The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s first international conference on Political Islam, Sharia Law and Civil Society held at Conway Hall on October 10 was a resounding success. Nearly 300 people came together to discuss issues ranging from apostasy, the freedom to criticise and renounce religion, Sharia law and civil society and creationism, faith schools and religious education. Held on the International Day against the Death Penalty, the conference was a stark reminder of the many killed or facing execution for apostasy in countries ruled by Islamic laws.
The conference was opened by Fariborz Pooya (head of Iranian Secular Society), the conference’s Master of Ceremonies. After a welcome from Giles Enders on behalf of Conway Hall and Zia Zaffar on behalf of CEMB’s Executive Committee, the audience watched a clip from Patty Debonitas’ film ‘Breaking the taboo.’ Maryam Namazie, the CEMB’s spokesperson, then gave an opening address, saying that the political Islamic movement used rights and anti-racist language for western consumption so that it could go about its business as usual. She said: ‘While Islamic organisations here talk in PR speak, they, their courts, their schools, their leaders are nothing but extensions of Islamic states.’ She went on to say ‘In the end, political Islam matters to people because it affects their lives, their rights, their freedoms. And that’s why only a movement that puts people first can mobilise the force needed to stop it.’
This was followed by Plenary 1 entitled ‘Apostasy laws and the Freedom to Renounce and Criticise Religion’ chaired by Caspar Melville, editor of the New Humanist. Panellists were Mina Ahadi (head of the Council of ex-Muslims of Germany); AC Grayling (philosopher and author), Ehsan Jami (former head of the Council of Ex-Muslims of the Netherlands), Fariborz Pooya, Hanne Stinson (Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association) and Ibn Warraq (author). The panellists called for the immediate release of all those imprisoned for ‘apostasy’; an abolition of the death penalty; and a cancellation of laws wherever they exist that punish the right and freedom to renounce or criticise Islam.
After lunch, comedian Nick Doody entertained the crowd with a routine critical of religion. This was followed by Plenary 2 entitled ‘Sharia Law and Citizenship Rights’. It was chaired by Andrew Copson (Director of Education and Public Affairs of the British Humanist Association); panellists were Mahin Alipour (head of the Scandinavian Councils of Ex-Muslims), Roy Brown (International Humanist and Ethical Union’s Representative at the UN Human Rights Council), Johann Hari (journalist), Maryam Namazie and Ibn Warraq. The audience overwhelmingly supported the following resolution at the end of the plenary: The conference calls on the UK and European governments to bring an end to the use and implementation of Sharia law, which is discriminatory against women and children in particular, and to guarantee unconditional equal citizenship rights for all.
The audience then watched a remake of the right wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ film entitled Fitna Remade by Reza Moradi.
After a break, Richard Dawkins (scientist, author) provided his criticism of Harun Yahya’s Atlas of Creation for which his site has been banned in Turkey, which was followed by questions and answers from the audience.
This was followed by Plenary 3 entitled ‘Creationism, Religious Education and Faith Schools,’ which was chaired by Keith Porteous Wood (Executive Director of the National Secular Society). Panellists were Richard Dawkins, Terry Sanderson (President of the NSS), Joan Smith (journalist and activist), Bahram Soroush (Labour Solidarity Committee Public Relations Officer), and Hamid Taqvaee (leader of the Worker-communist Party of Iran). The audience showed their unequivocal opposition to faith schools here.
Maryam Namazie closed the conference by calling on the participants to mobilise around March 8 – International Women’s Day – to step up opposition against Sharia law and political Islam. As she had said earlier: ‘In the end, political Islam matters to people because it affects their lives, their rights, their freedoms. And that’s why only a movement that puts people first can mobilise the force needed to stop political Islam. And it must – it will – be stopped.’
Throughout the day, various CEMB representatives spoke with the media, including the BBC, Al Arabiya TV, Italian state TV, The Wall Street Journal, CNS News, The Guardian, etc. Film footage and photographs of the conference along with media coverage are available on the CEMB’s website (ex-muslim.org.uk).
For more information, please contact Maryam Namazie, firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0) 7719166731.