Guest-post – The opinions expressed in the article below do not necessarily reflect the view of Quilliam. The author of this blog post does not represent Quilliam.
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My favourite film of all time is Sydney Lumet’s masterpiece “12 Angry Men” from 1957, starring the peerless Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb. The film revolves around a jury who have witnessed the trial of an 18 year old accused of having killed his father. All the evidence and witness testimony seem to point to the young man being guilty and, if deemed so, he must be sentenced to death. “That is the law” explains Juror number 1, played exquisitely by Martin Balsam. The story kicks off with the chairman of the jury asking who thinks the accused is guilty. Eleven of the jurors, including the chairman, raise their hands, convinced of the fact in what seems to be an open-and-shut case.
But there’s one man who refrains, One man who wants to talk about it. One man who, despite standing alone in the face of adversity and group pressure, feels that he can’t just raise his hand and send a kid to his death without having discussed the facts first. As the jurors begin to dissect each testimony and evidence presented at the trial, one by one, they start to express doubts. Was it really as clear-cut as it seemed? What if the witnesses were wrong? What if the defence attorney did a bad job? What if the evidence doesn’t withstand closer scrutiny?
In Christopher Hitchens’ book “Letters to a young contrarian”, the master polemicist and late author underlines the importance of being able to question authority, majority opinion and conventional wisdom. Referencing Voltaire and Emile Zola, among others, Hitchens makes the case that the most courageous and noble people in history have always been those who refuse to fall into the party line. Those who express views they know they will be hated, chastised and often abused for. From Galileo to Darwin to Rosa Parks, intellectual and moral progress has always derived from individuals rejecting the conventional wisdom and questioning the unquestionable, all in the face of extreme adversity. And no subject in human history has the epithet of unquestionability more than that which is considered to be The Holy.
The eagerness to protect ideas from any form of scrutiny, questioning or satire is a virus which will infect every individual living within the society it plagues sooner or later. Nowhere is this more relevant today than in the case of Islamism.
As the worst fascist movement of our time is making grounds in the Middle East and Nigeria, inspired by a certain interpretation of Islamic beliefs, the need to call out the root cause of this phenomenon (Islamism) has never been greater. The importance of calling a spade a spade it is the first step in being able to deal with the issues at hand. This work is today carried out by courageous and noble individuals like Maajid Nawaz, Haras Rafiq Irshad Manji, Dr. Usama Hasan (all believing Muslims), Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sam Harris, Jonathan Russell, Maryam Namazie, Reza Moradi, Chris Moos, John Sargeant, Nick Cohen, Charlie Winter, Tom Holland, Graeme Wood, Mehrdad Amanpour and the inimitable Douglas Murray. They are the ones refusing to raise their hands and comply with the notion that certain ideas cannot be criticized and must be protected at any cost.
And just like the Juror who refused to give in to the group mentality, these brave women and men are constantly and unremittingly attacked by the crowd at every end of the spectrum, from being called race traitors to islamophobes to racists. The disgraced and now exposed Mo Ansar, formerly known as British media’s “go-to Muslim”, has even gone so far as to equate Quilliam, the anti-terrorist organization founded by Maajid Nawaz and which has Haras Rafiq as its Managing Director, with Islamic State.
When I met my personal hero, the phenomenal scientist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci, I told him that he is hated by both the religionists and the so called New Atheists, to which he replied “It means that I must be doing something right!”
This is precisely how I view the indomitable individuals I have mentioned above. When you are hated by the extreme right, the religionists and the far left, you know you must be doing something right. The extreme right hate some for their heritage and all for their liberal views on topics such as gay marriage and equality for all, while the religionists consider them to be blasphemers, infidels and apostates. However, perhaps the most worrying is the far left who strive to shut down the debate by making accusations of non-existing concepts such as “Islamophobia” (I remain grateful to Microsoft for still underlining this word as an incorrect spelling), or ludicrous charges of racism and bigotry.
The aforementioned Christopher Hitchens once remarked, correctly, that he always considered the Ad Hominem [personal attacks] by his opponents as a sign of victory, as it demonstrated a lack of intellectual arguments against his position. I have yet to hear a single, coherent argument against Maajid Nawaz’s reasoning or work. The same can be said for practically every other name I have listed above. Instead, we are told by the likes of Mo Ansar and Mehdi Hasan, that no mainstream Islamic organisation endorses Quilliam. As if that is a bad thing!
However, I challenge the proponents of this argument to the following:
Find me an Islamic organization which actively supports gay marriage and LGBT rights, stands up for secular and democratic values, liberalism, human rights, free speech, gender equality and anti-sexism, and I’ll show you an organization which supports Quilliam.
It is hard to remain hopeful in this socio-political climate. As once proud nations on our own continent crumble under the financial crisis, and right wing fascists gain strongholds in various countries around us, while vile nihilists are on the march in the Middle East and parts of Africa, hope becomes that rarest of commodities. On our own shores, change has been sweeping the nation under the banner of “multiculturalism” for the last few decades. That ill-defined concept has come to justify the acceptance of cultures that are at odds with democratic and liberal values. Yet, according to the Left, those who oppose it must be bigots and xenophobes. Once classified as such, the Left has no problem in opposing them.
Thus, the growing frustration and concerns of those who wish to speak out against certain Islamic practices, such as Sharia courts at home and Jihad abroad, has reached its boiling point and they will sooner or later find a channel through which they can declare their angst. This can manifest itself in the growing rise of anti-immigration parties or the ignorant EDL movement and other far right movements.
Yet, I am writing in the hope of bringing awareness to the alternative. All of the aforementioned individuals, whom I named intentionally one-by-one to make sure they are given a fraction of the credit they truly deserve, demonstrate on a daily basis that one can indeed hold liberal and democratic values and stand up for the victims while simultaneously oppose the various poisons affecting us today. This notion is one that is as incomprehensible to the far Left as it is to the Far Right. “How can one oppose US foreign policy, yet condemn the victims of that same policy?” seems to be the Left’s thinking, not understanding that there is a difference between Muslims as a people, and the likes of Islamic State and Al Qaeda. As if there aren’t enough intellectual resources to condemn both. Instead, we hear the ludicrous argument that US created Islamic State and Al Qaeda, as if that puts the blame at America’s doorstep (even if true, as the argument can be made for the Taliban, who were supported by the US in the fight against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the Cold War, how is it America’s fault what these people do when they are in power?).
This type of Red Herring, combined with the Ad Hominem’s and Non-Sequiturs, are the trademark of the far Left in justifying their condemnation of the anti-Islamist movement. In their primitive, black or white worldview, one has to be a supporter of imperialism if one objects to anything to do with Muslims.
As for the far Right, their narrow minded worldview blinds them from any ability to objectively evaluate facts. If the truth does not support their bigoted ideals, the truth can be discarded. For them, conversation is a non-starter, as ideology trumps reality.
But what about the Muslims? What impression are we left with when more believers of the world’s second largest religion take to the streets to protest the drawing of Muhammed than to oppose Islamic State? What are we left with when the likes of Reza Aslan, Mo Ansar, Mehdi Hasan and Asghar “Mossad stole my shoe” Bukhari invest more time defaming and ridiculing Maajid Nawaz than they do criticizing Islamic State? When they are far more vocal at the drawings of cartoons than they are of the murders of cartoonists? I have made this case several times before, but it demands repeating; Mehdi Hasan, perhaps the most vocal proponent and defender of Islam in the UK, wrote one single article on the tragedy of Charlie Hebdo, where 11 of his colleagues were massacred by Islamic fundamentalists. The article was not a condemnation of the despicable monsters who committed the atrocity (that was more a side-note). No, the article focused on how hypocritical the concept of Free Speech is… Yet, this is the man who takes the moral high ground and attacks Quilliam or Douglas Murray for what they rightly say about the issues within Islam.
In the midst of all these extremes, there are courageous, heroic people like Maajid Nawaz, Maryam Namazie and Haras Rafiq, who on a daily basis, in the face of death threats, ridicule and accusations of racism (among other things) dare to stand up for the principles of equality, democracy, liberalism, free speech and justice. People like Dr. Usama Hasan, one of the most prominent Islamic scholars in Europe, who dare to admit to controversies within his own faith, and even disown the articles which contradict liberal values. Take a moment to think about the courage of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a woman who was subjected to female genital mutilation, who was given away by her father as a child to be wed with a distant, much older cousin, who had to flee her own family and was the target of a fanatical Islamist who murdered her colleague Theo van Gogh, and imagine what it takes to still carry on, where most everyone else would have given up.
Or Nick Cohen, who continuously confronts and intellectually destroys the desire of the Left and the Right to impose censorship upon societies to protect their own ideas and who, perhaps more eloquently and convincingly than any living author, dispels the notion of the revolutionary Left as a force for good.
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