“Muslim” profiling has now been imposed by Donald Trump via an Executive Order with its brutal consequences unfolding before our very eyes. See my piece “Clash of the Uncivilised” on Trump’s politics. Revisiting the main reasons one must oppose Muslim profiling as I had previously discussed in Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast is a matter of urgency.
(Underlined text not in aired podcast)
After a December 2015 Tweet saying “Harris’ call for Muslim profiling is far-right discourse creeping into some atheists’ POV” and linking to a piece I wrote a few years back, Harris Tweeted: “I’ll just consider this an instance of ‘friendly fire’. I support you, Maryam, even if you don’t know it”.
I replied: “Thanks for support but I can’t agree with any politics that places collective blame on masses of people” to which Harris replied “‘collective blame’ doesn’t capture my position. Happy to speak on my podcast, if you like”. This was the background to the podcast in question.
Immediately after its airing in February 2016, social media exploded.
The ensuing vitriol (which continues a year on) has in large part been due to the fact that I am a woman (many of the comments were couched in misogyny) and on the Left. At least that is my take on it. It also seems to me to be because some do not like Sam Harris to be challenged – especially not by a woman like me. Apparently even some atheists have gods.
I won’t get into the vitriol or even Sam Harris’ scene setting via his introduction, conclusion and comments (including “Many who listened to my last podcast are demanding their 2 hours back. I am now attempting to build a time machine. Just sit tight…”). Suffice it to say that the podcast title: “Throw open the Gates” and a photo that reminds me of “the Gates of Vienna” (often used by the far-Right to compare today with the Ottoman siege of Vienna which was lifted by an alliance of “European Christian” states) is scene setting enough.
As an aside, not everyone felt they needed a time machine. This is what Double Bind had to say:
Listening to Maryam Namazie take on Sam Harris in an attempt to make him confront his role in fuelling anti-Muslim bigotry is a thing of wonder. She just doesn’t let him get away with that classic thing a lot of men do when women don’t agree with them: interruptions, dismissal of valid points ‘to avoid wasting time’, and cloaking the fact that he’s taken what she’s said personally by saying she turned up to the conversation with ‘pre-stigma’ against him…
Sam Harris begins Waking Up with Sam Harris #29 — Throw Open the Gates : A Conversation with Maryam Namazie by speaking about FBI Apple controversy. He continues:
SH: … Unfortunately this podcast just gets more uncomfortable from here. I’m serious. Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born atheist, secularist and human rights activist. She’s a spokesperson for a variety of organisations. For Fitnah – a women’s liberation movement, for Equal Rights Now, for the One Law for All campaign, which is against Sharia law in Britain and for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. She hosts a weekly television programme in Persian and English called Bread and Roses, which is broadcast in Iran and the Middle East via New Channel TV. And she and I talked today about accusations of bigotry amongst secularists, profiling, the migration crisis in Europe, all topics known to build rapport between podcast hosts and their guests and I make a few comments at the end of this but all I can say is this conversation struck me as more difficult than it needed to be. I hope one day to be better at having conversations of this sort but for the moment what you hear is what you get.
SH: So I am going to take 5 seconds of silence and then I am going to start talking to you properly unless there is anything you want to say.
MN: No. No, that’s fine, thank you.
SH: I guess I should say that if there is anything we say that you don’t like or you want edited out or you want to take your foot out of your mouth or my foot out of your mouth, I’m happy to do that and edit this so just flag those moments if they come up.
SH: And also I will introduce you and read a bio for you upfront so people will basically know who you are so I am basically going to start talking at you.
SH: So I’m here with Maryam Namazie. Maryam, thank you for coming on the podcast.
MN: Thanks for having me.
SH: Listen, before we get into all the things we have to talk about, and we really have a lot to talk about, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself. Many will know who you are and I will have introduced you briefly before we started here, but what’s your background and what is it exactly that you do?
MN: I’m an Iranian born political activist. I guess that’s the best way to describe it. I’m very much on the Left as well, and I’m a campaigner for women’s rights, for secularism, against Islam and Islamism, so I’ve started various campaigns and organisations around that. But for me I think, fundamentally, they are all different campaigns that come to the point of defending human beings and citizenship rights – irrespective of very often false identities.
SH: And when did you leave Iran?
MN: I left Iran in 1980. So when we left it was a year after the Islamic regime took over from the Iranian revolution, which wasn’t originally an Islamic revolution. And then we went to India for 2 years, because that was the only place we could manage to get into. We came to Britain for a year, but we weren’t allowed to stay, so my family actually moved to the US. And my parents still live in Yonkers, New York. But I’ve been here in Britain since 2000 now.
SH: So did you leave Iran under duress? Were you fleeing theocracy, or was there some other motive to leave at that point?
MN: Originally my mum brought me out to India just to put me in school, because the schools were shut down for a while in order for the government to Islamicize things and we ended up not returning. My father and my 3 year old sister at the time, they had stayed back in Iran thinking my mum would go back, but things just got so bad that my father told us to just wait in India and then he joined us when he was able to get out.
SH: And were your parents religious or did they share your views at this point?
MN: My parents are Muslim. My dad was brought up in a very strict Muslim household, so his father, which is my grandfather, was an Islamic scholar who taught Arabic and issued fatwas and that sort of thing. So he grew up in a very strict family background, but he met my mum who was a Christian – she was a Protestant – in India. They got married. My mum converted to Islam, so they are both Muslims, but it was never a strict Muslim upbringing. To be honest I didn’t really know I was Muslim or knew much about Islam until I was faced with an Islamic regime in Iran, so I went to a mixed school, I never had to veil. I wasn’t treated differently because I was a girl.
SH: Right. Well I just wanted to inform our listeners about the proximate cause of this conversation, because I’ve followed your work. I’ve seen scenes and videos of you encountering people trying to “no platform” you. This happened recently and we’ll get into this, because you’ve received more of this than most people. But the proximate cause of this conversation is that I noticed you recently calling my views about profiling bigoted, and also I recently had Douglas Murray on my podcast where we discussed the migration crisis in Europe and I believe you’ve called his views on this topic bigoted, at the very least you forwarded this open letter to me by the blogger Eiynah which said as much. There might not be some perfect overlap between your position and hers, but we won’t get into that, but Eiynah didn’t quite call Douglas a bigot, at least she distinguished him from people she thinks are true bigots like Donald Trump, but she put him on a spectrum of bigotry in which she quote “otherizes and generalizes regarding Muslims”. And if I’m not mistaken, you didn’t quite call me a bigot either, at least you clarified that by email, but you thought my views about profiling are bigoted or close enough to be troublesome. I don’t want us to dive into those issues yet. I want us to talk about some other things we agree about, but I just want to know if that’s a fair characterisation of where we’re starting out.
MN: Well, I wouldn’t say they’re fair, because something that will make it more understandable, my perspective of things is, and probably what a lot of your listeners will be able to understand better, possibly, where I’m coming from is we all know about the regressive left, you know, and I say this as someone who is firmly, very very firmly on the left, who very often promote and legitimitise and normalise the Islamist narrative of things. So they will basically see any criticism of Islam or Islamism as bigotry against Muslims, because Islamists often feign to represent Muslims and they see it as a defence of the Muslim minority. So there are, for example, student unions, people who very much consider themselves progressive on the left who will call me Islamophobic, who will “no-platform” me and I think it’s very clear to possibly your listeners that I would say that they are promoting an Islamist narrative. That doesn’t mean they are jihadis, that doesn’t mean they are going to decapitate anyone. That doesn’t mean they are defenders of a caliphate or Sharia law. But they are normalising and promoting the Islamist narrative which means that they are giving it some sort of legitimacy. That doesn’t make them Islamists, and my argument with regard to the arguments that Douglas Murray makes, Tommy Robinson, obviously they’re on a continuum. I wouldn’t call Douglas Murray a bigot or a fascist; I wouldn’t call you that either, but my argument is that when we or sections of atheists normalise, or justify or encourage certain narratives it does promote a far-right narrative which is a narrative that places collective blame, that promotes bigotry against people. That doesn’t mean that anyone who promotes the far-right narrative is necessarily a bigot or a racist. So I think similar to how anyone who promotes an Islamist narrative is not necessarily a fascist, but there is that narrative that concerns me as someone who is both a vehement opponent of Islam and Islamism, but also a strong defender of human beings irrespective of their identities and beliefs.
SH: Well, as I said I think we should wait to get into the specifics here. I guess I just want to say up front that I consider these instances of friendly fire, where I hear you criticise someone like Douglas, or Eiynah does it, so friendly fire being a case where people on the same side of, in this case a very important concern about Islamism, are inadvertently mistaking one another for the enemy. It’s not to say that our positions might not be different. In fact I think you and I probably disagree about the details of what makes sense from a security point of view and the details of immigration policy, and I think that’ll be interesting, but I think we can have this discussion without allegations of bigotry being the summary of the position you disagree with and I feel like I’ve noticed you and Eiynah and maybe other people are doing this as well, but I feel like you and Eiynah pull the trigger on accusations of bigotry fairly early, and it strikes me as pretty counter-productive, because I really do not think Douglas is at all bigoted, and that’s not to say that I’m gonna get you to agree with his views about immigration, but they’re not coming from a place of having some animosity against brown-skinned people or Middle Eastern people or people from other cultures. He is quite worried about theocracy and intolerance, and again I wanna table a detailed discussion about immigration for a few minutes, but…
MN: Sure, but if I can just come into that.
SH: Feel free to react to that. One more aspect to this is that I recognise, I’m worried about the problem of bigotry and I’m worried about this conflation of criticism of ideas, in this case Islamism, with an actual hatred of Muslims as people, so Douglas and I and many others are in the unfortunate circumstance of being surrounded by real bigots. There are people on the far-right who occasionally make the same reasonable noises about the threat of Islamism that we do and then they also say obviously other things that aren’t reasonable and they express genuine religious hatred, racial hatred or blind nationalism or some other ideology that I and I assume Douglas would want nothing to do with. But given a shortage of time, it isn’t always easy to determine who is who, and so I find myself in the strange position of hearing someone make sense on the topic of Islam, but this person has come to me with their reputation pre-stigmatised by people like you who’ve called them a bigot, let’s say Tommy Robinson or Robert Spencer or Mark Steyn. And these are people who, I’m not especially familiar with, if they have books, I haven’t read their books, I’ve just seen them give a speech and now I’m in the position of not knowing just where they stand, and when I see you, or Eiynah, when I get called a bigot I know you’re off base. When you call Douglas a bigot; Douglas is now a friend, I don’t know him especially well, but I am reasonably sure that he doesn’t have a bigoted bone in his body and so there is something very destructive about this. Again this is a time problem, it’s a bandwidth problem. I don’t have time to figure out what sort of strange statements somebody may have been trailing in their YouTube canon, and we find ourselves in a situation where is just becomes impossible to vet everybody and if you’re not going to just hold someone accountable for what they’re saying in the moment. I’ll give you an example of this. So for instance, Tommy Robinson just did an interview with Dave Rubin where he made sense, really perfect sense for an hour and did not say a single bigoted thing. Right, I’m not very familiar with Tommy Robinson, I don’t live in the UK, and I just know that he is under the shadow of more or less constant accusations of racism and bigotry, and yet I hear him speak for an hour, and even when pressed on the topic of past associations with bigots he made perfect sense and talked about how he left the EDL because of those racist elements that came into it. So again I think it’s very destructive when we’re in a position of not just dealing with the ideas that people are expressing in the moment.
MN: Can I say something now? There’s a lot of points you’ve raised. On the issue of friendly fire and the fact that we’re all on the same side, well, I disagree. I disagree, not to say that you and I are not on the same side, but I think that being on the same side takes a lot more than just saying that there are people who speak a lot of sense about Islam or Islamism and therefore we’re on the same side; we might disagree on certain details. And the example I always give is for example I’m against US militarism in certain parts of the world, and the Iranian regime also thinks the US government is the big Satan. And therefore because I’m opposed to US militarism I should side with the Iranian regime. And a lot of left actually do this. There are people on the left who have these blinders of anti-imperialism. All they see is anti-imperialism and they’re willing to side with the Islamist fascists just because they’re anti-imperialist, they’ll side with anyone. And from my perspective your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your friend. You know, the decades work I’ve done in campaigning, I think my track record is clear is that I’ve worked with lots of people, and not just people who are left like myself, communist like myself. I mean I hardly work with people who think like me, but I work with lots of different types of people and I’m open to that. And I think when you’re building movements, mass movements, where you need to challenge something as outrageous as the Islamist movement that is wreaking havoc in the country where I was born, in the region I come from and across the world; it’s basically a killing machine, it’s destroying lives, dehumanising women, children, men. When you look at it that way, then obviously you want to have as many allies as possible. But I do draw the line with the far-right, because I think it’s not just Islam and Islamism that’s the problem for me. In the same way that the example I gave, it’s not just enough to be anti-US militarism. I know you’ll find a lot of people on the left, what is being called the regressive left, what I call the post-modernist left, who will say that Islamists make a lot of sense. They’ll talk about discrimination that minorities face in the West. They’ll talk about the attacks of the US government or the British government, the war on Iraq, and they’ll make a lot of sense and they do speak some truths. Even Islamists do. But the problem is these are half truths. They are only part of the whole story, and I think it is a grave mistake to think that Tommy Robinson’s criticism of Islam and Islamism is something that’s commendable, because he says similar things to what you and I say. I disagree fundamentally, and I think this is an issue for me that is key, because I am not only anti-Islam, I am not only anti-Islamism, I am not only anti-jihadism and Sharia law and the Iranian regime. I am also pro-secularism, I am also against religion’s role in the State, including Christianity’s role. Anglicanism as Douglas Murray makes out, is not some cuddly, lovely religion and Britain is so much better off than the US. We still have prayers in Parliament in this country, bishops are in the House of Lords, they have not been elected there. You have the Queen who is the representative of the Church, who heads this country. Religion has a sinister role in this country as well.
MN: The fact that it’s cuddlier is because of the fact that an Enlightenment has pushed it back, that has challenged it, has questioned it.
SH: Sure, I don’t think Douglas would disagree with that. I see where you’ve gone here.
MN: I don’t know why we’re making this about Douglas Murray. Eiynah sent you a letter. You can interview her and talk to her about it. I don’t spend my days advocating against Douglas Murray. My problem is with the far-right, with the EDL, with Pegida, with Stop Islamisation of Europe, with movements, with political movements, not individuals, but with political movements that I think are placing collective blame and harming the overall struggle, because they dehumanise people all the time.
SH: I got that.
MN: But I also want to say one other thing, and this is this thing about bigotry. I think we need to also be very careful – and there is a danger here – that seems to be happening is that bigotry is then being trivialised, because there are false accusations of bigotry, and trust me, I’ve had them much more than you possibly might have. I’m not only called an Islamophobe, but I’m also a coconut, I’m a native informant, I’m also a rape apologist because I say we shouldn’t blame all migrants for what happens in Koln. I’m also called an undercover jihadi because I oppose Stop Islamization of America and Europe. That’s something that Robert Spencer has called me. I’m an anti-Semite, because I oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine, though I defend the right of Israel to exist, and I’m also for the rights of Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace. What I want to say is that there are lots of accusations, but to hide behind those and then say that raising an issue of bigotry, then trivialising it, when bigotry is a huge issue for many of us, doesn’t really help either. And I think for me it’s very clear. I don’t have to read anybody’s books to know where they stand on the political spectrum. I have been in politics for several decades now. For me it’s very clear. If you promote “our culture”, “our civilisation” versus the others, you know, the barbarians, the savages, that is a politics that is “otherising”, that is generalising the other, and that sees the other as the “barbarian” and “savage”, whereas that’s not the case. We have so many secularists and freethinkers and a tsunami of atheism in our region, in the Middle East, in North Africa and South Asia. And often times the talk about migrants even, you know, the “storming of migrants”, as if it’s an act of war rather than people fleeing for their lives, many of them fleeing the Islamists, that so many are against. But when it comes to their victims, people have very little sympathy it seems.
SH: So you’re alleging…
MN: So I think it’s much more complex.
SH: It is more complex and that’s why the accusation of bigotry is so unhelpful here. So listen I can’t own everything that Tommy Robinson has said because I am unaware of much of what he said but I can just tell you that in my case, again we’re having this conversation because I noticed you calling me a bigot, and you sort of walked that back a little bit.
MN: I didn’t walk it back, I’m sorry. I didn’t walk it back, because what I said is that it promotes the far-right narrative. It promotes a narrative of bigotry, and as I explained before, when I tell the regressive left that they are promoting an Islamist narrative, it doesn’t mean that they are Islamists or fascists.
SH: You can say it’s promoting it, but it doesn’t mean that it is actually promoting it. In fact I criticise the far right as much as anybody.
MN: Of course, that’s your opinion. What I want to say is that we don’t agree. We don’t agree on certain things, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that, you know. And the thing is that I’m trying to explain…
SH: But Maryam there is something wrong with characterising this disagreement in terms that demonise or use your phrase that “otherise” the other person in such a way as to make a conversation and reasonable alliances impossible. I mean friendly fire…
⟴ Skype gets disconnected and is then reconnected
SH: Hi; you there?
SH: I’m sorry we lost our Skype connection. Let me just check the recording so if that happens again I will have to call you back. Let me figure where to pick up on that. Obviously Maryam I am not arguing the enemy of your enemy is by definition your friend. I just think that is a false analogy. Let’s forget about Douglas, let’s forget about Tommy Robinson. I can only talk with authority about my own views, but what I witnessed happened here is that I use a term like profiling, now profiling is a word like torture, right? And to use it for any purpose other than to declare one’s horror and rejection of it brands you as dangerously right-wing in most circles, and certainly in your circle. And I’m not sure, I don’t think you actually understand what I mean by profiling and I think we’ll get into that, but I’m just saying that when you go after me as someone who is irredeemable for using the word profiling or to say that to use this word is to make common cause with right-wing bigots by definition, one it is unhelpful but two it is just untrue, right? I mean there’s absolutely nothing in my view about profiling, about security in general, or about immigration, and again we’ll get into the details, that is an expression of my bigotry against Muslims, against people from the Middle East, against other cultures, because there is none of that, there is not a shred of that, and yet you’re responding to it as though there were, and that’s what I’m finding so uncomfortable.
MN: Well, you know, Sam, the thing is that it might be unhelpful to you. I mean, I think this is a thing for me bigotry is an important issue. I’m not saying it’s not for you. I didn’t mean it that way, but what I’m saying is that it is a very important matter for me, because you do often find in a situation that I’m in, that you have people on the far-right trying to use ex- Muslims, trying to use our criticism of Islam as a way of scapegoating Muslims and immigrants, migrants and refugees and so it puts me in a very difficult position, because I do feel that I’m constantly having to fight on several fronts in order to be able to put my message forward. And I think that is a reality.
SH: I just want to make a point right there. You are fighting on several fronts, but I notice you starting these fights unnecessarily, as you did with me.
MN: You might think it’s unnecessary, Sam. I’m sorry. But for me it is an integral part of the fight against Islam and Islamism, because I think that if this fight means that bigotry becomes normalised, that it is easy to dehumanise migrants and Muslims, place collective blame on them, then I don’t think it helps our movement, you know. And so for me, I feel it is as important to fight against racism and bigotry as it is to fight against Islam and Islamism.
SH: Of course it is, but you’re acting like I disagree with you.
MN: Well I don’t know if you’re disagreeing with me, but it’s very difficult for me to have my conversation, because you’re not letting me finish what I have to say. If you’ll just be patient and let me try to explain my position, and it would be great if you could try to understand my position as well. Now the thing is I’m not coming after you, but I am making comments – as all political people do – on positions that I disagree with. The fact of the matter is you have come out and you’ve just said right now that you think there’s nothing with what Tommy Robinson said for the hour that you heard him speak. I have a different position on Tommy Robinson and I also have a right to express it. Now even in this country, for example UKIP, which is a right-wing political party, they for example have prescribed, they don’t allow their members to also be members of the English Defence League, of the British National Party, so even there are right wing parties who consider these groups off the scale and don’t want to be associated with them. So it’s not unnatural for me to criticise; it’s not me being overly sensitive and throwing out the bigot card at any opportunity. It’s a real concern about the English Defence League. If you look at Tommy Robinson, he didn’t leave the English Defence League because he was concerned about the fascist elements in that group. He has continued to praise and defend the EDL until today, and if you look his speeches at Pegida rallies for example, he says that he realised that the EDL was too soon for Europe, but now with Pegida…
SH: Well, no, that’s not actually what I heard him say.
MN: Well that’s my perspective on it, Sam. I’m sorry. It’s great that Tommy has such a wonderful defender on your part.
SH: No, no, it’s not that Maryam, that’s not fair. This is just a single example of a person who I’m actually not very familiar with. Who I know…
MN: Well then maybe you should listen to me because I’m more familiar with him. We’ve done a report on EDL.
SH: But you’re not characterising the views he expressed in his interview. Did you see his interview with Dave Rubin?
MN: It doesn’t matter. Listen, a lot of Islamists will come and tell you that Islam is a religion of peace. I’m sorry you cannot judge political movements by Bush, you know, telling you that he’s gone to Iraq because he wants to liberate women. It’s not enough. I’m sorry. You have to look at political movements.
SH: I fully grant that point.
MN: … Sam, I’m sorry, it’s impossible to have a conversation, because you constantly interrupt me. I let you speak for 5, 10 minutes and I would appreciate if you’d let me respond. I don’t want it to be this sort of adversarial discussion, because we’re not really going to get anywhere, and we’re not going to reach an understanding. Even if we don’t agree, I would like us to be able to at least understand the other person’s position. Do you know what I mean?
SH: I totally understand what you mean, but I don’t want you to assume a disagreement where there isn’t one. And when I interrupt you, it’s because…
MN: But you’re not letting me speak, and you keep saying but, but, but; so there is a disagreement there…
SH: I’m interrupting you when you are attacking me for a view or criticising a view I don’t have…
MN: I’m not attacking you, I’m talking about Tommy Robinson, Sam. I don’t know why you take it personally when I criticise the far-right.
SH: I’m not taking it personally; I just don’t want us to go wasting our time or our listeners’ time.
MN: But it’s not a waste of time because isn’t this the whole reason why we’re having this discussion is because there are differences of opinion within atheists ….
SH: We haven’t actually gotten to those differences of opinion; I want us to get there. Listen I will let you say whatever you want to say; my job is not to interrupt you but I do have a job to try to get our conversation on track. And I am noticing it go off track and you assuming that I have far more affinity for Tommy Robinson than I in fact do. And when you summarise his view as being in fact opposite of the only interview I’ve only ever heard him give than I can’t sign off on the dotted line there and say, yes, that was the Tommy Robinson I was just defending. In the interview with Dave Rubin he explained why he left the EDL, and it was in fact because he noticed racist elements join it and he couldn’t be associated with it. So, maybe he’s lying; I don’t know, but that is the Tommy Robinson I was defending however tepidly. And again I don’t want to talk about Tommy Robinson, I was just using him as an example of someone who has come to me pre-stigmatized and who then expresses views that make sense and I’m in the position of not knowing who is who here and all I can speak about with authority are my views and I’ve noticed that the same kind of thing is being done to me and that is again what I am finding unhelpful.
MN: But Sam, Sam … we are not victims here. There are many people who come to me pre-stigmatised as well. Well that’s life; that’s politics. The fact of the matter is that we all make statements and we will have people supporting it, criticising it and we need to either defend it and so on and so forth. I think starting a conversation about how one is stigmatised or how they come into a conversation with people having pre-judgement of them, well that exists for everyone and every movement. What we can do is to try to clarify our positions and to try to make clear why we say certain things and why we are opposed to certain things and why we defend certain things and that might be the most helpful way to go about it. The fact that we’re pre-stigmatised, well everybody is. And it is unfortunate that there are accusations of bigotry that are untrue; as I’ve said before I have been accused of it many times myself. But I would say that it worries me when because of these false accusations of bigotry, that bigotry seems to be trivialised now and the minute that you actually talk about politics which are bigoted, which are placing collective blame, then suddenly you know, you get this push back saying “well you know, everything is pre-stigmatised and the accusation of bigotry doesn’t wash anymore” whereas it is a real concern for a lot of people. And it is important to be able to still say it and also to call it out when it is false, but also to recognise that there are movements, political movements, that are promoting positions against Sharia and Islam in order to scapegoat vulnerable minorities as well as migrants. That’s the position that I come from. For me, I want to fight against Islam and Islamism while at the same time making sure that that fight is not used to scapegoat against people who are people like anyone else, and they have different views and values and cultures amongst them. It’s not one mass. I don’t prescribe to the “clash of civilisations” sort of thesis where it’s us versus them. I think there are many of us across borders and boundaries, believers and none, and others who are on an opposing side so…
SH: OK, well let’s talk about the details now. It seems to me that we have two topics that are related. Basically they’re the same topic but they show up differently in our conversation about these issues. One is profiling and the other is immigration and I view them in very much the same way. But let’s start with profiling and what I’ve said about profiling and what you think about it, because clearly you think that my views on profiling lead to a kind of collective punishment, collective blame, give energy to the bigots of the world and I just think that that’s untrue. We’ll talk about that and we’ll talk about immigration and then let’s just assume in the background for those who aren’t familiar with your work, again, we are having this fraught conversation against a background of considerable agreement about the problem of Islamism, the problem of theocracy in the Muslim world – East and West, the intolerance borne of that, the problem of the regressive left becoming apologists for all that. So we agree probably across the board on those points but now we’re talking about how the West should respond to these security concerns – and at airports, with the apparatus – with the security apparatus of the state – or at the borders of the states. So just briefly on profiling, To break down profiling, again, profiling is this dirty word and I don’t think it should be but it inherits all the baggage of other ugly words like paedophilia or bestiality or torture and so the moment you seem to be giving a sympathetic construal of this word, you have a lot of work to do. But in my view, all profiling is, is to use some statistically relevant information in one’s self defence and to be against profiling across the board, to be against profiling of any kind is to be against any relevant information to solve one’s security problems. So for instance being against all profiling and intelligence gathering out in the world is to say that we should spend equal time scrutinising the Amish or the Anglicans as we should members of the Muslim community, or indeed of the Muslim Brotherhood or Al-Qaeda, because to focus on Muslims at all or even any specific group of Muslims is profiling. So I just put that you to. So wouldn’t it be irrational when looking for suicidal terrorists who are planning to target civilians, say, to spend equal attention on all religious communities at this point?
MN: Well for me I think why should the marker be even the idea that these people are characterised only as Muslims. People have a million characteristics that define them and that they define themselves by. Just to give you an example. If you look at those who have carried out terrorist attacks, for example, and we’re only talking about here in the West (terrorist attacks take place every day in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia and we hardly get to hear about them). But you could say, for example, that is it their main characteristic is that they’re Muslim or that they’re university educated. Tommy Robinson talks about the Jihadis from Luton. Is it something specific to do with Luton? I think you can pick out any one of these things and if you want to say that this is the reason why these things happen. For me, I think, it’s not necessarily that they’re Muslim this is happening, it’s not necessarily that they’re refugees or migrants or university educated, but it is their political stance that determines that they are Jihadis and terrorists and it comes down to their behaviour, rather than the fact that they’re brown, or that they’re Muslim, or that they come from Iran, Iraq or what have you. Because as I said, not all Muslims think the same, just as not all Christians think the same, just as not necessarily every white male represents enlightenment values; also too, not every brown Muslim represents Sharia values. I think there’s that danger with profiling. Profiling is an ugly word because I think it is ugly. In the sense of it is being seen to be such as profiling of blacks in America for example. It does have that history to it, profiling Muslims, it does raise those very same connotations. And I think there are some security experts that would agree with me as well that you need to profile behaviour rather than one’s race, religion and so on and so forth. And that’s…
SH: Yes profiling is often assumed has some sort of racial component, and there is such thing as racial profiling. There’s absolutely nothing about my argument with respect to profiling for jihadists that considers race a relevant variant. In fact it would be a starkly misleading variable, so there’s nothing racial about what I recommend. But I am slightly mystified by what you’ve just said … because what percentage of jihadists do you think are Muslim?
MN: Sam I think that is the wrong question, I’m sorry …
SH: Well you might think it is wrong to look for jihadists but …
MN: But listen to me, the thing is, what percentage of Muslims are jihadists? Obviously a large percentage. Even if they used to be Hindu or Christian, they are now converts and they have become Muslim, and so therefore a large percentage of Jihadists are Muslims. Of course there is a link with Islam, I’m not saying that there isn’t. But you cannot just assume that because someone is Muslim, they are a Jihadist and profiling…
SH: Of course not.
MN: Exactly, so profiling Muslims does that.
SH: It doesn’t.
MN: That’s my perspective, if I can explain …
SH: But let me just give you more details.
MN: Can I finish my sentence?
SH: Again, you’re talking in vague generalities and I want to give you specifics.
MN: But I’m not Sam. I understand. Everything I say seems to be vague generalities to you and everything you say seems to be on point and I’m sorry I’m not able to express myself as well as you can. But what I’d like to say is that the point is that when you profile … I know there is this argument that Muslims are not a race and therefore anything that targets Muslims is not racist and not racial because they are not a race. But the reality of it is that they are seen to be a minority. In the West, they are seen to be a minority religion, a minority group that is taking over “Christian West and Europe” and when you talk about the profiling of Muslims, even if there are also white Muslims, it does have those connotations in my opinion. And as I have said before, profiling Muslims isn’t going to help us fight terrorism. What we need to do is profile Islamists, and that’s where I think the behaviour of far right Jihadis and Islamists – that is where we can manage to make inroads into this, rather than conflate Islam, Muslims and Islamists.
SH: Again, I really think there’s a misunderstanding at the bottom of this. You’re interpreting my interrupting you as hostile but I keep detecting misunderstanding and I just want to short circuit it. We can do that over the course of 5 hours or we can do it over the course of 90 minutes. I’m just trying to use your time and our listeners’ time efficiently. I think you’re reading more hostility into my interruptions than is there because…
MN: I’m not reading hostility. I think there is no misunderstanding. I think we just don’t agree. That for me is what the issue is.
SH: Just let me interrupt you a little bit more.
MN: Please go ahead.
SH: So when you say we need to profile for Islamists that’s just changing, you might as well say we need to profile for Jihadists. The thing I am arguing for is that we need to admit that we know what we’re looking for. I’m talking about profiling here, we’ll talk about immigration later. If we admit we’re looking for Jihadists and we admit that 100% of Jihadists are Muslim, then the variable of being Muslim is more relevant in the search for Jihadists than the variable of being Amish is. In fact if we’re 100% sure that a person is Amish they suddenly become completely irrelevant with respect to this search for Jihadists. Now I will grant you, with respect please don’t waste time spelling it out, that there are other problems in the world beyond Jihadism. There are other forms of extremists, there are other forms of suicidal terrorists even and we’re worried about them too, though not in the kinds of numbers as with respect to Jihadists now. Now if you’re looking for Jihadists, let’s say you work for the FBI, to not profile, to be committed to not profiling at any cost, to say we’re going to be scrupulously fair, we are not going to single out Muslims in any respect, if you’re working for the FBI, that means that every time you interview an Imam at a Mosque to look for any troubling signs of radicalism in his community, you would then be obliged to what? Interview the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to see if they’ve witnessed troubling signs of radicalism in their community? You would be obliged to deliberately and consciously waste time in the service of not profiling. To go to a mosque is to profile for the variable of adherence to Islam to some degree. What you seem to be saying initially is that it’s unfair, it’s otherising, it’s collective punishment and now you suddenly tell me now we should be profiling for Islamism. I see a contradiction there and I would love you to explain it.
MN: There is no contradiction and that is what I think is the fundamental problem here. When there is criticism of far right movements and groups, that is hugely different from targeting individual believers based on the very fact that they are believers. If you are part of fascist movement, then your politics are very clear. If you are a believer, you can be a secularist, a feminist, even an atheist and come from a Muslim background. There’s a huge distinction between targeting groups like the English Defence League or Islamists. And I make very little distinction, though others don’t, between Jihadis and Islamists – I see them as part of the same movement, doing different parts of that movement; taking care of different aspects. The Jihadis are the military wing and the Islamists are promoting it politically and via various ways. So to say if the terrorist attacks are taking place by a movement, a far right political movement called Islamism, then targeting the behaviour and profiling the behaviour of those who are carrying out, or are susceptible to carrying out terrorist attacks is very different to saying one should profile anyone who is a Muslim, because every Jihadi is also a Muslim. Yes every Jihadi is also Muslim, that’s not saying everything; that’s not giving the whole truth. And therefore for me I think profiling should be done with regards behaviour and not placing collective blame. I have a huge problem with placing collective blame on populations just for the very fact that they’re Muslims. The reality is that people are born into a religion out of no choice of their own. The very fact that out of some misfortune of lottery, I was born in Iran and I have the label of Muslim on my forehead until the day I die, unless I make this very difficult decision to leave it, and to publicly leave it, and even then the far right will call me an undercover Jihadi. What I’m saying is that people are much more than the religions of their birth. They’ve often had no choice in it; that lack of choice follows them throughout their lives. And to profile them and to place collective blame on them and to equate them with Islamists is not right, it’s not fair and it doesn’t see the reality that Muslims are people like anybody else. They have a million different beliefs, and to sort of homogenise them and see them as this one collective actually hands them over to the Islamist movement, which many of them are fighting Islamism tooth and nail.
SH: But Maryam I’m not doing that.
MN: I’m not saying you’re doing that. Okay you’re not doing that Sam. I’m talking about what I think the problem with profiling and collective blame is. This is not a personal attack on you.
SH: I’m not taking it personally. I’m just trying to– I’m attempting to express my views about security and in this case profiling.
MN: So am I, I’m also concerned about security Sam. Of course I’m concerned about security.
SH: Here’s the genesis of my … The only thing I’ve said about profiling comes out of my experience and again when I was talking of profiling initially it was at the airports. Right, so you’re getting on planes and you see the kind of security theatre that started ten years ago where we see the kind of people who are obviously not Jihadists, obviously have not been recruited, getting searched with the same kind of scrupulousness and intensity as people who you might worry could fit a reasonable profile of a Jihadist. And my argument here is that we should practice something that, we have to admit that we have a finite amount of attention, we have a finite amount of resources and we should never deliberately waste our time. Now, there is a role for random searches here which increases everyone’s safety, and so randomness should be included, but what everyone has found galling, or many people have found galling are obvious wastes of time, knowing that our resources are limited. So again to take it out of the airport as I tried to do a moment ago, if you’re going to profile based entirely on behaviour, and behavioural profiling is certainly part of it – and I would agree with you – most of what you need to do is profile on the basis of behaviour, but adhering to a religion, or to a neo-Nazi organisation, or whatever your identity is, is a type of behaviour. Right, so if you’re looking for Jihadists and you want to reach out to the community of people who might be aware of the Jihadists in their midst, you’re going to be reaching out to the Muslims, you’re not going to be reaching out to the Mormons.
MN: OK can I explain this too again Sam if you don’t mind? There’s a difference between a religious believer versus a neo-Nazi and I think that’s my issue here.
SH: Of course.
MN: When you just said something about a person whose religious or a neo-Nazi; it’s very different. The fact of the matter is that for me the neo-Nazi is like the Islamist.
SH: Yes, I agree.
MN: Those who are part of a political movement have certain characteristics. Very often we see that the security are actually following people who then go on and commit crimes. Well why haven’t they acted more quickly? They shouldn’t be waiting until we’re at the gates of an airport to be able to find who is willing and able to commit atrocities against the population at large. You said something about, well, we should focus on those who are obviously Muslim. Well who is that? I went to the US with my husband’s young son; he was 13 at the time. He was taken away and finger printed and questioned. He was born in Britain but obviously he must look “Muslim” to them. And you know my husband, he hasn’t been to Iran for 40 years. We’re opponents of the Iranian regime. He’s been an atheist for god knows how long – he’s got to apply for a Visa now because he’s also considered an Iranian national when the Iranian government is constantly threatening us with death. What I want to say is that just because we happen to be Muslims or seen to be Muslims doesn’t necessarily mean we should be more susceptible to profiling than someone who’s Amish. Why should we? I have nothing to do with the Islamist movement; I hate the Islamist movement! The reason I’m here is because I fled it and I’ve spent a lot of my life fighting it. So what I’m saying is that what profiling does, it places collective blame. For me, this is an important issue. What it says is that just because all Jihadis are Muslims, therefore all Muslims are fair game. I disagree. Jihadis are fair game, Islamists are fair game. In the same way that you have a lot of white, far right terrorists in the US. To argue therefore then that every white male needs to be targeted, or every Christian white male needs to be targeted because in America 100% of the white terrorists are Christian and they’re white and they’re male misses the point. And I think it’s easy …
SH: It doesn’t necessarily miss the point. So for instance if we had a global …
MN: It does …
MN: because if you’re going to spend time pulling out every white male at the airport you’re actually wasting security time Sam. If you’re so concerned about the lack of resources… profiling Muslims is a waste of time; it’s a waste of time. The same way profiling every white male is a waste of time.
SH: You just said you’re for behavioural profiling – therefore there’s confusion creeping in here because we’re talking about airports, then we’re talking about intelligence …
MN: I think the confusion is that you think that because someone is a Muslim, therefore that’s a behavioural issue and I’m saying it’s not. Because I’m saying that people are more than the religions they’re born into; religion is a lived experience.
SH: Of course they are. If you’re a government and you want to reach out to the community to find evidence of radicalism and dangerous behaviour, what community are you going to reach out to?
MN: The “Moozlems”.
SH: You can say it that way; you seem to be saying that on the one hand that that is collective punishment.
MN: Yes it is Sam.
SH: If the FBI reaches out to the Muslim community for help.
MN: Sam, when the Israeli government places collective blame on every boy and man – every boy of 12 years old onwards or whatever is seen to be a terrorist, that is placing collective blame, because there are many people who are not terrorists, who are not with Hamas.
SH: Of course.
MN: What I’m saying, when you target entire groups of people based on their beliefs, based on how they look, you’re missing the point. If security is an issue, if Islamism is a problem…
SH: Islamism is a set of beliefs.
MN: Sorry, start with your relationship, start with the US government’s relationship with the Saudi regime.
SH: I agree with you there.
MN: If you’re so concerned about terrorism and Islamism – but I’m just saying, let’s not keep on focusing on targeting Muslims and migrants within our country, start discussing the US government’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.
SH: Listen, you’re going to get no argument from me on that point.
MN: No I know I’m not but…
SH: Maryam, you’re still… I feel like I’m getting sprayed with a fire hose here of misunderstanding. You’re not..
MN: It’s not a misunderstanding Sam; we’re disagreeing, which is fine.
SH: We’re not disagreeing.
MN: I think we are!
SH: No. On the one hand you are advocating behavioural profiling, right but then when I go to talk about the details of what that entails, you push back reflexively against this so called collective punishment of behavioural profiling.
MN: No let me explain, because when you say behavioural I think you mean well they’re Muslims, that’s a behaviour, so therefore they’re fair game to be profiled. And what I’m saying is that no, because religion is a lived experience; people live it in a million different ways. If we want to not waste the security’s time it would be best that they target this far right movement and separate it from people who also happen to be Muslim.
SH: OK So– again – specifics here – I work for the FBI and I have 8 hours today that I can use to make the problem of Jihadism and Islamism, more generally, go away. So I have a checklist of things I could do: I could interview the Amish, I could interview the Imam at the local Mosque or…
MN: You should interview the ambassador of the Saudi Embassy there.
SH: I should also do that, I agree. And I could interview an Imam at a Mosque that is well known to be a Salafi Mosque, right.
MN: Well obviously, then you’re targeting Islamists. You’re not targeting Muslims. That’s the difference.
SH: But surely everyone in that Mosque will say that I’m targeting Muslims. This is profiling, I’m not targeting the Amish; and I’m ignoring the Amish, is it ethically OK to ignore the Amish in my search for Jihadists.
MN: Listen I think Sam, there’s a confusion here between individuals and political movements. If you profile individuals there’s a problem there. If you profile or target movements, Mosques, Islamic organisations, this is a different matter.
SH: They’re filled with individuals that feel targeted as individuals.
MN: Of course they’re filled with individuals.
SH: Then you’re targeting individuals.
MN: I think this is a conversation that we need to wrap up because we’re not going to reach an understanding or agreement here.
SH: I think we’re just actually getting to the basis of an agreement and understanding …
MN: No, I don’t think so no. I think the fact is that when there’s a question of racial profiling for example or Muslim profiling, I see them very much as being the same. You’re talking about targeting groups of individuals. When I talk about collective blame it is about human beings, not about political movements. You can make collective judgements and decisions on political movements, on whether they are left, whether they are right, whether they are far right. We can do that because we’re talking about movements, we’re talking about organisations, states, certain Mosques, certain Jihadi groups, Islamist groups. That’s very very different.
SH: But what does that mean? So, there’s a Mosque in my community that’s well known to be a Salafi Mosque.
MN: Yes but a Mosque is not the same as profiling Muslims Sam. That’s just a matter of fact.
SH: Yes but I show up at the mosque. I’m a member of the FBI, I show up and I talk to the Imam and I want to know if he’s noticed any radicalism in his community. And he says, “Listen I feel profiled here, because you’ve come to a Mosque simply because we’re a Mosque and this is totally illegitimate. This is collective blame”.
MN: Then you have to show why you’re there, right? You’re not there because you’re profiling Muslims. You’re there because…
SH: Of course, I’m profiling Salafi Muslims.
MN: Salafi Muslims is like saying the far right fascist Christians. Christians and the fascist far right and neo-Nazis are two different things in the same way that Muslims and Islamists are two different things. Targeting Islamists – profiling Islamists and Jihadis – if you’d like to use that word – is very different to profiling Muslims and that’s where my point of contention is. When you profile Muslims, Christians, Iranians or anything else of that nature, you are placing collective blame. When you profile political movements and those that are affiliated with Jihadis, with Islamism, with the Christian far right and what have you, that’s a very different thing.
SH: Wait a minute.
MN: And that’s going to behavioural and political sort of analysis rather than “Let’s just find the first “Moozlem” we can and see whether they’re a Jihadi”.
SH: Maryam, this is really a distinction I think without a difference because now we’re just talking about vast numbers of people…
MN: That’s obvious Sam, that’s obvious that you don’t think that there’s a distinction but that’s where the point of contention is.
SH: Right Maryam, we’re disagreeing about the disagreement which is frustrating, but just think of how this plays out in detail.
MN: Sam I think we have.
SH: If it’s legitimate to profile Salafi Muslims then someone who’s dressed like a Salafi in the airport is declaring his or her allegiance. If you’re wearing the niqab in the airport then you’re declaring your ideology with your dress.
MN: Not necessarily. I agree that the niqab is a flag of the Islamist movement but not necessarily everyone wearing the niqab is an Islamist. Some come from countries where it is enforced by pressure, by their families, and so on and so forth.
SH: Of course.
MN: Exactly, I think we should move on from this discussion. We can see where our differences lie and …
SH: I honestly can’t, Maryam. I honestly can’t. You’re just saying that there are 1.6 billion Muslims that should not be collectively punished but there are some subset of those Muslims, literally hundreds of millions of them, who by your definition can be collectively punished.
MN: No Sam. It is the difference between blaming all Christians for the bombing of an abortion clinic and profiling all Christians because of the Christian right movements targeting planned parenthood clinics or targeting the Christian right. That is the distinction I make. One is targeting a religious-rightwing movement that is killing, that is whatever, trying to promote one form of terrorism or another, versus just ordinary believers and I think it is a dangerous thing to target ordinary believers.
SH: Maryam, there is no bright line between ordinary and extraordinary.
MN: There is, there is a line.
SH: It can’t even be drawn at the niqab by your estimation.
MN: Listen, you cannot profile people based on how they dress because …
SH: I would agree with you in general…
MN: OK so you agree so that’s where it’s wrong.
SH: But you’re saying that the Christian right in the US is pulling about 30% of the population, so you’re talking about 100 million people. So you’re saying that if we had a Christian right fascist movement that we had to get more information about, it would be ok to focus on the hundred, the reservoir of 100 million people who could have some greater knowledge of that movement, and ignore the 200 million people who probably have no knowledge of that movement. And that is profiling and it’s also by your definition collective punishment.
MN: It’s not collective punishment when they are adherents to a political movement. It’s very different. It’s like challenging Nazism, it’s like challenging the KKK. It’s very different from challenging those who are German or putting all Japanese in some sort of camp. It’s a very different thing. It’s challenging… Rather than blaming all Japanese, all Germans, all Muslims, all Christians, it is targeting political groups and movements.
SH: No one is blaming all of anybody. Again to bring this back…
MN: Well that’s what profiling does Sam, unfortunately. That is what in my opinion profiling does.
SH: To bring this back to lived experience. Listen, I was travelling with Maajid Nawaz in Australia and we took three plane flights together. So I had the pleasure of going through security with him three separate times in airports. And he is on the record as being against profiling. I am on the record as being for profiling under some construal. And we talk about this while going through security. My view of profiling is actually what I call anti-profiling, which is actually not wasting time obviously. So acknowledging that we know what we’re looking for and there are situations where I’m going through the airport and fully 50% of the people, I can rule out at a glance that there’s zero probability that they have been recruited by a Jihadist organisation. And the totality of those intuitions can be captured under what you’re calling behavioural profiling, that’s fine, it’s certainly not racial profiling, it has nothing to do with race. I was going through security with Maajid and we’re talking about this and I say, “Look at that family over there, would you be willing to get on the plane knowing they did not pass through security. Would you be willing to bet your life, and the life of everyone else on the plane, that this is not a Jihadist family preparing in the next hour to blow themselves up and blow their children up. Can you get the whole gestalt here based on how they look, what they’re doing and he and I reached total agreement in real time.
MN: Well, you did but if I was on the plane there with you I wouldn’t have agreed. Now I think the issue now is what do we do Sam; its 7.30 and we’ve only talked about profiling. I think our positions are clear; we’re just rehashing old stuff. So do we move on or do we end here.
SH: No, they’re actually not so clear but let’s move on to immigration; we’ll get into the weeds in a similar way.
MN: What are we going to do now because its 7.30?
SH: Let’s go for another half hour if you can manage it. People really want us to talk about immigration. You’ve been very outspoken on what you call an open borders policy and you have alleged – at least that how it seemed to me – that anything less than an open borders policy is a kind of collective punishment, or bigotry or a shocking lack of compassion for people who are fleeing war torn areas of the world. So I just want you to explain what your position is on immigration and the migrant crisis in Europe.
MN: Yes well I promote open borders because I think that it is important for people who are fleeing. Let’s say if you look at the top 5 refugee producing countries – if you look at any of them – Syria is the first one, you can see the reasons why people are fleeing. They are being barrel bombed by the Assad regime, they have ISIS on one hand; they’re being bombed by Russian forces on the other. They have all these other reactionary groups fighting there as well. So it makes perfect sense; if any of us lived in those societies we would most probably also want to flee. If you look at what’s happening in Syria, 470,000 have been killed; 11.5% of the population has been injured or killed; life expectancy has dropped to 55.4 years. 45% have moved; 4 million of them have fled the country. 6.3 million are internally displaced. So if you look at those huge numbers, I think “Oh my goodness, what’s the least we can do to help people who are fleeing those awful conditions?” And I think none of us disagree with the fact that it is awful. It would be good to open borders. I think when borders are closed and people are languishing behind them in mountains for example, trying to get into Turkey, behind barbed wire, it is something that I think is horrendous. We should be opening our borders. I think there’s a misunderstanding here though. People think that because I’m pro-open borders that it’s a free for all. No. It means that people are processed legally as well, that they are interviewed, as is always the case. There is no distinction between the processing that takes place in America and that which takes place in Europe. It’s the same. I’ve been involved in refugee resettlement work, for example I worked in the Sudan for 2 years, with the US Refugee Resettlement Office resettling people into the United States. I’ve also dealt with the asylum procedures both in the US, as well as here in Britain. The procedures are very similar; they are based on the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 protocol. Many of them are processed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees if it’s within countries bordering usually the countries they are fleeing from. Then there are asylum procedures within each country. The US has its own procedures. In Europe, each country their own but they’re basically based on the UN Convention and Protocol pertaining to refugees. So open borders doesn’t mean it’s a free for all. Obviously asylum is not a right for those who are war criminals, those who have killed, those who have committed genocide. That is part of the refugee protocol as well. Therefore if someone is guilty, if someone has committed a crime, they need to be prosecuted, they need to be jailed. But nonetheless that doesn’t mean that people who are fleeing for their lives shouldn’t have protection, shouldn’t have some form refuge and I think that we have a responsibility to help people who are in more difficult circumstances than our own.
SH: Do you make a distinction between political refugees who are fleeing political persecution and violence and more ordinary economic migrants who are just simply looking for a better life in the west?
MN: Well the US asylum procedures, in Europe, the UNHCR’s guidelines all say that a refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution not only because of political opinion but because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group as well, and therefore there are many reasons why people flee. For example membership in a social group includes possibly atheists, it includes women who have faced honour crimes or FGM and so on and so forth. So there are a myriad of reasons why people flee, not just political. I do think though that this attempt at criminalising and making illegal people’s flight, calling them bogus, talking about the distinction between economic and political refugees – I mean look at the situation in Syria, let’s look at the situation in Syria, does anyone really think that there is any part of that country where people are safe and having an enjoyable life? No.
SH: I don’t think that is the criticism you’re getting. Maryam, let me just put a few more facts on the table so you can react to them. I think the criticism you’re getting is that one, the phrase “open borders” seems to signify that there is no vetting first of all.
MN: Well of course there’s vetting. Of course there’s vetting. I’ve worked in the refugee field for 15 years and I’ve been involved in vetting so it’s interesting that in many of these conversations I’m the only one who has been involved in vetting. But what I want to say is that open borders, separate from that fact, is about a basic human right. When I talk about the right for everyone to have an education, for and end to faith schools, for the right to food for everybody, irrespective of where they live and how much money they have, these are huge maximalist human demands that are often times unattainable, impossible possibly, at times they might seem to be like dreams. But we need to always talk about the big ideas, the big dreams, in order to be able to have a little impact in people’s lives. When I talk about open borders, it is about the fact that look, there are people who are fleeing for their lives, they are fleeing for their lives, men, women, children who have gone through the most atrocious things and who are literally dying to reach safety. They are literally dying in our seas, in mountains, at borders so I am calling for compassion, as someone who considers myself a human rights campaigner, I am saying that we should have compassion. We should open our borders. That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be processed. That doesn’t mean that war criminals should be allowed in, of course not. That Jihadis should be just allowed to wreak havoc, of course not.
SH: I don’t think there’s anyone listening to this conversation that doesn’t share your compassion for the people that are fleeing for their lives.
MN: Well great then, so we’re on the same page.
SH: But … There are other people we are talking about. There are many people, disproportionately young, working age men, something like 80% of the people showing up, it’s been reported, to various parts of Europe, are men. And if it was purely humanitarian you would expect equal numbers, men, women and children. Or some semblance of equality there, and they’re coming not from Syria, but from North Africa, Eritrea or other countries and they clearly fit the mould more of economic migrants and I’m asking you, do you want to differentiate there or do you think borders should be open to all economic migrants as well?
MN: Listen, let’s be clear about the statistics. If you want real statistics and not what the far right says, you look at the statistics that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees issues. They are the ones that give globally on the numbers of refugees, where they come from, who they are and so on and so forth. And it’s very clear that 50% of Syrian refugees are children; it’s equally divided between women and men, 50-50. Of course this includes all the statistics, not just those entering Europe but also those going to countries bordering Syria for example. And I find this interesting, what is this hatred of young men?
SH: I’m not expressing hatred for them.
MN: Sam I’m not saying you’re saying that.
SH: Your time is limited and our patience is limited.
MN: I’m not saying you’re saying that but there is this sort of thing that “Oh if you’re a young man you should go and fight and you should go and die and you don’t have a right to refuge and safety and only women and children do. Why? Why is that the case?”
SH: I would never say such a thing or think it.
MN: Oh my goodness, Sam, I didn’t say you said that; I’m saying there is this sort of attitude: “Oh well, they’re so many young men, why don’t they stay back and fight? I’m not saying you said that but these are some of the arguments used.
SH: Just to make it clear. I just want to clarify this. The only reason why I raised the disparity of the ration of men and women is that it is a very common practice for working age men seeking better lives abroad, not asylum but for economic reasons to go first, and then bring their families after them. All I’m asking you, I’m not even disparaging that project at all. I’m asking if your conception of open borders differentiates between seeking asylum and seeking a better life economically.
MN: Okay so, let me say this. I think UNHCR says this that now there are equal numbers of women entering Europe as there are men. Part of the refugee flight is that often times families will stay at refugee camps while men try to reach safety and to see if the route is safe enough for their families to join them. Other times of course entire families come. There are reasons behind that. Also Syria is not the only country that Syrians are fleeing from. I think if someone from Iran flees because of the very nature of Sharia law (if you’re gay, if you’re a woman, if you’re a dissenter, if you’re a freethinker that you wouldn’t want to live there, many people don’t, that you would want to flee). I think it is impossible to distinguish between those who come for economic reasons and those who come for political reasons because if you look at the numbers coming and where they are coming from, it is from areas where there is either war or also theocracies and movements like Islamist movements where there are a lot of restrictions on people’s rights and lives and therefore this dream of living somewhere safer, better, where you are freer is a dream that we all have. If anything, the migrant crisis and the flight of refugees show that despite what cultural relativists say actually people everywhere want to live free and in a sense that’s why they all want to come to Europe. Some people say “why don’t they all just go to Saudi Arabia”, well I sure as hell don’t want to go to Saudi Arabia. And I think most people wouldn’t want to go from Syria into Saudi Arabia; they’d prefer to come here and there’s obvious reasons for that. So I think …
SH: Aren’t you worried – again – I’m not even clear what your view is here so I want to pin that down. You don’t distinguish between asylum seekers and people who are migrating for other reasons economic or otherwise because all of this is knit together and everyone is seeking a better life and they have a right to seek a better life in a global world where we’re all just human beings. I understand that. So at the border But are you saying that there is no limitation on the number of people that Europe, or America or the West in general should accept into its borders? The borders should be open, we should vet people for war crimes but otherwise everyone should be able to immigrate anywhere they want to?
MN: Well, yes Sam, I do think that. I also think faith schools should be banned. I also think we need secular societies everywhere. Many governments don’t necessarily agree with me; many people don’t necessarily agree with me and that’s fine but these are the positions that I think are important to make. I think the fact of the matter is that we live in a world now, it’s a global world and it’s very very small and people move for a million different reasons. There are a lot of people moving out of Britain, to Spain, to other counties, retiring there. In fact until very recently more people were leaving Britain than actually entering it. The fact that we never question the right of someone born and raised in Britain to move to Spain, that’s their right, but we question why someone from Iran would want to come to Britain. I think the fact of the matter is especially with the reality Internet age and social media, the fact of the matter is that we are so close to each other; we feel the effects of Islamism here. As do young people in Syria and Iran, they want to live a free life and they have a right to. And I think whether they come for economic reasons, don’t forget and you know better than anyone, people living in the US know better than anyone that migrants, immigration is good for the economy. People want to work, they want to contribute, and immigrants generally – if you look at statistics anywhere – they bring in more than they take. Of course they also put pressure on schools, on libraries, on hospitals and that’s not because necessarily that we aren’t able to cope with them but it’s because very often governments put profit before human need and they’re not willing to put money in schools and education etc. In Britain we’re seeing that every day our hospitals are closing, our libraries are closing. It’s got nothing to do with migrants; it’s just the way very often the system works. So I think in general migrants are good for our societies. Particularly if you look at a lot of European societies; it’s an ageing population. We need young people to pay for our pensions, for our retirement funds, to fund our hospitals, to staff them, our schools and so on and so forth. And so I think it’s a very positive thing.
SH: I would agree with you; I would agree with you.
MN: Can I just make one other comment too is that for those of us who have worked in the refugee field, there are so many historical resonances with the attitude towards migrants historically. How Jews for example, were perceived in the US, in Europe even, the sort of anti-Jewish refugee propaganda at the time. The fact that they were often accused of not being genuine, the fact that it was often said that they could never integrate into our societies. Those sort of arguments, when you work in the refugee field and you look at the history, you see that each wave of immigration or flight is met with the same sort of prejudices, the same sort of accusations, until a new set comes and it focuses on a new set of people. And I think even for example, they’ll say, “Well they don’t speak English” but if you look at the immigration experience you see that the first generations don’t necessarily speak as well, the second generation, they act as a go between, between the first generation and the society, and you’ve got the third generation that’s completely integrated. We need to look at it that way but also to realise that we live in another world now. There are mass exoduses for various reasons and let’s not forget that also some of our governments have a responsibility for creating. If you look at the situation in Syria, you’ve got the Iranian regime involved there, you’ve got the Russians involved there, Turkish government involved there. You’ve got the US government, British government; they are involved in various ways. And therefore there is also some level of accountability there too.
Nonetheless. I am looking at it just from a human perspective. For me you know, if we can feed everyone, we should do it. If we can protect people who need refuge, we should do it, why not? What is wrong with demanding open borders? Why is it seen to be such a despicable demand when it’s such a fundamentally human demand? I’m not saying you’re saying that but I have Pegida people, the deputy leader of Pegida, saying that I am promoting a rape culture because I am defending open borders. This is their propaganda…
SH: There’s propaganda on both sides, so at the beginning of this conversation…
MN: Thank you for always reminding us of that Sam.
SH: But again, this is the kind of thing that I’m trying to rectify in talking with you and I don’t know if it’s going to be successful. But at the beginning of this conversation you said something about any talk of defending one’s culture and worry that your culture could be destroyed by immigration, mass immigration, open borders, which is in fact the worry of someone like Douglas Murray, that that is tantamount to bigotry or energises bigotry, and I think that is a needlessly polarising and in fact inaccurate thing to say. It’s not that there aren’t bigots who speak in those terms, but it seems to me to be totally reasonable to worry what would happen if you just opened the borders. Now I’d like to talk about this, And you have to be willing to talk about it, right? So let me just say a few things about my concerns and you can react – and if you detect any bigotry here, please point it out. So I agree with you that we are trying to build a global civil society and we have to get beyond nationalism, we certainly have to get beyond xenophobia and we as a species are struggling to do that. And there are political aspects to this and economic aspects to this and we have a lot to work out, but the reality of the situation is that merely opening the borders, given the ease of travel and given how terrible life is in various parts of the world, I would expects that if you just open the borders, if we put you in charge here and we just let everyone go wherever they want to go, what you would have is that societies would reach some sort of equilibrium with respect to all the variables that determine the quality of life in that society, which is to say that people would only stop coming to Europe, or America, once there was no longer a good reason to come. Once Europe for instance, was no longer a better place to live than the Middle East or North Africa. That I think would be the practical consequence of a true open borders policy and that is something that terrifies someone like Douglas Murray. And for understandable reasons. And when you look at the specifics, and again I’m not arguing that huge disparities in wealth, and political freedom are a good thing. But to merely import mass multitudes of people, who don’t share the values of the West, right, and are not inclined to adopt those values, and I’m not talking of everyone, obviously; there are people, as you say, who are fleeing theocracy, who are closeted secularists, or atheists or feminists, who are aspiring scientists, who are intellectuals who are desperate to get to places like Oxford and Cambridge, right, I’m not talking about those people and I think those are the most important people in the world to support, right, whether they’re coming from Iran, or Eritrea or anywhere else, or Syria obviously, but Douglas’s point that he made on my podcast, is a point that I don’t see how you can just disparage as synonymous with bigotry is that we know that if we just opened the borders and let millions upon millions of people come into Europe from countries like Syria and Iraq and Iran – Muslim majority countries – you will be importing vast numbers of people who don’t share Western values. and who will want to – You’ll be importing vast numbers of Islamists first of all, and other conservative Muslims. And it’s hard to see how, given the problems of assimilation thus far in Europe, it’s hard to see how that simply makes Europe better and not a awful lot worse. And I’m now going to give you a chance to react to this. I just want to finally make a point about your personal perspective on this as an ex-Muslim. I don’t see how you can paint such a rosy picture of this, because you as an ex-Muslim, have escaped theocracy. You are someone who has struggled to escape the social attitudes and even threats of Muslim men in these communities. And yet you seem to be saying that it’s a sign of bigotry not to want to absorb an unlimited number of these people, even Muslim men and even Muslim men who could be guaranteed to harbour the very beliefs and attitudes that you have been trying to fight against, that you have personally escaped. That seems to be a bit of a paradox to me. Please react to that.
MN: Yes, it’s not at all a paradox. There’s so much here I don’t know where to start but let me try to go point by point. I think for me it’s because I can see people; I don’t see collectives and I think that’s where we disagree, with Douglas Murray, with yourself. I don’t see a collective. I don’t see Muslim men or all these migrants bringing in some sort of culture that is inhuman and misogynist, because I don’t see culture as being static. I don’t see it as being homogeneous. Not everyone in a society, even if it is a Muslim majority country, have the same values, the same culture.
SH: It’s not everybody, it’s just percentages we’re talking about.
MN: It’s percentages or whatever you want to call it.
SM: Let’s talk about Islamists.
MN: Of course, I don’t have a rosy picture because I judge people based on what they do as individuals, so for me it doesn’t frighten me that there are Muslim men coming in because those Muslim men may also be great defenders of women’s rights; because for me being Muslim doesn’t automatically mean being an Islamist, just the same as being a white male doesn’t automatically make someone a neo-Nazi.
SH: I’m not saying it does but there will be a percentage.
MN: If I could just finish Sam please, if I could just finish because there’s so much you said that I’d really like to answer. The thing is I think that the sort of perspective which Douglas Murray promotes, which is the sort of perspective that this is “our culture” and “they’re going to bring their culture in”; I don’t subscribe to this whole “clash of civilisations” these because the reality of the matter is that there is no us and them. There are theocrats and misogynists – British born and European born or American born – and there are atheists and secularists and free thinkers who are Iranian born or Syrian born. Therefore, I don’t subscribe to this view that if you have Muslims coming in, and I put “Muslims” in quotes because they are not necessarily Muslims. They might be Muslim in name only. There are a million ways we can define people, and also – in fact values – not necessarily everyone has Sharia values or Islamist values. A lot of people in Iran, for example, defend so called Western values, what I call universal values. If you look at the movement in Iran for unveiling – in Iran to be unveiled, because it’s compulsory, could send you to prison for 2 months but there is a huge movement of women taking off their veils as a sign of protest to the compulsory veiling rules. You have women carrying the body on Farkhunda who was killed (when a Mullah accused her of tearing the Quran) even though it is against Islamic customs. Her family agreed with them carrying the coffin. And when one of the Mullahs in the area came to pay his respects after he had said that Farkhunda deserved to be killed, they circled her body and said he was not allowed to come to her funeral. They kicked one of the most well known Mullahs out of her funeral. So there is no “us and them”; there are free thinkers and women’s rights campaigners in the smallest villages of Iran and Afghanistan and there are bigots and theocrats in the biggest cities of America and Britain. And my point is that when you say that you’re defending your culture against this “alien”, “savage”, “barbarian” culture, there is some bigotry there, because it fails to see the humanity of people. It places collective blame and it equates them with the theocracies and the oppressive forces that they’re fleeing. And I think it’s important…
SH: But Maryam…
MN: Can I just finish, sorry. There are many many many people who are And it’s that they’re risking their lives in challenging and I think its important – there are many people who are languishing in prisons, who are being arrested by morality police, who are facing threats and intimidation, not just great heroes like Raif Badawi or Avijit Roy who was hacked to death in Bangladesh but just ordinary people pushing back their veil, challenging the morality police, questioning religion and dogma on Facebook. Ordinary, ordinary people, many of them are part of those migrants many of them are considered the Muslim majority and they’re not and even if they are Muslims, they’re not Islamists. You know what I find ironic – let me tell you this – is that a lot of people will criticise identity politics and they’ll criticise multiculturalism and the fact that things are divided into various cultures but you’ll find that the far-right and also people like Douglas Murray (whose not on the far-Right in my opinion) use a sort of identity politics, defending “our Europe” “our values” “our culture” against the Other, the brown men, the savages, and I don’t subscribe to that. I don’t.
SH: Neither do I.
MN: Great I’m really happy to hear it. You mention, for example, Mark Steyn, before in your discussion with Douglas Murray and this concept of demography as destiny. Because you do mention something of what happens when there’s so many Muslims in Europe or America and Kenan Malik has this brilliant criticism of Mark Steyn where he says, well, if demography is destiny then everyone should become an Islamic theocracy like Iran, but in Iran the Muslim population has decreased since an Islamic regime was established”. It is sort of reducing things to Muslims vs. Europeans/Enlightenment Values. Kenan Malik says something else that’s brilliant. He says: enlightenment values is not stitched into the DNA of every single person who lives in Europe just the same as Sharia is not stitched into the DNA of every person who is coming from the Middle East, North Africa or South Asia. And for me I think I’ve gained strength and courage from so many allies amongst Muslims, and that’s why I don’t feel that because I am an ex-Muslim that I should be afraid of Muslims. Many of them are my allies, they are my friends. They have stood with me and they will stand with me. And I think it is a mistake if we buy into the “clash of civilisations”; then we fail to see the many friends we have that are deemed Other and we think that people on the far right because they look like “us” are our friends, when they are very similar to the theocrats that many Muslims and ex-Muslims are fighting.
SH: OK Maryam, yes, I agree with everything you’ve just said and I actually agree with you I do not doubt for a minute that there are millions and millions of people in Muslim majority countries …
MN: But it’s OK to profile them and it’s OK for Douglas Murray to say “our culture”. Well, you have to choose a side Sam because they are not the same position.
SH: Well no I’ve known Douglas as (Interruption on the line)
MN: Have you noticed that the internet stops working when you talk entirely about Douglas? The internet always goes off when you try to defend Douglas, I think I’ve got God on my side!
SH: No, no Maryam Douglas doesn’t even doubt what I am about to say. I know Douglas as an untiring champion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that’s how we first met. and I met as mutual friends and supporters of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, so It’s in defending ex-Muslims that we first bonded. And I have no doubt that there are millions and millions of potential Maryam Namazies and Ayaan Hirsi Alis or actual ones who are in hiding out of necessity in Muslim majority countries, and I’ve said over and over again that these are the most important people to support.
MN: They’re not in hiding though Sam.
SH: They are not all in hiding.
MN: If you read Karima Bennoune’s book Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, she’s interviewed more than 300 people of Muslim …
SH: Some of them are taking huge risks. There’s no question. So not all are in hiding.
SH: But still Douglas’s point stands here and I’ve yet you to hear you answer it and it does come down to…
MN: I have answered it Sam, you just didn’t like my answer.
SH: Please, no, no, you haven’t. I can assure you that when hundreds of thousands of people listen to this conversation, they will say that you have yet not answered it.
MN: Well that’s fine and there are others who will listen to it and say that I have.
SH: If you want the chance to answer it, let me ask the question again please. Give me a chance to explain it.
MN: Listen Sam, I just explained that I don’t subscribe to the clash of civilisations thesis…
SH: I understand that.
MN: Like Douglas Murray does and that you are defending.
MN: It’s as simple as that.
SH: I’m asking you to answer the specific question.
MN: Sam, I’m sorry but you cannot say that you support Douglas Murray’s concern for “our culture”, white European culture and at the same time say …
SH: It’s not white European culture, it’s the very values that you support of secularism and tolerance and democracy and human rights.
MN: You cannot say that and on the other hand say “those that are coming from Muslim majority countries I should be afraid of them as an ex-Muslim”. What I’m saying is that these two are contradictory positions, which you are putting forward.
SH: There is no contradiction here.
MN: There is no contradiction in what I am saying.
SH: The contradiction is this, or the question you have not answered is this and it comes down to percentages and your saying that you see people as individuals is not an answer to this question. I see people as individuals too. I know that there are individuals on every point of the spectrum of belief and unbelief in the Muslim world but here’s the reality of the situation. If you bring in a million people into Germany from the Middle East, some percentage of them will be Islamists, some percentage will be conservative Muslims. Let’s just talk about conservative Muslims who are not inclined to assimilate. My question to you is, does it matter at all what percentage that is? Is there a difference between living in a society where 5% of the population is conservative Muslims, and 50% or 75%? Is that a difference that someone like Douglas is justified in caring about?
MN: Look Sam I don’t think Douglas Murray is justified and he thinks I am not justified. We are having a discussion about our opinions, right? The fact of the matter for me is that even if someone is a conservative Muslim, it does not make them a jihadi or an Islamist. You can have people who are anti-abortion, who don’t go and bomb abortion clinics. You can have people who…
SH: Please just change conservative Muslim to Islamist, OK? Just swap them now and tell me if the…
MN: No because they’re very different and that’s the problem, the fact that you can keep interchanging those words shows that …
SH: Then, I am re-asking the question.
SH: There’s a spectrum here. We’re using those words slightly differently. I want to connect with your definitions. You are concerned about Islamists; it would seem to be rational for you to be concerned about what the percentage of Islamists actually is in every group of immigrants. Are you concerned about that?
MN: No Sam, my concern are the Islamists. They might be British born, they might be American born. They might be white, they might be brown, and they might be black. My concern are Islamists and I think that if you want to target Islamism, target the Islamists. Target the Jihadis, the Saudi regime, the Iranian regime. Target those Islamic organisations that are normalising and promoting Islamism, don’t target people just because of their beliefs. It’s as simple as that.
SH: Islamism is a set of beliefs Maryam and if you’re in the process of vetting immigrants…
MN: It’s a political movement because you can be – this was the example I was giving – you can have a neighbour who is anti-gay and thinks that gay people are perversions. It’s very different from being part of a movement that wants gay people dead. It’s very different.
SH: Well it’s a difference of degree, yes.
MN: It’s a very big difference because there’s a difference between action and belief. There’s a difference between inciting even hatred and hating someone or actually inciting violence. These are very different things.
SH: Still it’s a spectrum.
MN: It’s a spectrum of course, but what we should be concerned about …
SH: My question to you is if you found someone was an Islamist, in the process of vetting them as a migrant, would you want them in or out as an Islamist? They haven’t hurt anybody, they’re not a war criminal, but clearly they’re an Islamist.
MN: Listen, if you want to fight a political movement, you have to fight it politically. You cannot fight a political movement by banning it, by deporting people who subscribe to that movement; you have to challenge it. It’s the same as the far-right in America, like say The Tea Party, Trump. You cannot stop him by silencing him; you can’t stop him by deporting him to Britain or another country that likes him. You can’t send him to ISIS and hope that they’ll get alone. You have to challenge his ideas, and you’ve got to fight him.
SH: I agree there too.
MN: So my point is, When this argument is reduced to a question of migration status, one’s citizenship status, what sort of papers one has, what sort of colour one is, what sort of beliefs they have generally – just because they unfortunately happen to have been born to two Muslim parents, because that’s the only reason why most people are considered Muslim, because they were born to Muslim parents – then you are not dealing with the real issue which is Islamism, which is the far-right and it’s not just the Islamist far right, it is the religious far right in general, which I think the EDL, Pegida, Tommy Robinson all belong to. So for me challenging them all is an important challenge.
SH: But they are not all killing homosexuals. If you want to keep your distinctions that you find so important in a Muslim context stable, you have to admit that the EDL, as far right as they are, are not killing homosexuals or committing honour violence against women.
MN: Sam that is a very, very low bar and I’m sorry but my bar is a lot higher. There are Islamists who do not decapitate people either. There are Islamists who are considered soft Islamists, they are considered moderates. I’m sorry I don’t need to line up the decapitated heads to decide whether a movement is bad for humanity or it’s good for it. For me I think if Pegida is “only” burning down a few asylum centres, well they haven’t decapitated anyone, well I’m sorry, burning down refugee shelters is not good for me either. I don’t have such a low bar on far right; I don’t decide one is better just because they haven’t decapitated anyone. Based on that logic we should like the Iranian regime because they only hang their apostates they don’t decapitate them. That’s not good enough for me, that’s not good enough for me.
SH: That’s the logic you’ve just used and it was good enough for differentiating conservative Muslims from Islamists, from Jihadists.
MN: My problem is the far right, the religious far right. For me you’ve got Islamism, you’ve got Breivik in Norway who killed all those young people. You’ve got the Hindu right in India; they’re responsible for the massacre of Muslims in the Gujarat. You have the Buddhist Right killing Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. These movements, yes, they’re not as bad as the Islamists, I agree. They’re not as bad because they don’t have several states, they don’t have 13 states that punish apostasy by death, they don’t have Sharia law everywhere but don’t forget many of our countries didn’t have Sharia law 40 years ago either. This is a political movement first and foremost.
SH: With open borders, you have no concern that you’ll wind up with …
MN: No Sam. I don’t. I don’t have concern because I see people coming in who need protection, who need safety. Women, men, children who are fleeing the most outrageous violations of rights today, – whether it’s the Asad regime or ISIS. We talk about ISIS being fascist day in and day out, how barbaric they are. They have issued fatwas against refugees saying that refugees who leave the Islamic State are all kuffars. Saying how dare they leave an Islamic State? And on the other hand when they flee we say “Aren’t they also ISIS?” Well, you can’t have it both ways.
SH: Maryam, I realise we’re out of time and out of patience.
SH: We’re not just talking about those people. We’re talking about truly open borders …
MN: OK Sam let me just say this. I say treat people as individuals. If they’ve committed a crime, if they rape a woman in Koln, prosecute them to the full extent. It doesn’t matter if they are white, brown, yellow or green. If they are Muslim, Christian, atheist prosecute them to the full extent of the law. If they are Islamists that want to impose Sharia law, if they want to blow up innocent people, or even people who are not innocent, prosecute them to the full extent of the law. But do not target Muslims or migrants …
SH: OK great, great, great. Just stay there Maryam. You can’t prosecute people for Islamism. You just said this; you can’t deport Donald Trump, which I agree with.
MN: Prosecute, I didn’t say deport! Prosecute; if they’ve committed a crime prosecute them. If they haven’t committed a crime challenge them, challenge them, challenge them. You challenge ideas, you challenge far right movements.
SH: What do you do with the borders? Should Islamists be free to emigrate wherever they want to in Europe?
MN: Listen. I have this argument with the far right all the time. I’m not saying that’s your argument, I’m just saying, I have this argument all the time, which is – When you agree on fundamental human rights, rights are for people you hate, you despise. If you are against torture, you are against the torture of some lovely left wing communist person like myself, and you are against the torture of some despicable Islamist Jihadi in Guantanamo if you agree that torture is wrong. In the same way the right to asylum, if the person is Conservative, if they are not secular, if they are anti-gay, if they are anti-women. The very fact they need refuge and protection, they have certain human rights.
SH: We’re not just talking about Islam here, mere migration.
MN: Migration, whatever? Sam I wouldn’t worry. The borders are so closed; there is such a fortress up there that for every one person that enters there are hundreds of thousands who are not able to. I wouldn’t be so concerned. What I would say is for every person who is a jihadi, who should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, there are hundreds of thousands of people who just want to live in a society where they can breathe. If we agree that Islamism and theocracy is so vile, a little compassion for people fleeing from it is the least that one can expect, especially from atheists who are so critical of religion all the time.
SH: But Maryam, this leaves out the crucial truth, which again you are castigating someone like Douglas for focusing on!
MN: OK I’m sorry you like Douglas so much! I have no problem with Douglas Murray; I am talking about his politics. I’m sure he’s a lovely person; every time I’ve met him he’s been nothing but charming but my point is I’m not talking about an individual. I’m talking about a certain type of politics that sees this as a clash of civilisations. I see so many allies amongst those who are trying to enter Europe, who are Muslims, who are migrants, and I know that many of them are fleeing because they want to breathe free, many of them have taken risks, many of them just want to live in the 21st century, which is impossible under an Islamic theocracy, under ISIS.
SH: Yes I feel nothing but solidarity with those people. I just have one more final question for you. What percentage of the Muslim community do you think is Islamist?
MN: I don’t know.
SH: Can you guess? 5% or 95%?
MN: Sam, I don’t know. Don’t forget if you look at pictures of Iran or Afghanistan 30 years ago you wouldn’t recognise it today?
SH: Yes I know that.
MN: This is not because of people’s culture. It is because Islamism has just come and bulldozed over those societies and imposed the niqab, imposed the veil, imposed Sharia law and killed …
SH: You seem to have no concern over it happening in London.
MN: No, I don’t have concern, how many times so I have to tell you? I’m concerned about the Islamists; I’m not concerned about people. I’m concerned about the Islamists. I’m concerned about an Islamist in Iran, in the Saudi Government, as well as on the streets of London, I’m concerned about it all. I see it as a global political movement that is killing and slaughtering people. And most of the people they are killing are people in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. In Iran they have slaughtered an entire generation. Countless people buried in mass graves because of this movement. I am concerned about this movement.
SH: We all are but what’s so frustrating is that you’re not acknowledging how open borders interacts unhelpfully with that concern.
MN: Because I don’t equate people, Muslims, migrants with Islamists. In the same way that every white male I see is not a neo-Nazi fascist to me. I’m like that, I make those distinctions between people, individuals and political movements. And that is the fundamental basis of my politics. Human rights for everyone, including people I don’t agree with…
SH: I agree with that too.
MN: …Criticising and challenging unequivocally far right fascist movements, whether they are fascists that we like because they criticise Islam and Islamism, and there are people who are regressive left who like Islamists and will side with them. I am against all fascists, all types of fascists. They don’t necessarily have to have decapitated anyone for me not to like them and to oppose them. And for me I defend all types of people, they can be Muslim, atheist, brown, yellow, black. You have rights whether I like your opinions or not. If you have committed a crime, if you have raped, if you are going to commit a terrorist atrocity, I oppose you. But you fight that movement politically because it’s a political movement. Not by scapegoating, not by profiling, not by placing collective blame on masses of people – many of them who are resisting this movement too.
SH: So you’re saying that you cannot fight it politically by maintaining your borders? That is an illegitimate tool to use in the political fight against the spread of Islamism?
MN: Sam look the borders are defended. I wouldn’t worry so much.
SH: But you don’t think they should be?
MN: That’s not true and I have explained it a million times. The fact that I say borders should be open doesn’t mean that I think that tanks of Jihadists can just roll in and you’ve got to stand there and twiddle your thumbs while they roll in. I’m saying open borders for people that doesn’t mean there’s not a vetting process, that doesn’t mean that people are not interviewed.
SH: But what do you do when you discover that they’re Islamists?
MN: You prosecute them, prosecute them.
SH: You can’t prosecute someone for their beliefs. You’ve made that point in another context. [Something falls]
MN: Oh sorry I dropped this, sorry, sorry, one second. I didn’t break it did I no?
SH: You can’t prosecute an Islamist for Islamism.
MN: No you can prosecute an Islamist if they are imposing Sharia law, if they …
SH: I’m talking about someone who is emigrating or is attempting to immigrate into Europe from one of these Muslim majority societies.
MN: You challenge them, you fight them politically, that’s what I do all the time, I am challenging Islamists who are born in Britain but also those who have come in from abroad.
SH: This is a needlessly confusing point and I still don’t understand your position here.
MN: Sam, Sam …
SH: I promise you this is the last question but I have asked you this in several different ways.
MN: My chicken has gone dry Sam. I have made dinner for Deeyah.
SH: You must still bring them into Europe then wait to prosecute them or find some basis to prosecute them?
MN: Look I didn’t say bring them in. Look this is the question. When people are against the coming in of migrants and refugees, they’ll say that they are all bogus and they want genuine refugees. Well the only way you can determine a “genuine” refugee (a refugee is someone by definition legally who has left their home country and who has come to a bordering country or a country of third asylum, to apply for refugee status). So they have already left their country. Therefore, there is no determination of whether they are “genuine” or “bogus” by the very fact that they have fled. Where that determination is made is once they have arrived, and then there are asylum procedures – whether in the US or Britain. Or there is refugee processing in a country like Turkey by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. So refugees flee, they come, they register, they are interviewed, they are processed. That has been the way it has worked for decades. That is how you determine who is a refugee and who isn’t. When you advocate that people can’t even enter into a border, your concern is really not bogus vs. genuine refugees, you just don’t want people to come. You have to let people enter a safe haven, in order to then be determined, to be vetted, to be processed.
SH: What do you do once you vet them as Islamists?
MN: You vet them. In the US for example, if you are known to have committed a war crime …
SH: They haven’t committed a war crime, if they have a belief system that is …
MN: If they have a belief system that has not violated anyone’s rights, that has not been involved with killing civilians …
SH: But they want to live under Sharia law?
MN: Listen, lots of people believe in lots of ridiculous things and they can be very reasonable to some. I think some atheists have very ridiculous assertions on a lot of things. A lot of people think I am completely ridiculous. That’s part of the fact that we don’t all think the same; it’s very normal that we don’t. I don’t think we can determine who has rights based on whether we like them or not, or whether we disagree with them. People have rights even if we don’t like them, even if we disagree with them, even if we find their views vehement and that’s the difference. If no crime has been committed, we are going to have, in the same way that in Britain we have people who are conservative, who are Christian, who think gay people are deviants, who are opposed to gay marriage, who are opposed to abortion, and woman’s right to choose.
MN: I can’t say “You can’t access healthcare because I don’t like the fact that you’re a Christian fundamentalist”, because that’s a right. The right to healthcare, the right to food, the right to education, the right to shelter and the right to asylum. The fact that the right to asylum is not recognised as a basic human right by many people doesn’t mean that it isn’t one. And the fact that there are so many people who are demanding it, who need it, and it is a recognised right actually, if you look at the UN convention.
SH: OK but now you’re talking about the more narrow condition of asylum seekers.
MN: It’s not so narrow because it’s based on political opinion, race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group. This is a very, very broad category and I would argue that anyone fleeing from a place like Iran, a place like Syria… If you look 91% of the refugees in the world are coming from the top ten refugee producing countries. There are real reasons why they are fleeing. You cannot on the one hand be an advocate against theocracy and Islamism and talk about how bad it all is, and on the other hand then say the people who are fleeing it don’t deserve to have a better life and a different type of life and protection.
SH: I absolutely agree the problem is that many of them, as we know based on failures of assimilation thus far, for several generation we know that they’re not fleeing those values…
MN: It’s not true. Muslims in this country were not even labelled Muslims several decades ago. They were called Asians; they were very much at the forefront of left wing organising around trade unions and anti-racist work. What’s happened in the past few decades as a result of multiculturalism, entire communities and societies have been marked with only one identity and that is Muslim. And we’ve also seen the rise of the Islamist movement which has helped in doing that because it feigns to represent all Muslims. And let’s not forget, US foreign policy for example, during the Cold War, it was part of the US foreign policy to create a green belt, an Islamic belt, around the Soviet Union at the time: The Mujahadeen, The Taliban. There is a history of supporting and arming the Islamists when they were not even mainstream and now suddenly it’s become “our culture”. They were not even part of our culture, they were in the periphery. If you look at the Iranian Revolution, it was a left leaning revolution. The “great powers”, including the US, they met in Guadeloupe, it was called the Guadeloupe conference; they decided that they’d prefer the Islamic state there, because it fit the strategy during the Cold War. And now suddenly, 30 years on, it’s become “our culture”. Well, wait for another 30 years and ISIS will be “people’s culture” in Syria, because that’s what happens, when the oppressor writes history, they will determine what people think and how people think and the resistance will be either completely ignored or annihilated. That is the reality of the history of many of our countries. 30-40 years ago nobody wore the black chador in Iran, the burqa, no one had seen these black sort of niqabs, in many countries, in Mali for example. The niqab and burqa have overtaken the national dress, they say this is the Islamic custom, this is the local dress, it’s not, it’s taken over from people’s local dresses, the shalwar kameez, the very colourful sort of boubous that women in Mali wear. It’s completely annihilated that, taken over, give it ten or twenty years and suddenly it’s become “our culture”. Douglas Murray is concerned about us coming and overtaking European culture whereas in fact what that sort of perspective fails to see that this is a political movement, it has bulldozed over our societies. The reasons that we’re fleeing is that we have no options but to flee, that there is very little choice involved and that not necessarily people fleeing are people who agree with the oppressors there. And if you look at what I think is a tsunami of atheism in the Middle East and North Africa, it is a backlash, there is a huge backlash against the Islamists. Whether it is the unveiling of women in Iran, whether it is the young people in for example Tunisia or Morocco, defying fasting rules and going and having a picnic during Ramadan when they can be prosecuted and they are beaten by the police and jailed for doing so; there is a huge backlash as well. And many of those people are part of the backlash too. And that’s why I say target the political movement, target the Christian right, the Islamic right, the Hindu right, the Buddhist right, don’t target the Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists.
SH: OK well I will have to let that stand as the final word on the subject. I’m not sure we understand one another any better and I thank you for attempting it and I hope to meet you under more relaxed circumstances at some other point Maryam.
MN: I’m very grateful that we had this conversation, I feel very relaxed actually Sam. I think it’s an important discussion to have. The reality is that even very reasonable people will disagree. There is a saying that someone brilliant has said, I don’t know who it is. That it is often possible for reasonable people to disagree with each other.
SH: That is true. I was afraid at the beginning of this conversation and I remain worried that you think we disagree far more than we do and there’s just a fair amount of confusion still in the air but I will let our listeners sort it out because you and I have both ran out of time.
MN: OK thank you. And thank you to the listeners for trudging along.
SH: Yes, so finally, where can people out more about you online? Give us your Twitter handle and so on?
MN: If they go to www.maryamnamazie.com that’s my website and my Twitter is @MaryamNamazie. Of course there’s so many campaigns I work on, like the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, which was founded to break the taboo that comes with leaving Islam and the One Law for All Campaign against Sharia law in Britain. I have started a campaign called Fitnah, because the Islamists think women are the source of Fitnah and chaos in society. We are calling ourselves that; we say that we are Islamism’s worst nightmare. I’ve also done things like nude protest, because the Islamists hate us so much, they want us covered and disappeared from the public space. Nude protest can be seen as a form of challenge to this very misogynistic view of women. So there’s lots of things, that if maybe we weren’t stuck on this profiling and immigration issue that we could have talked about but I do think profiling and immigration are hugely important issues particularly amongst atheists. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to do that.
SH: Yes thanks for coming on and my best to your friend Deeyah who I believe is filming you during this conversation. Again until next time Maryam, thanks for your time.
MN: Thanks and bye from Deeyah as well.
SH: OK, take care.
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SH: Okay I’ll let you do a postmortem on that. I couldn’t shake the fact that there was an impressive talking past one another there that I could never quite seem to correct for. No doubt some of the fault is mine. You should know that some of the fault is also Skype. There is a delay in Skype and when you try and interrupt somebody, the delays makes those attempted intrusions seem far more hostile or urgent. This is an imperfect technology but all I can say is I tried. Now I am going to do something else. Perhaps a nude protest.
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