An excerpt from my latest column for the International New York Times, which looks at the controversies surrounding Donald Trump and Maryam Namazie and what they tell us about free speech, Islam and the left. For the full article see the INYT.
In the strange world of contemporary radicalism, however, many look upon Ms Namazie almost as they regard Mr Trump: as an ‘Islamophobe’. Student groups at several universities, including the University of Warwick and Trinity College Dublin, have attempted to stop her from speaking on campus.
Last month, the Islamic Society at Goldsmith’s College, part of the University of London, objected to Ms Namazie’s speaking there on the grounds that it would be a ‘violation of our safe space‘, creating ‘a climate of hatred and bigotry towards Muslim students’. When the meeting went ahead, members of the Islamic Society attempted to disrupt Ms Namazie’s talk, and were accused of making death threats. The college’s Feminist and LGBT Societies expressed their solidarity — not with Ms Namazie, but with the Islamic Society, claiming that ‘hosting known Islamophobes at our university creates a climate of hatred’.
All this reveals the odd relationship that many on the left have with Islam. They view all Muslims as helpless victims, and regard any criticism of Islam as a form of bigotry. A columnist for the Guardian, David Shariatmadari, called the attempts to muzzle Ms. Namazie ‘reasonable’ because ‘we don’t want to have any part in the further stigmatisation of Islam’. Some academics disdainfully dismiss liberal Muslim critics of Islam as ‘native informants’ — defined by one academic as ‘insiders’ who ‘air the dirty laundry of Muslim communities’.
Read the full article in the International New York Times.
I think you are missing an extremely important point: Power! The access of Muslims to be able to publicly state there ideas are so limited in the “West” that it is just a jock to talk about freedom of speech… All these Islamophobes or the re branded version so-called Islam critiques are freely publish any martial that they want in all possible media that you can think of! Do you think any body in Muslim community in “the West” can achieve 5% of their publicity? Even the protest against NAMAZIE become a platform to attack Islam in all Western media….
I agree with comments by Farzad. Challenging and to debate the bigotry in free speech is great idea if there is level field. If one side has all the power of media, the other side stands no chance and will be demonized to the point of unrecognizable. At this point any Muslim in the West, regardless whether he/she is moderate , atheist or activist like Namazee, is a suspected terrorist. That is the power of one sided media and perhaps collateral damage of unchecked free speech?
Do religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities in the Muslim world have equal access to the media as well (or, for that matter, to anything, really)? Could Maryam Namazie say what she wants to say in Iran? Could Ayaan Hirsi Ali in Somalia? Could Malala in Pakistan? Could those bloggers in Bangladesh? Could a gay man like myself in my native country, Malaysia, where the former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, is currently serving his second prison sentence for sodomy? Could the Copts in Egypt, the Kurds in Turkey, the Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia, the Ahmadis in virtually everywhere? Could you two please get a clue or must I continue?
I think we are talking about “the WEST”!
There are “western” Muslims that they never experienced any suppressive life in these countries that you name… The point that they are being marginalised in our society because of crimes in other part of the world!
I really enjoy most of your writing and the quest for understanding a complexity in politics but I think this article is depressing…
Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, also has a lot of POWER and people would do well to remember it. Power to indoctrinate the young both within the family, the local community and in the ‘faith schools’ funded by tax payers in the UK for example. There are different kinds of power – and while it is of course true that the right wing media has power which it abuses – demonising muslims – and democratic left-wing politicians etc. – that doesn’t mean that free speech should be shut down in order to create ‘safe spaces’ on campus. There must be a clear distinction between criticising ideas and believes such as Islam/Christianity/Judaism/Socialism/Capitalism (valid – and necessary) and insulting/demonising groups of people (unacceptable).
I agree the free speech is paramount but one should also realize that it can be easily manipulated, bought, and abused, especially by populist,demagogue leaders.- and it does not necessarily give the same voice to the victims of onslaught. Many times economics dictates what opinions or stories sell to generate revenues for the shareholders.
No, I believe we’re talking perspective: how criticism is emphatically not the same as discrimination; and how discrimination suffered by minorities in the Muslim world is demonstrably worse than that suffered by Muslims in the West.
This was a great article. This needed to be said.
Ra makes the point well – and I’m afraid that Fayyaz and Farzad are massively missing it (Kenan Malik’s point that is)
Yes – much of the Western media (and increasingly its right wing politicians) is nasty, right wing and Islamophobic. Yes – we need to beware of demonising Muslims as a people and as a group. Yes – in some non-Muslim majority countries there are patterns of socio-economic deprivation among immigrant groups of Muslim heritage (e.g. Pakistani in Britain or North African in France) – But no – that doesn’t mean that Islam in all it’s varieties as a belief system should be immune from investigation and criticism – anymore that Christianity, Judaism, or ‘Jedi-ism’ for that matter.
I am not questioning the right to offend or criticize the religion, including Islam. But I am questioning whether in the West everyone has plain field for freedom of speech. I am not discussing Muslim countries, which is a separate topic and has its own dynamics. Mr. Kenan has repeatedly argued that freedom of speech and right to offend also helps minority because they not only can respond and argue against criticism but also express their grievances. It all sounds good, but in reality freedom of speech has become a commodity and only those voices and opinions are heard loudly and repeatedly that attracts readers and generates revenues. Trump‘s views are bonanza for media rating and that is what is mostly heard on airways and everything else is drowned out.
Trump is a one-of-a-kind Republican front-runner; of course he is “what is mostly heard on airways and everything else is drowned out.” The same thing happened eight years ago as well, with Obama. Again, perspective, please. You said, “At this point any Muslim in the West, regardless whether he/she is moderate , atheist or activist like Namazee, is a suspected terrorist.” Um, no. Just no. I’m a Muslim, too. I walk down the streets just fine. And so does my mother who wears the headscarf, and my girl friends who do so. On the other hand, try being openly gay while in virtually any of the Muslim countries. I have the scars to prove it, and so do countless others like me. And yet while violence against minorities is a crime in much of the West, gay bashing is a virtue in much of the Muslim world, where it’s not even recorded as a crime by the government, much less reported as such by the media. Again, perspective. Personally, I would have had a lot more sympathy for your position had you not said, “That is the power of one sided media and perhaps collateral damage of unchecked free speech?” Because I’m a Muslim, too, remember? I know that’s code for no free speech. You know that’s code for no free speech. So, who are you kidding?
Mr. Obama was hot in media in 2008 because that was the hot story and giving high rating. It was not for the love of Obama or his ideas. Now Trump, complete opposite of Obama in demeanor and ideas, is a hot story and generates revenues. It is the revenues and money that dictates what should be the front page story, fill the airways and what Ideas deserve freedom of speech.
It is a serious issue and on one is kidding. There is no need for throw away lines like “Who are you kidding? “to buttress the comments.
I am also not questioning the right to criticize religions. But I think over last decides we have learned that any critics need to be happen in a dialogue and solve the difficult problem of making a discourse to be able to talk. I am unaware of any media outlet in the “WEST” that try to build a dialogue within the “Westerns” context. In such a environment talking about freedom of speech is meaningless! In such a environment the line between critics, bashing and phobia is certainly not visible any more and it is become all about the power not the freedom -of speech!
By the way, I am only talking about the situation in the so-called west and I have no idea to go beyond this…
Trigger warning: inconvenient truth ahead.
No, Farzad. What’s meaningless is your overblown sense of victimhood and paranoia, and what you want is neither discourse nor criticism but a safe space — a Dar al-Salam of sorts — as evidenced by your own admission, “this article is depressing.” That Trump has been virtually universally panned by the Western media, both big and small, from The New York Times to the late night shows, should have sufficed to assure people like you that those media outlets do, in fact, exist. Even that renowned “Islamophobe” Bill Maher of HBO has condemned him. What more do you want?
Thanks for the inconvenient truth.
As for your family and friend’s experience- I would say that God bless them and the neighborhood they live in.
You repeatedly talk about ‘perspective’. It is true that minorities and openly gay are discriminated a lot worse in the Muslim countries. Does this mean that Muslims in the West should stay quiet about Islamophobia and Mr. Trump’s views because Muslim countries are worse? Does two wrongs make it right? Are the Muslims at large in the west responsible for what is happening in the Muslim countries and take blame for discrimination in Muslim countries? How this ‘perspective’ is different than Trump’s views who holds all Muslims responsible ?
The argument of ‘victim-hood’ is an old worn out argument used commonly to shut out the dissent and is no different than the perspective argument.
When has anyone ever said “that Muslims in the West should stay quiet about Islamophobia and Mr. Trump’s views because Muslim countries are worse?” Did Maryam Namazie say that? Did Kenan say that? Did I say that? On the contrary, the opposite is true. As Kenan has pointed out in his article, increasingly it is Muslims in the West (and their well-meaning allies) who are trying to silence critics of Islam by using Islamophobes like Trump as cover. You want to denounce Trump and the likes of him? Go ahead. I do, too! But you see, I’m a grad student. I’ve studied in London and New York, and I’ve been to various Western universities in between. I’ve seen for myself how infuriatingly uncommon these things have become on college campuses. Nobody is even remotely suggesting that Muslims in the West are largely to blame for what’s going on in the Muslim world, but when people like Namazie who speak up precisely about that very subject are intimidated and prevented from doing so, and when Muslims like you just can’t seem to tell the difference between people like her and people like Trump, then it becomes immediately obvious who here is trying to shut out dissent. In other words, when Muslims like you would keep crying wolf — as you should when you see one — and yet you would prevent others from doing the same when they see one, then it becomes morally necessary for me to insert some perspective into the discourse. Of course two wrongs don’t make a right, but if all you see is one wrong to the exclusion of the other, then you are not right, either. Hence, perspective. That is all. Thank you.
I may not agree with some of your thoughts but thanks for your insights. Good luck with your studies.
Ra – You might enjoy this blog post.
View at Medium.com
Correction: infuriatingly common — which, for some of us, Jon-Erik, started a long time ago. E.g. http://voiceofdharma.org/books/foe/ch28.htm (the original link is inaccessible for some reason); follow-up: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/islams-unofficial-clergy-are-not-people-of-the-book-but-slaves-of-the-book-all-has-been-surrendered-not-to-god-but-to-a-text-and-it-is-a-text-that-is-gang-raped-to-yield-whatever-ephemeral-slogan-t/105904.article
Thank you for sharing!