We should support Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz in the face of death threats

On 12th January, Maajid Nawaz, the Lib Dems’ parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, tweeted the following message:

 

He did so following his appearance on BBC1’s The Big Questions, which debated “whether human rights should always outweigh religious right”. Two audience members had worn the image on their T-shirts, with the BBC choosing not to show the image – which was the same as that worn by the LSE Atheism society, who were told by the University to remove the t-shirts or cover them up when they hosted a stall at the University’s Freshers’ Fair (the LSE later apologised).

The Archbishop Cranmer blog has a good account of Maajid’s motivations:

The fact that the BBC chose to censor a T-shirt depicting this cartoon rather upset Muslim Maajid Nawaz, who was a guest on the show. He proceeded to tweet out the image to his followers with the message: “This is not offensive & I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.” Mr Nawaz is a former member of the Islamist revolutionary group Hizb ut-Tahrir, and became director of the anti-extremist think-tank the Quilliam Foundation. He is now the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. Mohammed is his prophet, and Islam is his faith. But he understands perfectly that some people view Islam is a vile ideology and, for many, Mohammed is no kind of prophet at all. And depicting Mohammed saying “Hey” to Jesus does not offend him in the slightest.

No reasonable person goes out of their way to cause offence. In this instance, Maajid Nawaz was simply challenging the BBC’s (myopic) interpretation of a particular (narrow) view of sharia, and demonstrating that British Muslims are moderate and do not reach for the nearest meat-cleaver to dismember the apostate or behead the blaspheming kuffar.

Quite. But that hasn’t stopped Maajid being subject to a campaign to de-select him as a Lib Dem candidate, led by Respect MP George Galloway – and to death threats via Twitter. Here’s Maajid’s response: “Some are angry that I didn’t find an innocuous cartoon on the BBC as offensive and repeated my view that – as a Muslim – it wasn’t offensive to me on here. Others are angry that I am being censored and silenced. Please let’s all calm down.”

Lib Dems should support Maajid – either by tweeting him @MaajidNawaz or in the comments below. As Stephen Evans of the National Secular Society puts it:

“We simply can’t have a climate where politicians are intimidated into silence by people who believe they have a right not to have their religious sensibilities offended. Anything other than complete Liberal Democrat support for Maajid could have a very chilling effect on free speech in this country.”

PS: Since writing this post, I see Maajid has written a fuller response, posted here.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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134 Comments

  • Well said & absolutely right

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Jan '14 - 2:22pm

    I’m a supporter of Maajid and I agree mild jokes shouldn’t cause rage and definitely not death threats.

  • Agree 100% with Stephen and with Stephen Evans. The climate on this subject is getting out of control, especially in some of our Universities. Of course complainants should be listened to, but allowing everyone who alleges that they are a victim to proscribe everything they claim to find offensive is an enormously slippery slope in a hitherto fairly tolerant society. There needs to be an objective assessment of whether the complainants are being reasonable. Objecting to cartoons, is unreasonable. If it offends you, look away.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 21st Jan '14 - 2:34pm

    Nobody should have their right to free speech infringed. Politicians least of all.

  • paul barker 21st Jan '14 - 3:05pm

    We should thank Maajid for showing us as tolerant & not easily intimidated. The chance to tell Galloway where to go is just a bonus.

  • Well done Majiid. But not just because he didn’t find it offensive, within some public decency limits, we need to allow people to say things we do not want to hear and show things we do not want to see.

    I am religious and would rather people did not insult my religion but would support absolutely their right to do so. My discomfort or even annoyance should never outweigh their freedom of speech or expression.

    @Paul Barker
    “the chance to tell Galloway where to go is just a bonus.”
    Absolutely !!

  • We’re lucky to have Maajid in the Party. Let’s support him. A fine example of a liberal Muslim.

  • We’re lucky to have Maajid in the Party. Let’s support him. A fine example of a liberal.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st Jan '14 - 4:36pm

    There have been so many examples of people trying to intimidate others who say things they don’t like into silence. We’ve seen this with women receiving threats of rape or violence for doing something as innocuous as ensuring Jane Austen appears on a banknote, and now with Maajid who to my mind is one of our most inspiring liberal voices.

    Those who threaten liberty must not win. It’s that simple.

  • Max Wilkinson 21st Jan '14 - 4:58pm

    Excellent liberalism.

  • The cartoon (the whole thing, not just the one image on the twitter feed) is not sacrilegious, except in the eyes of those to whom anything but enthusiastic support of their sect is sacrilegious — a viewpoint which obviously cannot be allowed to determine the nature of discussion. Nor, of course, should threats of death or violence in response to speech and thought ever be tolerated.

    It must be added, however, that the cartoon is not even remotely funny, nor does it say anything particularly intellectually insightful. Instead it recycles tired stereotypes, popular misconceptions, and outdated prejudices. It is in fact nothing except a scribble, without even the slightest artistic merit to commend it.

  • David Gould- he doesn’t say that “they shouldn’t be offended”- merely that their taking offence should have no impact on his right to free speech. A core liberal principle that needs reaffirming now and then,

  • Richard Church 21st Jan '14 - 6:19pm

    We need to stand up for people who are threatened by religious zealots whether they are in our party or not. Since Maajid is in our party we have a particular duty to defend him against calls to deselect him.

  • Richard Flowers 21st Jan ’14 – 6:06pm
    to David Gould
    Quite a lot of people are called Mohammad.

    And quite a lot of people are called Jesus. For example, Jesus Navas , who plays for Manchester City.

  • Stephen Tall, this is an extremely dangerous situation, please do not take lightly the death threat. If you do value the live of Maajid, please stop inflaming the situation. Remember that Rushdie had to spend many years in hiding.

    Once the news of it appearing on LDV gets out to the Muslim community, I think you need to be careful too. Ask yourself – is it worth it?

    My prediction is that you will remove this image within a week, under pressure. All the kind and friendly words of Simon Hughes to the Muslim community will be forgotten.
    Please be careful!

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st Jan '14 - 7:39pm

    Freedom, tolerance, justice and liberal democracy are amongst the greatest assets Britain has to share with fellow citizens from local communities to Europe and the wider world. I wish Mr Nawaz great success as the PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn. His presence at Westminster would clearly enrich our party and that place.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Jan '14 - 7:44pm

    “And quite a lot of people are called Jesus. For example, Jesus Navas , who plays for Manchester City.”

    Fine player he is too. But I’ve never seen him flying down the wing wearing a crown of thorns.

    @Richard Flowers
    “It’s not the Prophet Mohammad.”

    Well, quite. As usual, Jesus is fair game for satire here but those brave defenders of free speech behind the cartoon wish to make it crystal clear that that’s not really a depiction of Mohammed, no siree!

  • Meral Hussein Ece 21st Jan '14 - 8:00pm

    I condemn anyone issuing death threats, and of course this should be reported to the Police. Im all for a mature ‘debate’ on any religion, but using a cartoon is unhelpful and trivial. This cartoon is part of a cartoon strip which depicts the Prophet Mohammed in bed with Jesus drinking beer. Clearly offensive to even the most moderate Muslims, and even many Christians who will be aware of this. I believe in living and let living, and would not want to offend Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, or any other of the major faiths in the UK. Why would anyone want to do that? Given there is a significant rise of Muslim children in our schools who have turned to Childline complaining of Islamphobic bullying (being called a terrorist in their schools is now common), and a significant rise in Islamophobic attacks, do we really want to go out of our way to offend people? How does that foster good community relations? Mature debate, yes, but crude cartoons, do not take this debate anywhere. It’s open season right now for Muslims in the UK, just as its was for Jews in the 1930s/40s. As a Liberal Democrat who believes in respecting others, regardless of their race and faith, forgive me if I don’t jump up and down in glee over this, particularly when the ‘Archbishop’ blogger informs us that many consider ‘Islam a vile faith’ I wonder if you would have reprinted this about any other religion?

  • @Meral Hussein Ece

    “It’s open season right now for Muslims in the UK, just as its was for Jews in the 1930s/40s.”

    You cannot honestly be serious.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 21st Jan '14 - 8:19pm

    @ Mike Bird Yes. Jews were ridiculed, discriminated against and attacked in the UK. Each wave of migrant has faced racism – Asian, African Caribbeans, etc. Now we have overwhelming evidence of increasing attacks on Muslim here in the UK.

  • John Morgan 21st Jan '14 - 8:57pm

    There is a well-known slogan out-there,”Religion – together we can find a cure” ( Like Jesus and Mo, you can get it on a T-shirt.) And the stance taken by Maajid Nawaz suggests that when sufferers starts to recognise their condition, the cure can’t be all that far off.

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st Jan '14 - 9:01pm

    @Meral … and don’t get us started on how the Anglicans treated the Catholics, Catholics treated the Anglicans and then the Puritans treated both the Anglicans and the Catholics. Intolerance breeds intolerance. Or as someone else might have put it … Anger and fear lead to the dark side! Just as people should never be judged by the colour of their skin, their religion (or lack of it!), neither should they be judged by their acceptance of, or line in, humour. We could all join a party to fight for this sort of thing!

  • Sunder Katwala 21st Jan '14 - 9:02pm

    I think we should be rather careful about claims like “It’s open season for Muslims in the UK now, just as it was for Jews in the 1930s/40s”. (The UK, thankfully, gave sanctuary to many Jews in the 1930s/40s, though there was certainly anti-Jewish sentiment about the new arrivals who were fleeing Hitler’s Germany; and that was a reason we saved fewer lives than we might have done). There is prejudice against Muslims, which should be challenged strongly, but levels of prejudice in Britain today are very significantly lower than they were before the second world war, and there is clear evidence of an anti-prejudice majority because of the way in which generational change and increased education have made Britain a more liberal society than it was 75 years ago. This is incomplete progress, but it also checks prejudice.

    We do have increased evidence of the anti-Muslim hate crime that exists. One needs to be a bit careful to claim that we have evidence of it increasing. In part at least, this increased evidence is due to the excellent initiative of greater monitoring and recording of anti-Muslim hate crime: in particular, the attempt to capture and record abuse on social media, as well as street violence, on a similar model to the recording of anti-semitism. We have increased evidence of racial and sexual violence when we pay more attention to it.

    The reports on the nature of harassment , against Muslim women in particular, such as this from the University of Birmingham, capture clearly why it is important and distressing to those involved. Clearly one incident is too many.
    http://tellmamauk.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/maybewearehated.pdf

    TellMAMA recorded 584 anti-Muslim incidents over a year, April 2012 to April 2013. 74% of these were online. So 26% were offline incidents, often of distressing ‘low level’ verbal harassment. I am sure not everything is caught, so there are doubtless many many more cases of unrecorded online abuse, and low level harassment. At the other end of the spectrum – where it seems likely that more would be recorded – there were 8% of cases involving extreme violence. This is almost 50 cases in the year. Each incident is terrible – as with all cases of hate crime – but I would caution against declaring this ‘open season’ on Britain’s 2.7 million Muslims.

    There were 642 incidents in the next 12 months, but this does not yet clarify whether there is growing success in publicising the ability to report the incident, and the growing online profile of Tell MAMA, or growing abuse.

    After Woolwich, we had some papers on the right trying to dismiss all anti-Muslim prejudice; but we also had some liberal papers eager to report a pogrom of violent attacks, which simply did not occur. There was a terrible murder of an elderly Muslim man, Mohammed Saleem, by a Ukranian racist, who was involved in a spate of threats against Mosques.

    There were attempts to mobilise hatred, and they fizzled out. The EDL even held a protest which nobody attended in Exeter, while seven people who protested were invited in for tea at York mosque. I attended a successful Woolwich Mosque event, where the community and different faiths rallied around. There was no increase in support for anti-Muslim hatred, and no increase in support for the EDL (which has almost disappeared). As Matthew Goodwin wrote, based on attitudes evidence, “‘in the aftermath of events that could well have triggered a more serious backlash, the direction of travel remains positive and suggests that there has not been a sharp increase in prejudice”. The proportion saying they would never consider joining the EDL rose from 77% to 84%
    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/may/26/public-attitude-muslims-complex-positive

    It would be useful to unpack the term ‘Islamaphobia’ so that we could make the important distinction between anti-Muslim hatred and the critical discussion of ideas, including the contested debates within Islam in Britain. Liberals are strongly against anti-Muslim hatred, but don’t need to give up on free speech.

    One can legitimately argue that Islamaphobia can ‘pass the dinner party test’, more than other prejudices. However, there is also evidence that Britain’s strong anti-prejudice norms mean there is an awareness of anti-Muslim prejudice, which is useful to challenging it. Asked which racial and religious groups face prejudice in Britain today, a majority say that Muslims face a lot of prejudice (54%). Just 7% say there is no prejudice against Muslims (which I would suspect overlaps strongly with an indifference to such prejudice). These 2013 figures are similar to the 1993 BSA figures about perceived prejudice against blacks and Asians, which has since fallen sharply.

    Awareness of prejudice against Muslims is another reason to doubt that most Britons think it is ‘open season’ against Muslims though there is certainly a hateful minority with strongly prejudiced views.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 21st Jan '14 - 9:08pm

    @ Helen Tedcastle Thank you. I’m glad someone on this comments section understands cultural nuances and sensitivities. Hope LDV don’t reproduce other images which cause offence to people of other faiths.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 21st Jan '14 - 9:24pm

    @ Sunder. Open season may have been a strong term to use, but I was quoting a report from Childline which is deeply worrying and depressing. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/racist-bullying-farright-agenda-on-immigration-being-taken-into-classrooms-9045148.html
    You use figures from reported hate crimes, but we know many more go unreported. I grew up in 1960s London, where it was commonplace for my family and others from ethnic minorities to receive threats and to be subjected to racism. Perhaps it’s why I abhor intolerance and not respecting the diversity of others.
    @Stephen – absolutely, tolerance breeds intolerance.

  • Sunder Katwala 21st Jan '14 - 9:38pm

    Thanks. We have a shared value of the importance of these awareness raising measures, like Childline, and clearly school is important. I agree about unreported crimes (this is especially true of online abuse; verbal harassment). It seems less likely there is widespread violence going unreported.

    So I do agree there is distinctive prejudice against Muslims – and also against Roma – in a less prejudiced society; but see recognition of that as a valuable starting-point, and I agree about the need for vigilance and challenge to the racism that remains. There is sometimes a reluctance to acknowledge our progress: gay rights advocates find this easier to do than race advocates, which means they are inviting people to join a cause which expects to prevail. The glass is always half-full and half-empty, but the scale of generational change on racial attitudes in the UK is among the most dramatic in any major democracy.

    I do think some (sympathetic) media coverage can risk failing to get across what is being reported. That can create an exaggerated sense of division and fear. Public attitudes have been calm, stable and not panicky, for example in the wake of major incidents, despite the worst efforts of the usual suspects.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 21st Jan '14 - 9:56pm

    @Sunder Thanks.
    @Stephen – Correction , INtolerance breeds intolerance !

  • Meral Hussein Ece 21st Jan ’14 – 9:08pm
    @ Helen Tedcastle Thank you. I’m glad someone on this comments section understands cultural nuances and sensitivities. Hope LDV don’t reproduce other images which cause offence to people of other faiths.

    Hang on a second. It is perfectly possible to understand cultural nuances and sensitivities and remain rational.
    I am offended by images all the time. But I do not want LDV or the BBC to decide what I might or might not be offended by and therefore censor tee shirts that I might see.

    I mentioned earlier that Manchester City have a player called Jesus. Tonight he was playing against Mohamed (West Ham’s Mohamed Diame). Both teams have players of different religions, races and nationalities — so what. We can get into ridiculous over-reactions as people have seen in the case of Anelka (West Bromwich Albion) who celebrated a goal with a gesture that nobody in this country even recognised but because some people have decided that they were terribly upset by it he is facing a ban. The sooner we move to a secular society the better. Tolerance and respect and treating people in a friendly way are what we should be about. But that does not have to mean losing all sense of proportion. It also has to be remembered that tolerance is a two-way street. Religionists need to be a bit more tolerant of those of us who do not subscribe to any organised religious group.

  • Sunder Katwala 21st Jan '14 - 10:25pm

    Helen,

    Thanks. I completely agree with you about the importance of the sense of violation that must be felt by having a veil pulled, and the Birmingham report captures this important feature, which can get lost if we talk only of the statistics.

    Islamaphobia: I prefer anti-Muslim hatred. There is a valid use of Islamaphobia, but I am always concerned by the damage done to anti-prejudice norms when these terms are stretched too far too, so that legitimate debates are characterised as prejudices. This is not the only case. Anti-semitism matters, but should not close down legitimate scrutiny of Israel. Being vigilant about racism shouldn’t put proper immigration and integration debates off limits. (At the same time, a minority of those claiming to be legitimate critics of Islamist belief or Israeli policy or immigration will be hiding baser motives, so clearly it is tricky. But median opinion can often prove a rather good judge of where the line should be).

    But the really interesting point is ‘monolithic’ … there is no monolithic view of 2.7 million British Muslims, but we all have a stake in which forms of social, political and religious thought emerge as dominant for our faithful fellow citizens (as is true of other major faiths, such as Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism et al, where we will benefit if they all adopt, as seems likely, the British traditions we evolved – eventually – of freedom of belief and respect for the beliefs and non-beliefs of others).

    Looking at the specific controversy, which side is positing a monolithic view of Islam and Muslim opinion? It seems to me that the threats and accusations of apostasy are defending the monolithic version. Surely, here the non-monolithic pluralism is in understanding that not all Muslims find the same thing offensive. (Was Maajid Nawaz claiming the ‘right to offend’?? Not really: he merely voiced non-offence, and others are offended at his illustrating what he is not offended by!)

    I would expect liberals to anticipate that there is rather more pluralism, and to scrutinise these claims to represent what Muslims think, want and demand as a monolithic block; and also to wonder whether it isn’t for Liberal Democrats, and Hampstead voters, rather than for British Muslims as a communal group, to decide on their candidate and MP.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 21st Jan '14 - 10:25pm

    @Joe King: So we should surrender to threats?

    As for not drawing Mohamed, that is a restriction on muslims (not all muslims believe that by the way) and should have no bearing on what non muslims do.

  • Sunder Katwala 21st Jan '14 - 10:35pm

    Lester – can white Muslims comment too? And can non-white non-Muslims? Should those of us who are mixed race by ethnic origin keep half of our thoughts to ourselves?

    Do we better achieve racial equality by restricting debates about racism and discrimination, equal opportunity and integration to those with dark enough skins?

  • @Lester Holloway
    Sorry but if that statement had been about any other racial group it would be an insensitive generalization based upon race… oh yeah it still is…

    How about people of a liberal mindset believing in the right to freedom of expression and supporting someone with the same mindset. I fail to see how race has anything to do with it. Perhaps religious belief (or lack of it) but not race.

    I am a Christian I wouldn’t put Jesus in a cartoon that mocks him such as this series. I don’t find it funny in fact would usually not bother to look at it at all, but I believe the right to produce and discuss it is more important than any negative feelings I may have.

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jan ’14 – 11:21pm
    My concern rather is the tone of the general debate, and assumptions made about a diverse religious community in reaction to the behaviour of a small group of extremists.

    Helen, this is a reasonable concern. But one person’s “small group of extremists” might be another person’s legitimate lobby group with a cause to follow. I would regard the people going after Nicolas Anelka as a small group of extremists who are going out of their way to be upset about something so as to further a wider political cause. It is a common tactic but such extreme groups.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '14 - 1:15am

    Helen Tedcastle

    Because it is forbidden to depict the face of the Prophet – it is considered idolatrous and disrespectful to portray the Prophet according to the major schools of Islam.

    Not all, see here.

    To me, someone who rushes about saying they want to “behead” people and so on in the name of Islam are acting FAR more offensively to the religion than someone who circulates a picture like this. Sorry, it’s time Muslims stopped blaming others, and started considering how this reputation for violent reaction is so badly damaging the image of their religion. If any time some fool made some announcement about wanting to behead people because of some supposed slight against Islam that fool got jumped on in the way the person making the supposed slight gets jumped on, wouldn’t that do a world of good in improving the religion’s image?

  • David Evans 22nd Jan '14 - 5:14am

    I must admit, I am very shocked by the comment of Lester Holloway in this matter. Could he explain what it is meant to convey, as at first sight it would seem to be very offensive to many who have posted in this thread to support Maajid Nawaz.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 21st Jan ’14 – 10:25pm
    ‘@Joe King: So we should surrender to threats?’

    I am saying that we WILL surrender to threats if a mob of angry Muslims pickets outside Lib Dem HQ with messages such as ‘Behead those who insult Islam’.

    https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=behead+those+who+say+islam+is+violent&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=GGbfUuGDOfPo4QTTyIDICw&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1127&bih=529

    We gave up a long time ago any pretence of not surrendering.

    Our paradox is that Islam is profoundly non-Liberal, and yet we are obliged to defend it because to not defend it would be illiberal too. It is we who are confused. Islam is not confused although we like to pretend that it is. Have you read the Quran? Has anybody on here posting messages or the author of the article read the Quran? Please state if you have.

    If you have not read the Quran and are pontificating on Islam, then please do take the time to read some of it before making glib statements about something that you do not understand, and have made little effort to understand.

  • Simple question: How many people commenting here have read the Quran?

  • Graham Martin-Royle 22nd Jan '14 - 8:29am

    @Geoffrey Payne: I am appalled by your post. You appear to believe that the only way forward is to surrender to threats and to curb free speech. Not a very liberal approach.

  • Sunder Katwala 22nd Jan '14 - 8:53am

    Helen, Those points are well made. I am considerably less sure about Geoffrey Payne conflating or equating a tweet *not taking offence* at a cartoon with the burning of a Koran. I can not imagine Stephen Tall or LDVoice burning a Koran, and would be appalled if they did so.

    The bizarre thing about those complaining is that the argument is that other cartoons – but not this one – are offensive, and so Maajid not being offended by this cartoon is grounds for deselection.

    Ansar told HuffPost UK he backed the petition to remove Nawaz. “I personally do not find that particular cartoon offensive, but there are others in the series which show Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed in bed together, drinking beer together. This is something many Muslims will find offensive”.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/01/20/maajid-nawaz-cartoon_n_4631609.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

  • Neil Hughes 22nd Jan '14 - 9:20am

    Really glad to see this kind of genuine attempt at inter-faith reconciliation and understanding taking place.

    Well done Majid and good luck!

  • I think Maajid Nawaz is an excellent candidate and his assured TV performances bring credit to our party. Personally I think the possibility of a ‘supreme being’ or a ‘god’ of some sort and religion are two completely different things. I can’t see why the religious trappings, stories and marketing dreamt up by humans to support their belief shouldn’t be open to criticism in the same way as politics is. Afterall it’s this stuff that causes the problems not least within religions and between religious people themselves. We’ve had a good example this week of the Ukip councillor and his firm belief that the recent flooding was caused by gay marriage legislation. Why shouldn’t that view be criticised?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 22nd Jan '14 - 9:52am

    “It’s open season right now [on] Muslims in the UK, just as its was for Jews in the 1930s/40s.”

    As someone who happens to be concluding one stage of their formal academic studies into the Holocaust at the moment (only another 3,000 words to go on the dissertation), I would actually say that there are many disturbing similarities here in the UK between the British experiences of the Jewish communities of the early 20th Century and that of the Muslim community today. One only has to compare the rhetoric and behaviour of the current ‘nutter’ parties on the Right with Sir Oswald’s British Union of Fascists to see some commonality. The “open season” though does not mean that the majority of people hold these negative views, but it does mean that we are conscious of them, whether we say or hear them at the ‘dinner table’ or elsewhere, and they do have an impact on the ‘target’ audience. Islamophobia is sadly not seen by many for what it is, another form of racism, for the negativity towards this faith is predominantly aimed at very distinct ethnic groups with their own cultures and traditions.

    Sadly people are trying to draw up camps with ‘Good’ Muslims on one side who probably reflect an opinion that is diverse enough to make one feel good, but is not too challenging, and then the ‘Questionable’ Muslims on the other side who appear to be rigid in their opinions and overall a bit uncomfortable. The reality is far more complex than this and actually those of us who are not Muslim really do not have a right to say which opinions are correct, unless the application of any faith breaches the law.

    As a Buddhist and naturally a Liberal (albeit a very Leftie one) I am appalled by any form of bigotry and do my bit to try to eradicate such abuses, and this means that I still question much of the dogma of all of the religions and philosophies, including those that I follow when it comes to equality and fairness. The beautifully inclusive language supporting inclusivity, equality and fairness that exists in the majority of religions/belief systems is often corrupted when we mere humans choose to interpret the words in a manner that fits in with our less than spiritual or philosophical beliefs. What I am though absolutely certain about at this moment, and until I am convinced otherwise) is that mocking or otherwise denigrating another persons faith/belief in public is guaranteed to offend people.

    Please let us not forge unnecessary camps (with a membership of ill-informed supporters) and start to demonise one side or another. I genuinely look forward to a time when we can have a healthy discussion about religion and faith without wishing to score unnecessary points or the as we see by some to use this as an opportunity to express their contempt and in some cases their rabid hatred towards different groups, but we are not in that place at the moment.

    As for being threatened, attacked or otherwise abused for speaking up for what one thinks is right, well this is also abhorrent, but although this behaviour is wrong and needs to be stopped, as many of us are only too aware this seems to ‘goes with the job’ and is not a surprise when it happens, hence it is necessary to take act on appropriate advice and also have the telephone number for the police on ‘speed dial’.

    I would like to remind people that this forum is viewed by many people outside of the Party, and frankly I would not wish these onlookers to believe that some of the views expressed in this and other threads on equally sensitive matters are those of the Party itself or its core ethos, but it does demonstrate that we are a ‘liberal’ group of people who hold a multitude of differing opinions.

    The official line which I am totally in support of is that:

    “The Liberal Democrats are a party of respect, tolerance and individual liberty. We fundamentally believe in freedom of expression and as such defend Maajid’s right to express his views. But as a party we urge all candidates to be sensitive to cultural and religious feelings and to conduct debate without causing gratuitous or unnecessary offence”

  • Like some other topics in LDV at the moment there ought to be some considerations of scale and significance.
    Let us try and see things in proportion.
    Is the tee shirt banned by the BBC a bigger or more important issue than any of the following ?
    1. Millions of Syrians (of various faiths and those who are agnostic) living as refuges.
    2. Millions of Palestinians living as refugees — some now facing their 67th winter in a refugee camp, some now caught up in a civil war in the country where they took refuge.
    3. Millions of children worldwide who die because they do not have access to clean water.

  • Liberal Neil 22nd Jan '14 - 10:27am

    I helped Maajid get selected and I’m glad I did.

    To those arguing that what he has done is offensive to Muslims, you are wrong, it is offensive to SOME Muslims, and only a minority of those Muslims would expect the freedom of speech of others to be restricted on that basis.

    Maajid was making a very simple point, that he did not expect the BBC to censor a T-shirt on his behalf, in order to show that he, a Muslim, did not support that kind of censorship.

    Anyone who argues that he, or LDV, should not publish that cartoon because a different cartoon might be offensive has got themselves into a frankly ludicrous position.

  • Can I recommend people to read a definition of Salafist? It might help inform discussion.

    Here is the wiki link —
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salafi_movement

  • peter tyzack 22nd Jan '14 - 10:41am

    I was alerted to concerns about Maajid Nawaz by Muslim LD friends in Bristol, who were being pressed by Labour supporters to resign from the Party. I googled his name and found things that gave me concerns. (I can’t put in a link because I don’t know how, but please do search for yourself). Prior to doing my search on his name I would, like many above, have instinctively leapt to his defence on the basis of Liberal principle.
    Having been a PPC three times, I am aware of how important it is to listen to the people and to avoid doing things that might turn voters off you, but what I read suggested to me that Maajid Nawaz needs to consider more carefully what he posts.
    I am not signing a petition to have him removed as PPC, but neither am I signing one to give my un-erring support. I believe in making a judgement based on all the facts, so I urge readers here to do as I did and check other social media sites for themselves.
    My main concern is that if people are offended by things that you say or do, especially if you want their support for a future election then, unless it is inevitable, you try to avoid offending them. So if a particularly difficult area of belief or policy is the issue then you should be very controlled in the language you use in order to try to bring people with you. As the offending words and drawings go to the core principles of the faith, it is somewhat difficult for non-Muslims to fully appreciate the standpoint of those who are offended.
    But whatever the rights and wrongs of statements above, in this case the adverse reaction could spread throughout faith networks across the country and damage our efforts to attract support from BEM voters nationally.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 22nd Jan '14 - 10:48am

    I can see what Meral and Geoffrey are saying, that if you’re going to build bridges you need to make sure that you don’t offend people, effectively saying that you should use the freedom you have wisely.

    My issue, though, is that every single day I see images that offend me, that are deeply offensive to women. Some appear 5 times a week on the pages of a national newspaper. I’m annoyed that they exist and I’ll continue to campaign against them in moderate terms.

    There are many articles that we publish on here, for example in favour of equal marriage, that cause offence to particular communities. People surely just have to understand that if you’re going to have a diverse culture, you are going to have a diversity of views on what’s appropriate. Having said that, if I were writing about Page 3, I wouldn’t include a picture of it. It’s a balance. I think it would have been a bit strange if in writing about this, Stephen had not included the cartoon so that people could make up their own minds about what the fuss was about.

    If we are to live up to our party’s values, we need to stand up for freedom of expression and for liberty. There are always balances to be struck, but that works all ways.

  • Helen Tedcastle
    You wrote —-” … but it seems to me that extreme interpretations of the law that we hear about so often from certain parts of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, overlays and drowns out the moderate and practical interpretation of Islamic law.”
    If you change your sentence to refer to the Republic of Ireland and Roman Catholic law the same would be true. Fortunately starting in 1980s the enlightened majority in Ireland have been able to overcome the extremists even tothe extent of changing the constitution of the state so as to remove some of the more extreme Roman Catholic stuff. To my mind they still have some way to go for example on a woman’s right to chose an abortion, but I imagine that you will probably have a different perspective. But I think we can both agree that extreme religious doctrine has no place in the laws of the state, which have to be enforced on everybody including those of different religions and those of no religion.

  • peter tyzack 22nd Jan '14 - 11:57am

    Caron, as you say you don’t have to illustrate an example of Page 3 in order to talk about it, as to illustrate it actually adds to the offense it doubtless causes. Same here. Knowing that this image actually causes offence to some Muslims, and probably some Christians too, it seems rather thoughtless to repeat it here and add to the offence.
    I wanted to see what was being complained about (before it had appeared here), and I was easily able to find it via the magic of the mouse. – I wanted to try to judge whether I might have been offended by it, had I been of either faith.
    Knowing sufficient about both faiths, and despite being a Liberal, I think I would have been offended, but, Caron, we are not talking here about Leveson and the need for control of the ‘free’ press, but about the actions of one of our selected PPCs.. there is a big difference.
    PS. Joe, I have the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible, side by side on my bookshelf.

  • William Nigel Jones 22nd Jan '14 - 12:48pm

    As a Christian I have long become hardened to offensive remarks; they began in my school days, but in most cases it would be counter productive and wrong to have a law banning them. This is usually a matter of relationships, recognising that simply shutting someone up is not the solution to the difficulties.
    In this case, I find the picture of Jesus rather sickening and since the whole cartoon is similar, I am surprised that Maajid did not say that he found it sickening at least, while also saying that he does not want to ban free expression.
    Those who are offended should be given the opportunity to explain why they are offended and hence there can be an increase in understanding.

  • peter tyzack 22nd Jan ’14 – 11:57am. , I have the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible, side by side on my bookshelf.

    I am trying to imagine Peter’s bookshelf. Anything by Bertrand Russell? Or even Conrad Russell?
    Anything by Harriet Taylor or her second husband ? Anything by Bradlaugh.? Would there be Dawkins — perhaps ‘The God Delusion’. And if he does have any of them, do they snuggle up next to ‘The Bible’ on the bookshelf or are they banished to the NON-FIction shelves? 🙂

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jan ’14 – 11:26am and Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jan ’14 – 12:54pm

    All reasonable points although I feel uncomfortable with some of them. My knowledge of 20th Century history of Ireland is limited. Others might want to help out, but I seem to recall that the Roman Catholic bits in the constitution were put there by the first President, the American born Eamon de Valera. He later said — “Of course I wrote most of the Constitution myself. I remember hesitating for a long time over the US presidential system. But it wouldn’t have done — we were too trained in English democracy to sit down under a dictatorship which is what the American system really is.”. So I think the contents had more to do with his beliefs than those of the majority of Irish people.

    As for those out to get Nicolas Anelka. Well I do not disagree that it is reasonable to condemn anti-semitic gestures. But both Anelka and his chum the French comedian both insist that it is not an anti-Semitic gesture. So as to steer a careful path and not bring myself under attack from any extreme groups here is a link to a BBC interview with a representative of the organisation that is out to get Anelka. Note the distinction he makes between the actions of Anelka and tha actions of some Tottenham fans who at present are in court or use of a word beginning with Y.

    ofhttp://www.bod.org.uk/content/Anelka.mp4

    The BBC clip only lasts a couple of minutes.

  • @Meral Hussein E

    I don’t think you’ve answered the point made above (forgive me if I missed it and you have). You are doing the classic trick of conflating a disparate and varying group of views under one heading.

    “All muslims” think x (just as “All Chirstians” or “All Conservatives) isbn’t a truism in the way you present it. Many muslims, as with many people of any other large grouping, be it religious, racial, political, or whatever, have varying views within the beliefs/values/theories of whatever group they belong to.

    I’ll also point out that it is intoxication that is offensive, not drinking alcohol.

    We should support Maajid.

  • I believe there are some points some of you are missing:
    1. There have been 4-5 death threats to Maajid on twitter, which relatively speaking, seems comfortingly low compared to the number of twitter death threats to Stan Collymore, and a few months ago to the Jane Austen campaigners. It seems to be part of the territory on twitter, every remotely controversial statement suffers such a backlash. Tommy Robinson get’s them every day, but we don’t knee jerk defend his right to free speech do we, although he is Maajid’s new best friend? So to extrapolate that Maajid is suffering something unique to “White-liberal rubber stamped approved Muslim moderates” from a horde of illiberal non-compliant extremist Muslims is wrong.

    2. 99.99% of Muslims have responded in the democratic way via a (poorly written but point made) petition to the party. What do you want them to do to express their offense? Get on the streets? How many of you have actually read their petition, I mean properly with an open liberal mind? not skim reading to pick holes? We should be celebrating that we are not seeing Muslims on the streets burning things etc.

    3. Nobody is campaigning or trying to ban the Jesus & Mo cartoon itself, it’s been around for years and is deliberately offensive (showing Muhammad asking Jesus to sexually experiment with him) but was and will be ignored by Muslims (I pray). It is infantile to claim this is about free speech, this is about standards of behaviour appropriate for a parliamentary candidate who is supposed to be sensitive to his constituents and respectful of REAL red lines of all major communities (not fabricated offense to make a point against the offended people). If he had tweeted the image of Anne Frank in bed with Hitler would this discussion be different? If he wasn’t a PPC I doubt we would be talking about it, the petition makes that clear, nothing to do with free speech. Can a doctor and nurse swear in front of their patients? Can a GP in his surgery fart and then tell his obese heart diseased client that he is a fat ugly git? Every job comes with responsibility of speech, not freedom. Public office is a great responsibility.

    4) If people are really concerned about freedom of speech under attack for a political opinion and not concerned about consequences on community relations, where are you WRT David Ward MP?

  • Caron, I’m not sure the page 3 / Muslim cartoon is quite the same thing. If you’re writing an article about page 3, then you don’t need to illustrate it (thus potentially causing offence) because it’s so famous that the majority of readers of this site are probably well aware of what it is and can imagine what it looks like. The Muslim cartoon, however, has to be shown so that it can be judged either offensive or not. The Danish newspaper cartoon is an example – there was all this row on the news about it, yet we couldn’t see it either on the BBC or elsewhere to make our own judgement for fear others would be offended.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '14 - 4:00pm

    Dr Musab

    There have been 4-5 death threats to Maajid on twitter

    So that’s all right then? Like there were four or so women alleged being harassed by …, and we can all dismiss it because it’s just four, what’s the fuss?

    Dr Musab, which is more offensive, a silly cartoon or a death threat?

    I feel that Maajid Nawaz has made his point. The cartoon may have been part of a series where others were deliberately offensive, but this one, while breaking the rules about non-depiction, did not seem to me to be offensive, and it is clear Maajid Nawaz did not put it up in order to offend. Instead he was making quite a profound religious point about what sort of God do we believe in.

    I had tried to express this in theological terms, but the Editor would not have it. Oh well, I tried. A lot of what I write on this topic comes from my own position as a Catholic. Sure, I don’t find it comfortable to talk in religious terms on sites like this, but on the other hand I’m well aware that if people like me don’t, and those who have a fundamentalist view do, we who remain silent are guilty of letting our religion be misrepresented and so damaged. The point I was trying to make was that in my view “fundamentalism” is actually a form of atheism. That is, I suspect many of those who adopt it are people who are insecure in their faith, and thus fear that if they are forced to think about it in any but the most plodding literalist terms, it will all drop away.

    Much of this is hardly understood these days when critics of religion tend to assume that all religion is of this plodding literalist form, perhaps because those who are of that type are loud-mouths who always push themselves forward and dominate while the rest of us just keep quiet.

  • I am slightly bemused by references such as ‘a picture of Jesus’. I am sure someone will correct me if I am wrong but as far as I understand it there is only one reference in the Bible to Jesus’ appearance and that is he didn’t have one. So a depiction of Jesus can be anything your imagination wants it to be. I have often wondered what Christians have got against short, fat, bald blokes with pimples? Why wouldn’t Jesus have been like that rather than some rock star like adonis? The answer is marketing!

  • Dave Arnell 22nd Jan '14 - 5:05pm

    @ Dr Musab

    ” What do you want them to do to express their offense?” – Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    I get offended by things all the time, but I have to be mature about these things. I don’t take to the streets, burn things, nor do I write a petition to have the ‘offender’ fired from their job. In a liberal society, you are not immune from offence.

    Taking your comment seriously leads to a slippery slope where eventually nobody can do anything that may offend another person… and yes, this would mean that simple human rights would be infringed, including the practice of religion as that will offend someone. Is this a place you would like to live?

  • Helen Tedcastle

    Helen, I followed your link and beyond the first page there is in the subsequent BBC analysis including the following —

    ” I think it’s likely to be more complex than just being associated with the far right,” says Jim Shields of Aston University, an expert on the French far right, because Dieudonne has been involved with anti-racist left-wing activists as well as far-right activists. “At the moment, the use of this gesture seems too diffuse to fit any simple right-left interpretation.”

    Anelka is not the first French footballer playing in England to make the gesture. Samir Nasri and Mamadou Sakho were also photographed in this way,

    Interestingly when Samir Nasri did this nobody was apparently offended. It was only when the Board of Deputies got in on the act and started their campaign to have Anelka punished that anyone was even aware. It is faintly ludicrous when someone has to go onto the BBC to explain to people why they must be upset and outraged by something they have not noticed and would not have understood even if thy had noticed it.

    It also ridiculous that the police have taken Jewish supporters of Tottenham to court for using the word Yid. How this helps race relations in that part of North London is beyond me. This is Tottenham where the police can carry out a shoot to kill policy when it comes young black men, but Jewish football fans cannot describe themselves as they wish without the police taking them to court.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 22nd Jan '14 - 7:09pm

    And Jesus & Mo’s take on this whole scenario.

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/strips/2014-01-22.png

  • Graham Martin-Royle 22nd Jan '14 - 7:23pm

    And another thing, this isn’t a depiction of the prophet mohamed anyway, it’s a body double.

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2005/11/24/body/

  • Max Wilkinson 22nd Jan '14 - 8:05pm

    This whole debate is offensive to my liberal sensibilities. The suggestion that this is akin to the treatment of Jewish people in the 30s and 40s perhaps offends even more.

    Religious beliefs, when taken to this level, clearly have no place in the 21st century. Humans have come so far, and yet a sizeable number are so wedded to ludicrous ancient teachings and dubious dogma that they feel it is OK threaten murder in response to the online circulation of a cartoon. The more that rational people are bullied into accepting these ludicrous rules, the worse it gets. It’s a tyranny that we should be against.

    I’m all for freedom to worship, but that freedom comes with responsibilities to respect people’s rights to free speech.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 22nd Jan '14 - 9:31pm

    Perhaps we occasionally need to pause and think –
    Before you speak, let your words pass through these gates:

    At the first gate, ask yourself ‘Is it true?’
    At the second gate ask ‘ is it necessary?’
    At the third gate ask, ‘is it kind?’

    Wise words.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 22nd Jan '14 - 9:51pm

    Helen, you didn’t look deep enough. It also denigrates Judaism and Mormonism. Indeed, it pokes fun at any and all religions and religious beliefs. Some people like to take offence at that. That’s their problem, they should learn to deal with their offended feelings and stop demanding that everyone else pander to them by stopping making fun of their beliefs. Whatever your feelings about anything like this, death threats and threats of violence have no place in our society and the people issuing them are the ones who should be condemned, not the ones publishing, drawing, writing cartoons. That is why I believe that Maajid Nawaz deserves the full support of the LibDem party.

  • In a Liberal society there is no right not to be offended. Try reading some JS Mill sometime.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 22nd Jan '14 - 10:59pm

    It is depressing that any liberal should even have to pause to think about defending Maajid’s right to publish this cartoon. For those who need to know why, here’s Christopher Hitchens http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axHR8AOxxkc

  • Melanie Harvey 23rd Jan '14 - 12:41am

    Absolutely totally without doubt we should support him. No question about it.

  • @Joe King:
    “Our paradox is that Islam is profoundly non-Liberal, and yet we are obliged to defend it because to not defend it would be illiberal too. ”

    To people who understand what liberalism is, this is no paradox at all — it is the essence of liberalism. We defend the right of each person to hold his or her own view, no matter how disagreeable those views may be to us personally. We defend a plural society in which many views coexist.

    Of course, for that to work day in and day out there needs to be give and take among different people. Threats against people because they express views unpopular in some quarters cannot be tolerated. But at the same time, we should encourage the view that tolerance is not merely negative: that it involves mutual understanding and appreciation of different views, religious or otherwise (note that “appreciation” is not a synonym for “agreeement”) in which we understand that Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, agnostics and atheists all contribute to our common culture and don’t need to be silenced or converted; that we can argue without fighting, discuss and disagree without arguing; and that we’re better off for a diversity which everyone believes in and to which everyone contributes.

  • I am seriously concerned about the potential for trouble for our party brewing here. We are playing with fire and there seems to be some sort of obliviousness to that fact.

    Peter has a copy of the Quran. Can I ask again, has anybody commenting here actually READ any of it? There have been about 40 comments since I posed the question.

    I have read the Quran, I think that if those putting comments here had read it too, then they may be rather more cautious. That Maajid has ‘only’ received four death threats so far is something to be thankful for. Maybe with some wise council, further harm can be averted, both to him and to the party.

    Remember that it took several weeks for the full furore over the Mohammed cartoons to erupt. The response to the Regensburg lecture by the pope was more rapid, although equally depressing and predictable.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regensburg_lecture

    I am not sure where the boundary lies between liberalism and Islam. I guess we are about to find out.

  • The Quran is freely available to read online, with several translations of the meaning in English, to suit your own preference. Some examples of the meaning are in more modern English, others more in the style of the King James Bible.

    It can be helpful to see parallel verses side by side. Also note that verse numbering may not be consistent between translations, so you may need to hunt a few verses before or after for the corresponding one.

    As always it is necessary to read the verses in the context of the passage. Unfortunately Nick Clegg did fall into the trap of only reading a selected part of the Quran during his response to the Lee Rigby murder. He did not read the subsequent verses which give a somewhat different overall meaning to the one that he was trying to convey.

    If a Muslim scholar had advised him what to say, then one has to wonder at the quality of advice he was given.

    One key point that has to be understood before starting to read the Quaran: ‘abrogation’. The Quran is not arranged in the order of events, nor in the order of significance as in the New Testament (Gospels then Letters etc). The chapters are simply arranged more or less in size order. This is confusing for anybody picking it up for the first time.

    Abrogation is the principle that more recent verses cancel out older verses if there is a contradiction. The principle of abrogation is described within the Quran itself, and therefore sects of Islam such as the Ahmadiyya who do not recognise abrogation are considered as not proper Muslims by the mainstream.

    If you are short of time, just read chapter 9. It is the most recent of the major chapters and therefore abrogates the rest of them. You may find it an uncomfortable thing to read, but do persevere.

    http://www.islamicstudies.info/ibnkathir/ibnkathir.php?sid=9&tid=20750

  • Terry Gilbert 23rd Jan '14 - 10:46am

    I am happy to accept that Lib Dem PPCs should not go around knowingly offending significant numbers of moderate religious people. But to object to them providing an illustration of what they think should NOT be considered offensive, as part of a debate about where the boundary of offence should lie, seems absurd to me. I am glad that Sunder Katwala (21st, 10.25pm) appears to acknowledge that, in a roundabout way. We should certainly back Maajid in this instance.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Jan '14 - 12:01pm

    Joe King

    Peter has a copy of the Quran. Can I ask again, has anybody commenting here actually READ any of it?

    Yes, but only in English translation.

  • Who here talking about the right to offend thinks Nicolas Anelka’s gesture was fine. Or that Prince Harry wearing a nazi costume and calling a fellow soldier ‘our little paki’ is all good? Or someone dressed in a Nazi uniform ejaculating on a picture of Anne Frank.

    I am genuinely curious, I am trying to just gauge this ‘no offence’ issue.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Jan '14 - 12:53pm

    R Uduwerage-Perera

    I would actually say that there are many disturbing similarities here in the UK between the British experiences of the Jewish communities of the early 20th Century and that of the Muslim community today.

    Which are the countries in the world in the past decade where people of a religious minority have most suffered threats of violence and a large proportion have departed due to fear of persecution?

    I appeal to “moderate” Muslims here (I don’t like the word “moderate” here as it can be wrongly interpreted as meaning only semi-committed to their faith) like Meral Ece to THINK about what is happening. When your reaction to attacks on your religion here – which is mild indeed compared to how many are suffering in places where your religion is the majority – is to use words like “it’s open season”, what impression does that give? Why is it that your religion more than any others comes under this attack? Might it not be this over-readiness to see offence and react against it aggressively? Might it not be the way you seem not nearly so offended by the way some of your co-religionists seem to behave towards people of different beliefs? When the reaction to someone who says “Here’s an example of something silly where an over-reaction just damages us” is to attack that person, aren’t you just illustrating the very point he was making?

    As I have already said, my religion was guilty of just as bad things and just as bad an attitude in the past, so I am NOT saying (as I shall probably be accused of saying) that yours is worse than mine. I am saying this touchiness you display isn’t helping your case, it’s damaging it. Joe King mentions the Regensburg lecture. Pope Benedict there said how bad it is for religion to defend itself with threats of violence, and how that damages the image of religion. One might suppose those who reacted to that with threats of violence were doing so deliberately to discredit your religion. It is as if when the Catholic Church is accused of harbouring child abusers in its ranks, some Catholics were to respond “If you say that again, I’ll go out and rape your daughter”. Can you see the absurdity of that? And if you can, why is it that you seem more ready to jump up and down in protest at silly but harmless rudeness aimed at your religion than to condemn those who bring it into dispute by acting in a violent and illiberal way in return?

    I don’t just say that if my religion was being damaged by people acting in its name I would regard it as my first religious duty to speak out publicly against those people, I can say that’s what I did. For many years one of my main activities in on-line forums was to condemn the IRA and express my view that I felt those involved in it – including the political party that defended it, and I mean even anyone who voted for that party – were acting so against the principles of that religion that in the old-fashioned language we use, they were guilty of “mortal sin”. That is how strongly I felt my religion was being damaged by its association with violence, even though I know the IRA and Sinn Fein, though identified as “Catholics” never made that identification themselves and never claimed to be fighting for Catholicism.

  • Richard Dawkins said recently, when UCLU tried, on grounds of ‘cultural sensitivity’, to ban the atheist society for using a ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon on its own website: ‘Jesus and Mo cartoons are wonderfully funny and true. They could offend only those actively seeking to be offended – which says it all.’
    So what about the cultural sensitivities of the growing numbers (certainly in this country) of non-religious people? What if THEY are offended by attempts to censor what they can and can’t see, as religious authorities have been trying to do for centuries?
    Why do religious authorities do that, do you think? I strongly suspect that it is because if they allow their adherents free speech, they allow a discussion which will almost certainly undermine their own authority, since there is little real basis for that authority beyond appeals to vague and often illogical (sometimes even nonsensical) traditional beliefs.
    It seems to me that anyone who objects to non-religious people saying what THEY think about religion is either no liberal, or is severely misguided by appeals to the cultural sensitivity of CERTAIN GROUPS ABOVE OTHERS.
    But what REALLY gets the staunch religionists going (even those that claim to be liberals!) is when an adherent of their own (or even someone else’s) religion dares to say they are not offended by some witty or pertinent (or even rude) critique of religion. If you start allowing the faithful to openly tell other religious people they are not offended by such critiques, you start allowing those other religious people to look at open criticism, too.
    And who knows where that might lead?
    Why, the whole edifice of authoritarian religion might eventually come crashing down..! (God willing.)

  • Alex Baldwin 23rd Jan '14 - 2:47pm

    @Nick Thornby
    You remind me of Shirley Williams’ appalling response to the Salman Rushdie affair, for which she was rightly criticised by Hitchens both on Question Time.

  • Alex Baldwin 23rd Jan '14 - 3:48pm

    <>

    Lester is providing what would be the apposite response to a quite different question.

    This isn’t about the idea of Good Muslims vs. Bad Muslims (as was so brilliantly deconstructed by Chris Morris with his movie Four Lions), where the distinction is how “westernised” they are. You cannot be a liberal without tolerating people who hold different beliefs and express themselves in different ways.

    The problem here is that are some people who cannot tolerate those who are even slightly different. Who believe they are entitled to threaten people who offend or disagree with them. I don’t feel any discomfort in saying that Maajid is a better human being than the people who are threatening him. Even as a “white man”.

  • Alan Franck 23rd Jan '14 - 7:33pm

    The official party response:
    “We fundamentally believe in freedom of expression and as such defend Maajiv’s right to express his views. But as a party we urge all candidates to be sensitive to cultural and religious feelings and to conduct debate without causing gratuitous or unecessary offence.”
    Well which is it? We support Maajiv’s right to wear a T-shirt gently mocking of religion? Or we think he is causing gratuitous or unneccesary offence?
    Oh dear, can’t decide, so we’ll greasily try and pretend we are taking a moral position on this while throwing the true liberal to the wolves.
    Pass the sickbag, Alice.

  • Liberals like to debate the merits of freedom of speech and in debate we test the intellectual boundaries.
    However if you choose to be a target seat PPC then you are no longer a private citizen. Your primary obligation is to win your seat. I don’t see how this tweet helps with that. Moreover you also have an obligation to the rest of the party to not undermine thir electoral chances through your own actions. Anyone who feels this is too great a personal sacrifice need not put themselves in this position. To think otherwise is either naivety or self-indulgence.

    Cllr Paul Fox, Bath , ex target seat PPC

  • I thought Liberals believed in Liberty.Too many people are playing the victim in order to silence the views they disagree with. there used to be the saying ” Sticks and bone will break my bones but words will never hurt”.

  • Of course words can and do hurt. Moreover, liberty and good manners are not incompatible. One can oppose legal sanctions on speech and support moral discouragement of insulting and inflammatory speech.

  • Alex Baldwin 23rd Jan '14 - 10:29pm

    @Paul Fox

    I would say that liberals also like to HAVE freedom of speech, not just to debate it and to discuss it. You don’t see how this tweet helps him win his seat? I can’t say I see how it hinders him. Peter Tyzack mentions that Labour party activists are agitating over it, as is the Respect MP George Galloway. I do not think these people are our target demographic, and I would be surprised if this tweet turned anyone against Maajid who did not already harbour a dislike for him.

    Rightly (as is my opinion) or wrongly, if you think Maajid has not pissed off a subset of the Muslim community before then you have simply not been paying attention. He was well known for this before he was selected, and I do not think he sees it as his job now to be a generic Muslim PPC.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jan '14 - 10:40pm

    This debate has gone all wrong. We should support Maajid because he is working to tackle both anti-western and anti Islam narratives, not the freedom to offend.

    Regards

  • Charlie 23rd Jan ’14 – 9:
    … … Too many people are playing the victim in order to silence the views they disagree with. … …

    Yes indeed. There seems to be an ever-growing trend of people of various religious groups seeking to out-victim each other. People rush to the courts to boost their victim status, such as the woman who insisted that she could only do her job if she ostentatiously displayed a Christian cross (I seem to remember she worked for an airline at a desk). Anglican archbishops make press statements saying they are suffering at the hand of powerful secularists, despite the fact that they have all the benefits of a state sponsored religion and are able to milk non-anglican taxpayers for all sorts of subsidies and perks not to mention reserved places in our parliament. The Board of Deputies of British Jews have developed victim status over decades of campaigning so that they can condemn anyone who dares to even question Israeli atrocities in Palestine. Salafists have since the 19th century developed a version of their faith which most followers of Islam find just as strange and repugnant as the rest of us. The list of religious minorities who seek to be victims seems endless. Thank goodness for those people who are content to practice their own religion in their own way without wanting or trying to impose their beliefs and rituals on the majority.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jan '14 - 11:23pm

    I’m getting really frustrated with this whole debate because it’s so simple. Maajid would be wrong to post it again because of the trouble it caused, but I defended his experiment and death threats are wrong regardless. If we are not careful it sounds like we think provoking muslims is a fundamentally good thing to do in itself because of an apparent freedom to offend. It is not, it had a purpose, which was to challenge stereotypes and dangerous narratives. He’s done what he set out to do and once he realised he had offended so many people he responded with a desire for peace, he didn’t post it again and say “look how illiberal you are!”.

    People who want Nick Clegg to show full throttle support for Maajid and be unpopular are plain wrong. We need to communicate and explain he is trying to create peace between east and west, not trying to offend people for the sake of it.

  • Alan Marshall 24th Jan '14 - 8:41am

    A majority of Christians in the UK, who believe that there definitely is a god, are opposed to gay marriage and believe that homosexuality is a sin. Would we attack or oppose gay Christian couples who hold hands in public as offending evangelical Christians. Would we say that they are needlessly offending people’s religious beliefs? Would we accuse them of stirring up tensions and deliberately offending? No.

    Context is everything. He is much and talked about his own religious views.

  • Alan Marshall 24th Jan ’14 – 8:41am
    Would we attack or oppose gay Christian couples who hold hands in public as offending evangelical Christians. Would we say that they are needlessly offending people’s religious beliefs? Would we accuse them of stirring up tensions and deliberately offending?

    Well some people in the Liberal Democrats say that it does not matter what one actually says or means to say, the only thing that matters is the perception of those people who get offended. Unfortunately when you get powerful religious/political lobby groups who make it their business to take offense and create a fuss , the top of our party has a history of buckling under to those that shout the loudest. We are also now seeing the same thing in football. Did anyone else hear the voice on the radio this morning saying “it does not matter what Anelka thought he was doing, or what he intended, what matters is ….. ….” ?

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Jan '14 - 1:58pm

    Having calmed down from my outburst last night, I would like to say that defending free speech is all well and good, but we need to reassure people at all times that we are not dangerous extremists. If we don’t it can make it look like we could support things like racist abuse under an absolutist “right to offend”. People above have made the same point.

    I didn’t realise how offensive the cartoon was when I first supported it, but even so, I was defending it due to Maajid’s anti-extremism work, not because I thought this was a good opportunity to make us stand out from the crowd.

    There was a good piece on this on the Daily Politics earlier and from what I have seen the party has handled it well.

  • I fully support an absolute right to free speech. Defending the freedom to speak is not the same thing as defending the speech spoken, however. And it is a lot easier to defend something that isn’t shoddily drawn, lazily written, incoherent, infantile tripe. “The Satanic Verses” was a well-written and interesting (if depressing) expression of a unique point of view. It was provoking, but provocation wasn’t the sole point of the novel. “Jesus and Mo” is just rubbish by someone who doesn’t seem to have had an original thought in his life.

  • Tony Greaves 24th Jan '14 - 5:42pm

    Let me say I am neither a Muslim nor a Christian (nor indeed a Jew) and have no affiliation to any religious group. (The nearest I can describe myself is “C of E atheist”.)

    I only saw this cartoon and the others you can find easily on the internet last night. I was shocked and appalled that a prominent Liberal Democrat was distributing any of them, on Twitter or anywhere else. There will be many Christians who find them distasteful as well as Muslims though most have got used to Jesus Christ appearing in a satirical way cartoons.

    For large numbers of mainstream Muslims they will be more than distasteful – just very nastily abusive against their religion and against their prophet Mohammed. This is just a fact. (The worst I have noticed is a drawing of “Mo’s” penis and testicles for reasons that I could not fathom).

    I will defend to the death the right of people to draw and distribute such material. That is not the point here.

    Maajid Nawaz is a parliamentary candidate for this party. What he does and says will be taken as representing the party. He knows better than most of us that these cartoons will be found insulting and abusive by most mainstream Muslims in this country.

    There will be leaflets handed out outside mosques in areas where we are as a party strong and active. In Pendle I expect the Labour lot will be doing this (we hear they are already planning to do so). The actions of Nawaz in putting this puerile stuff on Twitter will bring this party into disrepute.

    And for what reason? So he can parade himself as a campaigner for free speech?

    Reading this long thread I get the impression that some people think it is their right and duty to go out and insult people with strong personal religious views. I really do worry about the increasing amount of intolerance and aggressive rudeness to anyone who does not agree that “anything goes” in the sphere of personal rights – in a lot of spheres, throughout society and within this party. Liberalism is about tolerating the religious and ethical views of others and making a serious effort not to insult people who hold hold such views different from one’s own, unless they are seriously illiberal.

    Promoting these cartoons as a prominent Liberal Democrat (as opposed to defending people’s right to publish them) is absolutely not acceptable and a fulsome apology is required.

    Tony Greaves

  • Alan Marshall 24th Jan '14 - 9:32pm

    He wasn’t “promoting” the cartoons. He was saying that they are not offensive to him. He pointed out that as a Muslim, he felt patronised and stereotyped by the BBC’s decision to censor Muslims. ture. He clearly said that he felt that God was strong enough not to be bothered by them. Then he was greeted by abuse and death threats.

    Context is everything. We believe in free speech, so publishing the pictures is legal. We also believe in respecting people’s beliefs. We know that images of Mohammed can upset a lot of muslimsSo, there needs to be a pretty good reason to utilise free speech which may offend. I feel he had a good reason, given extra credibility by the fact that he is a Muslim and he was talking about something that he felt patroniseded many Muslims. If it was a white Christian parading down the street with the image on his shirt just to assert his rights, I would be against it and thing the person was disrespectful. Context, context, context!

  • I couldn’t agree less with Lord Greaves, he misses the point. Fundamentally.

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Jan '14 - 9:29am

    Whilst most of Tony’s comments are, as usual, eminently Liberal and sensible, I just wonder what values European Christianity would be preaching today had some of our own historical religious traditions never been questioned? Burnings at the stake, crusades, women and ordinary folk being kept in their proper place, sexual abuse of children brushed under the carpet?

  • hitchadmirer 25th Jan '14 - 1:21pm

    Enjoyed reading the entire thread this morning. But it’s the kind of post-event analysis that is never available (in terms of time and sheer brain power) to the protagonists – and we should look at the way that moral decisions, positions and debate are managed in the “heat of the moment”. For one simple reason – it’s the way to get at the guts of a situation and understand the visceral or deepest held attitudes. Maajid Nawaz comment – liberal. Those wanting de-selection because of it – not. Why waste words pussy-footing around. There are liberal philosophers and political giants of the party spinning in their graves…..liberal used to come occasionally next to the word “reform”. My religion (Christian Heritage – not a believer) needs reform. So does Islam. So does Judaism. Yawn,

  • Paul Thompson 25th Jan '14 - 2:27pm

    I’ve read quite a few comments on here, but I can’t see one regarding the behaviour of another PPC – Mohammed Shafiq, whose response was to tweet “We will notify all muslim organisations in the UK of his despicable behaviour and also notify Islamic countries.” which sounds like he was trying to whip up a lynch mob! Why on earth do you need to notify Islamic countries?

    Of course Maajid has a right to publish such an image – but should he? Well it’s sad that something so seemingly benign would cause such offence (after all there is a long tradition of deceptions of Mohammed in Shia Islam), but it simply shouldn’t cause such outrage. As with the earlier Mohammed cartoons, they didn’t really raise an eyebrow until Islamist preachers got hold of them and started using them for their own political ends. The fact that a single image like this actually ends in a guy not being able to leave the house on advice of the police means that there is something seriously wrong; and that is what we should be debating – not whether it was right or wrong to actually post the image.

    Personally I don’t want to offend a Muslim by posting such an image (which is why I’m not), but it is the fact that the posting of these images then results in threats that do on occasions get carried out – that is what I have a problem with. I also have a problem with this orchestrated hate campaign that results. Lets not forget that this was a single instance of one image posted by a Muslim to say he was not offended by it, in the context of the BBC refusing to show the image even though a debate had just happened on TV about that very image (in which he participated). It was not an orchestrated campaign to offend, it was in context and had merit.

    The real scandal here is the overblown and politicised overreaction by some Muslims when they know that such campaigns in the past have led to the deaths of Muslims and non-Muslim alike. The Muslims I have spoken to about this (both Shia & Sunni) would rather it just goes away. But if anyone within the Lib Dems should be under scrutiny, it is Mohammed Shafiq.

    There is a petition calling for him to be disciplined by the party – if you feel the same as I do please sign.

    http://www.change.org/petitions/nick-clegg-give-full-support-to-libdem-ppc-maajid-nawaz-and-take-disciplinary-action-against-party-member-mohammed-shafiq

  • Maajid is absolutely brilliant and once again spot on. I was glad to see Mohammed Shafiq comprehensively destroyed on the Daily Politics by Andrew Neil, who rivals Paxman for the no1 TV interviewer. Maajid deserves our unwavering backing on this matter which however way you spin it comes down to a simple matter of free speech.

  • Tony wrote: “Liberalism is about tolerating the religious and ethical views of others and making a serious effort not to insult people who hold hold such views different from one’s own, unless they are seriously illiberal.”

    It strikes me that forbidding the drawing or distribution of cartoons depicting religious figures, threatening people who even draw attention to cartoons of religious figures, and demanding that people who share cartoons of religious figures are prevented from public office, are “seriously illiberal”. I can’t help wondering ig Tony is more concerned about electoral expediency than liberal principles.

  • Tony Greaves 24th Jan ’14 – 5:42pm
    I get the impression that some people think it is their right and duty to go out and insult people with strong personal religious views. I really do worry about the increasing amount of intolerance and aggressive rudeness

    Tony, it is much more complex than that. It is not about people in general going out of their way to be rude or to provoke. Although there Is an element of that.

    There was a time in this country when most of us were CofE nominally . Some of us expected religion to wither away as people became better educated. The disappearance of church buildings, the dramatic fall in the number of CofE vicars or those training to be Roman Catholic priests are symptoms of the rapid decline of traditional Christian groups. The growth in the UK of Islam (in its many forms) during the same period is a fascinating . Where I live there are all sorts of religious groups, my daughter (now aged 20) went to a state grammar school where her class had girls who were Hindu, Buddhist, various types of Christian, Muslim and “others”. Neither the Christians nor the Muslims were the biggest group. The overlap between politics, race and religion is something that her generation has to live with every day.

    The recent war in Sri Lanka, the various wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria etc impact directly on the girls of this school because they have family in these places. The cartoons and tee shirts that started off this discussion are not the root of the problem. Photographs and film of atrocities and wars involving close relations of UK families are on the TV News or on their computer screens every day of the week. Pornography of a violent and extreme sort is omnipresent. In comparison these cartoons are mild stuff. Some people will be genuinely upset by the cartoons but the groups making a fuss about them are not representative of the majority.

    Anyone with family in Palestine or who as a Muslim feels a strong sympathy for Palestinians cannot quite see why there should be an enormous fuss about Anelka’s goal celebration when 70 years of atrocities, demolition of homes, land thefts etc are glossed over. The UK has a Jewish population of around 200,000 but a Muslim population about ten times that. But count up the number of MPs of all parties who belong to Friends of Israel groups and consider how the average Muslim feels about that. I know that by even including that statement I run the risk of being deluged with criticism from the very powerful lobby that defends Zionism in this country. But some cartoons are far less insulting or disturbing than what is going on in our name in Palestine or suggestions that this country should be bombing Syria, or Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya. Blair’s legacy has sown some terrible seeds. And after 4 years the Chilcot Report is still not published because the establishment thinks it can get away ith it.

    Somehow we have to tackle these issues. There is no proper discussion of this in parliament or between the established political parties, This leaves a gap for the far right, UKIP and other populist to spread their poison.

  • Susan Hamilton 25th Jan '14 - 10:06pm

    Meral Ece is SO wrong on this. Where do you then draw the line- if meat offends , if homosexuality offends, if the colour green offends. No-one was forcing the “offended” to look at his personal twitter account. We would all be terrified of expressing anything for fear of offending anyone and losing our jobs or worse. What worries me is the liberal democrats lack of action on a party member who appears to have used threats to intimidate Maajid Nawaz. Presumably the liberal democrats are aware that the accuser appears to have a history of deception.
    http://www.rochdaleonline.co.uk/news-features/2/community-news/276/man-exposed-for-deceit-chosen-as-lib-dem-candidate-for-bamford

  • Mark Laridon 26th Jan '14 - 12:06am

    If you really consider yourself to be Liberals and support an individuals rights to freely express himself you should be ashamed to have Mohammed Shafiq as a member of your party

  • Liberalism does not include being tolerant of intolerance.

  • Umer Siddique 26th Jan '14 - 3:13am

    If the Liberal Democrats want to tap into and understand the Muslim community, they need to take a step back and analyse things a little more three-dimensionally. Why is it that Muslims who are campaigning against Maajid Nawaz – a self-professed practising Muslim – do not feel the need to campaign against other liberals who agree in essence with the right to offend? The point people are trying to make is that being a Prospective Party Candidate ties you to certain professional codes of conduct, in addition to what is essentially allowed within a legal framework. In both the public and private sector of work, it would be absurd to cite freedom of expression in defence of professional misconduct carried out by any employee or representative of the company, department or organisation. This campaign is not challenging the legal right to freedom of expression, and nor is it aiming to silence Maajid Nawaz ina general sense. It is merely pointing out that as a PPC there are certain standards of professionalism and responsibility. Whether or not one thinks that the cartoons should be taken lightly or not, it is not unknown that the vast majority of Muslims find the mere graphical representation of the Prophets to be offensive in and of itself (let alone in the context of satire). Maajid Nawaz knows this more than anyone. So we can keep banging on about rights and legal maxims, or we can stop and consider being sensible. The LibDems have been seen increasingly as a potential alternative to the historical preference among the Muslims community for Labour. To completely disregard that and to lose the potential shift would be, in addition to the principles at stake, extremely stupid. The fact that there are death threats (which apparently came from Pakistan via Twitter?) – which is completely unjustified – should not be used to trump all these considerations.

  • Muslim Davis 26th Jan '14 - 8:54am

    As a Muslim born and brought up in the uk I think it’s important to explain the context here. The petition to remove Maajid nawaz has had a phenomenal response of 20,000 in a week. And this isn’t just about some silly cartoon from an offensive series, rather it demonstrates the amount of disgust Maajid nawaz and the Quilliam Foundation provoke from the vast majority of Muslims in the uk. For the past 7 years Maajid and the QF have cried extremist to garner favour and support from rightwing elements in the uk and USA, they’ve helped parrot Govt’s agenda in order to secure funding for themselves and they are seen as people who will say anything including pandering to the islamophobic sentiments of mainstream press in order to maintain their own limelight. He and the QF have to justify their importance by claiming Islamists everywhere and are hated by the Muslims for intentionally trying to present the Muslim community as a threat.

    Please don’t see this as some decontextualised over reaction by “crazy Muslims”. For many Muslims this is simply the latest current in a trend by qf and Maajid to attack the Muslim community. He knew he’d get a reaction and he wanted it in order to present himself as a liberal martyr. However he probably didn’t realise that Muslims would develop a petition so that they could quantify the amount of anger and disgust he elicits. Even the pro Maajid petition has only a fraction of support compared to the petition calling for his removal.

    The question then for the lib dems is if knowing now that Maajid elicits such and anger and hatred from the Muslim community in the UK, irrespective of his insults against the prophets of Islam, are you still willing to have him represent the lib dems? If the lib dems are willing to keep him it would damage the lib dems in the eyes of the Muslim community throughout the UK. Again even if he didn’t repost the cartoons he is still hated by the vast majority of Muslims. Therefore the lib dems have to think about the association it would have with such a hated figure. What does this say about the lib dems who are willing to exclude the views of the majority of Muslims in the UK in order to standby a hated individual? Can you imagine If Maajid was to stand in any constituency with a sizeable Muslim population they’d automatically reject the lib dems purely based on him.

    If they also continue their support for him then how would that project the lib dems and the UK abroad in the Muslim world. He would be an MP, hated by his own community, who provoked the Muslims purposefully by insulting the prophets of Islam, Jesus and Muhammad. The damage would be irrepairable

    So knowing this the choice is between standing by an individual, or the Muslim community fed up with people who are willing to misrepresent them.

  • It is a long time since NickCohen had something nice to say about a Liberal Democrat candidate. So please take two minutes to read this —

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/25/liberal-democrats-t-shirt-jesus-muhammad-religion?utm_content=buffer4fa99&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

  • Interesting and well argued contributions from Umer Siddique 26th Jan ’14 – 3:13am and Muslim Davis 26th Jan ’14 – 8:54am
    I would welcome their thoughts on the Anelka controversy. Anelka has been the subject of criticism which in some ways reflects the criticisms of Maajid Nawasz.
    To consider the wider point Liberals might benefit from not personalising it on our candidate in the posher bit of North London.
    As far as I am aware Anelka has no connection with our party. Are we able to object to his gesture but defend his right to make it? I am not sure that a gesture comes within the realm of free speech, but surely the same considerations apply.
    On his Facebook page Anelka insists that he is not a racist and quotes a leading figure in the French Jewish community as saying that his gesture was not against Jews, because of the contest.
    So how do Liberals respond to the Anelka case? Do we defend him, or do we take the easy route and bow to the very considerable and powerful lobby that exerts such enormous influence in this country?

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