Month: June 2019

The APPG’s definition of ‘Islamophobia’ is a triumph for fundamentalists

The below article was published on sister-hood.


“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness” – All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims definition of Islamophobia


The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia has mainly been framed as a free speech issue. The definition adopted by some parties and councils will certainly limit criticism of Islam and Islamism even further than it already is currently. To say it will not is dishonest at best. This has already been the case for a long time now. For those of us who have fled Iran, it has been so since the expropriation of the Iranian revolution by the Islamists; in Britain, at least since the Rushdie affair.

Examples abound. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, of which I am a Spokesperson, was placed under investigation for eight months by Pride in London because of the accusation of Islamophobia levelled against us by the East London Mosque and Mend. I myself have been barred from Warwick University, harassed by Islamic Society students at Goldsmiths, and had my talk cancelled at Trinity College over the same accusations. I haven’t had issues for a while now – but that is only because I am hardly invited to speak at universities any more. It is just too much trouble. The accusations stick; uncomfortably so.

Whilst this is a free speech issue (blasphemy is clearly not racism), what I find even more disturbing about this definition is the Parliamentary Group’s open promulgation of the idea that there is something that can be called ‘expressions of Muslimness.’ It is absurd to assume that this is the case, any more than one can speak of expressions of Christianness or Jewishness or Hinduness. This is no different from saying there are ‘expressions of Britishness’; something that the far-Right – and increasingly, mainstream politicians – imply in order to exclude migrants and minorities.

Certainly, we can discuss what it means to be British – or Muslim for that matter. This will inevitably mean different things to different people. But with the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Tommy Robinson, the Windrush scandal, May’s ‘Go Home’ vans, and her ‘hostile environment’, along with the far-Right fascist parties gaining seats across Europe, the promotion of expressions of ‘Britishness’ isn’t as innocent as it is made out to be. In this context, Britishness becomes whiteness. Likewise, promoting ‘Muslimness’ in a world in which the religious-Right is in power and causing havoc is far more ominous than it might initially seem.

Like ‘Britishness’, the concept of ‘Muslimness’ is fundamentally about exclusion. Britishness tends to exclude brown and black people. Muslimness tends to exclude doubters and dissenters – anyone not ‘authentically’ regressive enough, not veiled enough, not segregated enough, not submissive enough, not pro-Sharia enough, not modest enough, not angry enough and not offended enough. Everyone else is an ‘Islamophobe’, an ‘Uncle Tom’, a ‘native informant’, a ‘coconut’ or a ‘westernised, neo-colonialist.’

The not-so-funny thing about identity politics is that whilst it claims that each particular ‘group’ has a singular identity (as if that were even possible), the identity is so restrictive that it keeps out many more people than it allows in. In fact, that’s the whole point. If you want in, you have to make sure you look the part and follow the rules. If you terrorise a primary school in Birmingham to prevent lessons saying that being gay is OK, if you defend Sharia courts despite their promotion of violence against women, or legitimise apostates being shunned and killed, then you will automatically pass the Muslimness authenticity test! Not so much if you are a gay Muslim, or an ex-Muslim, or a feminist who doesn’t want to wear the hijab or fast during Ramadan, or a secularist who is opposed to Sharia law.

Another major problem with identity politics is that those with power determine Britishness or Muslimness or Jewishness or Hinduness… and the limits of permissibility within these ‘groups’. Therefore, ‘Muslimness’ becomes what Cage, Mend, the Muslim Council of Britain or the Iranian and Saudi regimes say it is. In Trump’s US, Christianness becomes regressive anti-abortion laws and moves to end Roe V Wade. In Modi’s India, Hinduness means that one can be murdered for eating beef.

The Parliamentary Group’s promotion of identity politics and ‘Muslimness,’ has, therefore, everything to do with appeasing the religious-Right by pushing the false narrative of an ‘authentic’ Muslim: a homogenised caricature imposed upon a diverse people by fundamentalists-playing-victims.

This feeds into stereotypes, and collaborates in the erasure of class politics, dissent and political and social struggles; it diminishes solidarity both within and without the so-called group. Also, ironically, it actually exacerbates racism by insisting that brown and black citizens are ‘different’ and in need of paternalistic protection and treated with hyper-sensitivity in case (god forbid) they start burning books…or worse.

The politics of difference (and superiority) have always been a pillar of fascist and racist politics whether that difference is based on race or – as we now increasingly see – ‘culture.’ (Whose culture this is does not get discussed. Is it the culture of the Islamists who want to stone people to death or the women and men who refuse and resist?) For me, it is clear as daylight: the adoption of any definition of ‘Islamophobia’ is a triumph for fundamentalists. It has nothing to do with combatting racism.

A few other key points:

  • Religion and belief are personal matters; lived experiences as varied as the people who hold them. Homogenising countless diverse people based on essentialised characteristics is part of a fundamentalist project designed to manage dissent. It has everything to do with power and control, and nothing to do with the right to freedom of belief and religion, or the fight against racism.
  • Equalities legislation already considers discrimination against someone on the basis of protected characteristics such as religion or belief against the law. The insistence on normalising the term ‘Islamophobia’ appeases fundamentalists by conflating criticism of Islam and Islamism with bigotry against Muslims in order to restrict free expression, particularly blasphemy and heresy.
  • Free speech matters most to minorities and migrants, the poor, disenfranchised, witches, apostates and heretics. Popes and imams, capitalists and kings don’t need it; they already have access to all the forms of expression available, as well as the brute violence to back it up. Any limit on free speech limits the rights of the oppressed and aids the oppressor – even if the oppressor belongs to a ‘minority’ religion.
  • Free speech is an individual right. It is not a group right. It is I who decides how to exercise my free speech, not the APPG nor any ‘useful tests’ proposed by some professor such as Tariq Modood proposes to ascertain if my speech is to be considered ‘reasonable criticism’ or ‘Islamophobic.’ With limits, speech is no longer free.
  • Finally, as needs to be clarified in any discussion of Islamophobia: rejecting the term ‘Islamophobia’ itself, or rejecting any attempts at defining it, does not mean that anti-Muslim bigotry doesn’t exist. The rise in hate crimes and xenophobia, the dehumanisation of those deemed ‘other’, the criminalisation of migration and those helping desperate migrants all make the continued fight against racism as urgent as ever. Racism is a matter of life and death at worst and humiliation and discrimination at best for many people from Muslim, minority and refugee backgrounds. But fighting racism by imposing blasphemy laws gives the impression that something is being done against racism. Racism, however, is only being exacerbated by promoting difference and superiority, rather than secularism, citizenship, equality and our common humanity irrespective of background and belief.

Protest at Brunei Embassy against Stoning Law for Homosexuality

17 JUNE – PROTEST AT BRUNEI EMBASSY AGAINST STONING LAW FOR HOMOSEXUALITY

In the run-up to Gay Pride, CEMB organised a protest outside the Brunei Embassy on 17 June to condemn Brunei’s new stoning sentences for gay sex and adultery. The action included placing stones on the embassy steps. In April, CEMB also joined protests at the Dorchester Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei.

Here are some photos of the action:

Evening on LGBT rights, Apostasy and Blasphemy

The event is part of Pride in London Festival.

4 July 2019, 6:00pm for a 6:45pm start until 10:00pm, London

Join Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and One Law for All for an evening of film, poetry and a panel discussion on LGBT rights, Apostasy and Blasphemy.

GET YOUR TICKETS TODAY. NO TICKETS SOLD AT DOOR.

Film: ‘Ferdous’ by Shakila Taranum Maan

Poetry: By Kenyan Somali Poet Halima Salat

Panel discussion: With Drew Dalton (Hidayah Chair), Jimmy Bangash (CEMB Spokesperson), Khakan Qureshi (Birmingham South Asians LGBT Founder), Nadia El Fani (Tunisian Filmmaker), Sadia Hameed (CEMB Spokesperson), Shakila Taranum Maan (British Director) and Syed Isteak Hossain Shawon (Bangladeshi LGBT activist and Editor of Boys Love World). Facilitated by Maryam Namazie (CEMB and One Law for All Spokesperson)

Nahla Mahmoud will be the MC of the evening.

Tickets are £5 waged; £3 unwaged. No tickets sold at the door. Venue will be disclosed to ticket holders a few days before the event.

For more information, please contact m.namazie@ex-muslim.org.uk.

Sponsors of the event include: Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, National Secular Society, One Law for All and Pink Triangle Trust.

Ramadan 2019: Child Fasting is Child Abuse

In the past years, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain has held fast-defying protests at embassies in solidarity with those who are persecuted for eating and drinking during Ramadan.

This year, CEMB’s fast-defying action included a protest at the Department for Education on 17th May to highlight the Department’s inaction with regards to child fasting in schools. Child fasting should be banned as it is harmful to children.

CEMB’s Maryam Namazie and Sadia Hameed discussed the issue with young people from Muslim backgrounds on their way to Friday prayers.

Our position is that if a child is sent to school without breakfast and not allowed to eat lunch or drink water whilst going about their normal school day for an entire month, this would rightly trigger safeguarding procedures and be considered a form of neglect. However, when it comes to BME children of religious parents, the Department for Education readily turns a blind eye.

Being forced to not eat or drink water for an entire month for 12+ hours a day is clearly 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 also can lead to depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, anger, apathy, reduced alertness, diminished comprehension… Children have been known to faint as have teachers who are fasting.

Adults, of course, can fast if they choose. It’s important to remember that there is a corresponding right NOT to fast if one chooses not to. Nonetheless, when it comes to children, imposing fasting rules is child abuse and neglect.

The Department for Education has a duty of care for school children and must act immediately to put child welfare above religious demands of the child’s parents.

CEMB also published Ramadan Advice for Educators, held a fast-defying picnic and published #RamadanStories like the below to raise a discussion on the right to not fast and the pressures involved in fasting.

CEMB’s presence on BBC Woman’s Hour to discuss our position was cancelled an hour before the programme.

 

 

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain stands with Hidayah, Andrew Moffat, Anderton Park School and all LGBT of Muslim heritage

CEMB supports the recent legal injunction prohibiting homophobic protests outside of Anderton Park School in Birmingham for the use of LGBT inclusive educational material.

The presence of Muslim parents and others holding homophobic banners calling for the erasure of the LGBT community in educational material and the resignation of the head teacher are unacceptable.

The climate of fear and intimidation around a primary school is nothing short of abhorrent and reminiscent of the abuse faced by African American children during attempts to desegregate schools in Little Rock in 1957 or children running a gauntlet of abuse in Belfast in the early 2000s to get to Holy Cross school. These hate-filled protests, led by the religious-Right, are no different. They will only make the situation for LGBT of Muslim heritage significantly worse and further normalise Islamic homophobia, including via the consistent fundamentalist teachings against LGBT in Muslim homes and mosques, the use of Islamic Hadith and Quranic justifications for the execution of homosexuals in 14 countries under Sharia, and the shunning, intimidation and honour-based violence faced by LGBT from Muslim backgrounds across the country.

The protests will also spread if LGBT rights are not defended. Just last month, MEA Central Secondary School was asked to apologise to parents for having Hidayah, a Muslim LGBT group, speak to children in Years 7 and 8 about how it is acceptable to be Muslim and gay.

With 52% of British Muslims polled stating that homosexuality should be criminalised, it is imperative that a counter narrative to this homophobia be developed early on in schools. Children of Muslim parents, some of whom WILL grow up to be gay, must be presented with the teaching that it is acceptable to be gay, that LGBT are part of society and that it is not shameful, haram or perverse. As ex-Muslims, we understand more than most, the effects of this hatred on the lives and rights of children and the young in particular.

Whilst believers clearly have a right to their beliefs however abhorrent, freedom of conscience and expression do not include the right to incite violence, discrimination or persecution.

CEMB stands with Hidayah, Andrew Moffat, Anderton Park School, amongst others, as well as all LGBT of Muslim heritage. A secular education is key to normalising respect for the human rights of all despite differences, including in opinions and beliefs, race, sexuality, sex and so on. Respecting people’s rights, though, is not the same as respecting opinions that incite discrimination and persecution of minorities within minorities.

If the homophobes win, the LGBT of Muslim heritage will continue to learn that their existence is a sin that warrants execution abroad or honour-related violence, shunning and worse here at home.

The Government must take immediate action in all such cases to put the welfare of children above and beyond the demands of parents and the religious-Right and to defend the No Outsiders Programme and the Equalities Act.

 

For more information, please contact:

Jimmy Bangash

Spokesperson

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

hello@ex-muslim.org.uk

 

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