CatsEye Weekly Report May 20 Notes


Anti-Muhammad Video Reappears on YouTube After Court Ruling

‘Innocence of Muslims’ was censored after an earlier court ruling.

Protests erupted in September 2012 against the low-budget Internet video “Innocence of Muslims,” a screenshot of which is at left. At right, a protest in Srinagar, India.

By Steven NelsonMay 19, 2015 | 2:34 p.m. EDT+ More

A controversial video that ridicules Islam’s central figure reappeared Tuesday on YouTube after judges ended 15 months of court-ordered censorship.

An 11-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Monday overturned a ruling by a three-judge panel that agreed with actress Cindy Lee Garcia’s copyright claim, forcing the video’s removal.

Garcia appears in less than 10 seconds of the 14-minute video, originally promoted as a trailer for a full-length film. She said she was duped into believing the film would be called “Desert Warrior” and said she received death threats when the video became the subject of global news stories.

Like many other actors appearing in the video, words were dubbed over lines read by Garcia. “Is your Muhammad a child molester?” a voice says as her lips appear to form different words.

Siding with Google, which owns YouTube, the 10-judge majority wrote their ruling was necessary to prevent far-reaching consequences for free speech and copyright law.

“We are sympathetic to her plight,” the decision said. “Nonetheless, the claim against Google is grounded in copyright law, not privacy, emotional distress, or tort law, and Garcia seeks to impose speech restrictions under copyright laws meant to foster rather than repress free expression.”

The impact of a ruling in Garcia’s favor would establish veto power for actors over films in which they appear, the judges warned.

“Take, for example, films with a large cast — the proverbial ‘cast of thousands’ — such as Ben-Hur or Lord of the Rings,” the decision says. “The silent epic Ben-Hur advertised a cast of 125,000 people. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, 20,000 extras tramped around Middle-Earth alongside Frodo Baggins. … Treating every acting performance as an independent work would not only be a logistical and financial nightmare, it would turn cast of thousands into a new mantra: copyright of thousands.”

Despite the high-profile courtroom win, it was not until Tuesday morning that the video was re-uploaded to YouTube. Various videos using the same name – “Innocence of Muslims” – on the service cast Islam in a more favorable light. Many Muslims consider any depiction of Muhammad offensive.

It’s unclear what explains the delayed return of the video. Google and YouTube press representatives did not respond to requests for comment on whether previously uploaded videos will be reinstated.

The low-budget film, produced by Egypt-born Coptic Christian and naturalized U.S. citizen Mark Basseley Youssef, depicts Muhammad as a fraud who invented verses in the Quran to justify sexual relationships and murder. Its wide circulation in 2012 prompted protests and riots at U.S. embassies in the Middle East.

Before the copyright battle, the Obama administration – which initially said the film prompted a jihadi attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya – asked Google to consider removing it.

In addition to the now-lifted U.S. censorship, YouTube blocked access to the film in India and Indonesia in compliance with local government requests and voluntarily blocked access in Egypt and Libya.

Youssef was arrested and jailed shortly after the video’s debut for violating probation. He previously was convicted of drug- and fraud-related charges. Youssef now lives in a halfway house managed by Pastor Wiley Drake in Buena Park, California.

Drake, who doubles as Youssef’s spokesman, tells U.S. News he’s glad to hear of the appeals panel ruling, and he hopes the video will again attract worldwide attention.

“It is not an anti-Muslim film, it is basically the truth about a pedophile named Muhammad and it is the absolute truth about they want to do to us,” says Drake, who on Tuesday stood in front of the U.S. Supreme Court monitoring a telephone prayer line alongside an anti-same-sex marriage protester.

Youssef, he says, now serves as a “deputy prayer warrior” in an organization led by Drake called the Congressional Prayer Conference of Washington, D.C. “He’s a godly man and an integral part of our ministry,” his pastor says.

“What he did was tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help him God,” Drake says, adding he believes the prison sentence for probation violations such as using pseudonyms “was motivated by Barack Hussein Obama, aka Barry Soetoro, and Hillary Clinton.”

Controversy about the film and media discussion about the potential benefits of mandatory or voluntary censorship fits within a broader struggle over free expression as anti-Muslim activists, satirists and free speech advocates thumb their noses at Islamic tradition by visually depicting Muhammad. In January, jihadi brothers killed 12 people at the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo for running cartoons of Muhammad. Earlier this month two Arizona roommates attacked a “draw Muhammad” competition in Texas and were fatally shot by an off-duty traffic officer.

Indonesian navy rescues 200 from ocean near Aceh, after 750 saved earlier

Military official tells ABC 200 asylum seekers were seen in the water by fisherman and picked up by a warship amid warnings of a growing migrant crisis

ISIS thugs viciously beat their cowering fellow terrorists – because they were SMOKING

The shocking footage shows a masked militant walking up and down the men, who are lined up sitting against a wall. He stomps on the men, who vainly try to defend themselves from the blows raining down

ISIS terrorists have been recorded savagely beating a group of their cowering fellow jihadis.

Their crime? Enjoying a sneaky cigarette.

The shocking footage shows a masked militant walking up and down the men, who are lined up sitting against a wall.

He stomps on the men, who vainly try to defend themselves from the blows raining down.

The thug also jabs the men with the barrel of his assault rifle, and at one point bashes the head of one of his victim’s with the wooden butt of the weapon.

He is then shoved aside by a colleague, who frantically whips the men with what appears to be a belt.

ISIS enforce strict rules against smoking – considering the habit a “slow suicide” and, therefore, un-Islamic.

Anyone found smoking on land owned by the caliphate could be publicly whipped, massively fined or even executed.

Brutal: The man stomps, slaps and hits the men with his gun

Abu Mohammad Hussam, founder of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), an anti-ISIS group, told the Independent: “The first time he will be arrested and flogged (40 lashes).

“If he smokes again, he will be whipped and imprisoned. On the third occasion, he will be taken to a camp in the countryside and fined a large sum of money.”

A senior IS police chief was found decapitated with a cigarette hanging from his mouth in February earlier this year.

The words “O Sheikh this is munkar” were written on his body, translated as “this is evil, you Sheikh,” according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Sustained: The men cower as the beating goes on and on

Confusion over the appropriate punishment for smokers reportedly led to a fight that killed 12 ISIS members in February.

Middle East News quoted witnesses as saying that ISIS militants in Kirkuk, Iraq, had arrested some smokers and flogged them.

Others, who were previously warned to give up the habit, had their fingers cut off.

“Some ISIS elements did not approve the punishment of cutting fingers and considered it illegal, which led to a fight that left 12 of them dead,” the witnesses said.


Indonesian navy rescues 200 from ocean near Aceh, after 750 saved earlier

A rescued migrant now at the new confinement in Langsa, Indonesia on Friday. More than 750 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were rescued off Indonesia, plus another 200 people off the Indonesian island of Aceh. Photograph: Jefta Images/Barcroft Media

Guardian staff and agencies

Friday 15 May 2015 21.53 EDTLast modified on Monday 18 May 201507.21 EDT

The Indonesian navy has rescued another 200 asylum seekers off the coast of Aceh, the ABC is reporting, after more than 700 were rescued by fishermen the same day.

Major General Fuad Basya told the ABC the 200 asylum seekers were seen in the water by fishermen on Friday morning and the navy sent a ship to the area to pick them up.

As the United Nations warned of a “massive humanitarian disaster”, up to 8,000 migrants were believed to be abandoned at sea by smugglers scared off by Thailand’s recent crackdown on human traffickers.

The US explored the possibility of Thailand giving shelter to Rohingya Muslims adrift at sea on Friday and urged countries in the region not to send the migrants back out to sea.

How to solve the Asian migrant boats crisis – expert views

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, called the Thai foreign minister to discuss temporary shelter for the Rohingya as the Thai prime minister said more migrants may take jobs from Thais and Indonesia’s military chief warned of “social issues”.

Nearly 800 boat people were brought ashore in Indonesia on Friday, but other vessels crammed with migrants were sent back to sea despite a United Nations call to rescue thousands adrift in southeast Asian waters with dwindling food and water.

“The secretary called his Thai counterpart [on Thursday] night to discuss the situation of migrants in the Andaman Sea and to discuss the possibility of Thailand providing temporary shelter,” US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh are stranded on boats as regional governments block them from landing.

Rathke said nearly 3,000 migrants had landed in Indonesia and Malaysia this week and were receiving help.

He said US ambassadors were “intensely engaged” with governments about mounting a rapid humanitarian response.

“We urge the governments of the region to work together quickly … to save the lives of migrants now at sea who are in need of an immediate rescue,” he said. “We urge governments in the region to refrain from push backs of new boat arrivals.”

Many of the boat people are Rohingya, a stateless, Muslim minority people fromBurma described by the UN as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

South-east Asia faces its own migrant crisis as states play ‘human ping-pong’

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Washington continued to raise its concerns with Burma over the migrants that were fleeing “because of dire humanitarian and economic situations they face at home out of fear of ethnic and religious violence”.

However, the State Department’s Rathke made clear the US would not curtail its engagement with Burma to pressure the authorities to better protect the Rohingya.

“Will we decide to disengage with Burma because we have a disagreement over their approach to the Rohingya? No, we will remain engaged with Burma,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean in any way that we’re going to shrink from – from what we think is appropriate, including under Burma’s own commitments.”

International Law Officially Recognizes Jewish Claims in Judea and Samaria

Despite dubious claims to the contrary, Israel has international law on its side.

Contrary to claims made by Palestinian leadership and others in the international community, international law fully recognizes Jewish claims in Judea and Samaria. These areas were part of the Palestine Mandate, which granted Jews the right to settle anywhere west of the Jordan River and to establish a national home there.

History reminds us that the Palestine Mandate, supported by all 51 members of the League of Nations at the time, and codified in international law, is recognized as legally valid by the United Nations in Article 80 of the UN Charter. In addition, the International Court of Justice has reaffirmed this on three different occasions.

While some people argue that the Palestine Mandate became obsolete following its termination in 1947, international legal scholars claim otherwise. According to Eugene Rostow, a Dean of Yale Law School, “A trust never terminates when a trustee dies, resigns, embezzles the trust property, or is dismissed. The authority responsible for the trust appoints a new trustee, or otherwise arranges for the fulfillment of its purpose.” While the Palestine Mandate ceased to exist in Israel and Jordan when Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom obtained independence, Rostow maintains that “its rules apply still to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which have not yet been allocated either to Israel or to Jordan or become an independent state.”

This international law expert adds that the Armistice Lines of 1949, which are part of the West Bank boundary, “represent nothing but the position of the contending armies when the final cease-fire was achieved in the War of Independence. The Armistice Agreements specifically provide, except in the case of Lebanon, that the demarcation lines can be changed by agreement when the parties move from armistice to peace.” Simply put, international law does not consider the 1967 borders the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel.

Israeli legal claims to Judea and Samaria are strengthened by the fact that no other sovereign nation state claims this territory as her own. Both the Ottoman Turks and the British Mandate renounced their claims to the Land of Israel decades ago, including Judea and Samaria. Furthermore, Jordan’s annexation of Judea and Samaria following Israel’s declaration of independence was never internationally recognized, since it amounted to an act of aggression. Both the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly declared at that time that Israel was a peace-loving state in the 1948 war.

Professor and Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, who served as President of the International Court of Justice, explains that the principle of “acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible” must be read together with other principles, “namely, that no legal right shall spring from a wrong, and the Charter principle that the Members of the United Nations shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.” In other words, territories acquired through wars of aggression don’t hold validity, which effectively repudiates Jordanian claims to Judea and Samaria. Observers argue too that the fact that Jordan has officially renounced her claims to Judea and Samaria and signed a peace agreement with Israel without gaining back these territories seals the water-tight case for Israel’s jurisdiction there.

Jewish mosaic discovered in Shiloh, in Judea and Samaria

The situation, however, is different when a country reclaims lands that originally belonged to her as part of a war of self-defense, as Israel did in 1967. “Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title,” adds Professor Schwebel.  “Between Israel acting defensively in 1948 and 1967 on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors acting aggressively in 1948 and 1967 on the other, Israel has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan and Egypt.”

Losing their religion: the hidden crisis of faith among Britain’s young Muslims

As debate rages over the radicalisation of young British Muslims, are we overlooking a different crisis of faith? Ex-Muslims who dare to speak out are often cut off by their families and fear for their lives. A brave few tell us their stories

Imtiaz Shams of Faith to Faithless: ‘At 20, I actually thought I was the only Muslim atheist in the world. I didn’t know you could leave. There’s not a concept of it.’ Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

Andrew Anthony

Sunday 17 May 2015 05.30 EDTLast modified on Tuesday 19 May 201506.23 EDT

Sulaiman Vali is a softly spoken 32-year-old computer engineer. A natural introvert not drawn to controversy or given to making bold statements, he’s the kind of person who is happiest in the background. He lives alone in a modest house on a quiet street in a small town in East Northamptonshire. He doesn’t want to be any more specific than that about the location. “If someone found out where I lived,” he explains, “they could burn my house down.”

Why should such an understated figure, someone who describes himself as a “nobody”, speak as if he’s in a witness protection programme? The answer is that six years ago he decided to declare that he no longer accepted the fundamental tenets of Islam. He stopped being a believing Muslim and became instead an apostate. It sounds quaintly anachronistic, but it’s not a term to be lightly adopted.

Last week the hacking to death in Bangladesh of the blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was a brutal reminder of the risks atheists face in some Muslim-majority countries. And in an era in which British Islamic extremists travel thousands of miles to kill those they deem unbelievers, an apostate’s concern for his or her security at home is perhaps understandable.

“Oh yeah, I’m scared,” agrees Nasreen (not her real name) a feisty 29-year-old asset manager from east London who has been a semi-closeted apostate for nine years. “I’m not so worried about the loonies because it’s almost normal now to get threats. What worries me is that they go back to my parents and damage them, because that’s not unheard of.”

The danger is confirmed by Imtiaz Shams, an energetic 26-year-old who runs a group called Faith to Faithless, which aims to help Muslim nonbelievers speak out about their difficult situations. Shams has a visible presence on YouTube and has organised several events at universities. “I am at physical risk because I do videos,” says Shams. “I don’t like putting myself in the firing line, but I had to because no one else is willing to do it.”


As real as the potential for violence might be, it’s not what keeps many doubting British Muslims from leaving their religion. As Simon Cottee, author of a new book The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam, says: “In the western context, the biggest risk ex-Muslims face is not the baying mob, but the loneliness and isolation of ostracism from loved ones. It is stigma and rejection that causes so many ex-Muslims to conceal their apostasy.”

Like the gay liberation movement of a previous generation, Muslim apostates have to fight for the right to be recognised while knowing that recognition brings shame, rejection, intimidation and, very often, family expulsion.

Vali comes from a strictly religious Indian-heritage family. He was born in Kenya and moved with his parents and six siblings to England when he was 14. As outsiders, his family stayed close – “I always knew if I wanted anything they’d be there for me,” he says.

His father is an imam who follows the puritanical Deobandi scholastic tradition of Islam that has influence over a third of Britain’s mosques. All through his teenage years, when adolescents typically rebel, and even at university, Vali dutifully followed his father’s faith. Occasionally some of what he calls the more “barbaric punishments” found in sharia law troubled him, but he put his discomfort to one side. “I would just think, if God wants it, fine.”

It was when he left his home in Leicester to work in Cambridge that he first encountered an intellectual challenge to his worldview. He found himself working alongside non-Muslims and atheists, and inevitably questions of faith arose.Initially he began researching criticism of Islam online and in the books of people such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as a means of defending his faith. But in the process the suspicion took root that his opponents had the stronger arguments.

Nevertheless, he kept his reservations to himself when he returned to live in Leicester, where an arranged marriage awaited him. “She was very religious from a religious family,” he says, still pained by the memory. But he couldn’t go through with it. “I wasn’t going to lie and carry on with a marriage knowing that I didn’t believe in God.”

His decision went down very badly. His family would have forgiven him, though, as long as he remained a Muslim. That’s all they really asked. And it was the one thing he couldn’t do. He was perfectly happy to be a cultural Muslim, take part in celebrations and observe traditions, but he couldn’t pretend a faith he didn’t possess.

Nasreen: ‘I’ve had bouts of clinical depression. The thing is, Islam teaches you to grow up with a lack of identity. Without the collective, you’re lost.’ Photograph: Andy Hall/Observer

“This idea of belief,” he says, shaking his head. “You can’t make yourself believe what you don’t believe.”

So he confessed his atheism to his horrified family. One of his brothers reminded him that the penalty sharia law stipulates for apostasy is capital punishment.

“I don’t think he would have any qualms about me being killed,” says Vali, although he emphasises that he doesn’t believe anyone from his family would seek to do him physical harm or encourage others to do so. Instead he was ousted from the family. He was disowned.

There has been a great deal of public debate in recent years about what drives young Muslims towards radicalisation. It’s an urgent subject of study in various disciplines of academia, has spawned a library of books, and is the focus of well-funded government programmes.

What is much less known about, and far less discussed, is the plight of young Muslims going in the opposite direction – those who not only turn away from radicalisation but from Islam itself.

Although it is fraught with human drama – existential crisis, philosophical doubt, family rupture, violent threats, communal expulsion, depression, and all manner of other problems – the apostate’s journey elicits remarkably little media interest or civic concern. According to Cottee, there is not “a single sociological study… on the issue of apostasy from Islam”.

No one knows what numbers are involved, few understand the psychological difficulties individuals confront, or the social pressures they are compelled to resist. As with many other areas of communal discourse, insiders are reluctant to talk about it, and outsiders are either too incurious or sensitive to ask.

In this sense the struggle of ex-Muslims is markedly different from that of early gay rights campaigners. Where gays and lesbians could draw support from other progressive movements, ex-Muslims are further marginalised by what Cottee calls “the contested status of Islam” in western societies.

To raise the subject of apostasy is to risk demonising an embattled minority. Some will see it, almost by definition, as Islamophobic or even racist. To be a “Muslim” in 21st-century Britain is no longer simply about religious affiliation; it also suggests membership of a cultural entity that receives far more than its fair share of scare stories and alarmist reporting. So it’s vital to be aware of the discrimination that many Muslims encounter. But what of the minority within the minority who have to deal with fear, guilt, shame and isolation? Must they remain invisible as a mark of religious respect?

Vali has seen his mother just once for a few minutes four years ago. “She didn’t want to touch me,” he says. “She thought her God would be angry with her if she treated me kindly.”

What saved him from isolation was the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, an association set up in 2007 by the Iranian-born secularist Maryam Namazie that campaigns to end “religious intimidation and threats”. The CEMB assists about 350 people a year, “the majority of whom” says Namazie, “have faced threats for having left Islam – either by their families or by Islamists.”

She believes this number represents just the tip of the problem because the consequences of coming out deter many more from doing so. Many of the cases the CEMB deals with concern forced marriages, which Namazie says have been used to control those seeking to leave Islam.

For Vali, CEMB provided the reassurance of shared experience. “That was great. You just knew that you weren’t alone. Before, I didn’t know how many people there were out there, what sort of people, how they were thinking. I’ve probably [now] met 100 ex-Muslims and I keep hearing stories of depression. I can understand it.”

It is the same mental and emotional struggle Cottee observed when researching his book. “The majority of ex-Muslims I interviewed said they were profoundly lonely and isolated, and they related this directly to their apostasy and the secrecy and shame attached to it,” he says.

One of those was 22-year-old Irtaza Hussain, originally from Pakistan, who hanged himself in September 2013. He had written on the CEMB forum: “I hate how I am completely alienated from society and will never find a way to fit in.”

Of course it’s an unfortunate truth that there are young men from all walks of life who feel alienated, and some take their own lives for a variety of reasons. Yet it’s also true that Hussain felt trapped and lost between two worlds – the one he was attempting to leave and the one he couldn’t find a way to enter. If anything, it’s a predicament young Muslim women more often find themselves in.

“It’s more difficult for women,” says Nasreen. “You’re much more visible as a woman. You’re conditioned to behave in a certain way with a headscarf. I mean, you’re not going to go to a pub with a headscarf, are you? You’re not going to stay out late with a headscarf. It’s a form of control.”

Her family was not particularly religious – “cultural Muslims who prayed and would want you to dress modestly” – but her sister was scouted at university by Hizb ut-Tahrir, a proselytising Islamist group. The then 15-year-old Nasreen soon followed her sister. “I felt empowered as a teenager. It was this kind of pseudo-intellectualism. Spiritual religion gets a bit boring as a kid, so I liked the idea of politics too. It felt like a social movement and I was excited by that.”

It was immediately after 9/11 and she turned up at school demanding to wear a long black dress instead of the school uniform. “I said if you don’t let me, you’re breaching my freedom of expression as a Muslim, and they accepted it.”

She loved the sense of rebellion her pronounced Muslim identity conferred. That was largely the extent of the politics. When she looked at Islamic countries, she didn’t care about human rights atrocities. “There were women wearing scarves, that was what was important.”

But slowly she began to address the rhetoric and assumptions that she’d been filled with. “I didn’t have an epiphany,” she says. Most apostates don’t. Instead it’s usually a long and often painful process of questioning. At first she tried to crush her doubts. “I was scared. What was wrong with me? Why do I have these feelings and thoughts, they’re so haram [forbidden].”

She felt unable to speak to those closest to her, and was too ashamed to consult an imam. Like Vali, she researched online and the more she read, the more difficult it became to maintain her Islamic beliefs. But losing her religion has exacted a toll.

“I’ve had bouts of clinical depression,” Nasreen says. “The thing is, Islam teaches you to grow up with low self-esteem and lack of self-identity. Without the collective, you’re lost. You’ve been taught to feel guilty and people-pleasing as a woman, and you do that from a very young age. I kept thinking, ‘Why do I want to wear short skirts? That’s so disgusting!’ No, it’s not disgusting. It took me a long time to appreciate my sexuality and my femininity. There was a lot of stress. I lost my friends. You’re very lonely and you’re ostracised.”

However, she couldn’t bring herself to tell her parents. And nine years later, she still hasn’t informed them. Her compromise has been to let them know she doesn’t pray or wear a headscarf. That’s been problematic enough – her parents, like many Muslims, have become more religious over the past decade or so.

She blames the ghettoisation of multiculturalism and identity politics for this shift, the tendency to view individuals as members of separate cultural blocks. Or as Namazie puts it: “The problem with multiculturalism – not as a lived experience but as a social policy that divides and segregates communities – is that the “Muslim community” is seen to be homogenous. Therefore dissenters and freethinkers are deemed invisible because the ‘authentic’ Muslim is veiled, pro-sharia and pro-Islamist.”

One success of the Islamist movement in Britain has been to define the cultural identity primarily in terms of religion.

“We went from a Bengali to a Muslim community. It’s almost as if we’re suffering a second colonisation, the Arabisation of Asian cultures. Even my brother wears long Arab dresses.” As a consequence, she thinks Muslims have been encouraged to police other Muslims.

“I’ll give you a couple of examples,” she says. “The other day I ordered some food online – pork buns – and afterwards a guy called me up from the company and he said ‘Nasreen, do you know it’s not halal?’ I said yes, I’m not a Muslim, but afterwards I wish I’d said ‘Who are you to police what I’m eating? How dare you call me up to remind me.’ But that’s how people think: you’re a Muslim, you’ve got a Muslim name.”

She took a degree in anthropology at the University of London. “And I started to do my dissertation on ex-Muslim identity. My supervisor was this Muslim guy and he told me that it was rubbish, there’s no academic purpose to it.”

Sulaiman Vali: ‘This idea of belief… You can’t make yourself believe what you don’t believe.’ Photograph: Andy Hall/Observer

She had to complain to get another supervisor, who was very supportive, and, undaunted, continued with the research. “I succeeded in completing an original piece of empirical research on the ex-Muslim reality,” she says. “I even went on to achieve a special award for this very dissertation. I felt quite vindicated by that.”

Nevertheless, she detects a strong reluctance at universities to confront the concerted efforts by Islamist groups to lay claim to Muslim students. Not only are Islamic societies often run by extremists, with groups like the Islamic Education and Research Academy seeking to impose gender segregation, but the terms of academic discourse tend to endorse their brand of grievance politics.

“Go to your average sociology class,” says Nasreen, “and it’s very much about making Muslims victims of Islamophobia – a terminology I disagree with. It’s anti-Muslim bigotry. I dislike Islam – that’s OK, it’s an ideology, but I don’t dislike Muslims. They are two different things.”

She believes there needs to be secular spaces within Muslim communities. “Women within minority communities suffer massively because their only recourse is to go to some religious person, whether for counselling or any issue.”

Shams, who seems remarkably self-possessed for his young age, agrees that there are particular gender issues that afflict disillusioned Muslims. To this end he has tried to link up with feminist societies at universities. “But there’s a real problem in this country,” he says. “People don’t want to touch anything to do with leaving Islam. Especially in universities, where the politics are insane.”

He has a point. In recent times the National Union of Students have refused to condemn Isis on the grounds that this would justify Islamophobia. Shams believes that this kind of gesture and the NUS decision last month to lobby alongside Cage, the militant Islamic prisoners pressure group, undermines the position of dissenting Muslims. “What it does is to say to reformists and secularists, you’re not really Muslims.”

Shams has set about combatting the intimidating atmosphere for nonbelieving Muslims on campuses by holding several Faith to Faithless meetings in universities around the country. The idea is to enable ex-Muslims to speak about their experiences publicly. The events, which can be seen on YouTube, have been tense as Islamists have staged protests, but they feature heart-rending tales of familial rejection and suicidal thoughts that have at least stimulated debate.

Shams comes from a Bangladeshi background but grew up in Saudi Arabia. He says that in many ways he found the ex-pat compound in which he and his family lived in Saudi Arabia more progressive than Britain. “It was when my mother came here that she got really radicalised.”

He believes Muslims face an identity crisis.

“We don’t know who we are. There’s a feeling of insecurity as a brown person, often for good reason. I went to school in a really white school. My nickname was “Terrorist”. The kids didn’t know better. I grew up in that narrative. I was very religious. I believed there was a caliphate and we should fight for that. I had a strong sense of justice. One of the things that people do not understand about radicals is that they’re often guided by a sense of justice.”

He lost faith because his sense of justice could not be reconciled with the manner in which he was taught to believe other religions were bad.

“At 20, I actually thought I was the only Muslim atheist in the world. You just don’t know about it. I didn’t know you could leave. There’s not a concept of it. It’s hard to explain. It’s like knowing the world is round but you can’t see it.”

Fully aware of the mental stress so many dissenting Muslims suffer, he has been working to get appropriate therapy for those going through the emotional dislocation of leaving Islam.

“One ex-Muslim I know went to get therapy from a white female therapist and in the end she referred him to a Muslim support network.”

Too often, he believes, non-Muslims are unable or unwilling to see beyond the religious identity of Muslims. They are increasingly trained to understand religious needs but are frequently flummoxed by those who reject those needs.

“If you’re a secular or atheist Jew,” says Shams, “no one is going to say you’re not allowed to say anything about your community. Of course you are. But with Muslims it’s different – white people think you’re not really Muslim. That’s exasperating.”

It certainly seems perverse that while there is no taboo on the discussion of Islamic radicalisation, the mention of Islamic apostates still occasions widespread discomfort. We can publicly accept that there are Muslims that are so estranged from western society that they prefer to live as fundamentalists, but have far more trouble recognising that there are Muslims who are so estranged from their religion that they prefer to live as freethinkers.

Nasreen, Vali and Shams all agreed that it will only be by bringing greater attention to Muslim apostates in British society that their predicament will improve. It would also help, they say, if they could rely on the progressive support that was once the right of freethinkers in this country.

“Attitudes need to change,” says Cottee. “There has to be a greater openness around the whole issue. And the demonisation of apostates as ‘sell outs’ and ‘native informants’, which can be heard among both liberal-leftists and reactionary Muslims, needs to stop. People leave Islam. They have reasons for this, good, bad or whatever. It is a human right to change your mind. Deal with it.”

Heathen Nation? U.S. Christian Population Shrinks

New data also show more people aren’t identifying with any type of faith tradition.

Fewer people are identifying as Christian, a new analysis shows.

By Lindsey CookMay 12, 2015 | 11:01 a.m. EDT+ More

You might be hearing less “bless you” responses when you sneeze in the future.

The share of religiously unaffiliated people in the U.S. population grew by nearly 7 percentage points between 2007 and 2014, according to new data from the Pew Research Center, and Americans who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” now make up 22.8 percent of the country.

And while those without a religion have increased, adherents to faiths described as Christian experienced a substantial decline over the same seven-year period, with Protestants and Catholics taking the biggest hits. Those of non-Christian faiths, particularly Islam and Hinduism, increased slightly.

For every person who has been leaving the unaffiliated group to join a faith tradition, four people have been leaving a religion to become unaffiliated. For Catholicism, just one person has been joining for every 6 people leaving.

Much of the change is from generational replacement, according to Pew, with the more religious silent generation and baby boomers being replaced by millennials, who are the least tied to religion of any group. More than one-third of millennials are religiously unaffiliated compared with 1 in 10 people born between 1928 and 1945.

Even among older generations, however, religious affiliation is declining. For older millennials, there was an increase of 9 percentage points in the share identifying as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular. The silent generation saw an increase of 2 percentage points, and Generation X saw an increase of 4 percentage points.


Warning over Islamic radicalisation in England’s prisons

By Sima KotechaToday programme

  • 7 April 2015

Staff shortages are making it harder to tackle Islamic radicalisation in England’s prisons, the former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office has warned.

Chris Phillips said shortages meant extremists were not properly monitored, enabling them to recruit others.

A parliamentary report has said jail safety was compromised by staff cuts.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling rejected the claim and said a “very careful watch” was kept on the issue.

“Prison overcrowding is at virtually its lowest level for a decade, and we have increased spending on measures to prevent radicalisation,” he said.

“We will never be complacent about the issue.”

Mr Grayling said he had found “no evidence” that Mr Phillips’ claim was correct, adding that the former detective chief inspector had left the civil service four years ago.

There are more than 12,000 Muslims in jails across England and Wales and thelatest official data shows that more than 100 Muslims are in jail for terrorism offences in Great Britain.

The worry particularly concerns converts to Islam, as research from the former chief inspector of prisons, Dame Anne Owers, suggests they are more vulnerable to extremism.

But her report also said suspicion of Muslim prisoners could be both unfair and counter-productive, fuelling resentment and causing even more trouble.

‘Haystack of extremists’

Mr Phillips, who used to lead the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, a police unit that works closely with the government on its counter-terrorism strategy, said: “What we have actually is a prison population that’s growing.

“We have less officers generally in prisons than ever before and we also have less police officers to deal with them, so what we have is a growing haystack of extremists where we still have to find the single needle that’s going to go off and do something really nasty.

“But of course we’ve got less people to go and look for them as well so it’s a really difficult thing for the police service and prison service to deal with.”

Home Secretary Theresa May rejected the claim that staff shortages were hindering efforts to stop Islamic radicalisation in prisons, adding that the government was looking at “and continue to look at” preventative measures.

Mrs May has already said she wants new “extremism officer” roles in prisons to deal with radicalisation.

And the government has said all high-security jails have units who work with the security services to root out extremism. It also said there were faith-based interventions, led by a team of expert imams.

An ex-prisoner’s view

Ex-prisoner John Shelly said: “Over the last few years there’s been a real sort of noticeable change of people becoming radicalised and getting themselves involved in violent situations – and being coerced into doing that by some of what you might call the more prominent Muslims that are inside for various offences.”

He spent time in more than 40 jails including HMP Whitemoor, a prison with a large Muslim population. Last year, chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick saidsome of its inmates who had been convicted of terrorism offences were trying to influence and pressurise others.

Mr Shelly, who was released from prison a few months ago after serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery, said prisoners would often “join the extremists” because they were promised protection.

He claims to have seen prisoners plotting acts of terror as well as endorsing groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

He said: “Extremism – it’s grown and grown by the day and they’ve found themselves in a situation where they can’t separate anyone because wherever they separate them to, they’re just mixing them with other people who have the same view and same sort of message.”

Mr Phillips said: “The answer is to get into the prisons and to make sure the most susceptible people are kept away from those that might turn those into extremists and, at this moment, we cannot even keep drugs out of prison, we can’t keep mobile phones out of prison, so clearly there is not enough staff to do that.”

Muslim former prisoner Hassan said he had been unfairly discriminated against, however.

“I was inside for 14 years, and a lot of people became Muslim through me,” he said. “You’re looked at as, ‘Oh, a lot of people are becoming Muslim because of this man, he must be recruiting,’ and it’s far, far from the truth. They think you’re a radical or a fundamentalist.”

Stephen O’Connell, president of the Prison Governors’ Association, told the BBC that the threat from radicalisation in prisons was “real” but he said he was not aware that it had got any worse over the last year because of staffing changes.

“I understand the correlation between staff numbers and prisoner numbers but when it comes to dealing with extremists, we are talking about a small number of prisoners with some very dedicated resources to actually managing those,” he said.

The Justice Select Committee recently criticised the government for cutting the number of prison officers by almost 30%, a reduction of 12,530 staff, between 31 March 2010 and 30 June 2014.

The committee’s report also said the prisoner-to-staff ratio rose from 3.8 in September 2010 to 4.9 in September 2014.

It claims that this has led to a significant deterioration in safety – with fewer staff to monitor inmates.

And former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf recently said that Britain was heading for a crisis within prisons because of overcrowding and staff shortages.

The government denies that.

But the explosive mix of radicalisation, fear over discrimination and staffing pressures could spell even greater trouble inside the country’s jails.

The latest prison population statistics from the Ministry of Justice show there were 85,681 people in jail in the week ending 27 March, up from 85,252 in the same period last year.


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