Sultan Shahin, editor, New Age Islam
Bengalis no longer enjoy the freedom of the age of Kabeer or Raheem or our Vedic ancestors
It is outrageous that in this day and age a respected newspaper like the Statesman cannot even publish as innocuous an article as Johann Hari’s “Why should I respect these oppressive religions?” It is being reproduced below courtesy Independent of London where it originally appeared. It seems some obscurantist Muslims had objection to it and so the Stalinist police arrested Mr. Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha, the editor and publisher of The Statesman, and curiously without provoking any debate or as far as I know even any coverage in secular democratic India’s independent media.
As you will see in the article below Johann Hari is very balanced and maintains equidistance from all major religions that he mentions. He makes a plea for freedom of expression. His main point is stated in the very first paragraph: “The right to criticize religion is being slowly doused in acid. Across the world, the small, incremental gains made by secularism – giving us the space to doubt and question and make up our own minds – are being beaten back by belligerent demands that we "respect" religion. A historic marker has just been passed, showing how far we have been shoved. The UN rapporteur who is supposed to be the global guardian.”
I am a religious person myself. But I don’t see how anyone can be religious in the true sense of the term without having ever been skeptical about religion, without having been agnostic or even atheist for a time. No truly religious person can ever question the right of others to question religion. He would have the confidence to know that this questioning person will come to realize the value of religion in general, and maybe his religion too in course of time. He or she will see that as this fellow is questioning religion, he/she has the capacity to someday become religious. But of course those who follow their inherited religion are not going to see it this way. They are the inhabitants of the land of Jahiliya.
Now tell me my Muslim brothers and sisters! Would there have been a religion called Islam in the world today if Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) had taken your view of his ancestral religion? Would we have had Islam in the world today if the Prophet had not questioned and rebelled against the religion of his family and clan and tribe? Indeed would we have had any religion, any science, any literature, any philosophy? All progress emanates from questioning established truths.
However, this is no occasion for a discourse on progress. You cannot address followers of ancestral religions, followers of Abu Jahal, and discuss with them concepts of progress. You can just beat them in a war and then they will join you, as the Meccan followers of Abu Jahal joined Islam after their defeat.
I don’t know what the obscurantist Muslims of an enlightened city like Kolakata find objectionable in Johann Hari’s article. Perhaps it is the following passage that has provoked their ire:
“All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don't respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don't respect the idea that we should follow a "Prophet" who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn't follow him.
“I don't respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don't respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of "prejudice" or "ignorance", but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.
“When you demand "respect", you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.”
Obviously Hari’s idea about the Prophet’s character is wrong, but it is based in large parts on the propaganda launched by Arab Muslims who want to justify their own pedophilic proclivities by announcing from rooftops even today that the Prophet married a girl of six and consummated his marriage when she was nine. The kind of fatwas Saudi Wahhabi Ulema (religious scholars) give on the issue even today, some of which available on NewAgeIslam.com, is enough to convince any non-Muslim and indeed any Muslim that this is what the Prophet did. Please refer to the following stories:
Fifty-Something Saudi Refuses to Annul Marriage to his Eight-Year-Old Wife
Father was 'swapping' her for a 13-year-old bride
Dr. Ahmad Al-Mub'i, a Saudi Marriage Officiant: It Is Allowed to Marry a Girl at the Age of One, If Sex Is Postponed. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Whose Model We Follow, Married 'Aisha When She Was Six and Had Sex with Her When She Was Nine
The books written 200-300 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), though seeking to provide a good deal of historical information about him, are not free from less than perfect and self-contradictory materials. These should not be taken as the final word for a Muslim. There is a Final Word for a Muslim and that is the Book of God, the Holy Qur’an—the book that defines the marriageable age for a man or woman when he or she attains soundness of judgment (Al-Qur’an 4:6). If the exalted prophet of Islam is a model for all-time mankind, if he followed the Qur’an all his life, if Allah stands witness to his rock-solid moral character, there is no way that he could have taken a 6-9 year old, immature young, playful girl as a responsible wife, argues Abdul H. Fauq.
The above article by Abdul H. Fauq presents a very different set of research and speculation, one that does not suit the Arab male chauvinists and paedophiles who call themselves Muslims and thus doesn’t get propagated by the massive Wahhabi-controlled Islamic media around the world.
As for Johann Hari’s claim that the Prophet “ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn't follow him”, it is patently wrong and cannot be presented in this way. The Prophet is an exemplar of patience and perseverance and forgiveness. His entire history is a testament to this. Look at Sulah–e-Hudaibiya, look at his general amnesty to the murderous Meccans after the victory over Mecca when he was in a position to order wholesale slaughter. As for the Jews, neutral observers have to understand that at that time the Prophet was fighting for his community and faith’s very survival. The Jews first entered into an agreement with him and then when war came stabbed him in the back, expecting the far superior army of Meccans to decimate the ill-equipped and extremely weak Muslim army. But the reverse happened with the blessings and support of God, the only thing that could indeed have saved the Prophet, his army and Islam. Now the perfidious Jews had indeed to be taught a lesson as a warning to other tribes who were now entering into similar agreements with the Muslim community. Remember this was the act of a man who was literally fighting for his and his faith’s survival. When he was victorious and in a position to order slaughter he ordered general amnesty even to war criminals who later killed his own family members and subverted Islam for good.
Anyway, this rebuttal is not the point now. The point at stake now is Johann’s Hari’s right to express his views. Why indeed should he or anybody else be forced to respect religions in whose name so many slaughters and worse have taken place and are taking place now? If religions want to be respected, the religious should behave in a respectable fashion, should try and earn that respect, through exemplary conduct and debate, not force people to respect them.
Sultan Shahin, editor, New Age Islam
Editor arrested for 'outraging Muslims'
Protests against Indian newspaper over article reprinted from Independent
By Jerome Taylor
Thursday, 12 February 2009
The editor and publisher of a major Indian newspaper have been arrested for "hurting the religious feelings" of Muslims after they reprinted an article from The Independent. Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha, the editor and publisher of the Kolkata-based English daily The Statesman, appeared in court yesterday charged under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code which forbids "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings".
Sections of central Kolkata have been paralysed by protests for much of the past week after The Statesman republished an article by The Independent's columnist Johann Hari. Titled "Why should I respect oppressive religions?", the piece was originally printed in The Independent on 28 January. In it, Hari said he believed the right to criticise any religion was being eroded around the world.
The Statesman, a highly respected liberal English-language daily, reprinted the article on 5 February, causing a major backlash among a small group of Muslims who felt that the piece slighted the Prophet Mohamed and insulted their religion. Peaceful protests were held outside The Statesman's offices at the weekend but by Monday, demonstrations had turned violent. Angry crowds began blocking roads, attacking police and calling for the arrest of the article's author and the newspaper's publisher and editor. On Monday and Tuesday police used baton charges to try to disperse crowds and more than 70 protesters were arrested.
Staff at The Statesman were forced to barricade the front entrance to their building and were escorted into their offices through a side door by police. The office is opposite the Tipu Sultan Masjid, Kolkata's largest mosque.
One journalist at The Statesman said: "The police have surrounded our building all this week but the protesters kept coming back. There was a small section who were absolutely hell-bent on causing problems."
Last night, Hari defended his article. "I wrote in defence of the right to criticise religion – all religion – and it is vitally important to keep that right alive in the world's largest, and in many ways most admirable, democracy," he said. On two separate occasions Mr Kumar, The Statesman's editor, issued statements standing by his decision to publish the article. But he also said he had not meant to cause offence to any religion. A note published on 8 February said The Statesman had reprinted Hari's article because "it mourned the marginalisation of the middle, liberal path in modern society". It added: "The Statesman has always upheld secular values and has a record of providing space to all viewpoints, even contentious ones. If we were unable to fulfil this role, we would rather cease publication with honour than compromise our basic values.
"The publication of Johann Hari's opinion was not intended to cause hurt, or defame any community or religion. Nor was it intended to provoke societal tension. If unwittingly we have aggrieved any section of society, we deeply regret it."
As well as the protests, a complaint was also filed at a police station by a member of the public, Mohd Shahid, calling for arrests. Speaking to The Independent last night, Mr Kumar said he voluntarily attended the police station yesterday to try to calm tensions. "Upon learning that a case had been registered by Kolkata police, I contacted officers and offered to assist the investigation and to aid efforts to defuse tensions," he said. "Following this, the arrests were made early today and we were released on bail last night."
Since Mr Kumar's arrest yesterday protesters have dispersed.
Why should I respect these oppressive religions?
Whenever a religious belief is criticised, its adherents say they're victims of 'prejudice'
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
The right to criticise religion is being slowly doused in acid. Across the world, the small, incremental gains made by secularism – giving us the space to doubt and question and make up our own minds – are being beaten back by belligerent demands that we "respect" religion. A historic marker has just been passed, showing how far we have been shoved. The UN rapporteur who is supposed to be the global guardian of free speech has had his job rewritten – to put him on the side of the religious censors.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated 60 years ago that "a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people". It was a Magna Carta for mankind – and loathed by every human rights abuser on earth. Today, the Chinese dictatorship calls it "Western", Robert Mugabe calls it "colonialist", and Dick Cheney calls it "outdated". The countries of the world have chronically failed to meet it – but the document has been held up by the United Nations as the ultimate standard against which to check ourselves. Until now.
Starting in 1999, a coalition of Islamist tyrants, led by Saudi Arabia, demanded the rules be rewritten. The demand for everyone to be able to think and speak freely failed to "respect" the "unique sensitivities" of the religious, they decided – so they issued an alternative Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. It insisted that you can only speak within "the limits set by the shariah [law]. It is not permitted to spread falsehood or disseminate that which involves encouraging abomination or forsaking the Islamic community".
In other words, you can say anything you like, as long as it precisely what the reactionary mullahs tell you to say. The declaration makes it clear there is no equality for women, gays, non-Muslims, or apostates. It has been backed by the Vatican and a bevy of Christian fundamentalists.
Incredibly, they are succeeding. The UN's Rapporteur on Human Rights has always been tasked with exposing and shaming those who prevent free speech – including the religious. But the Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn "abuses of free expression" including "defamation of religions and prophets". The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.
Anything which can be deemed "religious" is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah "will not happen" and "Islam will not be crucified in this council" – and Brown was ordered to be silent. Of course, the first victims of locking down free speech about Islam with the imprimatur of the UN are ordinary Muslims.
Here is a random smattering of events that have taken place in the past week in countries that demanded this change. In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest – but the Shariah police declared it was "un-Islamic" and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country's most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry 10-year-old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year-old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah.
To the people who demand respect for Muslim culture, I ask: which Muslim culture? Those women's, those children's, this blogger's – or their oppressors'?
As the secular campaigner Austin Darcy puts it: "The ultimate aim of this effort is not to protect the feelings of Muslims, but to protect illiberal Islamic states from charges of human rights abuse, and to silence the voices of internal dissidents calling for more secular government and freedom."
Those of us who passionately support the UN should be the most outraged by this.
Underpinning these "reforms" is a notion seeping even into democratic societies – that atheism and doubt are akin to racism. Today, whenever a religious belief is criticised, its adherents immediately claim they are the victims of "prejudice" – and their outrage is increasingly being backed by laws.
All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don't respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don't respect the idea that we should follow a "Prophet" who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn't follow him.
I don't respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don't respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of "prejudice" or "ignorance", but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.
When you demand "respect", you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.
But why are religious sensitivities so much more likely to provoke demands for censorship than, say, political sensitivities? The answer lies in the nature of faith. If my views are challenged I can, in the end, check them against reality. If you deregulate markets, will they collapse? If you increase carbon dioxide emissions, does the climate become destabilised? If my views are wrong, I can correct them; if they are right, I am soothed.
But when the religious are challenged, there is no evidence for them to consult. By definition, if you have faith, you are choosing to believe in the absence of evidence. Nobody has "faith" that fire hurts, or Australia exists; they know it, based on proof. But it is psychologically painful to be confronted with the fact that your core beliefs are based on thin air, or on the empty shells of revelation or contorted parodies of reason. It's easier to demand the source of the pesky doubt be silenced.
But a free society cannot be structured to soothe the hardcore faithful. It is based on a deal. You have an absolute right to voice your beliefs – but the price is that I too have a right to respond as I wish. Neither of us can set aside the rules and demand to be protected from offence.
Yet this idea – at the heart of the Universal Declaration – is being lost. To the right, it thwacks into apologists for religious censorship; to the left, it dissolves in multiculturalism. The hijacking of the UN Special Rapporteur by religious fanatics should jolt us into rescuing the simple, battered idea disintegrating in the middle: the equal, indivisible human right to speak freely.
Johann Hari has reported from Iraq, Israel/Palestine, the Congo, the Central African Republic, Venezuela, Peru and the US, and his journalism has appeared in publications all over the world. The youngest person to be nominated for the Orwell Prize for political writing, in 2003 he won the Press Gazette Young Journalist of the Year Award and in 2007 Amnesty International named him Newspaper Journalist of the Year. He is a contributing editor of Attitudemagazine and published his first book, God Save the Queen?, in 2003. He can be reached at: email@example.com