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More horrifying death threats against Maajid Nawaz

There’s a good article up by Charlie Klenjian from the Lawyers’ Secular Society.   It’s worth reading in full, but this is a key point:

In censoring themselves Channel 4 News and Newsnight not only failed in their task of reporting the news to their viewers – to enable their viewers to form their own opinion about the cartoon – but they also reinforced the very religious taboo that Nawaz had received death threats for challenging[.]

Here’s another section which is relevant in the light of recent discussions of the issue:

The question before us is very simple: do we have the right to depict Mohammed? It’s a simple question and so it deserves a simple answer. The answer is either yes or no. My answer is yes. If your answer is “yes, but”, then sorry that’s just not good enough. If you have to pause for thought before answering the question then you’ve probably already decided the answer is no.

Archie Bland, writing in the Independent, seems to fall into the ‘yes, but’ category, albeit in quite a thoughtful way:

Practical freedom of speech, graduate-level freedom of speech, is not a black-and-white issue, not just a matter of misquoting Voltaire; it is a subtly calibrated scale. It involves questions about social context, and discretion. And, if you look closely at what happened with Maajid Nawaz, those complexities become inescapable.

I think in a sense Archie Bland is right.  We might think Maajid Nawaz had a perfect right to tweet endless links to Holocaust denial sites (on freedom of speech grounds) but we would also (I assume) think he would not then be a suitable MP.

Bland goes on to reflect:

If we could agree an amnesty on “offence”, and talk instead about, for example, “distress”, we might have a clearer view of things. Those who wear the T-shirts might recognise it is possible to maintain a right without exercising it, and that to do so can be a simple act of kindness; those who wish they wouldn’t might recall more readily that their feelings are, ultimately, a private matter.

I do think there is a place for ‘kindness’, for sometimes refraining from actions which are legal but might cause offence to some.  But I completely disagree with Bland’s conclusion, that Newsnight was right to censor the image of Mo:

“And, in this case, the image is so simple that to see it adds nothing to the viewer’s understanding of the issues in play.”

Newsnight is precisely not the place to let kindness lead to (self) censorship.  People shouldn’t feel shame in simply tweeting Jesus and Mo because they find it funny, let alone (like Maajid) tweeting it to make a point about offence and free speech.  Above all, they should not avoid reproducing it when it is at the heart of the news item.  And if journalists have a concern about violent reprisals then they should, as Nick Cohen urges, be honest about that. Bland reports:

Says Katz [the Newsnight editor]: “A lot of the people disappointed with us for not using it really wanted a demonstration of liberal virility rather than more informative journalism.”

Displaying the cartoon should be the default position.  Not displaying it is an egregious step. It’s sad when being liberal starts being framed as a fringe perspective to be sneered at.

What is really at stake here, at present, isn’t the right to display Jesus and Mo, but the social acceptability of Jesus and Mo (or other images of Mohammed).   The huge danger of censorship creep was highlighted by Andrew Coates’s report that the Jesus and Mo website had been blocked by Suffolk public libraries, although they have since informed us that this is not the result of a deliberate policy decision. [Update: Here is a link to the full explanation.]

The Masked Avenger is disingenuous here:

Whilst I don’t subscribe to Western notions of free speech and under Islamic law mockery and denigration of the Prophets constitutes apostasy, to borrow a phrase – my fatwa does not apply here. Under European law the right to free speech is sacrosanct (subject to the usual caveats regarding incitement) and unassailable. No Muslim has demanded the introduction of blasphemy laws or the like. What has been demanded is that those few (some 3000 out of 60 million) who are seeking election as members of parliament – at least on a mainstream party’s ticket – exercise a degree of restraint and accord some respect to the deep seated religious sensibilities of a sizeable segment of the British population. Had Nick Griffin, for example, tweeted such an image I doubt anyone would have been bothered so to cast it as an issue of free speech is disingenuous.

Once you start saying an image should not be tweeted by PPCs, you are effectively saying that no one with any claim to respectability should tweet that image.  Nick Griffin is not Maajid Nawaz, and the Tell MAMA blog reminds us that context and form need to be taken into account when making a judgement about anti-Muslim prejudice.

“- Anti-Muslim hate and prejudice work is complex (as is tackling antisemitism), and depends on the context of the individual or organisation making comments or statements, for example. In this instance, Maajid Nawaz can hardly fit into the mould of someone who has a history of overt anti-Muslim prejudice and whether or not his Organisation (Quilliam), has been involved in labelling other groups as extremist, is not being anti-Muslim in nature.

- On the basis of this, if Nick Griffin tweeted out an anti-Muslim cartoon or a cartoon of Mohammed, then this would be a different context and even then, there would be little that legally could be done apart from highlighting the nauseous and toxic nature of his politics. Maajid Nawaz tweeting out a cartoon is a completely different context”

But for people like the Masked Avenger, combating anti-Muslim bigotry is not enough – they want to impose blasphemy taboos on the whole of civil society.

The Masked Avenger brushes aside death threats, and claims that those on both sides have received these. This may be true, but most of Maajid Nawaz’s supporters do not believe that, ideally, death should be the penalty for those who offend our deeply held beliefs.  However the Masked Avenger makes no secret of the fact that he thinks apostasy should be a capital crime in an ideal Islamic state.  Many share his views (although of course not all who were offended and/or signed the petition will do so) and some don’t seem too worried about waiting for the ideal Islamic state to come along.

Here, via Chris Moos, is news of some of the latest responses to Mo Shafiq’s campaign to “inform Islamic countries” about Nawaz.  Daily Pakistan, a right-wing Pakistani newspaper, published this story about Maajid Nawaz on the 29th.   This is the translation independently confirmed by two native Urdu speakers:

“Although the West has time after time tested the Muslim sentiments under the pretence of freedom of expression, this time a British-Born Pakistani has done an act that has shamed Muslims. Yes, Maajid Nawaz, a candidate of the British Liberal Democrat party treated Prophet Isa and Mohammed in a very disrespectful manner via a social website message. This cursed individual, in a message about a a controversial ‘cartoon’ said that there was nothing offensive about this.  The cursed individual, Maajid Nawaz was born in 1978 in Britain and was an activist of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and in 2001, was arrested in Egypt where he was released in 2006. He left Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2007 and formed his own NGO in which many Pakistanis are involved. He has said that he received threats from Muslims but the British media are in utmost support of him. “

Moos explains:

The article uses the term “gustakhi”, which means ‘disrespect’, ‘insult’, ‘defame’ or ‘dishonour’ in reference to the prophets Isa (Jesus) and Mohammed. This does not seem very severe from a Western perspective, but disrespecting a prophet is punishable by death in Pakistani law<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12621225>. In many cases, blasphemy charges are also enforced by lynch mobs. This is equivalent to the use of the term “gustakh e rasool”, i.e. defamer of the prophet, by Mohammed Shafiq, who has been leading the campaign against Maajid Nawaz and also vowed to “inform Islamic countries” – apparently with success.

Here are some comments taken from the Daily Pakistan’s Facebook page – readers were invited to comment on the punishments they thought Nawaz should receive.

Sonia Butt Gustakh.e.rasool ki aik saza  sar tan se juda, sar tan se juda

TRANSLATION  Punishment for insulting the prophet Cut the head from the body, Cut the head from the body

Qaiser Ali: Agha ye baigharat ha isko qatal krna chahiay

TRANSLATION   “He is shameless. He must be killed.”

Prince Mubasher “aise be ghiraton ko bech baray bazaar main phansi dy kar bad main goliyan marni chahey ta k ise daikh kar ayenda koi b ac harkat na kare ibrat ka nishan ban jaye sub k ley”

TRANSLATION  “A shameless bastard like him should be hanged in the public market then shot with bullets so that after seeing what happened to him nobody ever does this again. He should be made an example”

Muhammad Atif “Arain zameen m daba kar is ko pathar mary is k sir m itna mary k ye mary na bas phir is ko bahir nekal kar is ki unliyan cut kary phir is k mu m aag ka koila dalay phir is ki ankho m electric current mary phir is k kaan m aor naak m choty choty keery makoray chory jo is k demak m jae tab is say pochy han ab bolo lanti teri okaat keya hai esi gustakhi karny ki phir is k tang say is ka sir juda kary fay kash ye moka mughy naseeb ho to m esay logo ka sir tan say juda kar do jo Allah k Rasool aor hamary peyary Nabi k bary m esi zuban use kary m us ko maro InshAllah Azab hai esay logo k leye dard naak khoofnaak ye zaleel honay wala hain Allah kareem InshAllah”

TRANSLATION  “Let’s put him in the ground then hit him with stones until he is almost dead. Then take him out, and cut off his fingers, then put burning coals in his mouth, then put electric shock in his eye balls, then put insects in his ears and nose, so they eat his brain. Then ask him you bastard who do you think you are that you could insult. Then cut his head off from his body that was used to insult Allah’s messenger and our beloved prophet. Beat him for using his tongue against the prophet. By the grace of Allah, there is a horrific and painful punishment awaiting him. Allah is the greatest. By the grace of Allah.”

In the Times Janice Turner asks why we don’t just settle for a quiet life and avoid causing offence:

Because in our silence and our cowardice, in our acceptance that a religious taboo overrides free expression, we are accepting the edicts of Sharia, the special pleading of blasphemy laws. We are not only betraying our secular values but those who uphold them within Islam at enormous personal risk.