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.
Keynote address at the World Atheist Conference
June 4-6 2011
It is the difference between Christianity today and one during the inquisition.
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.
The distinction between humans and their beliefs and regressive political movements is of crucial significance here.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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)