[Image Credit: Jason Howie]
Sam Mace looks into the backlash over Maajid Nawaz’s recent twitter activity and questions our free speech.
Maajid Nawaz a former extremist who based his politics around Islamism is a controversial figure for many. He once espoused Islamism as his ideology and believed it should be imposed upon everyone. However he has gone from recruiting for Hizb ut- Tahrir to being the head of a counter extremism think tank called Quilliam. Quilliam’s work as the only counter extremism think tank in the United Kingdom is vital and it has attracted a lot of attention not only from the government, but from the public recently when Quilliam announced they would be working with Tommy Robinson the former head of the English Defence League. Indeed he has done sterling work not only in reforming his views but in being a spokesperson for moderate Islam and for freedom of choice. His reform was complete when he was selected to stand for Parliament under the banner of the Liberal Democrats in the next election.
Mr Nawaz has recently attracted controversy in daring to retweet a cartoon of Muhammad and Jesus in bed together. They were not participating in a sexual act and the cartoon seemed benign. This was until some took offence to the cartoon depicting Muhammad and are now campaigning to have him removed from a position which he won democratically. This isn’t the first time we have had problems regarding the issue of free speech when it comes to Muhammad. First we had the Satanic Verses in 1988 when the Ayatollah Khomeini publically called for the murder of an author because he had ‘blasphemed’ the prophet. Mr Rushdie had to go into hiding as there was a credible threat to his safety. Not only that but copies were publically burned and riots occurred not only in this country but across the world. Instead of condemning the bounty on Mr Rushdie’s head and standing up to thugs we bent down and sympathised with the ‘hurt feelings’ of the thugs who were threatening freedom of speech and Mr Rushdie’s life. Then we had the issue of the Danish cartoons, a small democratic country who in 2005 was under attack from fundamentalists who wanted to try and disable Denmark’s economy and pressure them into breaking their own law and interfere in the free press to stop the ‘offensive’ cartoons. Again the world stood down, the pope condemned the cartoons not the violence, the state department of the United States condemned the cartoons not the violence, and again we backed off. Only journalists and the Danish government stood up for the right of speech as was seen by the late Mr Hitchens here.
Now again we are in the same position. A petition to remove Mr Nawaz has been circling, he has received death threats and people like Mr Galloway, Mo Ansar and Mr Shafiq are all fanning the flames of the dangerous steps we have seen before. Mr Nawaz has had death threats and has received numerous criticism about not being a ‘proper’ Muslim because when he sees a cartoon of Muhammad he doesn’t go around brandishing threats and shouts of ‘I am offended’. The petition which is circling is a bad joke. Some Muslims need to learn that they don’t have a special right to offence, I find many things which many important people say offensive but I do not go around threatening them or trying to remove them from their position. The petition wants Mr Nawaz banished on the grounds of “As a Member of the Liberal Democrats, you must treat others with respect and must not bully, harass or intimidate any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public. Such behaviour will be considered to be bringing the Party into disrepute.” It also includes comparisons to holocaust denial….. Which by the way is legal in England. This petition should not only not be considered by the Liberal Democrats but they should openly refute it.
It is time we all defend the freedom of expression which we all cherish. Nothing is immune from criticism and satire and everyone needs to learn this. Am I offended when I hear statements such as we are all designed, yes I am. Am I offended when I hear nonsense spouted about homosexuality and trying to deny people equal rights, yes I am. Yet I allow these statements to be said because I recognise that people have a right to say and think as they wish and that being offended is part and parcel of living in a liberal society. It is high time that Muslim ‘community leaders’ also take this on board and accept that being offended is part of the side effects of a free society, instead of whining about hurt feelings and offence as if this is some unpardonable sin.
By Sam Mace