If you’re reading this post, the assumption is that you’re conducting ‘background checks’ on me, Mark Nash, also known as Moraymint. You’re checking up on me because Mr Anas Sarwar MSP accused me publicly of being ‘an abhorrent racist’. Therefore, to be fair to me – and to respect the principle of freedom of speech – I ask you politely to read on. People have asked me recently to make this statement, precisely because they were conducting ‘background checks’.
So, here I invite you to balance your views rather than subscribing without question to Mr Sarwar’s opinion of me and thereby potentially making yourself my judge, jury and executioner.
Incidentally, Moraymint is a light-hearted play on words. Moray is a council area in the north of Scotland and is pronounced /Murray/ as in Murray Mint. Hence Moraymint. Since establishing this Moraymint Chatter blog in May 2012 I’ve made little secret of my true identity; that’s why Mr Sarwar was able to attack me personally.
This post is in two parts: Part I provides a description of the incident of interest to you; Part II substantiates my rebuttal of Mr Sarwar’s defamatory accusation.
PART I – THE INCIDENT
Mr Sarwar’s Defamatory Accusation
The purpose of this post is to rebut a defamatory accusation made against me in August 2019 by Mr Anas Sarwar MSP, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party; an accusation that Mark Nash is an ‘an abhorrent racist’. I deserve the right of reply and, if I may say, the right to have my reply heard by you before you draw what would otherwise be ill-founded conclusions about my character. Character assassination, as exercised in my case by Mr Sarwar, is a profoundly damaging course of action. Of course, that’s what Mr Sarwar intended it to be. After all, we’re talking politics here.
Mr Sarwar made his accusation in The National, a low-circulation, sectarian newspaper devoted to the cause of an independent Scotland. At the last count, The National’s readership comprised less than one-quarter of one percent of Scotland’s population. Apart, I think, from the New European – itself a low-circulation, pro-EU newspaper – no other news organ took much if any notice of Mr Sarwar’s opinion of me. At the time, I was The Brexit Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Moray and was no friend of either Scottish nationalism or the European Union. Not much has changed in either of those respects. You’ll understand perhaps why the individual and the newspapers concerned colluded to target me.
Mr Sarwar was agitated by a post I’d published on this blog in 2017 attacking – in forthright terms – Islam in its politico-religious ideological form; political-Islam, for short. I argued that political-Islam was, and remains for that matter, a pernicious and, when pursued fanatically, deadly ideology. I used colourful language; I exaggerated for effect (call it satire, if you like); I was arguably intemperate; I may have written in offensive terms but, like beauty, offensiveness is in the eye of the beholder. However, at no time did I, nor have I ever written anything wrong or illegal on this blog, nor did I focus my ire on human beings as such; I attacked political-Islam.
This is an addition to the original text of this post. The difficulties in our society associated with the Islamic faith have been in the news again recently. A Religious Education teacher from Batley Grammar School is now in hiding with his family, fearing that he may suffer the same fate as his French teacher-colleague Samuel Paty who was beheaded in the name of Islam in October of last year. Both teachers’ grave mistake was to raise the subject of Islam in the context of freedom of expression, as I’ve done on this blog. The two topics don’t go together – evidently. I suppose being defamed as a racist is a relatively small price to pay.
A racist is a person who is prejudiced against, or antagonistic towards people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is in a minority or is marginalised. Racism is not about prejudice or antagonism towards an abstract concept such as religion.
It’s convenient to conflate criticism of a belief system, political-Islam in this case, with prejudice against believers in that system (people who worship Allah) – and then label the critic (me) ‘a racist’. However, as the evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins once said, ‘Something you can convert to [Islam], is not a race’.
Instead of challenging me on my robust views about political-Islam, Mr Sarwar took the easy, and I would argue malicious, politicised approach of making an ad hominem attack on me with the express purpose of impugning me. Mr Sarwar’s accusation was deliberately uncharitable, whatever he or you or anybody else thinks about my perfectly legal opinions of political-Islam.
I’ve no axe to grind about the religion of Islam, nor any other religion for that matter. I believe in not only freedom of expression, but also freedom of worship. Indeed, in the past I’ve experienced personally one of the doubtless many merits of the Islamic faith and wrote about it in praiseworthy terms in this post in 2013: The Mosque Kitchen. Note that I was praising Muslim charitable behaviour years before I was criticising political-Islam. Hardly the actions of ‘an abhorrent racist’, would you not agree?
A bigot is a person who is prejudiced in their views and intolerant of the opinions of others. It’s reasonable to assume that Mr Sarwar, who happens to be a Muslim, was offended by my colourful attack on political-Islam. However, instead of engaging me directly as a potential politician, albeit with views contrary to his own, Mr Sarwar – using merely the incendiary ‘r’ word – expressed his intolerance of my opinions of political-Islam and demonstrated his prejudice towards me. According to Mr Sarwar, one can only express an opinion about political-Islam on pain of being accused of latent criminality. Go too far, and your life is at risk. It’s standard procedure these days for suffocating public discourse: simply accuse an interlocutor with whose views you disagree of homophobia, transgender phobia, Islamophobia, racism; just choose your damning accusation and the woke brigade will descend on your debating foe like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You’re cancelled. The conversation is closed. You can lose your job.
You can decide for yourself whether or not Mr Sarwar is a bigot.
Freedom of Speech
Since you’re reading this, I have to ask whether you personally are intolerant of the opinions of others, however much you might not like those opinions, nor how they’re expressed? Do you believe in freedom of speech? Mr Sarwar is at liberty to call me or anybody else for that matter ‘an abhorrent racist’. It’s under very serious threat in Scotland, but freedom of speech remains a bedrock of our democracy. However, you have to ask yourself whether accusing somebody (me, in this case) of latent criminality (racism is a crime, after all) in order to close down debate and deliberately damage the character of your interlocuter, is consistent with the spirit of freedom of speech? I would argue that Mr Sarwar is, at best, uncomfortable with genuine freedom of speech.
Stuart Campbell blogs under the Wings Over Scotland banner. In March 2017, Mr Campbell was on the receiving end of what he considered to be a defamatory accusation made against him by another (erstwhile) Scottish Labour Party leader, Ms Kezia Dugdale. Scottish Labour Party leaders must have something against bloggers. Mr Campbell was accused by Ms Dugdale of being ‘a homophobe’. As with Mr Sarwar’s accusation against me of racism, there was and remains no evidence that Mr Campbell was/is a homophobe.
Mr Campbell pursued Ms Dugdale in the Sheriff Court. The Court found that Ms Dugdale’s accusation was indeed defamatory, ie it was untrue that Mr Campbell was ‘a homophobe’ and that, consequently, Mr Campbell’s hitherto unblemished reputation had been damaged. However, the Sheriff decided not to award damages to Mr Campbell. So, Mr Campbell appealed his case to the Court of Session. The Higher Court agreed with the Sheriff Court that Mr Campbell had indeed been defamed. However, like the Sheriff Court, the Court of Session decided not to award Mr Campbell reparations for the damage to his reputation. Ms Dugdale escaped reparations payable to Mr Campbell on the defence of ‘fair comment’, such is the vagary of defamation law in Scotland.
Ms Dugdale’s lawyer, Mr Campbell Deane, has had a look at my situation vis-à-vis Mr Sarwar’s accusation against me. Mr Deane said that on the face of it my situation was ‘not a million miles’ from Mr Campbell’s. I interpreted Mr Deane’s comment to mean that Mr Sarwar’s accusation that I’m ‘an abhorrent racist’ was not true and could well be found by a Court to be defamatory; however, I wouldn’t know for sure unless I took my case to Court.
I asked the Wings Over Scotland blogger, Stuart Campbell, what he thought of my particular situation and whether he felt that I should pursue Mr Sarwar for defamation and damages. Mr Campbell’s advice to me was clear and emphatic: ‘don’t even go there’. Mr Campbell told me that despite both Courts’ decisions that he was defamed, ie that it was not true that he was ‘a homophobe’ and that his reputation had been damaged, Mr Campbell had incurred almost a quarter-of-a-million pounds in legal expenses in his nugatory attempt to claim damages from Ms Dugdale.
I don’t have £250,000 to waste on pursuing Mr Sarwar through the courts and, of course, Mr Sarwar always knew that. Hence, it was a no-brainer for Mr Sarwar to see off a political threat and simultaneously skewer someone’s reputation, risk-free, simply by slapping on them the unmentionable ‘r’ word and walking away. That’s what happened to me. That’s why you’re reading this post.
Like I said earlier, my assumption is that you’re interested in me, Mark Nash, for a particular reason and you’ve discovered, through ‘background checks’, that I attracted some defamatory publicity in August 2019. Without any evidence to the contrary, you could be forgiven for subscribing to Mr Anas Sarwar’s venomous opinion of me, despite neither of you actually knowing me from Adam (or from Allah, if you prefer). The old chestnut, ‘you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspapers’ holds good here.
If you’re open-minded, genuinely interested in my character and whether or not you should proceed with a decision to engage with me – for whatever reason that you’re conducting ‘background checks’ – then I should be grateful if you would do me the courtesy of reading Part II of this post before taking a properly informed decision about our potential future relationship.
PART II – AN ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE
A Lady of Pakistani-Muslim Birth
An acquaintance of mine is a lady of Pakistani-Muslim birth; I’ll refer to her as Aleema (not her real name). Aleema is a follower of my blog and one of the almost quarter-of-a-million people from 146 countries around the world who have read my Moraymint Chatter musings. I’ve met Aleema; she lives in the UK. She’s a formidable woman with an international public profile. As a young woman, owing to the way she was treated by her family and by her father in particular, Aleema renounced the religion of Islam. Aleema is an apostate.
According to some scholars of Islam, the penalty for apostasy is death. Moderate Muslims will argue that this is not the case. Fair enough, but this Guardian newspaper article covers the subject and was published with the strapline, ‘Ex-Muslims who dare to speak out are often cut off from their families and fear for their lives’. Aleema lives in fear for her life; she has to take precautions at all times in her private life and when fulfilling her public speaking role. Incidentally, Aleema will forgive me for making it known here that she is a most charming and intelligent woman, and I enjoyed immensely the day my wife and I spent in her company in November 2019. I should love to tell you more about Aleema, but I can’t do that; I promised to respect her privacy, as you’d expect under the circumstances.
Aleema is a victim of political-Islam, as were the young people bombed to smithereens at the Manchester Arena in May 2017, the incident which prompted me to write that arguably controversial blog post in forthright and, to some readers, offensive terms; a post which led Mr Anas Sarwar MSP, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, casually to label me ‘an abhorrent racist’. As you conduct your ‘background checks’, I hope you can see that there are in fact two sides to this story.
The point is this. When Mr Sarwar accused me of being ‘an abhorrent racist’ – and despite The National newspaper’s flawed account of the episode – I decided in consultation with my Brexit Party colleagues to withdraw from the General Election race and, indeed, to withdraw from active politics forever. Thanks to The National and Mr Sarwar, I’d had enough before I’d even started my nascent life as a politician. I realised that I had dipped my toe into shark-infested waters and I didn’t need the grief for me or my family and friends.
An Apostate’s View
On learning of my withdrawal from the political fray, Aleema emailed me in September 2019. Remember that Aleema was born into a Pakistani-Muslim family, as was Mr Sarwar as it happens. This is what Aleema said to me:
Regrettably, as a measure of the threat posed to Aleema by political-Islam, I have had to edit and redact parts of Aleema’s email to me …
Let me introduce myself. My name is Aleema and I have been following your blog for a few years now. Let me begin by thanking you for your column. I have followed it with great interest over the years and have always felt grateful for your clarity of thought and the contribution you have made to public discourse. I was delighted to see you standing for office, and hopeful that you would win. At the very least I expected you to have a positive impact on the process.
So it is with considerable sadness and rising anger that I have read your most recent post [in which I said I would be withdrawing from active politics].
Let me explain. I was born into a Muslim family – what one might call an Islamist hard-right family. I chose to leave Islam. This had repercussions, including being disowned by my family and worse. But I do understand the Muslim community from the inside-out [because] I grew up in it and so I feel compelled to write to you about this most recent turn of events.
As you are aware, the West seems to have a great deal of difficulty differentiating between political-Islam and religious-Islam. Political-Islam has wide-ranging ambitions for global domination, supported through various entities by countries and regimes which I will not name here, who are playing a long game.
Unable to distinguish between the two, the liberal-left have become unwitting pawns of this movement, corralled into defending positions which under any other circumstances would be anathema to them.
Political-Islam (Islam which has designs on increasing its influence in the public sphere) takes advantage of the West’s inability to appreciate the not-so-subtle differences between the two forms of Islam, caught up as the liberal-left is in the fear of being labelled intolerant or at worst racist.
I have suffered the indignities of race discrimination and know what it is. I am also aware that there are many Muslims who simply want to live-and-let-live, and to practice their religion in peace. It becomes quite the Catch-22: those who have left Islam place themselves at many kinds of risk by speaking out; many of those who are practising Islam simply do not want to tangle with the hard-right; and so the floor is left open to those Islamists who shout ‘Islamophobia’ at every imagined slight. To date this has been a successful strategy when it comes to shutting down the discourse we normally expect to enjoy as participants in a civil society.
I might add that I was a delegate at [Aleema named the international conference], the largest gathering of ex-Muslims (apostates) ever convened, where we could only be advised of the location of the event at the very last minute and had to be surrounded by heavy security, out of fear of retribution by the very classes who are challenging you now. These were deemed prudent measures. I do not have to tell you that this is all incompatible with the principles of the Enlightenment, or the secular values on which our society is supposed to be based.
So, the only thing I can really say here is, don’t let them win – and they have been winning. There are many moderate people within the Muslim community, and outside of it, who sympathise with you and share your point of view. For my part, I mostly keep my head down because this is a fight I don’t want to take on at this moment in my life, although I will someday.
I fully understand your choice to go silent, and you will be missed.
Thank you once again for your writing over the years.
All the best
Not All Muslims Side With Anas Sarwar
Aleema’s email provides you with the other side of the ‘abhorrent racist’ story. Indeed, Aleema emailed me on a number of occasions as I grappled with the destruction of my reputation at the hands of Mr Anas Sarwar and The National newspaper. In a subsequent email, Aleema said, ‘I think that you will find any number of Muslims and ex-Muslims who sympathise with your position; people such as Maajid Nawaz at LBC Radio and Maryam Namazie at the Council of Ex-Muslims for Britain spring to mind’.
Aleema also said, ‘I am so very sorry that all of this has happened. Your clarity of thought on the political issues of the day has been invaluable. I am so desperately sorry that this has happened to you. I’m afraid people do not have the ability to distinguish between political-Islam and religious-Islam, which of course the political zealots exploit to great effect. My perception is that (so far) they have been winning’.
Your Call Again
Back to the fundamental reason for this post. You’re doing ‘background checks’ on Mark Nash and have discovered that, according to Mr Anas Sarwar MSP, Mark Nash is ‘an abhorrent racist’. You’ve done me the courtesy of permitting me a right of reply to what I argue was a defamatory accusation. It’s simply not true that I’m a criminal, a racist. Aleema testifies to my assertion, but there’s plenty of other evidence I could present to substantiate my rejection of Mr Sarwar’s malicious accusation. Ask me for more evidence of my cosmopolitan urbanity if you wish and I’ll get it to you.
I regret that Mr Sarwar saw fit to impugn me as he did. Mr Sarwar’s accusation had nothing to do with freedom of speech nor rational public discourse. So, it’s reasonable for me to declare here that I was gratuitously defamed in a joint enterprise by The National newspaper and Mr Sarwar for nothing more than their narrow political ends.
This is critically important: you may not agree with my views on political-Islam, nor my use of language in one or more posts here on my blog. I have to accept that, notwithstanding everything you’ve read in this post, some of you reading my more forthright views will still be clutching your pearls and/or hyper-ventilating. However, is that sufficient cause per se for you to shun me? Or do you cherish freedom of speech?
My first career was as a commissioned officer in the British armed forces where I undertook active service in Northern Ireland (during ‘The Troubles’), the Falklands War and the Gulf War (1991). I’m a passionate advocate of freedom and democracy and on occasions – without wishing to put too fine a point on it – I risked my life for your way of life and for the freedoms that we both enjoy.
If you believe that political-Islam doesn’t exist or, if it does, it’s sacrosanct and cannot and must not be criticised in any way, certainly not publicly and pointedly; if you think freedom of speech doesn’t extend to writing in barbed or uncomfortable terms as I do occasionally; if you think Aleema’s situation is her problem and not yours or mine; if you think the Manchester Arena bombings had nothing to do with political-Islam; if you seriously believe that I’m a racist, then by all means conclude your background checks by ghosting me. Of course, I’ll learn something about you personally and/or the organisation you represent if you do shun me. I’ll assume, reasonably, that freedom of speech doesn’t feature anywhere in your values.
On the other hand, if you feel that you now have both sides of the story and are able to reject Mr Sarwar’s flawed characterisation of me and, moreover, accept that being offensive is not, in fact, an offence (unlike the misplaced belief of at least one British police force), then please let me know. Indeed, feel free to use the following statement or something similar …
Dear Mr Nash
We’ve completed our ‘background checks’ and have noted Mr Sarwar’s opinion of you. We’ve seen your reply of March 2021 posted in public on your Moraymint Chatter blog. We’re content that, in the spirit of freedom of speech, there are two sides to every story. We’re confident that you’re not a racist. We may not subscribe to the content and style of some of your public comments, but they don’t of themselves constitute a reason for us to act as your judge, jury and executioner. Freedom of speech is as important to us as it is to you. We look forward to associating and working with you in future’
Audi Alteram Partem
Finally, for what it’s worth, I love my country. If there was one philosophy that has defined my attitude to the privilege of being British it is this quotation, often erroneously attributed to Voltaire, but was in fact coined by an English historian and author Evelyn Beatrice Hall in Voltaire’s name: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. One wonders if Mr Anas Sarwar MSP would ever defend to the death my right to criticise political-Islam as I have in the past risked my life for his right to label me a racist?
Thank you at least for hearing me out and I wish you all the best. If you require me to provide you with character references, please contact me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org …
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See you down the pub … eventually.