Liberals of all parties should support Maajid Nawaz in the face of death threats

Genuine liberals should support liberal Muslims like Maajid Nawaz against the literalists who would murder people over cartoons.

Maajid Nawaz, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, has received death threats after tweeting a ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon.

Nawaz provoked anger from some after making a point online that his faith (and the God he believes in) is strong enough to withstand the light mockery of a cartoon.

Even more depressingly, several individuals have now launched a campaign to have Nawaz de-selected as a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate.

The campaign has been led by Muhammad Shafiq, a Liberal Democrat party member, and Respect MP George Galloway, who made the bold claim that because of Nawaz’s tweet “no Muslim will ever vote Liberal Democrat” (the same George Galloway who supports Bashar al Assad – “the last Arab leader” – whose regime has murdered over 300 Palestinians).

Nawaz’s tweet has resulted in him receiving death threats, quite possibly because of Shafiq’s repeated use of the term ‘Gustagh-e-Rasool’ to describe Nawaz, which translates as ‘enemy of the prophet’ (indeed, Shafiq’s own background warrants research: he is the founder of the Ramadhan Foundation, which has defended the hate preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi as a “man of moderation”).

For his part, Nawaz has responded to the brouhaha of a cartoon gracefully:

“Some are angry that I didn’t find an innocuous cartoon on the BBC as offensive and repeated my view that – as a Muslim – it wasn’t offensive to me on here. Others are angry that I am being censored and silenced. Please let’s all calm down.”

Considering blasphemy laws should be anathema to any liberal, one would expect the Liberal Democrats to side unreservedly with Maajid in this row – a representative of liberal Islam who, like the vast majority of Muslims, doesn’t fly into a murderous rage at the site of, as he correctly calls it, an innocuous cartoon.

The notion of ‘offence’ is deeply subjective, too. While the pious may feel offended by those who reject the divine, there are plenty of things in religion which non-believers are themselves entitled to find offensive (our lack of belief is also ‘deeply held’, you may be surprised to learn). Better, then, for the state to stay out of such matters unless violence is being directly incited (which appears to be the case here, but against Nawaz).

Unfortunately, the Lib Dems have come out with a typically weak response to the controversy. Rather than supporting Maajid Nawaz’s right to tweet what he likes about the religion he follows (or any religion, for that matter), they have issued a statement urging parliamentary candidates to “be sensitive to cultural and religious feelings”.

“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.”

The implication here is that Nawaz set out to cause “gratuitous” or “unnecessary” offence. No mention of the fact that whether it is right to be ‘sensitive’ about cultural and religious feelings is surely dependent upon the nature of those feelings (should we be ‘sensitive’ about the homophobia of some evangelical Christians, for example?)

The right to criticise – and yes, mock – a body of ideas (which is what religion ultimately is) is one of the fundamental principles which liberal society is built upon. Anti-Muslim bigotry this is not (Nawaz is himself a Muslim).

In many parts of the world, religion has great power over a large number of people, and once upon a time the same was true in Britain. Satire, not unlike the Jesus and Mo cartoons, was one of the levers British secularists used to push back the frontiers of religion – laughter being one of the most powerful weapons against unsmiling authority.

Take away the right to mock authority, textual authority in this instance, and everything else is detail – including the rights of Muslims to satirise and ridicule undemocratic clerics and extremists. Without the freedom to mock religious authority, many of the values liberals hold dear – gay rights, women’s sexual liberation; not to mention the right to reject religion completely – would simply not exist.

The idea that people can be completely sheltered from hurt feelings is not only an absurdity but an impossibility in a free society. Any genuine liberal should recognise this, and should throw their support behind liberal Muslims like Maajid Nawaz against a minority of literalists who threaten to murder people over cartoons.

You can sign the petition supporting Maajid Nawaz here.

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11 Responses to “Liberals of all parties should support Maajid Nawaz in the face of death threats”

  1. Daz K

    What a cowardly response from the Lib-Dems, Maajid is probably better off without them.

  2. RogerMcC

    ‘A minority of literalists’ begs far more questions about Islam and its nature as a true religion of the book than it is probably wise to ask in a medium like this.

  3. Munir Khan

    Maajid Nawaz has every right to his opinion about the cartoon, for which he should NOT receive death threats or fatwa’s of any sort, but for an aspiring politician he has displayed spectacular lack of good judgement.

    All the more reason why he should remain a LibDem I suppose!

  4. S&A

    If Maajid had come out with a diatribe against Jews (like Jenny Tonge or David Ward) or sexually abused women (like Mike Hancock), the LibDems wouldn’t have a problem with him at all.

  5. doc

    I believe there are some points some of you are missing:

    1. There have been 4-5 death threats to Maajid on twitter, which relatively speaking, seems comfortingly low compared to the number of twitter death threats to Stan Collymore, and a few months ago to the Jane Austen campaigners. It seems to be part of the territory on twitter, every remotely controversial statement suffers such a backlash. Tommy Robinson get’s them every day, but we don’t knee jerk defend his right to free speech do we, although he is Maajid’s new best friend? So to extrapolate that Maajid is suffering something unique to “White-liberal rubber stamped approved Muslim moderates” from a horde of illiberal non-compliant extremist Muslims is wrong.

    2. 99.99% of Muslims have responded in the democratic way via a (poorly written but point made) petition to the party. What do you want them to do to express their offense? Get on the streets? How many of you have actually read their petition, I mean properly with an open liberal mind? not skim reading to pick holes? We should be celebrating that we are not seeing Muslims on the streets burning things etc.

    3. Nobody is campaigning or trying to ban the Jesus & Mo cartoon itself, it’s been around for years and is deliberately offensive (showing Muhammad asking Jesus to sexually experiment with him) but was and will be ignored by Muslims (I pray). It is infantile to claim this is about free speech, this is about standards of behaviour appropriate for a parliamentary candidate who is supposed to be sensitive to his constituents and respectful of REAL red lines of all major communities (not fabricated offense to make a point against the offended people). If he had tweeted the image of Anne Frank in bed with Hitler would this discussion be different? If he wasn’t a PPC I doubt we would be talking about it, the petition makes that clear, nothing to do with free speech. Can a doctor and nurse swear in front of their patients? Can a GP in his surgery fart and then tell his obese heart diseased client that he is a fat ugly git? Every job comes with responsibility of speech, not freedom. Public office is a great responsibility.
    4) If people are really concerned about freedom of speech under attack for a political opinion and not concerned about consequences on community relations, where are you WRT David Ward MP?

  6. swatnan

    I’m supporting him, for reasons I’ve given on Spector’s Coffee House.
    But whatever possessed him to join the Lib Dems when he knows full well that they are fence sitters, and you won’t get any change out of them.

  7. Matthew Blott

    Well “doc”, since you like praying and give such staunch support to Nawaz’s opponents I suspect you’re an easily offended Muslim who wouldn’t mind a blasphemy law to protect your religion from free enquiry. But citing hypothetical examples of extreme offence won’t wash because as you know Nawaz’s tweet wasn’t anything of the sort – it was Jesus and Mo standing next to each other. And if you find that deeply offensive then I don’t see any point in trying to engage with such a thin-skinned crybaby. Of course you won’t move to anywhere where such blasphemy laws are in place because as I’m sure you know they aren’t very nice places to live.

  8. Daniel

    What are you on about?
    All three of the people you mentioned had disciplinary action taken against them.

  9. S&A

    David Ward is still an MP, Jenny Tonge is campaiging for the party in London, and Hancock was only suspended after a report in his conduct (two years old) was leaked.

    So the first two were given a slap on the wrist and let in through the back door once the fuss had subsided, and the third was protected by a cover-up.

    My comments still stand.

  10. S&A

    ‘it’s been around for years and is deliberately offensive (showing Muhammad asking Jesus to sexually experiment with him)’

    Really? Which cartoon was that? Do show.

    ‘If people are really concerned about freedom of speech under attack for a political opinion and not concerned about consequences on community relations, where are you WRT David Ward MP?’

    Last time I checked, Jews were still part of the British community. Of course you may think (or wish) differently.

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