On Free Speech, Blasphemy and ‘Islamophobia’

Alliance of Former Muslims (Ireland) affirms that anyone who wishes to live in and benefit from membership of a liberal society should be prepared to live by its basic values, including freedom of speech. This entails that when religious or cultural traditions come into sharp conflict with them, either they must accommodate themselves or yield. If the espouser of them cannot do either, then he must give up membership of the liberal society and seek a place where he can live according to his alternative values.

There are many markers of a society’s intellectual development. Chief among these is the value that society places upon free speech. A society that allows me to express an opinion, and gives you just as much freedom to challenge it, is one that trusts in man’s ability to reason things out, even if this does not always come to pass. A society that welcomes the free exchange of ideas – political, philosophical, scientific or otherwise – is one that values creativity, and is thus generally averse to authoritarianism, defined as it is by the death of the individual. A society that is comfortable with wild differences of opinion, rather than feeling compelled to censor them, is one that has achieved a baseline of emotional security. It is, fundamentally, a society mature enough to recognise the basis of its prosperity. In the words of philosopher A.C. Grayling, a robust defender of civil liberties:

Consider what is required for people to be able to claim other liberties, or defend them when they are attacked. Consider what is required for a democratic process, which demands the statement and testing of policy proposals and party platforms, and the questioning of governments. Consider what is required for a due process of law, in which people can defend themselves against accusation, accuse wrongdoers who have harmed them, collect and examine evidence, make a case or refute one. Consider what is required for genuine education and research, enquiry, debate, exchange of information, challenges to falsehood, proposal and examination of opinion. Consider what is required for a free press, which although it always abuses its freedoms in the hunt for profit, is necessary with all its warts, as one of the two essential estates of a free society (the other being an independent judiciary). Consider what is required for a flourishing literature and theatre, and for innovation and experiment in any walk of life. In short and in sum, without free speech, there is no freedom worth the name in other respects where freedom matters.

This vision of a grown-up society, which we have largely achieved in the West, is precisely the one which the Regressive Left seeks to destroy. In the name of opposing hate speech, mouth-breathers fresh out of Liberal Arts move to silence anyone they deem to be “offensive”, from Christina Hoff Sommers to Jacob Rees-Mogg. In doing so, they emulate the rabid anti-intellectualism of those whom ‘anti-fascists’ purport to oppose. Indeed, to allow people to form their own thoughts, but not the commensurate freedom to express them openly, is a form of mental incarceration. This is not lessened by only targeting offensive speech: for the very act of thinking is to risk offending someone, somewhere. If we define hate speech as that which causes offence, then to regulate it is to undermine all manner of substantive discourse. To quote psychologist Jordan B. Peterson at length:

With regards to hate speech, let’s say that things would be much better if there was less hateful speech. Seems highly probable to me, especially if you look at the more egregious forms of hateful speech. How best to regulate it? Well my sense is that you let those who wish to utter hateful things do so, and let everyone hear them. Because that’s the best way to ensure that what they’re saying will be understood and rejected. Now in order to posit that, you have to assume that the population composed of sovereign individuals is wiser than it is foolish. And that’s a hope. You might think about it as an axiom of faith, but I do believe it to be the case. I think that if you put the evidence in front of people, by and large, they will do the right thing.

The problem with regulating hate speech is very simple: who defines hate? And the answer to that is, over any reasonable period of time, exactly the people you would least want to have define hate. And so the consequences of regulation become incalculably worse as a problem than the problem they were designed to deal with. To think otherwise is to think in a sort of utopian manner… We’re going to have hate speech, or we’re going to have the consequences of the arbitrary regulation of hate speech. I know what the consequences are of the arbitrary regulation of hate speech, and it’s that things get a lot worse – because hate is very difficult to define…

Let’s think about offensiveness as part of hate. The first thing we might say is that you really need to think when you have a difficult problem. A difficult problem is one where there’s something at stake – it might be your life, it might be your well-being. There’s going to be a diversity of opinions about that particular conundrum, if it actually happens to be difficult. If you discuss option A, that’s going to annoy all the people who want option B; and if you discuss option B, that’s going to annoy all the people who want option A, and maybe there’s ten options. And so if you’re going to discuss anything of any real significance whatsoever, you’re going to make people hot under the collar, and you’re going to risk offending them. So what, do we just stop talking about difficult things? The answer to that is yes, and that’s what’s happening…

Who defines hate is an insoluble problem. Don’t regulate it, because you can’t define it. We have the free marketplace of ideas, so to speak, where the collective can render a judgement on the acceptability of an idea on an ongoing basis. That isn’t a great solution, because we don’t have great solutions. We have partial, fragmentary solutions that make us somewhat less abjectly miserable than we might be. That’s what we have. And if we try to eradicate that kind of risk completely, all we do is magnify a different kind of risk.

Now as ex-Muslims, we are well acquainted with mankind’s capacity for cruelty and stupidity. However, we also believe in his capacity to learn, and to develop with each new piece of information. This belief is anathema to quasi-Marxist ideologues, who see people not as active agents, but as inexorable pawns of their race, gender and/or sexual orientation. Depending on these particulars, the individual is either classified as a victim or an oppressor, with the former existing in a perpetual state of offence. Indeed, when we examine the phenomena of ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’ on college campuses, we discover that they don’t so much reflect the fragility of pampered students, but rather are dogmatic creations intended to suppress any challenges to this narrative of victimhood. As the political analyst Benjamin Ginsberg has put it:

It is important to understand that such concepts as safe spaces, micro-aggressions, and trigger warnings are not examples of the hypersensitivity of coddled college students as they are sometimes made out to be by the press. Instead, these ideas are designed to stifle free discussion and to block criticisms of left-liberal dogmas by declaring any and all questions about progressive political beliefs and their adherents to be illegitimate and intolerable. Even the mildest comment presenting a possible challenge to left-liberal orthodoxies will be labeled micro-aggressive, a threat to the safety of the campus and, accordingly, utterly impermissible. For example, the seemingly innocuous claim that “America is a land of opportunity” has been deemed a micro-aggressive or a micro-invalidative allegation that racial minorities are unable to succeed because of their own shortcomings and not the institutional barriers designed to block their efforts. Hence, say politically progressive groups, the phrase should never be uttered on campus. So much for the idea that colleges are bastions of intellectual freedom.

Not content with debauching third-level education, faux liberals have also poisoned the public discourse on Islam. Take, for example, the recent furore over Boris Johnson’s pronouncements on the burqa. Johnson rightly pointed out how, by reducing Muslim women to mere shadows of themselves, the burqa demeans them. Indeed, the burqa is designed to rob Muslim women of their individuality; it serves as a constant reminder of their inferior status in Islam. Alas, for the Regressive Left, Muslim women are intrinsic victims of racism and the ‘capitalist patriarchy’, rather than Wahhabi-Salafism – hence the vitriol towards Johnson, denounced for his “Islamophobic” and “sexist” comments, while those made to wear the burqa call for it to be burned. To quote Latifa, author of My Forbidden Face, on having to endure the dehumanising cloth under the Taliban:

I look at this garment, its woven cloth flowing all the way down to the ground from a closely-fitted bonnet which completely covers the head… It’s suffocating. The cloth sticks to my nose. I have a lot of trouble adjusting the embroidered lattice slits in front of my eyes… In order to turn my head, I have to keep some of the cloth clutched beneath my chin so that the eyeholes stay in place. In order to look behind me, I have to turn round completely. I can feel the rustle of my own breath inside the garment. I’m hot. My feet get tangled up in the material. I’ll never be able to wear this. I now understand the stiff robot-like walk of the ‘bottle women’. I now know why they hesitate for so long before crossing the street, why it takes them an eternity to walk upstairs. These phantoms that now roam the streets of Kabul have a terrible time avoiding bicycles, buses and carts. It’s even worse trying to run away from the Taliban. This is not a garment. It’s a moving prison… I climb out of the burqa feeling humiliated and furious. My face belongs to me. The Qur’an says that a woman can be veiled, but that she must remain recognisable. The Taliban want to steal my face, forbid us all our faces.

With regards to ‘Islamophobia’, one must state it plainly: this is an Orwellian term designed to render Islam and Muslim practices inviolate. When Western commentators employ this charge, they are empowering the most intolerant elements of the Muslim community. Indeed, if it is phobic to dissent from Islam – or at least, its more puritanical strands – then how are Muslim women ever supposed to improve their lot? If it is racist to speak critically about Muslim behaviour, then how exactly do we root out extremist elements? Are we just supposed to accept the preponderance of Wahhabi-Salafism and wait for a repeat of the Manchester attacks? Are we meant to just keep silent while radical preachers throughout Europe call for the throats of non-Muslims to be cut? The charge of Islamophobia is thus recognised as an affront to conscience, on top of being a gross insult to the intellect.

Indeed, criticism of Islam has nothing inherently to do with racism. Islam is not a race: it cannot be “insulted”, despite the manic protests of those who regard cartoons as a cause for murder (and yet, have no issue with how the hadith depicts Muhammad as having sex with a nine-year-old). In a democracy, no one is obliged to like religion, and until proved otherwise, they have the right to regard it as retrograde and deceptive. Whether one finds it legitimate or absurd that some people regard Islam with suspicion – as increasing numbers of Irish people now do with Catholicism, having witnessed the devastating effects of its doctrines in practice – has scarcely anything to do with racism. On the contrary, a society that rejects the aggressive proselytism of Islam and its claims to absolute truth is surely a more enlightened one, less prone to such crude follies as racial supremacism.

Here in the West, we would do well to understand that today, of the three monotheistic groups, Christians are actually the most oppressed – particularly in Islamic countries like Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It is easier to be a Muslim in New York, London or Paris than to be a Christian in the Middle East or North Africa; just ask the Coptic Christians in Egypt, who face unprecedented levels of persecution. But the term ‘Christianophobia’ does not function – and that’s a good thing. Islamophobia equates the real, physical suffering of non-Muslims and non-believers with insecure Muslims having their feelings hurt. It is, as the late Christopher Hitchens once put it, a term created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons; it is thus one that we urgently need to delete from our vocabulary. In the words of fellow apostate Nonie Darwish:

While mainstream mosques and Muslim leaders across the globe are shouting jihad, death to America, death to the Jews, and encouraging Muslims to take over the West, our children are told that if you fear such threats, you are an “Islamophobe”. When Muslim schools and universities teach that apostates must be killed and that jihad is a permanent war institution against Jews, Christians and pagans, we are told to never dare interpret this as encouraging violence.

Ultimately, we define a phobia as an irrational fear or dislike of something. When we examine the teachings of the mainstream faith, we realise that being fearful of Islam and its resurgence in the West is nothing if not rational. The prescription of the death penalty for adulterers, homosexuals and apostates is a staple of orthodox Islamic thought, not extremist ideology. As ex-Muslims, we will not be silenced from making these points: for it is precisely because Muslims are content to see themselves as victims of Western imperialism, rather than individuals with a sense of agency, that so many continue to languish under the faith. We thus call on Muslims living in the West to embrace the principle of free speech, and for the modern Left to abandon the bigotry of low expectations. To finish with a discerning quote from Iraqi-British academic Kanan Makiya:

Old habits die hard. They die hardest of all among people who have made it their duty to awaken pride in self and a sense of collective identity by blaming all ills on some “other” – a foreign agency or “alien” culture outside the community one is trying to extol, and often more powerful and dynamic. The painful thing to observe is the unrelenting stridency of the Arab intelligentsia’s attempt to blame every ill on the West or Israel. The language gets more unreal, hysterical, and self-flagellating, the less the Arab world is actually able to achieve politically and culturally in modern times.


Postscript: Cranks and Cartoons

On August 28th 2018, the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, announced his vision for blasphemous cartoons to be criminalised in the West. This was largely in response to a cartoon contest organised by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, in which artists were invited to share their depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Invoking the anger of insecure Muslims everywhere, Khan declared his intention to bring the issue to the attention of the United Nations, demanding that such “offensive” drawings are treated in the same vein as anti-Semitism.

In response to this, we are obliged to make some fundamental points. Firstly, the purpose of these cartoon contests is not to provoke or offend Muslims, but to draw attention to the persecution of blasphemers under the faith. Throughout the Muslim world, apostates, sceptics and non-Muslims are punished with violence and death for “insulting Islam” – hence their migration to the West. If this weren’t a real issue, then such contests would hardly be necessary. Put simply, those who draw cartoons of Muhammad are not the problem; those who take violent offence to them are.

Pic 12a

Indeed, if Muslims take issue with cartoons, then let them consider some criticism of their religion, that they may feel a bit more grounded in their beliefs. We must not censor ourselves so Muslims can continue to wallow in the ignorance of 7th century Arabia. Let us reaffirm the status of free speech as non-negotiable, and vociferously resist any attempts to drag Western society down to the depths of Pakistan – where apparently, the blasphemy of drawing cartoons is more egregious than the blasphemy of carrying out mass shootings, suicide bombings, chemical attacks and beheadings in the name of Allah:

Pic 12b

In October, Ireland will hold a referendum to decide the fate of the archaic blasphemy laws contained in our Constitution. As a nation, this will be our chance to cement the liberal dispensation that is the foundation of our happiness. It will also, however, be a tremendous opportunity to slap down Muslim fanatics who seek the blood of ex-Muslims: for the criminalisation of blasphemy under Irish law has often been cited by the Pakistani government to justify their own barbaric laws. We will thus be campaigning for a Yes vote, and place our trust in the Irish people to make the right choice.

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