Pandaemonium

AFTER THE SATANIC VERSES

The Satanic Verses cover

This essay, on the legacy of the controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses, was my Observer column this week.   (The column included also a short piece on a call to halt the housing of asylum seekers in Sunderland). It was published in the Observer, 30 September 2018, under the headline ‘The Satanic Verses sowed the seeds of rifts that have grown ever wider’.


Thirty years ago last week, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was published. Rushdie was then perhaps the most celebrated British novelist of his generation. His new novel, five years in the making, had been expected to set the world alight, though not quite in the way that it did.

The novel was, Rushdie suggested, both about ‘migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death’ and ‘a serious attempt to write about religion and revelation from the point of view of a secular person’. At its heart was a clash of race, religion and identity that, ironically, prophesied the controversy that engulfed the novel and still shapes our lives today.

Within a month, The Satanic Verses had been banned in Rushdie’s native India. By the end of the year, protesters had burned a copy of the novel on the streets of Bolton. Then, on Valentine’s Day 1989, came the event that transformed the controversy – Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

The affair marked a watershed in British political and cultural life. There had long been conflicts between minority communities and the state, from the Notting Hill riots of the 1950s to the Grunwick dispute in 1977, to the inner-city disturbances of the 1980s. These were in the main political conflicts, workplace struggles or issues of law and order.

The Rushdie affair was different. Muslim fury seemed driven not by questions of harassment, discrimination or poverty, but by a sense that their deepest beliefs had been offended. Today, such grievance is entrenched in the cultural landscape. Not so in 1988.

The publisher’s response also seems from a different age. The fatwa forced Rushdie into hiding for a decade. Bookshops were firebombed. Translators and publishers were murdered. Yet Penguin never wavered in its commitment to The Satanic Verses. Today, all it takes to make publishers think again is the slightest hint that they might have given offence.

Rushdie’s critics lost the battle, but won the war. The Satanic Verses continues to be published. Yet the argument that it is morally wrong to offend other peoples and cultures has become widely accepted in the three decades since. The fatwa has, in effect, become internalised.

The Rushdie affair was an early expression of what we now call ‘identity politics’. Back in the 1980s, there was no such thing as the ‘Muslim community’. Britons of a Muslim background growing up in the 1970s and 80s called themselves Asian or black, rarely Muslim. The Rushdie affair gave notice of a shift in self-perception and of the beginnings of a distinctive Muslim identity.

Many anti-Rushdie campaigners were not religious, let alone ‘fundamentalist’, but young, leftwing activists. Some had been my friends and some friendships foundered as we took opposite sides in the controversy.

They were drawn to the anti-Rushdie campaign partly because of disenchantment with the left and its failure to take racism seriously, and partly because the left itself was abandoning its attachment to universalist values in favour of identity politics, easing the path of many young, secular Asians towards an alternative worldview.

That path was eased by official policy. Faced with secular militancy on the streets, policymakers – at both local and national level – often turned to religious leaders to act as conservative bulwarks, giving them new credibility. Secular Muslims came to be seen as betraying their culture (they belonged to the ‘white left’) while radical Islam became not just more acceptable but, to many, more authentic.

Some defenders of Rushdie began wrapping their arguments in the language of identity, too, questioning the very presence of Muslims as being incompatible with ‘western values’. In the 1990s, the US political scientist Samuel Huntington popularised the term ‘the clash of civilisations’, a notion that increasingly gained a hearing in liberal circles, particularly in the wake of 9/11. Many came to defend free speech and secularism and Enlightenment ideals not as universal values but as uniquely ‘Western’ products; more as tribal weapons in the clash of civilisations than as means of advancing political rights and social justice. It’s a world view that, ironically, mirrors that of the Islamists.

The controversy over The Satanic Verses brought into focus issues that have since become defining problems of the age – the nature of Islam, the meaning of multiculturalism, the boundaries of tolerance in a liberal society and the limits of free speech in a plural world. That, 30 years on, we still blindly wrestle with these issues reveals how little we have learned from the Rushdie affair. And how the lessons we have learned have often been the wrong ones.


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The new updated version of the seminal book
on the Rushdie affair and its legacy

from-fatwa-to-jihad-new-edition

‘A riveting political history… Impeccably researched, brimming with detail, yet razor-sharp in its argument.’
Lisa Appignanesi, Independent

‘Few writers have untangled the paradoxes and unintended consequences of political Islam as deftly as Malik does here.’
Maureen Freely, Washington Post

‘The great appeal of From Fatwa to Jihad is its pitiless observation… which raises it above the easy standards of one-sided polemic. No one gets away.’
Faisal Gazi, Guardian

15 comments

  1. Derek John

    Did the Left’s abandonment of universalist for the sake of identity politics, trigger the rise of the latter amongst minority ‘Asian’ and ‘African’ youth in Britain, or were both a reaction to groups being made targets of the scapegoating Right whilst the Right was simultaneously crushing notions of universalism with great success? Policies of the Right were driving the agenda throughout the 1980’s and onwards. The Left, virtually in tatters, was struggling to respond. That was the context of the rise of identity politics. Apportion blame widely by all means, but in truth the Left was unable to fuel its own rise, let alone that of any ‘Muslim’ identity. Society was being shaped by the Right. The Left’s failure, albeit an understandable one, was to lose faith in itself.

  2. Just in case this is of interest.

    The literature on self-censorship has recently been expanding, yet this literature has almost exclusively focused on whether certain people are more likely to self-censor than others, what contexts are likely to increase the likelihood of self-censorship, and how people react to feeling like their ability to express their views is restricted (e.g., here). The present research however, proposes that the active censorship of others’ views and opinions is also an important individual difference variable.

    Importantly, Tsfati & Dvir-Gvirsman found that a belief in the importance of silencing others can coexist with support for democratic norms, such as free speech, and is not necessarily related to support for government censorship. This suggests that citizens may recognize the importance of free speech rights, and support them in most contexts, but may also consider it their personal responsibility, not the government’s, to silence certain views — and explain why others should refrain from expressing them.
    https://heterodoxacademy.org/silencing-fellow-citizens/

  3. Cable Strada

    Sadly, I think you are woefully misguided on this topic, Kenan. I have argued with white racists about Rushdie and Charlie Hebdo. Of course, I’ve had to tell some of them who Rushdie is and what he wrote. And some of them managed to miss the CH murders too.

    But once they understand the back-stories and the opposing sides, without exception they support “free speech” for Rushdie and for CH. And I’m sure you’ll find Trump, Salvini, Le Pen, Orban, Kurz et al fully in support of that “free speech” too.

    When white racists are on one side and the vast bulk of the Muslim / BAME community are on the other, I and countless other progressives know at once who we need to stand with. “Free speech” has been weaponized by the right and the consequences are visible everywhere from Trump’s America to Salvini’s Italy to Orban’s Hungary.

    • To be honest, I’m not sure what point it is that you’re making here. Are you suggesting that to oppose racists, one should have opposed the publication of The Satanic Verses or called for it to be banned? What other books would you like banned because white racists might like them too?

      There are hundreds or thousands, within Muslim communities in the West and in Muslim majority countries, challenging religious-based reactionary ideas and policies and institutions; writers, cartoonists, political activists, daily putting their lives on the line in facing down blasphemy laws, standing up for equal rights and fighting for democratic freedoms; people like Ayaz Nizami, the Pakistani blogger facing a death sentence for allegedly translating materials critical of Islam, or Asif Mohiuddin, Ahmed Rajib Haider, Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das, Niloy Chakroborty, Faisal Arefin Dipan and Shahjahan Bachchu, all Bangladeshi bloggers or writers murdered in the past five years for their freethinking, or Raif Badawi, the Saudi dissident sentenced to ten years imprisonment and 10,000 lashes for ‘insulting Islam’, or Soheil Arabi, the Iranian blogger sentenced to death (a sentence later commuted) for ‘insulting the Prophet’. Are they all also ‘woefully misguided’? Or perhaps they should give up their struggles against religious obscurantism, and for free speech and equal rights for women and gays, in case Western liberals accuse them of lining up with ‘white racists’? Or do you simply want to ignore them because they don’t fit in with your image of what those from the Muslim / BAME community should believe?

      Yes, free speech has been weaponized by the right. The right has been able to do that because so-called ‘progressives’ have abandoned their commitment to free speech. In so doing they have both betrayed those within Muslim communities fighting for progressive change and opened the door for the right and the far-right to posture as martyrs to free speech.

      • This is such a difficult topic. In the US currently, if as an anti right winger you try to engage with a right winger and say what you think, you find yourselves devolving into a (hopefully) verbal fight, or one side or the other will just shut up and leave. It doesn’t seem very useful to speak what you think out loud with an awful lot of people.

      • Cable Strada

        I haven’t claimed, and I would never claim, that Muslims and other BAME communities are monolithic. However, white racists ARE monolithic on whether Rushdie and CH should be free to antagonize and offend Muslims. White racists are also monolithic on whether “scientists” like James Watson should be allowed to say BAME folk are genetically inferior to whites. They wholly support Watson’s “free speech”.

        *** Are you suggesting that to oppose racists, one should have opposed the publication of The Satanic Verses or called for it to be banned? ***

        No, I’m not “suggesting” that: I’m affirming it. If 100% of racists support something and the majority of BAME folk oppose it, progressives must side with the BAME folk. Particularly when it’s obvious that The Satanic Verses and the rhetoric of CH do not advance the cause of secularism and progress. I’m a Marxist. If someone wants to persuade me that I’m mistaken and Marxism is wrong, fine: let them produce their facts and their arguments. But if they write a novel portraying Marx’s wife and daughters as prostitutes, that’s not an argument, that’s an evasion of argument. Ditto a cartoon of Marx flashing his asshole. I would react with contempt, not with violence, but I regard Marx as an intellectual lodestar, not as a holy figure and as a member of my family.

        Muslims, however, do regard Muhammad as a holy figure and as a member of their families. Rushdie knew that before he portrayed Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes. And let’s not muddy the water by talking about “satire”, “postmodern irony”, “literary merit” and Rushdie’s own BAME status. You would support an unironic and badly written portrayal of Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes by a confirmed white supremacist, wouldn’t you? Rushdie’s intentions are beside the point, because it is entirely understandable that Muslims feel insulted and threatened by the association of their Prophet’s life with prostitution (and necrophilia, FFS!). After all, what agenda was / is Rushdie serving? A racism-friendly Islamophobic agenda. And who did we find 100% in support of Rushdie? The bourgeois neo-con Christopher Hitchens, cheerleader for Bush 2 and the Iraq War.

        *** What other books would you like banned because white racists might like them too? ***

        For starters: Mein Kampf, The Turner Diaries, The Bell Curve. Racism, fascism and pseudo-science have no place in any decent society. There’s a simple test: Do racists like it? Then it’s bad for society and it should be sent where it belongs.

        • Lordy, talk about giving Marxism a bad name. Three questions for you (actually, I have dozens but three will do for now):

          1. All those within Muslim communities, and in Muslim-majority countries, fighting for secularism, and for the equal treatment of women and gays, and who supported Rushdie and his right to publish – presumably you’d just throw them under the bus? You’d prefer siding with the Khomeinis of this world (who, of course, are not known for their racism, bigotry and reactionary views)?

          2. Who gets to decide which books are banned? After all many people, including many within BAME/Mulsim communities, would ban Marx’s works. So, that’s fine with you? Or is it only you who gets to be the arbiter of what gets censored?

          3. Many far-right politicians and organizations throughout Europe – Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Netherlands, for instance, for instance, or the Front National Marine Le Pen in France – make a big issue of gay rights as a way of demonizing Muslims. It is, of course, as absurd as their support for free speech. But, presumably, since racists support gay rights, you would abandon any attachment to equal treatment of gays (‘Do racists like it? Then it must be bad for society’)?

        • damon

          Really bad opinions there in my opinion. What are you going on about “100% of racists” for?
          What does it even mean? Racism comes in many shades and grades. It’s pretty universal around the world and has been as long as humans have existed. Most often in forms of prejudice against other groups and tribes. One can’t be too lofty and high and mighty about the issue, otherwise you can come across as basically anti-human.

          You sound like you would support blasphemy laws to protect the feelings of people who take religion very seriously. As if people’s religious fantasies are so fragile that they need laws to protect them from ridicule. Like they do in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. That’s not very progressive.

          With your “100% of racists” idea, you probably think that countries and their people should not have the right to limit immigration or decide who they want to live with them.
          As for Mein Kampf, I’ve never read it, but have been meaning to have a look at it one day.
          But you think I shouldn’t be allowed to. Probably because you don’t have much faith in people to be able to read such stuff without being persuaded by it.

        • Cable Strada

          I will happily answer your questions, but I notice you didn’t answer mine: “You would support an unironic and badly written portrayal of Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes by a confirmed white supremacist, wouldn’t you?”

          *** Three questions for you (actually, I have dozens but three will do for now) ***

          If you direct those questions to the Muslim community and BAME folk, you will generally get the same answers as I supply. If whites had been unable to vote in the last election, the UK would now have a government headed by Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. That government would be fully committed to strengthening the protections afforded by law to women and to all vulnerable minorities, including Muslims. Vulnerable minorities support Labour because Labour wants to protect them. “Free speech” does not protect vulnerable minorities. If it did, Muslims and BAME folk would vote for parties that support “free speech”. Labour doesn’t — and quite rightly.

          *** 1. All those within Muslim communities, and in Muslim-majority countries, fighting for secularism, and for the equal treatment of women and gays, and who supported Rushdie and his right to publish – presumably you’d just throw them under the bus? You’d prefer siding with the Khomeinis of this world (who, of course, are not known for their racism, bigotry and reactionary views)? ***

          No, it’s YOU who are throwing them under the bus, not me. As I said, Rushdie has portrayed Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes, one of whom provided services for necrophilia fetishists. Under the title “A Star Is Born!”, Charlie Hebdo has published a “cartoon” of a naked Muhammad bending over and displaying his genitals, with a star over his asshole. (BTW: Am I right to say that you’d support CH if they’d portrayed Muhammad having sexual relations with a pig? Yes?)

          Now, who exactly is empowered within Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and another reactionary Muslim-majority states by the “art” of Rushdie and CH?

          1. The “Khomeinis of this world”, who can point to it as glaring examples of the Islamophobia, decadence, sexual perversion and immorality of the west?
          2. Secularists and LGBTQ activists who want to persuade ordinary Muslims that they have a reasonable case and will respect Muslim sensitivities and the Muslim tradition?

          If you say 2, you obviously have no understanding of human nature, let alone of intra-Muslim politics. There’s an old saying: You catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar. But I’d say Rushdie and CH are supplying sulphuric acid, not vinegar.

          *** 2. Who gets to decide which books are banned? After all many people, including many within BAME/Mulsim communities, would ban Marx’s works. So, that’s fine with you? Or is it only you who gets to be the arbiter of what gets censored? ***

          Who has decided that hate-speech and child pornography have to be illegal in the UK? And that Holocaust denial has to be illegal in many European nations? It has been a majority consensus based on the clear harm that is done by material like that. And the protection of anti-hate laws has expanded over time, thanks to the hard work of BAME communities and anti-racists. If a senior Tory politician today made a speech echoing the sentiments of Enoch Powell, he (and it would be a he) would not escape prosecution and imprisonment as Powell did.

          Such a politician would also be under physical threat from Britain’s BAME communities, who now have the numbers and the geographic spread to assert themselves in self-defence in ways that were not possible in Powell’s time. Violence is not the ideal solution and I think the shootings at Charlie Hebdo were wrong. However, wrong does not mean inexplicable. If France had extended the same protection to the Muslim community as it already extends, through its Holocaust-denial ban, to the Jewish community, there would have been no loss of life at Charlie Hebdo, because its writers would have kept within the law and refrained from Islamophobia and racism. We have to remove that double standard, which is clear proof that Muslims are second-class citizens.

          *** 3. Many far-right politicians and organizations throughout Europe – Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Netherlands, for instance, for instance, or the Front National Marine Le Pen in France – make a big issue of gay rights as a way of demonizing Muslims. It is, of course, as absurd as their support for free speech. But, presumably, since racists support gay rights, you would abandon any attachment to equal treatment of gays (‘Do racists like it? Then it must be bad for society’)? ***

          But you answer the question yourself! As you point out, this pro-LGBTQ rhetoric from the far right is clearly absurd. The vast majority of LGBTQ folk abhor Wilders and Le Pen, and stand in solidarity with the Muslim community and BAME folk. So my test works perfectly: Do racists like gay rights? No, they don’t, and LGBTQ folk are not fooled when racists claim otherwise.

        • If you direct those questions to the Muslim community and BAME folk, you will generally get the same answers as I supply.

          It’s amusing how you continually speak on behalf ‘the Muslim community and BAME folk’. What you’re actually doing is using ‘the Muslim community and BAME folk’ as a kind of stage army, to try to justify arguments that cannot stand up on their own.

          If whites had been unable to vote in the last election, the UK would now have a government headed by Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott.

          It’s good to see a Marxist dismissing all white people, including the ‘white’ working class.

          “Free speech” does not protect vulnerable minorities.

          And I suppose censorship does? Like the use of the incitement to racial hatred clause of the 1965 Race Relations Act – the first such law in Britain – to imprison Black Power Leader Michael X and to convict four members of the Universal Coloured Peoples’ Association for ‘stirring up hatred’ against white people at Speakers’ Corner? Or like the use in 2007 of a newer version of that same law to imprison Muslim protestors against the Danish cartoons for up to 6 years for ‘inciting racial hatred’? Or like the use of the Public Order Act (originally ostensibly targeted at Moseley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s) to indict anti-fascists and striking miners in the 1970s and 1980s? Or like the use anti-hate speech laws in France to target BDS supporters? And so on. For a supposed Marxist, you have a touching faith in the machinery of state oppression.

          As it happens, nobody needs free speech more than minorities and those fighting injustice. Censorship is a weapon wielded by the rich and powerful – those with the power to use censorship and the need to do so – to try to silence critics. Free speech is a necessity for those without power but with the need to make their voices heard.

          No, it’s YOU who are throwing them under the bus, not me. As I said, Rushdie has portrayed Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes, one of whom provided services for necrophilia fetishists. Under the title “A Star Is Born!”, Charlie Hebdo has published a “cartoon” of a naked Muhammad bending over and displaying his genitals, with a star over his asshole.

          What a weird, Alice-through-the-looking-glass argument. Those in Muslim-majority countries putting their lives on the line by fighting for secularism, free speech and equal rights, supported Rushdie. They did so because they recognize the importance of free speech to any struggle for freedom, and because they recognize, too, that lining up with the religious reactionaries is a death sentence both to them and their struggles.

          And then you come along, line up with the religious reactionaries because you don’t like the fact that ‘Rushdie has portrayed Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes’, and still refuse to acknowledge that what you’re really doing is betraying those fighting for secularism, equal rights and, yes free speech. Your argument is not simply weird, it’s contemptible.

          Now, who exactly is empowered within Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and another reactionary Muslim-majority states by the “art” of Rushdie and CH?

          And who exactly is empowered by censorship and support for state repression? Perhaps those actually fighting for rights and freedoms against those reactionary states, and who support Rushdie and the right to offend religion, understand what it takes to challenge such reaction a little bit more than you do.

          The “Khomeinis of this world”, who can point to it as glaring examples of the Islamophobia, decadence, sexual perversion and immorality of the west?

          Lordy, a supposed Marxist sympathising with Khomeinist ideas of ‘decadence, sexual perversion and immorality of the west’. As for the Khomeinis of this world whipping resentment of Islamophobia, Western liberals who pretend that ridicule of Islam amounts to Islamophobia have more than played their part in making that possible.

          Who has decided that hate-speech and child pornography have to be illegal in the UK? And that Holocaust denial has to be illegal in many European nations? It has been a majority consensus based on the clear harm that is done by material like that. And the protection of anti-hate laws has expanded over time, thanks to the hard work of BAME communities and anti-racists. If a senior Tory politician today made a speech echoing the sentiments of Enoch Powell, he (and it would be a he) would not escape prosecution and imprisonment as Powell did.

          The decade after Britain’s first racial incitement laws was probably the most racist of the postwar period. It was not hate speech laws but social movements and black and Asian struggles that transformed the social landscape. In both Britain and France the hate speech laws you celebrate have been used to target Muslims and other minority groups.

          As for book-bans being decided by ‘a majority consensus’, suppose the majority of people in the Netherlands agree with Geert Wilders’ demand that the Qur’an be banned because it is ‘hate speech’, you’d be OK with that?

          Violence is not the ideal solution and I think the shootings at Charlie Hebdo were wrong.

          We’re talking here about Islamist gunmen – supporters of Islamic State – committing mass murder. That same day as the Kouachi brothers targeted Charlie Hebdo, another gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, working in concert with the Kouachis, attacked a Jewish supermarket simply because it was Jewish, killing four and taking 15 others hostage. Such jihadi gunmen slaughter Muslims by the thousands throughout the Middle East and in many parts of Africa and Asia, and commit the most barbaric of atrocities. The same kind of gunmen who ten months after the Charlie Hebdo killings went on a rampage through Paris, killing 130 people and injuring another 368.

          You are rendered apoplectic by Rushdie portraying Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes. But all you can say about Islamist mass slaughter is ‘Violence is not the ideal solution and I think the shootings at Charlie Hebdo were wrong’? Are you for real?

          But you answer the question yourself! As you point out, this pro-LGBTQ rhetoric from the far right is clearly absurd.

          The far-right’s support for free speech is equally absurd. So that’s a meaningless response. My values are not dictated by what the far right think. They are dictated by what is necessary to create a more equal, free and just world. That’s why I support gay rights. And that’s also why I support free speech.

          As for what I kind of speech I think should be permissible: all speech should be permissible short of incitement to violence. Here’s some reading: Out of bounds. Why hate speech should not be banned. Charlie Hebdo, one year on. Rethinking the challenge of anti-Muslim bigotry.

        • Cable Strada

          You know, Kenan, I admire the directness and lack of pretension in your writing. We Marxists are sadly inclined to go to the opposite extreme (Richard Seymour, anyone?). And, of course, I’m with you 100% in wanting an end to border controls and to other manifestations of state racism. So it’s disappointing that you keep putting words in my mouth and wilfully misinterpreting what I say.

          It’s also disappointing that you won’t give a simple “yes” to these questions:

          * You would support an unironic and badly written portrayal of Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes by a confirmed white supremacist, wouldn’t you?
          * Am I right to say that you’d support CH if they’d portrayed Muhammad having sexual relations with a pig?

          Here are my responses:

          *** It’s amusing how you continually speak on behalf ‘the Muslim community and BAME folk’. What you’re actually doing is using ‘the Muslim community and BAME folk’ as a kind of stage army, to try to justify arguments that cannot stand up on their own. ***

          I have never spoken on behalf of anyone but myself. What I said about BAME support for the Labour party is factual, not a personal opinion. But if you do want people speaking of behalf of the Muslim community and BAME folk, you know where to go. You also know that they side with me, not with bourgeois, “free-speech”-fetishizing folk like Christopher Hitchens.

          And need I remind you of what Bernie Grant said about the Satanic Verses controversy at the time? “Burning books is not a big issue for blacks.” Grant was right: it isn’t. The Black community had and have rather more urgent matters to deal with, such as racism and the “hostile environment”.

          And need I remind you of Keith Vaz first offering his support to Rushdie, then leading a pro-censorship march by Muslims in Leicester that he described “one of the great days in the history of Islam and Great Britain”?

          Please note, before you accuse me of being a fan of Keith: No, I’m not.

          But Vaz was doing what a good MP should do, namely, representing his constituents’ views. And those views were pro-censorship, weren’t they? Actual, live, autonomous Muslims in Leicester wanted Rushdie’s Islamophobia banned. And so do actual, live, autonomous Muslims everywhere else in Britain, after decades during which they have had ample time to evaluate and reject the fetishization of “free speech” offered by you and others.

          *** If whites had been unable to vote in the last election, the UK would now have a government headed by Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. It’s good to see a Marxist dismissing all white people, including the ‘white’ working class. ***

          Again you put words in my mouth. I don’t dismiss anyone or anything. I merely point out a clear fact that you, just as clearly, don’t want to engage with: that the majority of the Muslim and BAME community do not believe in “free speech”. I can just as easily say that if only white university graduates or LGBTQ whites had been able to vote in the election, we would now have a Corbyn-Abbott government. Those folk don’t believe in “free speech” either.

          *** “Free speech” does not protect vulnerable minorities. And I suppose censorship does? ***

          Of course censorship protects vulnerable minorities! Why else do the Muslim community and BAME folk give their votes overwhelmingly to the Labour party? Plainly, it’s not me “dismissing” any group: it’s you. You seem to think that the Muslim community and BAME folk are too stupid or ignorant to know what is in their own best interests.

          *** For a supposed Marxist, you have a touching faith in the machinery of state oppression. ***

          No, I have a “touching faith” in the ability of vulnerable minorities to know what is in their own best interests. If the BAME and LGBTQ communities were calling for a British “First Amendment”, I would back them. They aren’t. Instead, they are voting for Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, both of whom are firmly committed to strengthening the laws that protect vulnerable minorities from hate-speech.

          *** As it happens, nobody needs free speech more than minorities and those fighting injustice. Censorship is a weapon wielded by the rich and powerful – those with the power to use censorship and the need to do so – to try to silence critics. Free speech is a necessity for those without power but with the need to make their voices heard. ***

          Then please explain why the BAME and LGBTQ communities want more “censorship” and vote for the party that will deliver it. Are they too stupid and ignorant to know their own best interests?

          *** The “Khomeinis of this world”, who can point to it as glaring examples of the Islamophobia, decadence, sexual perversion and immorality of the west? Lordy, a supposed Marxist sympathising with Khomeinist ideas of ‘decadence, sexual perversion and immorality of the west’. ***

          I would have thought an admirer of Rushdie would be more sophisticated in his textual analysis than that. I’m not supporting “Khomeinist ideas”: I’m pointing how Rushdie and CH play into the hands of Muslim reactionaries. I described things as a Khomeinist might describe them. But yeah, I do regard necrophilia as a sexual perversion. Do you? Do you think ordinary Muslims will be more or less inclined to give secularist arguments a fair hearing when said arguments come with a side-order of Muhammad’s-wife-as-necrophilia-whore and asshole-flashing?

          That’s a serious question, btw, and I’d love to have your answer to it.

          *** As for the Khomeinis of this world whipping resentment of Islamophobia, Western liberals who pretend that ridicule of Islam amounts to Islamophobia have more than played their part in making that possible. ***

          The majority of ordinary Muslims agree with those “western liberals”. Are the ordinary Muslims “pretending” too?

          *** The decade after Britain’s first racial incitement laws was probably the most racist of the postwar period. ***

          I see. If someone has a severe fever and is injected with drugs, the drugs must work immediately or we can conclude that they play no part in the patient’s subsequent recovery. Your point is ridiculous. It is precisely because racism was so bad that the hate speech laws were needed. The body politic was diseased. It was injected with drugs in the form of anti-hate legislation. The disease did not vanish immediately and no serious political observer would expect that it should have done so. Indeed, the disease is still here and still virulent.

          *** It was not hate speech laws but social movements and black and Asian struggles that transformed the social landscape. ***

          As you are well aware, the hate speech laws were the fruit of “social movements and black and Asian struggles”. BAME communities were fighting for equality and justice, not for “free speech”. It is neither equal nor just when the white majority is able to spew hatred at vulnerable majorities. Powell’s speech led directly to violence and murder. If some Tory scum-bag tried the same today, he would be prosecuted and jailed. The Muslim community and BAME folk would applaud, not wring their hands over “censorship” and the “crushing” of “free speech”.

          *** In both Britain and France the hate speech laws you celebrate have been used to target Muslims and other minority groups. ***

          As you are well aware, Britain and France are both racist states with long histories of white supremacy and anti-BAME judicial corruption. Laws against terrorism have also been used to unjustly target Muslims. Does this mean we should have no laws against terrorism?

          *** As for book-bans being decided by ‘a majority consensus’, suppose the majority of people in the Netherlands agree with Geert Wilders’ demand that the Qur’an be banned because it is ‘hate speech’, you’d be OK with that? ***

          I’m a Marxist, not a majoritarian. Just as you do, I distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate majority consensuses.

          *** You are rendered apoplectic by Rushdie portraying Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes. But all you can say about Islamist mass slaughter is ‘Violence is not the ideal solution and I think the shootings at Charlie Hebdo were wrong’? Are you for real? ***

          I am for real and I am asking, for real, that you produce an example of my being “rendered apoplectic by Rushdie portraying Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes”. Rushdie is a fine writer who has abused his talent. In an ideal world, perhaps it would be possible for him to do that without harm. We don’t live in an ideal world.

          *** But you answer the question yourself! As you point out, this pro-LGBTQ rhetoric from the far right is clearly absurd. The far-right’s support for free speech is equally absurd. So that’s a meaningless response. ***

          It is not a meaningless response. You challenged my test for censorship — “Do racists like it?” — and I demonstrated that my test remained valid.

          *** My values are not dictated by what the far right think. ***

          True. Your values are dictated by a bourgeois fetishization of bogus “freedoms” that are neither recognized or supported by majorities within both the Muslim community and the wider BAME community.

          *** They are dictated by what is necessary to create a more equal, free and just world. That’s why I support gay rights. And that’s also why I support free speech. ***

          If “free speech” and gay rights were compatible, the LGBTQ community would not be voting so heavily for the Labour party. Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott also want “a more equal, free and just world”. The majority of British Muslims and BAME / LGBTQ folk are with Jeremy and Diane. How many are with you?

        • I have never spoken on behalf of anyone but myself. What I said about BAME support for the Labour party is factual, not a personal opinion.

          What I wrote was that ‘you’re… using ‘the Muslim community and BAME folk’ as a kind of stage army, to try to justify arguments that cannot stand up on their own.’ And that’s exactly what you do throughout this response. On almost every answer your one argument is that the Muslim community and BAME folk are against free speech too.

          You write also that you are ‘100% wanting an end to border controls’. Most within Muslim /BAME communities support controls. As does the Labour Party. So, presumably you must be wrong about controls? Or, to ask the question in your words, ‘Are the Muslim community and BAME folk too stupid and ignorant to know their own best interests?’

          Most within Muslim /BAME communities are not Marxists. So you will give up your Marxism? Again, ‘Are the Muslim community and BAME folk too stupid and ignorant to know their own best interests?’ Or does what Muslims and the BAME community think matter only when they agree with your viewpoint?

          Most people, white, Muslim, BAME, would disagree with my views on free speech. Just as most would disagree with my views on abortion, immigration and many other issues. That does not lead me, as you claim, to think that they ‘are too stupid or ignorant to know what is in their own best interests’. Rather, I acknowledge that on a host of issues I’m in a minority.

          At the same time, there are political differences within Muslim/BAME communities, as there are within all communities. I don’t see my job as simply accepting what the majority say on free speech, any more than I would accept the current majority view on abortion or immigration. My argument, whether on free speech, or immigration, or abortion, or gay rights, or sharia law, is not defined by what the majority in any community thinks, but what I believe to be right.

          Finally, you continually ignore the fact that those fighting for rights and justice, in the hardest of circumstances, supported Rushdie and support free speech. Perhaps you want to tell Ayaz Nizami, Asif Mohiuddin, Ahmed Rajib Haider, Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das, Niloy Chakroborty, Faisal Arefin Dipan, Shahjahan Bachchu, Raif Badawi, Soheil Arab, and thousands of others, that they’re ‘woefully misguided’ in the their support for free speech, and you know that because the majority of Muslim community and BAME folk in this country ‘are with Jeremy and Diane’?

          As you are well aware, Britain and France are both racist states with long histories of white supremacy and anti-BAME judicial corruption.

          It’s precisely because I’m aware that the state often acts against the interests of those fighting for equality and justice that I don’t want to give it greater powers of censorship. Once we give the state the power to censor what it considers unacceptable views, it’s not just racists but those fighting against racism and injustice that become the target. You, on the other hand, think that ‘Britain and France are both racist states with long histories of white supremacy and anti-BAME judicial corruption’ but seem quite happy to give it the powers to silence its critics, especially from minority communities.

          I’m a Marxist, not a majoritarian. Just as you do, I distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate majority consensuses.

          You’re the one who wrote about ‘a majority consensus’ being the basis for the introduction of censorship, not me. Perhaps you should pay more attention to what you yourself write. So, is your view that a majority consensus is legitimate if it wants to ban something that you also want to ban? But where you disagree with a ban, the majority consensus must be illegitimate?

          It is not a meaningless response. You challenged my test for censorship — “Do racists like it?” — and I demonstrated that my test remained valid.

          Actually, I pointed that many racists and racist organizations support gay rights as a means of demonizing Muslims. In which case, by your own ‘test’ you should oppose gay rights. But they don’t really mean it, was your response. But that’s true of their support for free speech, too. Either way you ludicrous test fails.

          It’s also disappointing that you won’t give a simple “yes” to these questions:
          * You would support an unironic and badly written portrayal of Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes by a confirmed white supremacist, wouldn’t you?
          * Am I right to say that you’d support CH if they’d portrayed Muhammad having sexual relations with a pig?

          What I wrote above was that ‘all speech should be permissible short of incitement to violence.’ Is that not clear enough?

          Your specific questions, however, are ill-formed because they confuse (either deliberately or because you don’t recognize the distinction) support for the right to something and support for a particular expression of something. I support the right to divorce. That does not mean that I think that everyone should get divorced or that every particular divorce is necessarily the wisest course that could have been taken. The same applies to free speech. To defend the right of X to speak freely is not the same as defending the wisdom of X using speech in a particular fashion, still less the same as defending the content of his or her speech. So, I support the right of anyone to write ‘an unironic and badly written portrayal of Muhammad’s wives as prostitutes’. But whether I support a particular instance depends upon the context. Since your questions are taken out of context, all I can say is that I support the right to such speech, though not necessarily support a particular expression of it.

        • Cable Strada

          Sorry — my own textual analysis was weak and I didn’t respond adequately to one of your points.

          *** The far-right’s support for free speech is equally absurd. So that’s a meaningless response. ***

          You’re perfectly correct: the far right do not believe in the universalist principle of free speech and would deny free speech to Marxists and the Muslim community. They would also deny free speech to Rushdie and Charlie Hebdo if they said something the far right didn’t like.

          However, the far right certainly believe in “free speech” for James Watson and for Islamophobes and racists. I know a tattooed gentleman who thinks that the Charlie Hedbo murders were good because they “showed them ****s [i.e., Muslims] up as f***ing savages”. It’s hard to keep a straight face, because the same gentleman is a football thug who has many tales of introducing “Y*ds” (1) and “Mickys” (2) to “Dr Marten and Mr Stanley” (3).

          1. Suppporters of Tottenham Hotspurs.
          2. Micky Mousers, i.e. Scousers, i.e. supporters of Everton and Liverpool.
          3. Dr Marten boots and Stanley knives.

  4. damon

    So thirty years ago in London, some white residents in Tower Hamlets were not keen on the expansion of the “Death to Rushdie” militants on to their council estates. Looking at the area today, it does seem that there is a great deal of separation between the Bangladeshi Muslim population and what’s left of the old white Cockney culture. Huge numbers of white people have left east London. For a variety of reasons I’m sure. Better housing may be one reason. But there is certainly some kind of British Apartheid going on there too I think.

    Places that have had Tower Hamlets levels of immigration are very different to places like Sunderland that have historically had much less. People should have a right to at least voice some opinion on how their society changes. But we have never bothered working out any ways of even having these conversations.
    Just look at the police incident in London that MP Diane Abbott spoke out about yesterday, when several police were trying to arrest a black man. Members of the public were shouting at the police as they struggled with the suspect. That is an example of how London’s “race relations” really are.
    A lot of black people will get involved if they see a black person getting arrested. Start demanding to know what is going on etc and shouting their disapproval – which makes the whole scene very tense and difficult.
    Diane Abbott is right about it being a racial issue. But in a different way to how she means it.
    I think it’s an example of our racial disharmony and of faultlines that run through diverse societies.

  5. damon

    I would just hope that Cable Strada (as in “Battle of Cable Street” I presume) would accept in good faith that there are people with equally passionate and legitimate views who completely disagree with him/her.

    I think that nearly every line he’s written on here so far has been rubbish and easily countered.
    And with lines like “if white people hadn’t been allowed to vote” I think it’s getting on for sectarianism and anti- white racism. Just imagine it being said the other way around.
    It’s almost like that ridiculous thing about “what would it be like if there was a 9pm curfew for men” that gained a lot of attention on twitter last week. Women would feel safer going out jogging late at night apparently.
    But it’s such a reactionary way of even jokingly putting ideas forward.
    Because I might say the same about giving curfews to all those teenage hoodie boys who commit a disproportionate amount of crime in London. The ones the police are always stopping and searching and getting called racist for doing so.

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