Our minds are our own

Our minds are our own

Remember the Inquisition? Those were fun times.

Being alive now is being subject to a roving freelance Inquisition that can grab us at any time, as if we were 13th century Cathars. I feel pretty safe where I am, but with a freelance Inquisition one just never knows. If they did pounce, and pause to question me as opposed to opening fire on sight, I would be guilty on so many charges. Everyone I know would be. We all break the rules of obedience and submission every minute of every day.

Those people in Paris broke so many of those rules. They were out in public in mixed company – women and men together, as if all of Paris were a giant whorehouse. They were having a good time instead of knocking their heads on the ground. They were drinking and eating, they were listening to music, they were watching half-naked men kick a ball around. They were doing it in Paris, home of pagans and crusaders – and of blasphemers, anti-clericals, enlighteners, thinkers, talkers.

And a week later, in Bamako – what were the people killed in the Radisson Blu hotel guilty of? Perhaps of not being able to recite the Shahada, perhaps of not getting out of the way in time. Ultimately they were guilty of being in the place where a group of religious fanatics decided to commit mass murder by way of telling the world Allahu akbar. The roving freelance Inquisition doesn’t always care about precision: the fear of Allah and Allah’s volunteer enforcers is goal enough.

There are smaller, unreported examples of freelance inquisitioning everywhere, in families and schools and workplaces and the street. A Massachusetts cardiologist of Pakistani background, Kashif Chaudhry, posted about one on Facebook on Friday as the massacre in Bamako was filling the headlines.

As I write this, an Ahmadi-owned chipboard factory in Jhelum, Pakistan is being attacked by an extremist Sunni mob. The factory is on fire with many people still inside.


Saturday, he posted photos of the next step:

So after burning down a factory owned by an Ahmadi last night, extremist Sunni mob ransacked an Ahmadi Mosque in Kala Gojran (Jehlum), cleansed it by burning its property in the streets and then offered Asar prayer inside. Now it’s a Sunni Mosque.


Notice the soldiers in the second photo. Notice them standing there watching.

Kashif told me the people in the factory escaped, so that was one bit of good news, but the situation of Ahmadi Muslims – a branch of Islam, not atheism or any other secular worldview – is dire. This is a section of the application for a passport in Pakistan:

formI looked for and found such an application, and that section really is there. At the bottom of the second (and last) page, it says exactly what’s in that image:

(i) I am Muslim and believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) the last of the prophets.

(ii) I do not recognise any person who claims to be a prophet in any sense of the word or any description whatsoever after Muhammad (peace be upon him) or recognise such a claimant as a prophet or a religious reformer as a Muslim.

(iii) I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Quadiani to be an imposter nabi and also consider his followers whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group to be non-Muslim.

Could anything be more Inquisition-like? What business is it of the state what a citizen “believes in”? Of course Pakistan is officially a theocracy, so of course the state does consider the citizens’ beliefs about this prophet as opposed to that prophet very much its business, but this is why theocracies are so hellish.

The Labour MP Keith Vaz seems to think they’re not so bad, as long as they welcome everyone into their intrusive embrace. The National Secular Society reports:

[I]n response to discussion on new blasphemy legislation, Vaz, who is the chairman of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, told Al Arabiya that under certain conditions he would have “no problem” with the reintroduction of blasphemy laws in the UK.

“Religions are very special to people. And therefore I have no objection to [a blasphemy law] … but it must apply equally to everybody,” the longstanding Labour MP added.

If there were to be new blasphemy laws, the MP commented, “It should apply to all religions. If we have laws, they should apply to everybody.”

So it wouldn’t be just the Muslim Council of Britain bringing blasphemy charges, it would also be the Wee Frees and the Vatican and that funny little congregation that sprang up in your neighbourhood a few years ago. No problem there then! Everyone would be equally subject to the prying attentions of angry fans of god.

No. Our minds are our own. Our beliefs are our own business. The state doesn’t get to tell us what to believe, and neither does the church or the mosque or the holy book. Inquisitions are a nightmare which much of the world awoke from centuries ago. We who have that privilege should fight with every nerve to extend it to everyone on the planet.

10 responses to “Our minds are our own”

  1. […] Here’s my column in The Freethinker. […]

  2. Ylh says:

    Thank you for writing this. As a Pakistani I am especially thankful. I would like to point out that Pakistan was not always a theocracy and became one in 1973 when the state religion was introduced. It has been a slippery pole since then. The situation vis a vis Ahmadis is particularly dire and more needs to be said about it.

    Pakistan was founded by an extremely secular man Jinnah who believed in freedom of religion and had opposed the Mullahs on issues of theocracy and determination of faith. He famously said that religion should have nothing to do with the business of the state. We need to return to that vision in Pakistan and end theocracy.

  3. AgentCormac says:

    I have yet to see a more eloquent response to the Paris attrocities than this.

  4. Cali Ron says:

    “Inquisitions are a nightmare which much of the world awoke from centuries ago. We who have that privilege should fight with every nerve to extend it to everyone on the planet.” I stand in solidarity!

    AC: Antoine’s statement is very moving! Such strength and resolve in the face of loss and grief is inspiring.

  5. Ylh says:

    Pakistan must become a secular state as envisaged by Jinnah. There is no place for theocracies in the 21st century.

  6. Justin says:

    Bedouins, such a quiet and happy people until Mohammad got a hold of them…and in the end, like Pink Floyd said/says – it’s “us or them.”

  7. Steersman says:

    Great post, although, of course, there are many more orthodoxies than just Islam which seek to anathematize heretical thoughts through one form of Inquisition and purity tests or another. Best way to cut them off at the knees, so to speak, is to champion free speech, and to challenge those who wish to turn their fora into echo chambers and Internet Silos.

  8. Phill Marston says:

    I can never understand how this is supposed to work,

    “Religions are very special to people. And therefore I have no objection to [a blasphemy law] … but it must apply equally to everybody,” the longstanding Labour MP added.

    So, a muslim, by being a muslim, is denying the divinity of christ. A hindu, by believing in a pantheon, is denying that ‘there is only one god’. So isn’t membership of one religion blasphemous to the others? And if I say, ‘I do not believe your religion is true and I do not see any evidence whatsoever for the existence of any gods’, then is that blasphemy?

  9. andym says:

    The argument that religions are special, and therefore exempt from the normal rough and tumble that ideas are subjected to is frequent. Why these ideas are so special, is never really elaborated. Cats are special to some people. Does that make mentioning their propensity to hunt birds taboo?

    If pressed, they tell you that religion is “private” and should therefore be left alone. If only religion were private. If it’s so private, how come religious beliefs and their effects are so unavoidable? It’s not really us in the secular west who are most effected. You try following your private beliefs in opposition to the majority in say the Deep South, and see how far that respect is reciprocated.