Maajid Nawaz and the right to laugh at Jesus and Muhammad

Michael Petrou on the tweet landed a British politician in hot water

by Michael Petrou

Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

Maajid Nawaz spent ten years as a leading member of the Islamist extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group he joined while a young student in his native Britain. He was jailed for four years in Egypt because of his Hizb ut-Tahrir recruitment activities there. Upon his return to Britain, Nawaz renounced extremism and co-founded the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank dedicated to pluralism and democracy. You can read my interview with him here.

Nawaz is now the Liberal Democrats candidate in next year’s general election. He’s bright and articulate and the author of a compelling memoir. True, the same things could have been said about Michael Ignatieff, whose political career did not end well, but the road ahead for Nawaz’s new life in politics looked fairly clear.

Then Nawaz had the audacity to tweet a cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad. You might be able to guess what happened next: death threats, insults, and a petition signed by 20,000 people demanding that the Liberal Democrats drop him as their candidate.

The problems started earlier this month when Nawaz took part in a BBC televised debate. Two attending students wore t-shirts that reproduced a comic from the online “Jesus and Mo” series that depicts the holy men as roommates who platonically share a bed, discuss theology, and go to the pub. Some Muslim audience members were displeased. The BBC reportedly avoided filming the t-shirts.

Nawaz tweeted the comic with the message: “This is not offensive and I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.” Soon other Twitter users were threatening to cut off his head, or comparing his supposed offence to that of Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie, the target of a murderous fatwa by the late Iranian theocrat Ruhollah Khomenei.

The comparison to Rushdie is a stretch. A cartoon, however pithy, isn’t going to approach the depth of a Rushdie novel — then again, Khomenei didn’t read the book, so maybe that doesn’t matter. (I should confess that reading Midnight’s Children, an enjoyable experience, left me feeling intellectually punch-drunk, as if the author was toying with my imagination for his own amusement. Suffice to say I haven’t read Satanic Verses, though I should probably buy a copy just to piss off all the right people.) And besides, Nawaz didn’t even draw the damn thing. Nevertheless, Nawaz’s tweet has provoked a similar, if much more muted, assault on freedom of expression in the name of religion.

Liberal Democrats leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has stood by Nawaz — as have thousands of Britons who signed a petition supporting Nawaz and asking Clegg to do the same.

Nawaz himself originally pleaded for calm on all sides. Over the weekend, he declined comment, saying he had been advised to stay silent. But today he published a column in the Guardian explaining his decision to defend the t-shirt-wearing students and post the offending cartoon.

“Unity in faith is theocracy; unity in politics is fascism,” he writes.

“My intention was not to speak for any Muslim but myself – rather, it was to defend my religion from those who have hijacked it just because they shout the loudest. My intention was to carve out a space to be heard without constantly fearing the blasphemy charge, on pain of death. I did it for Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was assassinated by his bodyguard for calling for a review of Pakistan’s colonial-era blasphemy laws; for Malala Yusafzai, the schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting an education; and for Muhammad Asghar, a mentally ill British man sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy’ last week in Pakistan.”

I hope he’s elected.




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Maajid Nawaz and the right to laugh at Jesus and Muhammad

  1. The problem with this episode, and indeed much of Nawaaz’s account is that it is
    entirely (in whole or in part) fabricated for publicity. His entire original story, bought and paid for by the British
    govt. was sold by the govt as a narrative to avoid discussing the elephant in the room –
    foreign policy & erosion of civil liberties – which *actually* acts as
    the conveyor belt for angry, disenfranchised Muslim youth to act out in
    violence. A cursory look through the background of Mr. Nawaz and that
    of his organizations (Quilliam Foundation & Khudi in Pakistan) reveals a number of
    questions, which those fawning over him like sheep never bother to
    ask/demand answers to.

    Specifically:

    1. Extensive funding for the Quilliam Foundation via British intelligence services:

    http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/Quilliam_Foundation

    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/UK+Govt.+doles+out+a+million+pounds+to+anti-extremist+think+tank.-a0212311623

    * This funding Didn’t stop Mr. Nawaaz and his cohorts from stealing some of this money for themselves:
    Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan: Quilliam Foundation Lie and Cheat:
    http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2009/11/quilliam_founda/

    2.
    Supporting the full scale surveillan­ce of the ENTIRE Muslim
    community up to and including what books they check out from the
    library,
    what medication­s they get from the pharmacy, their sex lives with
    their spouses, and what school age kids talk about on playground­s:

    Spying Morally Right says “thinktank­”:
    http://www­.guardian.­co.uk/uk/2­009/oct/16­/spying-mo­rally-righ­t-says-thi­nktank

    *Ironic
    considering the recent disclosures by Edward Snowden, especially in
    regards to what British intelligence is doing which FAR exceeds what
    even the NSA has admitted to.

    3. Support for the invasion of Iraq by the U.S.

    All Mod Cons:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/21/allmodcons

    4.
    The above might explain why this organization (Quilliam Foundation) is staffed
    and backed up by the failed personalities, ideology, and policies of
    Neo-Conservatives (who advocated the Iraq invasion) in BOTH the U.S. & UK:

    Neocon nexus and Quilliam/Khudi PK:
    http://www.powerbase.info/index.php?title=Quilliam_Foundation

    5.
    Quilliam Foundation and Mr. Nawaz don’t consider British and American backed
    dictatorsh­ips in the Muslim World FULLY COMPATIBLE with their secular
    vision of Islam:

    “Islam,on
    the other hand, is ENTIRELY COMPATIBLE with not just democracies, but
    monarchies and dictatorships. Islam did not invent any of these, but can
    survive in all of them. This may come as a surprise to many “moderate”
    Muslims who claim that Islam is inherently democratic. However, again, I
    believe that such “moderates” make the same mistake as Islamists by imposing their own very modern political ideals on centuries-old religious scripture.”

    Source: http://www.thenutgraph.com/leaving-religious-extremism/

    6. The sentiment maybe due in part to the fact that they obtained financial support from the Mu’amar Qaddafi regime in Libya:

    Quilliam’s Libya Connection:
    http://www.thejc.com/blogs/martin-bright/quilliams-libyan-connection

    http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/analysis/46735/quilliam-must-take-care-over-its-funds

    7.
    It is no wonder that Mr. Nawaz and the Quilliam Foundation have ZERO
    grass roots support among Muslims (the community in whose name they
    claim to speak/advocate and speak to the govt for):

    “A Quilliam
    Foundation spokesman said it ran a political workshop and did NOT need
    grassroots in the community because it was an IDEOLOGICAL movement..­.We
    are NOT a ‘represent­ative’ organisati­on nor are we a local grassroots movement.”

    source:
    http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/archive/2009/09/12/4594104.Council_attacked_for_Islam_training_choice/

    Instead
    of hyping/promoting seriously flawed and bankrupted individuals &
    groups, people in the US and UK, Macleans need
    to ask tough questions in regards to political legitimacy, how the “war
    on terrorism” and its prosecution in the public’s name is eroding civil liberties (in particular to Muslims), and
    of how adventurist/imperialist foreign policy and perceived political
    grievances ARE what is actually feeding/promoting this cycle of
    violence. This entire political stunt notwithstanding, groups like Quilliam and individuals like Nawaz are designed
    to obfusicate these issues around sideshows of racial intolerance or
    “terrorism”.

    • In the early part of your comment, you wrote:
      “to avoid discussing the elephant in the room –
      foreign policy & erosion of civil liberties – which *actually* acts as
      the conveyor belt for angry, disenfranchised Muslim youth to act out in
      violence.”
      No, iSiyasah……The conveyor belt which causes Muslim “youth” and for that matter, Muslim’s in general to act out in violence is not the foreign policy of any government……….the conveyor belt to violence is the Koran.
      As for civil liberties….I would suggest that Britain has far more of them than any Muslim nation…and always has.

      • James and iSiyasah
        you are both opposite sides of the same ideologically intolerant coin. Your world is full of black and white simple solutions to complex problems and no matter how error prone your ways are shown to be you insist they are right.
        Never ending conspiracy theories, projection and dogmatic certainty are your tools. You and others like you deserve each other, the shame is the rest of us are in the way.

        • Just 1 simple question, please ask Nawaz who pays for his organization. The money trail speaks for itself.

          • iSiyasah…..
            If you are going to speak of money trails, you should at least confirm what most of us already know………Muslim “Charities” are repeatedly caught funding terror activities…and many have lost their charitable status because of it.
            While we cannot be sure of who pays for Nawaz’s organization, we can at least be sure of one thing. Any money recieved isn’t used to buy weapons.
            You aren’t fooling anyone, bud.

        • At least we are capable of picking a side, harebell.
          I see no problem with pointing out the obvious…..Islam is responsible for the vast majority of murder, mayhem, and intolerance in the modern world. I put the blame squarely where it belongs….ISLAM.
          iSiyasah, on the other hand, think’s that the West or non-Muslim’s are responsbile….for Muslim terrorism.
          you on the other hand…apparently would rather ignore the facts, simply so you can remain “progressive” and not have to take a stand either way. As always, you prefer to stand atop the soapbox, and shout out your “tolerance” and “acceptance” of all people of all cultures.
          As for the “shame” of anything, I believe it all belongs to you. The inability, or refusal to state the obvious is not “progressive”…it is cowardice.
          As for the “complexity” you refer to….what is so complex about it?
          Islam – has a tendancy to produce the majority of the worlds terrorists. Islam….has the tendency to produce violence and intolerance in every country where it has established itself.
          You call me intolerant, but given your views, I would say intolerant to you simply means someone who is williing to state the obvious.
          You just don’t like it.

          • When the choice is a false dilemma then picking either side makes you wrong.
            Actually I like the rule of law and by law I don’t mean some faerie tale supposedly transmitted from some invisible sky daddy.

            100s of thousands of people died because of the illegal conflict in Iraq which was initiated by the USA. If you can point me towards a source that illustrates that 100s of thousands of people were killed by terrorists of any stripe please feel free to do so.
            But back on track here. The USA supported the same terrorists when they fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, lauding their beliefs and godliness as a sound reason for doing so. When their pit-bulls slipped the leash is when their religion became a problem. Up until then they were freedom fighters.

            What is complex about it is that at every step the USA and the with them the West has thought they could control fundamentalism and now blind idiots like you who no doubt supported the sending of arms to Afghanistan back then conveniently forget that you empowered these people. You also conveniently forget that globalised capitalism enriched their backers via the oil trade and now spout rubbish about “ethical oil” as though an enriched China will be any more tolerant or democratic.
            Each extreme side in this mess never learns and thinks solutions are easy. they may have been if religion of any kind had been left out of it. But unfortunately US fundamentalist christians decided that faith, any faith was good enough for them when they wanted to attack those godless commies.
            You’re the one who wants to separate out the deluded based on some arbitrary weighing of their stupid beliefs and play favourites. All this irrational belief leads to intolerance and destruction I just choose not to ignore one type of irrationality while damning another.

  2. Thanks for writing this, Mr. Petrou. The world needs people like Nawaz, perhaps more now than ever.

  3. The Reality people, sadly cluttered by intelligent gibberish, is that the Muslim faith is the new communism. Our Masters need us to be in fear to allow them to legislate away our freedom and spend trillions defending this freedom from the bogey man. Extreme Muslims, many on the Masters payroll and totally servile to the masters, only fuel this nonsense. The greatest money magnet for Irish Nationalist in Northern Ireland was Ian Paisley. !! Think about it!! Nothing is as it seems and the poor unemployed peasants of society pick up arms to fight alonside the loudest dissenter.

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