Ex-Muslims are some of the most persecuted minorities in Sri Lanka. Social media and Facebook are the only avenues available to us to express ourselves in a safer environment. Ex-Muslims cannot speak out publicly in Sri Lanka for fear of our lives. Facebook facilitates our efforts to make links with each other and celebrate apostasy without shame or fear.
We, therefore, condemn Facebook’s banning of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka (CEMSL) Facebook page, which was established in December 2016 since 10 May 2019 without explanation. The URL of the page was www.Facebook.com/CEMSL.ORG . The page with more than 4000 Likes was a lifeline for our members. CEMSL and other organisations call on Facebook to reinstate the page and respect the rights of non-believers to free conscience and expression.
We understand very clearly the need to stop incitement to violence, persecution and discrimination; we ourselves face such attacks on a regular basis. Particularly in the context of Sri Lanka, we understand the need to stand up to such violence and terrorism as in the case of the heinous attack on churches recently as well as the brutal subsequent mob violence against our Muslim neighbours, family and friends. However, Facebook must understand that atheism, blasphemy and apostasy are not an attack on believers but a criticism of beliefs and the religious-Right and intrinsic to freedom of conscience and expression. It is part of a long tradition of much needed dissent and doubt.
Addressed to the Home Secretary Sajid Javid
The APPG on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia has now been adopted by the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats Federal board, Plaid Cymru and the Mayor of London, as well as several local councils. All of this is occurring before the Home Affairs Select Committee has been able to assess
the evidence for and against the adoption of the definition nationally.
Meanwhile the Conservatives are having their own debate about rooting out Islamophobia from the party.
According to the APPG definition, “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.
With this definition in hand, it is perhaps no surprise that following the horrific attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, some place responsibility for the atrocity on the pens of journalists and academics who have criticised Islamic beliefs and practices, commented on or investigated Islamist extremism.
The undersigned unequivocally, unreservedly and emphatically condemn acts of violence against Muslims, and recognise the urgent need to deal with anti-Muslim hatred. However, we are extremely concerned about the uncritical and hasty adoption of the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia.
This vague and expansive definition is being taken on without an adequate scrutiny or proper consideration of its negative consequences for freedom of expression, and academic and journalistic freedom. The definition will also undermine social cohesion – fuelling the very bigotry against Muslims which it is designed to prevent.
We are concerned that allegations of Islamophobia will be, indeed already are being, used to effectively shield Islamic beliefs and even extremists from criticism, and that formalising this definition will result in it being employed effectively as something of a backdoor blasphemy law.
The accusation of Islamophobia has already been used against those opposing religious and gender segregation in education, the hijab, halal slaughter on the grounds of animal welfare, LGBT rights campaigners opposing Muslim views on homosexuality, ex-Muslims and feminists opposing Islamic views and practices relating to women, as well as those concerned about the issue of grooming gangs. It has been used against journalists who investigate Islamism, Muslims working in counter-extremism, schools and Ofsted for resisting conservative religious pressure and enforcing gender equality.
Evidently abuse, harmful practices, or the activities of groups and individuals which promote ideas contrary to British values are far more likely to go unreported as a result of fear of being called Islamophobic. This will only increase if the APPG definition is formally adopted in law.
We are concerned that the definition will be used to shut down legitimate criticism and investigation. While the APPG authors have assured that it does not wish to infringe free speech, the entire content of the report, the definition itself, and early signs of how it would be used, suggest that it certainly would. Civil liberties should not be treated as an afterthought in the effort to tackle antiMuslim prejudice.
The conflation of race and religion employed under the confused concept of ‘cultural racism’ expands the definition beyond anti-Muslim hatred to include ‘illegitimate’ criticism of the Islamic religion. The concept of Muslimness can effectively be transferred to Muslim practices and beliefs, allowing the report to claim that criticism of Islam is instrumentalised to hurt Muslims.
No religion should be given special protection against criticism. Like anti-Sikh, anti-Christian, or anti-Hindu hatred, we believe the term anti-Muslim hatred is more appropriate and less likely to infringe on free speech. A proliferation of ‘phobias’ is not desirable, as already stated by Sikh and Christian
organisations who recognise the importance of free discussion about their beliefs.
Current legislative provisions are sufficient, as the law already protects individuals against attacks and unlawful discrimination on the basis of their religion. Rather than helping, this definition is likely to create a climate of self-censorship whereby people are fearful of criticising Islam and Islamic beliefs. It will therefore effectively shut down open discussions about matters of public interest. It will only aggravate community tensions further and is therefore no long term solution.
If this definition is adopted the government will likely turn to self-appointed ‘representatives of the community’ to define ‘Muslimness’. This is clearly open to abuse. The APPG already entirely overlooked Muslims who are often considered to be “insufficiently Muslim” by other Muslims,
moderates, liberals, reformers and the Ahmadiyyah, who often suffer persecution and violence at the hands of other Muslims.
For all these reasons, the APPG definition of Islamophobia is deeply problematic and unfit for purpose. Acceptance of this definition will only serve to aggravate community tensions and to inhibit free speech about matters of fundamental importance. We urge the government, political parties, local councils and other organisations to reject this flawed proposed definition.
Emma Webb, Civitas
Hardeep Singh, Network of Sikh Organisations (NSOUK)
Lord Singh of Wimbledon
Tim Dieppe, Christian Concern
Stephen Evans, National Secular Society (NSS)
Sadia Hameed, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB)
Prof. Paul Cliteur, candidate for the Dutch Senate, Professor of Law, University of Leiden
Brendan O’Neill, Editor of Spiked
Maajid Nawaz, Founder, Quilliam International
Rt. Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden
Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters
Professor Richard Dawkins
Rahila Gupta, author and Journalist
Peter Whittle, founder and director of New Culture Forum
Trupti Patel, President of Hindu Forum of Britain
Dr Lakshmi Vyas, President Hindu Forum of Europe
Harsha Shukla MBE, President Hindu Council of North UK
Tarang Shelat, President Hindu Council of Birmingham
Ashvin Patel, Chairman, Hindu Forum (Walsall)
Ana Gonzalez, partner at Wilson Solicitors LLP
Baron Desai of Clement Danes
Baroness Cox of Queensbury
Lord Alton of Liverpool
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
Ade Omooba MBE, Co-Chair National Church Leaders Forum (NCLF)
Wilson Chowdhry, British Pakistani Christian Association
Ashish Joshi, Sikh Media Monitoring Group
Satish K Sharma, National Council of Hindu Temples
Rumy Hasan, Academic and author
Amina Lone, Co-Director, Social Action and Research Foundation
Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Seyran Ates, Imam
Gina Khan, One Law for All
Mohammed Amin MBE
Michael Mosbacher, Acting Editor, Standpoint Magazine
Lisa-Marie Taylor, CEO FiLiA
Julie Bindel, journalist and feminist campaigner
Dr Adrian Hilton, Academic
Neil Anderson, Academic
Tom Holland, Historian
Prof. Dr. Bassam Tibi, Professor Emeritus for International Relations, University of Goettingen
Dr Stephen Law, philosopher and author
See letter in pdf here: islamophobiaopenletter
Islamophobia definition “unfit for purpose”, say campaigners, NSS Newsline, 15 May 2019
Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour contacted the Council of Ex Muslims of Britain (CEMB) regarding a feature they were doing about child fasting. They were going to be discussing Ramadan falling during exam times and the guidelines produced by Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) entitled Ramadan: Exams and Tests, 2019, Information for Schools and Colleges.
Debate participants on the programme today were going to be CEMB Spokesperson Sadia Hameed, Writer of the Ramadan guidelines from the ASCL Anna Cole, and a former president from the Muslim Teacher’s Association (MTA) Rukhsana Yaqoob.
An hour before the programme, our spokesperson was informed that she was no longer needed via email. Unsurprisingly, the programme disinvited the only person opposed to child fasting. CEMB has initiated a campaign during the month of Ramadan to show how child fasting is harmful to children and child development. It causes sickness, dizziness, migraines, sunstrokes, lack of focus and tiredness as a result of dehydration or lack of sustenance. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, anger, apathy, reduced alertness, diminished comprehension… Children have been known to faint at school as a result.
Also, CEMB would have been the only organisation on the programme to expose the troubling ASCL guidelines, which entertains a discussion about children fasting in primary schools, a wholly inappropriate discussion for an advisory body for educators.
The guidelines also fail to take in account a single health professional; rather all of its advisors and endorsers are Islamic “scholars”, “experts”, imams, chaplains and Muslim educators. Though the ASCL think these guidelines were well intentioned, they have only taken the advice of the most conservative Muslims in Britain. There are many Muslims who do not fast, nor do they permit their children to fast during the month of Ramadan, particularly in the long hot days of the summer. It is noteworthy that those voices were missing from the ASCL “guidelines”.
As usual, regressive do-gooders have negotiated with religious conservatives and fundamentalists to create a guideline from the dark ages for British children from Muslim families. Had someone created a policy of child starvation for non-Muslims children, they would have been sanctioned and rightly so! This is indeed the modern face of institutional racism!
Worse still, throughout the guidelines, there is much discussion over what age a child should be starved from and whether they should only be starved for a short part of the day.
Had a non-Muslim child been sent to school, without food and water and had been told not to eat or drink anything for 19 hours, the school would have triggered safeguarding procedures and the parents would have been investigated for neglect. Safeguarding is a key role of educators in the UK, however, this is disregarded in the case of children from Muslim families.
During the discussion on Women’s Hour, Rukhsana from the MTA discussed the fact that though for the last few years Ramadan arrived during GSCE examination period only, this year some 11-year-old students would be taking the Key stage 2 and 3 SATS exams whilst fasting and that educators needed to be mindful of this. Furthermore, they discussed the fact that puberty starts at different times for girls than boys, giving the impression that they fully support child fasting from a young age, as by the age of puberty, it become farz (an obligation) on the young person to fast.
Rukhsana also discussed the fact that some young children see their elders fasting and want to fast. Some young people see their parents smoking, too. I am assuming that Rukhsana and Anna will be working on an advisory policy for child smoking next? Or perhaps a guideline for child flagellation, as this too is s requirement for some Muslims?
In a previous interview that Rukhsana gave, she claimed that she had been motivated into teaching because of the educational gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. Fasting and dehydration reduce cognition and performance, surely, therefore, it would go against her principles of bettering the odds for children from Muslim families to encourage them to fast.
The discussion of Woman’s hour was one sided and failed to show the serious harms of fasting for children, particularly during long hot days and during examinations.
Child fasting is child neglect. If adults wish to fast, they may do so, however, for schools to be failing in the statutory duty of care for children from Muslim families requires a serious discussion. One that Woman’s hour failed to facilitate today.
This is nothing short of shameful.
CEMB calls on the public to join us in a protest at the Department for Education on 17 May at 12pm to highlight the Department’s inaction with regards to child fasting in schools during Ramadan. Child fasting should be banned as it is harmful to children.
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