Nightmare week

This week I have been dealing with a number of really heart-wrenching cases. Apart from the asylum cases that need support, and desperate emails and calls from people living under Islamism who fear for their lives and want to flee, I am also working on a case of a young woman (under 18 and a British national) who has been sent back to North Africa by her family because she is disobedient. Her passport has been taken from her and she is in danger of forced marriage. Doesn’t it make you wonder how it is possible that her school or social services have not registered that a young girl is missing and not been heard of or seen for months!?

And just today, I was asked to help a woman whose 5 year old son has been abducted by her abusive husband and taken back to the Middle East. I just couldn’t stop thinking about how small he is, how scared he must be and how lost she must feel without her baby… She had gone to the police a number of times warning them of his intentions but did they listen?

When I say that people have to take precedence over religion and culture, it’s not just a slogan. It is about saving lives, protecting rights and treating people equally no matter what their background…

Why is that so hard to understand?


Every morning I wake up on the wrong side of capitalism

There’s been a call for a general strike on May 1 – International Workers Day.

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

Just protest.

I’m in.

To find out more on what you can do on the day, click here.

Here’s one Facebook page you can join.

The call has been translated into Persian, Arabic, French, Italian, Japanese and more here.

Update on Alex Aan and Hamza Kashgari: We must keep the pressure on


If you recall, I had told you about the case of 30 year old atheist Alex Aan, the civil servant who had been beaten and arrested in Indonesia because his postings on Facebook ‘insulted Islam’. In an update on his case, it’s reported that he has been indicted on three counts. The report says that the trial was attended by five witnesses who had seen the pictures and posts on the Facebook group [and obviously still lived to tell the tale].

The Prosecutor has said the posts caused a ‘public disturbance and outcry’ [yes to all FIVE members of the public]. Apparently, the indictment was ‘strengthened by the fact that Yuhandri, an expert witness, said a person was not allowed to write anything that created public disturbance and outcry.’

Whilst this all seems like a really bad joke, let’s not forget that Alex has been in prison since 20 January. You may know that the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the Atheist Alliance International are collecting money towards his case. We’ve sent him a letter asking him how he wants the money to be spent and what he needs.

A human rights activist will have gone to Padang today to meet Alex and his lawyers at Sijunjung court and give him our letter. He’ll also bring back more details about his case and what more we can do to help.

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 around £600, including a donation from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK).


In other news, there have been some reports that 23 year old Hamza Kashgari who faces execution in Saudi Arabia for his Tweets about Mohammad is now out of danger and is to be released imminently or that he is only being held ‘for his own safety’. But these reports are not true.

I just got two messages from a family member and a friend. One message said:

That’s not true, nothing has been confirmed so far, everything still foggy and in a gray area. We hear from him from one time to time informing us that he’s ok and that’s it.

We must keep the pressure on the Saudi goverment so that it doesn’t dare hurt him because the world’s attention has been turned elsewhere or because people think he is now safe. He’s not.

Here’s a petition you can sign; it’s already been signed by the likes of Soad Baba Aissa, Gita Sahgal, Salman Rushdie and Richard Dawkins. Please sign it now if you haven’t already done so.

By the way, here’s a site of his supporters. It has a counter. He has been in prison now for 60 days…

Afghanistan’s female banksy

Have you seen the graffiti work of 24 year old Shamsia Hassani, an associate professor of Sculpture at Kabul University in Afghanistan and a founding member of a contemporary art collective, Roshd (which means development/growth)?

Things of beauty…

A lot of her work features women in burqas, but with a modern silhouette, with hips and sharp shoulders or fish, trapped. The second piece is captioned: “The water can come back to a dried-up river, but what about the fish that died?”.  She says:

Art can bring change, I am sure. If people see an artwork, it will perhaps only cause a small shock to their mind, but that can grow and grow.

The last piece is by a male colleague.

For sweet Du’a

Deeyah just reminded me that yesterday was the anniversary of Du’a Khalil’s stoning in Iraqi Kurdistan. Here’s my speech marking her murder at a conference some time ago:

And here’s sweet 17 year old Du’a last moments – brutally murdered in the name of honour by a mob whilst police stand by merely for loving the wrong boy:


We mustn’t ever forget her or the many others who face honour-based violence and honour killings across the globe.

The wonders of HarassMap

Have you all heard of Harassmap? It’s a fantastic application for mobile phones in Egypt, which allows for reporting of incidences of sexual harassment via SMS messaging. It gives women a way to anonymously report sexual harassment as soon as they happen, using a simple text message from their mobile phone.

You can see the reports as they show up here. One of the more recent ones says ‘followed and touched by ten year old boy’ and another says:

Yesterday evening around 7pm two teenagers followed me over several streets until I escaped into a taxi. They shouted something in my taxi and the driver laughed with them. I got really angry and asked him why he thinks that it is funny and he should help me instead of supporting these idiots. I engaged in a long discussion with him and in the end he said, well if you dont want to be harassed why do you not wear the veil. He was in total denial of the whole situation and didnt believe me that also veiled women are getting harassed.  

One study mentioned shows that 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women surveyed have been sexually harassed in Egypt, about half of these on a daily basis. 72.5% of harassment victims surveyed were veiled; only 2.4% women sought help from police [hmm, I wonder why]. 62.4% of men surveyed confirmed that they harass women…

It’s disturbing how ‘normal’ sexual harassment is for a girl or woman living not just in Egypt but in the region. I left Iran when I was 13 or so but remember having my bum pinched quite a few times on the streets. I know many of my friends have had similar experiences. How strange then to come to the west of ‘no morals’ and find that you could actually walk down the street without being manhandled…

Of course, that’s not to say that harassment doesn’t happen here and everywhere but it is an epidemic in the Middle East.

There are a lot of reasons for this, including lack of regard for rights, the rise of Islamism, the low status of women, the fact that it is not illegal in many places, it’s often committed by the state itself (e.g. virginity tests in Egypt or sisters of Zeinab in Iran harassing women for improper veiling) and because women are seen to be the property of men. It’s also under-reported (in the above study only 2.4% of women reported it to the police), mainly because it is downright embarrassing and you end up blaming yourself. I know I never told my parents when it happened to me.

A large part of why it happens also has to do with sexual repression. As comedian Nick Doody says: It’s actually not suicide bombs going off but men exploding from sexual frustration…

Whatever the reasons, though, it has to be stopped and Harassmap is one important way to help do that.

You can follow it on Twitter: @harassmap or find our more on their blog.

Taslima and the Burqa

Taslima Nasrin has joined us on Freethoughtblogs!

Can things get any better?

If you haven’t visited her blog yet, please do.

Her post today is called ‘Let’s Burn the Burqa’. Oh, yes please.

And while we are at it can we ban it too?

Oh and before the post-modernist left and defenders of multi-culturalism and religion over women’s lives and rights start crying outrage and totalitarianism and the right to choose or what have you let me just say this: far from being liberating, the burqa is a strait-jacket for women; a mobile prison. And no more a real choice than the chastity belt or foot-binding (where women’s feet broken to keep them from wandering away from their male ‘guardians’)…

But I have a lot more to say on this of course. Here’s a debate I had with a burqa-clad woman on Newstalk Ireland.


I’d love to do this in a mosque

Two young women, Maria Alyokhin and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, have been arrested as part of an investigation into an all-female band of activists called Pussy Riot that staged an ‘obscene’ ‘punk prayer service’ at the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow as part of a protest against the election campaign. (By the way, the New York Times has kindly provided another video link with the sound turned off for those readers with tender sensibilities who ‘want to guard their ears against the song’s Russian obscenities’.)

Seriously, I would love to do this in a mosque…

Of course the church has demanded the criminalisation of blasphemy following their protest (surprise, surprise). Also, a criminal case has been opened on hooliganism charges, punishable with up to seven years in prison.

To support the band, follow their Twitter @pussy_riot.

(Link via Adam Barnett)

A cartoon is offensive?

Have you heard about the two young Tunisians, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, who have been sentenced to seven years in prison for posting cartoons of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, on Facebook?

Seven years…

And yet we keep hearing how cartoons are offensive!?! Oh boo hoo.

For those of you who keep worrying about how cartoons offend ‘Muslim’ sensitivities’, remember this. It is Islamist sensibilities that are offended and that you are defending.

And it’s not just at the expense of Rhys Morgan or the students at Queen Mary, LSE or ULU who can still carry on with their lives despite absurd accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ after posting a (shock, horror) Jesus and Mo cartoon.

Also it’s at the expense of innumerable young lives facing imprisonment, torture and even execution for cartoons and Tweets across the Middle East and North Africa. Here are a few of them.

Now that is offensive.

A ‘different culture’ doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when one is stoned

In September 2011, Mina Ahadi was invited to give a speech at the TEDxESPM conference in São Paulo, Brazil on her campaign against stoning and execution. In her speech she talks about her work and the campaign to save Iran stoning case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Mina’s first husband was executed in the same prison that Sakineh awaits her death by stoning sentence. Read on…

I am Mina Ahadi from Iran. About 5 years ago a boy called me from Iran. He was 17/18 years old and said: “Is this human rights office?” And I replied: “Yes, I deal with human rights.” He said: “Are you Mina Ahadi?” and I said: “Yes, what can I do to help you?” And he said: “My mother is going to be stoned to death. Mina, you have to help me.” I took a deep breath and said: “Who is your mother?” And he replied: “Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.” I asked: “Where is your mother?” And he answered: “In Tabriz prison.”

I had to take several breaths for Sakineh sits in the prison where my husband was executed. That’s when I said: “Okay, wait, I’m writing down the name, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, and I promise you Sajjad, I’ll help you. I won’t allow your mother to be stoned to death.”

He called again on 2nd June 2010. He said: “Mina, now it’s time. In 2 weeks my mother will be stoned to death.” I said: “You and your sister Saideh (17 years old) have to write a letter and we will translate this letter and I’ll ask people all over the world: Are we going to let this woman be stoned to death in Iran? What are we going to do about it?”

They wrote the letter and we at the International Committee against Stoning translated it into German and English and published it on the Internet. After two days, people, ordinary people from all over the world, had translated it into 30 languages and we have reached millions of people through this campaign. We managed to organise demonstrations in 110 cities. All these people stood up and did something against this barbarism.

I want to explain here why my husband was executed in Iran in the very same prison Sakineh languishes in. I was a medical student in Iran; I was born in a small village named Abhar and because of religion I was forced to go out from the age of nine dressed in a chador. I wanted to play. I asked my mother why my brother could and I couldn’t and the answer was always: because we are Muslims, because we are a Muslim family. Then I thought, I’m going to go to a big city, and then I’ll have my freedom. There I was allowed to study medicine at the University of Tabriz. The first day when I entered the university I threw away my chador and wore a mini skirt and went out. And I thought: Okay, now I have my freedom. At the University of Tabriz (back then it was the Shah’s time) I slowly realised that it’s not a free life because we were for example not allowed to discuss many things or to think. We were not allowed to read Maxim Gorky, and of course, reading Marx was also prohibited. I participated in a revolution against the Shah’s regime. Back then, we young people were on the streets but we didn’t have the chance to give reports of our revolution. There was no Facebook or Twitter then. I heard from the BBC that our revolution was an ‘Islamic’ revolution, and I laughed. Our leader was supposed to be a man named Khomeini. When we heard that name from the BBC, we all laughed. But this was no laughing matter, because the Islamists gained power in Iran. From the beginning I was against the Islamic regime of Iran too. [Read more…]

Stop safeguarding traditional values over women’s rights

For the first time in its history, the 56th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)–a global policy-making body meant to promote women’s rights–ended with no agreed conclusions. Not since Beijing (4th World Conference on Women in 1995) has there been such a stalemate between women’s rights advocates and religious/conservative forces. Once more, culture and tradition were invoked to stall progress on critical women’s rights issues and provoke a political deadlock.

The African Group, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Holy See, Caribbean Community and Common Market and several states worked to block progress on several key issues, including opposition to already agreed upon language in international texts, such as removing the term traditional from “harmful traditional practices”, lobbying to change “early and forced marriages” to the more ambiguous “child marriage”, and replacing “gender equality” with “equality between men and women” to refute the existence of any other genders. They also sought to advance “parental rights” and deny the right to comprehensive sexuality education and “reproductive rights and sexual health” as human rights.

In a joint statement, Say NO to safeguarding “traditional values” over women’s human rights!, women’s rights groups have expressed their outrage with the end result of the 56th CSW. The statement calls on governments not to put on hold the advancements of women’s rights because of political battles between states; says no to re-opening negotiations on already established international agreements on women’s human rights; and calls on governments to promote, protect and fulfill the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and reject attempts to invoke traditional values or morals which infringe upon human rights guaranteed by international law.

To see the full statement, click here.

To add your and or your organisation’s name to the list of signatories to the statement, click here.

What I may do with my body

Greta Christina has responded to Azar Majedi’s absurd attack on the Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar. If you recall, I responded to her recently as well. She says:

Now. It is certainly the case that my choice to participate in this calendar was made in the context of a sexist culture: a culture that treats women as sexual objects rather than subjects, a culture that treats women’s bodies as commodities, a culture with a strong tendency to value women primarily as ornaments, sexual playthings, and babymakers. My choice to pose naked for this calendar and let the photo of my naked body be (a) disseminated for free on the internet and (b) sold to raise money for feminist causes… yes, that choice was made in the context of this sexist culture. It was in some ways influenced by that culture, and in some ways it contributes to it.

And your choice wasn’t?

Your choice to scold me, and the other women who posed in this calendar, is somehow magically free of this sexist culture? It somehow has not been tainted by the sexist culture that treats women’s bodies as shameful, the culture that reflexively abjures women to cover our nakedness, the culture that demands that women share our bodies only with the men who rightfully own them, the culture that reflexively slut-shames women for enjoying our bodies and our sexualities and making our own decisions about it? My selling photos of my naked body to raise money for a cause I believe in is automatically part of the commodification of women… but your attempt to enforce the standards of modesty has nothing to do with women’s physical and sexual suppression? I am a cog in the machinery of this culture… but you, magically, have freed yourself from it?

And as a result, you have earned the authority to tell me what I should and should not do with my own naked body?

Read the full post here.

I am an Afghan

Afghans living in Isfahan, Iran were banned from the city’s mountainous park called Sofheh on April 1 or the 13th day of Norouz (Iranian New Year) – a day people are meant to spend outdoors – in order ‘to ensure citizens’ security and welfare’, according to the Travel Committee’s police department.

This is just the latest attack on the most vulnerable segment of Iranian society. The reported two million Afghans in Iran face huge amounts of abuse and are often scapegoated and blamed for all societal ills (sound familiar?). They end up doing the most menials tasks with little pay. They also often face beatings and mistreatment as well as violent deportations – there are ample horror stories of parents being deported whilst their children were at home and later found starved to death. Discrimination is rife. Afghan children are prohibited from attending schools. Marriages between Afghans and Iranians are also not recognised. Children born in Iran of Afghan fathers and Iranian mothers are denied birth certificates and Iranian nationality. Here’s a video of Afghans being forced by soldiers to hit themselves and say ‘We will not come to Iran again’.

In response to the regime’s latest assault on Afghans, Iranians have been quick to condemn its racism by posting photos and videos saying ‘I am also an Afghan’.

Yes indeed; we are all of us Afghans…

* Signs in Persian say ‘I am also Afghan’ and ‘No to Racism’.

(News link via Mina Ahadi)

April 2012

April 2012 is here – the first month of the Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar. The photo is of mother and daughter Anne Baker and Poppy Wilson St. James.

Mother Anne Baker says she joined the ‘scream’ and Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar because ‘men in frocks  constrain, control and intimidate women the world over  in the name of God … it has to stop.’ She goes on to say: ‘Women are at home with their bodies – they have to be. Hardworking, life giving, ever changing and beautiful these bodies have been vilified, fetishised, deemed unclean and dangerous. We have nothing to be ashamed of, whatever our age is we should be proud.’ She also says: ‘The calendar’s message is one of pride, beauty, support and a refusal to be constrained;  in the case of our photograph  across 2 generations which is wonderful.’

Daughter Poppy joined the ‘scream’ ‘because I agree with women claiming their bodies as their own, not as the property of someone else.’ She adds: ‘I own my body and I can do with it what I want, naked or otherwise. I  find it strange that it is more  acceptable to seen on screen violence and guns than even a nipple. There is something wrong with our mindset if that is what we accept as the norm and shy away from nudity which is a completely natural state. We are born naked, not with guns in our hands.’

She thinks the calendar is important ‘to show my support. The naked female form is shocking if claimed by the woman herself and in a natural state. Shock tactics appear to be the only way to communicate this message and if I have to use these tactics through taking my clothes off a cause then so be it.’

By the way, here’s the photo for Facebook, which needs to be censored (in Facebook blue) because nudity violates Facebook’s Terms of Service. Go figure. [Read more…]

What Next? Calendar of Veiled Women?

UPDATE: Err, April Fools!

Oh no. I feel really guilty.

Biodork has left FreethoughtBlogs because of me.

If you recall, she blogged positively about the Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar but her ‘socialized shame about nakedness’ was too much to bear when she received her copy in the post.

She has now left so she can focus on her brainchild – a calendar of veiled women!

She’ll be on the cover in case you don’t recognise her.

Once you wipe away your tears, please do come my way.

I could always use some extra readers to try and forestall PZ’s attempts at world domination.

Oh and she will be greatly missed…

Click here to read her last post.

Nudity is freedom

I just got back from yesterday’s brilliant FEMEN Paris action in support of women in the Middle East and North Africa.

Most certainly, nudity is freedom…

Censored Femen: Paris Nudite – Liberte manifesto… by TECHNOLOGOS

In addition to FEMEN Activists and I, other protestors included popular Lebanese actress Darina Al Jondy and well-known French women’s rights activist Safia Lebdi. I have ‘No Sharia’ on my body and ‘I am not your honour’ on my arms; my sign says ‘I am not a commodity’ in Persian. Here’s a few more photos:

By the way, you can read an article in the Global Post on the Topless Revolution here.