Here is my speech at today’s Blasphemy Conference in London:

There have been a number of recent attacks on free expression here in the UK. They include 17 year old Rhys Morgan being forced to remove a Jesus and Mo cartoon or face expulsion from his Sixth Form College and demands by the UCL Union that the Atheist society remove a Jesus and Mo cartoon from its Facebook page. There has also been a threat of violence, police being called, and the cancellation of a meeting at Queen Mary College where my One Law for All co-spokesperson Anne Marie Waters was to deliver a speech on Sharia. More recently, LSE’s Student Union has passed a resolution ‘No to racism; no to Islamophobia’ and told the Atheist society to remove its affiliation with the Student Union again over a Jesus and Mo cartoon on its Facebook page.

None of this is new. Having been involved in the fight against Islamism and the Islamic Republic of Iran for some 25 years now I have faced many such threats, attempts at intimidation and censorship, bans, calls for the cancellation of events, and bogus accusations.

But for Islamism, this is business as usual even if it is a university Student Union acting as its go between. Islamism has been wreaking havoc in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere for several decades – with a majority of its victims being ‘Muslims’ or those labelled as such. Where it has political power, Islamists forgo all niceties reserved for western public opinion about ‘respect’ and ‘not causing offence’ and imprison and murder anyone who speaks their minds and ‘offends’ their norms and sensibilities.

Despite their track record, it is absurd how the fundamental debate on Islam and free expression here in the west is framed within a context of offence, racism and Islamophobia.

In some ways, these bogus accusations serve Islamism in the same way that Sharia law serves them where they are in power. It helps to threaten, intimidate and silence criticism and dissent. In my opinion, charges of offence and Islamophobia are the equivalent of secular fatwas.

It is a warning by the powers that be – whether it be the state, or the university student union, a sixth form college headmaster or an employer – of what is acceptable and what is not; of what is sacred and cannot and must not be challenged.

The devious thing about using offence to silence people is that it is subjective. We’re not all necessarily offended by the same things. The religious are usually offended more often than not. And Islamists are offended all the time. They are offended if you are gay, if you are unveiled, if you leave Islam, if you listen to music, if you dance, if you have religiously unsanctioned sex, if you’re a woman, if you want to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex, and on and on.

By hiding behind the excuse of offence, Islamists (and their apologists at Student Unions, in the Government, and in the media like the Guardian) are basically saying that because it is deemed offensive, with the person who is offended making that judgement call, you must limit your right to free expression!

And what’s even more interesting is that not all offensive expression is off-limits. What offends me isn’t off-limits – not that I want it to be. Islamists will often say that adulterers must be stoned to death, that gays must be killed, that women are the source of chaos and fitna in society, or that there must be two women for every man testifying at a Sharia court because ‘it’s the difference between a man and a woman’s brains’. And many of them freely say so on the very university campuses that want to deny atheists the right to post a Jesus and Mo cartoon on their Facebook pages!

Islamists are free to say what they choose quoting the Koran and Hadith but if you or I criticise or mock Islamism and its banner Islam, we are the ones who are causing offence. Go figure.

I mean seriously, whilst we are on the topic of offence, is there really anything more offensive than Islam and religion?

Adam Walker a spokesperson for the so-called moderate Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association at UCL which organised against the Atheist Society’s use of a Jesus and Mo cartoon, has said: ‘The principle [of not causing offence] is more important than who is being attacked – this time it is Muslims and Christians but in the future it could be atheists themselves’.

But not causing offence is not a principle. If it were, they would be the first to be censored because every other word that comes out of them, the Koran, the Hadith, Islamic jurisprudence as well as the Bible and Torah… is offensive.

And as if the charge of offence is not enough, they want to know if you were ‘intentionally offensive’. In response, there are those who will argue that there was never an intention to offend, or that the Jesus and Mo cartoons can’t be considered offensive as they are not ‘crude’ or ‘savage’ as New Humanist Magazine has argued. Or that since the cartoon was on the atheist society’s Facebook page, none other than atheists were meant to see it making it somehow more palatable. Some will even say that offence is an unintended side-effect.

But this is all irrelevant. That is if we agree that the right to offend is fundamental to the right to free expression. Then why apologise?

Whenever you speak about Islam, there are countless prefects waiting to admonish you. And it is not just the Islamists and their usual apologists (in the Guardian, or the likes of George Galloway, Unite Against Fascism and Socialist Workers Party) that do this. You’ll hear this from many others too. You are being too provocative; you being deliberately provocative. Why establish the Council of Ex-Muslims to publicly renounce Islam and say you are an atheist? Never mind that you need to do this to break the taboo that comes with such a renunciation especially since it is punishable with death? The Egyptian blogger and atheist Aliaa Magda Elmahdy should never have posted a nude photo of herself as a scream against misogyny; nudity is offensive. Your colleague was threatened at a meeting on Sharia law at Queen Mary College – well what do you expect when you discuss such matters (something the security guard said before the police arrived)? And on and on.

Excuse me but it is my right to free expression, isn’t it? May I choose how I do it? And you do it your way. Please don’t barter away what is permissible to say on my behalf.

Anyway whether you like my form of expression or not is irrelevant just as irrelevant as what a woman was wearing when she was raped.

This constant barrage of unsolicited ‘advice’ only helps to restrict expression further. In the UCL incident, ‘particularly inflammatory articles about the situation’, exaggerating it beyond its actual scope’ was blamed for the situation in a letter to the very Ahmadiyya group that organised against the Atheist Society. All this unfairly puts the blame squarely on those who dare to dissent or refuse to comply because it implies that Islamists would be able to accept dissent if only things were phrased more politely.

Had we known that manners were all that was needed, we could have prevented the slaughter of an entire generation in Iran. Wrong. Wrong again.

Defence of ‘polite and inoffensive’ free expression only aids and abets Islamism at the expense of those living under it, opposing it or questioning it. And deliberately or naively, whether out of pragmatism or other matters of self-interest, this poor defence of free expression – which is no defence at all – fails to recognise the realities of a medieval movement with political power that is spearheading an Islamic inquisition and that is the cause of incalculable misery and barbarity.

Despite this it is the causing of offence that has come to mean being ‘discriminatory’ and ‘racist’. The atheist student groups that have posted the Jesus and Mo cartoon have been accused of everything from ‘harassment’, ‘intimidation’, and ‘harm to the welfare of Muslim students’. Criticising Islam and Mohammad is seen to ‘upset’ ‘social harmony’, ‘inclusion’, and ‘tolerance’. Who knew?

People, citizens don’t matter anymore; it is all about the inclusion and respect of beliefs, however reactionary and misogynist.

Bu there is a crucial a difference between prejudice against a group of people and criticism of a set of beliefs. A Jesus and Mo cartoon has nothing to do with attacking believers. After all, the Jesus and Mo comic pokes fun at Christianity and Jesus too. So why not pass a resolution on Christianity-phobia similar to the ridiculous Islamophobia resolution passed by the LSE Student Union?

Well, we know why. There are many reasons for it.

Partly it has to do with the racism of lower expectations. ‘We’ can handle offence; ‘they’ can’t. It’s ‘their culture and religion’ imputing on innumerable people the vile sensibilities of Islamism…

Partly it has to do with the climate of intimidation and fear that Islamists have created, leading to censorship and self-censorship.

Partly it has to do with the perception that Islam is an oppressed religion bullied by US imperialism as if US-led militarism and Islamism are not two sides of the same coin or that Islam is a ‘minority’ religion, as if there are no ‘minority’ freethinkers, atheists and ex-Muslims.

Partly it has to do with multi-culturalism, which gives identity politics supremacy at the expense of individuals within a constructed homogeneous ‘Muslim community’, thereby portraying and legitimising Islamist sensibilities as the offended sensibilities of all ‘Muslims’.

Have you noticed how the ‘authentic’ Muslim voice is always the most regressive?

This perspective doesn’t see the woman who is forced to go to a sharia court, the girl who doesn’t want to wear the hijab, the young girl facing honour-based violence for falling in love with the wrong boy, the man or woman who is gay, the atheist and ex-Muslim or the many freethinking and secular youth, women and men causing offence within the ‘community’ day in and day out. It doesn’t see the many who are not offended by a Jesus and Mo cartoon or the Satanic Verses for that matter. It doesn’t see the many who themselves make more fun of Islam and its representatives than any cartoon could. It doesn’t see the resistance, the political, social and civil struggles, and class politics.

And this is something both the far-Right and post-modernist Left do – albeit for different reasons. The far-Right blames and scapegoats all Muslims for Islamism’s crimes and the post-modernist Left defends Islamism and its crimes as the ‘right of a Muslim minority’. Both sides oppose or defend Islam and Islamism at the expense of real live human beings.

‘Respect’ like ‘offence’ is another prescription for demarcating that which we are not allowed to question or challenge.

As the late Marxist Mansoor Hekmat said, ‘people’s beliefs are only respectable to themselves’.

Of course human beings are worthy of the highest respect but not necessarily their beliefs. I don’t respect far-Right, fascistic and racist beliefs [and by the way Islamism is our far-Right movement] and I don’t respect religious beliefs either. This doesn’t mean that people don’t have a right to their beliefs. Of course they do but as a private affair. Having the right to a belief does not include the right not to be offended or the right to have your belief respected, tolerated, and deemed equal and equally valid. Concepts such as rights, equality, and respect raised vis-à-vis individuals are being applied to religion at the expense of people and their rights and freedoms. And that’s why a criticism of Islam is erroneously being deemed racist and discriminatory.

Islamophobia is another bogus and political term used to scaremonger people into silence by attributing human qualities to Islam and Islamism in order to rule out and deem racist any opposition or criticism. But criticism, mockery, opposition to and even hatred of a belief is not racism.

In my opinion, concepts such as offence, respect, and Islamophobia are not there to protect Muslims from bigotry but to protect Islam. Which is why Islamists insist on blurring the distinction between Muslims and Islam or Islamism so they can feign representation and also ensure that Islam is off-limits.

But Islam like any belief system cannot be off-limits. It must be open to criticism and offence. Anything worth expressing will cause offence. Those who say that expression is offensive are looking at it from their own self-interest within the context of offence. They aim to challenge those that want to change things in society. It is a means of control, censorship and limiting rights.

Limiting free expression to that which is acceptable restricts the right to speak for those who need it most. Saying Islam and Islamism are off limits means first and foremost that the victims and survivors of Islamism are not allowed to do one of the only things at their disposal in order to resist. It’s telling people who need free expression most, that they cannot and should not speak.

There are those who say that the fight over the Jesus and Mo cartoon trivialises the real reasons behind free expression. But that misses the point. There is a colossal fight against Islamism and it is free expression that is challenging it. In an era when people are hung in city squares for crimes against chastity, are buried in ditches up to their waist or breasts depending on their sex and stoned until they are dead, where they are executed for offences such as enmity against god, nothing could be more relevant and important.

Progress in every era has always been linked to criticising that which taboo and deemed to be sacred – more often than not it has been linked to criticising or challenging religion. It is no different today. Our era’s progress is intrinsically linked to a criticism of Islam and Islamism.

As Kenan Malik has said: ‘the giving of offence is not just inevitable, it is also important. Any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. Or to put it another way: ‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged. To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged. Human beings, as Salman Rushdie has put it, ‘shape their futures by arguing and challenging and saying the unsayable; not by bowing their knee whether to gods or to men’.

Clearly, if you are not angry, you’re not paying attention.



  1. Dear Maryam,

    Living in Saudi Arabia and being aware of the stink below the sanctimonious surface here, it is refreshing to read someone with a clear mind. I agree with the similarities between the Western far-right and Islamism, both profit by denying free speech and both in their own way seek to oppress women and others from expressing opinions which challenge the status quo, whether that of mad mullahs or billionares. Muslims I have met say things privately about Islam but will not say anything publicly, for fear of the Matawa [religious police]or family rejection. The whole stinking pile disgusts me, as westerners [myself included for at least this year] take their tax-free salaries and ignore the public executions, the repressive and backward nature of the society here and the general anti-women nature of this society. Islamism is fundamentally anti-democratic and I’m sfraid, suits dictatorships and monarchies. I also agree that the western media is abysmally craven about Islam. In the 1930’s, they called it ‘appeasment’ and it led to Hitler. A similar approach in my own country led to 3,500 deaths in the IRA led dirty war.

    Best wishes.

  2. The word “Islamophobia” is a bogus term promulgated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups trying to force Islam upon us all.

    As this Muslim convert ex-imam says, “Islamphobia” is used to beat down critics of Islam:

    Having someone shout “Islamophobia” or “racism” because of the sensible criticism of Islam’s hateful and violent doctrines should not be considered a “charge” at all – it is mere hate speech on the part of the accuser. Islam is not a “race,” and “Islamophobia” is a nonsense word with no basis in reality.

    All those who shout “racism” and “Islamophobia” should be ridiculed and shamed publicly. Laughter at the mere mention of this inane word should be the order of the day.

    Moreover, Muslim fanatics are highly guilty of unending INFIDELOPHOBIA. Who is addressing that despicable Islamist mentality?

    Let us shout “reverse racism” and “Infidelophobia” in return.

  3. I was there at the event, and Maryam’s passionate, well-reasoned eloquence really was infectious. See you all on 11th Feb!!

  4. There is not and can ever be any logical understanding of the Islamic (so-called) religion, simply because reasonableness’ is not a part of their (Muslim) understanding.
    How is it possible to talk on equal terms to people who believe that women should be covered from head to toe so that the men of Islam do not have to develop the kind of restraints that have evolved in normal civilised men so that they can treat women as equals?
    No! Although it is not their fault such people have been brainwashed into a twisted understanding of what life is about and as adults it is impossible for them to see just how twisted and distorted their thinking is.

  5. I think those categories can be construed really broadly; for instance:

    a) Stereotyping of Muslims – by the things Mo says.

    b) Harassment of Muslims – they might find it hostile!

    c) Hatred of Islam – expressed by means of mocking Mohammed.

    Of course, it’s apparent that even if it falls in one such category, displaying the cartoons does not suggest that anyone is expressing any kind of racism.
    But these people appear to be beyond reason.

  6. LSE Union resolved “- To define Islamophobia as “a form of racism expressed through the hatred or fear of Islam, Muslims, or Islamic culture, and the stereotyping, demonisation or harassment of Muslims, including but not limited to portraying Muslims as barbarians or terrorists, or attacking the Qur’an as a manual of hatred.”

    I don’t see how a cartoon of Jesus & Mo having a quiet pint of Guinness mets any of these categories. If anything it is the very opposite, showing how peaceful & friendly the pair are. They get on well withe each other and even with the barmaid.

    What am I missing?

  7. Great speech. I just finished reading Kenan Malik’s “From Fatwa to Jihad” about free speech in Britain (and the west) since the Satanic Verses was published. Highly recommended!

  8. Thanks a lot Maryam. What a find.

    I just had my own little virtual run-in with some of those ‘overly sensitive’ islamists. I changed my fb profile picture to the Jesus & Mo cartoon in solidarity with Rhys and the folks at UCL and my business website got hacked by some Iranians this weekend.

    I guess the Jesus & Mo cartoon will have to stay as profile picture for the foreseeable future.

  9. Have you noticed how the ‘authentic’ Muslim voice is always the most regressive?

    Within these examples that you selected to prove this point, sure.

    The far-Right blames and scapegoats all Muslims for Islamism’s crimes

    Not so much here. While charges of Islamaphobia are often spurious and designed to shut down criticism, how would you describe people who advocate banning Muslim immigration, banning Muslims from voting or holding public office, want to prevent the construction of mosques but have no problem with churches, wring their hands about how Muslims treat women, but otherwise have no interest in women’s rights, etc? These people are real and there are lots of them.

    1. Ace of Sevens:

      Islamophobia has become a content-free sign, mostly used by Islamists to equate criticism of their obnoxious behaviour with racism.

      Is anyone in this forum advocating banning either Muslim immigration, or the building of mosques, or Muslim vote? Yes, there are people who do, but using “Islamophobia” to tar those of us who are merely defending free speech is cowardly and contemptible.

  10. People need to develop and share strategies for undermining arguments, sowing doubt, dismantling nonsensical statements.
    If Muslims are a race, then confound your interlocutor by rejoicing in the fact that you can change your race by converting to Islam. Annoy them by referring to Islamophilia – an irrational liking for Islam, and those who suffer from, or make others suffer from this malady – Islamophiliacs.

  11. This recent fracas reminds me so much of the great Spitting Image’s Ayatollah Song;

    “We like the Ayatollah; such a pleasant man to serve, to think that Rushdie wrote a book, my goodness, what a nerve!”

    1. To puppet :

      What is interesting is that I have a tape of the record (which I owned at the time) which includes that song “we like the Ayatollah) but I can’t find that song on youtube.

  12. Excellent speech Maryam! I always agree with you, your key points are very true the more people are silenced the more islamists take advantage and thrive!!! respect is for human beings not for beliefs and relgions! if only muslims can understand these words…

    I think a protests against these students at UCL is a great idea as someone mentioned above! Its unfortunate that people are not educated and do not have the chance to live like a human being but forced to grow up in an Islamic state and grow up with the barbaric Islam culture. I hope this disgusting religion Islam is dead one day….

  13. The devious thing about using offence to silence people is that it is subjective. We’re not all necessarily offended by the same things.

    The first sentence hits the mark, squarely. The second sentence is a side issue. The reality is this:
    A. It is not in my power to cause you offense, or to avoid causing you offense.
    B. It is not in your power to cause me offense, or to avoid causing me offense.
    C. Being offended, or not being offended, is purely within the purview and power of the one choosing to be offended, or choosing not to be offended — no person has the power to cause offense in another.
    D. Because one can only choose offense for oneself, each person has an inalienable right not (to choose) to be offended.
    Since offense is a personal choice to be offended, it may, in reasonable people, only have a local effect: if I choose to take offense at your speech, you may choose to ignore my offense-taking, or to recognize it and adjust your approach — it’s your option, not mine. My choice to take offense must never be seen as requiring anything of you.
    In particular, my freedom to choose to take offense (or not) must never impinge on your freedom to speak.
    That’s the long and the short of it. Isn’t it an easy concept?

  14. That is an excellent speech, and something I wish I could have heard in person.

    This quote completely blows me away:

    ‘The principle [of not causing offence] is more important than who is being attacked – this time it is Muslims and Christians but in the future it could be atheists themselves’.

    It is not even wrong. Attacked? A cartoon on a website you more or less had no interest looking at attacked you? A cartoon? I still would like to know the proposed mechanism by which it even insulted anyone – out of curiosity into the motivations of the offended, because it doesn’t really matter if they were offended or not. But I’d sure like to hear their reasoning, which hasn’t been presented at all. They just decide they are offended, and that is good enough to violate the rights of others.

    In the future it could be atheists? You are doing to atheists right now! Atheists and everyone you imagine you are “protecting”. You don’t need to imagine some speculative future violation, look at history or current events.

    Adam Walker is being a moron here. Adam Walker is being offensive. No one should be subjected to such levels of stupidity.

    1. Attacked? A cartoon on a website you more or less had no interest looking at attacked you? A cartoon? I still would like to know the proposed mechanism…

      I think this is an animated GIF waiting to happen…


  15. Excellent points.

    As Tim Groe pointed out, the LSESU folks are not going to be persuaded, unfortunately – almost certainly -, since nearly all of them are probably beyond persuasion, but at least, their claims won’t go unchallenged.

  16. This seems almost like an inquisition, in that, if they silence people, Islam thrives. When people are intimidated to the point they say nothing, religious authorities gain power over the Vulgar and can force them at least say they believe when they don’t, just to keep from being harmed and/or killed. It’s a shame not everyone sees this and stands up to it or maybe they do see it, but are too afraid. I often wonder how many people give lip-service to Islam out of fear of being killed and actually do not believe it, they say they believe it, but only to stay alive.

    1. The problem partially stems from this idea of ‘political correctness’: If I mention any of my concerns about religion to [non-muslim] friends, they call me racist etc. Speak out against any religion/cult/race/species and you’re made to feel like a bigot or fool by the ‘mightier than thou’ super-tolerant pseudo-humanist tossers.

      People don’t speak out, because they’re afraid firstly of the repercussions from those they speak out against, and secondly from the rest of society for being viewed as intolerant. It’s a lose-lose situation to be vocal about your concerns..

      1. I think political correctness is only a small part of it. This stuff has been happening for centuries. The other thing is, people confuse criticism of religion with racism, which I get very tired of because religion has little to do with race, despite the majority of a given religion are from this or that ethnic background. They may try to make the criticizer feel like a bigot or an idiot, but the thing is, it doesn’t work unless you let it. You can easily turn the tables until they either feel that way themselves or they walk away in frustration and/or anger.

      2. Jon Tennant says:

        this idea of ‘political correctness’:

        PC it like a cancer on society.

        If I mention any of my concerns about religion to [non-muslim] friends, they call me racist etc.

        Three things
        1). Religion is not a race
        2). What Race? do these people have in mind? Since if they have any race in mind, then they themselves are being racist.
        3). Would criticizing christianity be considered racist?

        Speak out against any religion/cult/race/species and you’re made to feel like a bigot or fool

        Well if you speak out against all equally how is that bigotry? Surely you are giving equal opportunity!

      3. Maybe i’ve misunderstood you here John, but
        “to speak out against a race” *would* make you a bigot. This is the definition of racism: a belief that a racial or ethnic group is genetically inferior to others.
        It’s important to be clear when we criticize religion, that we are attacking *ideas*, not whole groups of *people*.
        I think “political correctness” is a good thing when it protects truly vulnerable people, but as you point out misuse of the concept of “tolerance” simply allows religious oppression to go unchallenged.

        1. Yes, sorry, that was a bit ambiguous of me; I meant speaking out against the practises/teachings of Islam (and all other religions too), not muslims/christians etc. themselves. Scrap the ‘race’ bit from that sentence.

  17. Hypocrisy – the religious are and they think denying it changes the fact.

    It is also not by accident that countries run by this particular religion are some of the most backwards in the world. Progress without causing some kind of offense is not possible.


  18. This is the best article I’ve read on this whole issue so far, especially since the events at UCL. I argued strongly with many muslims over the issue, and almost broke down in a combination of anger and frustration at their general beliefs and pathetic responses to all queries regarding censorship and freedom of expression etc. It truly is a horrible religion, and the worst thing is the majority of people don’t seem to care or even notice.

    Thank you for taking the time to write it! And yes, I am angry..

  19. Excellent!

    You know, this “causing offence” thing could be a great way to stage a protest. Get a bunch of free-speech-loving people, and have them comb through the various other religious groups’ sites at these colleges. Find anything and everything that could be considered objectionable, and then have each activist file a complaint about it. Simply drown the Student Unions in complaints of offence, and maybe they’ll realize it’s not their job to moderate every student group’s speech.

    So, figure a university has, say 8 religious student groups (probably an underestimate), and figure each of them may have about 20 things on their pages that could be deemed offensive (be creative, too–any representation of a white Jesus is historically inaccurate and therefore racist and fails to create a “safe space” for students of color. Any reference to the Virgin Mary is sex-negative and slut-shaming. Mentions of Martyred saints trigger PTSD. Communion wine offends me as a recovering alcoholic). This means if you have only 50 students on board with this protest you’ve suddenly got up to EIGHT THOUSAND complaints coming in.

    And, don’t stop there. Send letters about the art department taking offence at all the naked ladies. Flip out about Georgia O’Keefe. Anatomically correct sculptures? Horrors! Send letters about the drama department objecting to “Othello,” “Titus Andronicus,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” or just about anything else. Send letters about the English department for anything by James Joyce, JD Salinger, DH Lawrence, and on and on. Send letters about the music department for anything written by Wagner. Declare that the Economics department is violating your Christian principles of generosity.

    And, of course, look to all the other student interest groups (the non-religious ones) and take offence at any and all things they do as well. Just objecting to the lyrics in the a capella groups should keep you busy for a while.

    The point, simply, is to bury these student unions under complaints so they understand the absurdity of their positions.

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