You are here:   Features > Online Only: The Price Paid for Criticising Islam

Nahla Mahmood: The reaction to her appreance on Channel 4's "4Thought" demonstrates why people are reluctant to criticise Islam 

Imagine it: A woman, who happens to be a Muslim, goes to the police to complain that she has received threatening messages on Facebook (including pictures which clearly identify her) and these threats are based on the fact that she is a Muslim — she's being threatened because she is a Muslim. Now imagine that the police tell her that they would approach the antagonist but it might make him "angrier". 

Now imagine that she is told "well, as a Muslim you must expect this kind of thing; just keep your Muslimness to yourself and you'll have no problem". 

Finally, let's imagine that the person behind the threats is a "pro-democracy" campaigner and former Liberal Democrat councillor. The Muslim woman complains to the Liberal Democrats in Cambridge (where the "pro-democracy" campaigner held his seat), and its chair Spencer Hagard tells her that an inquiry in to the matter has "significantly increased my previously high esteem for him". 

Do you think this would happen?

Change the details a bit and you have the disgraceful treatment of the brave Sudanese ex-Muslim and campaigner Nahla Mahmoud.

Nahla is a 26 year old Sudanese student who came to Britain in 2010 to escape what she describes as the "hell" of living as an atheist woman in an Islamic state. Following an appearance on Channel 4's 4Thought programme, where she described her shock at discovering the proliferation of Islamic sharia law here in the UK, Nahla was threatened and her family abused. The response she received to her complaints would demonstrate to Nahla what I and many others have long known: if you criticise Islam, you've got to be prepared for the fall-out. 

It was in January of this year that the remarks about Nahla first began to appear online. Mr Salah Al-Bandar, director of the Sudan Civic Foundation, posted an article in Arabic on the Sudanese Online website — a site widely read both in Sudan and among its diaspora — denouncing Nahla as a "kafira" who had started a "battle against Islam and the beliefs of the people". He went on to say he would "never have any mercy on her here". Anyone who knows anything about this kind of Islamist ideology knows that this constitutes a threat; in most Islamic states, insulting Islam carries the death penalty. This did not end with words; Nahla's brother in Sudan has been physically attacked, and her mother threatened. 

This situation is dire enough, and Nahla's story is rightly receiving coverage but what is not being discussed as it should be is the response, or lack of it, from the police and the Liberal Democrats. 

Let's start with the Lib Dems. Following a complaint to the chair of Cambridge branch of the party, an investigation was undertaken. Mr Al-Bandar received a letter requesting his side of the story, which he promptly supplied. In it, he argued that he had been fighting such behaviour (i.e. threats) throughout his political life; he wrote at length about his history of support for women's rights, freedom of thought, and "empowering disadvantaged communities". On the screen-shots containing his threats to Nahla, he had nothing to say except "that it bears no relation to the truth". He did not explain how the Facebook postings came in to being. He simply repeated "I am wonderful" and this was deemed to be enough. Not only enough, but according to Hagard, Al Bandar was now even more wonderful than previously thought. Nahla was dismissed. 

With support from the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain Nahla also took her complaint to the police. The investigation has since been closed; it is unclear why. They did offer to speak to Mr Al-Bandar but with a warned Nahla that "you may just make him angrier". Would the police give the same response to a woman complaining of Islamophobic threats? I very much doubt it. On the question of whether threats to an ex-Muslim constitute a hate crime, the police told Nahla that this was a "grey area" and thus best left alone. 

As someone who has also received threats for my criticisms of Islam, and had my complaints dismissed — "what did you expect?" — I am fully aware of the prevalence of such responses. A friend recently suggested to me that the police are in effect enforcing sharia law by stealth. This is no as ridiculous as it sounds. In Islamic societies, insults to Islam can result in death. One way or another, one is highly likely to be severely punished. The police in this case gave a strong message to Nahla, and to anyone else who might be tempted to commit the heinous offence of criticising or dismissing the religion of Islam: you'll be punished, we won't help, and you probably deserve it anyway.

I have written before on the impossible position of the police on issues such as these. Individual officers are in a lose-lose situation and must worry about vexatious and bogus accusations of racism. These accusations work — they have the desired effect and we routinely read of people losing their livelihoods for any perceived sleight on Islam. Look at the dinner lady sacked for almost accidentally serving pork to a child, or the headmaster in Bradford forced from his job for wanting pupils to learn English. Add to this the numerous arrests for offensive Tweets, Facebook messages, and of an 85 year old for shouting outside a mosque and the message is crystal clear: sharia is here and you must obey. If you don't, and you suffer because of it, you have only yourself to blame. 

Alexander Gallagher
November 12th, 2013
11:11 AM
"A friend recently suggested to me that the police are in effect enforcing sharia law by stealth. This is no as ridiculous as it sounds." This is the ramblings of a deeranged mind. I chanced upon this magazine for the first time whilst looking for something else, what utter nonsense.

hegel`s advocate
September 30th, 2013
2:09 PM
I don`t see my comment. "the cultural establishments betrayal of truth in modern art" is actually Standpoint policy now ? Viva Julie Burchill, Viva Femen,Viva Pussy Riot artists,Viva Sister Teresa Forcades (the real `new Pope` !) Viva Malala! Viva Stella Vine,Viva Sarah Maple,Viva Zizek. At Glasstire Texas Art online all `recent comments` are also titled on the front page for a few days. There`s still free speech,independence of mind,civilisation etc in Texas.

September 11th, 2013
4:09 PM
After 911 I read the Koran [Penguin translation] to find out what all the fuss was about. Dreadful - especially Chapter [sura] 9. Islam has obviously been a poisonous thorn in the side of humanity ever since jihadists sabred their way into Jerusalem around 1300yrs ago.

Greg Tingey
September 9th, 2013
11:09 AM
The Lem-o-Crats are being systematically "entrified" { As Labour was by "Militant" in the 1970/870's } in some areas by muslim pressure groups. It is happening here, in LBWF, for instance) It is very disturbing.

September 7th, 2013
3:09 PM
Actually, Andrew, regarding the "anghrier" bit, many women who ahve compalined to the police about being beaten by their husbands/boyfriends have indeed been told that they should forget about charging him because it would just make him "angrier". Intervention orders do in fact tend to make offendfers "angrier'. But in this case it certainly is a submission to Sharia. But then that was arranged for years ago, and the police coopted, and to be surprised by it is kind of pointless. Very sad though. In Australia we had a recent case where Christians oppressed and traumatised by Muslims, had fled Iraq to Australia, and the local Council, depsite 1000 people protesting, approved a mosque to be built next door to this very church! (Google Mosque Coolaroo). Bureaucratic cooption and bastardry is everywhere.

Peter Frost
September 6th, 2013
5:09 PM
Stan Lee you are wrong. There are passages in the old testament which recommend that if your son strays from the path of a believer you should kill him. Omits what to do about girls I believe. I suggest you read Sam Harris "Letter to a Christian Nation" and "The End of Faith" where he gives chapter and verse (literally).

Philip Smeeton
September 6th, 2013
1:09 PM
The floodgates are being opened in Europe to millions of Syrian refugees. Time to get out of the European Union, the United Nations and every organisation, treaty, agreement and obligation that forces refugees and asylum seekers on us. All of this humanitarianism is in reality more mass-immigration. The economy will collapse and national identity become an historic footnote.

September 6th, 2013
1:09 PM
Perhaps there needs to be a new crime of "Inciting Religious-Based Hatred." Penalties similar to those for the existing crime of Inciting Religious Hatred.

September 4th, 2013
10:09 PM
100% behind you as my support for Aiyan Harsiali...good luck and may your tribe increase and flourish...

Bill Garba
September 4th, 2013
8:09 PM
Unlikely story

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.