charb was killed by Islamic militants in January, publishers say.

It argues that the fight against racism is being replaced by a misguided struggle against “Islamophobia”.

Charb and 11 others were killed during a Charlie Hebdo editorial meeting.

The attack on the Paris offices of the newspaper was carried out by two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, who were later shot dead by police.

Charb had received numerous death threats following Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad in 2006. The magazine’s offices were firebombed in 2012.

Charb’s book – which goes on sale on Thursday – is entitled An Open Letter to the Fraudsters of Islamophobia who Play into Racists’ Hands.

It is both a defence of Charlie Hebdo’s editorial stance and an attack on the paper’s detractors.

“The suggestion that you can laugh at everything, except certain aspects of Islam, because Muslims are much more prickly that the rest of the population – what is that, if not discrimination?”

He condemns this position as “white, left-wing bourgeois intellectual paternalism”.

BBC.

There is also this, just out, on the book which was being written before the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper-Casher supermarket:

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 16, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Should We Ditch Multiculturalism? Response to Kenan Malik.

with 7 comments

Kurdish Fighters for Humanity.

Should We Ditch Multiculturalism?

The 100th Anniversary of the genocide of the Armenians was on Sunday the 5th of April. Le Monde reminded us that it “was in the name of Jihad that the Ottoman Empire entered the war against the Entente on the 1st of November 1914. It was also in the name of Holy War that the massacre of the Armenian Christians took place.” (Génocide des Arménians. Gaïdz Minassian. 4.4.15).

Few will need reminding of the echoes Minassian’s words evoke today. On Sunday Pope Francis and Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke to a much larger audience than their religious constituencies when they deplored the exactions Christians faced across the world today. The carefully weighed dignity of these speeches does not need underlining. Their martyrs are humanity’s martyrs.

Another intervention was made on Sunday by Kenan Malik in the Observer (Diversity and Immigration are not the problem. Political courage is. 5.4.15). Malik is not afraid to confront the issue of Jihadism. While most Muslims are integrated and “proud to be British” (83%) there is a problem. He writes that official multiculturalism is based on the idea of constructing Britain as a “community of communities”. The resulting state strategy pushes people into boxes, “as if each were distinct homogeneous whole”. In this move, the “most conservative figures came to be accepted as the authentic voice of minority groups.” Government run multiculturalism has fostered a “parochial sense of identity”. In these conditions “a small group of Muslims”, have found an “identity and an authentic Islam in Islamism.”

The Observer article describes another form of identity politics in the rise of UKIP. Some of Farage’s supporters (not least his activists) are “hard-line racists”. But the party’s wider support comes “from people whose hostility towards immigrants or Islam is shaped less by old-fashioned racism than by a newfangled sense of fear and insecurity.” “Euroscepticism, nationalism, opposition to immigration and populism” have a strong appeal for the ‘left behind’, the “disadvantaged and economically secure” as Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin have argued (Revolt on the Right. Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain. 2014).

Malik explains this in terms of his criticism of multiculturalism, “Once class identity comes to be seen as a cultural attribute, then those regarded as culturally different have come to be viewed as threats.” The ‘Polish builder’ or the ‘Bangladeshi neighbour’ come to symbolise the menacing forces of globalisation.

Despite the appeal of this picture it is not at all clear that one can explain the attraction of Jihadism in purely British terms. Every European country has a different set of policies towards communities of immigrant origin. France has, to say the least, not adopted multiculturalism. There are nevertheless Islamists, from a spectrum that goes from ‘conservatives’ (the polite British way of saying reactionary when it comes to Islamic politics) aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, a variety of Salafist forces, to those (crossing over to) active Jihadists. Those recruited to fight for the Islamic State, Daesh, come from across the continent, and from elsewhere. This includes North Africa, including democratic Tunisia, countries whose politics and culture are criss-crossed with Europe’s.

Like Jihadism the rise of UKIP cannot be explained in purely British terms. The strong vote for the French Front National in the country’s elections has indicated a similar ‘left behind’ constituency. Identical language is used to explain the FN’s support in France: a protest at “post-industrial society” a loss of references, a wounded nationalism. (Le FN perce dans de nouveaux territories. Le Monde. 25.3.15.)

Malik has already tied these themes together. In A search for identity draws jihadis to the horrors of Isis, he argued in March,

Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam.

These developments have shaped not just Muslim self-perception but that of most social groups. Many within white working-class communities are often as disengaged as their Muslim peers, and similarly see their problems not in political terms but through the lens of cultural and ethnic identity. Hence the growing hostility to immigration and diversity and, for some, the seeming attraction of far-right groups.

Racist populism and radical Islamism are both, in their different ways, expressions of social disengagement in an era of identity politics.

There are specific influences at work in Britain. In From Fatwa to Jihad. The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy (2009) Malik filled in the details about how “conservative figures” came to be seen as leaders of Muslim communities. It was protests against Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. “What it really catalysed was a transformation of Islamism in Britain. The Rushdie affair provided an opportunity to bring order to the chaos of the fissiparous Islamist landscape – and for Islamists to stake a claim for the leadership of British Muslims and to present themselves as their true representatives.”(Page 123)

If Malik asserts that today’s jihadists are ‘estranged’ from their communities, others would argued that there are overlaps between these forms of Islamist politics and the violence of Al-Queda and ISIS. Awareness of the differences between the different strands of these movements should not prevent us from noting that some groups function as ‘paserelles’ between open and clandestine Islamism. Above all the emphasis on this form of religious politics, by definition identitarian, exclusive and intolerant, indicates a constituency for the central demands of rule by the Qur’an and the Sharia alone – the core of violent jihad. The Islamist project has taken the form of areas in which the ‘Sharia’ is enforced in a limited territory, to the ambition to restore a much large ‘Caliphate’. In Europe the practice of Islamists, notably Salafists, has been to attempt to create their own ‘micro-powers’  in which their form of ‘justice’ is preached, and, if possible put into practice.

Islamism and the Left.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the publication of the Satanic Verses. But one issue has remained constant: demands for “group right.” The response of British Muslims to the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher Supermarket were in general restrained. The small number of Moslems who raised calls in the name of this right to ban offence to the image of the Prophet marched to general indifference. They had little of the impact of the Rushdie protests – not least, as the British state does not seem at present anxious to recognise their ‘leadership’. It was left to self-proclaimed liberals and socialists to make the loudest clamour about the weekly’s ‘racist’ and ‘pornographic’ cartoons.

Why is this? As Michael Walzer has remarked, (Islamism and the Left. Dissent. Winter 2015.)

I frequently come across leftists who are more concerned with avoiding accusations of Islamophobia than they are with condemning Islamist zealotry. This is an odd position with relation to the Muslim world today, but it makes some sense in Western Europe and possibly also in America, where Muslims are recent immigrants, the objects of discrimination, police surveillance, sometimes police brutality, and popular hostility. I have heard Muslims called the “new Jews.” That’s not a helpful analogy, since Muslims in today’s Western Europe have never been attacked by Christian crusaders, expelled from one country after another, forced to wear distinctive dress, barred from many professions, and slaughtered by Nazis. In fact, right now, some Muslim militants are among the chief purveyors of anti-Semitism in Europe (they get a lot of help from neo-fascists in France and Germany and other countries, too.

He continues,

All these left responses to Islamist zealots—identification, support, sympathy, apology, tolerance, and avoidance—look very strange if we consider the actual content of their ideology. Jihadi opposition to “the West” should provoke serious worry on the left before any other response. Boko Haram began with an attack on “Western-style” schools, and other Islamist groups have undertaken similar attacks, especially on schools for girls. Values that the zealots denounce as “Western” are very much in contention here: individual liberty, democracy, gender equality, and religious pluralism.

And makes this telling point,

But individual liberty, democracy, gender equality, and religious pluralism aren’t really Western values; they are universal values that first appeared in strong, modern versions in Western Europe and the Americas. These are the values that pretty much define the left, which also first appeared in its strong, modern version in Western Europe and the Americas. The left is an eighteenth-century invention, an invention of the secular Enlightenment.

Without following the argument in details an important response has to be made to Walzar’s critic, Andrew March, who notes this,

A first dimension is a consideration of the way the Islamist challenge to post-Enlightenment left principles might cause those on the liberal left to rethink their core commitments. The model here is Marx’s critique of bourgeois rights in “On the Jewish Question,” the ur-text for all subsequent leftist skepticism about formal rights, legal equality, and individual negative freedom. There are, of course, hard and soft versions of this. A hard version dismisses rights and parliamentary democracy tout court as bourgeois fictions that obstruct rather than advance emancipation. A softer version merely cautions us against seeing the achievement of rights, representative democracy, and negative freedoms as the final victory rather than as a necessary first step toward deeper forms of freedom and solidarity.

Speaking as somebody from the ‘real left’ (apparently something these academics are fond of arguing the toss about) I agree with Walzer. I have no truck with ‘post-Enlightenment’ readings of human rights. I will stop following March’s argument at this point to make this clear, Marx’s early writings, strongly influenced by the notion that ’emancipation’ was something ‘beyond’ the individualism of bourgeois society, failed to grapple with their enduring material appeal. But the issue of the value of rights was taken up by the 19th century left and embodied in the programmes of many parties, including one of the most dogmatic, the Parti Ouvrier Français (founded 1880). Marx’s later writings include sterling defences of human rights, as Robin Blackburn’s An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln (2011) indicates. They show a separation between right and power – the demands for what should be, and the actual state or government called on to deliver these declared needs. Embodied, or crystalised in substantial form, they are the backbone of the socialist and social democratic movement – as the fight over the British Welfare State demonstrates.

This applies equally to the ‘imperialist’ powers and the Islamic pro-states, to capitalism and to the (former) Stalinist regimes. Walzer emphasises Islamism for the obvious reason that it offers no possible mechanism for the translation of universal rights into power. March’s other arguments fall apart because they do not look at the importance this now holds for international politics and for the left. They are perhaps the best existing example to show that Claude Lefort’s description of a ‘totalitarian society’ as the ‘People as One’ is seriously flawed. The Islamist apparatus of power-knowledge, of surveillance, of discipline and punishment,  is the People Under the Vice-Regenency of God ( L’Invention démocratique,1981). Demands for human rights sound the trumpet of their defeat.

The flaws of the left’s position on Islam were dramatically shown in the way concern about Islamopobia has been allowed to over-ride support for democratic universal rights It is not only been the unedifying spectacle of those still trying to fish for Moslem souls for their groupuscules. The response to the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper-Casher tainted the left up its intellectual pinnacles. New Left Review has put on its website virulent attacks on French laïcité that evoke memories of the hatred of secularists – ‘laïcards’ – and Republican universalism expressed pre-Great War by Action française. Perhaps it is no coincidence that some of the Review’s authors are associated with the American Counterpunch which has seen fit to publish material questioning the innocence of Dreyfus….

Our Response.

It a different response it is important that the left responds firmly to the ‘fear and insecurity’ created by violent Islamism. This is not because of UKIP supporters’ ‘concerns’: it is to stand up for our sisters and brothers in every country where Jihadists threaten them. Few people on the left will deny that Western intervention in the Middle East has been a disaster. The UK government’s appeal to ‘British values’, apart from sounding hollow, is not an answer to a global problem. Freedom and democracy, fighting oppression and exploitation, have universal appeal. It is urgent that we stand with those fighting Islamism, and its foreign supporters, on the ground, above the heroic struggle of the Kurdish people. There is little clearer than this battle: rights and equality against genocide and slavery. These principles and objectives, which are secular and uniting, releasing us from communalist boxes, are the only ones which can confront Islamism and UKIP and the rightward – xenophobic – moving political landscape.

Malik notes the decline of the “economic and political power of the working class”. But the labour movement, in the broad sense, still has some substance in Britain. It is up to up those who are part of it to make its weight felt. Tackling austerity, bring people together for a programme of social advance may help make inroads into the constituency of the left behind. Should we then, to bolster our politics, drop all reference to multiculturalism – or more exactly the institutional policies of ‘community relations’ in the UK? Ought we instead “defend diversity and immigration”? There is little doubt that official multiculturalism is bogged down in the type of politics that has fed reactionary identity politics. But multicultural facts are not to be opposed. That in this sense it operates as  simply another word for diversity.

It’s hard to see Malik’s demands making their way to party manifestos, or onto demonstration placards. It is also far from obvious that this response that will be able to influence the wider public, left alone official policy. But there are hopeful signs for a broader change in politics that may contribute to giving them some substance.

The disgust many feel at the failure of some on the left to take a stand in favour of the anti-racist anti-fascist Charlie Hebdo, not to mention on the public murders of our Bangladeshi comrades by Islamists, the groundswell in favour of backing our Kurdish sisters and brothers, show some basis for a different approach. Diversity and the defence of immigration are part of that stand. Pro-European and world-wide internationalism another. We shall honour the martyrs by this fight. We will not let their deaths pass in silence.

Solidarity and Love to Our Bangladeshi Sister and Brother Bloggers

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Love and Solidarity to our Beloved Bangladeshi Sisters and Brothers.

Rory Fenton writes in the Independent.

“Words cannot be killed”. This is the Facebook cover page of Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman. It’s a statement of solidarity with Avijit Roy, the Bangladeshi-American atheist blogger who was murdered last month in the capital of Dhaka by religious extremists.

Just this morning, Rahman suffered a similar fate to Roy’s. He was surrounded and stabbed to death by suspected extremists while on his way to work, in the middle of a busy street. He was 27 years old.

Far from just being two random murders, these attacks are the methodical work of vigilante extremists working through a list of atheist bloggers. The list was drawn up last year when 100,000 protesters called on the government to introduce the death penalty for blasphemy. The government refused to introduce death penalty, but it did begin a crack down on the country’s free-thinking blog community. It shut down some of its most popular sites, and imprisoned bloggers accused of “offending religious feelings”. Once known as the only place where non-religious Bangladeshis could gather safely, the internet suddenly became unsafe for atheists wanting to air their views.

Fenton’s conclusion is bleak.

This weekend I arrived in Bangladesh with the naïve hope of writing about wide-eyed idealists fighting the fight no matter what, fuelled with the zeal of Je Suis Charlie. The reality on the ground is much harsher: atheists are being hunted down for both religious retribution and political gain. Washiqur Rahman was right: words cannot be killed. But a struggling movement can only take so much battering, and Bangladeshi atheism is fighting to survive.

The Dhaka Tribune notes,

UN concerned over attacks on journalists, intellectuals

Tribune Online Report

The United Nations has expressed deep concern over attacks on different journalists and other intellectuals in Bangladesh in recent times.

 “…it’s a matter of tremendous concern that different journalists and other intellectuals have been attacked,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, at a regular briefing at the UN headquarters on Monday.

He said the UN has been calling for the respect of basic rights in Bangladesh, including the rights of people to freedom of expression.

Farhan Haq, however, said he does not have any high-level travel to Bangladesh to announce at this stage. “…but you’re aware of our concerns.”

Blogger Washiqur Rahman was hacked to death in Tejgaon Industrial area of Dhaka on Monday morning.

Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi American online activist, writer, blogger known for pioneering Bengali freethinkers’ weblog-forum, Mukto Mona, was killed and his wife, blogger Rafida Ahmed Bonya, severely injured when unidentified miscreants hacked them at TSC of Dhaka University.

For Bangladesh the British Humanist Association states,

Following Avijit’s death, campaigners in Bangladesh and around the world called on Bangladesh to do more to protect its humanist bloggers. In addition to Washiqur, Avijit, and Ahmed, who all died as a consequence of expressing non-religious beliefs and criticising religious power, various others such as Asif Mohiuddin were attacked and left with potentially fatal wounds.

The Bangladeshi writer and exile Taslima Nasrin paid her respects to Washiqur via Twitter. In her comment, she warned that ‘Bangladesh is not a place for freethinkers.’

There are growing calls on Bangladesh to legislate to prevent further blasphemy-related reprisals. Earlier this month, the British Humanist Association (BHA) raised the issue of reprisals against perceived blasphemers to the UN Human Rights Council, urging states to explicitly outlaw such attacks amid a wave of violence targeting the non-religious around the world. Blasphemy-related killings have very low prosecution and arrest rates, and there is a strong perception that those who kill for blasphemy are able to act with impunity.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Our thoughts are with Washiqur’s friends and loved ones throughout this harrowing ordeal. Once again, Bangladesh has lost a son, this time a satirist who criticised religious fundamentalism. How much more blood must be shed before Bangladesh will take action to protect its citizens? Bloody reprisals in response to perceived blasphemy have become an endemic problem, and states like Bangladesh must affirm the human right to express one’s own beliefs without fear of attack, and do more to prevent such attacks from happening in future.’

In Bangladesh itself this is the reaction of Bloggers,

Bangladesh bloggers show solidarity for Washiqur Rahman.

Washiqur Rahman was attacked and killed near his home in Dhaka. The online activist is the second blogger killed in Bangladesh since February. Fellow activists call him a “warrior” for liberty and worry who will be next.

See more here.

We atheist and secular bloggers across the world have a duty to support our beloved Bangladeshi sisters and brothers.

At present we have backed the campaign to support the imprisoned  Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (see Facebook).

It is a matter of urgency that we do all we can to back the Bangladeshi free thinkers.

Hash-tag: #WordsCannotBeKilled

Protest in Bangladesh after second blogger hacked to death.

Dhaka, March 31 (ANI): Bangladesh’s people’s resurgence platform, Gonojagoron Mancha, staged protest in Dhaka after a blogger was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants. It was the second attack in five weeks on a critic of religious extremism in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation. Washikur Rahman, a secular blogger, was attacked by young religious students on a busy street in the centre of Dhaka. The killing comes just weeks after US secular blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death while returning with his wife from a book fair in Dhaka. His wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, suffered head injuries and lost a finger in the February 26 attack. The protesters of Gonojagoron Mancha marched onto the streets demanding strict action against the murderers as they shouted slogans and raised banners.

 

Worldwide Protests for Free Expression in Bangladesh

UK

London: The British Humanist Association is holding a leafleting protest from 10-4 p.m. outside the Bangladesh High Commission in London. Volunteers are asked to email pavan@humanism.org.uk.
28 Queen’s Gate London SW7 5JA

Written by Andrew Coates

March 31, 2015 at 11:43 am