In May 2014, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) published a report entitled “Evangelising Hate: Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA)”. This report is a collection of statements attributed to iERA’s chairman, its official speakers and historic guest speakers that have spoken at iERA events in the past or who have had some kind of link with the organisation.
The purpose of this response is to highlight a myriad of methodological and ideological concerns which seriously question the report’s validity and credibility. This response will also contextualise and clarify the statements made and bring to light the deliberate lies and misrepresentation of the iERA and its speakers.
Methodological and Ideological Concerns
The CEMB consists of members who describe themselves as “ex-Muslims”. The organisation has been set up to challenge religious orthodoxy and normative Islamic traditions and values. This seriously questions the integrity of the report as it cannot be described as an independent unbiased account of iERA and its work. An analogy is useful here. Take into consideration a hypothetical scenario of a report by Communist ideologues on the benefits of Capitalism. Without even reading the report, its integrity will be questioned.
The founder of CEMB and editor of the report, Maryam Namazie, is an outspoken Communist [i] who has expressed her disdain for all religion for many years. Communist thought is traditionally anti-religious and communist activists or ideologues have obvious non-negotiable presuppositions about religion. On religion Namazie has said,
“The tenets, dogma, and principles of all religions are equal. I don’t believe in good or bad religions; in my opinion all religion is bad for you. Religion should come with a health warning like cigarettes: ‘religion kills.’” [ii]
Namazie often resorts to disgraceful anti-religious hatred and vulgarity to put her points across. For example on her blog she writes,
“I didn’t want to just hold the Islamic regime of Iran’s flag so I cut out the Allah in the centre of the flag and let it show my vagina instead. Much better, don’t you think?” [iii]
Another concern is the fact that CEMB’s modus operandi is to provoke. Namazie highlights this strategy during CEMB’s anniversary conference, she says,
“Is it a provocation? Yes. Unnecessary? No.” [iv]
In another lecture she asserts that Shariah law (Islamic law) is an,
“abomination, I think it’s a scandal, a human rights scandal, of gigantic proportions…Shariah law is antithetical to human rights, to freedoms, and to women’s rights and equality.” [v]
This type of rhetoric does not only provoke outrage, but it is these kinds of statements that are irrational and unbalanced. It is this type of hate mongering that is intended to provoke.
Namazie’s communist affiliations must be understood to clearly undermine her ability to be honest and provides adequate context for her ideological bias. Mansoor Hekmat, the Iranian Marxist, has influenced Maryam Namazie the most. She quotes him favourably,
“These justifications, however, are foolish from my point of view and from the points of views of those of us who have seen or been the victims of Islam’s crimes. They are foolish for those of us who are living through a colossal social, political and intellectual struggle with this beast. The doctrinal and Koranic foundations of Islam, the development of Islam’s history, and the political identity and affiliation of Islam and Islamists in the battle between reaction and freedom in our era are too obvious to allow the debate on the various interpretations of Islam and the existence or likelihood of other interpretations to be taken seriously…In Islam, be it true or untrue, the individual has no rights or dignity. In Islam, the woman is a slave. In Islam, the child is on par with animals… This is the religion of death. In reality, all religions are such but most religions have been restrained by freethinking and freedom-loving humanity over hundreds of years. This one was never restrained or controlled. With every move, it brings abominations and misery.” [vi]
The breakdown of the quote above exposes Mansoor Hekmat and Maryam Namazie as extremist ideologues. Hekmat is unable to distinguish between Islam and Muslims (“Islam’s crimes”); he believes in a monolithic threat (“the beast”); he generalises (“the political identity and affiliation of Islam”); he sees a polarised world (“between reaction and freedom”); he doesn’t feel the burden to produce evidence (“too obvious”); he dislikes inquiry into the matter (“to allow the debate…to be taken seriously”); he gives blanket condemnation (“In Islam, be it true or untrue”); he loves clichés (“the individual has no rights”); he makes a bold face lie (“the child is on par with animals”); he caricatures Islam (“religion of death”); his statements are unqualified (“most religions have been restrained by freethinking”); he dehumanises Muslims (as against “freedom-loving humanity”); he spews hate speech (“never restrained or controlled”); he has apocalyptic predictions (“With every move, it brings abominations and misery”).
In light of the above, it will not be surprising to find that this report that Namazie has co-authored is riddled with lies. The report suffers from an incoherent methodology. It takes most of its statements from a far right wing group. The report makes several references to a website which is run by Harry Matz [vii] who is a member [viii] of the violent extremist group EDL and the Jewish Defence League. How can such a report be taken seriously? The CEMB’s report is just a cut-and-paste job, and they have not bothered to actually find out what statements were made, how they were made and in what context. This is the main reason the report suffers from a range of problems. Here are a few more:
- Lies and misrepresents iERA and its speakers
- Isolates statements and quotations without providing a context to understand the implications of the statements.
- Uses out-dated and old statements that have been clarified by the speakers.
- Deliberately ignores the clarifications, retractions and contextualisation made by the relevant speakers.
- Deliberately ignores the positive, cohesive, and compassionate lectures, speeches and statements made by the same speakers.
- Includes individuals who are no longer linked, affiliated or connected with iERA.
- Refuses to include the fact that all guest speakers who have spoken at iERA events have abided by an extremism policy and have not uttered negative or hateful speech at iERA organised events.
- Has made errors concerning the organisational structure of iERA.
- Misrepresents the statements that have been made by playing with the genuine ignorance of the intended readership, as many statements can only be understood with an understanding of the Islamic definitions of words used or concepts expressed.
- Deliberately paints a negative picture of iERA by ignoring the community work the organisation is involved in.
Lies and Misrepresentation of iERA and its Speakers
Keeping to true to their strategy to provoke, CEMB have deliberately lied and misrepresented the iERA and its speakers.
The following examples justify this conclusion.
Lie #1: Hamza Tzortzis and Freedom of Speech
The CEMB report deliberately misrepresents iERA’s speakers and uses old and out-dated statements that have been clarified. The clarifications are available on the web and on the speaker’s personal blog or website. [ix] Take into consideration the comments about freedom of speech attributed to Hamza Tzortzis. The CEMB report writes,
“We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom. We see under the Khilafa (caliphate), when people used to engage in a positive way, this idea of freedom was redundant, it was unnecessary, because the society understood under the education system of the Khilafa state, and under the political framework of Islam, that people must engage with each other in a positive and productive way to produce results, as the Qur’an says, to get to know one another. Whereas in this society, what they call debate and positive discourse is printing cartoons.”
However Tzortzis has provided a clarification on his website, which can also be found on iERA’s Press Pack [x],
“A number of blogs and UK newspapers have written that Hamza Andreas Tzortzis has extremist inclinations due to his views on freedom of speech. The oft repeated quote they use is “we as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom”. In this light a point of clarification is required.
“The quote was taken from a YouTube video that was recorded almost 5 years ago. Even though the quote was taken out of context, the opinions of Hamza have changed since then. Hamza upholds freedom of expression and asserts that to reject this liberty is a self-defeating position. However, since he is a student of Islamic thought and philosophy he raises questions on the limits of expression including: since all nations have some restrictions limiting expression, where do we draw the line? What framework of law and values to we use to establish the limits to expression?” [xi]
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why CEMB have deliberately lied and misrepresented.
Lie #2: Hamza Tzortzis and Child Marriage
CEMB have quote-mined Hamza Tzortzis by slanderously trying to assert that he justifies child marriage. The following statement mentioned in their report was taken from an academic debate held in Australia,
“Number 1. Is she physically fit? Number 2. Is she emotionally ready? Number 3. Is she mentally ready? Number 4. Is this socially acceptable?”
This is a gross misrepresentation of Tzortzis’ views, and they ignore his position on the subject. Tzortzis has many times publicly rejected child marriage, for instance he has said,
“I have publicly rejected all forms of child marriage.” [xii]
This irresponsible type of quote mining highlights the ideological motives behind CEMB. The position Tzortzis was articulating was the normative Islamic position on marriage. Marriage in Islam is based on principles and values and not necessarily an arbitrary age. In Islamic law, a marriage contract is known as Nikah. Islamic law doesn’t stipulate an age for marriage, however, it does provide a range of principles that must be applied to assess if an individual case is valid for marital sexual intercourse. Contrast this with the absurd situation where a sexual consensual relationship would be valid in one secular country but invalid in another. For example, a consensual sexual relationship via marriage in the State of New York can be established at the age of 14 (with parental permission) [xiii] however in India marriage is valid at 21 for males and 18 for females. [xiv] Islam transcends this type of legal relativism (or some may argue moral relativism) due to the use of principles and not arbitrary figures. These principles include:
- Physical and biological fitness and readiness;
- No psychological or physical harm will result;
- Social acceptance;
- Spiritual and mental fitness and readiness;
- The capacity and ability to agree to marriage.
These principles are derived from a range of Islamic source texts, namely the Qur’an and prophetic traditions. Once applied, these principles, especially in a 21st century context, would produce a range of ages at which people are ready for marital sexual intercourse—and will never permit a child marriage. If the above principles are met, then sexual intercourse via the Islamic marriage contract is permissible.
Lie #3: Hamza Tzortzis and Saleem Chagtai Call for Death to All Apostates
Another deliberate quote mine is the statement attributed to Hamza Tzortzis that he agrees with the killing of an apostate. This misrepresentation of Tzortzis’ view implies that anyone who decides to leave the religion has to suffer capital punishment. This is false and a deliberately slander. In the video the report refers to, Tzortzis actually said that capital punishment is meted out to those who fight the Muslims and actually kill Muslims. This is very different to what the report implies,
“There are three of four opinions with regards to apostasy…the first opinion is the apostate if he becomes a political apostate and he fights against the Muslims then that is described as punishable by death…my view is that if someone fights against a particular community then that danger to that community has to be ceased…I am saying if they fight against the community…when we’re saying fighting we’re saying actually killing someone…in fairness you may disagree with the output, the product and the fruit of it, but there’s a whole discussion involved. Classical scholars discussed who is an apostate, what are the conditions, if he is intellectual for example, we need to have a discussion, if he always has a question then he is not touched…so there are nuances to this discussion…” [xv]
The report also implies that Saleem Chagtai, another iERA speaker, calls for violence against ex-Muslims, something he denies categorically. iERA and its speakers have not and do not call for Muslims to carry out any act of violence towards ex-Muslims or towards anyone as is clear from their speeches and official statements.
Lie #4: Hamza Tzortzis and Homosexuality
Another misrepresentation is the accusation that Tzortzis compares Homosexuality to cannibalism. This is a lie. Tzortzis has clearly clarified his views on homosexuality which is available on his website,
“Hamza Andreas Tzortzis has been accused of being homophobic and equating homosexuality with paedophillia. This is a misrepresentation of Hamza’s beliefs.
* Firstly, Hamza adopts the Islamic – as well as the predominant view of most religious people in the world – that homosexual practices are sins in the eyes of God. Please note that having a homosexual disposition is not considered sinful.
* Secondly, Hamza does not call for the hatred, violence or discrimination towards the LGBT community. He has family members who are homosexual and his treatment towards them is one of cordiality and this is in keeping with the Islamic ethic of maintaining the ties of kinship.
* Thirdly, Hamza believes that homosexuals are human beings with spiritual needs too, and strongly advocates warm dialogue and discussion between religious people and the homosexual community.
* Fourthly, in a blog post Hamza wrote a few years ago he explained the philosophy behind objective timeless moral values, and argued that changes in our moral norms based upon societal shifts in our moral thinking can lead to moral absurdities such as condoning paedophilia, not once did he equivocate homosexuality with any other practice. The points he raised were theoretical and highlighted an issue in moral philosophy that has been discussed by thinkers for centuries. David Hume, Emmanuel Kant and Nietzsche are just names on the list of western philosophers that have discussed the points Hamza has raised.
* In summary Hamza does not call for any aggression and hatred towards anyone. He believes in helping humanity spiritually and philosophically, and he would never behave unjustly with them as this would be a major sin in Islam.” [xvi]
The original blog post that the report refers to doesn’t even have the terms “paedophilia” and “cannibalism” in the same sentence as homosexuality. The lies and misrepresentations expose CEMB’s and Maryam Namazie’s ideological hatred.
Lie #5: The Boston bomber and The Merciful Servant
The most irresponsible and slanderous accusation is a tenuous link between the Boston bomber and iERA. The Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev subscribed to a London-based YouTube channel called “The Merciful Servant” that hosted videos of Islamic speeches, including those by Hamza Tzortzis. The irony is that Tzortzis’ lectures on the channel actually condemn terrorism. In one such video Tzortzis condemns state and non-state terrorism. [xvii] Tzortzis also condemned the murder of Lee Rigby in London. [xviii]
CEMB’s deliberate lies and misrepresentations are irresponsible and expose the bias of their report.
Lie #6: Abdur Raheem Green on Christians and Jews
Abdur Raheem Green has delivered hundereds of speeches over the past 25 years. The majority of his speeches are intelligent, cohesive and do not advocate hatred towards any community. There have however been some statements that are not a reflection of Islamic values and the practice of the prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace). Although these statements were madeover a decade ago and before the formation of iERA, Green regrets these statements and he has apologised on his blog concerning these. [xix]
That being said, there have been many statements that have been deliberately misconstrued by CEMB. For example Green was quoted to have said:
“So it is impossible for a Muslim to believe in the unity of religions. Indeed whoever claims that the Jew and the Christian are our brethren in faith has without doubt made a statement of clear kufr, of clear rejection of the most basic verses of the Quran. They have rejected the statement of Allah (SWT) and they have not understood this deen.”
The isolation of this statement is an obvious attempt to malign him. It is part of normative Islam that there is a spiritual distinction between those who believe in Islamic teachings and those that do not. Even popular creeds from the Christian and Jewish tradition assert the same principles. If one does not adopt the core pillars of their beliefs they are not considered brothers in faith. The opposite of what Green has said would imply that there are no criteria for one to consider themselves as a Muslim, Christian or Jew. Such as view is absurd and incongruent with the spiritual realities of faith. It is quite interesting that CEMB has deliberately not mentioned Greens public statements that the whole of humanity is considered as a brotherhood and that we must love for humanity what we love for ourselves. This quote mining strongly indicates a negative bias.
Lie #7: Green and Supporting Disbelievers
The statements below that have been attributed to Green have been grossly misrepresented:
“Another major sin… is the action of supporting the disbelievers against the Muslims. Supporting the disbelievers against the Muslims is in fact kufr, it is disbelief…”
Normative Islamic tradition – which is in line with common sense – asserts that if non-Muslims are unjustifiably killing and attacking Muslims, then it becomes an obligation to support their co-religionists. Just because a particular Muslim group has committed evils it does not follow that unjustified slander and attacks are to be tolerated or to turn a blind eye. Islam teaches that one must be just even if against their own selves. Again, it is extremely worrying that CEMB has deliberately misrepresented Green here as he has said on a number of occasions that we must be just even against our selves and we must support justice even if it favours non-Muslims.
What exposes CEMB further is the fact that they have ignored the thousands of clear statements of peace, cohesion and harmony made by Green. For example, he has expressed many times the need to show love, compassion and concern to all non-Muslims,
“If you have in your heart, love, compassion and concern, if that’s in your heart they are going to feel it.” [xx]
Lie #8: Green Banned from Australia
The CEMB report claims that Abdur Raheem Green was banned from Australia. This is simply not true. Green was never banned from Australia. It is a lie that has been retold over and over in the press that has no factual basis. There was an irregularity in Green’s visa application. On Green’s return to the UK the Australian consulate contacted him to say that if he was planning to travel there in the future he should apply for a specific visa for lecturing.
Lie #9: Green and The Australian Newspaper
The CEMB continues with more slanderous accusations against Green. They quote The Australiannewspaper without verifying any of the claims they made against him. Green has even challenged the media, specifically the newspaper in question, to provide evidence for the false claims made against him,
“Well the real shocker comes at the end of the day. Something I really wasn’t expecting, at all. I get a call from a journalist called Peter Wilson, European correspondent for “The Australian”, the Daily Telegraph sister paper down under.
“Apparently the “radical” firebrand preacher had raised his head there again…sorry that’s me if you didn’t realise…and my name has been linked with an appalling incident of desecrating the Bible by some teenage boys at a Muslim school in Melbourne, Australia….Please notice that although they have clips of me, NONE of them actually show me saying the things that I’m supposed to have said! I wonder why?
“I challenge any of them to actually put the whole speech up on you tube and let people see for themselves how “radical” my speech really is. I doubt they’d do it.” [xxi]
iERA’s Anti-extremism Policy
iERA is a charitable organisation, regulated by the Charity Commission of England and Wales and as such is bound by an anti-extremism policy. This means that all internal and external speakers who speak for iERA or as guest speakers at iERA events must sign up to this policy. It is possible that some internal iERA speakers may have held views in the past (before joining iERA) that contravene their anti-extremism policy. iERA have assured that none of their internal speakers hold any extremist views; rather they ensure that all of them hold normative and orthodox Islamic views as has been taught and preserved for over 1400 years. [xxii]
Deliberately Painting a Negative Picture of iERA
The CEMB report deliberately ignores the good humanitarian work iERA have done. iERA have been involved in a range of community projects and work, whether directly as an organisation or via its speakers and volunteers. For example iERA have supported feeding the homeless and needy in London, is currently fundraising for Great Ormond Street Hospital, has raised money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, supports elderly care projects, supported anti-domestic violence projects, promoted campaigns to encourage the Muslim community to give blood and initiated community projects to clear snow from the streets during the winter season. [xxiii]
Includes Individuals who are no Longer Linked, Affiliated or Connected with iERA
Most of the CEMB report can be ignored. The report from pages 24 – 42 can be thrown away. CEMB attempt to link iERA with old affiliates and advisors. iERA have not had any of the people the report mentions advise the charity for over four years. (Note: iERA is only five years old) Since then iERA have had new trustees and leadership. CEMB have committed a straw man fallacy.
Another slanderous and irresponsible claim includes falsely attempting to link Ifthekar Jaman (who recently went to Syria and was subsequently killed) to iERA just because he wore one of iERA’s T-Shirts (which anyone is free to do, even Maryam Namazie) and was involved in outreach work. Jaman has never been a part of iERA nor has he has any links with the charity.
This further exposes the lies and distortions of CEMB and Maryam Namazie.
Errors concerning the organisational structure of iERA
The CEMB report claims that Hamza Tzortzis is a co-founder of the charity when he is but a senior researcher and lecturer. The CEMB report also unscrupulously cites Hassan Farooq as a “senior member” of iERA when he has no affiliation to the organisation. [xxiv]
CEMB’s ideological bias and their deliberate lies and misrepresentations should be viewed as an ideologically driven hate campaign against popular Islamic speakers and organisations. Our advice is that sincere academic engagement must occur between different groups and not lies and hatred.
Take for example the recent blog post by the iERA that responds to an ex-Muslim’s book “The Young Atheist’s Handbook”. It responds to the book in my opinion with empathy and clear scholastic arguments. CEMB should take note. [xxv]
[xiv] “The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006″ http://wcd.nic.in/cma2006.pdf