A Response from The Ex-Muslims Forum to Sayeeda Warsi’s Speech
OP - February 04, 2013, 09:04 PM
A Response from The Ex-Muslims Forum to Sayeeda Warsi’s Speech
We tread carefully as we pen this response, because we fear that a critique of Sayeeda Warsi’s recent speech may be used to paint us as denigrating the good work done by various people and organisations, who confront violence and discrimination against individual Muslims.
Nevertheless, we make this response in the hope that people will understand why it is important we ask the questions that we ask.
Our impression is that Sayeeda Warsi deliberately conflates critical scrutiny of aspects of Islam with violence and hate speech, and that she does this in order to stigmatise free expression of conscience in a secular society.
We believe it is possible to counter discrimination against individuals with the tools of a secular and transparent society, and regard it as ominous that some people attempt to conflate criticism of some aspects of religion with hate speech.
In her speech Mrs Warsi said, "An attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths."
The notion that physical, violent harm done to any individual because of their faith, ethnicity or sexuality is an attack on all of humanity is a noble notion.
The notion that criticism, scrutiny and repudiation of aspects of theology or tradition of a faith is somehow a communal assault on all religions is a deeply ignoble and mendacious notion.
The criticism, scrutiny, repudiation and even mockery of religious ideas must not be placed, whether consciously or by careless regard, on any suggested continuum with criminal 'hate speech' . If it were, most universities' religious studies departments would need to be shut down, Dan Brown's books would never have gotten published, and TV shows and films that satirize Christianity, like Monty Python's Flying Circus, would be banned for criticising religion using satire and parody. Criticism, scrutiny and repudiation of Christianity, and other religions, seems to be fine, even encouraged in the same circles where such critical thinking about Islam is shunned.
Ms. Warsi's speech virtually presumes that Islam ought to be above scrutiny or criticism. Such a suggestion aims to draw battle lines, and to incite a kind of groupthink based on religious identity politics, in the hope of silencing all critics of religion, particularly ex-Muslims.
The rhetoric of Warsi's sentence echoes those who claim that ‘An attack on one Muslim is an attack on all Muslims’, which is the very foundation of communal ‘Ummah’ Identity Politics. If all Muslims are not homogenous or monolithic whenever a Muslim commits an act of extremism in the name of Islam, then all Muslims are not homogenous or monolithic when it comes to imposed "Muslim" identity politics either.
We note that Sayeeda Warsi has signed, on behalf of the democratically elected British government, a memorandum with the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). The OIC is funded by Saudi Arabia, and has devoted itself to attempting to implement distinctly anti-democratic Islamic blasphemy codes globally, primarily via the United Nations.
We consider this to be deeply disturbing, and we would like Ms. Warsi to clarify why an appointed minister of the British government allies in any way with a group committed to an anti-democratic agenda.
It is vital that we guard against placing scrutiny of aspects of Islam into a realm that can be dismissed as discriminatory simply because it questions, confronts and challenges ideas related to theology, belief and tradition.
Such quarantining of belief would mean that secular activists like ‘One Law For All’ who campaign against sharia tribunals could be dismissed as being motivated by ‘Islamophobia’ rather than a belief in the rights of women.
It would mean that pointing out the reactionary attitudes of Salafis, Ikhwan, Deobandis, Tablighi Jamaat, Jamat-e-Islami, Hizb ut Tahrir, and of identity-politics influenced by the ideology of Maulana Mawdudi, would be stigmatised and marginalised even further when criticism of these tendencies is urgently needed.
The issue of the inaccuracies of tabloid media and the rise of far-right groups like the EDL will never be combated by more silencing. Rather than imposing a blasphemy taboo, by stigmatising criticism in the name of ‘social harmony’, it would be far better to scrutinise those groups and ideologies of Islam that are intolerant, reactionary and inimical to cosmopolitan values.
The response to issues like the institution of sharia arbitration into British society need not be to render an apologia for sharia codes, but to reinforce the secular settlement that gives us our human rights today regardless of gender, race, religion or sexuality.
Freedom of conscience, and expression of that conscience, is the bedrock of all the gains we have made in British society in terms of progressive laws and social attitudes.
As ex-Muslims we are particularly concerned about the Islamic attitude towards apostates, which is rooted in scripture, and leads to ex-Muslims living marginalised, silenced, bullied lives under threat of violence, ostracisation, and persecution. Confronting this is impossible without critically addressing aspects of Islamic belief and attitudes.
Ms Warsi’s formulation appears to be menacing precisely because a government minister makes reference to freedom of religion in order to erect a set of ‘rules’ that would make the simple articulation of dissent, rejection and criticism of Islam a form of ‘phobia’.
You cannot speak of freedom of religion without accepting the freedom to leave and criticise and scrutinise religion. This applies especially to proselytising religions whose evangelists make totalizing truth claims, seek to influence society and individual lives, and propagate homogenizing religious identity politics.
We agree with the words of Nina Shea: ‘when politics and religion are intertwined there can be no free political debate if there is no free religious debate’.
Sayeeda Warsi's latest speech builds on the rhetoric she used in a speech two years ago, in which she launched a broadside against secularism and invented a spurious phenomena called ‘anti-faith bigotry’ in an attempt to relegate thoughtful criticism of religion to the category of thought crime.
We concur with Theo Hobson’s assessment of that speech, which he described as containing “clumsy accusations of creeping totalitarianism, and fist-biting banalities about the confident expression of faith being the means to social harmony.”
In other words, it is incorrect, condescending, and insidious to conflate criticism of religions with crimes of violence against individuals as too often happens.
In a tweet dated 27th September 2012 Ms. Warsi stated that freedom of religion includes “the freedom to choose no religion”.
We urge her to consider how this freedom actually plays out not as an abstract notion, but as a real, lived experience, and how this should never be marginalised by the careless intertwining of the free expression of conscience with hate crimes.
Taboos against criticism of religion are inimical to our most basic freedoms as a society. Defence against the silencing of dissent requires constant vigilance. We urge Mrs Warsi to pay consideration to this.