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How I Realized Maajid Nawaz Was Right About France

“I’m concerned because #BoycottFrance is trending globally led by Turkey and Pakistan,” LBC radio host and activist Maajid Nawaz tweeted on October 26th. “My position on blasphemy is clear. But this is no longer about principles, it’s about peace making. I advise Macron and France pause now and ask why French Muslims feel so alienated and disenfranchised. Sometimes principles need to be parked a bit, for peace. This is in danger of getting very out of hand. Understand what I’m saying. We are in a very precarious position. Let’s calm it down now. In case people doubt my principled position, I’ve done more than most on this. Think what you like all, but you haven’t spent a life on the front lines of this war like I have. I’m a vocal defender of the right to blaspheme and risk my safety providing Charlie Hebdo a voice on my @LBC show, yet even I’m advising a tactical retreat. You will not win like this."

After tweeting this, Maajid Nawaz was quickly met with a barrage of disagreement and shock from loyal friends and followers. Even I did not understand how he could make such a suggestion. If terrorism is done through intimidation and violence to achieve political or social aims, changing one’s actions in the direction of the terrorist’s desires would surely validate the criminal’s actions. Surely talks of peace just helped Islam to expand. Right? The terrorists just wanted appeasement. We had to defend our own freedoms in our own lands...or else.

“Thank you for seeking peace over division,” Maajid tweeted two days later on October 28th in response to Hasan Ismaik’s tweet and article. Hasan's Arabic tweet read this way in English: “Did we hear French President Macron's speech and understand his intended dimensions or did we just listen to the statements that some religious and political parties used in order to catch troubled water? I read the letter well and managed to have its meaning, but I did not see any attack on Islam.”

Once I read that tweet from Hasan I felt guilty. I never listened to the entirety of Macron’s speech. I was therefore one of the people Hasan was talking about. In my defense, I not only don't speak French, it actually never occurred to me that there was a speech. After reading Ismaik’s entire Arabic article which had the French Prime Minister’s speech translated into Arabic, I started to see what Maajid had been saying about Macron all along.

“He got it,” Ulysse Pasquier replied to Maajid and quote-tweeted himself in order to continue speaking underneath his new statement. “Macron's speech must have been lost in translation," he previously said, "because you are interpreting it the same way as the countries boycotting. He didn't promote or even mention caricatures of Muhammad. He defended the right to caricature. One local townhall showed them, not a national policy.”

Knowing that I was now understanding Maajid’s line of reasoning better, I decided to reply to Ulysse with what Macron’s own speech taught me:

"Macron held the republic responsible in similar ways the West has," I said. "For example, the West has shares in the rise of terrorism via destabilization of various regions (mass carnage and overthrow of their leaders), proxies, and the arming, training of (and washing the hands from) terrorist groups. Maajid's concern was over Macron's strategy because, due to the issues Macron outlined in his speech, these problems are not fully rectified and, while I as a person of European ancestry 100% agree with everything France is doing, the strategy part Maajid is referring to is the bold display to mock the prophet of Islam on government buildings which affects regular Muslims who may already feel disenfranchised or not accepted as citizens.

"As I mentioned these issues in France are not yet rectified: many children are staying away from integration due to issues their parents are taking with schools, efforts to reform Islam by France are (in Macron's words) tainted by the 'ego' of post-colonialism and are, thus, counter-productive, women have been discriminated against due to their religious attire, and other issues. Macron said, 'And when the republic no longer offers children a future, you should not expect them to love it.'

"So the position I've felt Maajid is arguing from is that continuing with the emphatic declaration France is doing to send a message to those prone to terrorism, it will inevitably grow more of it. He's also looking at it from a geopolitical standpoint. Maajid says people don't understand him because they're playing backgammon and he's playing chess. My people are saying we don't care what happens, this has gone on too long. Maajid, however is actually taking more of Macron's approach by strategically thinking of realistic and tangible ways to fix the problem. So maybe this all explains further what Maajid meant by a tactical retreat."

On October 23rd, the Independent reported that “cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad were projected onto government buildings in France as part of a tribute to history teacher Samuel Paty, who was murdered by an Islamist terrorist last week. The controversial depictions from the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were displayed onto town halls in Montpellier and Toulouse for several hours on Wednesday evening, following an official memorial attended by Paty’s family and President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.” 

However, whether these were a part of an actual national policy or even government buildings at all is not actually the point. Here's why. Today, Macron said the following on Twitter: “I was made to say, ‘I support the caricatures humiliating the prophet’. I am in favor of writing, thinking, drawing freely in my country. It's a right, it's our freedoms. I understand that it can be shocking, I respect that, but we have to talk about it.” Macron had to allow these Charlie Hebdo to be displayed on buildings in France. That is the point. The issue, however, is that this involves a much bigger issue than just freedom of speech. 

As you can see from reading what I wrote to Ulysse, I still had the same opinion as the majority of other Europeans: We don't care if it gets worse. So there! We will not bow. Two days ago, on October 29th, Paul Joseph Watson uploaded to Twitter a short excerpt from his most recent video with the caption: "Drawing more cartoons won't stop Islamic terrorism". I'm not sure if it was Paul's simple and concise tweet that shook me out of my denial that this action was "standing our ground" or his Yorkshire accent that over emphasized each word for the purpose of intelligibility. But at this point everything finally clicked: these cartoons were as useful of a solution as protests in the sense hey would do absolutely nothing to solve the problem. In fact, it will make things worse.

I then also started thinking about something Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan said as well. In his letter to the leaders of Muslim states, the PM urged them to act together in order to counter increasing anti-Muslim sentiment in non-Muslim nations. Khan used the analogy of Holocaust denial and compared it to Muslims' religious sentiment. Denial of the Holocaust hurts Jews because they have been eliminated as a result of certain rhetoric that starts. This is not the first time Imran Khan has made that analogy. Back in 2012, his argument equated Muslim sentiment and belief in Islam to Holocaust denial that killed Jews. And that caused his argument to be instantly discarded in my mind. 

But when Pakistan's Prime Minister explained further in his recent letter how Muslims are eliminated in their own lands (by Europeans like us) this helped explain something else. It showed me one legitimate reason an oversensitive reaction comes from Muslims in response to criticism or mockery of Islam and why it's often taken by them as an act of war or terrorism. (This is precisely the same reason Jewish people react to things as "antisemitism" that many of us don't understand.) Before we throw our hands up in a definitive conclusion that overblown reactions are just a "Muslim thing", those of us who've been in the atheist or ex-Muslim movement have been proven wrong.

Prior to the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty, ex-Muslim activist Armin Navabi made a sexual-themed "thirst tweet" in which he joked about converting to Hinduism because of the goddess Kali. 

Because of this tweet Armin was met with death threats and legal action along with his deceased mother being sexualized into photoshopped images and spread online. 

Being a thoughtful person, I took the time to find out from Hindus why these reactions were happening. They explained to me that, because India has dealt with a lot of attacks from jihadists, seeing ex-Muslims mocking Hindu gods brought them back to a type of post-traumatic stress. It also alerted them that their culture or way of life was being attacked. Author Nupur J. Sharma explained this beautifully in “Neo-Atheists, Atheists, militant Atheism and everything in between: Caged by Abrahamic Monotheism” under the article's section entitled “What the desecration of the image of Maa Kali meant for Hindus”. I noticed that quite a number of Hindus on Twitter reacted to ex-Muslims in an unusual way and began calling they "jihadis" after this fiasco, certain they were still Muslims. 

Am I implying that what I've listed is the only reasons Hindus or Muslims may react disproportionately to hearing or seeing their gods or prophet mocked and derided? No. I am aware there is an issue of honor in Islam with regard to how its prophet is portrayed. 

Physically harming or beheading people because of such religious sentiments is not okay. Full stop. 

I am also aware that extremists exist under both religions or cultures. While conversing with Indians months ago, they've expressed frustration with me with how the public spotlight and social media chooses to zero in on select radicals. Hindus have explained to me that this type of select magnifying portrays Hinduism and the entirety of BJP in a negative light. Extremism, radicalization and terrorism exist. They don't always have a rhyme or reason. There isn't always a legitimate grievance. And I would never attempt to suggest otherwise. 

All things combined, I thought about everything Maajid Nawaz had said. And I had to face the reality that was starting at me squarely in the face: targeting the prophet of Islam for a message to the terrorists is just a horrible strategy politically. Yes, I understand the issue is freedom of expression. And I know the argument my people are making. After all, I was among them saying the same thing when this first happened. But, when this is the person who is esteemed as the "messenger of God" to a religion of nearly two billion people, the message we are really sending is not the expression we think. 

While we of European ancestry (along with ex-Muslims) were quite proud of saying "we don't care!", a ripple effect has been being started across the oceans of the world by this act of revolt more than that of the terrorists themselves. This issue does not just affect France. It also affects Islamic nations that "do business" with the West. And that's just one issue. 

In a thread from 2018, Paul Joseph Watson explained in great detail various threats or actual murders that took place as a result of different people criticizing or making fun of Islam. On October 29th of this year, three days after Maajid's initial thread (thirteen days after French teacher Samuel Paty was first beheaded), this happened:

This is what has been happening for years. Parking the principle of free speech and withdrawing its particular expression with Charlie Hebdo being its displayed mascot actually is a better strategy, especially if Macron freely admitted certain failures from the French government that caused things to evolve to this point. 

As a former Christian, I have absolutely no religious sentiment regarding Jesus. I really don't care who is being depicted here. That is not the point. I would think the publication is crude, nasty and repulsive regardless. And if even Donald Trump thought it was a rag magazine prior to his presidency, what does that tell you?

Yes, you have the freedom to publish it. But using images of this nature about any religion and showcasing them on buildings for your country's revolt just isn't the best strategy. As Paul Joseph Watson said, there are other more effective ways to produce a change. 

In the video "Was America right to go into Afghanistan? A Debate with a Muslim"ex-Muslim atheist Harris Sultan gives detailed advice on vetting and immigration. And, by my inclusion of matters pertaining to immigration, I'm not at all suggesting all non-natives be deported. In his video "Is the Tide Turning", Harris explained how things were already starting to become a bit out of hand in this area. At a time like this I believe it's vital to continue to use critical thinking and sound reasoning. 

Gondal, another ex-Muslim, made a valid point regarding current events. With his point in mind, imagine thinking creating more offending cartoons or displaying preexisting ones magnified onto tall buildings is going to send a message to these terrorists that we will not bow. Maajid is right that Macron lacks strategy in this area. 

Maajid is right. While everyone else is playing backgammon, he's playing chess. I've noticed this about him for a long while now. It's one reason I have spent a great deal of time defending him on Twitter on my prior accounts. Maajid has been labeled everything from a neo-conservative to an Uncle Tom, a "house Muslim", an Islamist, fifth columnist, ex-Muslim, atheist and many more erroneous things. I believe one reason people get ideas like this about him is because his statements often sound like they could fit into any one of those categories. But there's more to what he's thinking than what he even conveys. He always looks at the bigger picture. And, when it comes to an issue like this, so should we.

Find me on Twitter @lacelioness


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