An Unlasting Home: Author Mai Al-Nakib in Conversation with Katie Dancey-Downs

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”121063″ img_size=”full” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][vc_column_text]

In 2013, Kuwait’s parliament authorised a law that made blasphemy a capital crime. Although this decision was successfully vetoed by the Emir of Kuwait, it highlighted the precarious sanctity of freedom of speech in a religiously conservative country. In An Unlasting Home, Mai Al-Nakib imagines an alternative reality where this law comes to pass.

Join Mai Al-Nakib in conversation with Index on Censorship’s Katie Dancey-Downs as she discusses her debut novel’s approach to censorship and blasphemy in the Middle East. Described by Ira Mathur as ‘an exquisite discourse on the nature of freedom’, An Unlasting Home is out now in paperback and published by Saqi Books.

Meet the speakers

Mai Al-Nakib was born in Kuwait and spent the first six years of her life in London, Edinburgh and St. Louis, Missouri. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Brown University and is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Kuwait University. Her academic research focuses on cultural politics in the Middle East, with a special emphasis on gender, cosmopolitanism and postcolonial issues. Her short-story collection, The Hidden Light of Objects, won the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award in 2014, the first collection of short stories to do so.

Her fiction has appeared in Ninth Letter, The First Line, After the Pause and The Markaz Review, and her occasional essays in World Literature Today, BLARB: Blog of The LA Review of Books, and on the BBC World Service, among others. She lives in Kuwait.

Katie Dancey-Downs is Assistant Editor at Index on Censorship. She has travelled the world to tell stories about people and the planet. She’s passionate about human rights, the environment, and culture, and has a particular interest in refugee rights. Katie has written for a range of publications, including HuffPost, i News, New Internationalist, Resurgence Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and Big Issue, and is the former co-editor of the Lush Times magazine. She has a degree in Drama and Theatre Arts from the University of Birmingham and an MA in Journalism from Bournemouth University, where she focused her research on the ethical storytelling of refugee issues.


When: Tuesday 30 May 2023, 1.00-2.00pm BST

Where: Online

Tickets: Book tickets here


Cineworld’s cancellation of Lady of Heaven screenings: an unheavenly response

Over the 50 years of our existence, Index has consistently supported the artistic freedom of those whose work may cause offence. While we recognise people’s religious beliefs are deeply held – and protect their right to practise their faith without fear – we do not have blasphemy laws in this country for good reason.

This is why we backed Salman Rushdie during the Satanic Verses affair, it is why we backed Martin Scorsese when his Last Temptation of Christ caused offence to some Christians; it is why we backed the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo. And it is also why we back the makers of The Lady of Heaven, a film which has offended some Muslims and provoked demonstrations across the UK.

The Lady of Heaven, which is about the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed and depicts his image, has seen hundreds protest in Bolton, Birmingham and Sheffield. In an email to Cineworld Bolton Council of Mosques chairman, Asif Patel, said the film was “underpinned with a sectarian ideology” and “misrepresents orthodox historical narratives and disrespects the most esteemed individuals of Islamic history”, as reported by Bolton News.

That might be the case but these should not be grounds for pulling a film. No one is, after all, forcing anyone to watch this film. Nor is offence a defence. As the Turkish writer Elif Shafak wrote in Index on Censorship following the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

“It is perfectly human to be offended in the face of mockery, opprobrium or slander. That is understandable. Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Christians or agnostics, we can all feel offended by something someone says, writes or does. But that is where the line must be drawn. What is inhuman and unacceptable is to resort to violence and shed blood in response.”

While no blood has yet to be shed in the case of The Lady of Heaven, Cineworld have cited protecting their staff out of concern for their safety as their motivation.

We fully respect the impulse to want to keep people safe. Indeed Index work with a network of people around the globe who are at grave risk because of their speech. Their safety is always our primary concern, above getting a story out. But what we aim to do is both – protect the person and tell the story. There is usually a way and we try to find it. Because without stories humanity is all the worse, not the better. And not all stories please all people.

Ultimately we don’t want to live in a country where no offence is caused. We want to live in a country of robust debate and artistic freedom, where the offence can be explained and lessons learned. None of that happens when we threaten people into silence.

The activist Aisha Ali-Khan wrote on Twitter:

“I fully intend to watch #LadyofHeaven and make my own mind up, along with many other Muslim friends too. @cineworld better not pull it anywhere else!”

We hope that Cineworld reverse the decision and allow her that right.

Ryan McChrystal: Ireland’s blasphemy laws only encouraged countries that punish apostasy with death


In October 2018 Ireland voted — with a significant majority — to amend article 40.6.1 of its constitution to remove the criminalisation of the “publication or utterance” of anything deemed blasphemous. All major political parties backed the reform and even the Catholic Church agreed the law was “largely obsolete”. Although no one had ever been convicted of blasphemy in Ireland, the potential €25,000 fine caused many to self-censor. The most worrying aspect of Ireland’s blasphemy legislation was that it was cited by the Organisation of Islamic States at the UN — led by Pakistan — as best practice. Under Pakistani law, blasphemy is punishable by death.

Index on Censorship welcomed the amendment article 40.6.1. Index’s assistant online editor, Ryan McChrystal, spoke to Voice of Islam about the vote.

[Update: This article has been amended to clarify details of the amendment to article 40.6.1]

Also read: Beyond belief: Will Ireland’s new government finally phase out the country’s blasphemy law?

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1541695545612-1df8b8fa-2e7c-9″ taxonomies=”53″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Petition calls on Denmark to repeal blasphemy ban

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]We the undersigned respectfully urge the Danish Parliament to vote in favour of bill L 170 repealing the blasphemy ban in section 140 of the Danish criminal code, punishing “Any person who, in public, ridicules or insults the dogmas or worship of any lawfully existing religious community”.

Denmark is recognised as a global leader when it comes to the protection of human rights and freedom of expression. However, Denmark’s blasphemy ban is manifestly inconsistent with the Danish tradition for frank and open debate and puts Denmark in the same category as illiberal states where blasphemy laws are being used to silence dissent and persecute minorities. The recent decision to charge a man – who had burned the Quran – for violating section 140 for the first time since 1971, demonstrates that the blasphemy ban is not merely of symbolic value. It represents a significant retrograde step in the protection of freedom of expression in Denmark.

The Danish blasphemy ban is incompatible with both freedom of expression and equality before the law. There is no compelling reason why the feelings of religious believers should receive special protection against offence. In a vibrant and pluralistic democracy, all issues must be open to even harsh and scathing debate, criticism and satire. While the burning of holy books may be grossly offensive to religious believers it is nonetheless a peaceful form of symbolic expression that must be protected by free speech.

Numerous Danes have offended the religious feelings of both Christians and Muslims without being charged under section 140. This includes a film detailing the supposed erotic life of Jesus Christ, the burning of the Bible on national TV and the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed. The Cartoon affair landed Denmark in a storm of controversy and years of ongoing terrorist threats against journalists, editors and cartoonists. When terror struck in February 2015 the venue was a public debate on blasphemy and free speech.

In this environment, Denmark must maintain that in a liberal democracy, laws protect those who offend from threats, not those who threaten from being offended.

Retaining the blasphemy ban is also incompatible with Denmark’s human rights obligations. In April 2017 Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagtland emphasised that “blasphemy should not be deemed a criminal offence as the freedom of conscience forms part of freedom of expression”. This position is shared by the UN’s Human Rights Committee and the EU Guidelines on freedom of expression and religion.
Since 2014, The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland and Malta have all abolished blasphemy bans. By going against this trend Denmark will undermine the crucial European and international efforts to repeal blasphemy bans globally.

This has real consequences for human beings, religious and secular, around the globe. In countries like Pakistan, Mauretania, Iran, Indonesia and Russia blasphemy bans are being used against minorities as well as political and religious dissenters. Denmark’s blasphemy ban can be used to legitimise such laws. In 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief pointed out that “During a conference held in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) [in 2015], the Danish blasphemy provision was cited by one presenter as an example allegedly indicating an emerging international customary law on “combating defamation of religions”.

Blasphemy laws often serve to legitimise violence and terror. In Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh free-thinkers, political activists, members of religious minorities and atheists have been killed by extremists. In a world where freedom of expression is in retreat and extremism on the rise, democracies like Denmark must forcefully demonstrate that inclusive, pluralistic and tolerant societies are built on the right to think, believe and speak freely. By voting to repeal the blasphemy ban Denmark will send a clear signal that it stands in solidarity with the victims and not the enforcers of blasphemy laws.

Jacob Mchangama, Executive director, Justitia
Steven Pinker, Professor Harvard University
Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, Exiled editor of Shuddhashar, 2016 winner International Writer of Courage Award
Pascal Bruckner, Author
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Human Rights Activist Founder of AHA Foundation,
Dr. Elham Manea, academic and human rights advocate (Switzerland)
Sultana Kamal, Chairperson, Centre for Social Activism Bangladesh
Deeyah Khan, CEO @Fuuse & founder @sister_hood_mag.
Fatou Sow, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Elisabeth Dabinter, Author
William Nygaard, Publisher
Flemming Rose, Author and journalist
Jodie Ginsberg, CEO, Index on Censorship
Kenan Malik, Author of From Fatwa to Jihad
Thomas Hughes, Executive Director Article 19
Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America
Pragna Patel – Director of Southall Black Sisters
Leena Krohn, Finnish writer
Jeanne Favret-Saada, Honorary Professor of Anthropology, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes,
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Fariborz Pooya, Host of Bread and Roses TV
Frederik Stjernfelt, Professor, University of Aalborg in Copenhagen
Marieme Helie Lucas, Secularism Is A Women’s Issue
Michael De Dora, Director of Government Affairs, Center for Inquiry
Robyn Blumner, President & CEO, Center for Inquiry
Nina Sankari, Kazimierz Lyszczynski Foundation (Poland).
Sonja Biserko, Founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
James Lindsay, Author
Malhar Mali, Publisher and editor, Areo Magazine
Julie Lenarz – Executive Director, Human Security Centre, London
Terry Sanderson President, National Secular Society
Greg Lukianoff, CEO and President, FIRE
Thomas Cushman, Professor Wellesley College
Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, New York Law School
Simon Cottee, the Freedom Project, Wellesley College
Paul Cliteur, professor of Jurisprudence at Leiden University
Lino Veljak, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Lalia Ducos, Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universals Rights , WICUR
Lepa Mladjenovic, LC, Belgrade
Elsa Antonioni, Casa per non subire violenza, Bologna
Bobana Macanovic, Autonomos Women’s Center, Director, Belgrade
Harsh Kapoor, Editor, South Asia Citzens Web
Mehdi Mozaffari, Professor Em., Aarhus University, Denmark
Øystein Rian, Historian, Professor Emeritus University of Oslo
Kjetil Jakobsen, Professor Nord University
Scott Griffen, Director of Press Freedom Programmes International Press Institute (IPI)
Henryk Broder, Journalist
David Rand, President, Libres penseurs athées — Atheist Freethinkers
Tom Herrenberg, Lecturer University of Leiden
Simone Castagno, Coordinamento Liguria Rainbow
Laura Caille, Secretary General Libres
Mariannes Andy Heintz, writer
Bernice Dubois, Conseil Européen des Fédérations WIZO
Ivan Hare, QC[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1495443304735-e4b217b9-25e4-0″ taxonomies=”88, 53″][/vc_column][/vc_row]