Facing Down Islamist Bullies

Maryam Namazie, blogging @ Nothing Is Sacred, writes:

 Why I had to face down the bullies trying to silence my supposedly ‘offensive’ stance on Islam
Original published in Daily Mail on 9 January 2016

This week marked the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

The atrocity was a brutal attack not just on human life but also on the principle of free speech, one of the pillars of human civilisation. In the aftermath of the killings, people across the world united to express their support for that essential liberty.

Yet today, freedom of speech in British universities is under heavier assault than ever before.

In this case, the weapon of destruction is not the barrel of a gun but the proclaimed desire to maintain student safety by turning university campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where students will be shielded from anything they might find offensive.

Within our society, there should of course be safe spaces – such as women’s refuges – for victims of violence, discrimination and abuse. But it is wrong to hijack this concept as a means of stifling open debate within the higher education system.

By their very nature, universities should be ‘unsafe spaces’ where orthodoxies are challenged and opinions questioned. Why go to university at all if you feel you have to be ‘protected’ from views you dislike? That is a recipe for intellectual paralysis. Indeed, most human progress stems from a willingness to embrace ‘unsafe’ or ‘offensive’ ideas.

Moreover, what is considered ‘offensive’ or ‘hate speech’ is highly subjective. All too often the limits of speech are set by those with the loudest voices or the most political influence, like religious bodies or student unions or the state authorities. Once the limits are set, it’s a slippery slope. Limiting free speech silences and censors dissenting voices which most need to be heard.

That has certainly been my recent experience of British university life. I am an Iranian-born ex-Muslim woman who campaigns against Islamism and is critical of all religions, including Islam.

The central theme of my work is the promotion of equality, secularism and universal rights for all, including ex-Muslims, Muslims and migrants.

This week marked the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. The atrocity was a brutal attack not just on human life but also on the principle of free speech, one of the pillars of human civilisation
This week marked the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. The atrocity was a brutal attack not just on human life but also on the principle of free speech, one of the pillars of human civilisation

Despite my progressive outlook, my opposition to Islamism has led to regular attempts to silence me through so-called ‘safe space’ policies. To the ‘safe space’ brigade, I must be ostracised because of my supposedly ‘offensive’ stance on Islam, even though I am the target of frequent abuse and even death threats.

In one recent example of this trend, the Islamic society at Goldsmiths University in south London tried to get my talk to the students’ Atheist Society cancelled on the grounds that I would violate their ‘safe space’ policy by inciting ‘hatred and bigotry’. When this attempt to gag me failed, the Islamic Society president and its ‘brothers’ sought to create a mood of fear and intimidation at my talk.

It was the same story at Warwick University in October, when the student union tried to bar my talk to the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society (WASH) because I am, apparently ‘highly inflammatory and could incite hatred on campus’. Fortunately, the student union’s decision provoked a wave of protests, and my visit was able to go ahead.

By their very nature, universities should be ‘unsafe spaces’ where orthodoxies are challenged and opinions questioned. Why go to university at all if you feel you have to be ‘protected’ from views you dislike?

But these two cases show very clearly how ‘safe space’ policies are being used to silence critics by promoting the Islamist narrative, which conflates criticism of Islam and Islamism with bigotry against Muslims.

The Goldsmiths Islamic Society’s approach is all the more absurd given that it has invited speakers who defend jihad and the death penalty for apostates.

In the fashionable tale of victimhood cultivated by Islamic Society leaders and their Student Union allies, there is a deeply patronising view of Muslim students as a single, homogeneous body with one regressive mindset. But this is completely false.

During my talk at Goldsmiths, Muslim women and migrants of Muslim background spoke up against the aggressive behaviour of the Islamic Society members.

I have also received letters from other Muslims at the talk who agreed with me, but felt too intimidated to act. So when student unions side with Islamic societies against people like myself, they are not ‘protecting’ Muslims against bigotry, but siding with Islamists.

In their campaign to stifle free speech, the ‘safe space’ ideologues seek to equate ‘offensive’ speech with real harm. But their argument could hardly be more hollow. The expression of ideas, even if offensive and hurtful, is not the same as causing mental or physical injury.

That’s not to say that hate speech doesn’t exist. Groups like Britain First express hatred against migrants, Muslims and apostates every day. But you can’t stop hate speech by stifling free expression. Free expression is vital for any society. And it is not free unless it is free for everyone, including those whose views are deemed distasteful and even hateful, as long as they are not inciting violence.

What we need is not more restrictions on free speech, but the opposite.

For that, we need an end to the bullying ‘safe space’ policies adopted by the National Union of Students.


  1. Maryam

    when I read your piece I was transported back to a recent moving experience, I had the priviledge to have, of Kader Attia's installation 'Ghost' which readers can see images of here.

    "In Ghost, a large installation of a group of Muslim women in prayer, Attia renders their bodies as vacant shells, empty hoods devoid of personhood or spirit. Made from tin foil - a domestic, throw away material - Attia’s figures become alien and futuristic, synthesising the abject and divine. Bowing in shimmering meditation, their ritual is equally seductive and hollow, questioning modern ideologies - from religion to nationalism and consumerism - in relation to individual identity, social perception, devotion and exclusion. Attia’s Ghost evokes contemplation of the human condition as vulnerable and mortal; his impoverished materials suggest alternative histories or understandings of the world, manifest in individual and temporal experience."

    Wishing you continued safety and success on your courageous journey.

  2. And yet their are still too many comparing the critique of Islamic Ideology as something akin to the Jewish pograms in the 30's-40's.
    Whenever the states interaction with Islam is revealed, it is always in a facilitator fashion. The state sees fit to lie to its majority demographics, because of some imagined far right foe who must not be fed ammunition.
    If this means the rape of a generation in places like Rotherham, well, its better to be called rapist than racist. Of course the 'far right' label, as nearly every term in this debate is pliant to the states need.
    You know,Jihadi Sid and the 'The Giant' used to leaflet about jihad outside Whitechapel tube, I met them many times. Yet I would of been seen as extreme for countering them, now they execute captives on film in Syria.Its a disgrace.

  3. DD

    whereas the shallowness of a specific ideology may be readily apparent to oneself its useful, I'm told, to strive for some empathetic understanding of the ideologue's position too. Its only when we can see and understand the seductive allure that the ideology has for its followers that we can effectively counter and challenge. Rather than No, No, No we must reply 'Yes but' ... Countering intolerance with yet more intolerance is rarely useful.

    At least it hasn't worked that well for me so far ^_^

  4. Hi HJ,I made an effort to read alot Islamic theology once I started having serious reservations with some things I had read, I have tried to understand it because I wanted to be wrong, and not to hold this opinion, Im not oblivious as to how anti-social it is (although some strange people claim there is anti-Islamic tendency in the West).
    Im tolerant of those who espouse it, in as much as I dont want to silence them. Im totally confident the more people hear it, and understand it, the more will hold the same opinion as me.Im not a relativist HJ, if an ideology is so clearly hateful and wrong, accomodation on my part surely makes me lesser. I want to assimilate brilliant things, not broken things.

  5. DaithiD,

    I did not read into HJ's comments that he was arguing for relativism but more a case of understanding what it is you come to hate before you decide to hate it rather than hate it and then shape your understanding based on that. Neither am I suggesting that you are doing that. I think you are more right than wrong on this matter.

    I think Maryam is right when she argued elsewhere that cultural relativism is often indistinguishable from racism.

  6. Yes Dáithí

    I understand from previous threads that Islamic theology is something you're well versed in ... certainly much more so than I could ever claim. So I can respect the conviction you hold on these matters.

    That said though I'm of an opinion that if one were not culturally enmeshed in Christianity and studied the Bible from such a remove one could just as legitimately arrive at similar conclusions about that faith as you have about Islam.

    Kader Attia's installation 'Ghost' spoke to me at many different levels, the foremost being the misogynistic nature of Islam. So I can sincerely sense and understand as to how you perceive it as 'so clearly hateful and wrong '. But as the experience became reworked over and over in my mind I couldn't but conclude that there's similar tendencies in all patriarchal religions and power structures.

    Having come to your conclusion that Islam is 'so clearly hateful and wrong' I can understand your dilemma that any accommodation on your behalf may be perceived as making you somewhat 'lesser' for having done so. On the substance of the matter I think we're pretty much in agreement but as AM summarises there's a difference in how we process that. The most succinct way I can clarify our process differences if I may, is to call on the Christian metaphor of hating the sin whilst loving the sinner.

    Sure Dáithí, its a high ideal and a tall order but if a man wishes to assimilate brilliance, rather than brilliant things, he must assume thoughts of a higher order!!!

  7. AM, its quite hard to ensure Im not succumbing to confirmation bias. I do constantly look at the implications of my analysis, and what it would imply if it were true or not true (its something I have to do for my job every day so I can do it well I think). You cant really escape the texts, and the agreed interpretation of them. It suffices for some people to let others do their thinking, they are never exposed that way, I hold the facilitators in such disdain because I used to be one.
    HJ,when I am clear thinking, Im careful to qualify its the ideology I have issues with, because In my experience most self described Muslims arent actually Muslim, this is one area a parallel with Christianity does hold. I mean, if someone claimed to be a vegetarian but only ate meat on Sundays, would you think them vegetarian? Would you go to that person to question them on the efficacy of veggie living?
    Why are the West so blinded by colour they listen to any brown person claiming to speak for Muslims, in contradiction of their texts, and the agreed interpretation of them, which we can all read if we so wished to.

  8. DaithiD,

    one problem is the interpretation of the texts. This is invariably a problem with the religious - they can find meaning where there is none.

  9. ...This is invariably a problem with the religious - they can find meaning where there is none...

    AM, Islam doesnt seek to be solely a spiritual pursuit, its an economic and political system too, they go into great detail of how a society should be structured.In a way,this is that problem in reverse: finding no meaning where there is some.

  10. DaithiD,

    All the major religions want to do this or have been prohibited from doing it. Political Christianity has been forced back in a way that political Islam has not. Biblical literalists can find justification for anything if they so decide.

  11. AM

    Political Islam is integral or mutually inclusive to spiritual Islam in a way that is not replicated in Christianity. Political savagery and martyrdom is spiritually rewarded in heaven with mafia/cartel style brothels of virgins and rivers of wine. Conversion to Islam by rape or threat of beheading is accepted currency into the faith by Islam as a whole. The spiritual side divines various forms of punishments (stoning to death for infidelity, sexual orientation, etc) to appease the political side and vise versa.

  12. Christy,

    perhaps because Christianity has lost the political power to do what Islam does, courtesy of being pushed back and curbed by secularism. When Christianity had political power it used the same savagery that Islam employs. Many a heretic was burned by Christians. I don't believe the problem is any one religion but that most dangerous combination of religion and political power.

    If we look at the sheer evil involved in denying condoms in Africa as a measure to save life, we can get a notion of what the Christians would do had they power on a scale similar to political Islam.

    I think we sometimes mistake the religions as some sort of timeless entities and overlook the way they have been forced to evolve. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith evolved out of the Inquisition. As for text the bible has justified rape, murder, genocide, infanticide inter alia.

    Religion in my view should always be a private matter. As Wafa Sultan famously said let them worship stones if they like, just don't throw them at me.

  13. Yes AM

    and the fusion of the political with the religious are the product of safety and herding instincts which in turn are exploited by the power driven. These dynamics are fundamental and will always exist.

    Sure all ideologies and religions will have an overall tendency to evolve over time but that doesn't preclude specific regressions. The challenge is how to manage all of that. The secularists must avoid becoming overly dogmatic in their secularism (and I'm not suggesting that at or of you). Countering intolerance with what will be perceived as yet more intolerance is unlikely to bear fruit.

    Sometimes there's really no exit, only better management or containment.

  14. HJ,

    secularists must avoid becoming overly dogmatic in their secularism

    I wonder where this exists rather than is alleged to exist. Often the attempt by the religious to impose their values on others when pushed back is characterised as aggressive secularism suppressing religion. I see more examples of aggressive atheism than aggressive secularism as Bertie Ahern once phrased it. Secularism to me is noting more than getting religion out of our faces. If it extends to the suppression of religious belief then I am on the side of those defending the right to have a religious belief.

    Your incrementalist approach to the matter is probably all we have left to us given the oppressive dangers inherent in a revolutionary approach. We can only strive to improve but not to perfect. That is when we become really dangerous - much like the religious we accuse of being totalitarian.

  15. AM

    Yes at an academic historical level there is no difference between Christianities war cry of 'save the savage to save the soul' and Islam's 'kill the infidel'. I think trying to be fair and balanced by likening all religions with the evils of 'satanic Islam' is misconceived. Would you liken gender discrimination in Ireland today with that in Afghanistan? only because at some point in history the 2 may have been comparable? So why do it with modern religions regardless of how they were modernised?

    Even with any ills of Christianity's value put on the value of 'all life and gods creatures' or when that life comes into being is not comparable with Islam's disdain and lack of value on any non-Muslim life in the 21st Century. Under Islamic law a (Muslimn) woman is worth half the worth of a man -non-muslim lives have no value other than their ability to defend themselves or to be a source to profit from in commerce or as hostages. Although Islamists say non-muslim women can attain some value if they have been raped by 10 Muslim men because they then become converts to Islam by rape.

  16. Amen AM

    progress rather perfection.
    Its only by living the imperfectly perfect life in this perfectly imperfect world that we can allow ourselves to content with being occasionally discontent.
    Then 'the cunts' don't matter so much!

  17. Christy,

    my view is that one religion is better than another when it is compelled to be and not because of any internal reform process generated from within. There has been much debate and discussion about Islam having no reformation and for that reason being as moribund and archaic as it seems to be.

    These things are a matter of textual interpretation. The more doctrinal the religious institution the more dangerous it tends to be. Islam is doctrinal to an extent that Christianity is not able to be any longer.

    I am not arguing that all religions in practice are on a par with each other in terms of what they practice. Islam currently is home to more religious rigidity than the others but given the wrong combination of circumstances, Christianity would be the same, as it has demonstrated. The task of secularism as I see it is to curb and hold in check that religious tendency to inflict itself on others not of the faith, no matter from where it emanates. Ultimately as Steven Weinberg argues “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” And he was not restricting his observation to Islam

  18. AM

    Much the same arguments can be made about the dangers of unrestrained State authority where states have been just as evil as any religious organisation in terms of devices and justifications for abuses and atrocities. States too can quickly regress if unregulated or uncontrolled by 'external' governmental forces (usually its electorate). When we talk of the evils of Saudi Arabia, north Korea, Sudan or others we do not normally dilute the focus of the argument by diverting to, a by the way, did you know the history of such and such a country used to be no better and would be again if its electorate relinquished its desire for democracy for a dictatorship instead. States/Governments will take liberties, and do, where they think they can get away with them just as all religions would do likewise. In speaking in that sort of academic way we are then talking about the hypothetical or probable likelihood of a state/religion re-offending and thus the urgency or reality of the actively current relevant abuser is lost or diluted. It is another form of whataboutry sometimes done to be balanced or measured or for political correctness. Sometimes you need to aim your kick at one set of balls at a time and probably advisable to take the biggest and baddest bully out first and in this occasion the article was all about facing down Islamic bullies.

  19. “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    Neat line AM, but no.I think you could generalise the 'religion' part to anything that an individual gives power to.
    Have you read much about the Milgram experiment? I dont think its anything as profound as that, and the most obvious counter example, regimes that are the benchmark for evil regimes in recent history that compelled individuals to commit atrocities, were not evil in pursuit of something spiritual.The individual chose evil because they could, even then the term evil has temporal and spatial precision.I think tearing unborn children to death in the womb is evil, others call it progress.How will the future affect the precision of its application, when what the majority desire at a point in time,is confused with what is right and moral?

  20. DaithiD/Christy,

    nothing in any of this that would cause me to change my view.

  21. "...nothing in any of this that would cause me to change my view...."

    AM, thats all I ask of people who hold a different view on this : the opportunity to honestly disagree. At present critics of Islam risk their jobs, their position in the community etc for articulating a reasoned opposition to Islamic ideology. The present climate means a person is automatically seen as a bigot/ racist/ ignoramous for any position on Islam that is not defferential.

  22. DaithiD,

    I would be surprised if you were to sense that on this site. I was so rushed today that I had no time to engage with either you or Christy even though I felt there was nothing that would cause a change of position. But then I don't feel that far removed from either your position or his. I have taken the racist smear from the Trot types for my views on Islamism, particularly over our stance @ The Blanket on the Danish anti theocratic cartoons. I intensely dislike the religion but then I intensely dislike all religions.

    Anyway, you are wholly entitled to your views on the matter and they will always find a home here. For all the ranting about Islamophobia I think there is an Islamophile problem that never gets challenged.

  23. DaithiD,

    If you want to know my two bits on religion....Click here,

  24. AM, of course thats not my experience on this site, your quill is sickeningly fair! (I bet you kick little cats when nobody is looking, just to bring balance to your universe !?! haha)

    Frankie, its not the spiritual (or fairytale component) of the faith that is the issue, its the governance type stuff. I dont think Muslims and Christians can possibly mean the same Abraham, but thats another story.

  25. AM

    I didn't disagree with your views. I thought your making an academic comparison as you were doing dilutes the responsibility on Islam -at times when I have been talking with Muslims they too often refer to Christianity's crusades and the forms of torture and ways of killing people it used were not dissimilar to how Muslims kill today. Like you they are not wrong either but Christianity's history is cannot reasonably be used as a comparator for justification for Islams evils today as Muslims have reasoned. You of course were not using the reference as a means of justifying any religion's acts of violence. I thought you were pointing out historical truths about Christianity as if they were still on a par with Islam. I agreed but only so far as what are now historical facts from which Christianity has since moved on from -for the reasons you suggested. Islam stands alone on its use of religious terror of inquisitions, be-headings,stoning to death or amputations of arms, legs or tongues depending on which part of the body was used to commit a crime or blaspheme.

  26. Christy,

    academic is not how I view the point I sought to make. It is a dissent from DaithiD's suggestion that we need only read the texts. My point is that the texts from Christianity justify butchery and rape, therefore there has to be something other than the texts that we must use to evaluate religions. You seem to flag up religious practice which I think is correct. What I would add to that is the clerical power that works to maintain its stranglehold on textual interpretation. The real point I seek to make to DaithiD is that interpretation of text and the power to enforce interpretation is what makes Islam more inclined towards the vile practices you outline.