by Stephen Tall on January 21, 2014
On 12th January, Maajid Nawaz, the Lib Dems’ parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, tweeted the following message:
— Maajid Nawaz (@MaajidNawaz) January 12, 2014
He did so following his appearance on BBC1′s The Big Questions, which debated “whether human rights should always outweigh religious right”. Two audience members had worn the image on their T-shirts, with the BBC choosing not to show the image – which was the same as that worn by the LSE Atheism society, who were told by the University to remove the t-shirts or cover them up when they hosted a stall at the University’s Freshers’ Fair (the LSE later apologised).
The Archbishop Cranmer blog has a good account of Maajid’s motivations:
The fact that the BBC chose to censor a T-shirt depicting this cartoon rather upset Muslim Maajid Nawaz, who was a guest on the show. He proceeded to tweet out the image to his followers with the message: “This is not offensive & I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.” Mr Nawaz is a former member of the Islamist revolutionary group Hizb ut-Tahrir, and became director of the anti-extremist think-tank the Quilliam Foundation. He is now the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. Mohammed is his prophet, and Islam is his faith. But he understands perfectly that some people view Islam is a vile ideology and, for many, Mohammed is no kind of prophet at all. And depicting Mohammed saying “Hey” to Jesus does not offend him in the slightest.
No reasonable person goes out of their way to cause offence. In this instance, Maajid Nawaz was simply challenging the BBC’s (myopic) interpretation of a particular (narrow) view of sharia, and demonstrating that British Muslims are moderate and do not reach for the nearest meat-cleaver to dismember the apostate or behead the blaspheming kuffar.
Quite. But that hasn’t stopped Maajid being subject to a campaign to de-select him as a Lib Dem candidate, led by Respect MP George Galloway – and to death threats via Twitter. Here’s Maajid’s response: “Some are angry that I didn’t find an innocuous cartoon on the BBC as offensive and repeated my view that – as a Muslim – it wasn’t offensive to me on here. Others are angry that I am being censored and silenced. Please let’s all calm down.”
“We simply can’t have a climate where politicians are intimidated into silence by people who believe they have a right not to have their religious sensibilities offended. Anything other than complete Liberal Democrat support for Maajid could have a very chilling effect on free speech in this country.”
PS: Since writing this post, I see Maajid has written a fuller response, posted here.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.