When it comes to this absurd debate about Islam, I believe many things. I believe that it is utter madness to judge 23% of the world's population by the actions of oppressive, opportunistic governments or a few violent sociopaths -- particularly when other faiths show no shortage of either. I believe that the Muslim population of the United States in particular is made up of educated, patriotic, secular people who in the 12 years after 9/11 identified more potential Islamic terrorists in our midst than a massive domestic spying program. That any faith can be put toward good or evil. That the idea of turning away refugees or anyone else based on a broad religious test is un-American, unconstitutional and beneath contempt.
In short, I believe that people of all faiths are entitled to be accepted as individuals, without prejudice.
But, I also believe that people who are born into Islam are entitled to the same human rights as the rest of us, including the rights to leave that faith and speak of their own experience without being branded some sort of racist native informant.
Unfortunately for those people, that makes a small but increasingly powerful segment of the left decidedly uncomfortable. They have reduced multiculturalism to "different = good," and anything that doesn't fit that narrative is, at the very least, racist.
The Goldsmiths Islamic Society has previously hosted speaker Hamza Tzortzis, a man with fairly strong ties to terrorists, who has expressed pro-caliphate leanings, believes that Islam directs apostates to be painlessly beheaded, likens homosexuality to cannibalism, and once famously said, "we as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom." It has also hosted a speaker from CAGE, which once described ISIS beheading spokesmodel Jihadi John as a "beautiful, kind man."
But when the university's Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society scheduled human rights activist Maryam Namazie to speak, students had to draw the line. The very same organization that hosted Tzortzis tried to get her banned as a "violation of [their] space."
During her appearance, Namazie mentioned the brutal hacking deaths of Bangladesh bloggers named on a circulated hit list -- a very real and horrific situation. A man in the front row began to laugh out loud.
"Is it really funny that people get hacked to death?" she asked.
"It's really funny," he replied.
Members of or people sympathetic to the group turned off her projector, tried to shout her down and literally threw themselves on the floor in fits. Another speaker claims that death threats were made.
The Goldsmith Islamic Society has since insisted that protesters did nothing wrong, in spite of ample video evidence to the contrary. The Goldsmiths Feminist and LGBTQ+ Societies both released statements of solidarity with the Islamic Society over the incident. The student union even asked that videos of the incident be taken offline to protect the identities of the protesters. As things currently stand, the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society is under investigation and might face disciplinary action over the incident.
From a state of delirium so intense that it must be absolutely blissful, the LGBTQ+ Society explained:
"If [the speakers felt] intimidated, we urge them to look at the underpinnings of their ideology. We find that personal and social harm enacted in the name of 'free speech' is foul, and detrimental to the wellbeing of students and staff on campus.
"In our experiences, members of ISOC have been nothing but charming, patient, kind, and peaceful as individuals and as an organization.
"We hope this series of events prompts reflection in all parties involved, but also onlookers. Allyship consists of apologies, bearing with and deconstructing discomfort, respecting the necessary privacy of safer spaces, and opening our hearts to humans unlike ourselves."
Then, the president of the Islamic Society was forced to resign after it was discovered that he had tweeted such charming and kind statements of solidarity and allyship as, "Homosexuality is a disease of the heart and mind," "How can you be trying to justify why it's OK to be Muslim and gay," and, "Can you fag lovers get out of my mentions pls, thanks."
At the risk of coming off as a Monday morning quarterback, it seems to me that it would have been wise for the LGBTQ+ Society to have differentiated between the group as a whole, its leadership and certain participants in the protest, before picking sides. Or, you know, reviewing the easily available video evidence. Or doing any independent research, really.
Maryam Namazie, on the other hand, seems to have spent much of the time since the incident refuting, mocking and insulting Donald Trump's actual Islamophobia on Facebook and Twitter, expressing disgust at the deportation of freakin' terror suspects and lobbying to get Muslim women equal protection in UK family courts. As notorious Islamophobes do.
I'm sure that by now you are dying to know what Ms. Namazie did to be called "foul" and "detrimental to the wellbeing of students and staff" by groups that tolerate the presence of Hamza Tzortzis.
In their initial complaint, the Islamist Society offered just two examples of her "Islamophobic" behavior: "She labelled the niqab- a religious symbol for Muslim women, 'a flag for far-right Islamism'. Also, she went onto tweet, they are 'body bags' for women."
So you could see how, compared to that, the hacking deaths of actual humans seem a laughably small offense. I'm not joking or even cherry picking here. Those were the group's actual allegations.
Don't misread me. I understand that the niqab means different things to different women, and I can very easily see how a woman who chooses to wear one might feel personally attacked by those statements. But I have a very difficult time seeing them as any more radical than, say, The Beauty Myth, and the last time I checked, people were not calling that a work of racist propaganda.
Moreover, a woman born into any culture has a right to criticize the expectations that culture places on women. Period. And people know that. At least, people who consider themselves liberals or progressives should know that.
If those allegations feel like a stretch, that's probably because Namazie is branded an Islamophobe simply because she's a vocal ex-Muslim. Vocal ex-Mormons, ex-Scientologists, ex-Christians and others who speak out against belief systems they left are hailed as heroes. But even the BBC is pretty sure that being a vocal Ex-Muslim is itself a racist act, in spite of Namazie's pained and frequent efforts to combat the "erroneous conflation between Islam, Islamism and Muslims."
And this isn't the first time that people have labeled Namazie a tear-inducing violation of their safe space. An appearance at Warwick was threatened with cancellation as recently as September. The Guardian even ran a column cheering that proposed ban.
She's hardly the only ex-, secular or lay Muslim to get this kind of treatment from a certain segment of the western left.
Take Riad Sattouf, as another example. When he recounted his own childhood in Libya and Syria, French scholars Laurent Bonnefoy and Yves Gonzalez-Quijano accused him of being an "atrociously racist" "token Arab", even as Syrian, Algerian and Palestinian writers and intellectuals lauded its honesty.
In fact, it seems that any time a Muslim wants to speak of his or her own experience, ten people who did not share that experience will stand up to correct them. After all, they are the New McCarthyites.
When actual Syrians showed up at a protest of the Syrian war to share their experience at the hands of Assad, they weren't given a shouting match with Maryam Namazie -- they were prevented from speaking, then arrested.
The bar is almost as low if you weren't born into Islam.
In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, PEN, an international association of writers dedicated to the cause of free expression, decided to honor the publication. A group of 145 writers signed a letter protesting the move. Hebdo was, you see, an anti-Muslim publication.
Meanwhile, in the real world, 523 issues of the publication were released in the ten years preceding the attack. Religion was the subject of just 38 covers. Christianity was the target of 21; Islam of seven. Riad Sattouf was a cartoonist at Hebdo for nine of those ten years.
When we are discussing whether or not racism was a mitigating factor in a massacre, people, we have gone very far off the rails.
Just how far off? Well, we live in a world in which atheism is punishable by death in 13 countries, all of which are majority Muslim. Saudi Arabia classifies atheism itself as terrorism. Even in secular nations, many ex-Muslims face horrific violence at the hands of their own families. (And, it perhaps needs to be said, many do not.) And the regressive wing of the left looks at the world and... writes books with names like--I kid you not-- The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists.
It's easy to see why people are so eager to stamp out dissent, even when the voices are entirely rational. People genuinely worry about the treatment of their Muslim friends and neighbors by those who view cultural differences as superficially as they themselves do. And that is a legitimate concern. But the way to address it is through open, honest dialogue. Denial serves nothing but your own comfort. And to actually level baseless accusations of racism against some of the bravest, most vulnerable people in the world for the protection of your own psychological comfort is, in a word, revolting.
Imagine being a mother terrified, as many are, that if you question religious dogma, radicals will turn your children against you and toward murder. Imagine that it's happening in a country where much of the right makes it worse by persecuting and ostracizing your family and much of the left makes it worse by treating apostates and the irreligious as if their very existence is intended to justify bigotry. In a heartbreaking Facebook post, one mother recently explained:
"...It is scary. Especially when you've believed your whole life in the concept of blasphemy. Especially when you know that to openly come out and reject these beliefs would be to risk alienation, to be ostracized and maligned, rejected and alone. And in many cases, dangerous to your own person...
"We have to make it ok to walk away. We have to come out of this closet and into the light."
It seems so simple, doesn't it? Embrace her if she's religious. Embrace her if she isn't.
I'm not even asking for much, people. I don't expect for ex- and secular Muslims to be cheered like a size eleven on the cover of Vogue, or for religious radicals who murder people to be vilified as harshly as manspreaders or catcallers. I'm just asking for a modicum of human decency.