I’m going to keep this brief as most of what was required to be said I have already done so in my previous article. Here are a few points to conclude my commentary on this episode:
(i) “We must stand up for free speech”
Whilst I don’t subscribe to Western notions of free speech and under Islamic law mockery and denigration of the Prophets constitutes apostasy, to borrow a phrase – my fatwa does not apply here. Under European law the right to free speech is sacrosanct (subject to the usual caveats regarding incitement) and unassailable. No Muslim has demanded the introduction of blasphemy laws or the like. What has been demanded is that those few (some 3000 out of 60 million) who are seeking election as members of parliament – at least on a mainstream party’s ticket – exercise a degree of restraint and accord some respect to the deep seated religious sensibilities of a sizeable segment of the British population. Had Nick Griffin, for example, tweeted such an image I doubt anyone would have been bothered so to cast it as an issue of free speech is disingenuous.
(ii) “It’s not about the cartoon but a revenge campaign”
The cartoons ARE offensive despite the attempts of some to categorise them as innocuous – please see my previous article – however, they are but the latest chapter in – what many perceive to be – an ongoing crusade by Mr Nawaz and his Quilliam organisation against normative Islamic mores and legal precepts. Once again see my previous article.
(iii) “Not all Muslims are offended/there is no monolithic Muslim community”
Of course the views of 2.6 million people are never going to be in perfect harmony and unison. Clearly there will always be dissenting voices and minority opinions within any group, large or small and of whatever nature, be it racial, political or religious. However, on certain issues it is often the case that there will be a stance that can be taken as representative of the entire group notwithstanding the minority who disagree. To say, for example, that the Muslim community is pro-Palestinian doesn’t mean that there isn’t a single Muslim or even a group of Muslims who take an opposing view rather that it is the normative stance adopted by the vast majority of Muslims. Similarly to say that most Muslims find comical cartoons of the Prophets as offensive is certainly correct notwithstanding the minority of mostly (but not exclusively) ‘cultural Muslims’ who believe otherwise. Should Mr Nawaz and his cohorts doubt this contention they are free to take the image in question down the streets of the heavily Muslim populated areas of England (e.g. Alum Rock, Sparkhill, Manningham, Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Forest Gate etc.) and canvass opinion. I have little doubt as to the response they will receive.
(iv) Death threats
Unfortunately Twitter, Facebook, discussion forums etc. are a world where people feel that the relative anonymity they enjoy therein entitles them to vituperate with the kind of language they would never dream of employing in the real world. For the most part, disgusting as it may be, it is simply a case of people blowing off steam – to be ignored and for which the “block” feature of Twitter was designed. People on both sides of the debate have experienced vile abuse and even threats but it seems Mr Nawaz and his camp are keen to play the issue up as a means of diverting attention from the core issues (for the last time – see my previous article!). This constant playing up of these handful of online threats reminds me of a section in Mr Nawaz’s autobiography “Radical” where he explains the sense of threat supposedly looming over him since his founding of Quilliam. He talks of the enforced reticence over his movements and whereabouts as an example of the consequences of living with this supposed constant threat. Strangely enough, however, in the final chapter he goes on to reveal the name and precise location of the restaurant where he can be located at – along with a named entourage – on any given Sunday. Make of that seeming contradiction what you will – far be it from me to cynically suggest that his talk of threats and enforced secrecy was merely a charade to thrust a sense of victimhood upon the reader.