Islamophobia in UK: The Right To Offend?
- The Right To Offend? Mehdi Hasan Denies 'Absolute Right' To Freedom Of Speech
Huffington Post UK | By Felicity Morse
Posted: 12/10/2012 10:37 Updated: 12/10/2012 16:46
Mehdi Hasan, political director of The Huffington Post UK, called for a crackdown on the culture of Islamophobia and argued freedom of speech was not an "absolute right" during a debate on Thursday.
Speaking opposite Times columnist David Aaronovitch at a HuffPost/Polis debate, on the right to offend, Mr Hasan argued free speech was being “fetishized” and claimed many free-speech campaigners in the west were guilty of “brazen hypocrisy.”
"We have a civic duty not to offend others," he told the a packed audience at the London School of Economics.
“How can you construct a civilised, cohesive society if we go round encouraging everyone to insult each other willy nilly?
“Yes we do have a right to offend but it’s not the same as having a duty to be offensive. You have a responsibility not to go out of your way to piss people off.
“I have the right to fart in a lift, but I don’t do it because it is offensive.
"Some people want the right to be offensive but then get cross when people are offended."
In what soon became a heated discussion, David Aaronovitch challenged his view that freedom of speech could be practised with discretion or restraint, telling Mr Hasan: “you cannot decide from your Olympian aerie what is good and not good."
He argued that not being offended and being "less touchy" was the only way to live in harmony, saying “at a global level if we are going to get on we are going to have to put up with these things.”
Mr Aaronovitch told the hall it was simply not practical to be offended in a world where social media allows offensive views to circulate with virulent intensity.
“I simply cannot afford to be offended every time someone retweets something obnoxious,” he said.
“People need to get a thicker skin.”
The right to offend, and to be offended, has been an explosive topic in recent months, after anti-Islam film The Innocence of Muslims sparked riots across parts of the Muslim world.
US embassies were targeted and dozens of people lost their lives in the ensuing violent clashes.
Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, was killed along with three American security guards after becoming trapped in the burning US consulate building in Benghazi - though some say this was a premeditated terrorist attack.
In an address to the UN following the attack, Barack Obama denounced the film as “cruel and disgusting”, but maintained the importance of freedom of expression even “with views that we profoundly disagree with”.
The absolute right to freedom of speech was tested further after French magazine Charlie Hebdo published offensive cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, mocking Muslim's offence at the original US film.
Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Stephane Charbonnier, defended the cartoons, arguing that they “would shock those who want to be shocked”.
He added: "If we start to question whether we have the right to draw Muhammad or not, if that is a dangerous thing to do or not, the next question is going to be: can we depict Muslims in the newspaper? And then: can we represent human beings in the newspaper?"
Mr Hasan argued that the debate about the right to offend in relation to the French cartoons and the US movie could not be divorced from the climate of Islamophobia, “depressingly rampant” in some parts of our society - especially the media.
“You can say things about Muslims which you can’t say about any other group of people” he said.
“For Muslims right now there is a huge sense of fear and insecurity. It is irresponsible to suggest we just need a thicker skin. This is a majority-minority debate.
“To pick on Muslims in France...Oh God, how brave you must be."
Mr Hasan told an audience member: “We crack down on anti-Semitism and we don’t allow it to go mainstream in the same way Islamophobia is. I firmly believe this is a debate about racism too.”
Mr Aaronvitch challenged the HuffPost's political director, saying: “We are mostly not even talking about what happens in this country. It is mostly the countries where Muslims are the majority where this [the riots] are happening. They are the discriminators in that country.
"Your notion of the prophet is now become important in my life and we have to be able to express what we feel about it."
The Times columnist said he remained firmly committed to the right to free speech, adding that "the cure to speech is more speech. It’s the only way.”
A video of the full HuffPost/Polis debate between Messrs Hasan and Aaronovitch will be posted online, here on at the HuffPost UK, in the next few days.
‘Islamophobia’ and the freedom of speech
October 24, 2012 | ONLINE ONLY
Within the last decade or so, the term ‘Islamophobia’ has gained widespread currency in public and private life throughout the Western world. Lawlessness erupting over the amateur film Innocence of Muslims in the Middle East just last month, and the current trial of three Birmingham jihadists – who were allegedly planning to carry out ‘another 9/11’ – demonstrates the ongoing issues surrounding radical Islam. The question remains: how should we view a religion that constantly has to distance itself from extremists? Secondly, is there a rising tide of ‘Islamophobia’ in Britain today, and if so, how do we explain such a rise?
In an Independent article earlier this year, Owen Jones declared that ‘Anti-Muslim hate is a European pandemic.’ The problem with the term ‘Islamophobia’ herein lies. There seems to be a dangerous lack of a distinction between the rational critique of Islam as a religious ideology, and a real prejudice against those ethnic groups in Britain that are perceived to be ‘Muslim’ because of their race.
The former I would completely defend, and the latter I would utterly condemn. It seems uncontroversial and fundamentally essential that all individuals are respected within our society, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, age and so on. But all ideas and ideologies needn’t warrant such a degree of respect. It’s becoming a shameful reality in public discourse that atheism and doubt of religious faith is akin to racism and bigotry.
The recent proposal of the United Nations to limit international laws of freedom of speech to not ‘provoke’ the Islamic faith would have been nothing short of catastrophic. Crucially, freedom of speech should be defended precisely when it is offensive, and when people do vehemently disagree. Indeed nothing of any real worth would ever be said if it was inoffensive to everyone.
The problem arises when people assume that contempt for a religious faith necessarily translates into contempt for that group of religious individuals. The reality is more complicated. In Britain today, racists who have long held anti-middle eastern ethnic prejudices have hijacked ‘Islamophobia’ as the acceptable prejudice.
The real underlying problem is that those ethnic groups that are thought to be Muslim in this country – Pakistani, Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Indian for example – have suffered repugnant racial abuse on British streets for decades. The rise of militant Islam, however, has had the knock-on effect of giving free rein to those racial prejudices that have now been hidden under the more acceptable slogan of Islamophobia. It remains taboo to make this link between radical Islam and Islamophobia as Owen Jones pointedly – and in my view cowardly – avoided, but the sooner we examine this connection, the better.
It is a revealing paradox, that freedom to discuss the relative merits and problems of Islam in an open and public way, would lead to a reduction of anti-middle eastern prejudice – which is now termed Islamophobia. The need to de-mystify Islam is urgent, for people to understand the faith, and realising that Islam does not necessarily equate to fundamentalism. The sooner this public discourse can happen without fear of intimidation – from either side – the sooner we can begin to resolve this issue, rather than let it boil out of control.
Voters more likely to back an anti-Muslim party than reject it – poll
Research suggests that many voters are open to views associated with far-right groups
The Observer, Sunday 16 September 2012
More people would support a political party that pledged to stop all immigration or promised to reduce the number of Muslims than one that encouraged multiculturalism, a survey conducted in the wake of the Olympics reveals.
Despite London 2012 being heralded as a celebration of a diverse society, the research suggests much of the electorate remains open to views traditionally associated with far-right groups.
The survey, conducted by YouGov with 1,750 respondents, found that 41% of people would be more likely to vote for a party that promised to stop all immigration, compared with 28% who said they would be less likely to support a group that promoted such policies.
In addition, 37% admitted that they would be more likely to support a political party that promised to reduce the number of Muslims in Britain and the presence of Islam in society, compared with 23% who said it would make them less likely.
Matthew Goodwin of the Extremis Project, an independent group monitoring extremism and terrorism that commissioned the research, said that, although Britain lacked a successful extremist political party, much of the public was susceptible to far-right ideology.
He said: "The results clearly point towards enduring public anxieties over the performance of mainstream political and business elites, immigration and also the role of Muslims and Islam in society."
In Europe, far-right parties have gained an increasing foothold, with Marine le Pen's National Front recently polling 6.5 million votes and a poll in Greece indicating that support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has grown to 10.5%, up from 7% at the last election. However, the fiercely anti-Islamic Freedom party of Geert Wilders won only 15 seats in last week's Dutch elections, compared with its previous 24 seats.
The UK poll results suggest, however, that Britain may struggle to host far-right groups capable of such popularity, revealing a striking generational divide in attitudes towards multiculturalism. It found that large majorities of 18-to -24-year-olds rejected radical rightwing policies, with 60% saying that a party campaigning to halt all immigration would make them less likely to support it or that it did not matter to them.
Less than a quarter of 18-to-24-year-olds said they would be more likely to vote for a party that promised to halt all immigration, compared with more than half of those aged above 60. Similarly, 27% of the younger age group said they would vote for a party that campaigned to reduce the number of Muslims, compared with 49% of those aged over 60.
Goodwin, a lecturer at Nottingham University, said: "While we see further evidence of an emerging generation that is more tolerant towards – and accepting of – immigration and diversity, there remains clear potential for a party that … promises to halt immigration, reduce the number of Muslims and prioritise traditional British values over other cultures."
Citizen Khan provokes 200 complaints
Citizen Khan, a BBC sitcom about a Muslim community leader, has attracted around 200 complaints after its first episode was broadcast on Monday.
7:17AM BST 29 Aug 2012
It was suggested that the programme "takes the mickey out of Islam", contained "stereotypes about Asians" and that it was "disrespectful to the Koran".
A scene in which a heavily made-up girl, Mr Khan's daughter, rushed to put on a hijab and pretended to be reading the Koran when her father entered provoked particular ire, the Daily Mail reported.
The six-part series, created by and starring Adil Ray, a British Muslim, was shown for the first time on Monday at 10.35pm.
Among the comments on the BBC's message board following the broadcast was one which said: "This is terrible stereotyping, ignorant and just dreadful."
Another said: "HIGHLY disappointed especially when her father walks in and she disrespectfully opens the Koran!!"
However, others defended the show. One said: "People are reading too much into Citizen Khan, especially the hijab thing, it happens!"
A BBC spokesman said: "Citizen Khan has made a very positive start, launching successfully with 3.6 million viewers and a 21.5% share in a late night slot.
"New comedy always provokes differing reactions from the audience. The characters are comic creations and not meant to be representative of the community as a whole."
COLUMN: Having never watched Citizen Khan before I was pleasantly surprised
1:46pm Monday 22nd October 2012 in News By Sonia Ali
Muslim brothers 'abused' by rivals' parents on chess trip
JEROME TAYLOR WEDNESDAY 15 AUGUST 2012
A gifted young English chess player was physically assaulted and his family subjected to Islamophobic abuse by other parents during a recent competition in Austria, his father claims.
The alleged fracas has plunged the sport's governing body in England – the English Chess Federation (ECF) – into a racism row amid claims that officials initially did not do enough to tackle the abuse.
Officials have belatedly begun investigating the incident and the Metropolitan Police is expected to start taking statements later today from those involved.
Suhayl Rahman, a maths teacher from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, told The Independent that his three sons, Yousef, 13, Ibrahim, 10 and Ieysaa, seven, were subjected to abuse from other English parents during a junior chess championship in the Austrian town of Mureck.
All three are talented chess players and Ieysaa went on to win a bronze medal at the games. But the family claim their trip was marred by the increasingly hostile reception they received from the parents of fellow competitors.
According to Mr Rahman's testimony, trouble began when his wife, Tomasina Contu, complained that the hotel they were staying in would not serve halal food despite assurances that their dietary requirements would be catered for. The competition was being held in the middle of Ramadan.
The abuse allegedly began with snide remarks but intensified throughout the two-week competition, with one parent allegedly spitting at Mrs Contu and another allegedly grabbing Yousef by the chest until blood was drawn.
At one point, Mrs Contu, an Italian-born convert to Islam who wears a hijab, even had to call for a police escort to take her from the venue back to the hotel because of concerns over her family's safety.
In a series of emails sent to the Rahman family during the competition which have been seen by The Independent, officials at the ECF said they recognised that there was "an increased risk" to the safety of both Mrs Contu and Yousef from the parents of other competitors.
But nothing was done to exclude the potentially violent parents from the venue or from having contact with the children. Instead, the Rahman family were asked to move into a separate hotel, a request that they refused.
On the final day, Mr Rahman said his eldest son, Yousef, was assaulted by the mother of another competitor after he tried to watch his brother's game.
"His path was blocked by another parent," he told The Independent. "So he went round her and she grabbed him by his left pec, sunk her claws into his skin and yanked him back. He was bleeding, he was crying and he suffered bad bruising. It was quite terrible." A photograph of Yousef taken soon after the incident shows his chest marred by a deep, purple bruise.
Mr Rahman said his family felt let down by the ECF, whom he accused of ignoring their repeated concerns. He has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate.
On Wednesday the English Chess Federation issued a new statement saying that the Rahman family’s allegations were “unfounded”. It said that while there was a “disagreement amongst the families” at the tournament, it was not based on racism or religious intolerance. However the federation has yet to decide whether it will make the contents of the report they have compiled public. A spokesperson for the group said it would need to take legal advice before any such move.
The full statement from the ECF read as follows: “The ECF has completed a thorough investigation into the events that took place at the European Union Youth Chess Championships in Mureck, Austria, between 31 July and 9 August 2012. The investigation obtained statements from eye-witnesses. It concluded that the allegations of racist or Islamophobic abuse and of a physical attack are unfounded.”
“The report found that there was a disagreement amongst the families of the England team that resulted from complaints of perceived disruptive behaviour by individual children. There is no evidence that racism or religious intolerance played any part. The claims concerning provision of suitable food during the event are inconsistent with both the facts and the extensive efforts made by the tournament organisers, hotel management and ECF Head of Delegation to ensure that the requirements of all members of the England delegation were met.”
“The ECF takes any charge of racism or religious intolerance extremely seriously and we absolutely condemn discriminatory behaviour of any kind. The ECF is also committed to the safety of all competitors who take part in tournaments at home and abroad.”