“Defend the right to blasphemy”

Sent by Mahmood Ketabchi, an exiled follower of the Worker Communist Party of Iran now living in New Jersey and active in support work for workers’ and women’s movements in Iran and Iraq. Emphasis added.

Defend Freedom of Press—and the Right to Blasphemy

by Mahmood Ketabchi
February 9, 2006

The publication of cartoons of Muhammad by several European newspapers has given the political Islamists an opportunity to launch a brutal international assault against freedom of press and the right to blasphemy. Islamist demonstrators attacked and burned a few European embassies, launched sectarian attacks on people from other religions, and threatened the lives of European citizens. In the streets of London, they called for murder and beheading of the cartoonists and anyone who insults Islam and threatened a special 9/11 massacre for Europeans. It went so far that a demonstrator in front of the Danish Embassy in London wore suicide bomber’s gear. The US and European governments declared their regrets over the cartoons and apologized to the Islamists. Even the Pope, representing the Catholic establishment, pitched in his two cents condemning the cartoon, maybe out of fear that someone might draw caricatures of the church’s collusion with pedophilic Catholic priests raping little children. The apologies only added more fuel to the Islamist’s rage and outcry, for they saw it as justification for their actions.

It is naive to believe that these protests were “spontaneous” movements of Muslims against Islamophobia—as some Islamists and their western apologists would like to tell us. This assault has been in the making for a few months. In September a right-wing Danish newspaper publishes 12 drawings of Muhammad. Islamist groups in Denmark began a campaign against the caricatures of Muhammad. Then, despotic and reactionary Arab regimes, friends or foes of the west, in solidarity with their brethren in Denmark, mounted diplomatic pressure on Denmark. In fact in December the issue was discussed at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (made up of 57 “Islamic countries”) that later condemned the cartoons as an “act of blasphemy.” In January, Copenhagen prosecutor refused to press charges against the paper. After all efforts to silence the Danish press failed, the Islamist attack dogs were unleashed to commence a violent protest campaign to teach the west a lesson. Professional Islamist hooligans and paid agents of authoritarian and fascist nationalist and Islamist governments and organizations for the most part formed the core of these protests. As the Islamists and the nationalist forces find themselves in a growing conflict with the US and western governments, the cartoons of Muhammad gave them a chance to try to gain advantage over the European and the US government in order to reinforce their position internationally and specifically in the Middle East.

The fascist mobs who are asking the world to hold their prophet in reverence and are expressing outrage at the mocking of Muhammad are the same people who waste no time to impose their reign of terror and barbarity when they come to power or gain any significant political strength. They do not hesitate to spit on and trample upon every bit of human decency and values. These are the same currents that commit daily crimes against humanity. They are the same criminal club- and knife-wielding crowd, resembling the brown-shirt fascists, who beat up protesters and progressive forces that dare to stand up for freedom, equality, and human dignity. They are the same misogynists who brutalize women and regard them as subhumans, the same homophobics who kill and maim those who do not fit their man-fuck-woman-only lifestyle, the same anti-worker forces who suppress any independent workers’ protests and organizations, the same people for whom child molesting is a law of god—the list of atrocities has no end. Islamism is not a “protest movement of oppressed nations”; it is an offshoot of the US and western governments’ campaign against communism, freedom, human decency, and a better world, in collusion with the nationalist bourgeoisie in Islamism-stricken countries.

The Islamist campaign to impose their taboos and intimidate the world into submission must be confronted head on. It is an attempt to spread their message of hate and brutality across the world. Since long ago, when Ronald Regan called Afghani Islamic criminals “freedom fighters,” Islamist regimes and forces, with the knowledge and clear understanding of the western powers and the US government and oil money behind them, have started a quiet but concerted effort to spread their propaganda machinery across the world (including Europe), build political power, and shape Islamist hate groups that are now being instrumentalized to their advantage.

Benefiting from “multiculturalism” and “moral relativism” in the west, they have sought to create and maintain Islamist ghettos and implement their oppressive and reactionary practices. Islamism is a dreadful and grim political movement. The recent uproar over the cartoons only helps highlight the challenges political Islam pose to progressive humanity. The western powers and the US government, as they have demonstrated repeatedly, have no intention to confront this movement. In fact, they have no problem to work hand in hand with the Islamists as long as their cooperation can be secured. They are concerned with their capitalist economic and political interests and domination over the world, not anyone’s freedom.

Islamism must be defeated in a political arena. First and foremost, the Islamist’s call to limit and suppress freedom of expression must be strongly opposed. Religion and for that matter Islam should not be above criticism. No religion, no god, and no prophet should hold any special privilege. Islamists are free to praise their prophet as long as and as much as they want. However, that is the limit. To demand that the freethinkers must succumb to their taboos is outrageous and preposterous. Islamists should not be allowed to impose their ignorance, taboos, and superstitions on humanity. The right to blasphemy, to question and protest against god, to criticize religious beliefs, to mock religious personalities, is not just equally as important as freedom of worship and religious beliefs—but is rather more essential given the rise of sectarian religious tendencies in the world. Religion as an oppressive industry continues to be a human malaise and catastrophe. It does nothing but propagate ignorance, superstitions, human bondage and submission, bloody conflicts, sectarian wars, and genocides. Freedom from religion is an important safeguard for human liberation and dignity. Requesting respect for “religious sensitivities” as an argument to curb freedom of expression is as preposterous and dangerous as any attempt to silence freethinkers. Freedom has no boundaries and the religious sectarians and fundamentalist fanatics should get used to it. Putting limits on freedom under the pretext of “respect for religion”, “emergency situation”, “national interest”, “security”, “war”, etc. can only give brutal forces the opportunity to suppress people.

Moreover, separation of religion and the state must be vigorously enforced. Religion and for that matter Islam should be pushed out of public life into mosques, churches, and synagogues where they belong. Reactionary and brutal religious practices that undermine and denigrate human life have to be prohibited. Religious bigotry and discriminatory practices must be outlawed. Children need to be protected from religious proselytizing and industry. Religious teachings should be banned from education, public or private. Children rights and women rights should be expanded and strongly implemented. No public money, not even a cent, should go to religious institutions. Tax laws should be equally applicable to all properties and revenues belonging to religious institutions. To fight religious movements it is inseparable that we fight against bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant policies, and ghetoization of immigrant communities, all of which feed into the Islamist movement. Islamism grows in a swamp; that swamp must be dried up.

Freedom from religion and the right to blasphemy must be of particular importance for progressive forces, socialists, and communists in the US. Bush calls himself a “Born Again Christian.” Some of his followers believe god chose him to become president of the United States. He is a man who believes his “War on Terrorism” is his “Holy Mission.” Bush’s ascendancy to power became possible to a large extent due to the growing power of Christian religious bigots who are dreaming of their own apocalyptic Christendom. These reactionary forces, with their vast resources, as well as public money at their disposal through “Faith Based Initiatives,” and with their president in office, are chipping away slowly but steadily at our freedom, particularly women’s rights, under the guise of “religious sanctities.” These are the same people who unleashed criminals to bomb abortion clinics, murder physicians, and assault women seeking abortions, all in defense of “sanctity of life.” These messengers of hate have enough taboos and “sanctities” that can create a hellish life if enforced upon the society. To the extent that the power of religion and religious movements grows, freedom and human dignity become its inevitable casualty. Stopping Islamists from imposing their taboos on us is inseparable from our struggle to prevent the Christian bigots from forcing their sanctities on society.

It is similarly crucial that we defend freedom of press and expression. This is a hard-won achievement for humanity that is under a brutal assault by the Islamists. Succumbing to the Islamists’ demands will be a dangerous precedent. Not only will it allow them to come up with other outrageous demands, it will also create a fertile ground for all other reactionary forces to make the same argument that such and such “sanctity” or “interest” is in jeopardy, and therefore demand their own limits on press freedom.

It is no secret that the US mainstream media are by and large in the pocket of the US government. We know that without their help, for example, the Iraq war could not have happened. They deliberately refused to publish information that challenged the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. We know that under the pretext of “national security”, they withhold crucial information from people, or only reveal a a very insignificant part of it. As the Islamists mount an attack on freedom of press, the US media once again have shown their cowardliness by refusing to take a stand in defense of freedom of expression. It is a no-brainer that fighting for press freedom here in this country is of significant importance and that includes beating back the Islamists who want to impose their taboos on the world.

See our last post on the cartoon controversy.

  1. Congratulations
    I feel the need to congratulate Mahmood Ketabchi on his amazingly well thought through article. It represents the form of thinking that is needed not only within the middle east but anywhere were oppressive regimes (be they religious or other) exist.

  2. So, do you defend this Muslim’s right to free speech too?
    Student slapped down for defending Palestinian right to resist


    Axiomatically, leading academic institutions involve intense and varied debate over a variety of topics, and some of that debate ranges over territory that mainstream conversation often misses. SOAS, a prestigious higher learning institution in the centre of London, would appear to have a defender of free and open discussion in head Colin Bundy. In the last month, the Director & Principal has openly defended the right of an apologist for the Uzbekistan regime, Shirin Akiner, to speak at SOAS, rejecting calls for reconsideration by former British ambassador the dictatorship, Craig Murray. He previously overturned a ban imposed by the Student Union on the attendance of Israeli embassy counsellor Roey Gilad: the students have an anti-racist policy, and consider Zionism to be in practise a form of racism. Bundy has expounded an heroic Voltairean dedication to free speech in defence of these actions.

    Yet, one glaring exception renders the rule absurd: the treatment of a student named Nasser Amin. Amin had written an article for a student magazine arguing that Palestinians had the right to use force against Israel’s occupation. Instantly, this issue was used alongside a clutch of others by some right-wingers and pro-Zionist students who insisted that SOAS was guilty of anti-Semitism. The broadsheets in the UK were joined in coverage of this claim by American far right website FrontPage magazine and Campus Watch, the former run by David Horowitz and the latter by Daniel Pipes, an anti-Muslim bigot. Gavin Gross, the SOAS student who had been most involved in pressing these claims, was given a glowing interview by FrontPage in which he dragged Amin’s name through the mud. David Winnick MP raised the possibility in parliament that Amin should be charged with incitement to racial hatred. Finally, Bundy succumbed to the pressure and issued Amin with a formal reprimand, without even informing him of it or why he was being reprimanded.

    Professors Richard Falk and Ted Honderich have referred in the past to a right to violence – Honderich has gone further, suggesting that on the basis of present realities, the Palestinians are entitled to their terror. Professor Michael Neumann uses similar arguments to Amin. These are public intellectuals, and so are in some position to defend themselves. Amin, by contrast, is a student. He is almost entirely defenceless. As a Muslim, he belongs to a community that is subject to calumny and extraordinary scrutiny of its every word and gesture. His academic freedom was sacrificed to the exigencies of an urgent political struggle by defenders of Israel to curtail the scope of anti-Zionism on campus. Some staff at SOAS spoke out on Amin’s behalf, including his tutor Dr Mark Laffey, who said “It is part of the job description of an academic institution that you are willing to give offence. Our job is to seek out the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or unpleasant for various groups or interests.” Another member of staff, John Game, circulated an open letter condemning Bundy for giving in to such pressure. The Islamic Human Rights Commission said a word or two on Amin’s behalf, demanding that Bundy explain why the reprimand was issued without Amin being given the chance to defend himself, and also demanding that the reprimand be retracted.

    Yet, Bundy’s impressive dedication to free expression continues to elude him on this issue. Answer came there none, and Amin still has an official reprimand to remind him of just what commonplace argument he may not articulate in mixed company. He also has an MP who’d like to see him face jail for up to seven years. And he has American rightists accusing him of “Jew-hatred” for the benefit of audiences whom he may never address. Amin, for his part, feels that the article was “selectively misquoted” by the media and that he has been misused for political purposes. Further, just when he hoped the college would defend him from “Islamophobia, bullying, racism, harassment and slander”, they instead acceded to the bullying, slapped him down and made him a scapegoat on their website.

    This is not an isolated story. Campus Watch has been behind the hounding of a number of pro-Palestinian academics in the United States, including Professors Joel Beinin and Rashid Khalidi. The website has a page inviting students to tell on teachers who are insufficiently supportive of Israel. It attacked a professor named Joseph Massad who was falsely accused of bullying pro-Israeli students. In part, this is happening because the issues surrounding Israel-Palestine are becoming more urgent, while at the same time a decades-long pro-Israel consensus is eroding. There is also a vast gulf between what is academically known about the Israel-Palestine conflict and the picture generally presented in the media. This has produced a climate in which pro-Zionists and right-wingers feel compelled to try and rein in academic discourse. The treatment of Nasser Amin is a small introduction to that trend, one which began in America and is gathering pace in the UK. So the story is, if you like, about all students and their right to argue points of view that are controversial in mainstream discourse.

    Anyone feeling the urge to defend his or her own intellectual integrity could do worse than contact Colin Bundy and protest against the mistreatment of Nasser Amin: cb3@soas.ac.uk