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Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s Conference on Political Islam, Sharia Law and Civil Society, Conway Hall, London – Biographies

Mina Ahadi was active in the Iranian revolution; after the revolution’s suppression and establishment of an Islamic state, Mina was expelled from medical school for opposing compulsory veiling. She continued her opposition, including in Iranian Kurdistan as a guerrilla for ten years after having fled the city of Tabriz to evade arrest. In Europe, she founded and heads of the International Committee against Stoning and Execution as well as the Council of Ex-Muslims of Germany. She is also a Central Committee member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran. She was the National Secular Society’s 2007 Secularist of the Year award winner. She was also selected as one of Elle Quebec’s top 45 women of the year 2007. Her biography, I have renounced religion, has been published in 2008 in Germany by Heyne Publishing House.

Mahin Alipour was a university student during the Iranian revolution. She took active part in demonstrations and strikes against the Shah’s regime. She witnessed the Islamisation of Iranian universities, and lived through the arrest and execution of many of her friends. She was barred from taking employment and from divorcing her husband. She later fled Iran to Sweden because of the threat to her life. She heads Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, International Campaign in Defence of Women’s Rights in Iran – Stockholm and the Scandinavian Committee of Ex-Muslims.

Roy Brown is a former president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union and for the past four years has been IHEU’s main representative at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva where he has written and spoken on issues as diverse as the plight of the untouchables in India, the rights of women in the developing world, and the crucial need for sex education and family planning. His primary concern within the UN Human Rights Council is to maintain the universality of human rights against pressure from the Islamic states to reduce the level of protection guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international covenants. In 2006 Roy was awarded the Free Press Prize by the Danish Free Press Society as ‘a tireless advocate for free speech as part and parcel of human rights.’ In 2008 Roy received the award for Distinguished Services to Humanism at the World Humanist Congress in Washington DC.

Andrew Copson is Director of Education and Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association. He coordinates the BHA’s campaigns for a secular state, for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief and for a rational humanist perspective on public ethical issues. He also coordinates the BHA’s education work promoting understanding of Humanism as a non-religious worldview both in formal school and college curricula and to the public at large. He has written on these issues for The Guardian and New Statesman as well as various journals and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an Associate of the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University.

Richard Dawkins was educated at Oxford University and has taught zoology at the universities of California and Oxford. He is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His books include The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow and God Delusion. He won both the Royal Society of Literature Award and the Los Angeles Times Literary Prize in 1987 for The Blind Watchmaker. The television film of the book, shown in the ‘Horizon’ series, won the Sci-Tech Prize for the Best Science Programme of 1987. He has also won the 1989 Silver Medal of the Zoological Society of London and the 1990 Royal Society Michael Faraday Award for the furtherance of the public understanding of science. In 1994 he won the Nakayama Prize for Human Science and in 1995 was awarded an Honorary D.Litt. by the University of St Andrews. He received the Humanist of the Year Award in 1996. Since 1996 has been Vice President of the British Humanist Association. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997 and was winner of the 1997 (Fifth) International Cosmos Prize in Commemoration of Expo’ 90. He is also Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.

Patty DeBonitas grew up in Germany where she worked as a radio journalist for a local radio station. She studied in Essen, Germany and later moved to England to study film; she received her BA in 1998. Since then, she has worked as a camera operator, production assistant, producer, writer, and most recently as director on various fiction and documentary projects. She produces and hosts a weekly current affairs programme on New Channel TV. Patty is also active in the Third Camp against US militarism and Islamic terrorism.

Nick Doody is one of brightest talents on the comedy circuit. Sharp, topical and not afraid to say what he thinks, his brand of political comedy and satire has won fans all over the country. As well as gigging regularly all over the UK, Nick has also performed in Ireland, Germany, Spain, France and Croatia. Nick is also much in demand as a writer for television and radio, writing for the likes of BBC4’s ‘Late Edition’, and More4’s ‘Last Word’. Nick’s radio and TV credits as a performer include contributing to shows such as BBC2’s ‘Comedy Map of Britain’ and ITV2’s ‘Comedy Cuts.’

Giles Enders spent much of his working life in advertising, then organising mainly cultural exhibitions. He is currently chair of the South Place Ethical Society. Based at Conway Hall, London, the South Place Ethical Society is the oldest freethought community in the world. It was founded in 1793 as a dissenting congregation and for more than two centuries has been a focus for serious discussion of basic ethical principles. By 1888 SPES had rejected the existence of god and became an Ethical Society, the only one which now survives. SPES is now an educational charity and maintains a proud tradition of free enquiry in all areas of thought and action. It arranges many talks, courses and seminars for members and interested non-members as well as Sunday chamber music concerts.

Anthony Grayling is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford. He has written and edited many books on philosophy and other subjects; among his most recent are a biography of William Hazlitt and a collection of essays. For several years he wrote the “Last Word” column for the Guardian newspaper and is a regular reviewer for the Literary Review and the Financial Times. He also often writes for the Observer, Economist, Times Literary Supplement, Independent on Sunday and New Statesman, and is a frequent broadcaster on BBC Radios 4, 3 and the World Service. He is the Editor of Online Review London, Contributing Editor of Prospect magazine. In addition he sits on the editorial boards of several academic journals, and for nearly ten years was the Honorary Secretary of the principal British Philosophical Association, the Aristotelian Society. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and in 2003 was a Booker Prize judge. He is also Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.

Johann Hari is an award-winning journalist who writes twice-weekly for the Independent. He also writes for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Le Monde, Le Monde Diplomatique, The New Republic, El Mundo, The Guardian, The Melbourne Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, South Africa’s Star, The Irish Times, and a wide range of other international newspapers and magazines. In 2007 he was named Newspaper Journalist of the Year by Amnesty International for his reporting on the war in Congo. He has been nominated for many other awards, including Columnist of the Year at the British Press Awards, the Orwell Prize, the David Watt Prize and others. He has reported from Iraq, the Gaza Strip, the Congo, Bangladesh, India, the United States, Venezuela, Rwanda, Peru, Mexico, the Central African Republic, Syria and the United States. He has interviewed many world figures and has appeared as a commentator on various programmes.

Ehsan Jami (born April 20, 1985) is a Dutch politician. From March 7, 2006 until November 6, 2007 he was member of the city council of Leidschendam-Voorburg on behalf of the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA). Since then, he continues to be a member of the city council as an independent member ‘fraction Jami’. In 2007 he was one of the two founders of the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims. On October 4, 2007, Jami announced that he was working on a film project due to be released in February 2008 which he felt could be comparable in terms of controversy to the Jyllands-Posten Mohammad cartoons controversy. On 31 March 2008 he cancelled this project after been urged to do so by Dutch Minister of Justice. After expressing strong opinions against Islam and Mohammad, and strong criticism of the PvdA, he was asked to give up his council membership as part of the PvdA. By refusing to resign and continuing as an independent member, he lost his membership of PvdA.

Houzan Mahmoud is the representative abroad of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. She is an occasional writer for UK publications, including The Independent and The Guardian, New Statesman, and the Tribune. She is a campaigner for women’s and workers’ rights in Iraq and Kurdistan, leading campaigns against the rape and abduction of women in Iraq, and against the imposition of Sharia law in Kurdistan and Iraq. She has written many articles about the situation of women in Iraq, Kurdistan and Middle East, which have been translated into and published in several languages.

Caspar Melville is editor of New Humanist magazine. He started his career as a music journalist writing for Blues and Soul, Touch Magazine and Arena. He lived in the USA during the 1990s where he helped start the Jazz Magazine On The One in San Francisco, and contributed to a wide range of magazines including The Village Voice, Urb, Keyboard and Icon. He retuned to the UK to complete a PhD in Media and Communication at Goldsmiths College where he also taught in the media department. For four years, he worked for the online political magazine openDemocracy, as media editor and then executive editor. He joined New Humanist in 2005.

Reza Moradi is a founding and Executive Committee member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the CEMB’s webmaster. He is also Technical Director of New Channel TV, one of the most viewed opposition satellite TV stations broadcast in Iran and Central Committee member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran. He has produced a number of documentaries and short films including Fitna Remade, and against Child Veiling and Honour Killings. In the past, he was director of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees – UK for two years and active with the Iranian Civil Rights Committee. In 2006, he was questioned by police for causing ‘offence’ because of carrying a banner of the Mohammad caricatures at a free expression demonstration in Trafalgar Square but was eventually never charged.

Maryam Namazie is a founding member and the Spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; National Secular Society’s 2005 Secularist of the Year award winner and an NSS Honorary Associate; spokesperson of Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran; producer of TV International English; Central Committee member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran; Vice President of Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association; Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and co-editor of WPI Briefing. She is also involved in the Third Camp against US militarism and Islamic terrorism. Maryam was selected one of Elle Quebec’s top 45 women of the year in 2007. Her blog has been ranked one of the top 100 atheist blogs. She has also recently been nominated for the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize.

Taslima Nasreen is a physician, writer, radical feminist, human rights activist and a secular humanist. Her first book of poetry was published in 1986. Her second became a huge success in 1989. Next she started writing about women’s oppression. In 1992 she received the prestigious literary award Ananda from West Bengal in India for her Selected Columns, the first writer from Bangladesh to earn that award. Islamists launched a campaign against her in 1990, staging street demonstrations. Taslima has been living in exile. She has written twenty eight books of poetry, essays, novels, and short stories in her native language of Bengali. Many have been translated into twenty different languages.

Fariborz Pooya is head of Iranian Secular Society which was established five years ago to bring about an end to religion’s interference in public life in Iran. He took active part in the 1978-79 Iranian revolution and opposed the establishment of the Islamic regime in Iran. He left Iran in 1979 and organised opposition to the Islamic regime in the UK and Europe. He currently hosts Secular Society TV on New Channel TV. Fariborz is co-editor of WPI Briefing and has written many articles on the role of Islam in maintaining dictatorship in the Middle East. He is also one of the founding members of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.

Terry Sanderson is the president of the National Secular Society. He is also a journalist and writer and has been an activist for gay human rights since 1979. As well as working for many years in the field of mental health, he has also been an agony uncle on Woman’s Own magazine, where he worked under the tutelage of Claire Rayner. He is the author of nine books and has written extensively for the national press in Britain. He speaks extensively on secularism and has acted as media officer for the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association for many years. His popular column in Gay Times has been appearing continuously for 25 years – the longest-running column ever in the gay press.

Joan Smith is a novelist, columnist and human rights activist. Her columns appear in the Independent, Independent on Sunday and Evening Standard, and she also writes for the Times, Guardian and Sunday Times. She chaired the English PEN Writers in Prison Committee for four years and has advised the Foreign Office on promoting freedom of expression. She is the author of a dozen books, including Misogynies and six novels; the latest, What Will Survive, is set in London and Lebanon. She is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.

Bahram Soroush is a founding and Executive Committee Member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. He is a social and political analyst and commentator that has been interviewed in a variety of British and international news media, including the BBC, ITN and New Channel TV. He is currently the Public Relations Officer of the WPI’s International Labour Solidarity Committee.

Hanne Stinson worked in the voluntary sector for many years before she became the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association in 2001. She has helped to define the Association’s position on religious privilege (e.g. bishops in the House of Lords), discrimination on grounds of religion or belief (e.g. in employment and the provision of goods and services), and on social cohesion, and to develop its broader equality and human rights agenda. The BHA campaigns for equality for the non-religious and represents their views on a wide range of legal and ethical issues. Hanne also served on the Equality and Human Rights Commission Steering Group and on a reference group for the Equalities Review and Discrimination Law Review.

Hamid Taqvaee is the current leader of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran and is regarded as one of the most important figures in opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran. He is a renowned political and social commentator and analyst who has had an important role in the left movement in Iran after the Iranian revolution. He was a longtime friend and comrade of Mansoor Hekmat and a founder of the Union of Communist Militants and “Revolutionary Marxism”. He has written numerous articles and been interviewed extensively on Iran and other issues.

Ibn Warraq studied Arabic and Persian at the University of Edinburgh under Professors Montgomery Watt and LP Elwell-Sutton respectively. After an honours degree in Philosophy from the University of London, he taught for five years in primary schools in London, and then at the University of Toulouse, France. Since 1998, he has edited several books of Koranic criticism, and on the origins of Islam, namely, The Origins of the Koran, 1998; The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, 2000; What the Koran Really Says 2002; Leaving Islam. Apostates Speak Out, 2003; Defending the West, A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism, 2007; Which Koran? 2008, all published by Prometheus Books.

Keith Porteous Wood has been the Executive Director of the National Secular Society for 12 years. The NSS represents a secular and non-religious perspective in Parliament, mainly at Westminster but also in the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. It influences policy through working with sympathetic MP/MEPs and peers and meeting ministers and ministerial officials, and submitting written and verbal evidence to Select Committees and Royal Commission. He has chaired the session at the Council of Europe on Freedom of Expression (French Senate 2006) and represented the International Humanist and Ethical Union at the Council of Europe making the case against formal religious representation (San Marino 2007). He has assisted in the abolition of the blasphemy law. He is also the international representative for International Humanist involved in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and raising awareness of the major problems rendering the body ineffective. He is prominent in newspaper, TV and radio coverage giving a secular perspective.

Zia Zaffar is an accountant by profession and is currently the Treasurer for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. He has an educational background in Chemistry and Mathematics. He comes from a traditional British/Pakistani Muslim background but renounced Islam in his early teens due to the many inconsistencies he observed between the religion and science. His personal aims are to highlight these inconsistencies and to raise the awareness of humanism as an alternative lifestyle for young Muslims in Britain.

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