Statement by Maajid Nawaz and Mohammed Shafiq

Maajid Nawaz, the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn and Mohammed Shafiq, member of the Liberal Democrats, have released a joint statement:

“We wish to make a statement about the recent concern expressed over issues related to conflicting views on depictions of Prophet Muhammad.

“We recognise that, when it comes to this question, some Muslims of various persuasions may take different views. However, we also recognise that there are many Muslims who have taken offence, and we assert that images of the spiritual leaders of all religions should be deemed to be respectful. We also respect the freedom of every member of the Liberal Democrats on either side of this debate who feels offended by tone or language to make representations to the Liberal Democrats as is their democratic right.

“We are both Liberals and support the principle of freedom of speech. But we also understand the importance of respect for others’ views and of moderation of language. In so far as this second principle of moderate language has been breached in the heat and passion of the current debate, we regret this and call for all those who have differing views to ensure that any debate which continues on this subject should use language and attitudes which conform to Liberal standards of respect and moderation.

“We now call on those on both sides of this argument to return to moderate debate, free of insult and threat and we do so because we believe this is in the interests of our Party, of the wider Muslim community in Britain and of the principles of peace to which Islam is committed.”

Maajid Nawaz, Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn.

Mohammed Shafiq, member of the Liberal Democrats.

Chriss Muir

It’s unfortunate Shafiq seems to have been able to sufficiently backtrack to avoid sanction. The man’s actions called the party’s core beliefs into question. His attacks on Nawaz were illiberal and irresponsible – possibly endangering Nawaz. I would rather there wasn’t room in the party for people who so obviously deplore freedom of expression in favour of their own personal blasphemy laws, which he seemingly would like all members bound by.

So yes, unfortunate. And I’m not happy about it. However, it seems Nawaz’ position is secure, and this will have to do.

Richard Wingfield

As far as I’m concerned, Maajid Nawaz has nothing to apologise for. Freedom of speech lies at the heart of a liberal democratic society and that includes freedom to say and publish things which are unpopular, controversial and which may cause offence. We campaigned hard to remove insults from the scope of our public order legislation, and rightly so. Whilst inciting hatred and using threatening and abusive language is properly criminalised, merely being offended by what someone else has said is insufficient to limit their right to say it. Being offended from time to time is the price we pay for living in a society where we are free to speak as we wish, including criticising (and mocking) politics, religion and any other groups.

Nawaz’s tweet, in fact, neither criticised nor mocked Islam. Offence has been taken because some Muslims find images of the prophet Muhammad offensive. But within all religions there are individuals who take offence to certain things. There are Christians who will be offended if somebody uses “Oh my God” or “Jesus Christ!” as swear words. But no Lib Dem (or anyone else) should ever have to apologise were they use those words just because some Christians were (or might be) offended. The same applies here. Cultural sensitivity works both ways. Incitement of hatred or violence against religious groups, or threatening or abusing religious individuals should be absolutely condemned and prohibited, but mere criticism or mild mockery is nothing to apologise for. Indeed, quite the opposite: the ability to criticise, to joke about, and to challenge institutions (including political parties and religions) is what helps keep them in check and from their becoming too powerful.

g

Do the Liberal Democrats really endorse a statement specifically calling for all portrayals of spiritual leaders to be respectful?

So much for defending liberalism and free speech.

Joe OttenJoe Otten

g, you are confusing criticism of disrespect with banning disrespect.

Rabia

Maajid Nawaz has nothing to apologise. He has every right NOT to be offended by something.

g

Joe, they are not just criticising disrespect, they are specifically calling for ‘images of the spiritual leaders of all religions should be deemed to be respectful’.

Now I appreciate they are expressing a wish, but surely, the liberal thing to do is to defend the right to criticise religious leaders?

tpfkar

I was fully behind Nawaz so feel he has given plenty of ground, more than he should.

But if ever we needed an example of two people with widely differing views sorting it out themselves and resolving their differences informally, this is it. So well done to both of them.

David Allen

Here is an argument which is roughly analogous to the one being argued here.

Q: “Is it right to speak out strongly against irresponsible binge-drinking?”
A: “Er yes…”

Q: “Is it right to speak out strongly against irresponsible binge-drinking, when you are standing in front of a hospital bed, and the guy lying in it is dying of cirrhosis?”
A: “Well, er….”

It is not an easy question. As a fully paid-up unbeliever myself, I think I should be free to mock religious pretension and the harm it can cause. But there is a time, a way and a place for that…

Geoffrey Payne

This was just what was needed. Great work by Emld and all concerned. This whole episode was very painful and should now be put to bed. I do hope that important lessons have been learnt from this. Liberals need to build bridges between communities just as has happened here.

Tony Lloyd

Joe

Are you not meta-confusing the issue?

It’s perfectly OKfor M and M to “assert that images of the spiritual leaders of all religions should be deemed to be respectful” and perfectly OK for g to assert that there is no need to ensure that. I read g as criticising M and M’s assertion, not trying to ban it.

Tony Harms

I do not wish to comment on the major question of the conflict, real or imagined, between offence and free speech. Many others have done so. What I would like to say is simply that the cartoon, “Jesus and Mo” is not a depiction of either Jesus or the prophet Mohammad. Jesus and Mohammad did not live in the same time period, let alone the modern time period. Nor did they share a house, order pizza, own a cat together, go to the pub or form an unsuccessful folk duo.
The cartoon ostensibly shows two people living in modern Britain with modern sensibilities but who are also, at the same time, in some manner, the founding figures of their two religions. This would be difficult to carry off in words and impossible in performance but it is the very stuff of cartoons (comics, sequential art, whatever you call it). That is what allows the author to play with religious concepts and issues with depth and brevity and is what makes cartoons themselves a separate and important means of discourse. If anything, the figures in the cartoon represent abstractions and not people. Perhaps there is a clue in that no ordinary person (apart from the three founders) appears visually in the cartoon at all. Since these are not depictions, they cannot be offensive as such. To be offended because of the supposed depictions (apart from the content) is to make a category mistake.

Ian Manning

Well done both – if only all our recent issues could be resolved this well.

Richard Wingfield

David, I agree with you that there is a time and a place for criticism/mild mockery of religion, but I cannot see how Nawaz chose the wrong time or place. He did not go to a mosque and put up copies of the cartoons on the wall, he did not do it after a terrorist attack or time when particular sensitivity was needed. He did on twitter (i.e. where to see it you have to choose to go to the person’s profile and read the tweet so there’s no way a person could have accidentally seen it or been forced to see it) and he did it shortly after the issue came to prominence as the BBC had just banned people who wore a T-shirt with the cartoon on from a television programme. It looks to me like he did it in exactly the right way.

Joe OttenJoe Otten

Tony, I don’t think so. g is not just asserting that there is no need to be respectful, but is suggesting it is illiberal to call for respectful behaviour. It is not, though it would be illiberal to enforce respectful behaviour. .

g

Joe,

It is not, though it would be illiberal to enforce respectful behaviour. .

It would. And is writing a petition that leads to harassment and death threats against somebody deemed to have supported a disrespectful take on religious leaders enforcement?

Is it not enforcement if the person deemed to have offended then appears to backtrack on their initial position to put their name to a statement saying they deplore disrespectful takes on religious leaders?

Simon Oliver

I reserve the right to take the mickey out of the spiritual leaders of any and all religions.

Just as I reserve the right to give offense to anyone I darn well please without receiving (illegal) death threats from the victims of my scorn.

Most of the time though, I’m a very nice chap.

Eddie Sammon

I support this joint statement and the call for peace and respect.

Steve Bowen

The idea that religious figures deserve automatic respect is a dangerous one and I am particularly concerned that Maajid Nawaz is endorsing this idea. The only people required to respect prophets are their followers. Religious sensibilities do not deserve some privileged place in the control of free speech. Religion is an idea (a bad one in my opinion) and while I am happy to respect someone’s right to believe as they wish I am not obliged to respect the beliefs themselves or to pretend that I do. Religions try to immunise themselves from criticism for a reason and “offense” is the vaccine they employ.

Ophelia Benson

” we assert that images of the spiritual leaders of all religions should be deemed to be respectful.”

An assertion too far.

Amalric

As a party we should support the right of citizens and party members to say things that can be viewed as offensive to some people. As liberals we should not behaviour as if we share the views of a particular religious faith if we don’t. Our history demands this.

Tonight Mohammed Shafiq was on Channel 4 News supporting a petition to remove Maajid Nawaz as our PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn. He made no reference of this joint statement!

Scott Walker

It goes without saying that we, as Liberal Democrats, support freedom of speech.
It’s a fact that some denominations of Islam forbid depictions of the prophet. So some Muslims would find the cartoon offensive simply by the fact that Mohammad is on it. I discussed this with a Liberally minded Muslim friend of mine who told me this cartoon would cause outrage amonst large sections of the Muslim population.
Whilst it is everybody’s right to say things which others may find offensive, and I’m sure all of us would defend that right, the question is whether we would want a candidate who causes offense to be our party’s candidate.
There are many figures in society who say offensive things and we would defend that, but we would probably never choose them to represent the party. The UKIP guy who blamed the storms on “homosexual [equal] marriage” has the right to express his view, but I’d be furious if he was chosen to fight an election as a Lib Dem.
I find it unlikely, given Maajid Nawaz’s background, that he wouldn’t know this would cause offense. As an individual if he offends people – so what, as a Lib Dem candidate it’s not so politically wise.
Well done to the pair for this statement, and whoever helped broker it. Hopefully this dispute is now over, we can move forward and continue to support Maajid and his campaign.

Martin Gentles

Great show by Maajid and Mohammed.

Paul Thompson

I was under the impression that the joint statement would draw a line under this affair – but all I can see is Mohammed Shafiq appearing on C4 news/tweeting that Maajid Nawaz should be deselected. All that’s happening now is that Mo Shafiq is continuing to be a driving force to whip this affair up – making it more and more about freedom of speech the larger it becomes.

The thing is, like with all of the “Mohammed” cartoons, if it were not for people looking to use them for their own political ends they would have largely been ignored and only a very small number of Muslims would have been offended. One wonders exactly how many more Muslims have been offended because of Mo Shafiq and those like him putting so much effort into publicising their outrage – and therefore publicising the images!

Joe King

UKIP managed to sort out their gay floods man very quickly, and with humour – Farage even did a spoof weather forecast himself. How is it that UKIP can take rapid action and we dither around? In the case of Lord Rennard we dithered around for years and it is still not resolved.

It seems doubtful that this statement, welcome as it is, will be the end of this matter.

Matthew Huntbach

Scott Walker

I discussed this with a Liberally minded Muslim friend of mine who told me this cartoon would cause outrage amongst large sections of the Muslim population.

Yes, and what does this say about those people?

Maajid Nawaz did not put out this message with the picture on it in order to offend Muslims. He put it out in order to suggest that the image of Muslims is being damaged by this tendency to over-react to things like this. So the over-reaction to it just proved his point.

Muslims need to think about this. What sort of image does this give of them and their religion? Not a pleasant one. Might it not be that the “Islamophobia” often complained about comes because people get this idea of Muslims being people who are just over-ready to see and react angrily against supposed slights against their religion? So everyone else is thinking “Ooh, er, don’t want to talk to or mix with Muslims, never know when I might inadvertently offend them”. Might it not be that when people see Muslims seemingly far more ready to jump up and down and get angry over something like this than over something like someone doing something horrible in the name of their religion, it makes then think Islam is not a very nice religion?

Is this not just going to get worse if it cannot be discussed because as soon as it does the person trying to initiate the discussion gets the death threats and so on? Maajid Nawaz was making the theological point “What sort of God is it that we worship that we suppose He will be offended by this?”. Or that He would be offended by this, but not by people threatening to kill or actually killing in His name?

A change in this sort of attitude can only come from within the Muslim community. It cannot be imposed from outside.

John Heyworth

So much for putting the matter to ed….Shafiq just posted the following on twitter:
“As a result of @MaajidNawaz provocative guardian column I have withdrawn my support for the joint statement.”
I think it’s time he left the Party before he does too much more damage.

Mick Taylor

Trouble is, in our rush to be free to say what we like, we never no when to stop!

Robert

Personally I am absolutely fed up with religion which has nothing to do with the possible existence of some kind of supreme presence or designer. My local vicar had it right when he said “the trouble with the church is there is too much religion in it”.

Maajid Nawaz is an excellent candidate and has put in some assured, balanced and rational TV performances. However after hearing and reading the intemperate and threatening rant by Mohammed Shafiq I was amazed to then find out he was a member of our party!

AC Trussell

I hope the statement does help to stop it getting out of hand.
All religions are a bit ridiculous- being based on the imagining’s of a few people from long ago. (and changed!)
I’m afraid this is the type of clash we must put up with; because, when you support the possibility of one religion -you automatically support them all.
I suppose it is the failure to accept reality( or fear of it! )that makes the “true believers” cling to there dreams.
I hope we all “Wake up” one day.

Julian Tisi

@David Allen “Here is an argument which is roughly analogous to the one being argued here.
Q: “Is it right to speak out strongly against irresponsible binge-drinking?”
A: “Er yes…”
Q: “Is it right to speak out strongly against irresponsible binge-drinking, when you are standing in front of a hospital bed, and the guy lying in it is dying of cirrhosis?”
A: “Well, er….”
It is not an easy question. As a fully paid-up unbeliever myself, I think I should be free to mock religious pretension and the harm it can cause. But there is a time, a way and a place for that…”

An excellent analogy, but in this case I think Maajid Nawaz chose exactly the right time and the right place. He’s a Muslim himself, posts the picture on his own twitter feed and says “I am not offended by this”. Unfortunately there are some Muslims who believe there’s never a right time and a right place to ever question anything about their religion and play the offence card or worse whenever anyone does. They are doing so in order to eliminate from any scrutiny some horrific world views. Those who dare challenge them – however respectfully – are subjected to hate and/or threats.

I note from the joint statement that even now Mohammed Shafiq refuses to properly apologise. Well done once again to Maajid Nawaz for being the one to offer a way to peace, even though he has nothing to apologise for.

As for Mohammed Shafiq his behaviour is quite beyond the pale and unacceptable in any human being, let alone a Lib Dem standing for office. I hope he is disciplined and unless he makes a full “I was wrong” apology, he should be expelled from the party.

Darren Reynolds

The truce didn’t last long. Shafiq has withdrawn his support for it, in response to an article Maajid wrote for the Guardian. As far as I can tell, Maajid’s article was entirely non-inflammatory and Shafiq’s response is an unwarranted escalation. Shafiq has now resorted to responding to one critic by calling him an alcoholic. It is all very disappointing.

Graham Martin-Royle

This is Maajid Nawaz’s provocative column. As you can see, it’s very illiberal

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/28/speaking-islam-loudmouths-hijacked

Scott Walker

Mick Taylor is absolutely right when he says “in our rush to be free to say what we like, we never no when to stop!”
@ Matthew Huntbach Please re-think this statement “Muslims need to think about this. What sort of image does this give of them and their religion? Not a pleasant one.” Liberalism isn’t only about freedom of speech it’s about freedom from conformity. I would defend that right as much as freedom of speech.
Whether Maaajid Nawaz intended to offend them or not, my point is that he would have known that it would offend them. When you are chasing votes it’s not a good idea to offend sections of the electorate. That was my only point.
Let me draw on an example. A candidate might swear a lot when he/she speaks with friends. It’s their right to swear a lot if they choose to. But it’s not politically wise to do so when canvassing, making public statements, tweeting etc. as it will offend some people and their vote will be lost. Which is exactly why Mick’s comment sums it up perfectly.
For the record, I don’t think that Mahammad Shafiq has exactly covered himself with glory either, but the difference is he isn’t asking for anyone’s vote.

GPPurnell

This is Nick Cohen’s allegation against Mohammed Shafiq. If it is true that he tweeted that Maajid Nawas was a ‘defamer of the prophet’ in Urdu AND that this is a well-known incitement to Islamist death threats or even murder (and neither can be difficult to investigate) it is HIS behaviour which surely warrants expulsion?
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/25/liberal-democrats-t-shirt-jesus-muhammad-religion

Julian Tisi

@ Scott Walker
If we all avoided offence at all costs we would have never had gay rights or womens rights (for fear of upsetting traditionalist sensibilities). Sometimes risking offence is a price we have to pay for moving part of society forward.

Robert

I too read Maajid Nawaz’s article in the Guardian and I can’t for the life of me imagine why Mohammed Shafiq has allegedly taken offence to it and withdrawn his support for the joint statement. issued by the pair. If that is the case then I really do think that he should lie down in a quiet room and seriously reflect on whether or not he’s in the right party for him. As I said in a previous post I wasn’t impressed with his recent intemperate and threatening media rants but he’s really starting to worry me now.

David Gray

@ Scott Walker

Does this mean we shouldn’t talk about equal marriage for fear of offending UKIP supporters?

I’m sorry, but Mohammed Shafiq has behaved disgracefully here and I’m fully behind Nawaz on this. To quote Stephen Fry:

‘The phrase ‘I find that offensive’ has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that’… Well, so f***ing what?’

We should not be beholden to everyone’s sensitivities, particularly those that are as irrational as Shafiq’s.

Steve Bowen

@Scott Walker
Personally I would prefer the chance to vote for someone who says what they think than what they believe I want to hear. Besides, the error being made is that Shafiq is speaking for a majority, I suspect he is only speaking for a vocal few.

Scott Walker

@Julian Tisi I completely agree with what you said. But this isn’t about moving society forward. Some of the comments I have read on the web seem to think that not allowing depictions of the prophet is somehow backwards. To Sunni Muslims it’s an absolute elementary part of their faith that there should be no pictures of Mohammad. It is like the Holy Trinity to Catholicism or not touching the Torah scrolls to Judaism. That is why it isn’t a good idea to cause this offence.

jedibeeftrix

@ Graham MR – “This is Maajid Nawaz’s provocative column. As you can see, it’s very illiberal ”

I suspect you are being ironic, I do hope that is the case?

Kash Hussain

I am a Tory and Muslim and fully support Maajid Nawaz. I do not believe he has caused any offence and like him I agree a cartoon does not offend my islamic sensibilities and muslims in general should calm down and develop a sense of humour.

Matthew Huntbach

Scott Walker

A candidate might swear a lot when he/she speaks with friends. It’s their right to swear a lot if they choose to. But it’s not politically wise to do so when canvassing, making public statements, tweeting etc. as it will offend some people and their vote will be lost.

This is a ridiculous analogy. The release of the image was not equivalent to “swearing” because it was done precisely to make the point about THAT image i.e. “it is silly and actually damaging to what we stand for to get so worked up about this”. He wasn’t just doing it to be offensive. If he had worn that image on a tee-shirt just because he thought “ho-ho-ho, this would be a funny thing today”, THEN you would have a very valid point. But he wasn’t doing anything like that.

Of course there are many things that cause offence but are valid political viewpoints. For example, note these comments here and here on our former MP for Oxford West and Abingdon. His strong stand on certain issues must have cost him some votes, maybe even enough to have lost him his seat. Would you therefore say he shouldn’t have taken this string stand or should have been barred from being a Liberal Democrat candidate for doing so?

Graham Martin-Royle

@jedibeeftrix: I was trying to be sarcastic but it didn’t come out right.

@Scott Walker: So Sunni Muslims don’t like pictures of Mohamed, so what? Non muslims should not be expected to abide by their rules. No MP or prospective MP should ever be subject to censorship, they must be allowed to speak on whatever matter they want. That there should even be a debate about this is appalling.

Joe King

Expel them both. Shafiq for acting contrary to liberal principles, Nawaz for using his position within the party to promote his own views in a disrespectful way that he should have known would cause trouble.

If this article refers to the same person he should have been expelled in 2008:
http://www.rochdaleonline.co.uk/news-features/2/community-news/276/man-exposed-for-deceit-chosen-as-lib-dem-candidate-for-bamford

Matthew Huntbach

Joe King

Nawaz for using his position within the party to promote his own views in a disrespectful way that he should have known would cause trouble.

If that was done, I would resign from the party. The incidentalists* would have won.

Maajid Nawaz was not saying he liked or would himself wish to circulate this cartoon. He was instead suggesting it was silly and counter-productive to get so worked up about it. How is one supposed to say that without illustrating what is said by showing a picture of it? He added to his point a serious note on religious belief, that the God he worships is surely much bigger than the sort of God the incidentalists have made up who would get all worked up about this sort if thing. In his Guardian article he wrote more on Islam, noting that it is very much about individuals having a direct relationship with God as revealed through his prophet Mohammed, and that therefore it is wrong for others to try and dictate how that relationship should be played out for any individual.

The incidentalists hate people who are deep and thoughtful about religion. They don’t want actually to talk about religion in these terms. So one of the things they do is attack those who do it, accusing them of being disrespectful, blasphemous, etc. Often they will work with the opponents of their religion to get rid of these thoughtful religious people in the middle. One may remember a certain Jesus got crucified (literally) some two thousand years ago by such an alliance for his attacks on the incidentalists of his days. He was quite influential on the thinking of the “Nonconformists” who were central to the foundation of our party in the 19th century.

The problem with this whole argument is that I think many secularists who are joining in here and criticising Maajid Nawaz actually aren’t picking up the religious undertones of what he is saying. If a serious attempt to engage in religious discussion on this is dismissed as disrespectful, as those secularists are criticising Maajid Nawaz are doing, it is in effect closing down such discussion. The incidentalists will always play the “holier than thou” game, making a big display of their incidentals, and accusing anyone who has a deeper form of religion of not being as holy as they are. What better than to get the secularists to support them in their idea that theirs is the only valid version of their religion?

* This is a word I have made up as a suggested replacement for “fundamentalist”. I think it is more accurate. I mean people who get tied up and obsessed with incidental details of their religion, and in doing so miss what is it deeper fundamentals.

Terry Gilbert

I’m not sure why you think secularists are ‘criticising Maajid Nawas’, Matthew?
I would considermyself a secularist (in that I would like to see a neutral state which does not favour one set of beliefs over another – for example in schools and hospitals), and I fully support his right to ‘carve out a space’ for liberal Muslims to speak out against what you call ‘incidentalism’. So does the National Secular Society, in fact: http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2014/01/parliamentary-candidate-maajid-nawaz-under-pressure-for-posting-jesus-and-mo-cartoon-on-twitter
Perhaps you misunderstand ‘secularist’ as ‘person who would stop others practising their religion’?

Nick

My understanding is that Sunni Muslims’ main concern has traditionally been that the use of images can encourage idolatry. Wikipedia supports this view – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depictions_of_Muhammad

Clearly no one will ever idolise the pictures of Mohammad from the Jesus and Mo cartoons. This is a non issue.

GPPurnell

A good point Nick, but the author of Jesus and Mo denies (with characteristic humour) that it is supposed to be the Mohammed of the Qur’an in any event. (See the J&M ‘about’ page).
Clearly the characters are meant to be representations of the two big monotheistic religions and so provide a witty critique of religious authority (and that is what the religious authorities cannot stand, of course!), but as they are set in a thoroughly modern setting, with pubs, computers, open gay relationships, etc. it really is a bit of a stretch to say that Mo is meant to be a depiction of the Prophet of Islam in any event.
I see the latest edition is taking the piss out of channel 4, by the way, with the appearance of the ‘black egg of Islamophobia’! They have a point, in that C4 is arguably behaving in a way which is more Islamophobic than those who show the uncensored cartoon (which includes Lib Dem Voice).
Though perhaps I undermine your point by idolising Jesus and Mo… :-)

GPPurnell

@Matthew Huntbach:
‘Incidentalism’
1. n. tendency to focus on the incidentals (as opposed to the fundamentals) of a religious or philosophical position
But perhaps also:
2. n. tendency to blow minor incidents out of all proportion to score political points or enforce hegemony.

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