Confronting Islamism with Secularism, Free Expression and Citizenship Rights

The below is my speech prepared for European Parliament meeting on 23 February 2016.

Today, I would like to focus on the importance of defending secularism, universalism, free expression, and citizenship rights in confronting Islamism.

To begin with, let me clarify the distinctions between Islam (an idea), Muslims (people) and Islamism (the religious-Right). The three are often conflated to the advantage of the Islamists and to the disadvantage of dissenters and freethinkers.

Let me explain.

Islamism is a political movement with state power. Whilst it relies on religion as well as terror and violence, it is firmly rooted in political equations for the extreme-Rightwing restructuring of society.

All religious-Right movements – whether it’s the Hindu-Right, Christian-Right, Jewish or Buddhist-Right are fundamentally comparable, albeit with differences as in any phenomenon and depending on their power and influence.

The fight for secularism and universal values is first and foremost a fight against the religious-Right in general and Islamism in particular – whether in Europe or globally.

Islam on the other hand is a religion like all others and can and must be open to criticism, even mockery and blasphemy. When you can be killed for leaving Islam, the celebration and normalisation of blasphemy and apostasy  are important forms of resistance.

This is increasingly difficult, not just in countries under Islamic law, but here in Europe too where much-needed criticism is often equated with bigotry and discrimination against the “Muslim minority.” Accusations of Islamophobia are often used to scaremonger people into silence rather than out of any patronising “concern for minorities” – as if “minorities” do not need or have the right to criticise religion and the religious-Right.

This homogenisation of entire “communities” and societies refuses to acknowledge that there are many within those who are considered “Muslims” who oppose Islamism or disagree or dislike some or all of the tenets of Islam just like there are those who oppose the Christian-Right and disagree with or dislike tenets of Christianity. Equating criticism of Islam with bigotry aids the Islamists in their imposition of “secular” blasphemy laws using rights language to censor and limit the right to free expression. Freedom of expression without the right to criticise religion is meaningless. Such criticism has been key for social progress. In the age of ISIS, it is also crucial for the defence of rights and equality.  It helps to dismantle and subvert the sacred and its political role and open the space for dissent where none is permissible or acceptable by those in power.

When masses of people are homogenised and seen to be one and the same with the Islamists, the right to free expression is reduced to a western demand rather than a universal one. But no one needs free expression more than those challenging or living under the boot of the religious-Right – where criticism of religion is often seen to be analogous with criticism of the state with serious consequences.

This gives added importance to the free expression of those of us who live here in Europe. Our criticism can help push open the space for dissent particularly for those who are unable to do so or who are paying with their lives.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain is an excellent example of this. When CEMB was formed nearly 9 years ago to break the taboo that comes with leaving Islam and to challenge apostasy laws, there were hardly any ex-Muslims willing to speak publicly. Today there are many who do so, asserting their right to atheism, including in countries where it is a prosecutable offence – primarily via social media.

In December 2015, for example, the CEMB initiated #ExMuslimBecause; within 24 hours it had trended on Twitter with 120,000 Tweets from 65 countries. This despite the fact that atheism is seen as a serious challenge to Islamic states. Saudi Arabia, for example, introduced a law in 2014 that defines “atheism as terrorism.” And 14 states impose the death penalty for atheists: Afghanistan, Iran, Islamic State, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Even in Europe, many ex-Muslims remain in the closet and fear upsetting their families, facing ostracisation or placing themselves in danger. Ex-Muslims are often seen though Islamist eyes with labels of Islamophobic, “native informants,” and “coconuts” and are accused of “inciting hatred and discrimination” against Muslims.

Nonetheless, the right to religion has a corresponding right to be free from religion, including for those labelled “Muslims.”

Though dissent is often portrayed as a betrayal or an attack on the “Muslim community,” it is in fact very much part of everyday life as I mentioned before. Everything from the veil, Sharia Law to gender segregation… are highly contested and challenged. Yet because of the homogenisation of “Muslims” and their conflation with Islamists, there is this absurd perception that there is no dissent. It’s as if we don’t have any atheists, secularists, free thinkers, women’s rights campaigners, socialists, democrats… amongst those labelled Muslims. From this point of view, the default and “authentic” Muslim is always the Islamist.

Identity politics and multiculturalism (not as a lived experience but as a segregationist social policy) including the Iraq-isation of the world has so essentialised “Muslims” that solidarity with or opposing bigotry against “Muslims” usually means that the postmodernist Left end up in siding with Islam and Islamism rather than with dissenters and political and social movements and ideals.

This is why, for example, the Feminist Society and LGBTQ+ Society at Goldsmiths University absurdly issued a statement of solidarity with the Islamic Society whose “brothers” attempted to disrupt and intimidate my talk on “Apostasy, Blasphemy and Free Expression in the Age of ISIS,” rather than with me.

“What is most upsetting” in all this, says Marieme Helie Lucas “is the implication that oppressed people can only turn out as fascists, never revolutionaries. Is this really what the left in Europe now believes?” She adds: “Can the left accept that citizens are assigned a ‘minority’ identity against their will, on the basis of their name, or their geographical origin, or that of their families? Can the left accept that this communal identity supersedes their civil rights? This was done to the Jews under Nazism. Will the left accept that it be done to Muslims, and those presumed to be Muslims, regardless of their personal religious beliefs? If the left is serious about supporting oppressed minorities, it should realise that those who speak in the name of the community do not necessarily have the legitimacy to do so. By supporting fundamentalists, they simply chose one camp in a political struggle, without acknowledging it.”

This has also been the position of successive British governments whereby multiculturalism and multi-faithism has been promoted as social policies to defend religion’s role in the public space, impose religious identity as the only marker to define citizens, and hand large sections of citizens to be managed and controlled by regressive Islamist organisations and imams.

There are no more citizens but segregated communities with their own faith schools, faith-based services and even faith-based courts: Separate and Unequal.

But you cannot be a 21 century human being and live under Islamic rules – whether in Europe or elsewhere – and not clash with it. It’s impossible. You don’t need to draw a cartoon of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, to do this.

Just celebrate Valentine’s Day and see what happens. From Indonesia, to Pakistan, to Iran, there are edicts and directives trying to stop people from celebrating it – without success. Last year in Saudi Arabia, five Saudi men were arrested by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and sentenced to 32 years in prison and 4,500 lashes for holding a Valentine’s Day party with “unrelated women, drinking and dancing.” In Islamic schools here in Europe, Valentine’s Day is frowned upon as un-Islamic.

Take any other aspect of people’s lives and this clash is evident. Take music.

ISIS recently beheaded a 15 year old boy for listening to western music on his CD player at his dad’s shop.

In Iran, a metal band called Confess face the death penalty for blasphemy; “advertising against the system”; forming and running an illegal band and record label in the “satanic ‘metal & rock’ music style”; writing anti-religious, atheist, political and anarchist lyrics.

In Mali, the Islamists have banned music. Aliou Toure, the lead singer of Mali’s Songhoy Blues says: “We had no idea that one day we could be forbidden from playing music, because music is universal… It’s like being forbidden to see the woman you love. Music for us is like a woman we love.”

In Britain, too, groups like the Muslim Council of Britain advise that children of Muslim parents should avoid “harmful” music.

As I said, people’s daily lives clash with Islamic rules. If it didn’t – if it was people’s culture and religion, there would be no need for absurdly titled “Commissions for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” or the “morality police. “Islamists would not need to impose their laws with such indiscriminate violence and repression.

In fact, the terrorism we have witnessed in Paris and London but mainly mosques and markets and schools in many cities across the “Islamic” world is just the tip of the iceberg. Sharia law controls and restricts every aspect of people’s lives making clashes inevitable, particularly since a large majority of the populations in the Middle East are under 30.  And of course this does not even begin to include those who risk their very lives by criticising Islam directly. People like:

Raif Badawi, sentenced to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes in Saudi Arabia

Bangladeshi bloggers, like Avijit Roy, hacked to death for criticising Islam

Hesameddin Farzizadeh, 23 year old writer and student who has been sentenced to 7 years in prison, 74 lashes and the death penalty for apostasy in Iran for a book examining the history and questioning facets of Shi’a Islam

Abdulaziz Dauda, also known as Abdul  Inyass, an Islamic scholar sentenced to death in Nigeria for blasphemy for a lecture which was deemed to be blasphemous against Islam’s prophet

Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet and artist who lives in Saudi Arabia, who has been sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ for his poetry which the regime claims has questioned religion and spread atheism

27 Sudanese Muslims from the Qurani sect, charged with apostasy and disturbing the public peace for considering the Quran holy but believing that the Hadith are not authentic

Or Egyptian poet Fatima Naoot given a 3-year sentence for insulting Islam Eid Al-Adha’s tradition of slaughtering sheep as the “greatest massacre committed by human beings”…

The list is endless.

It makes me laugh to hear Sam Harris say “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.” Or the far-Right like Pegida  saying that they are the only ones “critical of Islam,” crying crocodile tears for the victims of Islamism whilst dehumanising and vilifying its victims and survivors, including by equating refugees with ISIS – all in order to defend what is fundamentally a “white, Christian Europe” against what they perceive to be the Muslim/migrant “savage hordes.”

The defence of the clash of civilisations theses ignores the fact that “Secularism and fundamentalism are not ideas stitched into people’s DNA,” according to writer Kenan Malik. In reality, there is a clash between theocrats on the one hand and secularists, including many “Muslims” on the other.

What is often forgotten in all this talk equating Islam and Islamism with “Muslims” is that Islamism has been build on the mass graves of our dissenters – Muslims, Ex-Muslims, religious minorities, political dissidents, transgressors and others.

In Iran, an entire generation has been slaughtered for this movement to maintain itself in the state. There are similar stories in many places such as in Algeria where the term “green fascists” was coined.

One has to see this immense dissent in order to begin to separate people from the Islamists and to ally with and show solidarity with progressive social and political movements and see the commonalities in our fight for secularism and against Islamism in Europe and across the globe.

Identity politics ignores and negates the plurality and dissent and fails to see the social and political struggles and class politics.

“The result of all this,” says Kenan Malik, “is that solidarity has become increasingly defined not in political terms – as collective action in pursuit of certain political ideals – but in terms of ethnicity or culture.”

This is the story of our lives.

Take the example of 27 year old Farkhunda accused by a mullah of being an “infidel” who burnt verses of the Koran in Afghanistan. She was attacked by a mob in Kabul, lynched, stoned, run over, burnt and her body thrown in a river whilst onlookers and police stood by.

What could she expect when she goes against “Muslim sensibilities” tweeted one of these absurd liberal Left do-gooders who only seem to do good for religion and the religious-Right but never women? But wasn’t Farkhunda Muslim too? Actually she was very devout and had gone to the local mullah to tell him to stop selling amulets to women.

What became very obvious after her murder was that not all Afghans or Muslims or Muslim men have the same “sensibilities.” Women carried her body– going against Islamic customs – to her gravesite and with her family’s permission encircled by a chain of men to protect them. They surrounded her coffin right until the end, gave her the respect she deserved, and chanted: “we are all Farkhunda.” And when a mullah who had justified Farkhunda’s killing, tried to join them, they refused, created a circle around her gravesite, and forced him to leave.

Azaryun, a youth activist says, “That is what Farkhunda teaches me: together we can change the narrative that others write about women. We stood up against the most respected mullah. We carried the coffin and buried her.”

Neayish, a medical student, said: “It was the first time I realized my real power and told myself that I’m breaking the boundaries of tradition.”

So “the people” of Afghanistan do not all agree. “Muslims” are not all the same. And I place Muslims in quotes since not everyone living in Afghanistan or Iran are Muslims or Islamists just like not everyone is Britain is Christian or Pegida.

Everywhere, from Iran to Afghanistan and Algeria and in the heart of Europe there are women and men who break taboos and change narratives and stand against religion’s encroachment in people’s lives and against Islamism.

Islamism’s culture is not the culture of the many who refuse and resist. It’s not ours.

As Women Living Under Muslims Laws says: Islamism’s ” main target is the internal democratic opposition to their theocratic project and to their project of controlling all aspects of society in the name of religion, including education, the legal system, youth services, etc. When fundamentalists come to power, they silence the people, they physically eliminate dissidents, writers, journalists, poets, musicians, painters – like fascists do. Like fascists, they physically eliminate the ‘untermensch’ – the subhumans – among them ‘inferior races’, gays, mentally or physically disabled people. And they lock women ‘in their place’, which as we know from experience ends up being a straight jacket…”

Of course with the rise of Islamism, appearances of religiosity increases but much of this is imposed or as a result of pressure and intimidation and state-driven or political “revival.”

In the past several decades, the rise of Islamic states and movements in many countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, Europe; the constraints on free expression; the imposition of Sharia law, increased veiling and gender segregation are the direct result of a rise of Islamism and not due to people becoming more devout.

Let’s not forget that Islamism was brought to centre stage as a political tool in aid of US foreign policy during the Cold War in an attempt to create a ‘green belt’ around the then Soviet Union. In contemporary history, the rise of Islamism can be linked to the establishment of an Islamic regime in Iran on the back of a suppressed left-leaning revolution. Of course, now, it is a movement that stands on its own two feet and brings misery wherever it rears its ugly head.

Despite this, let’s also remember that the rise of Islamism has seen a corresponding rise in atheism, women’s liberation and secularism in “Muslim” societies and communities – a form of backlash and resistance.

Social media and the internet have had similar effects to the printing press, giving masses of people access to ideas and information normally censored and suppressed by Islamist state controlled media. It’s also given people the opportunity to say the unsayable, break taboos and question the status quo. A quick look at only the Arab atheist pages recently censored by Facebook gives a small idea of what I can the tsunami of atheism.

There are countless examples of this huge political fight against the Islamists by those deemed to be of “Muslim heritage” and how these contestations are ignored in Europe with only Islamism’s narrative given credence.

In Iran, for example, women are fighting hard to enter sports stadiums where they are banned due to gender segregation rules. In Britain, however, gender segregation is actively promoted. One good example of this is when in December 2013, Universities UK, a regulatory body, endorsed gender segregation in its guidelines on external speakers, saying: “Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.” (The familiar separate but equal arguments we heard during racial apartheid in South Africa.)

UUK was eventually forced to withdraw its guidance after women’s rights campaigners and secularists protested the guidelines; as a result of our campaigning efforts, the Equality and Human Rights Commission ruled against it saying: “Gender segregation is not permitted in any academic meetings or at events, lectures or meetings provided for students, or at events attended by members of the public or employees of the university or the students’ union.”

Sharia family codes are another area where women’s rights campaigners have fought hard to oppose discriminatory laws. Under Sharia’s civil code a women’s testimony is half that of a man’s, women have limited right to divorce whereas men have unilateral right to divorce, child custody is given to the father at a pre-set age irrespective of the welfare of the child and marriage contracts are entered into between the man and the woman’s male guardian.

The Islamic Sharia court in Britain explains why a woman’s testimony is half that of a man’s: ‘If one forgets, the other can remind her.’ It’s the difference between a man and a woman’s brains.’ ‘A woman’s character is not so good for a case where testimony requires attention and concentration.’ It goes on to say it is not ‘derogatory’ but ‘the secret of women’s nature.’

According to human rights campaigner Gita Sahgal, “there is active support for sharia laws precisely because it is limited to denying women rights in the family. No hands are being cut off, so there can’t be a problem …”

But this is an area of fightback for many years.

In Algeria, women’s rights activists singing for change label 20 years of Sharia in the family code as 20 years of madness.  They sing:

“I am telling you a story

Of what the powerful have done

Of rules, a code of despair

A code obsessed with women…”

“This law must be undone…!”

In Iran, after the establishment of Sharia law there, the Iranian Lawyers’ Association came out in full force against the new religious codes only to be met with arrest and exile; some opponents were even charged with apostasy, which is a “crime” punishable by death…

But here, the British government has so far failed to defend women’s rights and equality and even groups like the British Humanist Association state that Sharia courts are people’s “right to religion;” its Chief Executive has stated after visiting a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council that he was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do.”

Also, despite its discriminatory nature, the Law Society in Britain issued a practice note for solicitors on how to draw up ‘Sharia-compliant’ wills, stating that:

“… illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs … The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir … Non-Muslims may not inherit at all … a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir…”

The note was withdrawn only after the protests of women’s rights campaigners and secularists.

It’s the same with regards the veil, burqa and niqab, which are highly contested.

In Iran, for example, there is an unveiling movement though improper veiling and unveiling is punishable by a fine, arrest, and up to two months in prison.

In Iran, billboards will compare unveiled women to  unwrapped sweets – free for the taking. Here in Europe, pressures include calling improperly veiled women “hoejabis.” Despite this, “progressives” often defend the hijab as a “right” and a “choice” when, socially speaking, it has been imposed by brute force. Defenders of the veil here in Europe forget that there is a corresponding right to unveil and for unveiled women not to be perceived as whores and sources of fitnah.

What I want to say is that in areas where there is a huge fight taking place, like against Sharia law, the veil or gender segregation, rather than siding with those defending women’s rights and equality, there is often a defence of the Islamists under the guide of defending “Muslims.”

How to change things? We need to go back to basics. It is the human being who has rights, deserves respect and equality, not religions, cultures and beliefs and certainly not the religious-Right.

“Muslims” or those labelled as such – whether citizens of Europe for generations or migrants who arrived today – are individuals not to be collectively blamed or held to account for Islamism’s crimes. Also religion or culture cannot trump human rights. A defence of universal rights in the face of cultural relativism is most needed and urgent.

Key in all this is secularism.

Secularism (the separation of religion from the state) is a precondition for safeguarding individual rights; is not western but universal; and is a fundamental right and necessity for all, particularly for those living outside of the west or in minority communities here in Europe.

In fact, the articulation and defence of secularism is more urgent than ever given the encroachment on civil rights and freedoms by the religious-Right (particularly Islamism) and the urgent need for solidarity with the palpable fight-back in many communities and societies.

Whilst secularism is often portrayed as anti-religion, it in fact guarantees the right to religion and belief.

This is not the case when religion has a role in the state. The death penalty for apostasy or blasphemy, including against believers, is one example of many. In Iran 130 offences are punishable by death, including heresy and enmity against god.

Secularism also defends the right to expression of belief even whilst limiting the role of expression in the public space. For example, the Christian-Right calls for laws forbidding reproductive rights for all citizens yet laws granting such rights do not force Catholics to practice either contraception or abortion.

On the flip side, there are sharia law courts in Britain, where women’s rights are discriminated against. Where the law is secular, women have equal rights and access not available to them under religious laws. Restricting these sharia courts would still allow women to give up their rights to alimony or child custody in a civil court if they felt they deserved nothing whilst protecting the many who don’t want to or are coerced into giving up their rights under sharia.

What is often touted as ‘religious rights’ here in Europe is in fact an imposition by the religious-Right and Islamists and aims to implicate the state in the implementation of inequalities in the name of rights. There is, however, no right to oppress and discriminate against.

As author and human rights lawyer, Karima Bennoune says:

“…in applying freedom of religion, both those who believe and those who choose not to believe, as well as those who seek to manifest belief and those who do not wish to be coerced to do so, must be taken into consideration. This is only possible in a framework of secularism…

“…The term secularism here means emphasis on the temporal over the religious in law and an accompanying minimization of the role of religion in the functioning of the state and legal system. The significance of the temporal for human rights is not that it is always morally superior to the religious, [though I would argue it is] but rather that it is contestable. The temporal allows space for dissent which the ‘you cannot argue with God’ paradigm forecloses.”

Those who consider a demand for secularism as ‘culturally inappropriate,’ ‘western,’ or ‘colonialist’ are only considering Islamism’s sensibilities and values, not that of the many who resist. Islamism is a form of colonialism though it is seen as ‘authentic.’ Islamists in Niger or Mali are de-Africanising the “lived Islam” there, for example, and the niqab and burqa were unheard of in many countries just a few decades ago.

Plus even in many western countries the fight for secularism is not over. Britain for example, has an established church. The queen is the head of the Church of England. There are unelected bishops in the House of Lords and daily prayers in Parliament. Even in France, which is renowned for its secularism, judges take Sharia law into account in, for example, the annulment of marriage and have even introduced Sharia’s civil code for some of its citizens of North African descent via bilateral agreements.

Also, what is often forgotten is that believers can be secularists too.  Recent surveys in France show that about 25% of the population in France is atheist, with the same percentage being Christian and also Muslim. 75% of the population, however, are secularists.  Research carried out by Southall Black Sisters in the UK shows that many women, including those who are ‘deeply observant want to be able to traverse different religious spaces for their social and emotional lives and secular spaces for their activism and advice.’

There are strong secular movements in so-called Muslim-majority countries like Iran, Pakistan, Algeria and Mali, despite the great risks involved. Karima Bennoune has brought to light many such groups and individuals in her recently published book, the title of which is based on a Pakistani play where the devotional singer who is beaten and intimidated for singing deemed ‘un-Islamic’ retorts: ‘Your fatwas do not apply here.’

The uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, such as the mass protests against Islamists for the assassination of Socialist leader Chokri Belaid in Tunisia; the vast secular protests in Turkey against Islamisation; the Harlem Shake in front of Muslim Brotherhood headquarter in Egypt and the largest demonstration in contemporary history against the Muslim Brotherhood – 33 million people – are all evidence of that.

The systematic and theorised failure to defend secularism and people’s, particularly women’s, civil rights in many countries and communities, only aids and abets the religious-Right to the detriment of us all – believers and none.

As British philosopher AC Grayling has said: secularism is a fundamental right. Today, given the influence of the religious-Right, it is also a precondition for women’s rights and equality and for rights and freedoms in the society at large. It must be actively defended, promoted, and articulated.

Mass protests in Iraq: ‘Neither Shia nor Sunni, but secularism’

Iraq-secularismThe protests, which started in several cities in southern Iraq last week, quickly spread to the rest of Iraq, reaching their peak on 7 August. Around half a million people came out in Baghdad alone, chanting slogans against the corrupt and reactionary rulers. Hundreds of thousands of others have demonstrated in Samawah, Al Diwaniyah, Basra, Nasiriyah, Najaf and Amarah. Slogans such as ‘Neither Shia nor Sunni, but secularism’, ‘The religious regime has ripped us off’, show the real meaning of the protests of the people of Iraq.

Starting on 31st July in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and Amarah, the protests spread to Sulaymaniah, Rania, Qaladiza, Chamchamal, Darbandikhan and Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan. The power and water cuts in Iraq’s deadly heat wave gave the pretext for people to voice their deep anger and discontent against poverty, insecurity, lack of rights and Iraq’s corrupt and reactionary government. According to reports from the Left Worker-communist Party of Iraq, several well known workers’ leaders, such as Falah Alwan and Saeed Nema, as well as the prominent women’s rights activist Hana Edward, spoke at Baghdad’s rally today. According to this report, left and secular forces have played a leading role in these protests.

We support the struggle of the people of Iraq for freedom and call on the people in Iran to support these protests. The people of Iran have experienced the barbaric rule of the Islamic Republic and share a common cause with the people of Iraq, and welcome the escalation of their just struggle. The slogan chanted by the people of Iraq today, ‘Neither Shia nor Sunni, but secularism’, is a key slogan of the people of Iran too. The reactionary Islamic regimes in Iraq and Iran should get lost so people can gain control over their lives.

Victory to the struggle of the people of Iraq!

Worker-communist Party of Iran

7 August 2015

Promoting Secularism in the Age of ISIS

140624160439-lv-isis-tshirt-for-sale-online-00001526-story-topThis is my speech at the 5th Imagine No Religion conference in Vancouver, Canada during 5-7 June 2015.

The global rise of Islamism in particular and the religious-Right in general has turned the demand for secularism into an urgent task and necessity.

There are those in academia who theorise about a ‘post-secular’ world and insist that secularism lacks relevance, particularly for ‘non-Westerners.’  In the age of ISIS, though, you don’t have to look far to see that secularism is not only still relevant but that it’s a matter of life and death for countless people across the globe. In fact, no-one understands the need for secularism better than ‘non-westerners’ living under the boot of the religious-Right.

The post-secularists tell us that the rise of Islamism and the religious Right is linked to a religious revival. But this is not true. Of course with its rise, there are political pressures to keep up religious appearances, homogenise religious identity, and define religion as the only characteristic of entire societies, communities and people but this is very often enforced by violence.

‘Any classification and labelling has a purpose behind it,’ says the late Iranian Marxist Mansoor Hekmat. ‘Islam has been around in Iran for one thousand four hundred years and has obviously left its mark on certain things. But this is only one element in portraying this society – the same way that oppression, monarchy, police state, industrial backwardness, ethnicity, language, script, political history, pre-Islamic way of life, people’s physical characteristics, international relations, geography and weather, diet, size of country, population concentration, economic relations, level of urbanisation, architecture, etc. are. All of these express real characteristics of the society. Now if out of the hundreds of factors that create differences between Iran and Pakistan, France and Japan, someone insists on pointing to the presence of Islam in some aspects of life in this society and brands all of us with this label – from anti-religious individuals like Dashty, Hedayat and you and I to the great majority who do not see themselves as believers and are not concerned about Islam and the clergy – then they must have a specific agenda. Iran is not an Islamic society; the government is Islamic. Islam is an imposed phenomenon in Iran, not only today but also during the monarchy, and has remained in power by oppression and murder.’

The labelling of entire people, societies and communities as Muslim or Islamic is part and parcel of the Islamist agenda to feign representation and gain power and control.

And let’s be clear, it is more about power and control than religion. This distinction between religion and the religious-Right (a political movement) is clearer if you look at other religious-Right movements like the Buddhist-Right in Burma or Sri Lanka and their progroms against Muslims, the Hindu-Right’s massacre of Muslims in Gujrat, the Christian-Right’s bombing of abortion clinics or the Jewish-Right’s assault on women or as settlers in the Palestinian territories. Like the Islamists, they use religion to justify violence (or discrimination – depending on their influence) but you cannot explain these movements by religion alone.

Islamists, for example, are not all doctrinaire, literalist or fundamentalist and include a wide range of groups from ISIS, to the pragmatic and conservative factions of the Islamic regime of Iran to ‘soft’ Islamists (they don’t want to kill you just yet via terrorism) and even ‘Islamic Protestants or reformers’ like Abdolkarim Soorosh. Islam is the banner for their extreme-rightwing restructuring of society. But their movement is firmly rooted in political equations to gain power – primarily through violence and terror.

As Algerian sociologist and founder of Secularism is a Women’s Issue Marieme Helie Lucas says, this movement ‘is by no means a tool of the poor against the rich, of the Third World against the West, of people against capitalism. It is not a legitimate response that can be supported by the progressive forces of the world. Its main target is the internal democratic opposition to their theocratic project and to their project of controlling all aspects of society in the name of religion, including education, the legal system, youth services, etc. When fundamentalists come to power, they silence the people, they physically eliminate dissidents, writers, journalists, poets, musicians, painters – like fascists do. Like fascists, they physically eliminate the ‘untermensch’ – the subhumans -, among them ‘inferior races’, gays, mentally or physically disabled people. And they lock women ‘in their place’, which as we know from experience ends up being a straight jacket…’

In fact, it’s this internal opposition that makes the Islamists so brutal. They would not need to use such unrelenting violence if it were people’s culture and religion… if everyone submitted. The hijab, for example, which is the first imposition by Islamists when they gain influence is not a personal choice for a vast majority of women today though it is touted as such. It is highly contested and challenged as in the women’s unveiling movement in Iran and is one of the main areas of fight-back as is ‘Sharia law.’ Of course countless liberals here in the west – groups like the British Humanist Association – defend the burqa as people’s right to dress and Sharia courts as people’s right to religion.

We are often made to believe that this is clash of civilisations or an antagonism between a ‘secular West’ and a ‘religious East’ but it’s not. It’s a global struggle between secularists, including many Muslims and believers on the one hand, and theocrats and the religious-Right on the other taking place within and across borders around the globe.

We’re also told this is about racism and discrimination against minority communities or societies in the South, but it’s not. It’s a defence of people and universal rights against the religious-Right.

After all no society or community is homogeneous. There is dissent and political and social movements and class politics at play.

Take the example of 27 year old Farkhunda accused by a mullah of being an ‘infidel’ who burnt verses of the Koran. She was attacked by a mob in Kabul, lynched, stoned, run over, burnt and her body thrown in a river whilst onlookers and police stood by.

What could she expect when she goes against ‘Muslim sensibilities’ tweeted one of this absurd liberal Left do-gooders who only seem to do good for religion and not women? But wasn’t Farkhunda Muslim too? Actually she was very devout and had gone to the local mullah to tell him to stop selling amulets to women.

What became very obvious after her murder was that not all Afghans or Muslims or Muslim men have the same ‘sensibilities.’ Women carried her body– going against Islamic customs – to her gravesite and with her family’s permission encircled by a chain of men to protect them. They surrounded her coffin right until the end, gave her the respect she deserved, and chanted: ‘we are all Farkhunda.’ And when a mullah who had justified Farkhunda’s killing, tried to join them, they refused, created a circle around her gravesite, and forced him to leave.

Azaryun, a youth activist says, ‘That is what Farkhunda teaches me: together we can change the narrative that others write about women. We stood up against the most respected mullah. We carried the coffin and buried her.’ Neayish, a medical student, said: ‘I was just crying.’ ‘It was a long trek… but all my energy was focused on giving Farkhunda a respectable burial. It was the first time I realized my real power and told myself that I’m breaking the boundaries of tradition.’

So ‘the people’ of Afghanistan do not all agree. ‘Muslims’ are not all the same. And I place Muslims in quotes since not everyone living in Afghanistan or Iran are Muslims or Islamists just like not everyone is Canada or Britain is Christian or fundamentalist.

Everywhere, from Iran to Afghanistan and Algeria, there are women and men who break taboos and change narratives and stand against religion’s encroachment in people’s lives and against Islamism. To accept the label of Islamic and the homogenisation of entire populations is to accept Islamism’s narrative and not that of the many who resist.

In Bangladesh, for example, there are Islamists killing and threatening beloved atheist bloggers like Avijit Roy but there is also a deeply secular movement against them, including 24 villages that have become known as Jamaat free villages – or terrorist free villages.

Religion is not the only marker for our societies nor is it the most important. [Read more…]

Press Release: Much needed 7 February Conference on Sharia Law, Apostasy and Secularism

PRESS RELEASE
6 FEBRUARY 2015

Secularists will be gathering on 7 February 2015 in London for a day conference on Sharia Law, Apostasy and Secularism. The event follows an historic conference in October 2014 on the Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights.

Speakers at tomorrow’s sold-out conference will discuss freedom of expression, apostasy and blasphemy laws, Islamism and the religious-Right, as well as Sharia in the law, educational system and public policy. They will also highlight the successful campaigns against the Law Society and Universities UK and pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo and the many Muslims, ex-Muslims and others who have been killed or persecuted for their dissent.

Conference speaker, Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters says: “This is a much needed conference because it allows us the space to mourn the deaths of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo and thousands around the world who have died at the hands of religious terrorists. Above all, it allows us to show solidarity to those who continue to bravely challenge deadly religious far-right movements whose end game is to shut down secular democratic spaces and to terrorise us into silence. The time has come to renew our thinking of what it means to be human and to reject the politics of hatred whether emanating from the racist far-right or the religious far-right. The time has come to speak up while we still have the space.”

Conference organiser, Maryam Namazie, says: “Despite all evidence that Muslims are not a homogeneous group and that resistance against Islamism is very much part and parcel of daily life everywhere, the Islamist narrative is still the order of the day. No matter how many ‘Muslims’ side with Charlie from Iran to Egypt to Turkey, it is the terrorists/fascists who are deemed to be the ‘authentic’ Muslims. The ‘culture of offence’ heeds Islamist demands for submission at the expense of dissenters – whether it be Charlie in Paris, Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia or Roya Nobakht in Iran. As Rosa Luxemburg has said though, ‘Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters’.”

Another speaker Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space, says: “In 1989, we stood for Rushdie and our right to doubt and dissent. Today we stand with Charlie Hebdo and for comic liberty. In this important conference we will look at how the war against apostates and artists is central to the justification for ‘defensive jihad’ and genocide. Long before the emergence of Daesh and Boko Haram, the massacre of minorities, the rape of women and the killing of intellectuals defined Muslim fundamentalist movements. The Conference represents those who stand against them.” [Read more…]

Latest Issue of Fitnah Unveiled on Sharia law and Law Society, Execution in Iran and more

A Publication of Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
November/December 2014; Volume 2, Issues 8 and 9
Editor: Maryam Namazie; Design: Kiran Opal
See PDF Version here.

In this Issue:
* Sharia law is incompatible with human rights, Interview with Chris Moos, Pragna Patel and Gita Sahgal on the victory against the Law Society
* Execution is itself the murder of a human being, Interview with Mina Ahadi
* Reyhaneh Jabbari was executed: International Committee against Execution Press Release
*News Flash: October/November 2014 By Emma Robertson
*ArtsCorner
* Editorial: The Answer to Inhumanity is not more inhumanity, Maryam Namazie
* International Conference on the Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights a huge success
* Manifesto for Secularism

Sharia law is incompatible with human rights
Interview with Chris Moos, Pragna Patel and Gita Sahgal on the victory against the Law Society

Maryam Namazie: The Law Society has now withdrawn its Sharia-compliant guidance on wills and issued an apology. Why did you initiate a campaign against it? Was it not a lot of fuss over nothing as some initially said?

Pragna Patel: It is easy to characterise this campaign as a ‘fuss about nothing’. The same was also said about our campaign against gender segregation in universities. What both incidents have in common is the ways in which so-called Sharia laws and values are normalised in public and institutional life as a ‘way of life’. Education and the law are key sites of control that religious fundamentalists and conservatives target. If we allow these forces to capture these sites, it will become impossible for us to challenge gender discrimination and inequality. The Law Society and its supporters argue that the Practice Note merely reiterates the fundamental principle in law that testators are fee to leave their property to whomsoever they wish. This misses the point entirely that the Law Society does not exist to maintain discriminatory values in society but to challenge them. Our argument all along has been that it is a key legal institution that should be promoting a rights-based culture within the legal profession and the wider society and not a profoundly discriminatory Sharia-compliant culture. [Read more…]

After the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, Support those Fighting the Religious-Right

FRENCH: Après le massacre de Charlie Hebdo, Soutenons ceux qui se battent contre la droite religieuse

SPANISH: Below

1908487_10205228738736122_6331463129153098_nAfter the massacre in Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, expressing indignation, as so many are doing, is not enough.

A quick look at the English-speaking media shows that whilst many condemn the violence itself, they also assert that Charlie Hebdo courted (and maybe deserved?) a strong response from “Muslims”. Charlie’s regular cartoonists did not spare Islam, any other religion, nor fanatics and bigots.

This trend in the media requires our attention. Apparently secularists, agnostics and atheists must keep silent and do not deserve the kind of respect that believers are entitled to; nor can they enjoy free speech to the same degree.

In the name of “respect” of religions and of the religious sentiments of believers, it is indeed the fanatical religious-Right that is being supported and given centre stage. Meanwhile, those who are on the forefront of countering armed fundamentalists are left to their own devices. It is high time to give these secularists prominence, to recognise their courage and their political clarity and to stop labelling them “Islamophobic”.

In October 2014, secularists – including atheists, agnostics and believers from many countries, in particular many Muslim-majority countries, met in London to denounce the religious-Right and to demand being seen as its alternative. It is high time to learn from their analysis and lived experiences.

The tragic massacre in Paris will undoubtedly give fuel to the traditional xenophobic far-Right and the immediate danger is an increase in racism, marginalization and exclusion of people of Muslim descent in Europe and further.  We do not want to witness “anti-Muslim witch hunts” nor do we welcome the promotion of “moderate” Islamists by governments as official political partners. What is needed is a straightforward analysis of the political nature of armed Islamists: they are an extreme-Right political force, working under the guise of religion and they aim at political power. They should be combated by political means and mass mobilisation, not by giving extra privileges to any religion.

Their persistent demand for the extension of blasphemy laws around the world is a real danger for all. France has a long – and now growingly endangered – tradition of secularism; which allows dissent from religions and the right to express this dissent. It has had a rich tradition to mock and caricature powers that be – religious or otherwise. Let us keep this hard won right which cost so many lives in history, and, alas, still does – as Charlie Hebdo’s twelve dead and numerous wounded demonstrate.

Signed:
Marieme Helie Lucas, Algerian Sociologist and Secularism is a Women’s Issue Founder
Maryam Namazie, Iranian-born Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, One Law for All and Fitnah and Co-host of Bread and Roses TV
Karima Bennoune, Professor and Martin Luther King Jr. Hall Research Scholar, University of California, Davis School of Law [Read more…]

Onwards to establishing an International Front for Secularism

Secular conference created a sense of imminent and momentous change – and women will be the driving force
– Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society

The two-day International Conference on the Religious Right, Secularism and Civil Rights held in London during 11-12 October 2014 was a rousing success, promoting a much-needed global secular alternative in the ISIS era and conquering fear with hope.

Conference videos and photos are now available online.

250 secularists, including believers, free-thinkers, agnostics and atheists from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the Diaspora assembled at the unprecedented and historic gathering to discuss resistance against the repression and violence of various manifestations of the religious-Right.

They highlighted the voices of the many persecuted and exiled and the strength of the demand for secularism despite grave risks.

The delegates made an unequivocal stand with the brave women and men of Kobane, adopted a Manifesto for Secularism and set the stage for the development of a broad international front for secularism to challenge the religious-Right.

The conference, which was convened by Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas and Iranian-born Campaigner Maryam Namazie, called on people everywhere to sign the Manifesto for Secularism and join in this historical task.

The conference was not an end but a beginning of great things to come.

Join in one of the most important fights of our century. Please donate today.

Secularism. Today. Now.

NOTES:

1. See extensive press coverage of the conference.

2. Speakers at the conference were philosopher AC Grayling; Aliyah Saleem who spent 6 years in an Islamic school in Britain; Tunisian University of Manouba Professor Amel Grami; social and political analyst and commentator Bahram Soroush; French writer Caroline Fourest; secular student activist Chris Moos; Senior Researcher at the International Center for Ethnic Studies in Sri Lanka Chulani Kodikara; Indian labour historian Dilip Simeon; Yemeni writer and activist Elham Manea; Co-Founder of Muslim Women Research and Action Front from Sri Lanka Faizun Zackariya; founder of the Iranian Secular Society Fariborz Pooya; Senegalese International Director of Women Living Under Muslim Laws Fatou Sow; Director of Centre for Secular Space Gita Sahgal; Leader of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran Hamid Taqvaee; One Secular School System in Ontario Campaigner Homa Arjomand; Director of the Afghanistan Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium Horia Mosadiq; FEMEN leader Inna Shevchenko; co-founder of Justice for Women Julie Bindel; author Karima Bennoune; writer Kenan Malik; Pakistani-born human rights activist Kiran Opal; Iranian writer-journalist and documentary filmmaker Lila Ghobady; Ex-Muslim Maha Kamal; Libyan president of Hakki Magdulien Abaida; Tunisian filmmaker Nadia El Fani; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain Spokesperson Nahla Mahmoud; Vice President of the Atheist Coalition in Poland Nina Sankari; Founder member of Women Against Fundamentalism Nira Davis-Yuval; Pakistani nuclear physicist and social activist Pervez Hoodbhoy; Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell; Southall Black Sisters Director Pragna Patel; founder of the Ex-Muslims of Scotland Ramin Forghani; author Rumy Hassan; Turkish MP Safak Pavey; journalist Salil Tripathi; Iranian/German writer Siba Shakib; Founder of Association pour la mixité, l’égalité et la laïcité Soad Baba Aïssa; co-founder of Survivors Voice Europe Sue Cox; Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra in Bangladesh Sultana Kamal; Director of Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford Taj Hargey; Bangladeshi-born writer Taslima Nasrin; President of the National Secular Society Terry Sanderson and women’s rights campaigner Yasmin Rehman. Acclaimed pianist and composer Anne Lovett; comedians Daphna Baram, AKA MissD, Kate Smurthwaite and Sameena Zehra as well as LCP dance company and singer/songwriter Shelley Segal provided entertainment.

3. Indonesian band SIMPONI was announced as the winner of One Law for All’s Sounds of Freedom award with their entry “Sister in Danger”, a tribute to Indonesian victims of sexual violence.

4. The conference was endorsed by Atheist Alliance International; Atheist Union of Greece; Bread and Roses TV; Children First Now; Center for Inquiry; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran; Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation; International Committee against Stoning; International Committee against Execution; International Federation of Iranian Refugees; Iran Solidarity; National Secular Society; One Law for All; Pink Triangle Trust; Secularism is a Women’s Issue; Southall Black Sisters; The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK; and Women Living Under Muslim Laws amongst others.

5. Special thanks to The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK, the National Secular Society and donors who supported the Indiegogo fundraising campaign to bring secularists from the South to the conference, including @GodlessRobin, Andy Croy, Karima Bennoune, Kim Revill, Leif Cid, Muriel Seltman, Olivier Zimmermann, Penny Jaques, Rustom Cardinal, Sue Cox and Thomas Oliver.

6. For more information, contact:
Maryam Namazie
maryamnamazie@gmail.com
www.secularconference.com

Secular Conference 2014 rallies in support of Kobane and against religious-Right

Press Release
15 October 2014

PosterA3The two-day International Conference on the Religious Right, Secularism and Civil Rights held in London during 11-12 October 2014 was a rousing success.

A broad coalition of secularists, including believers, free-thinkers, agnostics and atheists assembled from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the Diaspora at the unprecedented and historic gathering to discuss resistance against the repression and violence of ISIS and other manifestations of the religious-Right, including in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Israel, Libya, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, Tunisia and Yemen. They also discussed the urgent need to defend secularism, universal values and citizenship rights.

The 250 delegates made an unequivocal stand with the brave women and men of Kobane saying: “Their struggle is ours. Their fight is a fight for us all. We are all, today, Kobane.”

The conference, which was convened by Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas and Iranian-born Campaigner Maryam Namazie, adopted a Manifesto for Secularism which criticised neo-conservatism, neo-liberalism, communalism and cultural relativism and affirmed the complete separation of religion from the state and public policy, freedom of religion and atheism and freedom to criticise religions as well as equality between women and men and citizenship rights for all. It also called for the abolition of religious laws in the family, civil and criminal codes and an end to discrimination against and persecution of LGBT, religious minorities, women, freethinkers, ex-Muslims, and others.

The conference highlighted the voices of the many persecuted and exiled, the long standing resistance against the religious-Right and the depth and strength of the demand for secularism all over the world despite grave risks. It also set the stage for the development of a broad international front for secularism to challenge the religious-Right, racism and all forms of bigotry.

The Conference called on people everywhere to join the International Front for Secularism and strengthen a human alternative to the religious-Right.

Speakers at the conference included philosopher AC Grayling; Aliyah Saleem who spent 6 years in an Islamic school in Britain; Tunisian University of Manouba Professor Amel Grami; social and political analyst and commentator Bahram Soroush; French writer Caroline Fourest; secular student activist Chris Moos; Senior Researcher at the International Center for Ethnic Studies in Sri Lanka Chulani Kodikara; Indian labour historian Dilip Simeon; Yemeni writer and activist Elham Manea; Co-Founder of Muslim Women Research and Action Front from Sri Lanka Faizun Zackariya; founder of the Iranian Secular Society Fariborz Pooya; Senegalese International Director of Women Living Under Muslim Laws Fatou Sow; Director of Centre for Secular Space Gita Sahgal; Leader of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran Hamid Taqvaee; One Secular School System in Ontario Campaigner Homa Arjomand; Director of the Afghanistan Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium Horia Mosadiq; FEMEN leader Inna Shevchenko; co-founder of Justice for Women Julie Bindel; author Karima Bennoune; writer Kenan Malik; Pakistani-born human rights activist Kiran Opal; Iranian writer-journalist and documentary filmmaker Lila Ghobady; Ex-Muslim Maha Kamal; Libyan president of Hakki Magdulien Abaida; Tunisian filmmaker Nadia El Fani; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain Spokesperson Nahla Mahmoud; Vice President of the Atheist Coalition in Poland Nina Sankari; Founder member of Women Against Fundamentalism Nira Davis-Yuval; Pakistani nuclear physicist and social activist Pervez Hoodbhoy; Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell; Southall Black Sisters Director Pragna Patel; founder of the Ex-Muslims of Scotland Ramin Forghani; author Rumy Hassan; Turkish MP Safak Pavey; journalist Salil Tripathi; Iranian/German writer Siba Shakib; Founder of Association pour la mixité, l’égalité et la laïcité Soad Baba Aïssa; co-founder of Survivors Voice Europe Sue Cox; Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra in Bangladesh Sultana Kamal; Director of Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford Taj Hargey; Bangladeshi-born writer Taslima Nasrin; President of the National Secular Society Terry Sanderson and women’s rights campaigner Yasmin Rehman.

Acclaimed pianist and composer Anne Lovett; comedians Daphna Baram (AKA MissD), Kate Smurthwaite and Sameena Zehra as well as LCP dance company and singer/songwriter Shelley Segal provided entertainment.

The Indonesian band SIMPONI was announced winner of One Law for All’s Sounds of Freedom award with their entry “Sister in Danger”, a tribute to Indonesian victims of sexual violence.

The Conference was endorsed by Atheist Alliance International; Bread and Roses TV; Children First Now; Center for Inquiry; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran; Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation; International Committee against Stoning; International Committee against Execution; International Federation of Iranian Refugees; Iran Solidarity; National Secular Society; One Law for All; Pink Triangle Trust; Secularism is a Women’s Issue; The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK; and Women Living Under Muslim Laws amongst others.

END

Notes

1. Videos of the Conference will be posted on the Bread and Roses TV Youtube Channel shortly.

2. Photos of the Conference will be made available soon.

3. Press coverage on the conference includes:

Secular conference created a sense of imminent and momentous change – and women will be the driving force, Terry Sanderson, NSS Blog, 15 October 2014

We are all Kobane: Rallying Cry of Resistants against Fundamentalism, Caroline Fourest, Huffington Post, 14 October 2014

Nous sommes tous Kobané: le cri de résistants à l’intégrisme, Caroline Fourest, Huffington Post, 14 October 2014

Guess what?: SIMPONI wins int’l competition, Jakarta Post, 14 October 2014

Secularism at risk in Sub-Saharan secular states: the challenges for Senegal and Mali, Fatou Sow, Open Democracy, 10 October 2014

Secular conference to discuss rise of religious-Right, The Guardian, 9 October 2014

Conquering Fear with Hope, Gita Sahgal, Open Democracy, 9 October 2014

L’urgenza della laicità, Riforma, 9 October 2014

Event on Rise of Religious Extremism to be Hosted in London, Prensa Latina, 9 October 2014

Promoting the global secular alternative in the ISIS era, Karima Bennoune’s interview with Marieme Helie Lucas and Maryam Namazie. Open Democracy, 4 October 2014

4. For more information, contact Maryam Namazie at maryamnamazie@gmail.com.

We are all Kobane

Resolution in support of the people of Kobane
Adopted at 11-12 October Secular Conference 2014

We, the participants of the International Conference on the Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights unequivocally stand with the brave women and men of Kobane.

Their struggle is ours.

Their fight is a fight for us all.

We are all, today, Kobane.

Why ISIS today?

See the latest Bread and Roses programme. This is a not-to-be-missed interview on the rise of ISIS and the need for secularism.

Why ISIS, today?
07 October 2014
Interview with Hamid Taqvaee, Secretary of the
Central Committee of the Worker-communist Party of Iran

چرا داعش امروز؟
۸ اکتبر ۲۰۱۴
مصاحبه با حميد تقوايى. ليدر حزب کمونيست کارگرى ايران

Promoting global secular alternative in the ISIS era

While many of us watch in horror as ISIS advances, and fundamentalist ideas spread across religious traditions around the world, Maryam Namazie and Marieme Hélie-Lucas – secular feminists from Iran and Algeria – told Karima Bennoune why they are convening the International Secular Conference in London next weekend.

Karima Bennoune: Can you explain your own journey to secularism?

Marieme Hélie-Lucas: I have been a secularist throughout my life, someone who believes a democratic state should not take orders from religions. My mother was a mystic, but also a secularist, and was strongly aware of the anti-women stance in all religions. Her feminist teaching on religions always remained within me, especially when I was confronted with the rise of Muslim fundamentalism in Algeria.

Maryam Namazie:  I became a secularist after Islamists expropriated and suppressed the 1979 Iranian revolution and established an Islamic state. I knew instinctively that there was something very wrong with religion in power, as do many people living under the boot of Islamism or the religious right – even if they do not call themselves secularists. My father was raised a strict Muslim (by my grandfather who was an Islamic scholar) but he never made me feel different because I was a girl. I never had to be veiled or felt unequal, until an Islamic state came into being.

Bennoune: Why did you decide to organize the International Conference on the Religious Right, Secularism and Civil Rights now?

Namazie: Our era is marked by the rise of the religious right, and in particular Islamism, with its unspeakable brutality. There has been many a slaughtered generation from Iran to Algeria. For every shocking and tragic beheading of a journalist and aid worker by ISIS that makes headlines, there are countless unreported others beheaded, crucified, flogged, segregated and “disappeared” via the veil…

In the fight against these movements, secularism is key, including for many believers. No one better understands the need for the separation of religion and state than those who have lived under the religious right. Secularism  may not be the only challenge, but it is certainly a minimum precondition for freedom in any given society.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Secularism. Today. Now: 11-12 October Conference on the Religious Right, Secularism and Civil Rights

Dear Friend

“Secularism is probably the one big issue for our century. This century is not, as many still think, marked by a religious or spiritual revival. What we are actually witnessing is the rise of extreme-Right political movements, working under the cover of religion. Everywhere. No one is spared… Secularists are being attacked in many places in the world today: they are jailed, killed, tortured; their very existence is considered an offense to believers in many non-secular states. … There is a need for secularists around the world to come together and examine their situations, to exchange information, to strategize and to join hands,” writes Algerian secularist Marieme Helie Lucas.

This is the impetus behind the 11-12 October 2014 International Conference on the Religious Right, Secularism and Civil Rights in London with speakers from countries or the Diaspora as diverse as Algeria, Bangladesh, Canada, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Poland, Senegal, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, UK, USA and Yemen.

Join Us!

Join this historic conference which will establish an international front of secularists against the religious-Right.

Secularism. Today. Now.

Register for the conference today.

See the conference agenda here.

See the biographies of our distinguished speakers here.

See a short Bread and Roses Video on the conference here.

The conference is endorsed by Atheist Alliance International; Bread and Roses TV; Children First Now; Center for Inquiry; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran; Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation; International Committee against Stoning; International Committee against Execution; International Federation of Iranian Refugees; Iran Solidarity; National Secular Society; One Law for All; Secularism is a Women’s Issue; The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK; and Women Living Under Muslim Laws amongst others.

Richard Dawkins will be attending the conference.

For more information, contact:
Amal Farah, Atoosa Khatiri, Eileen McFadden, Gaby Grammeno, Marieme Helie Lucas and Maryam Namazie
Conference Organising Committee
Email: maryamnamazie@gmail.com
Facebook
Twitter
Website

A conference in defence of the separation of religion from the state

Join our conference. It is not to be missed. Hear about some of the fantastic speakers…

A conference in defence of the separation of religion from the state
On religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights
11-12 October 2014

در دفاع از جدايى دين از دولت – کنفرانس تاريخى در لندن
در مورد مذهب، سکولاریسم و حقوق مدنی

What isn’t wrong with Islamic and faith Schools?

نقش مخرب مذهب در آموزش و پرورش
برنامه نان و گل سرخ مجله ای سیاسی – اجتماعی در کانال جديد٬ ۲ ژوئيه ۲۰۱۴
با فريبرز پويا٬ بهرام سروش و مريم نمازى
مصاحبه با آليا سليم٬ فعال قانون برابر براى همه
کارگردان: رضا مرادى
مشاور برنامه: پونه راوى

What isn’t wrong with Islamic and faith Schools?
Bread and Roses, 1 July 2014
With Maryam Namazie, Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush
Interview with Aliyah Saleem who attended an Islamic school for 6 years in Britain and 1 year in Pakistan
One Law for All activist.
Director: Reza Moradi.
Programme Consultant: Poone Ravi.

Less than 100 days left to register for the conference on Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights

Conference Leaflet for Distribution Available Here.

Conference Website Here.

فارسى

ConferenceIcon1smallLess than 100 days left to register for the conference of a life-time
Conference on the Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights
11-12 October 2014
The Tower Hotel, London, UK

Join notable free-thinkers, atheists and secularists from around the world for a weekend of discussions and debates on the religious-Right, its attacks on civil rights and freedoms, and the role of secularism for 21st century humanity. The exciting two-day conference will discuss the Arab Spring, Sharia and religious laws, the limits of religion’s role in society, free expression, honour killings, apostasy and blasphemy laws, faith schools, women’s rights, secular values and much more.

The conference will be held at the Tower Hotel with spectacular views of the River Thames and the Tower of London. On the evening of 11 October, participants will enjoy cocktails followed by a delicious three-course meal and entertainment in the company of our speakers.

Distinguished speakers and acts:

  • AC Grayling is a Philosopher, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts, Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and author and commentator.
  • Amal Farah is Spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and One Law for All. She is Somali-born and was raised in a conservative and literalist Muslim household.
  • Amel Grami is Professor at the Tunisian University of Manouba; she was on the frontlines of Manouba’s successful struggle to defy a Salafist siege last year and is a leading expert on Religion and Women’s Studies.
  • Amina Sboui is a Tunisian activist threatened and imprisoned after posting topless photos of herself on Facebook carrying the slogan: “My Body is not the Source of Anyone’s Honour”.
  • Bahram Soroush is Public Relations Officer of the Free Them Now! Campaign to Free Jailed Workers in Iran and a co-host of Bread and Roses TV Programme.
  • Ben Baz Aziz is a Presenter at Arab Atheist broadcasting and a blogger focusing on LGBT and atheist rights in the Middle East who was imprisoned in Kuwait for blasphemy.
  • Caroline Fourest is a French writer, editor of the magazine ProChoix, and author of Frère Tariq, a critical look at the works of Tariq Ramadan and books on topics such as the conservative right, the pro-life movement and the fundamentalist trends in the Abrahamic religions.
  • Chetan Bhatt is the director of the Centre for the Study of Human rights at LSE. His current projects include work on the emergence of virtue in modern political ideologies, new forms of the regional state in South Asia and the sociology of religious paramilitia groups.
  • Chris Moos is a secular student activist who has led a successful campaign for the right to wear ‘Jesus and Mo’ t-shirts after being harassed and threatened with removal at his university. He was a nominee for the NSS’ Secularist of the Year 2014 award.
  • Elham Manea is a Yemeni associate professor specialized in the Middle East, a writer, and a human rights activist. Her concept of humanistic Islam was first published in a series of articles in Arabic.
  • Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar is an Iraqi born writer and a social activist living in the United States. He is the founder of the Global Secular Humanist Movement and Secular Post.
  • Fariborz Pooya is the founder of the Iranian Secular Society, was one of the founding members of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and is a co-host of Bread and Roses TV.
  • Fatou Sow is a Senegalese Sociologist, and a member of a number of African and international associations as well as the International Director of Women Living Under Muslim Laws.
  • Gita Sahgal is an Indian-born writer, journalist, film-maker and rights activist, Director of Centre for Secular Space who was suspended by Amnesty International as head of its Gender Unit in 2010 for criticising the organisation’s relations with an Islamist group.
  • Hamid Taqvaee is the Secretary of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran’s Central Committee and a leading Marxist opposition figure to the Islamic regime of Iran.
  • Houzan Mahmoud is a Kurdish women’s rights campaigner and the Spokesperson of the Organisations of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. She has written and campaigned extensively on women’s rights issues.
  • Horia Mosadiq has been Director of the Afghanistan Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium and an advisor to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, as well as a journalist in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Imad Iddine Habib is a Moroccan atheist threatened for his atheism, founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco, the first public atheist organisation in a country with Islam as the state religion.
  • Inna Shevchenko is leader of FEMEN topless activists who was kidnapped and threatened by the Belarus KGB in 2011 for her activism. She was granted political asylum in France.
  • Julie Bindel is an English writer, feminist and co-founder of the group Justice for Women. She was listed in the Independent’s “Pink List” as one of the top 101 most influential gay and lesbian people in the UK.
  • Kacem El Ghazzali is a Moroccan secularist writer, blogger, activist and atheist. He was the head of the Moroccan Center for Human Rights’ Youth Chapter and is a member of the Executive Board of the Moroccan Bloggers Association.
  • Karima Bennoune is a law professor at the University of California Davis School of Law, and author of “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism”.
  • Kate Smurthwaite is a stand-up comedian and political activist. She has appeared on more than 500 TV and radio shows including This Morning, The Big Questions, Woman’s Hour and The Moral Maze.
  • Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, a presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Analysis and a panellist on The Moral Maze. His book From Fatwa to Jihad was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize.
  • Kiran Opal is a Pakistani-born human rights activist, writer, and editor living in Canada. She is co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America and Editor of ExMuslimBlogs.
  • LCP is a multimedia and multiethnic dance company which emphasises human rights issues mainly human trafficking.
  • Lila Ghobady is an Iranian writer-journalist and documentary filmmaker. Her first independent release, Forbidden Sun Dance, was banned by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
  • Lino Veljak is professor of philosophy at the University of Zagreb and Co-founder of the movement Protagora (protecting the values of secularism and human rights of non-religious persons).
  • Maha Kamal is an ex-Muslim who was disowned by her parents for leaving Islam, President of the Colorado Prison Law Project, and Commissioner at the Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice’s Commission on Inclusiveness.
  • Magdulien Abaida is a Libyan Activist and president of Hakki (My Right) Organization for Women Rights. She was kidnapped by Islamists in Benghazi in August 2012 and fled after her release three days later.
  • Marieme Helie Lucas is an Algerian sociologist, founder and former International Coordinator of the Women Living Under Muslim Laws. She is also the founder of Secularism Is A Women’s Issue.
  • Maryam Namazie is Spokesperson for Fitnah, One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; editor of Fitnah’s Unveiled; and producer and co-host of Bread and Roses.
  • Nadia El Fani is a Tunisian filmmaker who risks arrest and up to five years in prison if she returns to Tunisia after Islamists filed a complaint against her film “Neither Allah nor Master”.
  • Nahla Mahmoud is an environmentalist and human right activist originally from Sudan. She leads the Sudanese Humanists Group and is Spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.
  • Nina Sankari is Vice-President of the Polish Rationalist Association.
  • Pervez Hoodbhoy is a Pakistani nuclear physicist and recipient of a number of awards. He is also a prominent environmentalist and social activist.
  • Peter Tatchell has been campaigning for rights and global justice since 1967. New Statesman readers voted him sixth on their list of “Heroes of our time”. He was Campaigner of the Year in The Observer Ethical Awards.
  • Pragna Patel is a founding member of the Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism. She was listed in The Guardian’s Top 100 women: activists and campaigners.
  • Randa Kassis is President and founder of the Movement for a Pluralistic Society. She was a member of the Syrian National Council until she was excluded for her warnings against Muslim fundamentalists in 2012.
  • Rumy Hassan is Senior Lecturer at University of Sussex and author of “Dangerous Liaisons: The Clash between Islamism and Zionism” and “Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truths”.
  • Sanal Edamaruku is an author and founder-president of Rationalist International and the Indian Rationalist Association. In 2012, he was charged with hurting religious sentiments for his role in examining a claimed miracle at a local Catholic Church.
  • Shelley Segal is a Melbourne based singer-songwriter involved in secular activism. ‘An Atheist Album’ is a passionate response to dogmatic belief, inequality, religious oppression and the idea that only the devout can be grateful and good.
  • Siba Shakib is an Iranian/German film-maker, writer and political activist. She was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. Her international best-seller Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep has been translated into 27 languages and won a P.E.N. prize.
  • Stasa Zajovic is co-founder and coordinator of Women in Black, Belgrade and initiated several networks like Women’s Peace Network, Network of Conscientious Objectors and Anti militarism in Serbia, and The Coalition for a Secular State.
  • Sue Cox is the co-founder of Survivors Voice Europe, an international organisation that has at its heart the support and empowerment of catholic clergy abuse survivors of which she is one.
  • Taj Hargey is South African Muslim scholar. He was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa and founder of the Muslim Education Centre of Oxford and the Imam of the Summertown Islamic congregation.
  • Tarek Fatah is a Pakistani born Canadian writer, broadcaster and a secular activist. He is the author of “Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State” and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.
  • Taslima Nasrin is a Bangladeshi-born award-winning writer, physician, and activist, known for her powerful writings on women oppression and unflinching criticism of religion, despite forced exile and multiple fatwas calling for her death.
  • Terry Sanderson is a writer and journalist and current President of the National Secular Society, which campaigns for the separation of church and state.
  • Waleed Husseini is a Palestinian blogger arrested in 2010 by the Palestinian Authority for blaspheming against Islam on Facebook and in his blog. He founded the Council of Ex-Muslims of France in 2013.

An International Secular Manifesto and the establishment of a united front of secularists to meet future challenges will be the final outcome of the Conference. Conference contributions will also be published in a book.

For full details of the conference, including on registration and obtaining tickets, visit the event’s dedicated website or email maryamnamazie@gmail.com.

Please also join the event’s Facebook page and follow the conference on Twitter or Tweet #SecularConf.

The conference is endorsed by Atheist Alliance International; Children First Now; Center for Inquiry; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran; Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation; International Committee against Stoning; International Committee against Execution; International Federation of Iranian Refugees; Iran Solidarity; One Law for All; Secularism is a Women’s Issue; The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK; and Women Living Under Muslim Laws amongst others.

We should not abandon secularism

fitnah-UNVEILED3-dec13-c_Page_01WE SHOULD NOT ABANDON SECULARISM
Unveiled: A Publication of Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
December 2013, Volume 1, Issue 3
Editor: Maryam Namazie. Design: Kiran Opal

The publication is available here.

PDF version available for download.

URGENT ACTION: REJECT SEX SEGREGATION
IT’S 2013. LET’S NOT TIME TRAVEL
Universities UK (UUK) guidance to universities on external speakers endorses gender apartheid by saying that segregation of the sexes at universities is not discriminatory as long as “both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way!” Any form of segregation, whether by race, sex or otherwise is discriminatory. Separate is never equal and segregation is never applied to those who are considered equal. Join us on International Human Rights Day to unequivocally reject gender apartheid. It’s 2013. Let’s not time travel. DATE: Tuesday 10 December 2013; TIME: 5:00-6:30pm; AT: Universities UK, Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9HQ.

WE SHOULD NOT ABANDON SECULARISM
Maryam Namazie’s Interview with Pragna Patel and Gita Sahgal
Pragna Patel responds: “…If we don’t defend secular values and instead embrace religious ones then we will be guilty of developing counter resistance strategies against racism and imperialism that hides other forms of oppression. Religion cannot be embraced as a framework for articulating disaffection and alienation or to address questions of equality and rights since its very foundation is based on recognising some rights but not others. We see this most clearly played out in the clash between the right to manifest religion and the right to be free from religion. Women who want to be free from religious impositions that deny them their autonomy and sexual freedom are constantly excluded. But we need to alert to the ways in which this exclusion is actually articulated. Often demands for the right to manifest religion may seem on the surface to be progressive but in fact hide a highly reactionary agenda. A good example of this is the recent capitulation by Universities UK (UUK), a representative body of universities in the UK, to demands for gender segregation in universities… It would appear that UUK is ignorant of the history and struggles against racial discrimination based on the flawed logic of ‘separate but equal.’ Such logic legitimised racial apartheid in South Africa and now legitimises gender apartheid. There is a disturbing failure to recognise that this stance will allow the right to manifest religion (a qualified right) to trump the right to be free from gender discrimination and subjugation (an absolute right).”

NEWS FLASH: NOVEMBER 2013
“Afghanistan: Twelve years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan’s government is considering bringing back stoning as a punishment for sex outside marriage. The sentence for married adulterers, along with flogging for unmarried offenders, appears in a draft revision of the country’s penal code being drawn up by the ministry of justice. It is the latest in a string of encroachments on hard-won rights for women, after parliament quietly cut the number of seats set aside for women on provincial councils, and drew up a criminal code whose provisions will make it almost impossible to convict anyone for domestic violence.
“Iran: A document adopted by the Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council with president Rouhani’s signature has been forwarded to the education and health ministries to “reduce the unnecessary mixing of males and females.” The section on gender segregation included the expansion of the culture of chastity and the veil…”

ARTS CORNER: BURKA AVENGER
“The Burka Avenger is a mild mannered unveiled teacher who becomes the burka avenger when her school is threatened with being shut down by Islamists, armed with pens and books…”

EDITORIAL: SECULARISM AS A UNIVERSAL RIGHT
Maryam Namazie
“…There are strong secular movements in so-called Muslim-majority countries like Iran, Pakistan, Algeria and Mali, despite the great risks involved. Karima Bennoune has brought to light many such groups and individuals in her recently published book, the title of which is based on a Pakistani play where the devotional singer who is beaten and intimidated for singing deemed ‘un-Islamic’ retorts: ‘Your fatwas do not apply here.’ The uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, such as the mass protests against Islamists for the assassination of Socialist leader Chokri Belaid in Tunisia; the vast secular protests in Turkey against Islamisation; the Harlem Shake in front of Muslim Brotherhood headquarter in Egypt and the largest demonstration in contemporary history against the Muslim Brotherhood – 33 million people – are all evidence of that. Post-secularism (leaving people at the mercy of ‘their own culture’) and the systematic and theorised failure to defend secularism and people’s, particularly women’s, civil rights in many countries and communities, only aids and abets the religious-Right to the detriment of us all – believers and non. As British philosopher AC Grayling has said: secularism is a fundamental right. Today, given the influence of the religious-Right, it is also a precondition for women’s rights and equality and for rights and freedoms in the society at large. It must be actively defended, promoted, and articulated”…

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: UNDECIDED ABOUT LEGISLATING DRESS
Marieme Helie Lucas Responds for Fitnah
“…Women wearing the burqa in Europe today are instrumentalised by the Muslim extreme-right, whether or not they realise it. They display their ‘difference’ and ‘identity,’ which is exactly what the traditional far-right needs in order to fulfil its xenophobic agenda. Both the traditional xenophobic extreme-right and the Muslim extreme-right want a violent confrontation and need it in order to recruit fresh troops. This is not a reason for shying away from addressing the proliferation of burqas everywhere, but it should be an incentive to not isolate the ‘flag’ from the broader issue of the growing far-rights in Europe, including the Muslim far-right…”

Also see Maryam Namazie’s Channel 4Thought.tv interview on banning the niqab.

Previous issues:

Fitnah Unveiled number 2 on the burqa and veil

Fitnah Unveiled number 1 on the rise of fitnah

Contact Unveiled Editor:
Maryam Namazie
+44 (0) 7719166731
BM Box 1919, London WC1N 3XX, UK
Email: fitnah.movement@gmail.com
Blog: http://fitnahmovement.blogspot.co.uk
Site: www.fitnah.org

We too yearn for freedom

2013-634944836961439419-143The outrage over the attempted assassination of 15 year old Malala Yousefzai shot by the Taliban for defending girls’ education; the mass protests against Islamists for the assassination of Socialist leader Chokri Belaid and Amina Tyler’s topless activism in Tunisia where she wrote “My body is not the source of your honour” and “fuck your morals”; the protests in Turkey against Islamisation; the Harlem Shake in front of Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Egypt and the largest protest in Egypt in contemporary history against the Muslim Brotherhood – 33 million people (which was not to begin with a coup; the army only stepped in to take control and stop the revolution, not defend it)…

Even if you’re not looking, you can still see the immense resistance and dissent taking place. It’s a new period of human development after decades of Islamism, US-led militarism, unbridled free market reign, cultural relativism and the retreat of all things universal. Today is an era of the 99% movement and revolutions and uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa – many of them female-led. Whilst it may sometimes be hard to see given the perceived “gains” by Islamists or the army in the region (in fact as counter-revolutionary forces aimed at suppressing the revolutions), the change of era is palpable.

Nonetheless, many post-modernist and culturally relativist Leftists, liberals, and feminists continue to remain firmly on the side of the Islamists.

Any opposition to Sharia law, (which is based on the Koran, Hadith, and Islamic jurisprudence), the veil, and Islamic misogyny are met with charges of racism, Islamophobia, cultural imperialism and more. [Read more…]