Below is my speech at today’s World Founding Congress of Free Thought in Oslo, Norway:
I am very pleased to support the founding World Congress of Free Thought. It’s particularly important in a world where religion, superstition, and archaic traditions and moralities are suppressing free thought and expression day in and day out.
Today, we see this clearly with regards Islam not because Islam is worse than any other religion but because we are living under what I call an Islamic inquisition.
Under an inquisition, freethinking is banned. Even having a ‘personal’ religion is impossible let alone atheism. You can’t pick and choose as you’d like. Islamists will kill, threaten or intimidate anyone who interprets things differently, dissents, thinks freely or who transgresses their norms by living 21st century lives.
One of the characteristics of an inquisition is policing of thought. Censorship is rife so that one can face the death penalty for merely reading a book. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600; in 2011 there are numerous examples of people being killed for similar reasons. In the Islamic Republic of Iran alone, 130 offences are punishable by death including blasphemy, heresy, apostasy and 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 thinking, speaking, laughing, for listening to music, for loving, and for breathing.
The purpose of the Sharia ‘justice’ system is to elicit a confession. 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 to Islamism. It’s a killing machine. Sharia law is designed to teach the masses the damnable nature of dissent and freethinking.
Religion in general and Islam in particular will only allow free thought (at face value at least if even that is possible) when they have been pushed in a corner and out of the public space – when they have been forced to run soup kitchens rather than schools, courts and Islamic Assemblies.
It is the difference between Christianity today and one during the inquisition (though Christianity still plays a huge role in suppressing free thought, spreading superstition and causing harm albeit in a less visible role in Europe).
If you look at Christianity today it’s not that the tenets, dogma, and principles have changed since the days of the inquisition and witch burnings. What has changed is its social and political influence in society, in people’s lives, and in its relation with the state, the law and educational system. To the degree that it has become undermined, 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.
A fight for free thought is clearly a fight against Islamism and this era’s inquisition. It’s also a fight against religion in general and for the complete separation of religion from the state, educational system, and judicial system. A secular society is a minimum precondition for a society where free thought is not a crime. Particularly, since much of free thinking is a challenge to religious dogma and that which is taboo.
It’s important to note that a fight against Islamism and religion’s adverse role in stifling free thought is not a fight against Muslims; it’s a defence of everyone’s right to think as they choose without fear and intimidation. Don’t forget, Muslims or those labelled as such are the first victims of Islamism and many are at the forefront of battling it. Nowhere is opposition against Islamism and Sharia law greater than in countries under Islamic rule.
It is also not a fight against immigrants. Islamism after all was brought to centre stage by the US Cold War policy of creating a green Islamic belt around the then Soviet Union. It was not concocted in some immigrant’s kitchen. Plus many immigrants have actually fled Islamism and Sharia law and continue to fight it once here.
And whilst the fight for free thought and against Islamism is an historical task and duty, it must go hand in hand with a fight against the far-Right, particularly in Europe, Australia and North America. This is especially important to say in a city and country which has just faced an immense human tragedy and atrocity.
Anders Behring Breivik may have worked alone but his was not the lone act of a madman. There are numerous organisations and political parties with similar platforms that have gained and are gaining influence, including winning parliamentary seats. This is due to a number of factors including the unprecedented attack on people’s welfare and livelihood, the respectability afforded anti-immigrant policies, the ‘war on terror’, and the ethno-cisation of the world. This is also due to multi-culturalism – not as a positive lived experience, but as a social policy that has segregated communities and the world. Today people everywhere are divided into religions, cultures, nationalities, and ethnicities whilst our humanity, universalism and citizenship have been deemed irrelevant.
Ironically, whilst the far-Right appears to target Islamism, they have similar ideologies, characteristics, tactics, and aims. Islamism is also an extreme Right movement. Both rely on religion. Both use a language of hate. They are extremely xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. Both rely on indiscriminate violence and terrorism to intimidate the population at large. They are dogmatic and punish free thinkers and dissenters. Both use threats and scaremongering to push forward their agenda. Both are vehemently anti-working class and the Left. They believe in the superiority of their views and culture and deal harshly with anyone who transgresses. The world they have in mind is equally bleak, segregated, hateful and inhuman.
Clearly, any freethinker today must also be an anti-fascist. Not the pro-Islamist and anti-racist Left version of anti-fascism that is only against its ‘own’ fascists. And also not the sort we are increasingly seeing amongst secularists and atheists that have joined hands with the far-Right against the Islamic and ‘foreign’ version. Groups like Stop Islamisation of Europe and the English or Norwegian Defence Leagues are as hateful as the Islamists and not allies. Our enemy’s enemy is not necessarily our friend. In fact they are two sides of the same coin.
What we need today is a renewed anti-fascism that is against the far-Right and Islamism and puts people – real live human beings – and not cultures, religions, nationality, race, ethnicity at its centre.
Only a renewed anti-fascist movement that stands firm against both, and unequivocally defends citizenship and universal rights, freedom, equality and secularism can hope to win. In the face of regression and abomination, its banner must be a humanity without labels. It must hold the human being sacred and nothing else.