I’m off for a week

As I mentioned before, I will be away 28 April – 6 May 2012 during which time I’ll be joining the Centre for Inquiry’s River Cruise to speak about Sharia law and Secularism as well as Free Expression and Islam. Other speakers will be Richard Dawkins and Ronald Lindsay.

Here’s more details.

I will have access to the internet and will try and blog regularly.

I’ll try to work really hard and not have too much fun.

 

 

Forgetting: 1 May, a day like any other?

In his Book of Embraces, Eduardo Galeano says:

Chicago is full of factories. There are even factories right in the center of the city, around the world’s tallest building. Chicago is full of factories. Chicago is full of workers.

Arriving in the Haymarket district, I ask my friends to show me the place where the workers whom the whole world salutes every May 1st were hanged in 1886.

It must be around here,’ they tell me. But nobody knows where.

No statue has been erected in memory of the martyrs of Chicago in the city of Chicago. Not a statue, not a monolith, not a bronze plaque. Nothing.

May 1st is the only truly universal day of all humanity, the only day when all histories and all geographies, all languages and all religions and cultures of the world coincide. But in the United States, May 1st is a day like any other. On that day, people work normally and no one, or almost no one, remembers that the rights of the working class did not spring whole from the ear of a goat, or from the hand of God or the boss…

To mark International Workers’ Day, May 1st, there has been a call for a general strike in the US and worldwide.

This year may not end up being a day like any other.

No work, no school, no shopping, no banking, no trading.

Just protest.

Are you in?

#M1GS

Unimaginable crime of principle

Do you remember the ten cases I highlighted to mark the 14 March International Day of Action to Defend Blasphemers and Apostates? One of them was that of the famous Egyptian comedian, Adel Imam.

Well a court has upheld his conviction for ‘offending Islam’.

There’s much that I can say about this but I’ll let author Alaa al-Aswany do the talking.

He says: the court ruling sets Egypt back to the “darkness of the Middle Ages” and that this is “an unimaginable crime of principle”.

How very true.

Alex Aan’s trial begins Thursday

Alex Aan‘s trial begins tomorrow, Thursday, with the first prosecution witnesses being called, according to Rafiq Mahmood. Alex is the 30 year old Indonesian civil servant who has been charged with ‘insulting’ Islam in an atheist group in Facebook.

Rafiq says:

This isn’t just for Alex but for all of us. There have been far too many “blasphemy” cases which have just slipped by. We have to stop it if we have a chance and Indonesia is a very good place to make a stand.

And a stand we must make.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the Atheist Alliance International are collecting money towards Alex’s case. If you want to support his case financially, you can send a donation to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Just make sure to earmark it for Alex Aan.

25 July 2012: Protest against the Olympics Committee’s failure to implement principles of equality and neutrality

On 25 July 2012 in conjunction with the opening of the London Olympics, ‘London 2012: Justice for Women’ is organising a protest against the Olympics Committee’s failure to implement principles of equality and neutrality. The group’s concerns include the banning of female athletes in contravention of principles of equality by Saudi Arabia and the inclusion of veiled women in contravention to neutrality principles. The group is also calling for homage to women pioneers in sports, amongst other demands.

The protest begins with a public meeting on the Hispaniola (moored near Embankment tube station) from 10.30am-13.00pm, focusing on the concepts of neutrality versus politico-religious symbols, and how women’s rights to equality and universalism are being ignored and denied by the Olympics Committee. Speakers at the public meeting include representatives of the European Women’s Lobby, secularists and women’s rights defenders, including from countries under Islamic laws.

Drinks, sandwiches and a New-Orleans jazz band will be made available at the meeting. [Read more...]

Fatwas cannot be questioned

A new law passed unanimously in Kedah, Malaysia says that any fatwa issued by the State Mufti ‘cannot be challenged, appealed, reviewed, denied or questioned’ in any civil or Sharia court.

Yeah so what’s new?

In all this, some women’s rights groups are spending their energy to say that the Mufti’s statements go against Islam’s tenets. But isn’t that religion for you – a set of tenets and dogma that cannot be challenged, appealed, reviewed, denied or questioned?

Whilst I understand why these groups take this position (though I couldn’t disagree more and find it self-defeating), it may be better worth their while to stop wasting their time on theology and instead arguing for secularism and religion as a private affair.

At the very least, it would be more helpful to their work as women’s rights campaigners…

We cannot remain silent about Islamist attacks on Tunisia’s universities

The below statement has been initiated by Djemila Benhabib and Caroline Fourest and supported by myself, Mina Ahadi, Boualem Sansal, Taslima Nasreen, Shoukria Haïdar, Elisabeth Badinter, Elisabeth Roudinesco, Nadia Geerts and many others. Please sign on to it in the comments section below and I can forward it to Djemila:

The entire Tunisian university community has been living under grave tension since the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year. Serious incidents have taken place at the College of Humanities and Sciences in Sousse, the College of Commerce in La Manouba, the Institute of Applied Science and Technology in Kairouan, and the College of Theology in Tunis.

The worst attacks have occurred at the College of Arts and Letters in La Manouba, where Salafist militias are demanding that a prayer room be opened and that full veils be worn during all pedagogical activities, including exams!

Ever since November 28, 2011 this College has seen guerrilla warfare, led by a small group of female students (twelve at most) dressed in niqabs and supported by militant Salafists, who for the most part are not associated with the College. They are led by Mohamed Bakhti, a 27 year-old in his first year of history studies, a former member of an armed group of Tunisian Jihadists linked to Al-Qaïda and directly implicated in terrorist attacks on Tunisian soil in 2007.

The ultra-minority group has injected fear into the heart of the university community through the deceptive and perverse nature of their demands, actions and motives. Why insist that a prayer room be opened when a place of worship is available just a stone’s throw away from the campus? Why not respect the decision of the College’s Scientific Board, who has determined that wearing a full veil is incompatible with the basic requirements of personal safety and also contradictory to educational requirements?

The college’s dean, Habib Kazdaghli, has refused to give in to Salafist pressure. As a result of his decision and given the great solidarity within the university community, this small group has not hesitated to use extremely violent methods: paralyzing the college for nearly a month, occupying administrative sites, ousting the dean from his own office, holding him for several hours and threatening him with death; physically abusing teachers, students, employees and reporters.

Instead of assuring the safety of those within the academic establishment, Tunisian authorities turn a blind eye, thus allowing a deleterious climate to continue, a climate in which the arbitrary and the tyranny of totalitarian thought flourishes. Worse yet, the Department of Education and Scientific Research, directed by Moncef Ben Salem, a deputy of the Islamist Party Ennahda, has severely criticized the dean by affirming that Kazdaghli “has not done what he should have to resolve the problem peacefully and, furthermore, has political ambitions.”

We cannot remain silent in the face of this untenable situation. This is why we women, democrats working in different professional and paraprofessional realms, commend the heroic resistance of the teachers, students and employees of the academic institutions of Tunisia, and particularly pay tribute to the College of Arts and Letters in La Manouba and to Dean Habib Kazdaghli. We urge you to join us in expressing our steadfast solidarity with the Tunisian Committee for the Defense of University Values (Comité Tunisien de Défense des Valeurs Universitaires).

You’d give us leave to self-flagellate

I’m slightly annoyed because my 6 year old’s school has just refused us leave to take him on the Centre for Inquiry’s riverboat cruise that I am speaking on this upcoming week with Richard Dawkins and Ronald A Lindsay. I have explained how I must go to such events for my work (the only way I can raise support for what I do is via such speaking engagements) and since it is 9 days long, I can’t possibly leave my son behind and must take him with me. The school has refused leave though it often approves things of a ‘religious and cultural’ nature.

Basically if I was taking my son off to self-flagellate somewhere during the school term, they would most likely be more than happy to approve leave but take him along to something that is actually educational – well no can do.

I could most probably also argue that a stint amongst atheists and freethinkers might be quite useful since they are so busy filling his head up with religious nonesense (he goes to a state school not a faith one in case you’re wondering). He came home the other day and said god created us all, whereby I had to explain how he came about because mum and dad mated. A few weeks before that he had come home and asked to pray at dinner thanking god for our food, whereby I had to explain that if anyone was to be thanked it would have to be the farmers who grew the food and I for cooking it.

Anyway, I know you’re all saying what a tough life I have – having to go on a luxury cruise to speak about Sharia law, apostasy and what not. But I have been doing this for 25 years now and none of it has ever been on a cruise so I think it’s well-deserved – leave or no leave.

European version of Al-Qaeda

The far-Right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik who killed 77 people – mainly youth – in a shooting spree and car bombing in Norway said Al Qaeda serves as an inspiration to far-right activists. ‘We want to create a European version of al-Qaeda’ he said.

And this goes to the crux of the matter.

Whilst the European far-Right (and its American counterpart) seems to be at odds with Islamism, in fact they are very much the same. As I’ve said many times before, Islamism is our far-Right. They are – all of them – enemies not allies.

Clearly, any opponent of Islamism today must also be an anti-fascist, but not the pro-Islamist Post-modernist Left variety of anti-fascism, which is only interested in opposing its ‘own’ fascists whilst allying with Islamists. Another form of ‘anti-fascism’ that must be resisted is the sort we are increasingly seeing amongst secular groups that have joined hands with the far-Right against the Islamic and ‘foreign’ versions.

According to women’s rights campaigner, Rahila Gupta:

Recent anti-racist alliances… reveal the capitulation of the left to the fascists within while organising against the fascists without. We should be sophisticated enough by now to construct a politics that is simultaneously anti-racist and anti-fundamentalist so that vulnerable groups like women, lesbians and gays and religious minorities do not get hung out to dry. As feminists we have been abandoned by those who should have been supporting our right to make ‘legitimate criticism’. They feel now, during the War on Terror, is not the right time. In a racist society, it is never the right time. When we expose the underbelly of our communities we are told that we are providing ammunition for racists. For us it isn’t a choice. We can’t hide one evil to fight another.

You can read more in One Law for All’s report entitled Enemies not Allies: The Far-Right here.

Hoodie and hijab are not the same

A few days ago, Adele Wilde-Blavatsky wrote ‘To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not Equals‘ on The Feminist Wire. In response, 77 feminists wrote an open letter accusing Adele of racism and Islamophobia (surprise, surprise). Both Adele’s original article and the open letter are no longer available on The Feminist Wire (but can be found via the links above) due to an ‘appeal to legal action’.

In support of Adele, we sent in the following statement that was published on portside.org:

We extend our full solidarity to Adele Wilde-Blavatsky for such a clear and rare analysis from feminists in Europe and North America, in which women’s resistance to the Muslim Right -including by resisting all forms of fundamentalist veiling – is made visible and honoured, rather than sacrificed on the altar of anti racism and anti imperialism’.

* Marieme Helie Lucas, sociologist, Algeria, founder and former international coordinator of the international solidarity network Women Living Under Muslim Laws ( wluml), coordinator Secularism Is A Women’s Issue
* Fatou Sow, Researcher, Senegal, international coordinator, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
* Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/UK
* Karima Bennoune, Professor of Law, Rutgers University, U S A
* Khawar Mumtaz, Shirkat Gah, Pakistan

Of course a lot more can and must be said on this important matter and we all plan to write more in the coming days but we wanted to get something out quickly in support of Adele hence the brief statement above.

You’re welcome to register your support in the comments section below since The Feminist Wire has shut down any discussion on the matter.

Meredith Tax of Centre for Secular Spaces has already written something on this. She says:

…Clearly this is meant to end the discussion. Why discuss anything with someone who is racism incarnate – as is shown by her “questioning of women’s choice to wear the niqab.”

Are all women who question this choice racist by definition? What about women in Iran who risk jail for being “mal- hijab?” What about Muslim women in Nigeria who want to wear their traditional head-wraps rather than the burquas being pushed by Saudi-financed mullahs? Do these women have agency? Or do women have agency only when they wear the veil?

Feminists should be encouraging discussion of such questions rather than trying to shut it down.

Khawar Mumtaz writes:

In the US, I am told, an “authentic” Muslim woman is the one who is in some form of hijab or veil. The rest, I suppose, are fakes or pretenders. Talk about stereo-typing! And coming from feminists is alarming.

Alarming indeed.

Hejab helps vaccinate the disease that is women

Here’s another must-see sign.

It says: ‘The veil is protection’.

The word in Persian which I have translated into ‘protection’ and which has been helpfully translated on the sign itself as ‘security’ is actually used to describe immunisations.

Basically, we women are diseases that need to be immunised with a nice big black veil that  covers us up and keeps us out of sight and mind.

30 years of Islamic rule in Iran and they still need signs like this to try and keep women in their places.

Dream on…

 

 

 

Human rights have no place in Islam

Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi who is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s religious advisor (like he needs one) and member of the regime’s Assembly of Experts said in a speech: ‘human rights and the rights of citizenship have no place in Islam.’

He added that there is no room for freedom of speech and thought in Islam; Muslims and those who convert to Islam must only adhere to the opinions of the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran and that ‘until a person has converted to Islam, he is free — but democracy and human rights have no meaning within Islam. Everything must be under the surveillance of the government, even the way people dress. And if some people say otherwise, they don’t know Islam.’

Well, isn’t that what I’ve been saying all along?

Of course the ‘International Organization to preserve Human Rights in Iran’ rejects Mesbah’s claims not because (as one would imagine) they want to defend rights but because they want to defend Islam.  They say his speech contradicts the teachings of the Koran, which is ‘based on the high value of each human being’.

Really?

Yes most definitely very highly valued – as long as the human being is not a woman, gay, socialist, freethinker, apostate, secularist, political dissident, labour activist, campaigner, unveiled, religious or ethnic minority, atheist, ex-Muslim, and only if the human being in question does not listen to music, sing, mix with the opposite sex, laugh out loud, think or breath…

Another arse of a cleric and homosexuality

Another arse of a cleric, Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi-Amoli, has said in a speech in Qom, Iran, citing the Koran:

Even animals … dogs and pigs don’t engage in this disgusting act [homosexuality] but yet they [western politicians] pass laws in favour of them in their parliaments.

He says this in a country where homosexuality is punishable by death under Sharia law in Iran. New amendments approved recently in the Islamic Assembly says that the person who plays an active role will be flogged 100 times if the sex is consensual and he is not married but the one who plays a passive role will still be put to death regardless of his marital status. [And this is what they mean when they speak of 'reforms'.]

Despite the outrages against gay people, there is an active underground gay and visible transsexual community.

I don’t know if you have seen the below must-see video on transsexuals in Iran. It makes you think how many would consider themselves gay if they were allowed to be gay in Iran.

In one clip, one says:

I am forced to undergo surgery… because of this society… This society says you must either be a man or woman… Society is forcing me…’

Another is asked: ‘If you were not in Iran, would you have the operation’. She responds ‘no’.

Another who has had the sex change operation says: ‘When someone is attracted to me, it’s as a girl… not someone dirty or corrupt.’

It shows very clearly how everything is coloured by religion when it rules and how oppressive it is for so many people who cannot conform (at least superficially) to the regressive rules. It also shows the unbelievable pressures people face not just from the state and society at large but from their nearest and dearest.

Watch it and if you can’t watch all of it, look at part 4 and 6 at the very least below the fold. You need to see this. [Read more...]

Ahmadinejad, I’m hungry

Here’s heartrenching new video footage of an old man shouting ‘Ahmadinejad, I’m hungry’ even though he is completely ignored. There’s also footage of a woman jumping on Ahmadinejad’s car to give him what’s seems to be a piece of her mind.

Watch it to see Ahmadinejad’s utter disdain and disregard and people’s insistent bravery in the face of a repressive regime.

(Via Mersedeh Ghaedi)

INDONESIA: An atheist on trial for religious defamation

The Asia Human Rights Commission has issued an appeal on behalf of Alex Aan. Read it here. Their appeal gives a lot of information on the case and also gives a list of places you can send your appeal on behalf of Alex. Remember, it’s serious. He faces up to 6 years in prison for making a statement on Facebook.

If you want to support Alex’s case financially, you can send a donation to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Just make sure to earmark it for Alex Aan. So far, we have raised over £600, including a donation from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK.

The bloody decade

There’s an International People’s Court hearing on the crimes against humanity committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran during 18-22 June 2012 in London. The hearing is a culmination of the work of Iran Tribunal, a campaign initiated in September 2007 by a group of the families and relatives of victims along with survivors of the mass executions of the 1980s.

In the light of the evidence , the Islamic Republic of Iran executed approximately 15000 political prisoners between 1981 and 1984. This means that on average one prisoner was executed every 2 hours within the first three years of the period. Between June 1988 and March 1989, approximately 5000 political prisoners were executed behind closed doors and buried in unknown mass graves. Again, on average, one political prisoner was executed every 2 hours during this period.

None of the tens of thousands of political prisoners, either those executed or those who survived, had a fair trial or access to any legal rights during the massacre of the 1980s. Each and every one of the political prisoner’s fate was decided in minutes following a few interrogatory questions posed prior to their being sentenced to death.

The People’s Court hearings will be held in two sessions. The first session has been arranged over five days during 18 to 22 June 2012 at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Centre in London. The second session will follow four months later in October 2012 and will be held at The Hague.

The Peoples’ Court shall be hearing the live statements and testimonies of over 100 witnesses of crimes perpetrated by the current regime in Iran.

Attedance is free of charge but one must register their attendance via info@irantribunal.com stating their full name and country of residence.

For more information, visit Iran Tribunal’s website.

I’m back from the dead

Well I’m sort of back from the dead. I haven’t blogged for a few days because I have been in a dark room with a massive migraine. But the pounding in my head has stopped and I am as good as new – at least for now.

I’ll be blogging again today after I go through the million and one emails waiting for me and I’ll be sure to look over your comments as soon as I can.

I’m the other type of apostate

Here’s an Egyptian cleric talking about apostates. He says:

There are two types of apostates. The first is the one who hides his apostasy and he doesn’t do anything against Islamic teachings. We have nothing to do with that kind… we only judge people by what they show and the rest is up to allah.

The second kind is the one who declared his apostasy… This person has broken the limits of personal freedom and started creating temptation in society and hence he must be punished…. and judged by the law.

I’m the second kind of apostate. The one who publicly renounces Islam, and calls on others to do so if they want via the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.

I have been asked many times why there is a need to ‘provoke’ and do it publicly? Well mainly because it is punishable by death under Sharia law as the cleric so helpfully explains. In such a situation, renouncing Islam publicly is a form of resistance – like gays coming out of the closet. It’s personal but not when you can be killed for it.

Public renunciation also helps to break the taboo and provides hope for those who are desperate and alone in their apostasy.

If I’m completely honest, it doesn’t hurt that it annoys arses like this cleric right here.

If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can watch his video on good and bad apostates. But just one thing before you do – the good apostate is merely an exercise in PR so that post-modernists and apologists for Islamism can blame us ex-Muslims for our death sentences and fatwas. In fact, the cleric and his brethren want all types of apostates killed and do just that when they have power.

Do you remember Gulnaz?

Remember Gulnaz? She was the woman who was raped and imprisoned in Afghanistan and then ‘pardoned’ to marry her rapist. Below is a programme on her case and the film, ‘Injustice’, which had been commissioned and then censored by the EU.

The programme has Persian subtitles, and some important bits in English, including an interview with the documentary-maker who gives an update on Gulnaz’s case.

She says Gulnaz is being put into the care of a family that wants her dead. Her rapist’s family and his wife have said they will not forgive her for publicising the case.

Talk about injustice.

(Link via Afsaneh Vahdat).

Interview with Alex Aan, Indonesian in prison for ‘insulting’ Islam

Rafiq Mahmood visited Alex Aan on Thursday. Alex is the 30 year old Indonesian civil servant who has been charged with ‘insulting’ Islam in an atheist group in Facebook. Aan is in the early stages of his trial – the exchange of lawyers submissions. Up until Thursday Alex was being held in the court cells. He has now been transferred to the local prison in Muara Sijunjung on remand.

The photo is of (left to right) Rafiq Mahmoud, Alex Aan, Roni Saputra – Alex’s lawyer from the Legal Aid Foundation – and the defence attorney (in uniform) keeping a careful eye on proceedings.

Here’s an interview Rafiq did on his meeting with Alex:

Interviewer: I saw you in the court sitting behind Alexander Aan. Can you tell me who you are and why you are here?

Rafiq Mahmood: Sure. My name is Rafiq Mahmood. I am an English teacher and I live in Bogor. I guess there are three reasons why I am here. First, as soon as I heard about Alex’s case, and especially after seeing his interview on Al-Jazeera in the police station in Dharmasraya I wanted to meet him. Secondly, although I am not a lawyer most of my professional life before I became an English teacher was closely tied up with the law and I am particularly interested in human rights and individual freedom. Thirdly, the outcome of Alex’s case could affect us all, including me.

Interviewer: Have you had a chance to meet Pak Aan?

RM: Yes. I was allowed to talk with him for about ten minutes after the hearing today.

Interviewer: What were your impressions of him?

RM: More than anything else his extraordinary gentleness.

Interviewer: Can I ask what you talked about?

RM: He said that the most important thing of all is love. The world is one and we are all brothers and sisters. He was deeply troubled by the news from all around the world of people suffering. Not only in Syria, and Iraq and Afghanistan where people are in the middle of conflict but also in the countries of Africa where people were hungry and mothers were watching their children dying. Also in America there were a lot of people suffering now. These are our brothers and sisters, Alex said, it doesn’t matter where they are from, it doesn’t matter about their country. I asked him, “or what they look like or their belief?” No. It doesn’t matter what they look like or what they believe. The only way to solve the problems of this world is through empathy. We can’t do that if we don’t know about each other. We need education and need to talk about ideas and information freely. There can’t be any inside or outside. We are all one. “Bhinneka Tunggal ika?” Yes. Bhinneka Tunggal ika – Unity in diversity. The most important thing is love and unity and empathy.

I told him that many people from around the world were interested in him and his case. Does he want me to tell the world this message from him? He said he didn’t know whether it counted as a message, but yes, he wanted the world to know that is what he believes.

Interviewer: Did he say anything about his case?

RM: He looked down for a while. He said that he didn’t want anyone to be hurt. He said he was sorry if he did anything wrong. He really didn’t want anybody to be upset. I said, “Alex. You haven’t done anything wrong.” He looked up and a sort of light came into his eyes. He held up his right hand, his finger pointing upwards. “I truly believe,” he said, “that I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Interviewer: You mentioned before that you are interested in the legal aspects of the case.

RM: Of course, as I said before I am not a lawyer and he has a fine and dedicated team from LBH Padang who are doing splendid work for him. I don’t want anything I may say to affect the case and I want to emphasise that this is my personal opinion only.

Alex has been indicted on three counts. Exactly the same evidence has been adduced for each count and no explanation has been given in any of the counts as to how the alleged offences match the evidence.

The first count, under Section 28 of the Information and Electronic Transactions Act is clearly aimed at people stirring up hatred or hostility on the grounds of race, religion or membership of particular groups. The only hatred that has been stirred up (and that not by electronic means) has been against Alex himself. No sane and therefore legally competent person would intentionally stir up hatred against himself. A more gentle, loving person than Alex or someone less likely to stir up hatred or hostility among anyone would be difficult to imagine.

The second and third count under Section 156a of the Criminal Code relate to the so-called blasphemy provisions. Anti-blasphemy laws have no part to play in a modern society. All ideas should be open to challenge and analysis. Human society only makes progress through the free exchange of information and ideas. People need protection; ideas – including religious ones – do not.

The second count is that Alex deliberately and publicly said or did something antagonistic to a religion practised in Indonesia. Now the practices and beliefs of every religion in Indonesia are not only opposed but are openly antagonistic to the beliefs of every other belief practised in Indonesia. Their acts of worship and discussion are open to everyone. In that sense they are public. They are certainly deliberate. If the wording of Section 156a item a. were to be applied to the letter then every single religious act of every religious denomination in Indonesia would be liable under it. The effect would be to shut down freedom of worship instead of protect it. You would have a Maoist or Stalinist state. Indonesia would be turned into North Korea. Religion would be outlawed.

Clearly the meaning of “deliberately and publicly” means the same as crying “Fire” in a crowded theatre – in other words making a statement in a place where it was intended and likely to cause the maximum distress and disturbance and not just making a deliberate statement in a forum that was publicly available.

Alex posted in a page called Ateist Minang. Everyone knows what ateist means (or think they do). If you believe in a god then you are very likely to find anything in an atheist site uncomfortable if not downright offensive. If you pick up a bottle marked POISON and drink from it, you cannot sue the manufacturers if, as was predictable and likely, you fell ill afterwards.

The third count is impossible for an individual to do, least of all someone as marginalised as a supposed atheist in religion soaked Indonesia. 156a item b. prohibits anyone from preventing someone believing in the “one almighty god”. No one can make or prevent anyone into believing or not believing anything. The nearest that anyone can get to that is a state which has control over the education system and has the power to outlaw religious services and to close and demolish religious buildings. It is difficult to see how a powerless individual, least of all someone as mild mannered as Alexander Aan, could possibly commit such an offence.

Interviewer: Thank you very much for that. There is just one other thing I want to ask you. You said that the outcome of Pak Aan’s case could affect everyone, including yourself. How is that?

RM: I live in Indonesia. This is my home and I am part of Indonesian society, even if I am not a citizen. The youth of Indonesia love their Blackberries and their Facebook. They love to talk with each other. Having a minority belief, or non-belief, can make you feel very isolated unless you can communicate with someone who shares the way you think. If we cannot share information and ideas freely, including ideas which may upset some people, then we become trapped, frightened and alone. We have lost the right to be ourselves, which was surely what independence and the struggle to achieve it was all about.

It is no secret that I am no longer a Muslim. That is not my fault. I have done nothing wrong. I just couldn’t believe in it any more. I have made many friends through Facebook and through sharing thoughts and ideas. If this case goes against Alex we will no longer have that freedom. We will be forever listening out for the police knocking on the door in the early hours of the morning and wanting to check our computer files. That is not the Indonesia I love. We must all be free to be ourselves. Bhinneka Tunggal Ika!

****

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the Atheist Alliance International are collecting money towards his case. If you want to support Alex’s case financially, you can send a donation to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Just make sure to earmark it for Alex Aan. So far, we have raised over £600, including a donation from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK).