Maajid Nawaz Accuses Twitter User of Making Threat Over Freedom of Information Release

From the Liberal Democrat Voice:

Quilliam Foundation to sue after Maajid Nawaz’s and other staff members’ personal information went up on government website

The Times reports (£) that in the week when Liberal Democrat candidate Maajid Nawaz was subject to death threats after tweeting a cartoon of Mohammed, the Department of Communities and Local Government erroneously published his personal mobile number as part of a response to a Freedom of Information request…

There follows an extract (without a link) from the paywalled article itself, by Katie Gibbons. Headlined “Lib Dem in Muhammad hate campaign row to sue government for posting details online”, it includes the following:

The response that led to the publication of personal details concerned e-mails between Mr Nawaz and Mark Caroll, a senior DCLG official, sent in October last year in which the former requested funding for “vital” community work. The grant has since been denied.

The request is thought to have been made by an individual named Jason Schuman, who, under the Twitter handle @debatingculture, threatened to publicise the data that had been released by DCLG. His Twitter account has now been suspended.

Nawaz asked for renewed funding on the back of  high-profile defections by the leaders of the EDL, which were “facilitated” by Quilliam in October; the Guardian reported a few days later that Nawaz had told Stephen Lennon (“Tommy Robinson”) that “he would work to introduce [him] to his own contacts in government and the Home Office in an attempt to procure government funding.”

Perhaps there’s more behind the paywall, but the extract on Lib Dem Voice does not substantiate the claim of a threat by Schuman to “publicise” the phone number, and the @debatingculture Twitter feed has been restored. The two men had an acrimonious exchange on 2 February:

debatingculture
If anyone is wondering why @MaajidNawaz’s personal details are being published, ask @CommunitiesUK, as it is they who failed to redact. Link

Maajid Nawaz:
@debatingculture yes @CommunitiesUK have failed by releasing my private data,I intend to formally complain,but u are preparing to publicise Link

debatingculture:
@MaajidNawaz: Two FoIRs. One is mine. Mine not yet published. You discussed conspiring to withhold with aid of @NewScotlandYard. Link

Maajid Nawaz 
.@debatingculture 1) was protecting my team after death threats 2) why not publish your own private details on here instead of mine.Scared? Link

debatingculture
@MaajidNawaz: Again, DCLG published your details, not me. They should have redacted but didn’t. I tried to stop this. Even had arguments abt Link

Maajid Nawaz ‏@MaajidNawaz Feb 2
.@debatingculture last two RTs prove you know who’s publishing my data. I’ve had threats. Send your name so you can cooperate with police Link

Since that time, Schuman (of whose existence I was unaware before seeing this today) has continued to maintain that he did not make any such threat and that he is opposed to publicising private details. There is nothing immediately visible in his timeline to suggest otherwise, and he seems to be a reasonably civil person. He does, however, confirm that his Twitter feed was suspended, and he says that he was told this was for “spamming” (which he denies, and of which there is no evidence).

The contents of the FoI request were published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com; the page and its contents were highlighted by Jessica Elgot in a piece for the Huffington Post on 3 February. However, the same page now carries a holding message:

The Department for Communities and Local Government has alerted us to the fact they accidentally released a great deal of personal information in this message. A replacement response has been requested.

This is somewhat mysterious: the DCLG release included Nawaz’s mobile number (mentioned in an email), and there’s a private personal detail he has already mentioned in interviews anyway, but it’s an exaggeration to call this a “great deal of personal information”. Problematic details could have been redacted in moments.

Nawaz has come under threats of violence since he Tweeted an image taken from the Jesus and Mo cartoon series, and some of his opponents (such as Mohammed Shafiq) have seized on the controversy opportunistically – and irresponsibly – in an attempt to derail his election candidacy. Consequently, he has also received a great deal of support from supporters of free speech and opponents of religious extremism.

Perhaps Nawaz is on a short fuse as result of the threats against him, but one is forced to suspect that he’s abusing the goodwill he’s received. The charge against Schuman does not appear to stand up, and it looks like Nawaz – with the help of an uncritical media locked into a particular narrative – is attempting to whip up a mob of his own in an attempt to discourage critical interest in his communications with government departments.

That Sochi “Toothpaste Bomb Plot”

This one was all over the media a couple of days ago:

The US has warned airlines with direct flights to Russia that explosives hidden in toothpaste tubes could be smuggled onto planes.

….Unnamed US security officials were quoted as saying there were fears toothpaste tubes could be used to smuggle explosives which could then be used to assemble a bomb either in flight or upon arrival at the Olympics.

…The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that “out of an abundance of caution” it “regularly shares relevant information with domestic and international partners”.

“While we are not aware of a specific threat to the homeland at this time, this routine communication is an important part of our commitment to making sure we meet that priority,” it added.

Homeland Security chair Rep. Michael McCaul had a little more detail, speaking on CNN:

I’ve been briefed on this actually today, but the terror threat has been around for several days. I find it to be very specific and incredible. At 2:00 today, the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin to airlines, particularly flights going out of Europe into Russia warning about this potential threat where explosives can be put in toothpaste containers and cosmetics on board either to detonate on the airline itself or to possibly smuggle into the Olympic village.

So this is a serious threat. I know that Homeland Security officials are taking a lot of precautions in terms of tightening up screening at the airports to ensure that these explosives, if they’re on airplanes, they’ll be able to stop them.

For ABC, this amounts to “Sochi Toothpaste Bomb Plot Ongoing, Sources Say“, but the whole thing is actually rather vague, and there is nothing in the DHS statement that we didn’t know already: small containers for gels and liquids have been a focus of airport security for some years now, and we take it as standard that a major international public spectacle will require extra security. We also know there are terrorists in Russia and that one group, Vilayat Dagestan, has made a specific threat against the Sochi games. Russia actually instituted a ban on liquids on airplanes for the duration of the Olympics and Paralympics a month ago in response to this general context.

McCaul’s interview doesn’t take us much further, either - there has always been a “potential threat where explosive can be put in toothpaste containers”; the question is whether anyone has any specific knowledge of a plot to do so now. The Homeland Security statement specifies that “we are not aware of a specific threat to the homeland”; this does leave open the possibility of “a specific threat” elsewhere, but the overall tone - “abundance of caution… routine communication” – does not suggest the same kind of particular urgency as McCaul’s warning.

Last August, there was general heightened airport alert that led to silly headlines about “breast implant bombs”, while the 2012 London Olympics brought a “cyanide hand cream” scare story.

Terror threats are real, and the Sochi Olympics represents a period of heightened danger. But it seems to me that security authorities, politicians, and the media could do a better job of treating the public like intelligent adults. Or maybe I’m missing the point?

BBC Profiles Pyongyang University of Science and Technology

…and its evangelical Christian founder

Documentaries about life in North Korea are always worth catching, and the BBC’s Panorama has just broadcast an interesting piece on Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a private university where 500 hand-picked students are allowed by the regime to study business and technology skills under Western lecturers – albeit under close monitoring and restricted conditions.

One quirky element is that the students are all male but most of the guards are female, but also unexpected is that the founder and president is a US-Korean evangelical named James Chin-Kyung Kim (var. Kim Chin-Kyung). The programme, presented by Chris Rogers, concentrated on student life and what the existence of such an anomalous institution means for North Korea, although Kim himself would be a interesting documentary topic. There is input from Lord David Alton, who previously wrote about Kim for a website called Felix in 2010:

The university had its genesis in 1987 in a series of intermittent visits to Pyongyang.

Initially, he was treated as a curiosity by the regime. After the death of Kim Il Sung the climate changed and, during a visit in 1998, Dr Kim was arrested and thrown in jail, accused of being an American spy.

The situation appeared so bleak that he was told to write a will – and, in keeping with his vow to give everything back to his country – he even told his captors that once they had executed him they could have his body parts for medical research.

James Kim told me that “The North Korean Government was moved and allowed me to return to my home in China.” It was the first time someone was released after the death penalty was imposed.  He made no public complaints about what had occurred and “two years later they invited me back to North Korea and asked whether I would forget our differences and build a university for them like the one I had established in China.”

Kim appears in photo with Alton and with the oddly ubiquitous Baroness Cox.

Kim’s own story is told in a book entitled Loveism (published by Hongsungsa), which is in Korean but which was helpfully summarised by an evangelical website last November. According to this memoir, Kim served in the Korean war “as the youngest soldier”, aged 15, during which he was converted to Christianity by an American chaplain. He then studied philosophy at Soongsil University and became a high-school German teacher, before travelling to Europe, where he stayed at L’Abri in Switzerland at the invitation of Francis Schaeffer and afterwards studied for a Master’s degree in England. After that he returned to South Korea, where he founded a seminary and started a taxi company. However, he lost his money after being ripped off by a friend, prompting him to move to the USA. Next, he did a PhD and opened a shoe shop, which then led to a successful clothing company.

Then, in the 1980s, Kim was invited to an institute of science and society in China. Recalling that his father had founded a farming school in northeast China during the Japanese colonial period, Kim decided to create the Yanbian University of Science and Technology for ethnic Koreans, for which he eventually got approval after a two-year wait. This institution, known as YUST, formed the template for PUST in North Korea.

So, he keeps busy. But it’s not quite a one-man band: according to a book called The Teaching Ministry of Congregations, by Richard Robert Osmer, funding for YUST has come from the Somang Presbyterian church of Seoul, a prominent and politically well-connected church in South Korea.

The BBC documentary also follows Kim to worship at the Bongsu Church, a showcase place of worship for foreign workers in Pyongyang. Odd scenes ensue: it was clear that some of the attendees  - looking bored and awksward – were there for purely for show, dipping  an empty hand into the collection bag. The church was rebuilt a few years ago in partnership with the South Korean Presbyterian Church Association; its status is controversial, with some South Korean Christians denouncing it as a “fraud“, although Franklin Graham (whose mother went to school in Pyongyang back when it was the “Jerusalem of the East”) preached there in 2008.

Pamela Geller Gives Interview to VCY America

From Right Wing Watch:

In an appearance last week on VCY America’s Crosstalk radio program, [Pamela] Geller pulled out all the stops, suggesting that President Obama didn’t really want to kill Osama bin Laden, and “doesn’t respect or even like our armed forces.” She even claimed that fact that the president’s staff screens questioners at events shows that he is “obviously incompetent” and the “quintessential affirmative action project.” Geller also looked abroad, entertaining the idea that Prince Charles may be a secret Muslim.

This is not the first time that Geller has claimed that Obama authorized the operation to kill bin Laden only very reluctantly: in 2011 she drew attention to a pseudonymous website run by a self-styled pastor named Anthony Martin,who, as “Ulsterman”, claimed to regularly receive information from a “White House insider”. The swipe at Prince Charles, meanwhile, was probably inspired by her recently-declared lawsuit against Queen Elizabeth.

VCY America has featured on the blog before, after WND editor Joseph Farah made an appearance in 2011. Farah used his interview to make the salacious and prurient claim there is “a lot of circumstantial evidence” to suggest that Ann Dunham was actually Obama’s half-sister, adopted by her to help her mother cover up the scandal of his birth.

As I noted at the time, VCY promotes old-school fundamentalism;  shows have included a critique of animal rights with the gloriously Landover Baptist-esque title “Worship Not the Creature”; other offerings I noted in 2011 included “Growing Government Tyranny” (“The Obama health care logo looks similar to the Nazi logo”); “Spiritual Warfare and New Ageism” (including the “role of the Jesuit Priests” and how Oprah Winfrey is “helping to lay the foundation for the coming of a one world religion, a one world political structure, a one world leader, and the new world order”); and an attack on Rick Warren entitled “Purpose Driven Islam: Rick Warren and the Muslims”.

It should also be noted that Geller’s interviewer, Vic Eliason, is a also a vicious gay-hater, who in 1990 persuaded the UPI to fire a lesbian reporter named Julie Brienza on the grounds that as a UPI subscriber he should not be “helping finance Brienza’s work for a publication aimed at homosexuals”.

These kind of associations have brought Geller trouble in the past; in 2010 Geert Wilders withdrew from a film premiere that Geller and Robert  Spencer had organised in his honour after he became aware of the involvement of a group called the Christian Action Network.

However, not all Geller’s religious associates are fringe fundamentalists: back in September, she was endorsed warmly by Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto (BAYT)  - the largest Orthodox synagogue in north America – as  being someone who is “merely speaking the truth”.

Britain First and the “Christian Patrol”

From the website of far-right group Britain First (1):

In response to the infamous “Muslim Patrols”, Britain First has launched our own “Christian Patrols”.

Last night (Friday 31st January) several units of Britain First activists spent several hours in East London handing out “Christian Patrol” leaflets in places such as Brick Lane and outside the East London Mosque.

Britain First has made a short video of its exploits, which included stationing two men on the pavement opposite the East London Mosque drinking beer as “bait” in a futile attempt to “draw out” hostile Muslims. The leaflets  - as explained to camera by chairman Paul Golding, sitting in an armoured vehicle – urge the public to phone Britain First to “report” any harassment by Muslims (for some reason, whoever originally uploaded the video made a half-hearted and botched attempt to blank out the phone number displayed on the leaflets).

This was, of course, no more than a stunt: the thuggish trio who were going around harassing people as a self-styled “Muslim patrol” more than a year ago tended to target individuals in back-streets or isolated areas, and it’s unlikely they would have challenged two burly men who were likely to resist. Plus, more importantly, they’re currently in prison. And given Friday evening’s foul weather, “Christian Patrol” activists standing around in the rain were more likely to catch a cold than ensnare any Islamic fanatics.

The “Christian” element of the patrol appears to be purely nominal: no hymns were sung, and there were no references to God, Jesus, or the Bible. I would be surprised if any of the activists are on their way to church this morning.

However, Britain First’s originator, Jim Dowson, is a “Reverend”, and the group was set up in 2011 to protect “British and Christian morality”. The group’s website shows an active interest in promoting Christianity as an aspect of traditional values: Golding writes of a “Holy Crusade” and of “Christian soldiers and fellow patriots”; there is a “Sunday Sermon” section “on the fundamental role that Christianity played in our long and glorious heritage”; and the site includes attacks on a “sordid” sex education video and on Boris Johnson for vetoing “an advertisement from two Christian groups regarding homosexuality”. There’s also an account of a delegation to an event organised by the Scottish Christian Party (an affiliate of the Christian Party). Hope Not Hate judges that it “is squeezed between its fascist roots and its religious ambitions”; Dowson and Golding both have backgrounds in the BNP, with Dowson in particular having played a significant role.

Britain First recently held protest in Cricklewood, ostensibly against a Muslim Brotherhood office above a shop; a counter-protestor named Martin Francis has an account here (H/T Charlie Pottins)

(1) britainfirst.org/britain-first/britain-first-launches-christian-patrols-in-east-london/

 

Remainders of the Day: Ariel Sharon’s Death and the Return of Jesus

Rabbi Messiah Discounted

From WND (WorldNetDaily), 22 January:

…today only, WND readers can get Carl Gallups’ “The Rabbi Who Found Messiah” for only $4.95 – a huge $21 discount off the regular $25.95 price!

In the fall of 2005, a 108-year-old rabbi, the most venerated rabbinical Jewish leader in Israel, proclaimed that he knew the name of the real Messiah. He insisted that he knew where the Messiah was and when He was going to reveal Himself to the world. Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri claimed that he had personally seen the Messiah in a vision.

But … there were just a couple catches: Kaduri declared that a particular and famed world leader had to die before the Messiah appeared publicly.

By “today only”, WND actually means “forever until we shift these books” – as of 1 February, clicking on the link and adding the item to the shopping cart shows that’s still available for $4.95, billed as “SPECIAL ONE-DAY OFFER… OFFER ENDS TONIGHT AT 10 P.M. AND IS VALID IN THE U.S. ONLY.” There is one slight catch, though: the purchase is bundled in with a sample subscription for WND‘s fringe-right Whistleblower magazine which the buyer has to opt out of to avoid being charged for a year’s worth of issues.

The “famed world leader” referred to in the blurb, of course, was Ariel Sharon – Kaduri (actually a politically controversial obscurantist rather than “the most venerated rabbinical Jewish leader”) had predicted that he would be the last Prime Minister of Israel, and when this prophecy failed it was reinterpreted by his followers as referring to Sharon’s death.

Kaduri also said that the Messiah had “attached his soul” to someone in Israel, and a note emerged after his death identifying the name of this person as “Yehoshua” or “Yeshua”. Even though Kaduri was a life-long adherent of a mystical form of Judaism, elements of the Christian Right in the USA decided this was a sign that the life-long Kabbalist had had a supernatural encounter with Jesus. Those who jumped on the bandwagon included Left Behind author Tim LaHaye:

when a much loved Jewish Rabbi dies at 106 years of age, shortly after leaving a secret message revealing the true identity of the Messiah of Israel, it is news of worldwide significance. This is a well-written story worth reading!

The book and an accompanying DVD were published last autumn, and its main selling point was that the death of Sharon would be somehow mystically linked to the return of Jesus. The book’s absurd and Landoveresque author, Pastor Carl Gallups (best-known for his crank claim that the Bible predicts that the anti-Christ will be named  “baraq o bamah”) has attempted to maintain interest by arguing that Jesus’ non-return before the death of Sharon shows that Kaduri’s prophecy “has come true”, but it’s clear that the book and its thesis are now past their sell-by date.

A screenshot of the cover of the book as it appears on the 22 January page shows that WND has slapped a sticker on the front advertising another apocalyptic product: a DVD called The 9/11 Judgment. This is an official tie-in with Jonathan Cahn’s book The Harbinger, which links the 9/11 attacks with God’s judgement against the USA. That book – published by Steve Strang’s Charisma House – has achieved bestseller status.

Paul Ray Sued by Alan Ayling in Malta

From Malta Today:

A British far-right activist, Paul Adam Cinato, has been ordered to pay €5,000 in damages to a UK national after publishing three articles in his personal blog in 2012, which were deemed defamatory by the Maltese courts.

…Magistrate Francesco Depasquale today heard how Cinato, whose last known address was Marsaxlokk, publishes a blog under the pseudonym Lionheart.  In April and May of 2012, three of his articles attacked English national Alan Derek Ayling, who in the past has denied allegations he is the financier of the English Defence League, allegedly met Cinato in England to discuss the UK’s political situation…

Both men were associated with the early days of the EDL: Cinato, better known as Paul Ray, was involved with organising football hooligans into anti-Islam protests in Luton back in April 2009, although by the following August he had been sidelined as the EDL began to establish a coherently branded presence. As noted above, Alan Ayling (then known as “Alan Lake”) gained a reputation as the EDL’s “financier”, although this seems to have been exaggerated. The EDL officially repudiated him in August 2011, after bad publicity arising from some of his statements.

Ayling and Cinato were also a focus of media attention following the massacre in Utoya; Anders Breivik’s manifesto included references to having met a “Richard the Lionhearted” in London, and journalists seized on the similarly between this name and Cinato’s blog pseudonym “Lionheart”. While condemning Breivik’s actions, Cinato appeared to welcome the publicity (he featured on the front page of the London Times), although I don’t think there was any actual connection, for reasons I explained at the time. Ayling, meanwhile, gave an interview with Dagbladet following a conversation with police in Norway, in which he told the paper that “if I inspired [Breivik], he misunderstood.”

Since that time, the two men have largely slipped out of public view, although Cinato has continued to pump out postings about Ayling. To a large extent, these consist of photos of Ayling  linked with big red arrows to photos of Breivik placed above feverishly conspiratorial commentary. According to Ayling’s testimony to the court:

…the allegations destroyed his marriage and… he was forced to quit his job as a database manager at the European Bank for Resources and Development. “Wherever I travel I’m haunted by Lionheart’s allegations,”

Cinato was ordered to pay 5,000 Euros, but it’s not clear whether he still resides in Malta.

(H/T Hope Not Hate)

Media Highlights “Satanic Sects” Claim in Pope John Paul II Reliquary Theft

The Telegraph reports on the theft of a reliquary containing a piece of cloth stained by the blood of Pope John Paul II; the item was removed from the Church of St Peter of Ienca (link added):

…”It’s possible that there could be Satanic sects behind the theft of the reliquary,” said Giovanno Panunzio, the national coordinator of an anti-occult group called Osservatorio Antiplagio.

“This period of the year is important in the Satanic calendar and culminates in the Satanic ‘new year’ on Feb 1. This sort of sacrilege often take place at this time of year”

The quote appears to have been derived from Italian media; Panunzio also claims that there’s a thriving market in stolen religious artefacts among Satanists:

Il mercato dei simulacri religiosi nelle sette sataniche è fiorente e i simboli sacri senza un particolare valore artistico, ma unici, vengono pagati anche decine di migliaia di euro. 

However, Italian reports also note that the artefact may actually have been taken by a “devotee” of the late Pope.

By “Satanic new year”, Panunzio presumably means the pagan spring festival of Imbolg, which takes place at the start of February: “Satanism” is usually imagined (to the distress of actual neo-pagans) as a strange hybrid of elements taken from pre-Christian European religion and the self-conscious inversion of Christian symbolism and ritual. However, Panunzio does not substantiate his claim that the theft fits a pattern of a sacrilege that “often takes place” in the run-up to February, and I’m sceptical of the existence of a “thriving market” in stolen religious goods. If “Satanists” have indeed stolen the item, which is far from certain, it’s most likely that the culprits are juveniles for whom “Satanism” is simply a way to be transgressive.

Details on Panunzio in English are scarce; he is described as a “devout Catholic” living in Sardinia who opposes psychics and other manifestations of what he sees as “superstition”. It seems that his line of attack is primarily rationalistic, but that he also sees such phenomena in terms of “Satanism”.

UPDATE (1 February): The BBC reports that three men have been arrested, and it appears that the theft was a simple burglary:

The cloth was found in separate pieces in a garage of one of the three men arrested in connection with the theft.

It has been put back together with only a few filaments of gold missing… The three suspects apparently threw the cloth away, not realising its value.

Thomas More Law Center’s Lawsuit Tossed By Federal Judge

From the AP:

A federal judge Wednesday dismissed a conservative Christian advocacy group’s lawsuit against a Muslim rights organization over the cancellation of a speech by an anti-Muslim speaker at a southwestern Michigan school.

…Allegan police interrupted Kamal Saleem’s speech Jan. 28, 2012, saying there were threats of violence against him. Dawud Walid, executive director of  [CAIR's] Michigan chapter, had written the school district earlier objecting to Saleem’s appearance.

U.S. District Judge Janet Neff dismissed Walid and his group as defendants. Neff also dismissed claims against the Allegan police and the group People for the American Way, which advocates for liberal causes…

The case had been brought by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of several plaintiffs: then-State Representative Dave Agema, who introduced Saleem’s talk; Elizabeth Griffin, a chapter leader of Brigitte Gabriel’s ACT! for America organisation; Allegan County Commissioner Willis Sage; and a certain Pastor Mark Gurley, a birther who was one of the event sponsors.

I covered the story at the time: Saleem’s speech was interrupted by police because they unfortunately took at face value Saleem’s claim that Muslims had put a “$25million bounty” on his head, and they feared an immediate threat to life. Perhaps the police response was misjudged, but the local police chief  had to make a immediate decision on a matter of public safety based on information given to him at the last moment. The TMLC subsequently sued the school district – the case was settled for $500 a year ago – but also claimed that the real reason the speech had been shut down was because CAIR and PFAW had previously written to the school district asking it not to give Saleem a platform.

The TMLC claimed this meant the two groups had “interfered with the contract” between the venue and the event organisers; this was obvious nonsense, as the two groups had not played any part in the police decision – and even if the venue had declined to host Saleem as a result of the two groups’ representations, there would still be no case to answer. Anyone is entitled to write to the managers of a venue with information about the nature of a speaker they intend to host, and Saleem is a particularly unsuitable person to be given a platform in an educational setting.

The TMLC, while striking a faux “free speech” pose, was in fact attempting to misuse the law to censor critical comment of Saleem, the most floridly bogus of the Muslim-turned-Christian “ex-terrorists” who make money from telling lurid stories to conservative groups about Islamic conspiracies and Barack Obama. And the judge saw through it, asserting that in writing to the school board the defendants had exercised their First Amendment right to petition their representatives (full ruling here, h/t Ed Brayton).

Agema, meanwhile, has recently been the news for other reasons – over to the Detroit Free Press:

Agema — one of two national committee members from Michigan — came under fire after making comments in December that suggested gays manipulate the system to get health care because of a risk of contracting AIDS. Then this month, he posted on his Facebook page a defense of a Russian law that criminalizes homosexuality, and commented that it appeared to be “common sense” to him. He also re-posted a tract that questioned if Muslims had made any positive contribution to American culture.

Senior Republicans are asking for him to step down. The “tract” was an anti-Muslim and anti-Obama viral email that seems to have first appeared the day after Obama’s Cairo speech on 4 June 2009.

However, once again, an element of the Christian Right is coming to Agema’s support: not, this time, the TMLC, but in the form of Bryan Fischer.

Maajid Nawaz Jesus and Mo Controversy

A few days late with this; from the IB Times:

A would-be Liberal Democrat MP who published an image of the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter has been targeted by online abuse.

Maajid Nawaz received threats of violence – including beheading – and an online petition was started against his bid to become MP in 2015.

It happened after the former Muslim radical and co-founder of Quilliam, an anti-extremism thinktank, drew the ire of critics by publishing a cartoon of the prophet of Islam on his Twitter timeline.

Nawaz posted an image of Jesus and Mohammed taken from the comic strip Jesus and Mo, for illustrative purposes. As he explained afterwards:

…I didn’t post it on here gratuitously. Rather, a week ago the BBC Big Questions featured a long-shot of this cartoon. I posted that image here to explain how, as a Muslim, I didn’t find this particular image offensive and think God is bigger than to find offence at such a bland cartoon…

The picture simply depicts Muhammad standing next to Jesus and saying “How Ya Doing?”, and it became the focus of controversy after two students were temporarily banned by their university from wearing t-shirts bearing the image. However, the strip from which it derives also shows Muhammad and Jesus drinking beer, making crude sexual comments and sharing a bed. The tone is sceptical and satirical, although not (from what I’ve seen of it) gratuitously hostile or aggressive. Nawaz makes no comment about the whole Jesus and Mo corpus, but it’s hardly surprising that some Muslims would be critical of Nawaz’s willingness to republish an obviously irreverent image with such a provenance and of his attitude towards it.

Nawaz demonstrates that not all Muslims necessarily take offence at a cartoon of Muhammad drawn by a sceptical satirist, or subscribe to the taboo against pictorial representations of the prophet of Islam. However, it’s clear that he’s also inviting debate, speaking from the position of being a well-connected media commentator who has positioned himself (or been positioned as) an exemplar of how a Muslim ought to be in the world in order to be worthy of the status “non-extremist”. Yet it’s now being portrayed (particularly by Richard Dawkins, who wrote a foreword for a Jesus and Mo collection) as though the primary issue is other Muslims telling Nawaz what he ought to be offended by, rather than what he thinks other Muslims ought not to be offended by.

Alas, though, the level of the “debate” has not so far been particularly encouraging. Take, for instance, this near-hysterical and petulant reaction from Mohammed Shafiq, a rival commentator from the Ramadhan Foundation:

We will notify all muslim organisations in the UK of his despicable behaviour and also notify Islamic countries.

What can that mean, other than that he intends to tip off authoritarian regimes that might inflict harm on Nawaz if he were to visit their countries? It should be noted that Nawaz has particular links in Pakistan, where accusations of blasphemy have fatal results. It’s clear that the controversy is here being used opportunistically to a settle a score.

I can see that some Muslims or Christians wouldn’t care for Jesus and Mo, and I’m not convinced that a religious sensitivity here is a sign of “bigotry”. Perhaps it would be more pertinent, rather than to argue about what people might or might not reasonably find offensive, to instead focus on how people ought to conduct themselves when they are offended.

UPDATE: Nawaz – after an initially bullish response (“As @IceCube once said in the intro skit to “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted”, while on death row: ‘ F%#* all y’all! ‘”) – has now issued a qualified expression of regret:

…But moderate language and a respect for others’ opinions is at the heart of both Liberalism and my understanding of what Prophet Muhammad (صلّى الله عليه وسلّم) teaches us. I wish to take this opportunity to re-assert that although I do not agree with those who have interpreted my comments in a way that I did not intend – and although I continue to hold to my belief in both Islam and freedom of speech – I respect the right of all those who have taken offence to express themselves peacefully. 

I do regret if, in expressing my own views, I have caused inadvertent offence to any side in this debate. 

In conclusion, I bid you all salam (peace) and request that we all allow ourselves to put this unfortunate incident behind us