I went along to the Muslim Institute in Old Street, London, earlier this afternoon to take part in a panel discussion entitled “The Muslim Community from Rushdie to Hebdo”. I have written about this topic on several previous occasions so I used the opportunity to place the topic in a wider context that interests me most. A summary of the points I made follows below:
- The Satanic Verses Affair led to the launch of the Muslim Institute’s Muslim Manifesto in 1990 which called for the creation of a Muslim Parliament and described it as a “non-territorial Islamic State” in Britain. The demands to ban/pulp the book etc are all rather embarrassing now! Still, we were a very young community at the time and were bound to make lots of mistakes.
- There will always be some people who will call for a ban on books, movies, art, music that they find offensive or sacrilegious.
- Europe has an understandable suspicion of the role of religion in issues to do with freedom. In the 17th Century, Galileo faced the Inquisition due to his support and advocacy of the Copernican revolution which contended that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not vice versa which had been the view prior to that. The Catholic Church regarded Galileo’s views as sacrilegious and placed him under house arrest for the last nine years of his life.
- In his book, The Beginning of Infinity, the scientist David Deutsche argues that a Tradition of Criticism is essential for progress in science and politics and many other fields of human endeavour. To his detractors, Rushdie’s novel was a blasphemous book. To his supporters, the book was an exploration of themes to do with immigration and religion.
- Charles Darwin wanted originally to publish On The Origin of Species only after his death as he was quite aware of the controversy his views on evolution would cause in Victorian England. Many in the Church found his theory to be anti-Christian and anti-Biblical. Today, the theory of evolution sits at the centre of all biology. As Dobzhansky observed “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.” Great insights may well challenge the religious authorities/thinkers of the time. That is not a reason to suppress the ideas/insights.
- After lecturing British Muslims about the value of free speech back in the late 1980s, the UK government is today itself intent on eroding our free speech. Witness this week’s announcements by the Home Secretary Theresa May regarding Banning Orders, Mosque Closure Orders and the open intimidation of universities to force them to deny a platform to speakers the government deems “undesirable”.
- Theresa May provided a definition of extremism in her speech as follows:
“the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.
- Maybe she was tipsy when she delivered her speech as the definition of “extremists” is so broad that it would certainly encompass the well known scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins who famously did not display much “respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs” when he wrote in The God Delusion that:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
- Will the government seek to deny Professor Dawkins a platform at universities to speak? I doubt it.
- While pointing fingers at British Muslims for not doing enough to integrate and adhere to “British Values” the government just a few weeks ago lowered the British flag at a number of government buildings in response to the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. This honour was reserved for a despot who ruled as an absolute monarch and who presided over an insanely corrupt kingdom which routinely features in lists of the world’s worst places for respecting freedom. This was also a good excuse for me to insert a Powerpoint slide entitled “David Cameron – The Twat”.
- I ended with an observation from Salman Rushdie as I thought it was a poignant way to end the presentation given that I had started with the Satanic Verses:
- And during Q&A I made a comment regarding the government’s curious attempts to engineer a favourable government-friendly Muslim identity that is uncritical of the government’s foreign policy disasters in the Muslim world and its draconian counter-terrorism measures at home. I noted that a Freedom of Information request had been submitted to find out the names of the British Muslim organisations that the government had been supporting/financing in this regard – but they had refused to provide this information. How bizarre.