7th October 2016
Blogger, activist and philosophy academic.
A US-based Muslim preacher who allegedly advocated killing gay people is given a series of lectures in London after being allowed to enter the UK. Despite the fact that the Home Office has been encouraged to retract the visa of Hamza Sodagar, the series of lectures between 3 October and 12 October is still going ahead.
In 2010, Hamza Sodagar filmed an online video in which he grotesquely claims that it’s fully legitimate - and indeed appropriate - for gay people to be ‘punished’ for their sexuality, including having their heads cut off or being flung down a cliff. Not only that, in the video Sodagar supposedly declaims from his platform that:
"If there’s homosexual men, the punishment is one of five things. One, the easiest one maybe, is cut their head off, that’s the easiest. The second is, burn them to death. Third, throw them off a cliff. Fourth, tear down the wall on them so they die. Fifth, a combination of the above. We have a hadith on that. Now, whether someone’s going to accept that, that’s up to the jurists to read that and understand. There’s definitely some of those apply… maybe the combination [fifth option]. These are things which are there.”
His lectures are being facilitated by the Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission at the Islamic Republic Of Iran School in London. Literature advertising the lecture series has been posted on the group’s website and Twitter feed.
Whilst these blatantly-odious views would consternate any upstanding citizen in the UK, maybe we should hold back before agreeing with people like Peter Tatchell who claims that: "The Home Office was wrong to grant him a visa and should now revoke it. The cleric should be ordered out of the country.”
Maybe what Sodagar has said has been taken out of context? Maybe "the unfortunate rise of right-wing extremism has resulted in a malicious campaign to misconstrue the positions of Islam and dehumanise Muslims", as Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission claims. Maybe we should be "saddened that the UK media is able to publish materials that clearly follow a right-wing extremist agenda of spreading hatred and Islamophobia". That sounds reasonable, right?
Hmmm. Well, I do apologise to the rather malcontent Mission, but, I really do not buy that. What is more, I am fairly sure that the majority of the British people do not buy it either. However, maybe we are just guilty of having misconstrued Islam, or having an appetite for islamophobia, or maybe we are just guilty of following an abject crusade to dehumanise Muslims and consecrate a right-wing extremist agenda by having the audacity to think that this kind of rhetoric is dangerous, deeply dangerous. Maybe we must all take a hard look in the mirror and re-examine our moral convictions.
Actually, no, we shouldn’t. Maybe the Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission and all their shady apologists should. Is it really islamophobic to believe that homosexuals are a persecuted group who, like every other human-being, are not below the level of dignity? Is it a right-wing agenda to believe that advocating violence against any human-being - gay or otherwise - is nasty and inadmissible?
There are people who are guilty of dehumanising Muslims - and it surely isn’t those who take umbrage with his appearance at the Islamic Republic Of Iran School in London. It’s the Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission and its sickly supporters. Why do I say this? I say this because they are the ones who are pedalling a narrative that conceives the typical muslim as inextricably downtrodden, oppressed, as an unwavering victim of Western power that is short-fused, contemptuous and biased towards the typical Muslim. They are the ones who consequently relativise morality by demanding moral concessions for those who identity as ’muslim’ in virtue of such intractable ’oppression’. And what is more, they are the ones who lower the moral norms and thus reify what Maajid Nawaz calls, "the racism of low expectations" within their own communities.
How, though, are we supposed to respond to Sodagar coming to the UK? Liberals who are defenders of human-rights will likely be split on the matter. Do we ban him and thereby undermine our commitment to free speech? What if he comes and he does indeed undermine public safety? Balancing a commitment to free-speech with one for universal human-rights is no easy task. Make no mistake, I do not like the idea of such a repulsive figure coming to the UK. However, trying to blow the whistle on his talk isn’t what my main focus is, nor is it something I feel particularly inclined to advocate. Instead, there’s another issue that I want to address.
Many people will remember that a petition was lodged in 2015 calling for Donald Trump to be barred from entering the UK on account of his views being deemed ’non-conducive to the public good’. Just under 600,000 people signed the petition - one of the biggest ever petitions on the Government website.The petition to the government was created after the Republican presidential candidate made a series of outbursts about Britain’s ’massive Muslim problem’. Former Prime Minister, David Cameron, rightly described Trump as ’divisive, stupid and wrong’. However, here is the question: why is there an ugly silence over the fact that a different US citizen, a Muslim preacher who claims that homosexuals be ‘punished’ for their sexuality, including being having their heads cut off or being flung down a cliff, is entering the UK?
Maybe some will claim that Trump has far more power and his doltish voice has more of an impact that the homophobic, hateful views of a stolid fundamentalist preacher. Perhaps the latter’s voice will simply remain confined within the bilious echo-chambers of his community.
Let’s get things straight. I think the fact that there’s been so little objection to Sodagar is a reflection of the increasing identity politics and moral relativism that it daubing the UK. Whilst the anti-muslim opinions of the privileged and powerful Trump is rightly deemed "bigoted", Sodagar’s views are instead deemed views of a minority, a victim, views "protected under religious freedom". Moral concessions are afforded to Sodagar whilst Trump is held to the highest moral standard.
Sodagar is a bigot, a hateful bigot, and it irks me that people rightly cried foul at the bigotry of Trump but will stop short when the same moral contraventions are committed by those in a community they deemed ’persecuted’. It also irks me that similar instances of insouciance has been levelled out to other fundamentalists such as Choudary. Refusing to dole out the same moral standards irrespective of identity is not helping minority groups, particularly Muslim groups, and it certainly isn’t showing a commitment to *universal* human-rights. Patronisingly glossing up the moral importance of this issue with an enfeebled "n’aww, poor Muslim, they have it rough" excuse does not actually help the Muslim-community. As liberal Muslims continue to argue, it only ends up consecrating a victimhood-mentality within the muslim community that continues to reify a normative platform that is horribly pared down for Muslims.
You may think this isn’t a particularly pressing problem, but it is. It only reinforces the subjugation of those in Muslim communities who are more liberal-minded in their worldview. They are increasingly smeared as being "not really muslim", a "false Muslim", a muslim who "doesn’t represent Islam", for merely wishing to dole out the same moral standards within their own Muslim communities that the most privileged in society are afforded.
If we are believers in universal human-rights, if we are truly committed to protecting the LGBT community, if we are believers in helping minority groups, if we believe that the normative platform in our country should be equitable, then we must put aside identity politics and impartially cry foul when bigots trample on fundamental human-rights. Creating a level-playing field in the normative domain requires that we all come together, perceived as moral-adjudicating equals, Muslims, Atheists, Sikhs, Jews, etc., for the sake of pursuing the good-life - for both individuals and humanity as a whole.
Sodagar’s going to be in London until at least the 12th of October. Surely this will be an ample opportunity to confront him and call him out on his odious homophobia? Maybe extirpating him from the bilious echo-chambers of his community in order to hear the ’other’ narrative is what he needs? Or, maybe, he’ll tell us that cutting-off the heads of homosexuals is a forgivable exploit for a tyrannized group, and we need to forfeit our thrones of privilege, apprehend a homosexual, pass him the knife, and try to understand the relativism of it all?