Archive for the 'Islam' Category

Offence Trumps Reality, Again

From Drama over Casualty plot as BBC bans terror script in today’s Guardian:

The BBC has abandoned plans to screen a fictional terrorist attack by Muslim suicide bombers in the primetime drama Casualty after internal clashes over whether the highly sensitive subject matter would cause offence.

BBC drama executives were keen to push the storyline and may even have started filming, a source close to the production told The Observer. But they were overruled by the corporation’s editorial guidelines department, which ordered that the episode be changed so that the Muslim characters were replaced by animal rights extremists

Well, what a good idea. The BBC should be doing everything it can to shield religious people from potential offence – even if that means shielding them (and, as a corollary, the rest of us) from reality. The decision, of course, is a pathetically snivelling one, but it’s also flatly insulting for two reasons: Firstly, it’s insufferably patronising towards the large section of moderate British Muslims who acknowledge that Islamic terrorism both exists and is an undeniable part of the current zeitgeist. Secondly, it serves to scapegoat animal right activists as the indiscriminate bombers of public transport. However, these are small concessions to make if they go some way to appeasing rage boy and his ilk, I suppose.


According to this article in the Guardian, it turns out that the decision to replace the Islamic terrorists with animal right activists was actually made by the writer. So, my apologies to the BBC!

[T]he series editor of BBC1’s Casualty, commenting on newspaper reports that the editorial policy unit had insisted that two Islamist terrorists in a script were changed to animal rights activists, insisted that the switch had been made by the writer, who apparently feared inviting a reaction from extremists.

I’ve learned my lesson, so I won’t try to speculate over whether “inviting a reaction” were the Guardian’s words or those of the writer, but they’re rather depressing either way.

Thanks to Matthew in the comments section for the update.


Unite and Conquer

Here’s Terry Eagleton (the one who thinks suicide bombers are “tragic heroes”) with a typically fuzzy piece in the Guardian. Apparently, the reason those in power criticise multiculturalism is because it threatens their abilities to invoke “materially divisive policies”. I don’t know whether that’s their reason or not, but it certainly isn’t the only reason they might have.

There is an insuperable problem about introducing immigrants to British values. There are no British values. Nor are there any Serbian or Peruvian values. No nation has a monopoly on fairness and decency, justice and humanity.

There’s that “British values” term again. This sort of thing is part of the reason I don’t like it. Bringing nationality into it is counterproductive, equivocal and offers this kind of easy-out. Either way though, I don’t understand his point. Evidently, Terry Eagleton values writing vague articles in the Guardian. But he doesn’t have a monopoly on it. Not by a long shot. But that doesn’t mean writing vague articles in the Guardian is not an Eagletonian value or that, because all his values may overlap with those of others, Eagletonian values don’t exist. Anyway, it’s more the liberal, egalitarian, modern and progressive values themselves that are important. If they’re the ones being proclaimed to be, conceptually speaking, “British” then fine. It’s secondary who else holds them. Maybe it’s the fact that some seem to be transgressing these values – and others allowing them to do so – in the name of cultural plurality that’s prompting concern.

It is easy to see why a diversity of cultures should confront power with a problem. If culture is about plurality, power is about unity. How can it sell itself simultaneously to a whole range of life forms without being fatally diluted? Multiculturalism is not a threat because it might breed suicide bombers. It is a threat because the kind of political state we have depends upon a tight cultural consensus in order to implant its materially divisive policies.

So, if it’s a threat to those in power in because it challenges a “tight cultural consensus” (whatever that means and even though we’ve been given no reason to think it, but let’s just assume that’s true for a moment) then it can’t be a threat because it might breed suicide bombers (or misogynists or homophobes or archaic theocrats)? And this is because things can only be threats for one reason? Or because being a threat to a “tight cultural consensus” necessarily excludes being a threat for more legitimate reasons? Perhaps it’s none of the above and these are just two unrelated and unsupported assertions. And perhaps Eagleton just writes for the sake of writing.

Incidentally, David Thompson, Ophelia Benson and Rosie Bell all beefed Eagleton rather more articulately than I just did.

Criticising Multiculturalism? You’re a Racist!

Martin Jacques is in the Guardian suggesting, amongst other things, that anyone who blames aspects of multiculturalism for the non-integration of elements of the Muslim population is merely a racist trying to invoke god-only-knows-what through the back door. Here’s the gist:

And what is to blame for this failure to integrate? Prejudice, perhaps? Discrimination? Racism? No, according to David Cameron, Ruth Kelly and many others, the cause would appear to be multiculturalism. Pause for a moment and spot the slippage in the argument. It is no longer only about Muslims but all our ethnic minorities.

What is? What is about all our ethnic minorities?

For enshrined in the principle of multiculturalism is the idea that the white community does not insist on the assimilation of ethnic minorities but recognises the importance of pluralism. It is not about separatism but a respect for difference – from colour and dress to customs and religion. The attack on multiculturalism is the thin end of the racism wedge. It seeks to narrow the acceptable boundaries of difference at a time when Britain is becoming ever more diverse and heterogeneous.

I’d have said that multiculturalism was more the idea that the no one cultural group should insist on the assimilation of any other rather than simply a safeguard against the cultural despotism Jacques implies is inherent in white people. But anyway, apparently, blaming the current model of multiculturalism for any of its perceived shortcomings means rejecting and opposing everything multiculturalism is about. There’s just no middle-ground; it’s simply not possible to criticise or blame it for anything without being an out-and-out bigot with a hidden yet unmistakably racist agenda. There he was waxing lyrical about rhetoric as well. And no, multiculturalism is not about “respect” for alternative customs and religions, it’s about toleration of them; but it’s not as if even that’s inherently a good thing. It would depend entirely upon the customs and forms of religion one is being inclined to tolerate. There are customs and certain elements of religion that simply don’t warrant much accommodation. Some of them, for instance, don’t much value equality; some aren’t very keen on democracy, science or progress and some teach adherents to distrust or to emphatically despise anyone different from them. In fact, some don’t think all that highly of respect for difference in customs and religion themselves. And perhaps the current model of multiculturalism affords these sorts of ideas too much shelter under the umbrella of well-intentioned acceptance and pluralism. So, it’s perfectly possible, despite what Jacques might imply, to criticise multiculturalism for what you perceive to be wrong with it and to lament what you perceive to be its regrettable side-effects without instantly metamorphing into a goose-stepping Nick Griffin.

[W]hile British foreign policy so profoundly discriminates against the Muslim world, and New Labour remains in denial about the connection between domestic Muslim attitudes and its foreign policy, there seems little prospect of making a new start.

Presumably Jacques must be referring to something of a selective account of British foreign policy. Perhaps the most vocal proponent of the NATO intervention in Kosovo was one Tony Blair. It was that intervention that prevented Serbian forces from continuing their genocide and displacement of the Muslim Albanian population. It’s hard to see how something like that could be considered profoundly discriminatory against the Muslim world.

Parts of item reminded me of Žižek’s Orwellian proclamations from last September and there’s much more to bemoan besides. But I can’t be bothered to address it all. He’s a wanker.

Pros and Canned

A London teacher gets sacked because the children claim he said something, err, unacceptable. The school didn’t feel the need to ask him about the issue before firing him; in fact, it didn’t even seem to be all that important whether he actually said it or not. The children were “very upset”, apparently, and that’s all that matters. Like how school-children get upset when something is “just so unfair” or they’re punished for being disruptive and so on. But perhaps this is different because it pertains to a matter of religion and religion is special and any getting upset over a matter of religion is automatically justified. So, what was it they claim he said anyway? Well, “pupils at the predominantly Muslim school claimed Mr McLuskey said most suicide bombers were Muslim.” So, is that even false? (That’s not a rhetorical question, I genuinely don’t know.) But if it’s true then it seems even weirder that he should be sacked for saying it. Perhaps some things are just off-limits even when you’re taking a lesson on the “pros and cons of religion”. Better just stick to the pros I guess.

Maleiha Malik and Some Low Redefinition

Here’s Maleiha Malik saying that “Muslims Are Now Getting the Same Treatment Jews Had a Century Ago” in the Guardian. The problem is, Malik doesn’t seem to acknowledge any real distinction between opposing Islamic fundamentalism and simply indulging in “anti-Muslim racism” and “cultural racism” and possibly other types of racism that also, curiously, have nothing to do with race. Moreover, these particular evils seem to have been defined as a spuriously broad category.

Jews and now Muslims have been and are the targets of cultural racism: differences arising from their religious culture are pathologised and systematically excluded from definitions of “being British”.

Such as? I wish it were made clear. Not that I think the term “being British” actually means anything much, but if these differences stem from opposition to things like gender equality, gay rights, free speech, secularism etc. then I can’t see how their exclusion from being considered “British”, whether or not it’s in at least some sense culturally divisive, is all that lamentable.

Both anti-semitism and anti-Muslim racism focus on belief in religious law to construct Jews and Muslims as a threat to the nation.

To construct them as a threat? Seemingly then, a substantial minority being in favour of the invocation of sharia law and all that goes with it is not a genuine threat but instead one that has, in the interest of demonising Muslims, merely been manufactured. It depends on how you define “threat” I suppose, but, again, if we’re talking about egalitarian, liberal and progressive values then a desire for a draconian theocratic legal system does start to look a bit like one.

Pnina Werbner, professor of social anthropology at Keele University, argues that Jews are predominantly racialised as an assimilated threat to national interests emerging at moments of crisis. Muslims are now being represented as a different kind of “folk devil” – a social group that is openly and aggressively trying to impose its religion on national culture. This partially explains the recent concerns about multiculturalism. “Anti-fundamentalist images provide racists with a legitimising discourse against Muslims,” as Werbner puts it, which is used by “intellectual elites as well as ‘real’ violent racists”.

So, since anti-fundamentalist images are being used by racists and intellectual elites we should just keep quiet about creeping fundamentalism? And is she, in invoking such denigrating nomenclature, suggesting that those who oppose Islamic fundamentalism in a more sophisticated way than violent racists do, these “intellectual elites”, are merely snobbish intelligentsia so they, too, can safely be disregarded? Possibly not, but it’s far from clear; and worryingly dubious if so.

By the way, why, after terms like “discourse” and “intellectual elites”, did I suspect this Ms. Werbner of being some sort of daft postmodernist? I dunno. But you can check out her weird and wonderful website for yourself if you like.

Far Out

Angela Phillips in the Guardian thinks that radically Islamic British youths are “Rebels with a Cause”; and that, just like the hippy movement of yore, they’re understandably rebelling against the evils and discontents of western consumerism. They’ve probably been failed by society. Maybe they’re alienated and disaffected. Perhaps some of them are even sassy. All they want is peace, love, cooperation, understanding, tolerance, flowers, babies named “moonbeam”, egalitarianism, the death penalty for apostates and homosexuals, censorship, theocracy, flogging, spousal abuse, beheading, stoning, the severing of hands and so on and so on. It’s nothing to worry about. It’s all just budding exuberance and well-intentioned political idealism. Like the fucking Hitler Youth.

Senseless on Sensibilities

Well, here’s yet another article in the Comment is Free section of the Guardian, “Think Before You Speak” by Imran Waheed. He’s the media representative of the delightful Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain. Here, he responds to where Peter Tatchell accuses Waheed’s organisation of hypocrisy in “Respect is a Two-Way Street”. I didn’t like it much.

The crux of the argument about “free speech” is not, as Peter Tatchell has suggested in his comment piece Respect is a Two-way Street, that Muslims want to censor criticism of Islam, but rather, as the late art historian Lord Clark asserted, that courtesy is the defining quality of civilisation. Most people do not need Hobbes to tell them that absolute freedom is for “newborn savages” and even Tatchell has conceded that, “A harmonious, good natured society is one where people are civil and courteous to each other.” The suggestion that causing religious offence should be a tribute to the mettle of western society is repugnant.

Now, this sets the tone for the article nicely. Tatchell, remember, pointed out that it’s hypocritical of Waheed’s organisation to demand people stop insulting Muslims while insulting Jews and gays themselves. And Waheed is going to respond to these allegations by demanding people stop insulting Muslims. Nice.

Indeed, absolute freedom may well be for newborn savages, but in saying this, Hobbes, of course, was referring to absolute freedom of action and not absolute freedom of speech. But even if he were, being as serious proponents of free speech don’t actually advocate it as an absolutist notion this still wouldn’t communicate anything relevant about the issue at hand.

It seems that it has become easy to descend the slippery slope from freedom of speech to freedom to insult and then freedom to persecute. Following the comments of Jack Straw on the veil, verbal and physical attacks on the Muslim community have increased, Muslim organisations have received threatening emails, women who wear the veil or the headscarf have been on the receiving end of verbal and physical aggression and the Imam of a mosque in Glasgow was brutally attacked.

Well, firstly, and most strikingly, the “freedom to persecute” still doesn’t exist. Each of those acts of persecution are still firmly illegal and it doesn’t seem sensible to think that they’re going to be legalised any time soon either. So, that slippery slope doesn’t seem like one we have to take all that seriously. That should hardly need saying.

But forgetting that for a moment, according to Waheed, freedom of speech means the freedom to mock the beliefs of others and what invariably follows from that is the freedom to persecute. So let’s have a look at some of the evidence provided to bolster this claim.

Firstly, have these kinds of attacks actually increased? If they have, the article Waheed links to is no evidence of it. In fact, the closest thing to such evidence I can find is, in one case, one Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation simply claiming it is so. Secondly, even if we have seen an increase in reports of attacks against Muslims since Straw made his comments, it’s not as if this alone means that this increase is because of those comments. And lastly, from the way Waheed included it as evidence, the attack on the Glaswegian imam is made to sound like it was carried out by some right-wing thug. Well, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think it was motivated by religious or racial intolerance at all. In fact, it looks more like it was carried out by a fellow Muslim who was suffering from acute mental health issues.

But OK, let’s forget all that as well. Are we to think Straw’s rather temperate comments on the veil were nothing more than an example of someone indulging in a nefarious freedom to insult? And that consequentially they were little more than an incitement to violence and persecution? Surely pushing for the prohibition of, or at least the cessation of, these sorts of comments is exactly what wanting to censor criticism of Islam might entail. If this category is so broad as to include comments as moderate as these then seeking to curtail this kind of freedom seems not only draconian but positively malevolent.

But perhaps Waheed didn’t mean that. Perhaps he meant that Straw’s comments were not merely insults, but the aforementioned slippery slope came into play, they led to insults and then led to persecution. He hasn’t said that directly, nor provided any evidence for it, but I suppose it’s possible that’s what he’s implying. Either way though, this seems to put us in the same position; because, as Waheed would have it, even these non-insulting comments would eventually transgress into persecution, but we can’t have persecution, so, again, we shouldn’t allow or should choose not to make these sorts of comments to begin with.

As someone who grew up in an Australia in the 1960s, during a period of McCarthyite-style red baiting, some would have expected that Tatchell would have recognised the growing hysteria against British Muslims in recent days. Over the last year, we have seen the furore over the Danish cartoons, the Pope quoting descriptions of Islam as “evil and inhuman”, aspects of Islam labelled an “evil ideology” by Tony Blair and the use of the term Islamo-fascism by George Bush. On the domestic arena, comments by a succession of cabinet ministers seem to have fuelled an anti-Muslim frenzy – Jack Straw has alleged that the wearing of the veil by a small number of Muslim women affects community cohesion, John Reid has suggested that Muslim parents spy on their children and Ruth Kelly has made unsubstantiated allegations that some Muslim schools are breeding isolationism and extremism.

Well, yeah, Blair and Bush described certain aspects of Islam as “evil ideology” and “Islamic fascism”, but it’s worth bearing in mind that in both cases they were referring to aspects of Islam that influence people to carry out suicide bombings on trains and commercial airliners. So, in using those terms they were, what, just attempting to whip-up hysteria against Muslims were they? And this is because those terms are inappropriate? Or is it that, yes, they are appropriate, but they should have just shut up about it anyway?

It’s strange indeed that Waheed should even mention the “furore over the Danish cartoons”. It’s not as if it were a case of Islam being sneered at and innocent Muslims being attacked as a result. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The responsibility for any bad press Islam may have received from the whole cartoon saga, I’d say, would lie with the fanatics who rioted, burned down embassies and killed innocent people. And also, with the Danish Muslim leaders who travelled to the Middle East to publicise the cartoons and added another, potentially far more offensive picture. In this case, one that was never printed by Jyllands-Posten nor even intended to be one of Mohammed. Growing hysteria indeed.

We have become accustomed to bemoaning the rise in anti-social behaviour, the loss of a sense of a community and the culture of disrespect in the classroom. However have we questioned whether the “freedom to insult” culture is contributing to these wider societal trends?

Presumably, Waheed has questioned it. And he thinks it is. Well, one unsubstantiated idea deserves another, I suppose.

Although Tatchell has “supported the right” of newspapers to publish cartoons satirising Islam, even he does not advocate free speech without restrictions, arguing for restrictions to free speech “when it involves incitement to violence or libel/defamation”. In reality there is no such thing as absolute free speech. Editors do not publish cartoons ridiculing the Holocaust, pictures of dead British soldiers in Iraq or articles promoting paedophilia. Paying someone a salary and giving them a Fleet Street office does not change the reality of what is, in all but name, censorship.

So, some editors choose to publish cartoons satirising Islam whilst choosing not to publish cartoons that ridicule the Holocaust or articles that promote paedophilia. And this shows, errr, that those editors consider an irrational belief system with some decidedly nasty elements to be a more appropriate target for ridicule than an act of mass genocide? Or acts of child abuse? Well, so what? No matter how much Waheed wants to equivocate on the term “censorship”, newspapers, in simply choosing not to publish certain things, are never going to be a meaningful example of it.

The real question is not whether Muslims should respect freedom of speech but rather whether society is able to accommodate people whose values and religious beliefs are different from our own. Those who wish to insult the beliefs of others should not hide away from robust debate under the façade of freedom of speech. However, there is a very real recognition from Muslim organisations, including Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, for the need to intensify our engagement in discussion and dialogue with wider society.

Why is that the “real question”? I mean, that’s a fairly revolting thing to say. “Westerners value freedom of speech and Muslims [apparently, according to Waheed] value censorship – so westerners need to change”. And how exactly are people using freedom of speech to protect themselves from debate? How does that idea even work? Freedom of speech is a concept inherently at odds with that of censorship. So, how could anyone be using it to stifle debate? That’s like trying to stifle a fire by spraying paraffin onto it.

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