opening remarks at Oxford Union debate with Tariq Ramadan on 29 February 2016
Criticism of religion – however offensive – is not racism against believers.
Islamophobia is in fact used to conflate blasphemy with bigotry in order to impose Islamist norms on the wider society.
Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Mohammad are no more “bigotry” against Muslims than its covers poking fun at the Christian or Jewish god, clerics/ rabbis, and prophets are “bigotry” against Christians and Jews.
In Iran, Saudi Arabia or IS, critics of religion are faced with accusations of blasphemy and apostasy; here they are accused of “Islamophobia.”
Accusations of Islamophobia are used to scaremonger people into silence rather than out of any patronising “concern for minorities” – as if “minorities” do not need or have the right to criticise religion and the religious-Rightwing.
In fact no one needs the right to criticise religion more than those who have fled or are living under the boot of the religious-Right.
Essentialising and homogenising Muslims and equating them with Islamists reduces masses of people to fanatics more concerned with cartoons than murder.
It’s like equating Christians with the KKK or Pegida.
Calling Charlie Islamophobic sees dissent and blasphemy through Islamists eyes – an offence that must be either censored or punished by death – whether by Sharia law or the Kalashnikov.
Charlie Hebdo belongs to a satirical anti-clerical tradition that is not the sole domain of the West.
For example, Azerbaijani weekly magazine Molla Nasreddin founded in 1906 similarly poked fun at religion. Mohammad was also depicted in the weekly. Mullahs in what was called Persia at the time issued a fatwa calling for the death of its editor Mirza Jalil.
The anti-religion Iranian writer Sadegh Hedayat who died in 1951 is another example. He said: “Heaven is the best excuse to make the world into hell.”
This conflation of entire “communities” and societies with Islamism refuses to acknowledge that there are many within those who are considered “Muslims” (which by the way include ex-Muslims, atheists, free thinkers, reformers and secularists) who also criticise Islam and Islamism at great risks to their lives.
Raif Badawi, sentenced to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes in Saudi Arabia
Bangladeshi bloggers, like Avijit Roy, hacked to death for criticising Islam
Hesameddin Farzizadeh, 23 year old writer and student who has been sentenced to 7 years in prison, 74 lashes and the death penalty in Iran for a book examining the history and questioning facets of Shi’a Islam
Abdulaziz Dauda, also known as Abdul Inyass, an Islamic scholar sentenced to death in Nigeria for a lecture which was deemed to be blasphemous against Islam’s prophet.
Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet and artist who lives in Saudi Arabia, who has been sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ for his poetry.
Or Egyptian poet Fatima Naoot given a 3-year sentence for insulting Islam because she criticised Islamic animal slaughter”…
Saying Charlie is “Islamophobic” is as absurd as saying Raif Badawi or Fatima Naoot are bigots.
Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas says this “distorting Eurocentric vision” sees “Muslims” only as victims and oppressed minorities when “just crossing a few borders” could allow one to “appreciate” the nature of the Islamist political programme, whether with regards women’s right or free thought.
As a Women Living Under Muslim Laws statement says, this movement’s:
main target is the internal democratic opposition to their theocratic project and to their project of controlling all aspects of society in the name of religion, including education, the legal system, youth services, etc. When fundamentalists come to power, they silence the people, they physically eliminate dissidents, writers, journalists, poets, musicians, painters – like fascists do…
What is really being said when Charlie is accused of Islamophobia is that criticism of Islam and Islamism are forbidden, blasphemy laws are required to protect “Muslim” or rather Islamist “sensibilities” and that, therefore, threats and actual murder of critics is perfectly legitimate – whether in Paris or beyond.
Read Caroline Fourest’s book In Praise of Blasphemy: Why Charlie Hebdo is not Islamophobic in French and in English.