Saturday, September 26, 2015

Warwick University (UK) Student Union Bans Feminist, Marxist, Secularist Maryam Namazie

Comrade Maryam: Banned by a students union for being a Feminist, Secularist and Marxist

NB - A predominant strain of contemporary left wing politics takes the view that Islam must not be criticised, lest this criticism feeds into 'Islamophobia'. So we end up aligning with the worst kind of intolerance because the fanatics are supposed to be 'anti-imperialist'. In this case (in Warwick University) a left wing feminist is forbidden to speak, because some students would probably be uncomfortable with her ideas. At this rate there will never be any growth of ideas, because someone or another is bound to feel offended. Are we back in the time of Galileo and the medieval Catholic Church? Must we live through another Inquisition?

We are familiar with this stance in India, where fanatics of all shades are perpetually on the look-out for any idea that 'outrages religious sentiments'. Apparently some people feel they have a legal right not to be offended; that (their) religion is beyond criticism, or that atheists and agnostics must have fewer rights than believers. We in India have several examples of this, not least the recent murders of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi. And the murders of several Bangladeshi bloggers is a prominent example of fascism at work in South Asia. It should be said loud and clear - just as people have a right to their religious beliefs, so too do agnostic and atheists have the right to speak their views without fear of intimidation and legal constraint. This goes for criticism of every religion - Hinduism, Christianity, Islam or any other. The students union office bearers who banned Namazie's lecture are attempting to crush the very spirit of free inquiry that is - or should be - the basis of education. Dilip

A prominent secularist and activist has been barred from speaking at a student union event due to fears her speech would “incite hatred” against Muslim students. Comrade Namazie is respected not just in secularist and human rights circles but widely on the international left.  As editor for the Worker-communist Review, Maryam Namazie is a Central Committee member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran. She advocates ideas inspired by Workerist  Communism,  especially those of the Iranian theorist Mansoor Hekmat. She is strongly feminist.

Reports the Independent.
Maryam Namazie had been booked by the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists (WASH) group to speak about secularism to Warwick University’s Student Union on 28 October. However, the group was notified last month that Ms Namazie’s speech had been cancelled. The decision has led campaigners to raise concerns about student bodies across the UK thwarting freedom of speech on their campuses.

The union said that “after researching both [Ms Namazie] and her organisation, a number of flags have been raised. We have a duty of care to conduct a risk assessment for each speaker who wishes to come to campus”. Articles written by Ms Namazie indicated she was “highly inflammatory” and “could incite hatred on campus”, according to the union.

Ms Namazie, who fled Iran with her family in 1980 after the revolution, said she was likely to have spoken about apostasy, blasphemy and nudity in the age of Isis. She told The Independent she was “angry” her talk had been blocked. “They’re basically labelling me a racist and an extremist for speaking out against Islam and Islamism,” she said. “If people like me who fled an Islamist regime can’t speak out about my opposition to the far-right Islamic movement, if I can’t criticise Islam… that leaves very [few] options for me as a dissenter because the only thing I have is my freedom of expression. “If anyone is inciting hatred, it’s the Islamists who are threatening people like me just for deciding we want to be atheist, just because we don’t want to toe the line.”

Ms Namazie, who considers herself an anti-racist campaigner, added: “To try to censor me, does a double disservice to those people who are dissenting by denying people like me the only opportunity we have to speak.” This really sticks in the craw:

Isaac Leigh, president of Warwick Student Union said: “The initial decision was made for the right of Muslim students not to feel intimidated or discriminated against on their university campus… rather than in the interest of suppressing free speech.” “A final decision on this issue will be reached by the most senior members of the Student Union in coming days,” he said.

Ms Namazie hoped her talk would be rescheduled. Maryam Namazie is also the spokesperson of Fitnah- Movement for Women’s Liberation, a protest movement which is, according to their website, “demanding freedom, equality, and secularism and calling for an end to misogynist cultural, religious and moral laws and customs, compulsory veiling, sex apartheid, sex trafficking, and violence against women.”

According to Namazie, the name of the movement comes from a hadith, or a saying from Islamic prophet Muhammad, which in her opinion portrays women as a source of harm and affliction. She explains that even though the term is generally perceived as negative, the fact that women who are called fitnah are those who “are disobedient, who transgress the norms, who refuse, who resist, who revolt, who won’t submit” makes it suited for a women’s liberation movement. She has explained that the creation of the movement was sparked by contemporary movements and revolutions around the world, especially those in the Middle East and North Africa, although she emphasizes Fitnah has global relevance.

It is not hard to see that an uppity Iranian feminist secularist and Marxist might indeed offend religious bigots. In this light one can only describe the decision of Warwick University Student Union – my own former student union – as a deep deep stain.

Comrade Marayam’s own Blog: here.
More in the Guardian.

More from the comrades at Shiraz here

Benjamin David (President of Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists) has published a response on the student union’s website.

Dear supporters
As President of WASH, I feel that it is important that I comment about the recent controversy regarding the decision taken by The University of Warwick’s Student Union to prohibit Maryam Namazie from speaking on campus. For those unfamiliar with Maryam, she is a secularist, a human-rights campaigner, and leader of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain – as well as being a friend of mine. After submitting a guest-speaker application to the SU, I received the following response explaining their decision to bar Maryam:

…after researching both her and her organisation, a number of flags have been raised. We have a duty of care to conduct a risk assessment for each speaker who wishes to come to campus. There a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus. This is in contravention of our external speaker policy:

*must not incite hatred, violence or call for the breaking of the law
*are not permitted to encourage, glorify or promote any acts of terrorism including individuals, groups or organisations that support such acts
*must not spread hatred and intolerance in the community and thus aid in disrupting social and community harmony
*must seek to avoid insulting other faiths or groups, within a framework of positive debate and challenge
*are not permitted to raise or gather funds for any external organisation or cause without express permission of the trustees.

In addition to this, there are concerns that if we place conditions on her attendance (such as making it a member only event and having security in attendance, asking for a transcript of what she intends to say, recording the speech) she will refuse to abide by these terms as she did for Trinity College Dublin:


As a student of the University, I must confess that I cannot but help feel an element of embarrassment – as well as feeling that my society has been vitiated in light of the encroachment on the strong secular and free-speech principles that the society espouses. We have appealed the decision and we will submit a further post detailing the outcome in due course. The restriction of free-thought and non-violent free-speech is the most dangerous of all subversions, a subversion that is only amplified in light of the fact that Maryam has always campaigned against violence and discrimination and has done so passionately for many years – something that should have been taken on board when the SU’s assessment was made. Maryam often describes the true facts concerning her own experiences and those of people she works with in relation to radical forms of Islam – not all forms of Islam, just those pernicious, radical strands of the religion – things that most peaceful Muslims would also condemn. I must profess that if those facts are an incitement of hatred – which I most definitely believe they are not – then the solution is to change the way people are treated in certain faith communities, not to insist Maryam lie about her life through censorship. As Maryam stated in her blog:

“The Student Union seems to lack an understanding of the difference between criticising religion, an idea, or a far-Right political movement on the one hand and attacking and inciting hate against people on the other. Inciting hatred is what the Islamists do; I and my organisation challenge them and defend the rights of ex-Muslims, Muslims and others to dissent.”

And, what is more:

“The Student Union position is of course nothing new. It is the predominant post-modernist “Left” point of view that conflates Islam, Muslims and Islamists, homogenises the “Muslim community”, thinks believers are one and the same as the religious-Right and sides with the Islamist narrative against its many dissenters […]This type of politics denies universalism, sees rights as ‘western,’ justifies the suppression of women’s rights, freedoms and equality under the guise of respect for other ‘cultures’ imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the religious-Right. In this type of politics, the oppressor is victim, the oppressed are perpetrators of “hatred”, and any criticism is racist.”

The infringement of free-speech is becoming insidiously ubiquitous, and many universities, including The University of Warwick, are circumventing the freedom of speech in pursuit of inoffensive, sanitary narratives. As many of those at Warwick University know, few universities have sullied its free-speech as much as our university has. Spiked-Online’s ‘University Free-Speech Rankings‘ recently imputed the university with their infamous red-ranking, stating that:

“The University of Warwick and Warwick Students’ Union collectively create a hostile environment for free speech. The university, which has received an Amber ranking, restricts material that is ‘likely to cause offence’. The students’ union, which has received a Red ranking, has instituted bans on the Sun and the Daily Star, launched a campaign to have ‘offensive’ wallpaper in a local bar removed and banned ‘prejudiced’ entertainers from performing in the union. Due to the severity of the students’ union’s actions, the institution’s overall ranking is Red” 

I believe that we at the University of Warwick need to come together, as secularists, as students, revering the intellectual suffusion of ideas and dialectics, to construct a truly formidable voice of opposition for the sake of those beloved principles that we promote. Lest we forget: censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship” – George Bernard Shaw


(President of Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists)

see also