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Milton wrote these words in 1644 as a defence of free expression. His statements against censorship of the written word 200 years after the advent of Guttenberg’s printing press. His words still ring true today and his defence of expression using the printing press work as an argument against those who wish to control speech online.
The Internet is as great, arguably greater, an advancement to the dissemination of ideas as was moveable type in 1450. This greater access to thought needs a freer exchange of ideas not a more censorious one. In our current political and social climates, free expression is being attacked on multiple fronts, the most surprising being from those on the Left who a decade ago were some of it’s strongest supporters.
The censorship disguised in the sophistryof the inclusivity, progressive, and diversity movements is what will, in the end, hurt those it purports to help. The right to speak freely has always been the greatest tool of those that are in the minority, those who wish to help minorities should do their utmost to protect that right. Personally, this affects me because I am a minority within a minority in non-Muslim countries, I am an ex-Muslim, and I along with many others of my fellow apostates are having our voices drowned out in the name of protecting the victimised minorities.
The voices most needed in the conversation about what is one of the most explosive topics facing us today, Islam, are being shut out. Ex-Muslims and those in the Muslim communities that wish to modernise and temperor reform their faith are needed if we are to live peaceably.
I guess, as has been said before, the first death knell for the conversation about Islam was the Satanic Verses affair. The fact that a Pakistani author could have a contract taken on his life by a theocratic despot and was criticised for attacking the faith of the said theocrat instead of being universally defended for simply writing a book. We were reminded again in 2005 with Jyllands Posten, then in 2011 when Charlie Hebdo was firebombed and then most dramatically when Charlie Hebdo was attacked again in 2015, and 12 people were killed.
Since 9/11 the discourse around Islam has been reduced to rote responses of apologists or if there is any criticism of Islam it has to be prefaced with how peaceful it is and how it is not all Muslims. Anyone who starts a serious conversation about Islam is labelled a racist or Islamophobe or some such nonsense.
All this obfuscation of the facts and the vilification of anyone who dares to speak out affects ex-Muslims in a very serious matter. Those who have left Islam in Muslim majority countries and that number is growing there look to the West to find allies in their fight against oppression. In 13 countries we are under pain of death, in all Muslim countries there is some legal punishment for apostasy and blasphemy. Saudi Arabia has made atheism a terrorist offence. If the government does nothing, the mob can and has taken matters into its hands as was demonstrated with Avajit Roy in Bangladesh and Mashal Khan in Pakistan.
In secular Western democracies, we are increasingly facing censure, admonishment and have been threatened with imprisonment for speaking out against Islam. We are not asking to be allowed to demonise people, but we wish to be afforded the right to speak out and tell of our experiences., and discuss our former faith and the reasons we found it lacking.
“And what do they tell us vainly of new opinions, when this very opinion of theirs, that none must be heard but whom they like, is the worst and newest opinion of all others, and is the chief cause why sects and schisms do so much abound and true knowledge is kept at distance from us ; besides yet a greater danger which is in it.”
― John Milton, Areopagitica
Ex-Muslims speak out against Islam not because we hate Muslims, but because we want to bring to light the issues which affect Muslims and non-Muslims alike due to the tenets of the faith. We don’t want any harm done to Muslims, many of whom are our families and friends. Even those who have been shunned by their families do not wish them harm.
The current discourse has been overrun by apologists and those who would protect minorities; the former is spreading lies and half-truths while the latter cannot see the victims for the brown people. When it comes to apologists, ex and progressive Muslims are needed to correct the lies and misinformation spread by them.
The problem with the discussing Islam comes more from the benevolent bigots of the Left, those who in the name of progressive values are labelling as racist or white supremacist anyone who dares to impugn Islam. Anytime I bring up issues with Islam I am immediately told that I shouldn’t do that because the fault lies with the West and is due specifically to the foreign policy of the West and the colonial past of the West.
These arguments are extremely racist themselves and highly condescending. It is racist to say that other cultures don’t need to follow the norms of the society into which they have moved because they are not aware or capable of dealing with those values. This thinking is as I have said is racist and infantilising towards the people who you are treating like this. These arguments are condescending because what you are saying that not only do we Brown people need you to fix our problems but that we are incapable of causing our problems and we need White people to be the cause and cure of all our problems. I hate to tell you this, but Muslims are quite capable of screwing up their countries without any intervention by the West, and this is usually the case.
The dialogue needs to be opened up, and more and more people need to brought into it. Ex-Muslims will be a key part of this discussion. The worthies who have been involved in the conversation so far have not done anything to help. Our leaders and media need to speak to people who will tell the truth as we see it but will temper it with by talking about ideas and not target individual people. The Left need to stop putting victimhood above the victims, ex-Muslims are not asking to be given the exalted victim status, but we want to be heard, and we will keep doing it. Some of us have stopped waiting for others to give us a platform and are starting our own. We will tell our stories and you can either help us which will, in turn, help you or you can ignore us. One thing we will not allow to be done to us anymore is the silencing.
It is well past time to start listening to ex-Muslims if we want to deal with the issues of Islam and how to temper it without harming Muslims.