Maryam Namazie’s blog on the New Statesman Faith Column, February 4-7
Losing my religion, 04 February 2008
I find it slightly odd writing for a faith blog, when I don’t have any. It’s like writing for an Automobile Association blog when I take the bus.
But I do understand why it is so. In this day and age everything is framed within the context of ‘faith’, especially for those of us deemed to be Muslims – no matter how clearly and loudly we profess and live otherwise. I think this is in large part due to the existence of a political Islamic movement, which strives to gain legitimacy for its terror and misogyny by claiming to represent vast number of people under the label of Muslims.
In a sense, labelling people with innumerable characteristics as Muslim and Muslim alone is part of the process of constraining them in order to feign ‘representation’. This labelling in the media, government, and mainstream society is a further capitulation, which effectively hands over millions of people – despite their never ending resistance – to this movement.
I know that the organised religion industry is on the rise everywhere and religious labelling of entire populations is becoming the norm, but with political Islam having state power in many places, and vying for power in others, it makes it a very different phenomenon. The label of Christian today is unlike the same label during the inquisition and crusades.
Correspondingly, I have only become more visible after calling myself an ex-Muslim with the establishment of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain in June 2007. Ironically, even once one has left Islam and renounced religion, one can only be visible by mentioning their former affiliation to it.
It is a huge contradiction and one which I am often asked about. Why call myself an ex-Muslim if I am an atheist? Why renounce religion publicly if I believe religion or its lack thereof must be a private affair and strictly separated from the state and educational system? Why label myself on their terms if I desire a society without labels other than human and citizen?
It is because being an ex-Muslim, or an apostate, is punishable by death in countries ruled by Islamic law; even in a place like Britain people will be surprised at the threats and intimidations those who want to leave face. Which is what makes this public renunciation crucial. It is similar to gays who came out of the closet to highlight the situation and make it easier for others to do so.
Yes, your religion or lack thereof is your business but not when you are killed for it. Then a public challenge becomes a form of resistance.
Oh yes, and why have I renounced Islam and religion? Well, I suppose if you live in a society where you can claim to be of a certain religion, choosing the bits you like, ignoring most of the rest, and just getting on with your life without it having much relevance or impact, then there may never be a need to call yourself a lapsed Christian for example.
But when the state sends a religious official to your school to ensure that you don’t mix with your friends who are boys, stops you from swimming, forces you to be veiled, hangs girls on street corners for crimes against chastity, prescribes different books for you and your girlfriends to those read by boys, and drags your loved ones away for corruption, immorality or blasphemy – you have no choice but to look at and confront it. Religion in power is very different to one that has been tamed by an enlightenment.
And why renounce all religion and not just Islam? Because in my opinion, another religion may seem better right now to some people, but it’s only because it has been reigned in.
When religion means death, 05 February 2008
Unfortunately, the discussion on what religion in power means for people’s lives, rights and freedoms is neither theoretical or restricted to ex-Muslims who have renounced Islam and religion.
Since religion is divinely ordained, it follows that any real or imputed questioning, criticising or transgressing will lead to blasphemy, apostasy or some form of ‘corruption’. Of course it doesn’t matter so much if you live in a place where religion is to a large extent a private matter. But if you don’t, then a lot of things become ‘crimes’ punishable by death.
One of many examples is the outrageous death sentence imposed by an Islamic court in Afghanistan on Parwiz Kambakhsh, the 23 year old journalist and student, for downloading and distributing an article criticising women’s status under Islam.
Many have rightly come to his defence and must keep the pressure on. But to defend Parwiz by saying he did not ‘intend’ to blaspheme misses the entire point.
This is exactly what the likes of the Muslim Council of Britain say in order to conceal the responsibility of their political Islamic movement. For example, the MCB ‘greeted’ the release of Gillian Gibbons (the British schoolteacher who was imprisoned in Sudan for allowing her 7 year old students to name their class teddy bear Mohammad) by saying she had not ‘intended to deliberately insult the Islamic faith.’
What they are basically saying is that victims and their ‘intentions’ are to blame for the injustices and barbarity of Islamic law.
Moreover, they are implying that if someone knew they were blaspheming, or if their actions or statements were so clearly blasphemous that they should have known better, then the death penalty or calls for their death are permissible – or at the very least understandable.
The smokescreen of ‘intent’ aims to conceal the real issue at hand, which is Islam in power, so their movement can go about its business as usual – often aided and abetted by US-led militarism. So it can continue to hold millions of resisting people hostage to medievalism enshrined in constitutions and legal codes and enforced by religious and morality police, the militia, Sharia courts and the state.
Any life saved is despite Islamic law and because of a vast left, secular and humanist opposition movement in the Middle East and elsewhere, which refuses to kneel.
Clearly, when religion equals power, millions have no freedoms or rights worthy of 21 century humanity.
And until it is pushed back, our loved ones – like Parwiz, or the two sisters, Zohreh and Azar, who have hours ago been convicted of death by stoning by the Islamic supreme court in Iran for ‘adultery’ – will face a torturous death.
But not if we can help it.
Children and emotional abuse, 06 February 2008
Since I began calling myself an ex-Muslim, there have been quite a number of people questioning me on whether I was ever a ‘real Muslim’ to begin with. The BBC Asian Network host (can’t quite remember his name) even wanted to know whether I had prayed 5 times a day; attended a mosque; wore the hejab. And some commentators have questioned whether a Shia can ever be considered a Muslim.
But everyone and their uncles are deemed ‘Muslims’ just by the nature of where they were born or their family background – no questions asked.
And this is particularly true about children.
Frankly, I think it’s obscene to label children with the real or imputed religion of their parents. We wouldn’t dream of labelling a child as an ‘extreme right’ one because his father belonged to the BNP or a Labour or Conservative child by parental association but we as a society have very little problem doing so when it comes to religion.
We have come a long way from the days when children were seen to be the property of their parents to do with them as they liked. Today, in Britain at least, a child cannot be denied medical attention because her parents don’t believe in blood transfusions, can’t be beaten and starved to ‘exorcise demons’ or be genitally mutilated and married at nine because it is her parents’ religion.
But we obviously haven’t come far enough to stop the more subtle, but just as harmful, forms of emotional abuse like sending children to Islamic schools and child veiling.
How can it be anything but abusive when girls are sexualised at a young age, kept segregated from boys, taught that they are different and unequal?
And it has nothing to do with choice. It’s interesting how children don’t have the choice to go to school or smoke for example but when you question religion’s role in their lives, it suddenly becomes a matter of their choice – as if they really had any.
As Mansoor Hekmat, the late Iranian Marxist has said:
The child has no religion, tradition and prejudices. She has not joined any religious sect. She is a new human being who, by accident and irrespective of her will has been born into a family with specific religion, tradition, and prejudices.
It is indeed the task of society to neutralise the negative effects of this blind lottery. Society is duty-bound to provide fair and equal living conditions for children, their growth and development, and their active participation in social life. Anybody who should try to block the normal social life of a child, exactly like those who would want to physically violate a child according to their own culture, religion, or personal or collective complexes, should be confronted with the firm barrier of the law and the serious reaction of society.
No nine year old girl chooses to be married, sexually mutilated, serve as house maid and cook for the male members of the family, and be deprived of exercise, education, and play. The child grows up in the family and in society according to established customs, traditions, and regulations, and automatically learns to accept these ideas and customs as the norms of life.
To speak of the choice of the Islamic veil by the child herself is a ridiculous joke. Anyone who presents the mechanism of the veiling of a kindergarten-age girl as her own ‘democratic choice’ either comes from outer space, or is a hypocrite who does not deserve to participate in the discussion about children’s rights and the fight against discrimination.’ ( http://www.marxists.org/archive/hekmat-mansoor/1997/06/children.htm )
The necessity of criticism, 07 February 2008
I do think that in this day and age, criticism of political Islam – and its banner Islam – is an urgent necessity because of the havoc it is wreaking the world over.
You can’t tiptoe around, appease, ignore or excuse one of the outrages of our century no matter how much some try.
And whilst criticism is crucial, the reason behind it and to what aim are even more so. After all, throughout history, criticism and confrontation of reaction has always helped pave the way for progress and the advancement of the lot of humanity. It is within this context that criticism matters – for people’s lives at least.
I’ve always said that criticising Islam and its political movement is not racism in any way shape or form. You cannot be racist against a belief or idea, no matter how much that criticism may cause offence. But that doesn’t mean that racism does not exist, or that there are not racist groups and organisations – like the British National Party or the Stop Islamisation of Europe campaign as well as institutionalised racism – that aim to stop ‘Muslim’ immigration, or consider all those labelled as ‘Muslims’ as sub-human ‘teeming hordes’ destroying the ‘Christian nature of Europe’.
These groups have no problem with religion’s adverse role within society as long as it is theirs. They have no issue with reaction as long as it is theirs.
And the religious-nationalist left is no better. The Socialist Workers Party, Ken Livingstone and Stop the War Coalition deserve notable mention for their whirlwind love affair with political Islam.
Whilst the left has always been the traditional banner carrier of social justice, the religious-nationalist left are only concerned about ‘rights’ as it is applicable to themselves.
They want women’s liberation for themselves but the ‘right to veil’ for us; they are against homophobia but greet Qaradawi as a long lost friend and stay silent when gay teenagers are hung in public; they want pension rights for workers here but do not want the Islamic regime of Iran to be described in their resolutions as repressive. They don’t want Britain to be a nuclear power, but will quite happily debate the need for nuclear power for the Islamic regime of Iran (with the CND even inviting an official to speak at one of their meetings).
In this type of politics, there is also a deep-seated racism, which like the right, fails to distinguish between the oppressed and oppressor and actually sees them as one and the same.
A politics that implies that people want to live the way they are forced to.
That they actually deserve no better because it is ‘their own culture and religion’ imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the ruling class, parasitical imams and self-appointed ‘community leaders’.
In a sense, both of them fail to see millions of people as truly human – with just as many differences of opinions, and belonging to vast social movements and progressive organisations and parties – demanding and worthy of the same rights and dignity as they so strongly believe is their due.
Effectively they both promote a policy of minoritism or the more palatably labelled multi-culturalism – where people who are deemed to be ‘different’ are denied universal standards and norms, freedoms, equality and the secularism fought for by truly progressive movements over centuries.
In foreign policy too, whilst one is generally anti-war and the other pro-war, their politics don’t make much difference in terms of people’s lives. One wants to bomb Iran and Iraq; the other wants to make nice with the Islamic regime in Iran and Hezbollah – both at the expense of people’s rights, lives and freedoms.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that whilst criticism of Islam and political Islam is an historical duty and necessity it has to be based within a politics that puts people first to have real meaning and affect real change.
It has to be done but for humanity’s sake.
To read or add comments please visit New Statesman Faith Column [external link]