Maajid Nawaz is a British Pakistani, a Muslim, and also the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn who has managed to get himself into rather a lot of bother recently when after an appearance on The Big Questions TV series, he tweeted a Jesus and Mo cartoon. It was specifically the one that had been briefly banned by the London School of Economics in late 2013, and with it, typed … .”This is not offensive & I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.“. In fact, here is the tweet itself …
As a result of this very reasonable and rational stance, he received death threats, and also a campaign was launched to boot him out of the Lib Dems. In fact, to prove what a completely clueless gobshit he is, George Galloway, the Respect MP, called on Muslims, via a tweet, not to vote for the Liberal Democrats while Nawaz was one of their candidates.
Remember now, Mr Nawaz, is not insulting Muslims but rather is himself a Muslim, in this instance a rather reasonable one who directly confronts extremism. It fact, he is such a compelling and effective chap that Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the EDL quit that extreme rightwing group after meetings with Nawaz, here they are together …
So the latest update on all this is that there is a fabulous article that Mr Nawaz has written in the Guardian entitled “Why I’m speaking up for Islam against the loudmouths who have hijacked it“.
First he explains the background to it all …
On 12 January I participated in a BBC debate on human rights and religious rights. Two students were wearing T-shirts depicting a stick figure of Jesus saying “Hi” to a stick figure called Mo, who replied: “How you doin’?” Some Muslims, having just argued for their own right to veil, took issue with the students. I argued that just as Muslim women have the right to veil, atheists have the right to wear these T-shirts.
I am acutely aware of the populist sentiment in Britain that derides Muslims who seek special treatment for their sensibilities, so I tweeted the bland image and stated that, as a Muslim, I did not feel threatened by it. My God is greater than that.
By the time the week was up I had received death threats, the police were involved, and a petition set up by some conservative Muslims to have me dismissed as the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn had gained 20,000 signatures. Then a counter-petition went up in my support, and many liberals jumped to my defence. In other words, all hell broke loose. So why did I do it?
He then makes a very important key point …
My intention was not to speak for any Muslim but myself – rather, it was to defend my religion from those who have hijacked it just because they shout the loudest. My intention was to carve out a space to be heard without constantly fearing the blasphemy charge, on pain of death. I did it for Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was assassinated by his bodyguard for calling for a review of Pakistan’s colonial-era blasphemy laws; for Malala Yusafzai, the schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting an education; and for Muhammad Asghar, a mentally ill British man sentenced to death for “blasphemy” last week in Pakistan.
My intention was to demonstrate that Muslims are able to see things we don’t like, yet remain calm and pluralist, and to demonstrate that there are Muslims who care more about the thousands of deaths in Iraq, Pakistan and Syria than we do about what a student is wearing. My intention was to highlight that Muslims can engage in politics without insisting that our own religious values must trump all others’ concerns, and to stand before the mob so that other liberal Muslim voices that are seldom heard, women’s and men’s, could come to the fore.
Indeed yes, very much a big yes to all that.
People are of course free to be offended, but that’s it, that is all they get – a right to wallow in it (if they truly wish). What they do not get to do is to dictate to others in any way at all, nor do they get to use their offendedness as a tool to blackmail and dictate. If they don’t like what he has to say, well they simply can choose not to vote for him – and that is the full extent of what they are entitled to do.
Here is a decent human being who is taking a brave stance against the irrational extremists who attempt to impose a theocratic dictatorship upon all, and for that stance, I not only salute him, but I also stand with him.
What has been the Lib Dem response?
Well basically they tossed Mr Nawaz under the bus for the sake of a few votes. As explained by Maryam Namazie …
…in the world according to the LibDems, death threats is what “Muslims” do. But saying a cartoon isn’t offensive to Muslims – as Nawaz did – well that just shows a lack of sensitivity…
In a statement, they write: “The Liberal Democrats are a party of respect, tolerance and individual liberty. We fundamentally believe in freedom of expression and as such defend Maajid’s right to express his views. But as a party we urge all candidates to be sensitive to cultural and religious feelings and to conduct debate without causing gratuitous or unnecessary offence.”
What the LibDems and many others keep forgetting is that respect, tolerance and even liberty is for people not beliefs, not cultures and not religions. We do not need to respect or tolerate beliefs but we must do so when it comes to people.
Plus why does the person who threatens and feels offence represent cultural and religious feelings but not the likes of Nawaz?
So what can you do?