Should there be freedom to criticise religion or does doing so automatically make it racism? Good question. Most of us are aware that people are sensitive to religious criticism to the extent that they will call it racism, and sometimes justifiably so. And it’s definitely fair to say that sometimes the line between criticism of a religion and ‘racism’ is easily crossed.

There is a problem however, with the statements and suggestions made by writer of the article ‘Freedom to criticise, or racism?’ who also wrote an article titled ‘To answer your question: I would say freedom fighters‘ which ultimately praised Hamas.

There is a part of this article which states that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, and that a clear distinction must be made between the two; a statement which the majority of people would agree with. That criticism or rejection of a political view must be made separately from the religion from which it might claim to represent or take root in.

Why then, is it acceptable for the writer to be so insistent on making clear the separation of religion and politics in that particular instance, but claim in another article that criticism of politics that involve people who happen to be Muslim is suddenly unacceptable?

The article ‘Freedom to criticise, or racism?’ claimed that the attempt to ban Azzam Tamimi from speaking at Sussex and an article in The Badger which criticised Hamas were both overt and covert attacks on the Muslim members of our community. I have to say that this claim is nothing short of ridiculous.

Both of these incidents were legitimate criticisms of Hamas (and Azzam Tamimi is a supporter of Hamas) who are essentially an anti-Semitic, homophobic and an internationally condemned political terrorist group. It was not criticising Islam as a religion. When did it become ‘racist’ to condemn people or groups who carry out or condone suicide bombings, as both Hamas and Azzam Tamimi have done?

The claim of these incidents being part of a ‘campaign against Muslim members of our community’ is fundamentally both incorrect and expresses extreme double standards for different religions. It cannot be one rule for Islam and its political offshoots and another for anyone else. These people are not criticised for their religion, but their political actions.

There is a still fundamental problem with the title of the article ‘Freedom to criticise, or racism?’ as well as with what I have just written. Both suggest that there should be no room to criticise religion, when of course there must be. Even those that believe in religion must be open to criticism for it. It is impossible to fully accept something that you have not questioned and heard opposition to. There is nothing in this world that is perfect and without its problems.

It has to be acknowledged that the main content of the article in question presented us with the basic fact that there has been a rise over the past few years in Islamaphobia. There is no denying that. Similarly, I am all too aware of how criticism of a religion or its politics can lead to ‘racism’ (and this is all based on the largely debatable assumption that it is possible to classify a religion as a race).

Yes, the distinction needs to be made between those who put forward legitimate criticism and those who should be deemed as ‘racists’.

The ones we should be truly deeming as ‘racists’ are people that reject the fundamental rights of others to hold a certain religious belief or maintain an ethnic background; people whose aim it is to prevent religious practices, people who conduct physical attacks on others simply because of the religion, race or nation they belong to, people who vandalise places of worship or religious monuments, people who make derogatory or slanderous remarks towards a race, a religion or the people practicing it, and people who have a rejection to any religious or ethnic groups basic right to self determination.

Though the writer also acknowledges these things as racism in his article, it would appear that he also has an ironic inability to apply his own standard of separation universally.

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The Badger

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13 Comments

  • It is very interesting to accuse me of double standards. Now lets see, who is it that tried to ban a speaker from coming to campus? How come you fail to mention that you and the society you represent tried to prevent someone from expressing themselves on campus? Especially after the speaker’s performance made it absolutely clear that any accusation of anti-semitism directed against him was unfounded (or maybe you chose not to attend the meeting in question so as not to be convinced).
    Once more, what is racist is to present a picture of Islam as a religion which is inherently violent and whose followers are all terrorists. This is because as you rightly point out in your article, there has been a rise in islamophobia in recent years, and it is the product of the war on terror. This is what I was attacking and all that goes with it, i.e the constant whipping up of hysteria concerning resistance organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
    Finally, about Hamas. Needless to ask for a direct response to my article because there will be none, so strong are the arguments presented there that it is difficult to counter them. But at least be informed about what you allege. Hamas the political organisation is not considered terrorist in Britain, only its military wing. And even if we count the countries where Hamas or its military wing are considered terrorist, this boils down to a handful of Western states who all have a stake one way or another in the war on terror. So the allegation about Hamas being an ‘internationally condemned terrorist group’ is a load of nonsense.
    Criticise Hamas and Tamimi as much as you want. But dont try to ban them from our platforms on the grounds that they are fascist (remember that was the Union policy in line with which you tried to ban them). That correlates rather oddly with passionate pleas about ‘freedom of criticism’.

  • Wilder has said that he is not racist, but this is a fairly transparent claim in my opinion and his bald ‘I’m not racist’ statement, coupled with a ludicrous propaganda campaign, has unfortunately been fairly successful in getting his flatulent, punchable face on television.

    I think that the author of the ‘freedom for criticism’ article is either partially sighted or didn’t bother to watch the film properly if he’s been prepared to essentially display a fence-sitting attitude to this politician.

  • “Now lets see, who is it that tried to ban a speaker from coming to campus? How come you fail to mention that you and the society you represent tried to prevent someone from expressing themselves on campus”
    I don’t mention it because it’s irrelevant who it was. Just to clarify, does that mean that you were against the No Platform policy and would be quite happy to hear members of the BNP come on to campus? To me, that policy is there in part to protect the students at this university, and to protect any group of people who genuinely feel threatened by the speaker or what they represent. I count Hamas and anyone that supports them as people i’d feel threatened by when they clearly are an anti-Semitic group. Just one example of this being a Hamas leader in January saying that Jewish children all around the world are now legitimate targets. Anyone that stands up as Tamimi does and shouts “We are all Hamas” does not make him someone that should be welcomed with open arms on to campus.

  • “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual… severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition” – Merriam-Webster

    Fits the bill quite appropriately…

  • Comment stolen from another thread: “It is true that there is a rise in anti-semitism. This has to be countered. But have you asked yourself why this rise in anti-semitism? Why every time Israel commits acts of atrocity more and more people turn against t Jews? Israel kills and destroys and justifies this in the name of Judaism. It seems to me then that the best way to fight anti-semitism is to fight Israel itself for this is not what Judaism is about.”

    and hence why the Union should have reacted. A pro-hamas speaker is not a bad thing, but a pro-hamas speaker in the immediate wake of Iraeli / Arab conflict is a sure fire recipe for populist movement.

    Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism are separate issues sure, but seeing as criticising Hamas apparently is an attack on Islam, then an attack on Israeli politics (at least taking Christakis’s line) should be considered anti-semitism – otherwise you’ve the double standards issue.

  • I’ve read a few of these articles and their associated comments, and it seems to me that the majority of the argument here is simple semantics – everyone seems to be using their own definiton of racism to condem each other as racist, which is obviously going to provoke a reaction as that’s a dirty word nowadays.

  • Judith,
    The No Platform policy, which I entirely endorse, is directed against fascists such as the BNP (and incidentally, similar organisations such as Wilders’s one). Unless you try to prove that Tamimi is a fascist, trying to ban him from speaking makes you using double standards. You cant interpret union policies in the way you want when that suits your interests (remember you argued against a No Platform policy). To anyone who has been to Tamimi’s meeting, it was entirely obvious that the man is not anti-semitic and that the message he was putting forward was anti-Zionist, not anti-semitic. If you persist in arguing the two to be the same, that’s your problem, not anyone else’s.
    Paul, I see the last point you make in your comment. But the problem is that it reproduces the Zionist claim that Zionism represents the Jews. It doesn’t. It is the political philosophy which underpins the existence of the State of Israel and as such it is distinct from Judaism. Attacking Israel, and hence Zionism, is in no way an act of anti-semitism, that’s why so many Jews attack Israel (politically I mean, not physically). It is not the same as my claim that calling Hamas terrorist and whipping up hysteria around it is Islamophobic. You have to take into account the context. You have a region mainly populated by Muslims under constant attack from the Western powers and its allies (especially Israel). When these people try to resist (by espousing various political philosophies, the most important one today being Islamism), we call them terrorist. Doing that serves the interests of the warmongers and denies the people of the region the legitimacy to resist. That’s why it has to be fought.
    Chris Postle, I use the term racism to mean a discrimination against a group of people united by race, religion or nationality, i.e very broadly. That’s why I also use the term ‘islamophobia’ to speak about the specific form of racism directed against Muslims. It is a dirty word, but unfortunatel the only way to clean up the mess is by rolling back the influence of racism. That’s what I am trying to do.

  • Christakis,
    Firstly, i most certainly have never argued against a No Platform policy, so i’m not sure where you’re getting that claim from. Secondly, any group is well within their rights to use it when they see fit, i.e. when they feel under threat. It was more than clear that this was the case by the amount of people that turned up to the council meeting. The No Platform policy is there to protect students, not just students that belong to a religious or ethnic group. If people are facing any possibility of physical threat because of what they believe in, then that threat should be removed.
    Anyone that supports and encourages attacks on other innocent people because of their political belief – or i’d go as far as to say their nationality, as the talk condoned attacks on Israelis in Israel- (as Tamimi does and he repeated this in his talk) has no place on campus.
    I’m going to say this one more time. You have written:
    “Attacking Israel, and hence Zionism, is in no way an act of anti-semitism, that’s why so many Jews attack Israel (politically I mean, not physically). It is not the same as my claim that calling Hamas terrorist and whipping up hysteria around it is Islamophobic.”
    – Replace the word ‘Israel’ with ‘Hamas’, or any other condemned political group that makes any kind of claim in the name of a religion, and replace the word ‘Jews’ with ‘Muslims’ and ‘Zionism’ with ‘Islamism’ , and you end up arguing an entirely different point. That’s what i mean about double standards. Hamas are terrorists. It is not hysteria. Claiming that saying this is Islamaphobic is just not true.

  • As a Jewish student at Sussex, I would like to state that I did attend Tamimi ‘s speech on campus in January and he was not anti-semitic in ANY way. If he was, I, and I’m sure many others, would have challenged him on this. Anti-Zionism is a separate issue.

    In the words of the late Harold Pinter and others in a public letter last April:

    “We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and that continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations.

    We will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East. “

  • Dr Tamimi is not just anti-zionist, he’s anti-Israeli. All Israelis. I base this on his defending of the act of suicide bombing and claims that he would commit a suicide bombing. Saying that you would murder a random sample of a population of a country suggests that you have no regard for the humanity of that population.

  • 33injection,

    I’m not sure why you feel that by stating your religious beliefs as some kind of disclaimer to your comment it makes any difference to what you’ve just said.
    If you were an Israeli or Zionist sitting in that audience being described as a cancer that must be eradicated from humanity or hearing a man say that the only reason he hadn’t blown himself up somewhere where you have friends and family was because he wasn’t allowed in the country, are you really telling me you’d feel quite safe and not at all threatened?
    I am not going to enter into a debate on the middle east over this article because that was not what I was aiming to do, so your Harold Pinter quote is irrelevant to both the article and the thread.
    I am saying that criticising Azzam Tamimi and saying that should not have been allowed to speak on campus was not racist or Islamaphobic.
    If speaking out against and criticising someone’s politics means that you’re a racist, then apply that to everything- which you clearly aren’t going to do, because if you argue so strongly that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, you have to also argue that criticism of Tamimi, Hamas or any other political group or leader is not Islamaphobic. That’s it.