Author: Sadia Hameed

Resolution in support of Asia Bibi

Resolution in support of Asia Bibi

International Conference on Sharia, Segregation and Secularism

25 November 2018

The International Conference on Sharia, Segregation and Secularism unequivocally supports Asia Bibi’s right to asylum and protection in a safe country.

We salute the political courage of the lawyer who defended Asia and the judges who ruled in favour of her acquittal in Pakistan. Their respect for human rights and justice for all, despite serious risks to their lives, is commendable.

Whilst Asia Bibi has been released on appeal in November 2018 after 8 years on death row, her life is in danger and she is living in hiding. Islamist groups have been calling for her death as well as the death of her lawyer Saif Ul Malook and the judges who acquitted her. According to news reports, she and her family are being hunted house to house.

Despite her urgent need for refuge, the UK Foreign Office has urged the Home Office not to grant Asia Bibi political asylum in the UK out of safety concerns. This decision amounts to a gross violation of the very idea of asylum as a human right. Worse still, it signals the complicity of the British government with fundamentalist violence.

The Conference urges the UK Government to grant Asia Bibi protection and asylum. Mob violence must not deter us from defending fundamental human rights. 

The conference also urges the release of all those in prison on blasphemy and apostasy charges in Pakistan and internationally and calls for an end to these laws everywhere.

 

Maryam Namazie

Manifesto on Women and Secularism

Manifesto on Women and Secularism

International Conference on Sharia, Segregation and Secularism

25 November 2018, London

 

Today, far-Right movements, including religious fundamentalisms, are seizing power and on the rise in both democratic and authoritarian states. Even in more secularised societies, religious organisations have gained power because they have been considered valuable allies  to provide services as the state shrinks, to oppose radical social justice movements, as part of counter-terror strategies and post conflict stabilisation, and as part of the privatisation of law. From development banks to Western aid and human rights organisations, fundamentalists, particularly Islamists, have been promoted in the name of minority and religious rights. The growth of community based Sharia and other parallel legal systems is part of this process of acquiescence and promotion by western states and international institutions as much as by fundamentalist regimes and movements.

When far-Right movements, including religious fundamentalists, take power or gain social acceptance, women are the first targets. They erase women from the public space, treat them as second-class citizens and consider them extensions of family and religious and national honournot individuals with universal human rights. 

On the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we recall that the peoples of the world came together in the hope of ending war, colonialism and fascism and ensuring human rights for all regardless of sex, race, citizenship or other status.

These struggles insisted on our common humanity and equality  not difference or superiority. Yet, we are concerned that many of the struggles that constituted universal rights have been erased from history and labelled western by regressive identity politics. Those who see human rights and secular values as western simply negate the history of local African, Middle Eastern and Asian struggles for secularism and do not recall that secular values were clearly understood to be the only framework which could build multi-ethnic, multi-religious, plural societies based on the emancipation of women and minorities. 

Today, we acknowledge that we owe our rights to liberationand civil rights struggles across the globe, which created the foundation of modern human rights, including the right to womens equality, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience, i.e.  freedom of and from religion.   We confirm our opposition to the fascist far-Right as we oppose all religious fundamentalisms. One feeds into the other. They are complementary and indispensable to each otherOne can never excuse the otherWe affirm the centrality of the universality of rights and the principle of secularism  the complete separation of religion from the state – to ensure that religion cannot influence the state and public policy and impose itself on private lives.

One Law for All stands for the struggle for universalism, secularism and against religious oppression.

 

On the 10th anniversary of One Law for All, we call for:

1. The promotion of a universal human rights-based approach for all, especially women and minorities, including the right to access changeable civil and secular laws voted on by the people rather than unchangeable ‘divine’ laws.
2. The right to freedom of conscience and expression, including the right to blasphemy and apostasy.
3. The abolition of religiousbased laws in family, civil and criminal matters, in particular when they violate human rights, and ending community-based Sharia and other religious ‘courts’, and customary councils such as jirgas and panchayats, and other ‘arbitration’ systems.
4. Improved access to justice, including comprehensive legal aid.
5. The promotion of gender equality and abolition of restrictive religious and cultural codes and customs that hinder and contradict woman’s rights and independence.
6. The prohibition of gender segregation, compulsory veiling and other stigmatising practices such as considering menstruation a form of pollution, in educational and other public spaces that seek to disempower women and girls and stigmatise marginalised groups.
7. The abolition of religious laws and practices that violate childrens rights to education, information, creativity and freedom of expression, including child veiling, child marriage, sexual abuse, ritual abuse, child mutilation and exploitative practices involving children in religious ceremonies.
8. Countering both racist and fundamentalist discourses whether they appeal to Sharia, fascism, anti-Semitism, casteism or any ideology which denies the universal dignity of every human being.
9. States and civil society to examine the ways in which laws, policies and practices violate human rights by promoting, tolerating or acquiescing in racism against minorities, migrants and refugees and using fundamentalists as allies to counter terrorism, conduct war, or stabilise post-conflict societies.
10. The recognition that secularism is a basic human right and a minimum precondition for womens and minority rights.
Maryam Namazie

THE DANGERS OF BEING A DEVOUT ATHEIST

THE DANGERS OF BEING A DEVOUT ATHEIST

 

I have been an atheist since the age of 13. There was no Damascene moment to it. One day I realised that I did not believe in god any longer. It was the end of a personal journey that had started out in fervent Catholic devotion from the moment I took my First Holy Communion, fuelled by regular attendance to Sunday mass, daily evening prayers before going to sleep and regular engagement in confession. However, for many reasons, I lost my faith, never to return.  Just like that.

 

To mark such a momentous occasion there was a short announcement in the only appropriate forum at the time: the family dinner table. My revelation was greeted with a dismissive eye roll from my mother, complete indifference from my siblings and one of my father’s undefined grunts which meant anything from “Ok”, “you must be having a laugh”, “Good”, “What’s on telly?” or “No”. Interpreting my father’s moods was a bizarre game of chicken that taught me to be brave – yet cautious – to expect the unexpected, never shy away from a fight – unless it could not be won – and always think outside the box. These skills have been invaluable in the last 20 years working as an asylum and immigration lawyer in the UK.

 

The timing of my revelation was critical. Had I been born a few years earlier the situation would have been completely different. I was born in the early 1970s, in Franco’s Spain, where pretty much all babies had to be baptised by legal imperative. Luckily for me I have no recollection of Francoism. El Caudillo died before I could understand what was going on around me.

 

My atheism would have been very dangerous under Franco. My father – also an atheist – would have been much more vocal in his response to my revelation, to the point of verbalising some actual words. He would have told me to keep quiet and never, ever share my thoughts with anyone unless I wanted to end up in prison. My father had witnessed Catholic priests abuse the great power bestowed upon them by the Franco regime. He grew up at a time when those who did not show up for Sunday mass mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Everyone knew not to ask any questions to avoid suffering the same fate. I have no doubt that I would have found it intolerable to live in a society so dominated by a religion I could not follow. I have no doubt I would have desperately sought a way to escape.

 

Being an outspoken free thinker in the society I grew up in did not put my life in danger.  I may have been perceived as being weird and annoying which resulted in having less (but more select) friends. My family did not disown me. The authorities had no interest in me and I was not ostracised or persecuted by my local community. I was not discriminated against by anyone because of my atheism.

 

 

Unfortunately this is a privilege that is not afforded to many atheists and free thinkers around the world. Millions are born in repressive societies where religion and politics are indivisibly merged together. These are societies where women have fewer rights than men, where nobody can be religiously indifferent and individuality and non-observance of the status quo can literally get you killed. Just like LGBTI individuals from homophobic countries, free thinkers and atheists born in religiously autocratic regimes face the agonising choice of either conforming, following the herd and living a lie or leaving their home, culture and families, everything they have ever known, in order to start out from scratch in a strange land where they would be able to be themselves without having to pretend to be someone they are not.

 

Over the years I have had the enormous privilege of successfully representing a large number of atheists from different countries. I am stunned at the extraordinarily high personal price paid by many of my clients as a result of their free thinking. As a fellow atheist, I understand their journey from believer to non-believer. I know it is a process with a beginning, a middle and an end. However, I cannot in any way relate to the pain my clients have endured as a result of their atheism such as not being able to visit their countries of origin, having been disowned by their families and lifelong friends, feeling isolated and sometimes suicidal.

 

And that is before they make a formal asylum application to seek protection. This is a process that can feel like the legal equivalent of a full body cavity search; intrusive, adversarial and unsympathetic; marred by a culture of disbelief; sometimes inhumane.

 

As a lawyer I strive to protect my clients as much as possible, advising them as to what they can expect from the process, spending many hours going through their evidence with them to present the best possible case, strengthening their claims with relevant country information, making full use of my legal toolkit to persuade the decision-maker that atheist asylum applicants are not making up their claims to stay here and work, to be given a council flat and benefits, that these applicants would be at risk of imprisonment, death or both if they are sent them back home just because they can no longer make themselves follow a religion they believe to be a fantasy and cannot abide by the rules imposed by it. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it cannot go back in.

 

Not all of my atheist clients have had a difficult time securing asylum in the UK. This is very much the luck of the draw. In my experience once my client negotiates the potential Orwellian situations that arise at the Asylum Screening Unit, if the case is well prepared in my experience there is a reasonable chance of securing a grant of asylum on application. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts sometimes the decision-makers do not read or engage with all the evidence painstakingly prepared in support of our cases. In those situations, we can find ourselves in front of an Immigration Judge who is independent of the Home Office. This comes at a very substantial financial and emotional cost.

 

Over the course of my career I have worked on a wide variety of asylum cases which I have very much enjoyed. However, I cannot help but having a soft spot for atheist clients. Every single time I work in these cases I find something relatable on a personal level. I very much hope to be able to continue doing this work for many years to come.

 

Ana González BA

https://www.wilsonllp.co.uk/ana-gonzalez/

CEMB condemns China’s persecution of Muslims

Reports indicate that the Chinese government is subjecting Muslims in the region of Xinjian to ongoing surveillance, detention and forced ‘re-education’ in its political re-education camps.  Human rights group report that in excess of 1 million individuals have been detained.

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) unequivocally condemns China’s persecution of Muslims, demands that the Chinese government immediately end the persecution of religious minorities and calls on the international community to intervene in defence of freedom of conscience.

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