Or something like that. Last night I went to the Conway Hall Humanist Centre in London’s Red Lion Square for a meeting organised by the Central London Humanist group.
For those that don’t know it, the Conway Hall was built some 90 years ago by the South Place Ethical Society — a Society dedicated to fostering “freedom in moral and spiritual life and thought”. The SPES describes itself as “the oldest freethought community in the world. It was founded in 1793 as a dissenting congregation and for more than two centuries has been a focus for serious discussion of basic ethical principles. By 1888 SPES had rejected the existence of God and became an Ethical Society, the only one which now survives. SPES is now an educational charity and maintains a proud tradition of free enquiry in all areas of thought and action.”
So it was a bit of a surprise and actually quite alarming to arrive there on a hot summer evening and find a number of women shrouded from head to foot in black being shepherded upstairs by men who were dressed a good deal more comfortably.
I can think of three possible reasons why women would be dressed like that in the Conway Hall in the heat of summer:
1. They are mentally ill;
2. They are forced to dress like that by their boorish and tyranical menfolk;
3. They choose to dress like that as a political statement.
I’m guessing that the third of these options is the one they’d tick themselves though, in reality, I wouldn’t rule out a combination of all three. To be fair, not all the women there were wearing the niqab. With some of them, you could actually see their noses and mouths. Risky! I’m surprised they didn’t get raped. To be honest, the sight of these ninja sisters openly flaunting just how oppressed they are made my blood boil but even so I’m guessing that I wasn’t as uncomfortably hot as they were.
They were there to attend an event entitled The Great Debate: Sharia Law v British Law. It was to feature radical pseudo-Cockney Islamist, Anjem Choudary — a thoroughly nasty piece of work who defends the murder of people who don’t see things his way thus:
At the end of the day, when we say “innocent people” we mean “Muslims”. As far as non-Muslims are concerned, they have not accepted Islam. As far as we are concerned, that is a crime against God.
The above quote was lifted from a BBC TV interview about the 7/7 bombers who murdered 52 people in London, included several Muslims.
Opposing him was to be the neo-conservative Douglas Murray, whose talent for hyperbole often makes him an entertaining read, if one hard to take seriously e.g.
Our cowed police appear to have become little more than the militant wing of The Guardian.
( Laughing my arse off at that but I bet Ian Tomlinson‘s grieving family aren’t.)
I’d arrived early for my own meeting so I killed time watching the ninja weirdos flitting about the foyer and up and down the stairs and it struck me how they were so much more visible than anyone else there. I suppose the point of dressing bizarrely is to attract attention to oneself but it doesn’t sit very comfortably with the notion of modesty, as I understand it. It’s those of us who dress to blend in with the crowd who are the truly modest ones, girlies, so shame on you.
I noticed, from my vantage point halfway up stairs, that down in the foyer there was some commotion starting: a crowd was forming around South Place Ethical Society Chairman, Giles Enders, and voices were being raised. Islamists shouting and being confrontational? Surely not! The next thing we’ll have Giles telling us they made death threats. Anyway, my meeting in the upstairs library was about to start, so I left them to it.
Settled with some fifty others into the library, the shouting from outside the room seemed to get louder and louder. In fact, it sounded like very loud chanting in unison. I wondered if in fact their debate was about to start and they were just kicking off with some weird religious ritual. Whatever it was, it was bloody noisy.
Our speaker was the heroic human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, speaking on Multiculturalism and the Subversion of Human Rights. I’m sure the irony of his topic wasn’t lost on any of us and I’ve made notes for a post on it some time.
It wasn’t long before Giles Enders knocked on the door of our room and asked permission for police officers to enter so they could “survey the demonstration going on outside” from the library balcony. The police had been called because he had “refused to respect their segregation of women” and the Islamist brothers didn’t like it. And, yes, he had received death threats.
When it comes to utterly bizarre and moronic religious or cultural practices, it can sometimes take a long time for the penny to drop with me.
Until that point, it hadn’t seriously occurred to me that the Islamist stewards had been ushering the ninja sisters and other women upstairs because they thought they could practise Sharia in our Humanist Centre and reserve the seating in the main hall for the men and the smaller space in the upstairs gallery for the women.
Presumably there was some objection to this segregation from people who wanted to attend the debate but who didn’t consider themselves bound by Sharia and wanted to sit wherever they chose. As Giles wasn’t about to squander the liberal, freethinking, humanist heritage of the building (and this country) by giving in to the lunatic demands of a bunch of bigoted religious fanatics, he cancelled the debate and the fanatics threw their toys out of the pram and stood outside shouting for over an hour before dispersing.
Giles has since given this account to the New Humanist magazine website:
These thuggish bouncers wouldn’t allow anyone in, so I said we would call the police. But the police took forever to come, so in the end I had to send our maintenance man across to the police station to get them. It became extremely aggressive in the foyer – somebody got hurt and was bleeding. I said to the bouncers that I run this bloody hall and what I say goes and they pushed me away. They wouldn’t even allow me in the hall, so I went round the side way and got on the stage, and made an announcement through the mic that the meeting was not to take place. After I said this I stood on the stage with all the chanting mob screaming at me in Arabic, and pointing fingers like guns at me. Then they then cut the mic I was using, as one of their people was operating the sound control box. Then the main speaker [Choudary] got hold of a radio mic and started shouting in Arabic. So I grappled that off him, and then I sat on the stage.
Was the whole thing engineered by the Islamists as a publicity stunt? Possibly. I did wonder what exactly was the purpose of this debate (as I wonder about the purpose of many public debates). It’s a pretty safe bet that the only people attending would be people who felt passionately for one side or the other (and from where I was looking, I’d say one side outnumbered the other by at least twenty to one) and none of these people were going to have their minds changed that evening or any time soon.
Did Douglas Murray agree to participate because he thought it would be fun? Because he thinks it an essential part of his work as Director of the misnamed Centre of Social Cohesion to participate in confrontational debates about Islamism with people from the opposite end of the spectrum? Because he thought his report on it would make an entertaining read?
No. According to this report on The Independent newspaper’s website, Murray agreed to take part because “(Choudary’s) opinions have to be countered”. Ah, that explains it. Naturally I wish him all the luck in the world in countering the views of an extremist Islamist in a room packed with his devoted followers.
At least the same report makes the reason for Choudary’s participation a bit clearer:
Mr Choudary intends to re-launch Al Muhajiroun at a debate entitled “Sharia Law vs British Law” between himself and the Centre for Social Cohesion think-tank, which is being adjudicated by the Global Issues Society.
So that’s it. The debate was basically a front for a re-launch party for Al Muhajiroun, a group that wants Britain to become an Islamic state and which was banned by the British government in 2005 for its glorification of terrorism. Perhaps they thought a party on its own wouldn’t generate as much publicity or, indeed, any publicity seeing as no respectable building would’ve let them hire a hall if they’d been upfront about their purpose. Or perhaps they intended to kidnap Douglas Murray and behead him. Who knows?
One charming website puts it this way,
Purpose of Debate
The purpose of this debate is ultimately for the truth to prevail and for the falsehood to vanquish, and we hope that by this illuminating discussion the British public will experience the superiority of al-Islam over that of the British Law.
As most of the British public neither knew nor cared about this debate and would be unlikely to want to watch it on youtube, one can only marvel at what kind of fucked-up brain produced that particular piece of reasoning. Nevertheless, the idea of the British public experiencing the “superiority of al-Islam” at an event taking place at the Humanist Centre is so deliciously ironic, I almost wish it would happen. Given their obduracy over the relatively small matter of seating arrangements and the hissy-fit they threw when they didn’t get their own way, I wouldn’t rate their chances of winning over the hearts and minds of the British public on anything else.
Here’s a report from the National Secular Society: Misogynist Islamist group forced to leave Conway Hall.
From the New Humanist blogspot: Battle of Conway Hall
And from The Guardian newspaper: Douglas Murray on why we must debate the extremists
And finally, also from The Guardian: Islamist Al-Muhajiroun relaunch ends in chaos over segregation attempt.
Outside, Choudary criticised British society as “dirty” and predicted that, within one or two decades, Muslims would make up the majority. Asked why, if society was so bad, he was living here, he said: “We come here to civilise people, get them to come out of the darkness and injustice into the beauty of Islam.”
Charmed, I’m sure.
13 thoughts on “Loony Islamists mistake Humanist Centre for mosque”
Just one small thing, I think I’m right in saying Al Muhajiroun disbanded themselves before the government got round to banning the organization.
Apologies if I’m wrong.
Thanks, Alan. I got my information from the wiki article, which says, ‘It operated in the United Kingdom from 14 January 1986 until the British Government announced an intended ban in August 2005.’
You’re probably right that they disbanded before actually being banned.
Brilliant piece! I (almost) wish I had been there to witness this farce.
Humanist Organisations should vet more carefully the motives of those they invite to speak on their premises.
I want to explain why we do wear that (Niqab)
First of all,I wear it as god demanded me
More over,you may noticed those who were niqab more than others ,but you didn’t any of their body details
as they didn’t expose them except for their husbands,not by force,but by love.
Women quality ;as no one can deny;is by her thoughts,beliefs and spirit.Not by her body.So what disturbs any body whether to see her body or not?!
when i am married ,i feel that no one has the right to see my beauty but him(and of course my father brother and those who don’t ever marry me)
At all ,if you wanna talk about Islam,
Learn it all,before opposing
and God will see you the signs on the horizon and within yourself until it is clear to you the right way
Thank you for you interesting comment, Sally.
No-one “has the right” to see your beauty?? Why the hell not?
To people who haven’t been indoctrinated into that bizarre and illiberal philosophy you hold, to even think in terms of people having “the right” or not just to see someone’s face is, of course, totally alien to us and pretty much confirms all our negative preconceptions about it.
I feel another blog post coming on…
Sally said: “I wear it as god demanded me”
Can you tell us where you think your god said this?
I trust you would not mind if I placed a part of this on my univeristy blog?
Be my guest, Anika.
Dear Skepticat – re the niqab/burkha etc. This is a “male” response with which you may not resonate since you are, I think, female. It is one of the many ironies of life that ostensible intentions often lead to outcomes which are their opposites. The burkha and to a lesser extent the rest of the hijab can actually accentuate the sense of the “mysterious east” to some western men (I wonder who I mean) and make the wearers more alluring than they probably are – what is so erotic about ordinary hair? Like you, I speculate about the real reasons why women in the UK – not Afghanistan – wear this fab gear. One other aspect is that I have seen a fair number of women hiding their hair yet apparently wearing makeup – what is going on? Could it be a fashion statement which at the same time encapsulates their semi-conscious rejection of western values – and allows them not to actually say anything, leaving the responsibility for spoken rejection to their male counterparts? I don’t have access to any statistics on rape etc in Islamic societies, but anecdotal evidence implies that all this covering up does not necessarily protect women – and this is to completely leave aside the question of rape within marriage, about which Islam is not exactly enlightened.
Thanks for your comment, Peter. I devoted a whole post to the veil here
and am planning another one soon.
Sally – I mean this sincerely and respectfully (please read my earlier comments, I hope they make sense). If you want to avoid attracting attention from men outside your family, you do not need to cover up excessively, as this can be uncomfortable for the wearer, and as I say, perversely alluring to the beholder. Why not just wear comfy loose sweaters and slacks, and don’t make up or do your hair fussily. Whether one is male or female, thin, fat or curvy, this unisex uniform really does make one inconspicuous, given that there are an awful lot of people everywhere one goes, and no-one is really that interested in anyone else. I am not trying to contradict Mohammed (who, to be fair, simply said that both men and women should dress modestly) but there is a great more choice of clothing these days than in his day.
Skepticat – your site is addictive and I keep getting more from rereading the posts (yes, ta, you tactfully did not chide me for basically repeating what you had said about the perverse attraction of the hijab for men like me who behold it – at least it shows that great minds think alike!) One thing that is impinging on my mind is that you get responses from Muslims, including females, but they seldom come back. Maybe you (and I) have put them off by remarking on their lack of coherence due to limited English language skills, I don’t know. A related point – I suppose it could be argued that the participation of female Muslims in what must seem a “hostile” site, even if once only, must be a good thing. I do wish Sally would reply – of course, there was a fair lapse in time between her post and mine. By the way and entre nous, I did get onto the ThinkHumanist site (my user name is 7 letters, means sort of pagan, and also suggests nonhuman).