The recent on-going battle (and it feels like a battle), by those supporting Maajid Nawaz and those opposing his actions have simply added to a greater sense of confusion as to what is anti-Muslim prejudice. Furthermore, there are those who seek to undermine work in this area so that it gives them a free reign to malign and caricature Muslims, whether that be because of their own fears or insecurities, or because of extreme ideologies where Muslims are seen as populations to purge within Europe.
What is clear is that tweeting out an image of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, is deeply offensive to many Muslims and whilst some will say that they have the right to offend, it also has to be said that being offensive does not stop others from campaigning against such offensive actions. It is the cut and thrust of politics and social positions and that is that. Conversely, death threats and targeted hate, (in this case against Mr Nawaz) are totally unacceptable and could even tip into being one of those ‘Salman Rushdie’ moments, where an over-reaction leads to a further maligning and caricaturing of Muslims, because of their heavy response.
Right now, positions are becoming entrenched and this is not helping anyone. Those backing Maajid’s position, (of which there are also some known Far Right and anti-Muslim agitators), suggest that Muslims are seeking to curtail ‘freedom of expression.’ Those campaigning against him, (of which there are those who are virulently against LGBTQ rights, for example), suggest that he is instigating for political reasons and to be the martyr since it positions him well and further adds to a persona that is adept at utilising the media.
We wanted to state our position on this matter:
– Anti-Muslim hate and prejudice work is complex (as is tackling antisemitism), and depends on the context of the individual or organisation making comments or statements, for example. In this instance, Maajid Nawaz can hardly fit into the mould of someone who has a history of overt anti-Muslim prejudice and whether or not his Organisation (Quilliam), has been involved in labelling other groups as extremist, is not being anti-Muslim in nature.
– On the basis of this, if Nick Griffin tweeted out an anti-Muslim cartoon or a cartoon of Mohammed, then this would be a different context and even then, there would be little that legally could be done apart from highlighting the nauseous and toxic nature of his politics. Maajid Nawaz tweeting out a cartoon is a completely different context. Whether this action infringes on Parliamentary Candidacy rules within the Liberal Democrats is a different issue, yet knowing the Liberal Democrats, there will be no change to Maajid’s candidacy. It will run its course.
– This furore has simply re-enforced in the minds of some, the notion that Muslims take slight with the smallest of matters. For many Muslims, the perception may well be that Islam is once again being mocked and the strength of this feeling should not be under-estimated or disregarded. These perceptions have been affected by newspaper headlines, news stories, article pieces and other write-ups over the last few decades and the grievance felt is deep.
However, what is missing in all of this, is the reality that there are those in communities who campaign against Muslims and who use social media and other sources to bestialise Muslims. Their view is a twisted world view of a ‘Muslim take-over.’ This whole event desensitises some within communities to anti-Muslim prejudice and may well develop in them a sense of frustration and rejection on issues of anti-Muslim prejudice. In other words, when there is actual anti-Muslim prejudice, there may be fewer people willing to acknowledge and stand up against it in the future. This is deeply troubling.
Once again, it is important to state that work on countering anti-Muslim prejudice needs cool and calm heads. There are detractors out there who will continue to attack this work, yet this whole debacle may well have given succour and strength to these very detractors. The best thing right now is for all to step back and cool the rhetoric and for the threats to cease. If this means getting community groups round the table with Maajid, we are more than happy to do this, but the battle for ‘hearts and minds’ based on a cartoon have to stop. For God’s sake, move on!