Freedom & Liberty

More on the case of Nahla Mahmoud [UPDATED]

Anne Marie Waters provides an update here about the case of Nahla Mahmoud, a Sudanese ex-Muslim. To recap, it was alleged that a Liberal Democrat councillor in Cambridge made inflammatory comments about her which may not technically constitute threats or incitement but which, considering the context in which his views will be heard, could certainly be seen as reckless:

“I will not forgive anyone who wants to start a battle against Islam and the beliefs of the people…”, “Be aware of this ‘fitna’ and I know who is behind it and I will never have any mercy on her here…”, “I will have no tolerance for anyone here who talks about freedom of belief or freedom of thought or any of the other clichés…”

Waters asserts that the police have implied that it is Nahla Mahmoud’s responsibility to avoid antagonising her critics. She also reports violent attacks on Nahla’s family in Sudan:

This did not end with words; Nahla’s brother in Sudan has been physically attacked, and her mother threatened.

The police cannot (I assume) take action against someone who is expressing forceful opinions but not breaking the law, so it is perhaps the (alleged) response of the Lib Dems which is the most significant point here:

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”.

Al Bander has responded indignantly to the allegations against him, and done so in a way which appears to offer a vigorous and unequivocal commitment to freedom of thought:

One suggestion is that Dr Al Bander’s words were mistaken during translation from Arabic to English.

“I abhor and condemn the persecution of both religious believers and non-believers, and consider that individuals have an absolute right to change their beliefs or non-beliefs, as they personally see fit and without outside interference.

An investigation by Cambridge Liberal Democrats cleared Dr Al Bander of any wrongdoing.

Spencer Hagard, who chairs the party in the city, said: “Having looked as fully as possible into the background of the complaints and accusations made against Dr Salah Al Bander at great length and in the greatest possible depth and having examined extensive material he has provided to me, I believe these allegations are groundless.”

Here is Shlomo’s original take on this matter:

Having skimmed through most of the thread (it’s pretty long!), I can confirm that the translated quotes attributed to al-Bandar are accurate. However, whilst he uses what would appear to be inflammatory language, he never crosses the line into inciting Nahla’s murder for apostasy or writes anything else actionable, as far as I can see.

Any further clarification would be welcome.


Some of this information has already been discussed in comments, but here is an update based on information supplied by a Cambridge Lib Dem spokesperson.  As stated above, Salah Al Bander, in his letter to Spencer Hagard (the person investigating complaints about Bander on behalf of the Lib Dems) seems to affirm, unequivocally, his belief that people should be free to change their religion.  Here is one of the facts he cites in support of this:

·       I was very instrumental in organising an international campaign to protect the life of the late Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, who was accused of apostasy by the Sudanese regime.

Some of the evidence is blander – i.e. it is fairly easily compatible with having illiberal views:

·       I am locally involved in Cambridge in many campaigns for empowering disadvantaged communities.

·       I have been committing my whole life to many campaigns to promote issues of peaceful co-existence between communities.

And not all his arguments are fully satisfactory:

By means of grossly distorting the words, phrases, sentences and arguments I have used, my lifelong beliefs have been utterly misrepresented as the opposite of what they truly are. It is therefore not a surprise that the UK Police Force can find no case for me to answer, simply because there is none!

I am not qualified to rule out distortion – but something can fail to meet the threshold for prosecution and still be worthy of censure.  I’m quite prepared to accept that Bander wishes no physical harm on Mahmoud, but that’s not saying a great deal.  Hagard asserts that he asked Bander searching questions, but there seems to be no comment relating to the original accusations against him, no direct analysis or refutation of his alleged bigoted remarks.

I’ll just pick out a couple of specific points from Maryam Namazie’s blog:

On the 10th of February he posted “I forbid anyone from trying to change Nahla’s scandal to a case worthy of support… It will all get back to them… Be cautioned! Be cautioned!… No excuses for those who have been warned! ”

Let’s assume that no physical threat or incitement is intended – but why this bitter hostility – what exactly has Nahla done which constitutes a ‘scandal’?

Also, he posted a screen shot of Nahla’s article published in ‘Left Foot Forward’ about ‘Sharia implementations in the UK and elsewhere’ after adding a main headline into the article to read  “Freedom of practicing ‘Luat’ and promoting it” (“ Luat” is a derogatory term for homosexuality).

So as well as anti-kufar bigotry, Badar seems to have made homophobic jibes.  Not a matter for the police, sure, but hardly something to make one feel ‘high esteem’ for him either, to use Spencer Hagard’s phrase.

Apparently an independent translation is now being prepared, so it will be interesting to see if that throws up any new evidence in relation to those two points – or any fresh response. And it is noteworthy that this simple step wasn’t taken earlier.