Dublin declaration on secularism empowering women 2013

I was one of the speakers for the Dublin conference on ‘Empowering Women Through Secularism’ this year. It was a great conference, and a great declaration was made. All we want is to make our world a better place.

1. Secular Values in Society

The secular values that will empower women are science-based reason, equality and empathy in alliance with the principles of feminism.
Priorities in democratic states: secular values will protect and advance already-established freedoms. Cultural and religious beliefs must not be used to deny or limit these freedoms.
Priorities in nondemocratic states: where secular values are not recognized or protected by laws, such laws should be established and applied, and address the issues that deny women full participation in society and government.

2. Separation of Religion and State

Priorities in democratic states: the Constitution should make explicit mention of the separation of religion and state. The state should not fund religions or beliefs. Also, social services, health care services or education accorded to citizens should respect the law; and all state practices should be neutral.
Priorities in nondemocratic states: certain things are fundamental in order to take first steps towards separation of religion and state. Access to education and information should be free and unrestricted. The international community should be vigilant on the application of human rights and take appropriate action where necessary.

3. Human Rights

Human rights are universal, and should be applied equally in democratic and nondemocratic states. Women’s rights are human rights, not separate rights for women.
Priorities in democratic states: women should have equal sexual, reproductive and economic rights in practice as well as in legislation.
Priorities in nondemocratic states: the right to autonomy, self-determination as an individual, and fully equal treatment at all levels of society for men and women. This takes precedence over religious or idealogical dogma.

4. Reproductive Rights

Priorities in democratic states: the state should recognize and respect the right to universal and absolute bodily ownership. Reproductive healthcare services should be free, accessible, non-judgmental and objective. Comprehensive evidence-based sex education should be universally available.
Priorities in nondemocratic states: human rights conventions should be honored in their entirety, and directives should not be vetoed on religious grounds or otherwise. International assistance should be given to grassroots campaigns involved in the provision and promotion of comprehensive reproductive health services and education.

5. Politics and Campaigning

Priorities in democratic states: it is essential to define the concept of morality as not being exclusive to religion, and to clearly promote secular feminist values as being beneficial to all citizens. These values should be communicated to citizens in a concise accessible manner using whatever means are available in order to promote the growth of a wider secular community in the future.
Priorities in nondemocratic states: we should amplify the voices of secular feminists fighting back against oppressive regimes throughout the world, and we should promote strategies and tools to overcome technological arrears in nondemocratic countries.

We meet for a good cause

I attended two atheist-humanist conferences in last two months. One was in Kamloops, Canada and another was in Dublin, Ireland.
Canada conference’s topic was Imagine no religion.

You can listen to almost everyone here.

Ireland conference’s topic was Empowering women through secularism. Here you will get to listen to all great speakers.
It was a privilege to meet great scientists, humanists, and great thinkers of our time in both conferences. We do not waste our time by repeating there-is-no-god, because we all are pretty sure that there is no god. Rather we talk about science, evolution, education, secularism, women’s rights, rights of LGBTQ and many other important issues. Our aim is to make people better people and to make the world a better place. Atheism alone can not do everything.

When we are not on the stage, we do not forget to have some good time for ourselves.
Here we are:

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Daniel Dennette, PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, Sean Faircloth, Michael Nugent, Ann Brusseel, Jane Donnelly, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Nina Sankari, Maryam Namazie, me and others.

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Next time you should try not to miss great conferences on atheism, secularism, feminism, and humanism.

Not only the Islamists, the government is now harassing atheists in Bangladesh.

‘It is time to refuse to tiptoe around people who claim respect, consideration, special treatment, on the grounds that they have a religious faith, as if having a faith were a privilege endowing virtue, as if it were noble to believe in unsupported claims and ancient superstitions.’ – A. C. Grayling
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It seems a group of Islamists is fighting against another group of Islamists in Bangladesh. The government created a panel to check comments on Islam and the prophet.

[Read more…]

A Freedom Fighter’s Voice!

I was not a freedom fighter. But as a little girl I experienced the horrors of war. Saleem Samad expressed his feelings on secular uprising in Bangladesh. His words touched my heart.

The deafening roar of the youth at Shahbag Square, the epicentre of protest in Dhaka, is awe-inspiring. Mainly because over 1 lakh youth are chanting “Joy Bangla” (Long Live Bangladesh).

This was the war cry of the Mukti Joddhas (war veterans) who liberated the country in 1971. I haven’t heard that slogan in over 40 years since the country was liberated.

I was a Mukti Joddha. I joined the underground movement in April 1971, a month after the liberation struggle began. I was a student of the (now defunct) Central college.

I spoke fluent English and Urdu and was tasked with reconnaissance and arranging getaways for guerrillas who did their hit-and-run raids out of Dhaka. If the Pakistanis caught me, the punishment was death.

But death would come after slow brutal torture where they would try and extract the names of all my collaborators from me. I guess I was too young to worry about the consequences.

The Joy Bangla slogan became a taboo after the assassination of independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. “Today I walk in the streets shout the slogan without fear, prejudice or being bashful,” Shamsuddin Ahmed, media consultant and writer tells me.

The revival of the war cry of Bangladeshi nationalism is significant. Young people from all walks of life have turned out in their thousands to protest the life sentences handed out to Islamists.

If they persist, Bangladesh could become the world’s first Muslim nation to bury political Islam once for all. It is a devil which needs to be contained. And here’s why.

The struggle against Islamic Pakistan was sparked off in its erstwhile eastern province in March 1971. Nine months later, the new nation of Bangladesh emerged, after a bloody gruesome war for millions of Hindus and Muslim alike.

Pakistan’s marauding army with their local henchmen committed genocide, arson and forced abductions for nine months of liberation war, 4 lakh women were sexually abused, intellectuals murdered and abducted.

Bangladesh war historian Prof. Muntasir Mamoon claims genocide of three million people. These were people whose only crime was to believe in independence of Bangla speaking nation. The marauding Pakistan forces and their henchmen were blamed for the genocide.

The peasants fought the elite Pakistan military forces and their auxiliary forces, largely recruited from among the Bangali Muslim population in the country. War veterans of the Mukti Bahini, a majority of them like me are still alive and active in civil society.

Our spirits are not dampened and we have demanded the trial of these collaborators and war criminals. For forty years our voice was not heard. After nearly 30 years of struggle, we gave up. But we underestimated the new generation.

Their thunderous cry is not just audible over Shahbag Square. It echoes over social media, Twitter and Facebook. It is an angry voice demanding justice.

In the Arab Spring, the protests were anti-government. The Arab protesters objective was to achieve democracy, freedom and justice. In Bangladesh the scenario is dramatically different.

The protesters quest is to seek justice for crimes committed in 1971, when Bangladesh, formerly Eastern province of Pakistan, attained its independence. The crowd listens patiently to chorus, poetry recitation and brief speeches for hours. Thousands chants slogans repeatedly.

Popular belief suggests that Bangladesh is a conservative Sunni Muslim society. The presence of young women at the square belies this. The women are there, with children in tow, on their lap or shoulder way past midnight.

Forty two years after its difficult birth, Bangladesh is witnessing a rebirth in Shahbag Square.

Let’s hope the angry young generation will make our dreams of a secular Bangladesh come true.

Secular Uprising in Bangladesh

Why I support Shahbag!

Having keenly observed the Tahrir Square revolution and the eventual victory of Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists in Egypt, I no longer get easily impressed by crowd-sourced movements. A multitude of activists, connected primarily via Facebook, as well as progressive bloggers had gathered on Bangladesh streets demanding death penalty for a war criminal called Abdul Kader Mollah. As a campaigner against the death penalty, I could not support these protesters in this particular demand of theirs.

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Most people protesting at Shahbag and demanding the death penalty for Mollah were born after the 1971 war following which East Pakistan gained independence from Pakistan, forming the nation of Bangladesh. However — thanks to secular writers and artists, who strove to keep aflame the emotions and perceptions associated with the ‘71 war, through books, plays, films and performances — these protesters are by no means ignorant about the genocide carried out during the war by the Pakistan Army, along with local religious militias affiliated with the Islamist outfit, Jamaat-e-Islami. After Islamization started in earnest in Bangladesh during the mid ’80s, many of these protesters have also witnessed how Islamists murdered progressive people, violated people’s human rights, oppressed women, and tortured non-Muslims in the name of Islam. After decades of maintaining silence, their patience has worn thin; they have finally started to rise in rebellion against the status quo. As more people joined the crowd, they have started demanding death penalty for all tried and convicted war criminals.
A Bangladesh tribunal recently sentenced Abdul Kader Mollah, a Jamaat-e-Islami leader, to life imprisonment for his war crimes, but the Shahbag crowd could not be happy with this verdict. Based on previous experience, they are apprehensive that Mollah would be released if the political party-in-opposition, a known ally of Jamaat-e-Islami, were to win the next election.

It is important to remember that in present Bangladesh, not all Islamists are war criminals; however, all war criminals are Islamists – who, at one time, did not want the separation from Pakistan, a country based on Islam. The Shahbag movement gained interest for me when some protesters started demanding a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami, as well as on all the religious schools, banks, clinics and other amenities that were created with money collected from Middle Eastern Islamists, whose express desire was to turn the erstwhile-secular Bangladesh into a country of Islamists.

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Those who are familiar with my writings know that I am not in favor of banning and censorship, in general. Yet, I supported banning Jamaat-e-Islami, because in Bangladesh this political party is nothing more than a terrorist organization, led by known war criminals who raped, maimed and killed people by the thousands in 1971. On top of that, in the last 40 years, they have been committing an even more serious crime by systematically destroying the country via Islamization. And yet, perhaps driven by the necessities of realpolitik, they have been pardoned, favored, accorded respect, honored, and empowered by the worthless politicians and military since the Bangladesh gained its Freedom. Some of these war criminal Islamists, who were stoutly against the independence of this nation, were made into Members of the Parliament, ministers, and once even a President of the independent Bangladesh.

The inequities of Jamaat-e-Islami did not end with Mollah’s life imprisonment sentence. Delawar Hossain Sayedee, one of the most notorious criminals belonging to Jamaat-e-Islami, was handed a death sentence by the tribunal, after almost a month of non-stop protests at Shahbag. After the verdict was issued, Sayedee’s Islamist followers vandalized cities, burned down Hindu and Buddhist temples, killed innocent people, along with policemen. There is no doubt that in today’s Bangladesh, the Islamists are much more powerful and ferocious than ever.

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The Islamists have gained unbelievable strength in Bangladesh over the years. They have been showing off their strength by harassing, abusing, stabbing and murdering anyone who rose in dissent against their atrocities, including progressive bloggers. They stabbed Asif Mohiuddin, an atheist blogger, a month ago; in the recent past, they brutally killed Rajib Haider, another atheist blogger and one of the organizers of the Shahbag movement.

Islamists have also taken to the tactic of calling all the bloggers and protesters at Shahbag ‘atheists’. This has discomfited and scared the folks at Shahbag; most of them are Muslims, and they had cast their lot with the Shahbag crowd with no bigger-and-better agenda than merely to ask for the hanging of war criminals, perhaps because they sought closure via revenge. Now that the Islamists have called them atheists (that dirty, dirty word!), many of them are now falling over themselves trying to prove they are pious Muslims. Therefore, instead of saying, “They are atheists and have the right to criticize religion, but no one has the right to kill them, just like no one has the right to kill religious people for being religious!”, the so-called liberal and secular people at Shahbag are bleating placatory statements, such as “Jamaat-e-Islami goons are trying to prove that bloggers are atheists, but they are not atheists; they are good people.” As if atheists are not good people!

People attend mass demonstration at Shahbagh intersection, in Dhaka

It is very alarming that the word ‘atheist’ is being considered as a filthy, obscene word in Bangladesh, and the liberal people refrain from doing anything in support of the freedom of expression of atheists. They must know that Islam should not be exempt from the critical scrutiny that applies to other religions as well; in their mind, they must understand that Islam has to go through an enlightenment process similar to what other world religions have already gone through, by questioning the inhuman, unequal, unscientific and irrational aspects of religion. If the Shahbag movement can’t make people understand this simple but necessary idea, then real change would never occur, even if all the war criminals are hanged. I know that even the atheists at Shahbag would say, the time for this idea has not arrived yet. However, I earnestly hope that people would soon evolve, and be enlightened enough to realize that there is no real difference between the Islam of the 7th century and the Islam Jamaat-e-Islami practices to this day.

Sadly, the very nature of Bangladesh has changed greatly. Ordinary people have been alarmingly indoctrinated into the ways of Islamists. Many more women are veiled, and more men go to mosques to pray, than ever before. I lost the hopes I had for Bangladesh many years ago, but some of those were rekindled by the Shahbag movement. I truly hope that the Shahbag movement will turn into a positive political movement for a true democracy and a secular state – a state which affirms a strict separation between religion and state, and maintains a uniform civil code, a set of secular laws that are not based on religion, but instead, on equality, and an education system that is secular, scientific, and enlightened.

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A war is needed in Bangladesh, a war between two diametrically opposite ideas — secularism and fundamentalism; between rational, logical thinking and irrational blind faith; between those who strive to move forward and those who strain to push themselves backward; a war between modernism and barbarism, humanism and Islamism; between innovation and tradition, future and past; between those who value freedom and those who do not.

Let us encourage people of Bangladesh to transmute their nation into a secular country without poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, superstitions — free of religionism, fanaticism, fascism, barbarism; a country without crimes and corruption!

All sane and secular people should support the Shahbag movement, because it is a rare and immensely difficult movement in an Islamized country. I am not sure whether they will eventually manage to have Jamaat-e-Islami proscribed, particularly because the Bangladesh government is likely to be afraid of losing the considerable financial support that come from the Islamic countries. Western support may not be forthcoming, because not many Western secular countries are interested in Bangladesh, often seen as a nation stuck in a quagmire of over-population, poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance. Once a thriving community of vivacious, affectionate, creative people, this unfortunate country is now drowning in Islamism and may soon be submerged in the Indian ocean.

I also hope that if the Shahbag movement, in its present form, fails to achieve its goals now, the brave and enlightened people associated with it will not be permanently disillusioned or disheartened, and will renew/repeat their efforts until their dreams come true. A trend must be set. People need to get angry. I am painfully aware of the evil powers which once attempted to eliminate me, and with whom the pro-Islamist government ultimately colluded to throw me out of Bangladesh, my own country, 20 years ago, never to allow me in again. Therefore, I know how much I would love to see hundreds of thousands of angry, passionate young people with a vision rise against that insanity, and usher in real change, a new era.

Bangladesh sucks

Bangladesh sucks. Yes it does. It does everything to make Islamists ruin the country. It started a war against me more than 20 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of Islamists took to the streets for my execution by hanging, they did it because I told the truth about the incompatibility between Islam and women’s rights. The government filed cases against me on the charges of hurting religious feeling of the people and I was forced to stay in hiding for months and then was forced to leave the country. I have not been allowed to return to my country since then. Politicians or army whoever ruled the country did not take any action against the Islamists who threatened to kill the writers and intellectuals for criticizing Islam. A renowned writer, Ahmed Sharif, was attacked by the Islamists. Shamsur Rahman, a famous poet was also attacked. Islamists almost killed Humayun Azad for writing a novel that made fun of them. A cartoonist called Arifur Rahman was in jail after the government said his drawings had insulted Muslims. Asif Mohiuddin was arrested 2 years ago for his blogs that criticized Islam. Now he is stabbed by the Islamists.

It can be dangerous to be an atheist. In Bangladesh, a popular atheist blogger was attacked and stabbed by a group of Islamic fundamentalists in a suburb of the capital city of Uttara on Monday night.

According to reports, Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed multiple times in the neck and upper body by three unidentified attackers near his office in Dhaka’s upscale Uttara district. Friends of Mohiuddin, who were with him at the time of the attack, blamed “Islamic fundamentalists.”

As of Tuesday, Jan. 15, Mohiuddin was “improving but still not out of danger” at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where surgeons spent more than three hours trying to repair the damage done by the would-be assassins.

Mohiuddin’s blog, is one of the most visited web pages in Bangladesh. Mohiuddin is known for advocating what some have termed “Militant Atheism” in a country where Islam is the state religion, and over 90% of Bangladesh’s 153 million people identify as Muslim.

The biggest harm Bangladesh did to herself is not really by killing or imprisoning atheists or forcing atheists to go into exile, but by forcing millions of citizens to keep their mouth shut forever. They no more express their opinions that the majority finds different.

Secularism was one of the pillars of new born Bangladesh. It was supposed to become more liberal and more secular than Pakistan. But in four decades, the rulers of the country managed to make it a truly Islamist country. The country was separated from Pakistan. But the truth is, Bangladesh is no better than Pakistan.

Lunatics will soon start fasting

Scientists discovered a 5th moon of Pluto. They have named it P5.

What are the religious bigots doing? They are not interested in exploring things. They are waiting for the- age-old-moon-visited-and-flagged-by-the-Americans to rise, so they can begin their Ramadan-fasting.

Throughout the world, superstitions revolve around the Moon. If you want to know about them, they are here.

What would the lunatics living in northern Finland, Norway and Sweden do? They have to refrain or abstain from eating, drinking, copulating, smoking, vomiting, etc. from sunrise to sunset. But in those regions, sun almost does not set in the summertime and almost does not rise in the wintertime.

The illiterate camel driver in Arabia obviously did not have any knowledge about the climates of the Nordic countries.