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Islam and the 'Culture of Offense': Missing the Point


Islam and the 'Culture of Offense': Missing the Point

Maryam Namazie

Dissent and criticism of religion has always been a crucial aspect of free expression. Historically, it has been intrinsically linked with anti-clericalism and the dismantling of that which is deemed taboo, sacred and untouchable by the gatekeepers of power.

Such criticism has been key for human progress and is still needed. In the age of ISIS, this criticism is a life and death necessity for those living under Islamism’s boot.

So yes, I am Charlie – no ifs and buts.


Unfortunately, like many commentator, Ms. Namazie refuses to view the Chalie Hebod's murders in the historical context of the French Colonial past and its current role in the old colonies. Further, she does not separate the limitation of freedom of expression in Muslim societies from the Charlie Hebdo's murderers. They are mutually exclusive. Whereas punishing offenses of blasphemy in Muslim countries is a means to controlling the masses, the Chalire Hebdo murder is a defensive response, however misguided and appropriate, to centuries of exploitation, oppression, and humiliation of the people of the colonies.

Many commentators, including a former cartoonist of Charlie Hebdo have criticized the magazine for its exaggerated Islamophobic and racist approach to Islam and Muslims. I think Ms. Namazie's argument would have been more reasonable had she pointed to some of these comments as well.

Finally, I think it is very important to criticize the intolerance of the muslim societies where the punish those who criticize their religion and satirize what is sacred to them. But let's not mix things up.
One has to be cognizant of the power that exist in the world. There are crimes that have been committed by those who have claimed "Je suis Charlie" that are 10 times more horrific and unacceptable than the murders of Charlie Hebdo. If we condemn this without condemning the other, we are blind racists incapable of looking back at history or being curious enough to search for the causes of social events. Murders of Charlie Hebdo were heinous crimes that not only muslims but the whole world should be ashamed of. More so is the shame we all have to feel for the Massacre of Algerians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Libyans, Syrians....and the suffocation of Iranians and killing them via sanctions.


Claiming that Holocaust deniers are victims of anti-free speech is like arguing that the Ku Klux Klan's right to lynch is aborted by post Civil War laws protecting Black Americans.

Nothing like sympathy for the bigot dressed up as an argument FOR free speech.


Please don't conflate Holocaust denial and lynching with legitimate criticism of religion.

There is one person who comes to mind that shares your hostility to freedom of speech. I'm sure you'll recognize this quote.

There ought to be limits to freedom.

Want to take a wild guess at who said that?


Good comment. What is this article doing here? This woman is a imperialism-denialist like most bourgeois liberals.

To take just, say, the invasion and sanctions on Iraq alone for example, there are crimes that have been committed by the imperialist powers that are 10^5 (100,000) times more horrific and unacceptable than that rather minor incident in France. We literally need scientific notation to describe the disproportionality.

You may be be Charlie Hebdo, but I am the nameless millions of Arabs, Iranians, and other Muslims who have dies at the hands of the western imperialists.


No, she is not ignoring that imperial past any more than she is ignoring the Muslim imperial past.

If Muslims cannot allow others their own accepted modes of expression, then Muslims have nothing to say about what others, in their own countries, say about Muslims. Ditto for every other religion's reactionaries who cannot be human enough to learn to think for themselves, cannot be self-respecting enough to learn the differences between blindly following authoritarian, regressive dogmas and choosing the spiritual practices and disciplines that help them grow however they choose to grow more healthy, and cannot be other-respecting enough to turn their heads instead of killing what they do not want to see.

In fact, what she is protesting against is the blind society following the craftily manipulated propaganda orchestrated by the Wall Streeters and their wannabes in other nations and empires. Such as yourself and Yunzer.

Wake up and stop apologizing for your oppressors! And stop defending reactionary extremists! Both of those only amount to condoning the endless wars the US Government imposes upon the world so the US Government's darling welfare queen corporations can enjoy the electoral spoils from their wholly-owned candidates, and from their lobbying dollars going into those candidates' campaign funds.


Absolutely outstanding article--thanks to CommonDreams for posting it.

It's a shame to see the negative responses here, though. Progressive Muslims like Maryam Namazie are struggling against the religious fundamentalists in their societies, just as we're struggling against the religious fundamentalists in our own. We should be allying ourselves with them, not with the brutal misogynistic religious nutcases who are making their lives hell (and killing innocent people in France).


Except that every single mass murder, war and holocaust began with hate speech. Freedom of speech is vital but as I wrote, in another commentary cultural chauvinism is not the best example. Hate speech is not legitimate opinion. Libel is already illegal, blood libel needs to be as well. The best freedom of speech is truth-telling and speaking truth to power.


That's mainly because there's so much evidence from so many sources with no evidence of collusion or invention that no reasonable person can doubt what happened. Those who try to instill doubt, especially by such ploys as "you haven't proven it", are malignant. Whether they should be silenced I don't know. It doesn't feel good, but allowing the Brownshirts to reassemble and start up again feels even worse.

I have no trouble pointing out that Jews have a disproportionate presence in 3 key industries in the US: media, finance, and federal government. That's not a mere assertion, it's demonstrable. It's also quite dangerous because of Jewish tribal feelings, and we should be more aware of it than we are. And more willing to discuss it. But apparently we can't even acknowledge it because so few of us are willing to risk getting an "anti-semite" label, another way to shut down discussion and even knowledge.

But the Shoah? The enormous mass of evidence means that anyone questioning it is an ignoramus at best.


I can't help thinking that two issues are being confused, that of legitimate criticism of religious and other oppression by people in that society and who are punished by the ruling elites withing that society and that of deliberately offensive remarks by insiders directed toward the marginalized 'other' who have been oppressed within a particular society, thereby furthering the ends of the ruling elite. These issues are not the same and one should be able to point that out without being thought somehow to be supporting violent acts, whether that of the atrocity against the staff of Charlie Hebdo or the crimes by Muslim governments attacking true free speech which has always meant confronting the powerful.


She's not a Muslim as far as I can tell, progressive or otherwise-see the bio notes at the end of the article. Other commentators have already pointed out what is problematic about this article. I would just add that many Muslims defend the right of freedom of speech, but have a problem with the pretense that freedom of speech is actually applied equally in 'liberal democracies'. It is not. Glenn Greenwald illustrates this in his article at The Intercept called 'In Solidarity With a Free Press: Some More Blasphemous Cartoons' (I can't put the link in but you can find it at The Intercept website).


I was speaking broadly about progressive Muslims and ex-Muslims (like Namazie), many of whom identify as cultural Muslims, and all of whom are struggling against the fanatical right wing in their countries and cultures just as we're struggling against the fanatical right wing in our own.

They're being thrown under the bus by people like Glenn Greenwald simply because supporting them might inadvertently support U.S. foreign policy. In order to avoid this, the left has basically allied itself with the worst of the right wing in Muslim societies--a huge moral and tactical mistake.

There's nothing problematic about this article, unless one agrees with the right of violent ultra-conservative religious maniacs to murder people in cold blood when they claim to feel "offended" by a cartoon. Greenwald's attempt to illustrate a double standard was filled with straw men and dishonest conflation (e.g. satirizing a religion is not the same as mocking an ethnic group), and is a prime example of just how wrong the left is on this topic.

ADDING: As Namazie says, "In the age of ISIS, this criticism is a life and death necessity for those living under Islamism’s boot." I doubt there's a person reading these articles who wouldn't face imprisonment, flogging or death under Islamic regimes for the thought crimes they're committing here, and we should keep that in mind (and remember the people who actually do face those things every day) when we're tempted to ignore, dismiss or belittle criticism of Islam out of fears that it might support U.S. foreign policy.


So finding it problematic that she conflates suppression of freedom of speech in 'Muslim' countries with criticism of satire in the West that disproportionately targets one religion, whose adherents are members of marginalized ethnic groups (as previous commentators have explicitly said, and I alluded to, is only possible "if one agrees with the right of violent ultra-conservative religious maniacs to murder people in cold blood when they claim to feel 'offended' by a cartoon"? Interesting.


Who are you to decide what is or isn't truth? Where do you draw the line at what's hate speech? Just because something is offensive or not aimed strictly at authority figures doesn't make it hate speech.

By your broad brush and already vague standards, even harmless parody like Mad Magazine or Family Guy could be considered hate speech. Are we going to consider Salman Rushdie and Richard Dawkins hate speech too? You seem to have a problem with people having opinions that aren't politically correct. Are we only allowed to criticize and satirize rich white heterosexual Christian men?

I object because people like you will use your very broad, vague ideal of social justice to censor others. You're just as bad as the conservatives who use family values as an excuse to silence dissent or satire.


Maryam, I am with you on the first two paragraphs. However, there are too many ifs and buts regarding Charlie Hebdo. I am not Charlie Hebdo because that French 'magazine' is offensive, biased and Islamophobic.

I agree with other comments here, and also with Will Self. Freedom of expression is really at its best when it is speaking truth to power. Charlie Hebdo merely encourages yet more hate speech against Islam and Muslims, and there is already a surfeit of that right here in Europe.

People are either good or bad, or even both, but that does not give any of us a right to blame their religion, or, in the case of atheists and other 'non-believers', their 'non-religious' beliefs.

The fact is that there are still very many Christians and Muslims in the world who believe in God, in Jesus Christ, and in all of the prophets. Muslims also bear testament that Prophet Muhammad is one of the messengers of God.

Now which group of believers is being persecuted the most here? In view of the ongoing destabilisation of the Middle East, and the millions of people being bombed, killed, made homeless and becoming refugees over the past ten to fifteen years up until the present, I would say the reasonable evidence points to the Muslims. That a lot of Muslims end up in Europe has a lot to do with an ongoing humanitarian crisis, but of course it is those very Muslims who bear the brunt of all this hate speech.


Are you being disingenuous, or are you in denial about the lack of a democratic voice for Muslims across the Middle East, oppressed by governments that are no more than western puppets in most cases?


Spot on, Yunzer.


In a free open society, everyone is fair game to criticism and satire. This idea that certain ideas or people are off limits is antithetical to that principle. You can't say you support free speech then turn around and censor anyone who disagrees with or offends you. There is nothing stopping French Muslims from making fun of Christians, atheists or whites. In fact it's fair if they reciprocate with satire of their own instead of resorting to censorship and terrorism. I find it worrisome that you implicitly support such measures to prevent dissent, satire, or any from of debate or criticism.

For the record, there were also French nationalists and Christian extremists who were threatening Charlie Hebdo. If either of those groups had committed that atrocity, then what I'm saying would apply to them too. Any group or individual who has to resort to violence or authoritarianism to stifle opposing opinions or humor is despicable.

If Muslims want to live in a modern open society, then they need to accept freedom of speech. Free speech isn't restricted to challenging governments or corporations. There are people on the left who want to broaden the definition of hate speech to such an absurd degree that something innocuous like Family Guy could be branded as such. Basically I support the right of Muslims to share their opinions and ideas in a peaceful manner while not trying to censor anyone who disagrees with or offends them. They have the right to disagree and offend too.

What if your opinions or jokes were called hate speech simply because the ideas or groups you're against took offense to them? Would that be fair? Is that what you want, a society where only pre-approved ideas are allowed to be expressed? I hope not.


Muslims get to choose the voice they want the same as you and I. You are missing the point. You are with those who want to tell them what their voice must be. Just like the terrorists who rule the US and too many around the sanctimoniously wealthy West. A West so sanctimounious it refuses to see its on stupid hypocrisies.

The West that insists upon missing the point. Just like you do.


That is a blanket statement that does not correspond with the reality in any of the Muslim majority countries I know, let alone in the West, where Muslims are in a minority. The only voice that the western mass media amplifies is the voice of extremism, i.e. ISIS/ISIL, Boko Haram etc. If you live in the UK, you would have seen these radical groups in all the headlines, and would know that there are precious few voices from the peace loving Muslim majority that are represented in the media. That is the way that mass media works, it is the loudest voice and they call it news, but it certainly does not represent the voice of the majority of people. Not here, and not in the U.S. as far as I am aware.

Neo-colonial (or Neo-liberal) interests still rule the Muslim world. During the so-called 'Arab Spring', Muslims across the Middle East spoke up and took to the streets to protest against the regimes imposed upon them, largely as a result of 'Western interests'. They were, and still are, attacked, killed or imprisoned. Why are the refugees flooding out of Syria, if not to escape a despotic regime that is at war with its own people? Where is their voice? Everywhere you look, in the West or abroad, you can see the voices silenced by an existing order that clings ever more rigidly to an unsustainable status quo. Same old same old. Even here in Europe, Syriza represent the democratic voice of their people, but are the technocrats at the EU listening?

Go talk to the three thousand refugees in Calais, trying to smuggle themselves and their families across the English Channel. Ask them why they want to come to the UK, a country that is doing its best to stem the flow of immigrants (especially if they are Arabs). They will tell you they want safety, even if just for a few moments, and that if they stay in their country they are likely to die at any moment. Do you think their voice will make any difference for them? Will it stop the cries of the fear-mongers, i.e. 'the Muslims are taking over this country'? They are only facing detention in the UK, and likely deportation back to their countries of origin.

Look at Yemen, a country that was peaceful until 2010. Some years before, the U.S. had started killing them with drones, under the authorisation of then President Abdullah Saleh. When, after over thirty years in power, Saleh was finally ousted by a popular uprising, he fled to the U.S. The drones continued to attack peaceful villages.The Houthis, a previously tiny minority group, had been attacking towns and cities, bombing mosques and government buildings. Strangely, there were no drones sent to stop them. They have now seized power, and forced the resignation of the existing Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Did Muslims get to 'choose the voice they want the same as you and I'?