Tag: Apostasy

De Balie #CelebratingDissent Festival was an Astounding Success

The epic ‘Celebrating Dissent’ Festival took place between 30 August -1 September in Amsterdam, a collaboration between the prestigious art and debate institute De Balie and Maryam Namazie.

Consisting of a mixture of intense, probing conversations, comedy, art, poetry and dance performances, films, lectures and protest, the weekend was an education in the issues facing dissenters fighting religious constraints and the religious-Right. The work of ex-Muslims and women campaigners was particularly evident.

More than 50 speakers from 30 countries worldwide discussed Women’s Dissent; Touching the Holy Subject; Comedy, the Sacred and Islamophobia; Separation of Religion from the State; Women against Gods; Identity; and Fighting the Far-Right. The deep wound left by silence within families was portrayed in a gut-wrenching film ‘No Longer Without You’ by Nazmiyeh Oral. Nadia El Fani’s  brave film ‘Neither Allah nor Master’ explored the importance of laicité. Speaker upon speaker showed how some of the most vibrant responses to fundamentalism have come from the universal desire for freedom – especially where survival has become synonymous with challenging religion and the religious-Right.

To highlight the dangers facing dissenters, a public protest of 160 balloons with the names of those persecuted or murdered for blasphemy and apostasy was held. Participants at the Festival carried balloons to a nearby square and chalked the names of dissenters into the pavement as a memorial of sorts.

The historic event was an astounding celebration of apostasy, blasphemy and dissent. From the moment the city’s Mayor, Femke Halsema, opened the festival by welcoming ‘heretics, infidels and renegades,’ it was clear that this would be a historic and remarkable festival committed not only to defending free thought and expression but also the lives and freedoms of dissenters.

Video footage

30 August 2019

Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Maryam Namazie 
Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Taslima Nasrin
Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Inna Shevchenko
Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Saif Ul Malook

Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Zineb El Rhazoui. An empty chair since she was prevented from coming by Dutch government.

31 AUGUST 2019

A Conversation on Women’s Dissent with Inna Shevchenko, Maryam Namazie and Taslima Nasrin. Music by Shelley Segal. Protest Art by Victoria Guggenheim. Chair: Samira Bouchibti.

Touching the Holy Subject with Nadia El Fani, Rishvin Ismath, Saif Ul Malook and Sarah Haider. Music by Veedu Vidz. Chair: Bahram Sadeghi.

Comedy, the Sacred and Islamophobia with Shabana Rehman, Ali Rizvi and Armin Nabavi. Chair: Sherin Seyda.

Public Art Protest commemorating dissenters in a public square.

Separation of Religion from the State with Afsana Lachaux, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Elżbieta Podleśna, Homa Arjomand and Sadia Hameed. Chair: Bercan Gunel.

Women against Gods with Gita Sahgal, Ibtissame Betty Lachgar, Maaike Meijer, Mineke Schipper and Rana Ahmad. Performance by Atoosa Farahmand. Chair: Ianthe Mosselman.

1 SEPTEMBER 2019

Film Screening Neither Allah Nor Master by Nadia El Fani followed by a conversation with Hind Bariaz, Karrar Al Asfoor, Wissam Charafeddine and Zara Kay. Chair: Sophie Rutenfrans.

Film Screening No Longer without You by Nazmiyeh Oral followed by a conversation with Cemal Knudsen Yucel, Fauzia Ilyas, Mimzy Vidz, Omar Makram, Rishvin Ismath, Sohail Ahmad and Zehra Pala. Chair: Parwin Mirahimy.

On Identity with Kenan Malik, Harris Sultan, Jimmy Bangash, Rahila Gupta and Yasmin Rehman. Poetry by Halima Salat. Chair: Jorgen Tjong a Fong.

Fighting the Far-Right; Celebrating Dissent with Halima Salat, Maryam Namazie, Mohamed Hisham, Muhammed Syed, Sadia Hameed and Sami Abdallah. Music by Shelley Segal. Chair: Samira Bouchibti.

There was also artwork by Mahshad Afshar and Jenny Wenhammar.

 Media coverage of De Balie #CelebratingDissent Festival

Photos of De Balie #CelebratingDissent Festival.

 

We understand intolerance better than most; Blasphemy is not Bigotry

On 15 July, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) wrote to the newspaper Het Parool to ask for a right to reply to a piece by Dino Suhonic, director of Maruf platform for queer Muslims in the Netherlands where a number of intentionally false statements were made about the CEMB and our fight for LGBT rights of Muslims and ex-Muslims as well as the rights to apostasy and blasphemy at Pride in London.

CEMB urged the publication to rectify the falsities. Suhonic clearly has a right to criticise our organisation and work but the use of false statements to ‘prove’ his points was unethical and libelous and aimed only to damage and defame.

ON 16th July, we received an email from the publication – see below – saying that one of the mistakes in his piece was rectified but the more important false claim on far-right support was not. We were told that since we were not a Dutch organisation, we could not publish our opinion piece but that they would consider a letter to the editor. We sent a shorter letter to the editor on 17th July (it was even translated for their ease) and though we emailed a number of times inquiring about its publication, we have yet to see our letter published and are therefore making it available to the public.

The longer opinion piece in Dutch was published today on Vrij Links. You can read it here.

The English version of the opinion piece is below, as is the email received from the paper and our shortened letter to the editor, which was never published. UPDATE: After a number of contacts with the publication, our short letter to the editor was published on 31 July 2019. You can see the letter here.

SHORTENED LETTER TO THE EDITOR IN ENGLISH

Mr. Suhonic has made false claims regarding Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB). We are one of the largest and oldest progressive ex-Muslim groups worldwide. We defend LGBT rights of ex-Muslims and Muslims and the rights to apostasy and blasphemy. In struggling for these rights, we enact the rights that we demand. We blaspheme to win the right to blasphemy and reject religion to defend the right to apostasy. This public resistance when we can be shunned or killed for celebrating who we are is particularly apt to Gay Pride. Like women demanding the right to vote or blacks demanding an end to Jim Crow laws, we will blaspheme until we will no longer be killed for it. This may cause Mr Suhonic offence but defending the rights of those that offend religious morality has always been a cornerstone of progressive politics. After all, there are some Muslims who are offended by those who are Muslim and gay. Offence cannot be justification to deny minorities within minorities their rights. Mr Suhonic’s conflating blasphemy with far-Right support is like absurdly conflating his belief in Islam with support from Islamism! For us, Islamism is our far-Right and fundamentally no different from other religious-Right and racist movements. Bigotry affects us and our families too but we will not excuse fundamentalism because of racism nor racism because of fundamentalism.

Jimmy Bangash and Maryam Namazie
CEMB Spokespersons

DUTCH LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Dino Suhonic heeft valse beweringen gedaan over deCouncil of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB). Wij zijn één van de grootste en oudste progressieve ex-moslimgroepen ter wereld. Wij verdedigen lhbt-rechten van ex-moslims én moslims en het recht op apostasie en blasfemie. In deze strijd oefenen we de rechten uit die we opeisen. Wij gebruiken blasfemie om het recht op blasfemie te verwerven en verwerpen religie om het recht op apostasie te verdedigen. Overwegende dat wij kunnen worden buitengesloten of vermoord voor het vieren wie wij zijn, is dit publieke verzet uitzonderlijk geschikt voor de Gay Pride. Zoals vrouwen die kiesrecht eisten of zwarten die afschaffing van de Jim Crow-wetten eisten, zullen wij blasfemie plegen totdat we er niet meer voor vermoord worden. Dat mag Suhonickwetstend vinden, maar verdediging van de rechten van degenen die de religieuze moraal kwetsen is altijd een hoeksteen van progressieve politiek geweest. Tenslotte worden sommige moslims gekwetst door degenen moslim en homo zijn. Gekwetstheid kan geen rechtvaardiging zijn om minderheden binnen de minderheden hun rechten te onthouden. Dat Suhonicblasfemie met extreemrechtse steun verwart is net zo absurd als zijn geloof in de islam verwarren met steun voor het islamisme! Voor ons is islamisme ons extreemrechts en verschilt fundamenteel niet van andere religieus-rechtse en racistische bewegingen. Discriminatie raakt ons en onze families allemaal, maar wij zullen fundamentalisme niet goedpraten vanwegeracisme, noch racisme vanwege fundamentalisme.

Jimmy Bangash en Maryam Namazie
CEMB woordvoerders

EMAIL FROM THE PUBLICATION

On 16 Jul 2019, at 15:45, Het hoogste woord wrote:

Dear Mrs. Namazie,
Thank you, for your email and taking the effort to translate it to Dutch. After consulting with the author, I have made some changes to the article on our website. The sentence about the “Fuck islam-placard” has been removed. I added an editorial comment at the bottom of the article. Mr. Suhonic asked me to tell you he regrets his mistake.
Regarding your comment about the support for CEMB, I clarified in the article that Mr Suhonic meant “support on social media”, not financial support.
I would like to offer you the chance to reply and clarify your activities and position, however a full opinion piece would be too much, since you are not a Dutch organization and the remarks about your activities in Mr. Suhonic article are not the focus of the article. You are welcome to write a short response (around 150 words), which I will consider for publication in the ‘Letters to the newspaper’ section.
Met vriendelijke groet, kind regards,
Jesse Beentjes
Coördinator Het Hoogste Woord
Jacob Bontiusplaats 9, 1018 LL Amsterdam

THE LONGER OPINION PIECE WE INITIALLY WROTE TO REFUTE SUHONIC’S FALSE CLAIMS ABOUT CEMB – DUTCH HAS BEEN PUBLISHED IN VRIJ LINKS

On 15 Jul 2019, at 09:58, CEMB <exmuslimcouncil@googlemail.com> wrote:

To whom it may concern

Your newspaper Het Parool published a piece by Dino Suhonic, director of Maruf, platform for queer Muslims in the Netherlands where a number of intentionally false statements were made on the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and our fight for LGBT rights of Muslims and ex-Muslims as well as the rights to apostasy and blasphemy.

CEMB urges your publication to rectify the falsities. Suhonic clearly has a right to criticise our organisation and work but the use of false statements to ‘prove’ his points is unethical and libelous and aims only to damage and defame.

The false statements are as follows:

“This group has previously been accused of spreading Muslim hatred by using slogans such as ‘Fuck Islam’.” Firstly, CEMB never had a placard that said ‘Fuck Islam’ but ‘Fuck Islamic Homophobia’. Criticising religious homophobia is integral to the fight for the rights of minorities within minorities and dissenters. Blasphemy and apostasy are not hatred against believers but a challenge to religious ideas and dogma. The conflation of criticism of religious dogma or the religious-Right with hatred against believers is an attempt to impose blasphemy and apostasy laws where none exist.

Your paper can see information and footage of our participation at Pride over the three years. There is no ‘Fuck Islam’ placard. In any case, opposition to a religion or belief is not bigotry against people.

CEMB marches at Pride in London 2019 as topless Imams of Perpetual Indulgence

CEMB march at Pride 2018 in London: A Victory against Islamism

Open Letter to Pride: Defend the Council of Ex-Muslims

Suhanic also falsely says:

“They receive support mainly from right-wing groups, who show their solidarity by jointly fighting ‘against the Islamisation of Britain’.”

CEMB is a progressive organisation that works with other progressive organisations, many of them minority-run, anti-Racist and anti-cultural relativist. We are unequivocally against Islamism and all other far-Right movements. We see Islamism as far-Right too and believe the stop Islamisation groups are fundamentally no different from the Islamists. They are fundamentally misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and rely on religion, hate and violence to further their cause. CEMB is an anti-racist organisation that always defends the rights of Muslims and migrants despite any differences in belief. You can see some of our recent statements or interviews here that clearly show our position:

Making a stand against all forms of hate

Defining Islamophobia

CEMB condemns China’s persecution of Muslims

CEMB fights on many fronts, against religious dogma, for the rights of women, LGBT, freedom of conscience and expression (which includes freedom from religion and atheism) and against racism and xenophobia… We won’t remain silent about fundamentalism or religious dogma because of racism or vice versa. We think we must fight them all in order to fully defend universal rights.

CEMB calls on your publication to give us the right to reply in your paper. The piece by Jimmy Bangash is below.

A translation will follow shortly.

We look forward to your immediate response.

Regards

Maryam Namazie
CEMB Spokesperson

 

******

By Jimmy Bangash
CEMB Spokesperson

Dino Suhonic’s article covering the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) at Pride in London in Het Parool displays a poor understanding of the issues of apostasy and homosexuality impacting individuals of Muslim heritage. The article is littered with false claims, conflates blasphemy and apostasy with bigotry against believers and fails to acknowledge that Pride is a space for criticism of religion and the religious-Right.

It is deeply disappointing to see this article published without any attempt to fact check the absurd claims made by an individual so removed from the realities of our members’ lives – members who are predominantly from diaspora communities or are themselves refugees, hailing from Muslim-majority countries such as Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

Our organisation stands for universal human rights to be applied to all people across all countries. We have a longstanding history of working to support apostates internationally in Islamic states and supporting refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and internationally. We have unequivocally defended Muslims as can be seen from our work, including condemnation of China’s treatment of Muslims and Chechnya’s treatment of LGBT Muslims.

We actively oppose far-right and racist organisations, many of whom seek to attack us as foreigners. We also have Muslim families who are affected by bigotry and we face added pressures and threats from within because we are LGBT and/or ex-Muslims. We, therefore, understand better than most the vile effects of bigotry and the need to stand up to it unequivocally. We consistently stand for the human rights of all. Again, much of this commitment is visible with even a cursory glance at our work over 12 years.

CEMB at Pride

Life for LGBT people of Muslim heritage can be bleak. For many it involves living a closeted existence within Muslim ‘communities’ for fear of being ostracised or disowned. Religious institutions and theological teachings espoused by ‘community leaders’ range from preaching for our execution, through to advising us to live a life of celibacy. With 52% of polled British Muslims stating that homosexuality should be illegal and 47% stating that it is unacceptable for a gay person to become a teacher, it is clear that our ‘communities’ are the most homophobic within the UK.

The situation in Muslim-majority countries is even more dire. A 2013 PEW global study on Muslim Attitudes reported almost unilateral condemnation of homosexuality. Countries expressing the highest population acceptance of homosexuality were Uganda (12%), Mozambique (11%) and Bangladesh (10%) with the other 37 Muslim majority countries polled showing less than 10%. Appallingly, all 14 states that hold the death penalty for homosexuality are Muslim-majority countries. Importantly, many of these countries also have the death penalty for apostasy – for leaving the religion of Islam – as well as for blasphemy.

Pride provides a safe place to challenge this religious homophobia. Since its inception, Pride has been a place where LGBT people have been able to rally against political, cultural, and religious condemnation of homosexuality.

Whether it is gay ex-Muslims (GEMs) protesting with placards stating “Fuck Islamic Homophobia” and condemning the Islamic states that have the death penalty for homosexuality, or gay Muslims attempting to redefine the position of gays within Islam with placards of “Allah Love us All”, Pride currently provides the only safe place to galvanise public awareness to the diverse protests and messages of LGBT of Muslim heritage. A safety which is not afforded to us, on any level, by the wider Muslim ‘communities’.

For us, our presence at Pride has been hugely important because we have members who are LGBT and/or refugees who have fled countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. Many of the same Islamic states that kill LGBT, also kill apostates and blasphemers. Our presence is, therefore, crucial because it aims not only to defend LGBT rights of ex-Muslims and Muslims but also to push open the shrinking spaces for religious doubt and dissent. Our placards embody the dissent against religious dogma that has always been an important part in the fight for human rights. Just as criticism of Christianity or the Christian-Right at Pride are not hatred towards Christians, so too our placards and presence have nothing to do with hate and everything to do with the demand for human rights for all. The right to be gay, be an apostate or to be a blasphemer without fear, ostracisation or threats to our lives.

Pride is one of the very few public spaces where we can come out, loud and proud – as LGBT and/or ex-Muslims – without fear. This is something we will continue to do despite vilifications and misinformation promoted by Dino Suhonic and others like him who cannot see how the rights and lives of LGBT and ex-Muslims are linked. To defend the rights of one we must defend the rights of all despite differences in beliefs and opinions.

hello@ex-muslim.org.uk
www.ex-muslim.org.uk

DUTCH LONGER OPINION PIECE PUBLISHED IN VRIJ LINKS.

Translations into Dutch by Leon Korteweg

 

CEMB marches at Pride in London 2019 as topless Imams of Perpetual Indulgence

On 6 July 2019, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) marched in Pride London for the 3rd time as an organisation.

This year, we marked the 40th anniversary of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a rebellion against the church’s religious morality, by marching as the Imams of Perpetual Indulgence.

Instead of being the Council for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice that terrorise people by enforcing Islamic morality codes with brute force in the countries some of us have fled from, we were the Council for the Promotion of Vice and the Prevention of Virtue.

Our imams were not the usual imams promoting death for thinking and loving freely but instead included dissenting topless women who subverted Islamic morality language by being Imams of Vice, Lust, Kofr, Zina…

Instead of our fingers pointing upwards towards Allah, our fingers pointed downwards negating his existence…

Our imams also wore pink triangles on our bodies to signify the continuation of the persecution of LGBT, particularly in countries under Islamic rules.

And like every year before, CEMB stood in solidarity with ex-Muslim, Muslim and other LGBT murdered in Islamic states and defended LGBT from minority communities here in Britain and elsewhere whilst highlighting Islamic homophobia – whether at the East London Mosque, against equality in schools in Birmingham or in Brunei, Chechnya, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey…

For us, our presence at Pride has been hugely important because we have members who are LGBT and/or refugees who have fled countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. Many of the very same Islamic states that kill LGBT, also kill apostates and blasphemers. Our presence is, therefore, crucial because it aims not only to defend LGBT rights of ex-Muslims and Muslims but also to push open the shrinking spaces for doubt and dissent. Pride is one of the very few public spaces where we can come out, loud and proud – as LGBT and/or ex-Muslims – without fear.

Unsurprisingly, as in previous years, social media has erupted with threats and intimidation because as always apostasy and blasphemy are considered worse than the murder of LGBT, apostates and blasphemers. Some “Sheikh” has even called for a joint statement of imams against CEMB because apparently, he fears “the punishment of Allah will descend.” And as usual, we have been accused of “Islamophobia.”

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we must reiterate that apostasy and blasphemy are not bigotry against people. Criticism of religion AND the religious-Right have always been an important part of the struggle for basic human rights and equality. Pride is still the scene of criticism against not just the Christian-Right but also Christianity. So why not Islamism AND Islam? Why should God or Jesus be Queer or Gay but not Allah? Why shouldn’t we be able to poke fun at Islam without fear?

CEMB will write further about these issues but there are somethings that must be said to “progressive” Muslim LGBT groups right away:

You use the language of the oppressor and reiterate accusations of “Islamophobia” because you say we “tar the whole faith.” But Islam is your faith not ours. And until the day we can blaspheme and leave Islam without fear, we will continue to celebrate and normalise blasphemy and apostasy, which is also a basic human right like the right to expression, opinion, religion or belief.

Also, inclusion, equality, rights, love and respect are for people not beliefs. To respect people and their rights, beliefs (even those that are sacred to some) must be open to ridicule, condemnation, criticism and even disrespect.

It would do some LGBT Muslim groups well to learn from CEMB and defend people’s rights even whilst disagreeing with their beliefs or views. CEMB has always unequivocally defended the rights of Muslim LGBT or migrants without accepting Islam. That is the whole point of the fight for equality and rights and stems from our common humanity. Unfortunately, because of narrow-minded identity politics, some LGBT Muslim groups cannot seem to comprehend that our rights and lives are intrinsically linked. LGBT Muslims cannot just defend their own rights whilst throwing ex-Muslim LGBT under a bus. Also, believers cannot just defend the right to religion without also defending the right to leave or criticise religion. To defend your rights, you must also defend ours. To liberate one, you must liberate all.

***

On 4 July, CEMB organised an evening on LGBT Rights, Apostasy and Blasphemy as part of Pride in London Festival with a film screening of ‘Ferdous’ by Shakila Taranum Maan followed by a panel discussion with Jimmy Bangash (CEMB Spokesperson), Khakan Qureshi (Birmingham South Asians LGBT Founder), Nadia El Fani (Tunisian Filmmaker), Sadia Hameed (CEMB Spokesperson), Shakila Taranum Maan (British Director) and Syed Isteak Hossain Shawon (Bangladeshi LGBT activist and Editor of Boys Love World). Facilitated by Maryam Namazie (CEMB and One Law for All Spokesperson). (Drew Dalton, Hidayah Chair, was unable to attend due to an emergency). Video footage of the evening will be made available soon but until then, watch the premier of a heart-wrenching poem by Kenyan Somali Poet Halima Salat, which ended the evening. Her poem is called A Boy, A Village, A Death. Nadia Mahmoud MCed the evening. Video footage is by @Reason4Freedom.

See some photos from Pride 2019:

          

Largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history

The International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression, the largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history, was held during 22-24 July 2017 in London.

Over 70 notable speakers from 30 countries or the Diaspora gathered in what was dubbed “The Glastonbury of Freethinkers” and “a Conference of Heroes” to honour dissenters and defend apostasy, blasphemy, and secularism.

The sold-out conference highlighted the voices of those on the frontlines of resistance – many of them persecuted and exiled – and included the first London film screening of Deeyah Khan’s film, Islam’s Non Believers, a public art protest of 99 balloons representing those killed or imprisoned for blasphemy and apostasy, a body-painting action, and crucial discussions and debates on Islamophobia and its use by Islamists to impose de facto blasphemy laws, the relation between Islam and Islamism as well as communalism’s threat to universal rights, art as resistance and Laicite as a human rights. The conference hashtag, #IWant2BFree, trended on Twitter during the two days.

At the conference, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) honoured ten individuals to mark its tenth anniversary, namely Bangladeshi freethinker Bonya Ahmed, Saudi freethinkers Ensaf Haidar and Raif Badawi, Moroccan atheist Zineb El Rhazoui, Philosopher AC Grayling, Centre for Secular Space’s Gita Sahgal and Yasmin Rehman, Algerian Sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas, Jordanian Atheists’ Founder Mohammad AlKhadra, Egyptian Atheist Founder of The Black Ducks Ismail Mohamed and Author and Scientist Richard Dawkins.

The conference issued resolutions against the no-platforming of Richard Dawkins by KPFA radio station, in defence of Ismail Mohamed who was prevented from leaving Egypt to speak at the conference by the Egyptian government, and on CEMB’s presence in Pride in London as well as a Declaration of Freethinkers (see below).

The event was live-streamed, which can be seen here. Professional video footage will be made available soon as well photos and more details of the event.

Resolution on Richard Dawkins

The International Conference on Free Expression and Conscience in London, the largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history, is concerned that Richard Dawkins, an invited speaker at the conference, has been de-platformed by the radio station KPFA in Berkeley, California because of his alleged “hurtful” comments on Islam.

Professor Dawkins is a well known critic of all religions, whose long-standing attacks on Christianity have never resulted in anything approaching de-platforming. Indeed he has aired his views on KPFA itself. Belatedly, KPFA seems to have noticed that Islam is not exempt from his criticism. They have applied a hypocritical double standard in cancelling his appearance in Berkeley, and have disappointed the large numbers of people who had bought tickets to hear him.

Given that most of the speakers and delegates at our conference are Islam’s apostates, many from countries where the legal penalty for apostasy is death, we find it necessary to remind KPFA that criticism of Islam is no different from criticism of Christianity or Judaism. Also, criticism of Islamism is no different from criticism of the Christian-Right, Jewish-Right or Hindu-Right. Criticism of religious ideas as well as violent religious political movements isn’t bigotry but integral to free conscience and expression and vital for human progress.

We call on those – like KPFA – who should be our natural allies and ‘progressives’ whose freedoms and rights are largely the result of the fight against the church and Christianity not to betray or deny the same right to Islam’s critics, non believers, and dissenters.

Progressive politics means fighting on many fronts, including against bigotry, xenophobia, the far-Right, which includes Islamism, and for freedom of conscience and expression.

Resolution for Ismail Mohamed

The International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression is outraged to learn that the Egyptian government has prevented Ismail Mohamed from speaking at our conference, where he would have been a crucial voice. We demand that the Egyptian government allow Ismail freedom of movement and end his persecution and that of all freethinkers.

Resolution on the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain at Pride

The Council of ex Muslims of Britain (CEMB) is part of a world-wide movement that supports people who wish to leave Islam and declare themselves ex-Muslim. We use the term ex-Muslim to highlight that the danger of leaving Islam risks death for apostasy. CEMB works to ensure that people are safe from hate and violence from their families, communities and states. CEMB joined Pride in London this year to highlight anti-LGBT persecution as well apostasy and blasphemy laws. 14 Islamic states (15 if ISIS-held territories are included) punish homosexuality with the death penalty. Moreover CEMB aimed to expose Islamist-affiliated mosques, like East London Mosque (ELM), which have given a platform to hate clerics who have justified the murder of gays and apostates.

After Pride, the ELM made a formal complaint over CEMB’s ‘Islamophobic’ banners. The complaint was referred to Pride’s community advisory board to “decide on whether CEMB will be allowed to march again in the years ahead”. A Pride Spokesperson added: “If anyone taking part in our parade makes someone feel ostracised, discriminated against or humiliated, then they are undermining and breaking the very principles on which we exist… Pride must always be a movement of acceptance, diversity and unity. We will not tolerate Islamophobia.”

At the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression, we  commit to the defence of  LGBT+ Muslims and ex-Muslims. It is imperative to act against  homophobia: 15 Islamic states and territories punish homosexuality with death. Vigilantes are encouraged to ‘eliminate gays’ in the words of Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya. In Britain, institutions like the East London Mosque have hosted preachers who incite hatred and justify the murder of  LGBT and apostates.

The LGBT+ movement and worldwide Pride marches have been an enduring source of inspiration. ‘Pride’ shows that human rights can progress by people coming out and challenging prejudice through humour, outrage and politics. It was in this spirit that CEMB, for the first time, joined the 2017 Pride in London march.  Pride is one of only events where LGBT+ ex-Muslims and Muslims can safely articulate their criticism, especially when their daily experiences are intrinsically linked with fear, violence and intimidation. Death threats are all too common. Nor do we need lessons in racism or anti-Muslim hatred, we experience these too. Our presence was widely welcomed and the courage of gay ex-Muslims affirmed with love and support. For old campaigners and new, the experience of the march was life changing.

CEMB’s work is founded on universal human rights:  the right to freedom of religion or belief and the right to free expression. Laws against homosexuality, blasphemy and apostasy and the terror associated with them are grave violations of human rights. Human rights do not advance unless perpetrators are named. Defending human rights: the right to life, the right to love and the right to free speech do not incite hatred. They constitute opposition to the politics of hate and fear.

Islamists use accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ to deceptively conflate criticism of a set of beliefs (Islam) and the religious-right (Islamism) with bigotry against a group of people (Muslims) in order to silence dissent. But we will not be silenced. We will continue to fight on several fronts: against racism and anti-Muslim hate and homophobia, for the rights of migrants and refugees, while simultaneously defending the right to apostasy and blasphemy.

If Pride in London is indeed a movement of ‘acceptance, diversity and unity’, it should vigorously oppose all laws which criminalise homosexuality, apostasy and blasphemy. Pride in London has a historic opportunity to  render fundamentalist intimidation and  bullying ineffective and make a stand that demonstrates that human rights trump religious hatred.

We call upon the organisers of Pride in London to:

1) Make a statement against all laws criminalising homosexuality, apostasy and blasphemy and against incitement to hate and murder by preachers at mosques like the East London mosque

2) Clarify whether by condemning ‘Islamophobia’, Pride meant to side with Islamists supporting the judicial murder of ex-Muslims and gay men

3)  Affirm CEMB’s continued presence at Pride in London to show that they side with dissenters and those defending the right to think, live and love as they choose.

Declaration of Freethinkers

Freethinkers stand for the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of expression and belief and freedom from fear and want. We believe in the universality and indivisibility of human rights. These rights flow from human reason and conscience. Without the free exercise of conscience and expression, all other rights are nullified.

Thirteen Islamic states and territories punish apostasy and blasphemy with death. Many freethinkers spend years on death row, or are lashed simply for the views that they hold. Apostates and freethinkers are murdered by vigilantes, or have fled their homes and countries. They experience numerous abuses, including violence, coercion and shunning in their families, exorcism, psychiatric ‘treatment’, forced marriage and sexual abuse.

At the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression, we note that there is a tsunami of freethinking and atheism that is challenging religious fundamentalism, especially Islamism.  The Internet is doing to Islam what the printing press did to Christianity.

This peaceful resistance movement is often characterised as ‘offensive’ against religion, nation, tradition or culture. Labelled as ‘secular fundamentalists’ or ‘Islamophobic’, victims are told that they are the cause of the violence whilst the organised networks of fundamentalists and extremists are projected as victims. Laws against ‘defamation of religion’ and accusations of ‘offence’ and ‘Islamophobia’ aid the extremists in silencing dissent and imposing de facto blasphemy laws.

Human rights organisations give scant attention to these violations. They have failed to investigate transnational networks that promote and perpetrate violence. They do not examine the ideologies of religious fundamentalism or make a case for the importance of freethinking in the face of a sustained religious assault. Governments, too, are failing to defend and protect freethinkers, either leading the assault or often choosing to side with killers and persecutors.

We honour the memory of all those who have died for freedom of conscience and expression, and stand in solidarity with our friends who cannot be with us because they are in prison, in hiding or have been denied visas.

The struggle for freedom of conscience is also a struggle against racism, xenophobia and far-right extremism. To be denied the simple right of conscience creates a human rights void, where all protections cease to exist. So we fight against all forms of bigotry and for universal human rights, including secularism.

The International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression calls for the following:

  1. End the killing of apostates and blasphemers
  2. Release those on death row or in prison simply because they are atheists, freethinkers, apostates or blasphemers
  3. Repeal apostasy and blasphemy laws
  4. Clarify that freedom of conscience and freedom of belief guarantee the right to freedom of and from religion; and that religion is not an excuse for silencing dissent or threatening other rights and freedoms
  5. Protect the right of freedom of expression to ‘offend’, without which no human progress is possible
  6. A declaration of principles showing that the human right to freedom of conscience is explicitly embedded in human rights documents and is not limited by any right to religious belief.

For more information, contact the Conference Organising Committee.

To donate to CEMB, please visit our website.

The conference is sponsored by Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; Atheist International Alliance; Bread and Roses TV; Center for Inquiry; Centre for Secular Space; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Culture Project; Euromind; Equal Rights Now; Fitnah; Freedom from Religion Foundation; National Secular Society; One Law for All; Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science; Southall Black Sisters; and Secularism is a Women’s Issue.

Celebrating apostasy and blasphemy in London in July

The Freethinker interviews Maryam Namazie and Marieme Helie Lucas ahead of the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21 Century scheduled to take place in London between July 22 and 24, 2017.

Why organise an international conference on free conscience and expression?

Maryam Namazie: Atheists and freethinkers are targeted by Islamists and religious-Right movements across the globe. Despite the brutal attacks, blasphemy and apostasy laws are often legitimised.

Even where no such laws exist, there is a chorus of voices insisting that freedom of expression and conscience have limits, particularly when it comes to Islam. “Hurt” sensibilities are almost always deemed more important than threats, intimidation, censorship, violence and even murder. And victims are blamed time and time again whilst perpetrators pose as victims.

On the tenth anniversary of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, the conference aims to bring together the largest international gathering of ex-Muslims and freethinkers as a show of strength to reaffirm the right to think and live outside the confines imposed by religion and the religious-Right.

Many of the speakers are on the frontlines of the tsunami of atheism and freethought that has taken hold of societies under Islamist influence with social media doing to Islam what the printing press has done to Christianity.

When dissenters continue to be threatened, silenced, no platformed, intimidated and even killed for rejecting and criticising Islam, a celebration of apostasy, blasphemy and the free word are historical tasks.

Key issues such as women’s resistance, the veil, religious morality, religion in the law and state, identity politics, communalism and multiculturalism, Islamophobia and secularism as a human right will be discussed.

The conference will highlight and honour dissenters such as the Bangladeshi bloggers; Raif Badawi sentenced to 10  years in prison for blogging and Ahmad Al-Shamri sentenced to death for atheism in Saudi Arabia; ex-Muslim atheist H Farook hacked to death in India; 21 year old Sina Dehghan sentenced to death for “insulting the prophet” in Iran; Ayaz Nizami and Rana Noman arrested on blasphemy charges and 23 year old Mashal Khan lynched by a mob at his university in Pakistan …

The gathering – labelled the “Glastonbury of Freethinkers” – will stand out, loud and proud to remind the world that the freedom of conscience and expression are also for those who reject and criticise religion and the religious-Right.  And that the demand for these freedoms are universal.

The conference focus is on freedom from religion; why is that so important and relevant in the right to freedom of conscience? What is link between freedom of expression and right to criticise and leave religion?

Marieme Helie Lucas: Freedom of expression is a consequence, a corollary of the fundamental right of freedom of conscience. Freedom of conscience includes the right to believe and the right not to believe – two sides of the same right that cannot be delinked from one another. Freedom of conscience is absolute. No religion or state can put limits on it.

But while, today, the right to believe is rarely questioned – and when it is, human rights organisations run to the rescue of endangered believers, this is unfortunately not exactly the case with the right not to believe, despite the fact that non-believers in many places are threatened by the rising religious-Right, especially but not exclusively by the Muslim far-Right best represented today by Daesh and the likes.

It is interesting to note that freethinkers are not threatening anyone because of their beliefs; still they are the ones asked to ‘respect’ religions and their followers. Their right to freedom of expression is challenged.

Meanwhile, the religious-Right is indeed curtailing the rights of non-believers and/or followers of other religions, and in many places assassinating them, but no one asks them to ‘respect’ different religious beliefs or the absence of religious beliefs.

This inequality of treatment should be of concern to all as it is a clear threat to democracy and to equality between all citizens.

Maryam Namazie: It’s also important to note that the right to conscience and expression are in particular rights for those who think differently. As Rosa Luxemburg said: ‘Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters’. In a world where religion is deemed sacred and the religious-Right have power to legally persecute and execute freethinkers and atheists, and whip up mobs to kill at will, defending the freedom to criticise and reject religion is a matter of life and death for the innumerable.

Criticism of Islam is often labelled Islamophobic as are ex-Muslim events and conferences. Your point of view?

Marieme Helie Lucas: Who, today, would label “Christianophobic” any meeting of people who were born into a “Christian country” and/or a “Christian family” and are now freethinkers?

So the real question becomes: why is Islam singled out among all religions and for what reason(s); why are freethinkers who are born into Muslim contexts (still abusively labelled “Muslims”) discriminated against when it comes to exercising their fundamental right of freedom of conscience? Whose vested interests is this discrimination serving? Why are the Left and the Far-Left buying into this illogical reasoning when it comes to Islam and Muslims, while they would not if it were Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, etc … What hidden racism lies behind this singling out of Islam and Muslims?

Maryam Namazie: Clearly, criticism of religion and the religious-Right is not the same as bigotry against believers. Islamophobia is a political term that aims to scaremonger people into silence and stop criticism of Islam/Islamism by using rights and anti-racist language. In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan… freethinkers are accused of blasphemy and apostasy and imprisoned/killed. Here in Europe, accusations of Islamophobia are used to impose de facto blasphemy laws and silence much needed criticism.

Historically, criticism of religion has been key for human progress and it remains so today. Those buying into accusations of Islamophobia effectively side with the Islamist narrative at the expense of dissenters.

With the rise of far-Right populism and racism against migrants and Muslims, should such a conference be held?

Marieme Helie Lucas: Insofar as we define Muslim fundamentalism as a far-Right political movement using religion to cover up their political goals, we are simply facing two far-Rights: the “traditional” one, populist, xenophobic, racist; and the new one which is taking the form of the virulent religious-Right. I do not see any reason why we should challenge one of them without challenging the other too.

Let’s note in passing that the question itself testifies to the confusion of concepts that prevails among progressive people today: it is labelling “Muslims” – without ever inquiring about their religious beliefs – all sorts of people of migrant descent. Just ask Christians from the Middle East if they do not face here the same racism as their Muslim colleagues; just ask Indians if they are not confronted with similar rejection than their Pakistani fellows …

It seems very obvious that we should, all together, combat simultaneously the “traditional” far-Right and the new “religious-Right”. They reinforce each other and feed on each other; they need each other in order to mobilise their troops.

Is there any hope given the rise of the religious-Right everywhere and freethinkers being killed and imprisoned by Islamist states & mob violence?

Marieme Helie Lucas: We are undoubtedly living in a very difficult period of time and we are likely heading towards an even more difficult one. Political clarity is badly needed. The first step would be to fully understand and expose the political nature of the religious-Right, of its programme and its undemocratic theocratic goals.

This conference will give a voice to those who are slaughtered by the religious-Right. Their voice is never heard. All we can do is speak up for their rights … and try and defend ours, here and now.

Maryam Namazie: If anyone feels there is no hope, it is only because they are not familiar with the resistance. Everyone knows Khamenei, Bin Laden, al-Baghdadi but why are Raif Badawi, Avijit Roy, Nadia El Fani, Fauzia Ilyas, Waleed Al Husseini or Zineb el Rhazoui not household names? This conference is the conference of the resistance and resistance to totalitarianism always brings hope.

See the schedule and full list of speakers at the International Conference for Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21st Century.

The conference is sponsored by Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; Atheist International Alliance; Bread and Roses TV; Center for Inquiry; Centre for Secular Space; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Culture Project; Euromind; Equal Rights Now; Fitnah; Freedom from Religion Foundation; National Secular Society; One Law for All; Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science; Southall Black Sisters; and Secularism is a Women’s Issue.

For more information, contact the Conference Organising Committee.

Get your ticket(s) today for the 22-24 July 2017 International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21st Century in Central London.

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