Hurrah for muscular secularism!

Letter from an Ex Sheikh

I have always used pseudonyms when participating in online debates. Most of these debates are on sociopolitical matters in Chad and in the Middle East. Not being able to speak French and the high rates of illiteracy in Chad, mean that a large chunk of my contributions go to forums in neighbouring Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. I have never been overly polemical in my criticism, or used searing words against a person–thanks to my Islamic up bringing. A person perishes, gets ill and changes. Ideas do not.  

Anonymity is a great source of truth and inspires meaningful debate. My grandmother used to tell me when I was very young that, before breaking the inconvenient truth to anyone, pack up your luggage and mount your horse. Was she in her nomadic way telling me to not tell the truth? I don’t think so. I think she meant: ‘Be prepared to take the consequences of telling it as it is, even if that means migration and estrangement.’.


I am here because my father refused to remain anonymous. However, you Phil, mostly take freedom of speech for granted. The worst thing that can happen to you if you wanted to say anything (when you wrote, Phil, an article defending Jacob Zuma for the online guardian) is that you get denied access to a public forum. 

Here, nobody would put a death threat on you or put you into prison or cause you to seek refuge abroad, though you might lose your livelihood if your comments were malicious or racist or if you violated somebody else’s right to privacy.  

I had never tasted freedom before and did not understand what it entailed before coming to UK. Even though I am almost totally free to write, say and to think as I please, my grandmother’s advice still shadows my every utterance. It is not what I write and say that is pertinent here; it is the topic itself. Should you be allowed to caricature Jesus, militant Christians, the monarch and virtually everything above and under the firmament, but not Allah and Mohammed?

Was it suicidal of Theo van Gogh to put his name to a film? I think, as things stand, yes it was. And it is suicidal for him, for me and for anyone wanting to say anything against Allah publically. Was it irresponsible of Ayaan Hirsi Ali to go public with her Islamic experience? Is her restricted, body-guarded existence in the West a self-inflected prison? I think no, it is not, because when she started speaking out she was a member of the Dutch parliament. I am not.

As I write this people are murdered in Afghanistan for apostasy. Everyday Western national flags get burnt in Muslim countries, but we do not see suicide bombers or similar public outbursts of condemnations from westerners.

I see, as an outsider, how deeply ingrained in mainstream politics is the importance of multicultural Britain as sacrosanct and any perceived upsetting of the delicacy of this ‘unity in diversity’ has to be neutralized. Perhaps, by tolerating and allow minorities to be vociferous. Many European counties are trying to salve their conscious for the way they let down Jewish people in Germany. I raise my glass to the politicians who call for ‘muscular secularism’. I have every reason to be fearful and to produce my analysis of political Islam, anonymously.

People like me, Ayaan, and Salman Rushdie are targeted because we are seen as apostates and traitors of the faith. This is not the case for westerners when the question or disavow their own religions – the people Muslims label the original infidels.

Our whispers are informed by reading and experience. That’s why they do not want us to speak out loud. It is too easy to quote the pro peace Meccan Koranic verses, which arose when Muslims were an oppressed minority, and to say this is what Islam is all about. I will use anonymity to set the record straight for I believe I have some sort of understanding of both arguments as well as standing in a healthy distance from both.