Terry Sanderson has an enthusiastic, inspired post on Maryam’s conference on Secularism last weekend. He says it wasn’t like any other conference on secularism he’s ever been to.
It was a truly international event that made everyone there feel that they were engaged in a momentous worldwide call for change. It was just a start, but the passion generated was the kind that can move mountains.
To start with, there was a majority of women among the 250 delegates. They had come from all over the world, bringing with them some horrific stories of suffering at the hands of religion.
Many speakers from Muslim backgrounds told of the persecution and discrimination and the sometimes heroic resistance to it. Wherever there is theocracy it seems there is also resistance. Individuals and groups, very often women, very often religious themselves, who are seeking to create a secular space where they and their communities can be free to make their own choices and exercise their own beliefs.
It was right that women were the dominant presence at this conference, for it is women who are the most numerous victims of theocratic regimes.
He was worried about the safety of some people who spoke, and inspired by their courage.
One speaker, told us she experienced some nerves before her speech – on women, religion and the religious-right. The last time Magdulien Abaida spoke at a conference in Benghazi it was interrupted by members of Islamist militia group who subsequently abducted her from her hotel room.
We were told of the people who had been murdered, tortured, silenced and had their rights removed just to enable religious hegemony to continue.
Some women recounted the way that men, in the name of their faith, sought to control every moment of female lives – what women eat, when they eat, what they wear, who they can love, how they can love them – even how they go to the toilet.
Secularism is one crucial approach to ending such arrangements.
Our job is to persuade people of the value and brilliance of secularism so that they will embrace it when they are asked.
This is a massive job that will have no end, but we should promote the adoption of secularism wherever we can. Whether that is in our national governments, our local authorities or our shared institutions.
Religious leaders will never give up their power willingly. The people have to politely show them the door and tell them to return to their churches and mosques and temples and to stay there.
Only then will the terrible suffering that women have to endure under religious rule be alleviated. At some time in the future all women will be able to participate in the world on an equal basis as men, and secularism is what will make that happen.
Not secularism alone, no. As we keep seeing, there are other influences that motivate people to stop women participating in the world on an equal basis with men, influences that are nothing to do with theocracy or religion. But secularism would certainly be one huge step in the right direction.