Category: Media Coverage

Group for ex-Muslims expands across Europe, USA Today

By Toby Sterling, Associated Press AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Ehsan Jami knew he was making himself a target for radical Islamists when he decided to launch a Dutch organization for Muslims who renounce their religion.

Five months and three physical assaults later, his “Committee for Ex-Muslims” is being launched Tuesday, joining similar groups that have sprung up around Europe.

These groups hope to add a new voice to the debate about — and within — Europe’s Muslim communities, presenting themselves as diametrically different to the disenchanted and sometimes violent youth who grab headlines, or to immigrants who live cloistered among their own.

Instead, they seek recognition from the Muslim mainstream for “freethinkers,” empowered Muslim women, homosexuals and those who want to renounce their religion without fear.

Under some fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, apostasy is forbidden, or is a heresy punishable by death.

“We want to support people who want to change their religion, but their parents, their society have them clasped in it and won’t let them out,” Jami, 22, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. “They would realize that they are not standing alone.”

The latest attack on Jami last month, when he was struck and pushed to the ground at a shopping center by three youths, was widely publicized in the Netherlands. The assailants were arrested, but Jami was forced into hiding, and receives police protection.

He said an earlier attack was even more dangerous, when he was surrounded by a large group of youths at night and had a knife held to his throat.

He had anticipated death threats, he said, but had not fully appreciated what they meant.

“It’s like the death of family,” Jami said. “You know it will come, but you don’t know how much pain it will bring.”

Leaders of ex-Muslim groups from Germany and England plan to attend Tuesday’s launch, before meeting the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday.

“Very clearly our intent is to break the taboo” within Islam against renouncing religion, said Maryam Namazie, who in June founded The British Council of Ex-Muslims.

“The first step is making it easier to do that. You could compare it to when the first gays came out of the closet,” she said.

Other groups have formed in the Scandinavian countries. Altogether, the European groups have total membership of no more than several hundred.

But the ex-Muslims say they are determined to show that “not all people from Muslim countries are religious,” said Arzu Toker, vice president of Germany’s Council of Ex Muslims, the first and largest of the organizations.

“If we don’t show it, many people (in the West) will think ‘all these people are just the same,’ and that’s simply not true,” she said.

Toker, a Turkish-born journalist, says membership in Germany has grown to more than 100 from 18 founders in January. Hundreds more have written to show their support, but are unwilling, unable or afraid to join.

Akbar Ahmed, who chairs the Islamic Studies department at American University in Washington, said the advent of such groups is not surprising.

“Expatriates may be intellectually questioning, given the freedom they have from being abroad,” he said. “A few may decide they are fed up with Islam — others become much more vigorously Islamic.”

He gave the example of Muslim girls living in the West who wear veils, but never would have done so in the country they immigrated from.

He said it is wrong to say Islam endorses killing apostates, though some of the Hadith, or sayings attributed to Mohammed, appear to endorse it — when taken out of context, he said.

Salima Belhaj, who is not a member of Jami’s group, says she has been branded as an apostate because of her modern lifestyle.

“It’s others who decide that I’m an ex-Muslim, because I wear short skirts or don’t go the mosque and drink a glass of wine” now and then, she told the newspaper Trouw.

She said she still considers herself a Muslim, “but I don’t think that others should decide how I live my life. As I see it, Islam is something between you and God.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch lawmaker who abandoned Islam and lived under threat for years for her provocative criticism of fundamentalism, said she was “shocked” by the attack on Jami.

“The rule of law, the basis of a state with civil liberties, is hollow if it becomes dangerous to do your shopping,” Hirsi Ali said in a statement from the United States, where she took up residence last year after quitting the parliament.

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September 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) — Some call them apostates, but they prefer the term ex-Muslims.

Today marked the official launch of the Dutch Ex-Muslim Committee, the latest such group to emerge in Europe. The groups say they want to make it easier for people to renounce Islam — and draw attention to places where leaving the faith is punishable by death.

The new group is headed by Ehsan Jami, a 22-year-old Dutch politician of Iranian origin.

The group’s creation follows the launch this spring of a German council for former Muslims.

Other groups soon followed suit in Scandinavia, and in Britain.

“If these groups in Europe are able to draw attention to the worldwide problem, this is of great benefit.” — Paul Marshall, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom

Rights activist Maryam Namazie, the force behind the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, said that even for those living in Europe, it’s not easy to renounce Islam. Those who do face threats and intimidation. “So we thought if we could have an organization based on the German model where you could actually have people’s faces and names who announce that they want to renounce Islam, it would make it easier,” Namazie said.

She says her group aims to “break a taboo” about leaving Islam, and to present a more varied image of Muslims and people of Muslim background.

Membership is small: Namazie says her group still only has some 70 members, while the German group claims around 600-700.

But she says this is likely a small fraction of the number of former Muslims in Britain. “It’s not an organization that people can become members of easily because of the threats and intimidations that surround it. And so I think in reality each member that does put his name and face to the organization represents many more who are unable to do so right now,” she said.

Fear of Persecution

To be sure, all these groups have sprung up in the relative religious freedom of Western Europe.

It’s a long way from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, where apostasy is punishable by death.

But Namazie says she herself has received death threats. Mina Ahadi, who set up the German council, is under police protection. And Jami of the Dutch group is reportedly now living in a secret location after being assaulted.

Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, says initiatives like these groups have the potential to be helpful by highlighting what he calls a major issue worldwide.

“Many ex-Muslims around the world are persecuted, some are killed, others are imprisoned and very many live in fear. So this is a huge issue,” Marshall said. “If these groups in Europe are able to draw attention to the worldwide problem this is of great benefit.”

But the latest initiative has drawn criticism, too.

Today’s launch comes on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States — a date chosen for its associations with militant Islam.

Han Noten, a senator from Jami’s Labour party, said the choice of date was a provocation. “It suggests the issue is about the innocent and the guilty, with former Muslims being innocent and Muslims guilty,” he wrote.

And even some other Dutch ex-Muslims have been critical, too.

“We defend the right to be able to walk away from any religion, including Islam,” one of them, Behnam Taebi, said in a statement. “But they are using that right as a cover to categorically insult Muslims and to stigmatize them as ‘violent’ and ‘terrorists.'”

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Muslims in Europe who renounce their faith band together

AMSTERDAM – EHSAN Jami knew he was making himself a target for radical Islamists when he decided to launch a Dutch organisation for Muslims who renounce their religion. Five months and three physical assaults later, his ‘Committee for Ex-Muslims’ is being launched on Tuesday, joining similar groups that have sprung up around Europe.

These groups hope to add a new voice to the debate about – and within – Europe’s Muslim communities, presenting themselves as diametrically different to the disenchanted and sometimes violent youth who grab headlines, or to immigrants who live cloistered among their own.

Instead, they seek recognition from the Muslim mainstream for ‘freethinkers,’ empowered Muslim women, homosexuals and those who want to renounce their religion without fear.

Interpretations of Islam
Under some fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, apostasy is forbidden, or is a heresy punishable by death.

‘We want to support people who want to change their religion, but their parents, their society have them clasped in it and won’t let them out,’ Mr Jami, 22, said on Monday. ‘They would realise that they are not standing alone.’

The latest attack on Mr Jami last month, when he was struck and pushed to the ground at a shopping centre by three youths, was widely publicised in the Netherlands. The assailants were arrested, but Mr Jami was forced into hiding, and receives police protection.

He said an earlier attack was even more dangerous, when he was surrounded by a large group of youths at night and had a knife held to his throat.

He had anticipated death threats, he said, but had not fully appreciated what they meant.

‘It’s like the death of family,’ Mr Jami said. ‘You know it will come, but you don’t know how much pain it will bring.’

Other Europeans to attend launch
Leaders of ex-Muslim groups from Germany and England plan to attend on Tuesday’s launch, before meeting the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday.

‘Very clearly our intent is to break the taboo’ within Islam against renouncing religion, said Maryam Namazie, who in June founded The British Council of Ex-Muslims.

‘The first step is making it easier to do that. You could compare it to when the first gays came out of the closet,’ she said.

Other groups have formed in the Scandinavian countries.

Altogether, the European groups have total membership of no more than several hundred.

But the ex-Muslims say they are determined to show that ‘not all people from Muslim countries are religious,’ said Arzu Toker, vice president of Germany’s Council of Ex Muslims, the first and largest of the organisations.

‘If we don’t show it, many people (in the West) will think ‘all these people are just the same,’ and that’s simply not true,’ she said.

Ms Toker, a Turkish-born journalist, says membership in Germany has grown to more than 100 from 18 founders in January. Hundreds more have written to show their support, but are unwilling, unable or afraid to join.

‘Advent of such groups is not surprising’
Akbar Ahmed, who chairs the Islamic Studies department at American University in Washington, said the advent of such groups is not surprising.

‘Expatriates may be intellectually questioning, given the freedom they have from being abroad,’ he said. ‘A few may decide they are fed up with Islam – others become much more vigorously Islamic.’ He gave the example of Muslim girls living in the West who wear veils, but never would have done so in the country they immigrated from.

He said it is wrong to say Islam endorses killing apostates, though some of the Hadith, or sayings attributed to Mohammed, appear to endorse it – when taken out of context, he said. — AP

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Dutch politician sets up Committee for ex-Muslims by our correspondent in The Hague John Tyler

11-09-2007

Young Dutch Labour politician Ehsan Jami has established a Committee of ex-Muslims in the Netherlands to support those who have renounced Islam.

22-year-old Jami (photo) held a press conference on Tuesday – the sixth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York – to announce the birth of the committee.

There’s been an intense amount of interest in Mr Jami and his efforts, much of it critical. Ehsan Jami is proving to be a controversial spokesman, partly because of his outspoken views about the religion he has renounced.

During the press conference, Mr Jami described Islam as “not a religion of peace.”

“It’s a religion of submission…of its followers, submission of Christians, Jews, Budhists, atheists, infidels, the whole world. So I ask myself, how long is Holland going to pretend that we’re not at war with the Muslim extremists. And my message is this to the Muslim extremists: In this country, in this nation and in this continent, there is no more room for you.”
Backing from abroad
Mr Jami was joined by two other ex-Muslims who lead similar efforts abroad. Maryam Namazie heads an organisation founded in the United Kingdom in June, while German Mina Ahadi set up the Council for ex-Muslims in February.

Each of them has met with resistance in setting up their committees, and all three say they have received death threats.

On the other hand, Mr Jami says he has received hundreds of e-mails from ex-Muslims who support his efforts. But he hasn’ t succeeded in finding other former Muslims to work with him publicly. And that’s not due to a shortage of ex-Muslims in the Netherlands.

Leaving quietly
A number of former Muslims held a press conference earlier this week – at a mosque, no less. Their message was that Muslims can leave the faith quietly, and they take issue with Jami’s confrontational approach. One of them, Peyman Jaffari, calls himself an atheist and a humanist. He told Radio Netherlands Worldwide:

“Ehsan Jami says people have the right to leave Islam. That’s something we ascribe to. But he has another message as well. He calls the prophet Muhammad Osama Bin Laden. And he presents his committee on 11 September. So he’s very polarising and describes Muslims as enemies.”
Mr Jaffari says he’s had some intense discussions with friends and family who were trying to save his soul, but he says he hasn’t faced any animosity for having left the faith. For him, ex-Muslims have more similarities with Muslims than differences.

9/11
For Mr Jaffari and other sceptics, Mr Jami’s choice of 11 September was particularly damaging for his message.

But Maryam Namazie, chair of the Council of ex-Muslims in the UK who came to The Hague to sign a declaration of support for Ehsan Jami, doesn’t see anything wrong with the date.

“If you’re against the slaughter of people who were going about their daily business like New York and you’re criticizing the movement that was responsible, what does that have to do with ordinary Muslims? I think that this is what political Islam often tries to do: equate themselves with all Muslims as a way of saying: ‘If you criticise it, you’re racist, you’re attacking all Muslims’. That’s not the case.”
Ms Namazie says that political correctness in western countries has gone too far, with the result that people are afraid to criticise Islam, and especially in public.

But she should be pleased with the week’s events. Criticising Islam was at least one thing the various ex-Muslims here in the Netherlands managed to do.

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„Það er greinilegt að hér hefur lítið verið rætt um íslam. Úr því þarf að bæta. Íslendingar sem og aðrir eiga ekki á láta fæla sig frá heilbrigðri gagnrýni af ótta við að vera úthrópaðir rasistar og árásarmenn á múslíma,” segir Maryam Namazie, stofnandi samtaka fyrrverandi múslíma í Bretlandi.

Maryam hefur síðustu daga haldið fyrirlestra um pólitískt íslam hér á landi og hvatt til þess að Íslendingar læri af reynslu annarra þjóða. Salmann Tamimi, formaður Félags múslíma á Íslandi, greindi frá því í gær að honum þætti ummæli hennar árás á alla múslíma. Maryam segist vön slíkum ásökunum. „Slíkar fullyrðingar eru öflugt vopn gegn þeim sem gagnrýna grimmdina í íslömskum lögum,” segir Maryam

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Overplaying the race card, American Spectator

Overplaying the Race Card
By Christopher Orlet
Published 9/4/2007 12:07:10 AM

Best to get this out of the way from the start: Islam is a religion and a religious ideology, not a race, therefore the recurrent charge that Islam’s critics are racist is nothing more than a thin smokescreen.

Yet this truism is repeatedly rejected by Muslim spokesmen. Visit the Islamophobia Watch website and you will find among the many attempts at a definition (e.g. “the fear or hatred of Islam”) this qualification:

[T]he term “Islamophobia” does not adequately express the full range and depth of antipathy towards Islam and Muslims in the West today. It is an inadequate term. A more accurate expression would be “anti-Islamic racism” for it combines the elements of dislike of a religion and active discrimination against the people belonging to that religion.

Doubtless”active discrimination against the people belonging to [a] religion” is repellant, but it is not racist. You may be anti-Islamic or anti-Christian or anti-Judaic, or like the journalist Christopher Hitchens anti-religion in toto, and still have a profound respect for all races. Indeed the equation of religion and race has long been the favorite hobbyhorse of genuine racists. Were not the Nazis adamant that Jewry was both a religion and — first and foremost — a race?

It is easy to understand this fixation with race. The race card is the most effective way to silence critics and undermine the credibility of one’s opponent. When legitimate debate fails cry racism. In this way Muslims piggyback on the legitimate animosity toward racial bigotry.

Definitions of Islamophobia seem likely to multiply until they encompass every activity short of looking askance at a Muslim. Here is yet another definition, this time put together by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia:

  1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
  2. Islam is seen as separate and ‘other’. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
  3. Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.
  4. Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a ‘clash of civilisations’.
  5. Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.
  6. Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.
  7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
  8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

Clearly none of these accusations are racist — indeed, no particular races are mentioned — and most are either antithetical (“Hostility toward Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices toward Muslims”) or self-evidently true, e.g., the charge that Islam is a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage. The commissioners for some reason deny this, apparently unaware that Islam’s founder was an eminent military and political leader. Similarly the suggestion that Islam is not a monolithic bloc was refuted during the Danish cartoon kerfuffle when Muslims from all nations and sects came together as one to denounce the publication of editorial cartoons depicting Le Prophete Mahomet.

Another of the preceding sub-definitions (e.g., that “Islam is seen as inferior to the West”) stupidly contrasts a specific religion with a geopolitical, historical and cultural entity. Perhaps the commissioners meant to say that the Middle East is seen as inferior to the West, or Islam is seen as inferior to Christianity or secularism? Whatever the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia meant it was unable to articulate it, which is not surprising considering its finished product. As for Islam being a barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist religion, what else would one call the traditions of forced marriage, the stoning of gays, genital mutilation, the murder of apostates, etc., etc.?

THE CHARGE OF Islamophobia invariably sends the government and police into a panic. This summer the Islamic Human Rights Commission accused British TV network Channel 4 with “Islamophobia” and stirring up racial hatred after it broadcast a documentary titled Undercover Mosque. In the film an investigative journalist secretly recorded the strange goings on at the Green Lane mosque in Birmingham, England, including fanatical imams condemning democracy, opposing integration, and praising the Taliban for killing coalition troops.

In one of history’s great ironies, the local police and the Crown Prosecution Service first considered charging the radical imams portrayed in the film with criminal incitement. But after concluding that no crime had been committed, the government decided to charge the investigative journalists instead. Real life does not get any more surreal than this.

Government officials claimed the documentary “distorted” the truth, employed “selective quoting,” and used words and phrases “out of context.” It is unclear how the filmmakers misrepresented Dr. Ijaz Mian’s statement that “You cannot accept the rule of the kaffir [derogatory term for non-Muslim]. We have to rule ourselves and we have to rule the other.” Or Abu Usamah’s remark that “We hate the Kaffir! Whether those kaffir are from the UK or the US!” But then as Andrew Anthony speculated in the Observer, perhaps Messrs Mian and Usamah were innocently rehearsing for a stage play.

Maryam Namazie, spokesperson of the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, has argued that the UK media has been too soft in its coverage of Islam. The political Islamist movement in Britain and Europe, she says, has engineered a “victim status,” whereby criticism of Islam is being equated to racism against Muslims. “Criticizing a belief is not racism, it is not the case that Muslims are being vilified.” Meanwhile the attitude in Britain, according to Channel 4’s Kevin Sutcliffe, has degraded into one of “if you don’t like the message shoot the messenger.”

The upshot is that if you offend the Muslim community, you will suffer for it — if not via death threats, then by lawsuits, fines or the loss of a broadcasting license. In this atmosphere it would seem prudent to simply keep your mouth shut. Happily a few journalists are still willing to risk threats, criminal prosecution and their careers to discover the truth.

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Maryam Namazie on Islamophobia in the Guardian

Channel 4 rejects ‘Islamophobia’ claims
Mark Sweney, MediaGuardian
Friday August 24 2007

This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Friday August 24 2007.

It was last updated at 11:20 on January 08 2008.

The Channel 4 deputy head of news and current affairs, Kevin Sutcliffe, today dismissed accusations of Islamophobia in the broadcaster’s programming, stating that it would remain “fearless” in its coverage.
Mr Sutcliffe, one of five panelists involved at a sometimes heated session at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh international television festival about the portrayal of Islam in the media, said critics would be “hard pressed to point to Islamophobia” in Channel 4’s programming.

“We have a rounded view and approach to this issue … we are quite fearless about what we want to say and when we want to say it,” he added.

In response to the Crown Prosecution Service criticism that the controversial Dispatches documentary Undercover Mosque had “distorted” the views of those filmed, Mr Sutcliffe said it was a “phoney argument”.

He added that it had been proven that the “people said what they said freely” in the documentary, broadcast in January.

The issue, argued Mr Sutcliffe, was that there seemed to be a situation now that “if you don’t like the message shoot the messenger”. “[Undercover] Mosque speaks for itself,” he added.

Mr Sutcliffe added that a decision was taken six years ago to make the issue a “key plank” in Channel 4’s strategy and that it was “about engagement and trying to understand” Islam.

Channel 4, had made about 30 films “covering a wide-range issues” across drama, news and current affairs that made for “representative” coverage, he said.

The broadcaster had, for example, been very critical of British foreign policy towards wars in Islamic countries, he added.

Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, agreed that following events such as 9/11 and the bombings in Madrid and London it was “inevitable” there would be an “increased scrutiny of Muslim organisations and mosques”.

However, he said that he was “entitled to ask if it is fair”. He then stated that Muslims and Islam “does not have a level playing field in the media in this country”.

Mr Bunglawala expressed concern over “authored documentaries” in which “journalists have an axe to grind”. He cited a Panorama documentary by John Ware as an example.

Maryam Namazie, spokesperson of the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, strongly disagreed, arguing that the UK media was too soft in its coverage of Islam. “Media doesn’t cover the realities of Islam at all, it is very soft,” she said.

She added that the political Islamist movement in Britain and Europe had engineered a “victim status”, whereby criticism of Islam was being equated to racism against Muslims.

“Criticising a belief is not racism, it is not the case that that Muslims are being vilified,” Ms Namazie said.

To contact the MediaGuardian newsdesk email [email protected] or phone 020 7239 9857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 7278 2332.

If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly “for publication”.

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