I had a brilliant time this weekend, first debating Islamist Lauren Booth (who works at the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Press TV – yuck!) at howthelightgetsin philosophy and music festival at the Hay and then the World Atheist Conference in Dublin, Ireland. A brilliant conference. Wish I had been there from the start but glad I did go even if only for the last day.
I got to see Richard Dawkins again and meet the brilliant PZ Myers too, which was a highlight for me and make tons of new friends and allies.
I am off now to stuff envelopes with volunteers of One Law for All. We are finishing up a mailing to MPs and Peers on a 28 June meeting we are organising to help highlight the need to ban Sharia law…
Anyway, here is my speech. I didn’t obviously use all of it as I had mentioned faith schools and the veil and burka at the morning’s panel discussion on building secular alliances. I am sure it still needs an edit but am posting since people have been asking me for it.
The Islamic Inquisition
Keynote address at the World Atheist Conference
June 4-6 2011
In this day and age, Islam matters because of Islamism. Islam per se is fundamentally no worse than any other religion.
The tenets, dogma, and principles of all religions are equal.
I don’t believe in good or bad religions; in my opinion all religion is bad for you.
Religion should come with a health warning like cigarettes: ‘religion kills.’
But even so, today – as we speak – there is a distinction to be made between religions in general and Islam in particular, but for no other reasons than that it is the ideology behind a far-Right regressive political movement that has state power in many places with Sharia law being the most implemented legal code in the world.
Islam matters to us today because we are living through an Islamic inquisition and not because it is becoming more ‘popular’ as its proponents like to argue. They call it the fastest growing religion. I’d personally like a count of how many people are leaving it, or would like to leave if they could without being killed.
Islam’s appeal has not grown amongst the general public; in fact it’s the opposite. Its record in political power speaks volumes for itself: stonings, honour killings, amputation of limbs, child ‘marriages’, sexual apartheid, decapitations, public hangings, bombs in discotheques and on buses, the slaughter of entire generations in the Middle East and North Africa…
It is the difference between Christianity today and one during the inquisition.
A religion that has been reined in by an enlightenment is very different from one that has political power and is spearheading an inquisition. That’s why anything from downloading information on the status of women in Islam by Perwiz Kambakhsh in Afghanistan, publishing caricatures of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, to the name to name of a teddy bear in the Sudan become matters of life and death (often with Western government complicity).
Under an inquisition, ‘Islamic feminism,’ ‘liberal and humanitarian Islam,’ ‘Islamic reformism,’ ‘Islamic democracy,’ ‘Islamic human rights,’ and moderate interpretations of Islam are impossible.
A ‘personal’ religion is impossible under an inquisition. You can’t pick and choose as you’d like.
Islamists will kill, threaten or intimidate anyone who interprets things differently, thinks freely or who transgresses their norms by living 21st century lives.
One of the characteristics of an inquisition is a total ban on freethinking and policing of thought. Censorship is rife so that one can face the death penalty for reading a book or visiting an internet site. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600; today there are numerous examples of people being killed for similar reasons. Some of those killed just this year by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has 130 offences punishable by death include by the way, include: Ali Ghorabat for apostasy and Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Haj Aghaie for enmity against god.
Under an inquisition, torture is the norm. According to their handbook at the time, inquisitors were instructed not to find any accused innocent under any circumstances. The same applies under Islamism. You are guilty. Full Stop. Guilty for laughing, guilty for listening to music, guilty for wearing jeans, for driving, for loving, for thinking and for breathing.
The purpose of the so called Sharia justice system is to elicit a confession. In Iran, for example, even its media outlets are involved. Press TV, which is based in the UK, has had a documented role in forcing tortured prisoners to ‘confess’ to their crimes on television. Most recent cases are Maziyar Bahari and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.
Under the inquisition, you were killed even if you confessed. A confession would just mean that you would be strangled before being burnt to death rather than being burnt alive. The same applies for Islamism. It’s a killing machine.
Sharia law is designed to teach the masses the damnable nature of dissent.
Moreover, under the inquisition, once you were baptized, it could not be undone. The same is true with Islam. You are just not allowed to leave.
Of course there are distinctions in the practice of Islamism as in every phenomenon but it is a question of degrees. A little less vile is still repugnant. The misogyny and inhumanity behind a law that stones people to death in Afghanistan and Somalia are the same as one that denies women the right to divorce and child custody in a sharia court in Britain.
Have expectations been so lowered that – after all we have seen and heard – there are still those who will say that a reformist, liberal or a softer version of Islam or political Islam is possible and tolerable? These notions would have been ridiculed by the avant-gardes of the enlightenment.
It is an insult to humanity.
Religion in general and Islam in particular can only be considered liberal and reformed (at face value at least if even that is possible) when it has been pushed in a corner and out of the public space – when it has been forced to run soup kitchens rather than courts and Islamic Assemblies.
If you look at Christianity for example, it’s not that the tenets, dogma, and principles have changed; it has not become more humane since the days of the inquisition and witch burnings. What has changed is its social and political influence in today’s society, in people’s lives, in its relation with the state, the law and educational system. To the degree that it has become undermined and weakened, that is the degree that people have managed to free themselves from the clutches of religion, and in having happier lives and a better society. Progressive human values have been achieved at the expense of Christianity and religion.
The same has to be done with Islam and Islamism.
And it is being done but mainly by the people living under Islamic laws or those who have fled them and sought refuge in the west.
During the anti-Christianity Enlightenment the raging debate against religion was raised by elites and intellectual giants, which eventually filtered down to popular culture. Now it’s the other way around –it is bubbling from below whilst many intellectuals and elites are either in bed with the Islamists or excuse it as ‘people’s culture.
After all whose culture are we talking about?
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s culture (educated until 5th grade) who ‘wants to live’ or that of the Islamic regime of Iran that wants to stone her to death?
Sakineh’s 22 year old transport worker son, Sajjad, who writes open letters to the people of the world despite threats and intimidations asking for help in saving his mother’s life or the regime that has already flogged his mother twice – once in front of his very eyes when he was only 17?
Given the havoc that Islamism is wreaking worldwide, concepts such as ‘Islamic reformism’ and ‘Islamic liberalism,’ and labels such as ‘Islamic societies’ or ‘Islamic communities’ deliberately or inadvertently become part of the effort to Islamicise societies and communities and hand them over lock, stock and barrel to regressive and parasitical Islamic organisations, imams and states.
After all, there are innumerable characteristics that define people and that people define themselves with but in this day and age we are increasingly being identified only by religion. This has a lot to do with the rise of Islamism and a new world order that has pushed back concepts of universalism and citizenship. Within this context, labelling people as Muslim and Muslim alone is actually part of the process of constraining them in order to feign ‘representation’ and limiting their rights.
Any attempt to promote ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ versions of Islam and Islamism also does the same.
If you want a ‘cuddlier’ version of Islam, then get rid of Islamism.
That does not mean that there are not many Muslims or those labelled as such who have humanist, secularist, moderate, feminist, atheist, liberal, socialist and other viewpoints but this is not one and the same with Islam in power being as such.
After all not everyone is a Muslim or an Islamist for that matter. There are innumerable political parties, civil society and social movements with various beliefs and values and classes. By boxing people into a homogeneous community of Muslims, it shrinks the space to breathe and move.
And it ignores the fact that Muslims, or those labelled as such, are the first victims of Islamism and at the frontlines of resistance. It ignores the slaughtered generations of the Middle East and North Africa buried in mass graves, hacked and stoned to death and hung from cranes in city centres and it ignores the resistance taking place day in and day out against Islamism.
Nowhere is opposition greater against Islamism than in countries under Islamic rule.
Condemning Islamism and Islam is not a question of judging all Muslims and equating them with terrorists.
There is a distinction between Islam as a belief system and Islamism as a political movement on the one hand and real live human beings on the other. Neither the far-Right nor the pro-Islamist Left seem to see this distinction.
Both are intrinsically racist. The pro-Islamist Left (and many liberals) imply that people are one and the same with the Islamic states and movement that are repressing them. The far-Right blames all immigrants and Muslims for the crimes of Islamism.
[It is important to note here that Islamism was actually brought to centre stage during the Cold War as part of US foreign policy in order to create a ‘green’ Islamic belt surrounding the Soviet Union and not concocted in some immigrant’s kitchen in London; moreover many of the Islamists in Britain are actually British-born thanks to the government’s policies of multiculturalism and appeasement.]
Both the far-Right and pro-Islamist Left purport that Islamism is people’s culture and that they actually deserve no better, imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the ruling class, parasitical imams and self-appointed ‘community leaders’.
Their politics ignores the distinction between the oppressed and oppressor and actually sees them as one and the same. It denies universalism, sees rights as ‘western,’ and justifies the suppression of rights, freedoms and equality for the ‘other.’
Civil rights, freedom and equality, secularism, modernism, are universal concepts that have been fought for by progressive social movements and the working class in various countries.
As a result of such politics, concepts such as rights, equality, respect and tolerance, which were initially raised vis-à-vis the individual, are now more and more applicable to culture and religion and often take precedence over real live human beings.
Moreover, the social inclusion of people into society has come to solely mean the inclusion of their beliefs, sensibilities, concerns and agendas (read Islamism’s beliefs, sensibilities, concerns and agendas) and nothing more.
The distinction between humans and their beliefs and regressive political movements is of crucial significance here.
It is the human being who is meant to be equal not his or her beliefs. It is the human being who is worthy of the highest respect and rights not his or her beliefs or those imputed on them.
It is the human being who is sacred not beliefs or religion.
The problem is that religion sees things the other way around.
And this is the main reason why religion must be relegated to being a private matter.
More importantly than the fact that it divides, excludes, denies, restricts and so on is the compelling fact that when it comes to religion, it is not the equality, rights, freedoms, welfare of the child, man or woman that is paramount but religion itself.
This is precisely what is wrong with multiculturalism. It gives precedence to cultures and religion rather than people and their rights and lives. And it says that human beings – depending on how they are pigeon-holed – are fundamentally different, and should be treated as such. The idea of difference has always been the fundamental principle of a racist agenda not the other way around.
And within this context any criticism of Islam and Islamism are deemed to be racism and Islamophobia. This is nothing but political scaremongering in order to silence criticism against Islam. The term is used to shield Islam and Islamism from criticism and so everything from opposing executions in Iran to demanding an end to Sharia courts in Britain are deemed racism by Islamic lobbyists and their supporters, including from within the Left, like the Socialist Workers’ Party in the UK. It has become politically incorrect to criticise Islam. But Islamophobia does not refer to the fear of a certain people. It refers to the fear of a certain religion. And what is so wrong with that? Shouldn’t we have the right to be critical of Islam – especially given its practices, its record? The term takes its cue from xenophobia and homophobia, but it an entirely different thing.
Targeting a belief, religion or Islam is actually fair play and legitimate given the world that we live in.
In the face of this onslaught, secularism, universalism and values worthy of 21st century humanity have to be defended and promoted unequivocally.
At a minimum, we must have the complete separation of religion from the state, the law and educational system. The promotion of secularism is therefore an important vehicle to protect society from religion’s intervention in people’s lives, especially in the face of religion’s rising access to power.
Of course nowadays, secularism is often portrayed negatively. Religious groups and many others equate secularism as the other extreme of religious fanaticism. But this is untrue.
Religion excludes whilst secularism is inclusive and ensures that a sect or group does not impose its beliefs on all. That a person’s religion is a private affair.
Faith schools must be abolished. Religion in general and Islam more so because of the rise of Islamism, indoctrinates children – often violently. Religious schools by nature must teach the superiority of their belief system and the baseness of non-believers and kafirs. Unfortunately, the debate on faith schools has for too long focused on scrutiny, monitoring, and changing admission codes and employment practices rather than that they are fundamentally bad for our children. This is because they are more concerned with the inclusion of religion – the religion of the child’s parents – than the inclusion, wellbeing and educational needs of the child. Schools and faith are antithetical to each other. Education is meant to give children access to science, reason and the advances of the 21st century. It is meant to level the playing field irrespective of and despite the family the child is born into. It is meant to allow children to think freely and critically – something that religion actually prohibits and punishes. Education can only truly be guaranteed by a secular educational system and by ending faith schools once and for all.
Religious symbols in schools and public institutions must also be prohibited. What secularism does is require that at minimum government offices and officials from judges, to clerks to teachers to doctors and nurses are not promoting their religious beliefs and are instead doing their jobs. In the same way that a teacher can’t teach creationism instead of evolution and science in the classroom; a pharmacist can’t refuse contraceptive pills to a women because of her beliefs; a male doctor can’t refuse to treat a woman patient or vice versa. We are seeing this happening more and more as religion gains influence in society.
Banning religious symbols is sometimes portrayed as restrictions on religious beliefs or freedoms and religious intolerance but again this is not so. One’s religious beliefs are a private affair; public officials cannot use their positions to impose or promote their beliefs.
Moreover, when it comes to the veil, much more needs to be done than banning the burqa and neqab and the veil from public spaces. The veil is a symbol like no other of what it means to be a woman under Islam – hidden from view, bound, and gagged. It is a tool for restricting and suppressing women. Of course there are some who choose to be veiled, but you cannot say it is a matter of choice because – socially speaking – the veil is anything but. There is no ‘choice’ for most women. In countries under Islamic rule, it is compulsory. Even here, in Britain, according to a joint statement about the veil from ‘Muslim groups, scholars and leaders’, including the Muslim Council of Britain, Hizb ut Tahrir and Islamic ‘Human Rights’ Commission, it is stated that the veil ‘is not open to debate’. The statement goes so far as to ‘advise all Muslims to exercise extreme caution in this issue since denying any part of Islam may lead to disbelief.’
As I have said before, take away all the pressure and intimidation and threats and you will see how many remain veiled.
When it comes to the veiling of girls in schools, though, child veiling must not only be banned in public institutions and schools but also in private schools and everywhere.
Here the issue extends beyond the principle of secularism and goes straight to the heart of children’s rights.
While adults may ‘choose’ veiling or a religion, children by their very nature cannot make such choices; what they do is really what their parents tell them to do.
Even if there are children who say they like or choose to be veiled (as some media have reported), child veiling must still be banned – just as a child must be protected even if she ‘chooses’ to stay with her abusive parents rather than in state care, even if she ‘chooses’ to work to support her family in violation of child labour laws or even if she ‘chooses’ to stop attending school.
The state is duty bound to protect children and must level the playing field for children and ensure that nothing segregates them or restricts them from accessing information, advances in society and rights, playing, swimming and in general doing things children must do.
Whatever their beliefs, parents do not have the right to impose their beliefs, including veiling on children just because they are their own children, just as they can’t deny their children medical assistance or beat and neglect them or marry them off at 9 because it’s part of their beliefs or religion.
Children and under 16s must be protected from all forms of manipulation by religions and religious institutions. Cultural and religious practices or ceremonies, which are violent, inhuman, or incompatible with people’s rights and equality, must be banned. Any kind of financial, material or moral support by the state to religion and religious activities and institutions must be stopped. All religious establishments must be registered as private enterprises, taxed…
The same applies to Sharia courts for so-called minorities something that was successfully opposed in Canada and is now being promoted in the UK as a way to promote ‘minority rights’. Aside from the fact that Sharia law is inherently unjust, it is discriminatory and unfair to have different and separate systems, standards and norms for ‘different’ people. The concept of an Islamic court adheres to a principle of separate but equal similar to that promoted by the former Apartheid regime of South Africa. It was clear then as it is clear now that separate is not equal. In fact it is a prescription for inequality and discrimination. It makes a group of people forever minorities and never citizens equal before and under the law.
Today, also more than ever, we are in need of the de-religionisation of society, not as a private affair but against the religion industry, which is above the law, unregulated and never held accountable for its fatwas, murder and mayhem.
And we need an acknowledgement of the Islamic inquisition and real solidarity with and a strengthening of the anti-Islamic enlightenment bubbling from below that despises Islamism and Islamic morality, scorns the clergy, and rejects an ordained social hierarchy, not more of the same attempts at rescuing Islam and Islamism over the dead bodies of our beloved.
Let me end with a quote from the late Marxist, atheist and humanist Mansoor Hekmat:
“I realise that the interests of some require that they rescue Islam (as much as possible) from the wrath of those who have witnessed the indescribable atrocities of or been victimised by Islamists. I also realise that the extent of these atrocities and holocausts is such that even some Islamists themselves do not want to take responsibility for them. So it is natural that the debate on ‘true Islam’ vis-à-vis ‘practical Islam’ is broached over and over again. These justifications, however, are foolish from my point of view (that of a communist and atheist) and from the points of views of those of us who have seen or been the victims of Islam’s crimes. They are foolish for those of us who are living through a colossal social, political and intellectual struggle with this beast. The doctrinal and Koranic foundations of Islam, the development of Islam’s history, and the political identity and affiliation of Islam and Islamists in the battle between reaction and freedom in our era are too obvious to allow the debate on the various interpretations of Islam and the existence or likelihood of other interpretations to be taken seriously.
“…In Islam, be it true or untrue, the individual has no rights or dignity. In Islam, the woman is a slave. In Islam, the child is on par with animals. In Islam, freethinking is a sin deserving of punishment. Music is corrupt. Sex without permission and religious certification, is the greatest of sins. This is the religion of death. In reality, all religions are such but most religions have been restrained by freethinking and freedom-loving humanity over hundreds of years. This one was never restrained or controlled. With every move, it brings abominations and misery.
“Moreover, in my opinion, defending the existence of Islam under the guise of respect for people’s beliefs is hypocritical and lacks credence. There are various beliefs amongst people. The question is not about respecting people’s beliefs but about which are worthy of respect. In any case, no matter what anyone says, everyone is choosing beliefs that are to their liking. Those who reject a criticism of Islam under the guise of respecting people’s beliefs are only expressing their own political and moral preferences, full stop. They choose Islam as a belief worthy of respect and package their own beliefs as the ‘people’s beliefs’ only in order to provide ‘populist’ legitimisation for their own choices. I will not respect any superstition or the suppression of rights, even if all the people of the world do so. Of course I know it is the right of all to believe in whatever they want. But there is a fundamental difference between respecting the freedom of opinion of individuals and respecting the opinions they hold. We are not sitting in judgement of the world; we are players and participants in it. Each of us are party to this historical, worldwide struggle, which in my opinion, from the beginning of time until now has been over the freedom and equality of human beings…” (Mansoor Hekmat, Islam and De-Islamisation,January 1999)
Here is a video clip of the speech.