Tag: Islam

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:

          

Maryam Namazie Picture

Must take an unequivocal stand against all forms of hate

My interview with Nilantha Ilangamuwa in Sri Lanka’s FT

She is energetic and outspoken. Her creativity on resistance against repressive regimes has attracted many communities around the globe. Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born writer and activist based in London. She is the Spokesperson for Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation, One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. She hosts a weekly television program in Persian and English called Bread and Roses. No doubt because of her activities for protecting and promoting human freedom, she is a top enemy of the country where she born.

Maryam was born in Tehran, but she left Iran with her family in 1980 after the establishment of the Islamic Republic. She then lived in India, the UK and then settled in the US where she began her university studies at the age of 17. After graduating, Maryam went to Sudan to work with Ethiopian refugees. Halfway through her stay, an Islamic government took power. She was threatened by the government for establishing a clandestine human rights organisation and had to be evacuated by her employer for her own safety.

Back in the United States, Maryam worked for various refugee and human rights organisations. She established the Committee for Humanitarian Assistance to Iranian Refugees in 1991. In 1994, she went to Turkey and produced a video documentary on the situation of Iranian refugees there.

The Islamic regime of Iran’s media outlets has called Maryam ‘immoral and corrupt’ and did an ‘exposé’ on her entitled ‘Meet this anti-religion woman’. In 2019, the Islamic regime’s intelligence service did a TV program where Maryam was featured as “anti-God”.

“No religion promotes an inclusive society. Religion is an exclusive club that sees its set of beliefs as superior to other sets of beliefs,” she said. “Inequality is a pillar of Sharia courts but this is not just the case for Sharia courts,” she added.

In this interview I have communicated with her on life in Iran, consequences of Sharia and religious courts, Easter Sunday’s bombings in Sri Lanka, and her readings on terrorism and radicalisation.

Following are excerpts from the interview:

By Nilantha Ilangamuwa

Q: Thank you for joining us Maryam! Tell us what is One Law for All initiative all about? And why is it important to have such an initiative?

One Law for All was established to oppose Sharia and religious courts because they are inhuman and abuse human rights. This is the case whether the courts are in Iran and Saudi Arabia or in Britain. One’s religion or belief is a basic right and a private matter.

Religious courts, however, have nothing to do with the right to religion and are part of the Islamist project to control and manage women, minorities and dissenters. We know Sharia’s criminal code includes the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy and stoning to death for gay sex or sex outside of marriage. It is unbelievably brutal.

In Britain, Sharia courts deal mainly with the family code, which some feel is trivial but the code is highly discriminatory against women and legitimises violence against women. For example, under Sharia’s family code, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s, marital rape is not seen as a crime and child marriage and polygamy are deemed acceptable. One Law for All argues minority women from Muslim backgrounds should have the same rights in the family as other citizens.

Inequality is a pillar of Sharia courts but this is not just the case for Sharia courts. The Jewish Beth Din in the UK, for example, also puts women in limbo by refusing to grant them divorces without their husband’s permission. We know also historically about the role played by ecclesiastic courts. One Law for All argues that it is dangerous to put the rights of citizens in the hands of mullahs, priests and rabbis. Secular states, public policy and laws are the best way to ensure the rights of all citizens irrespective of background and belief.

Q: You were born in Iran and then moved to other places. Tell us about your childhood and the life in Iran till you left your motherland?

My parents are secular Muslims so I never had any religion imposed on me at home and never felt lesser for being a girl. In fact, I have always felt supported and loved even after I became an atheist.

I never really felt religion’s influence on my life until the Islamists took power in Iran.

Then things changed dramatically. There were Islamists sent to my school to separate the boys from the girls in the playground, executions on TV and the beginnings of compulsory veiling and the rest is as they say unfolding history. After living under an Islamic state, I realised very quickly though that religion in the state is heinous and why I campaign against it.

Prior to it, Iran was under the Shah’s dictatorship and for a time, the revolution gave everyone hope for real change but the Islamists took hold of it, slaughtered a generation and 40 years on, people have been living in a theocracy in the 21st century.

Q: What went wrong in Iran?

If you have fundamentalists in power, things will deteriorate very quickly, even for believers, as a believer is not the same as a fundamentalist. This isn’t a theoretical discussion. We can see the effects of a theocracy on the lives of freethinkers, women, LGBT, religious minorities and especially young people in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia but we can also see what happens when even secular societies are run by theocrats.

Look at Modi’s India where Muslims can be killed for eating beef. Look at the situation for abortion rights, for example, in the US with the rise of the Christian-Right. Or the situation of Muslims in Myanmar and so on. In Sri Lanka, too, you have extremist Sinhala Buddhist groups like Bodu Bala Sena which have had a detrimental effect on religious and other minorities and women.

Those killed in Sri Lanka could be any of us. We could be next. We must all take an unequivocal stand against all forms of fascism and hate. We must not allow the conflation of the religious-Right with ordinary believers, victim blaming, and the dehumanisation of the ‘other’ to legitimate a politics of terror and hate

This is the problem with identity politics everywhere. It reduces masses of people to just one religious or cultural identity though people are much more complex than that and have countless characteristics that define them. Identity politics reduces 21st-century citizens into warring tribes.

Which is why after the horrendous Easter Sunday terrorist attack in Sri Lanka, ordinary Muslims going about their lives are collectively blamed and we see Muslims being run out of their homes (including some ex-Muslims I know in Sri Lanka) or Muslim shops are burnt down. Also, refugees from Pakistan who have fled to Sri Lanka because of Islamist persecution become displaced again when they are run out of their homes. How can terrorising innocent people be a solution for terrorist attacks against other innocent people?

Q: Some of the reports indicated that you are ex-Muslim. Is that true?

I am an ex-Muslim and work with ex-Muslims in Sri Lanka and elsewhere too. Of course, our atheism is our private affair, it’s a matter of conscience and belief, but when people can be killed for apostasy and blasphemy, we feel the need to say we are ex-Muslims publicly to challenge the status quo and defend the right to expression and conscience without fear of persecution or discrimination.

Q: Why are you against Sharia Law?

As I mentioned, all religious laws are discriminatory. The problem with Sharia and other religious laws is that they are coercive.

If religion is a personal belief, then why do you need laws to enforce it? For example, some Muslims in my family fast during Ramadan and others have never fasted. This is the personal choice of adults.

However, in Iran or Saudi Arabia because of Sharia law, one will be flogged or imprisoned for eating during Ramadan. Examples abound such as in the case of compulsory veiling. If an adult doesn’t want to wear the veil, why do you need morality police to beat a woman, arrest her? Or if someone doesn’t believe in Islam, well that is their freedom of conscience.

Why must the state execute someone for atheism? Religious law is fundamentally unjust as it forces people to do not what they believe but that which the mullahs and clerics in power tell them. Coercion and violence go hand in hand with Sharia courts.

Q: Sri Lanka is the latest victim of self-proclaimed Islamic State. What is your reading on the attacks in Sri Lanka?

We at Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain along with other atheist groups (including the Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka) expressed our outrage at the terrorist attacks and also mourned the many killed.

In our statement, we said:

“We are outraged at the Islamist attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. Our hearts go out to the survivors and victims – hundreds killed, including at least 45 children, and more than 500 wounded. We mourn them with the people of Sri Lanka and the world.

“The terrorists claim to have killed innocent Christians and others in order to ‘avenge’ innocent Muslims killed in Christchurch; the Christchurch terrorist also feigned to kill innocent Muslim worshippers as an act of ‘vengeance’. What should by now be very clear to everyone is that these terrorist attacks have nothing to do with addressing grievances – real or imagined – and everything to do with using terror, hate, supremacy and violence as a tool to impose the ideology and dominance of the religious-Right.

“Whether Islamist or white nationalist, whether in Sri Lanka or Christchurch, these far-Right movements have no respect for human life and rights: Christian, Muslim, ex-Muslim, believer or non, white, black or brown, young or old; no amount of murder or mayhem is too heinous for their hateful cause. Always anti-those deemed ‘other’; always relying on hate, religion, violence, misogyny, homophobia, tribalism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and terrorism to sow fear and division.

If you have fundamentalists in power, things will deteriorate very quickly, even for believers, as a believer is not the same as a fundamentalist. This isn’t a theoretical discussion. We can see the effects of a theocracy on the lives of freethinkers, women, LGBT, religious minorities and especially young people in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia but we can also see what happens when even secular societies are run by theocrats

“For too long and still far too many continue to excuse one side over the other depending on where they stand. Some will defend the Islamists, others will defend the Christian-Right, both sides saying there are ‘legitimate grievances’ even if they claim to abhor terrorism. Many will even go so far as to blame the victims, especially in the case of apostates and blasphemers like Charlie Hebdo or the Bangladeshi bloggers. What these apologists fail to see is that there is no legitimisation for murder.

“Those killed in Sri Lanka could be any of us. We could be next. We must all take an unequivocal stand against all forms of fascism and hate. We must not allow the conflation of the religious-Right with ordinary believers, victim blaming, and the dehumanisation of the ‘other’ to legitimate a politics of terror and hate.“Sooner than later, we must recognise that we are all in this together against the far-Right and in defence of our common humanity. Our lives and our rights are interlinked irrespective of our backgrounds and beliefs.

“It is a matter of urgency that governments stop appeasing theocracies and the religious-Right, including via faith schools and child indoctrination, religious courts and faith-based policies. This only strengthens divisions and the religious-Right.

“Defending secularism, citizenship and universal rights is the only way forward.”

IS has killed Yazidis, Kurds, Syrians, Christians, Muslims, ex-Muslims, Atheists, young and old, women and men… From IS, Taliban, the Islamic regime in Iran to Boko Haram and Al Shabaab, no one is safe. From London to Madrid to NY to Colombo and Kabul no one feels safe. The whole point of terrorism is to target innocent civilians indiscriminately to instil hate and despair and fear. That is why courage and hope and love are so important for all of us. They want to divide us; we must insist on our common humanity.

Q: What are your suggestions and recommendations to prevent the IS’ influences?

It is important that we treat everyone equally as citizens and not members of some religious or cultural ‘group’. That will help focus on terrorists and criminals rather than placing collective blame on everyone who is Muslim, for example. Islamism is a political far-Right movement like the white supremacists in the US. You cannot weed out white supremacist terrorists in the US by collectively blaming all Christians or all white people. It is a political movement; you need to target it politically and also ideologically.

Also, an insistence on secularism is key. Separation of religion from the state – any religion – is crucial to bringing about lasting change. We shouldn’t have religious schools, religious indoctrination in schools, religion in the law or public policy or in the state’s dealings with citizens.

Also, I think we need to look at rights from a universalist perspective – we all have inalienable rights no matter what our background. And most importantly, we all share a common humanity. We are in this together – Muslim, ex-Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Christian, atheist… – against the fundamentalists and fascists of all stripes who kill with impunity and have no regard for human rights or lives.

Q: Would you say Islam does not promote an inclusive society?

No religion promotes an inclusive society. Religion is an exclusive club that sees its set of beliefs as superior to other sets of beliefs. In any religion, the apostates, heretics, witches and blasphemers within the religion are imprisoned and killed. Those who are not part of the religion are seen to be lesser.

To include citizens in a society, you must exclude religion to some extent from the public space. People, of course, have a right to religion and belief but it cannot be part of the state or law or public policy or the educational system if we want to ensure that religion has its rightful place in our societies and world – as a personal matter.

Q: What is your message to those who undermined and side-lined your basic rights when you were under repressive governments, as we as to those who joined and planning to join the terrorist outfit like Islamic State?

My message to those who join IS or other terrorist groups and repressive governments are the same: we will never bow down. There are many more of us than there are of you. Also, hate can never kill love and hope and that is our strongest weapon against the fundamentalists of all stripes.

Samint: Art as weapon against extremism and patriarchy

 SAMINT’s artwork was shown at the 23 March Atheist Day ex-Muslim women speak out event in London.

A growing number of atheists are currently coming out of the closet, even in theocratic, confessionalist or religiously influenced countries. In these difficult times, as we witness a massive religious backlash, organising this first international Atheist Day is an excellent initiative. Today, in London, ex-Muslim women’s standpoint is in the spotlight but one shall never forget that all religions and all sects are profoundly misogynistic and serve the patriarchy’s interests.

Islamists do NOT have any proper social project, only the obsessive will to control women’s bodies and sexuality. In France, since the end of 1980s, headscarves and hijabs have become more and more numerous. I remember the time when NO Muslim woman was veiled in France. I witnessed the development of Islamism and its predatory spirit of territorial conquest. The objective of this ideology is to bring about a civil war and to change western societies. In France, the young generation has got accustomed to the two major forms of political Islam – that is to say Shia and Sunni – which compete for global leadership. We can say that Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood,  the Iranian “Islamist Revolution” and Saudi Arabia’s powerful wealth have literally turned, over the last decades, the world into a bloodbath.

Patriarchal norms of modesty or hyper-sexualization only strive to control girls and women’ bodies. But their bodies are NOT to be hidden under veils, stripped naked or raped. The veils and prostitution can be considered as the two sides of the same coin – that of male domination – which seems to prevail, whatever the circumstances. ISIS, in Iraq and Syria, currently organizes women’s oppression by forcing them to wear veils AND by reducing them to sexual slavery.

In France, a secular country, many of those who defend women’s “freedom” to wear hijab are often also in favour of prostitution, presenting both as ‘personal choices’: this is part of what some call an intersectional approach. Now, defining liberty without considering human beings’ unequal position in society is nonsensical. Freedom should never reduce anyone to seclusion or subjection. As regards social and political issues, presenting religion as a ‘right’ is also a very common trick to demand more multiculturalism or even to challenge secularism. The promoters of such claims demand a status of exception as if liberty and equality should not apply to every citizen. Considering that some citizens should be treated differently because of their origins and religion is purely racist. Religion is obviously not a right: it is a personal creed which belongs to the private sphere and should never be imposed on anyone.

Secularism is therefore the only solution. Secular and universalist feminists are fully aware of the damage caused by religions to women’s rights and liberties. Cultural relativism only reinforces sexism and exposes women to systemic oppression and male-chauvinistic violence. It is necessary to go on defending our humanist and democratic values as well as fighting Islamism and its promoters, whoever they may be. The Quran is not the book of a religion of love and peace, but rather of a religion of hatred of women, of Jews, of non-Muslims, of non-believers, of LGBT people…

Let me make it clear: secularism is the only solution. It is even supported by more and more religious people. I am going to summarize Henri Ruiz ‘s definition of secularism which includes 3 principles:

1-    Secularism is a universal value which promotes equality for all (believers, atheists and agnostics)

2-   Secularism protects freedom of conscience

3-    Secularism promotes universalism, thanks to the separation of church from the State.

As an artist, I humbly try to contribute to our cause by creating works which emphasize the horrors of patriarchal violence, such as Female Genital Mutilation, femicide, the veil, and back-street abortions in order to make people collectively aware of the situation. The advantage of art is its ability to be understood immediately. I have decided to fight extremism and patriarchy by using art as a weapon. My goal is to show the violence due to male domination by the collection entitled “The Basics of Patriarchy.” The paintings “My hair is mine” denounces the oppression of the Islamic veil. The 3 paintings “Modest men” suggests men to wear hijab or niqab. The painting #BringBackOurGirls” deals with the terrorist attacks of the Nigerian group Boko Haram. There are also two artworks about FGM.

Fighting religious extremism is, sadly, still a current emergency and as a conclusion, I would like all of us to think of our Kurdish sisters for their incredible courage and for showing, also, that creating a feminist and egalitarian society in the Middle East is certainly possible.

 

(Translation by Helene Palma.)

 

Successful 1st International Atheist Day

VIDEOS AND PHOTOS OF THE EVENT ARE BELOW.

March 23rd, International Atheist Day, was observed for the first time across the world, providing a space for non believers to come out in public, defend freethought and show solidarity with those who risk their lives and freedom because they are atheists.

The day was initiated by an international ex-Muslim coalition, namely Arab Atheists, Ateizm Derneği, Atheist Agnostic Alliance of Pakistan, Atheist Republic, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), Council of Ex-Muslims of France, Council of Ex-Muslims of Jordan, Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco, Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka, Ex-Muslims of North America, Ex-Muslims of Norway, Freethought Lebanon, Muslimish and The Black Ducks and was celebrated by atheists across the world, even trending on Twitter.

In London, CEMB organised a direct action where atheist women came together to paint slogans around “There is no God” in chalk in Russell Square in various languages. Photographs of women sitting on the floor with legs akimbo were in solidarity with women across the world who are being sexually assaulted for fighting for their rights and told to ‘sit properly’, ‘be decent’ and threatened with rape for claiming the right to their bodies. It was in particular a show of solidarity with women involved in the aurat march in Pakistan.

This action was followed by an emotional evening MCed by Nahla Mahmoud. Maryam Namazie gave a brief opening address on the need for an Atheist Day; this was followed by a panel discussion of ex-Muslim women speaking out including with Ibtisamme Betty Lachgar, Mimzy Vidz and Zara Kay along with Sadia Hameed and Maryam Namazie. Whether coming from secular or fundamentalist families, the women agreed that losing the fear of challenging God was central. In an intimate discussion which ranged from attempts at exorcism by families determined to ‘fix’ their errant children, to the joy of embracing freedom, they agreed they could never look back. Audience members assured them that they had gained a family in the global ‘community’ of ex-Muslims. Panelists condemned bigotry against Muslims while affirming their right to criticise Islam and Islamism.

One speaker, the poet Halima Salat, who is resident in Amsterdam was denied a visa by the British Home Office. She came out for the first time at Maryam Namazie’s Freedom Lecture at De Balie a few months back and there was great disappointment that she couldn’t join the event, showing how the hostile environment is never far away for apostate refugees. Halima performed her poetry on FGM and against Patriarchy via video link and was able to hear the cheers for her passionate work.

In continuation of a tradition established by CEMB, Apostasy or Coming Out Certificates were awarded to a number of people, namely Ezatullah Qoriashi, Kishore Talukder, Md Badrul Alam, Mehrdad Taheri, Sarah Qureshi, Shagota Sarwar and Shahab Khan by Sadia Hameed, Aftab Ahmed and Fasahat Rizvi.

Moreover, CEMB 2019 Awards were presented by Maryam Namazie, Sadia Hameed and Sina Ahadi Pour to those who showed dedicated support to the ex-Muslim movement, namely AC Grayling who has supported the movement since the beginning and Ana Gonzalez of Wilson Solicitors for her immense support for apostate refugee cases and the CEMB; she said that CEMB was the most caring group she had ever worked with. Also awards were given to Asad Abbas for being one of the first and most persistent of CEMB members, Ibtisamme Betty Lachgar for her courageous work in Morocco, Inna Shevchenko of Femen for inspiring CEMB’s topless protests, Mina Ahadi for founding the first Council of Ex-Muslims in Germany and Shelley Segal for being a voice for atheism and ex-Muslims. Awards were also given to two absent friends, the filmmaker Nadia El Fani and Atheist Republic Founder Armin Navabi.

Shelley Segal sang Our Resistance and her new anthem for CEMB and ex-Muslims called ‘Find our Way to Freedom,’ which premiered at the event, after which atheists and ex-Muslims joined her on stage for a sing along.

There was also Sadia Hameed, lightening the mood, with her first ever stand-up comedy act. Her subject was farting and her target God.

An exhibition by SAMINT used art as a weapon against patriarchy and extremism. The evening ended with dancing to tunes by DJ Zee Jay.

The first Atheist Day in London and across the world was a resounding success. Onwards towards #AtheistDay2020!

****

VIDEO FOOTAGE FILMED BY MUPHOVI

#ATHEISTDAY ACTION IN RUSSELL SQUARE PARK
With Ibtissame Betty Lachgar, Inna Shevchenko, Maryam Namazie, Sadia Hameed, SAMINT, Shelley Segal and Zara Kay with new ex-Muslim anthem by Shelley Segal: Find Our Way to Freedom as background music.

OPENING SPEECH BY MARYAM NAMAZIE

PANEL OF EX-MUSLIM WOMEN SPEAKING OUT

With Moroccan Activist Ibtissame Betty Lachgar, CEMB Spokespersons Maryam Namazie and Sadia Hameed, Ex-Muslim YouTuber Mimzy Vidz and Faithless Hijabi Founder Zara Kay.

COMEDY BY SADIA HAMEED

POETRY WITH HALIMA SALAT

COMING OUT CERTIFICATES

CEMB 2019 AWARDS

SHELLEY SEGAL SINGS OUR RESISTANCE AND NEW EX-MUSLIM ANTHEM

ATHEISTS AND EX-MUSLIMS JOIN SHELLEY SEGAL ON STAGE TO SING FIND OUR WAY TO FREEDOM

PHOTOS FROM EVENING EVENT BY POONE RAVI

Fundamentalism and White Nationalism: the same, just wearing different clothes, Vrij Links, 29 March 2019

Below is the English version of an interview with Marieke Hoogwout published in Dutch in Vrij Links on 29 March 2019. The interview was conducted before the Christchurch and Utrecht terrorist attacks this month. You can read the Dutch interview here. 

In January, Iranian-British human rights activist Maryam Namazie gave the 24th Freedom Lecture at De Balie in Amsterdam. Hers was a fierce plea for solidarity from the left with all dissenters, ex-Muslims, feminists, secularists, in short: with anyone challenging repression of political Islam.

An interview on how politicians, media and all of us citizens can contribute to, in her own words, this ‘movement of secularism and shared humanity’.

First, to get this out of the way – secularism, at least in Dutch, is open to two interpretations: one is ‘non-believing’, or even ‘atheism’, the other is ‘creating a level playing field for all beliefs and convictions’. How would you define the concept of secularism in your movement?

‘I would say: secularism is the complete separation of religion from the state, including state institutions and policy. Religion or lack thereof is a private affair and not the remit of the state. We should all insist on this.’

You called on all of us, on the left, to support the dissenters, the secularists and anyone challenging political Islam. And you feel this support is lacking, still. What would you, for starters, want politicians to do, in order to bring change about?

‘I would tell politicians and policy makers that they should insist on universal values and secularism for all and to not see these values as ‘European values’ or ‘Dutch values’ or ‘British values’. They are universal. People have fought for, and continue to fight for them, sometimes at great risk to their lives, including in countries under Islamic rule.

‘If you think ‘their culture is different’ and so ‘they don’t want the same freedoms and rights as we do’, then you will not be able to show solidarity with those who are dissenting and fighting on the front lines for change. If you homogenise communities and societies and see those in power as representing the ‘authentic culture’, you will end up supporting the Islamists, those that are in power, those that are anti-universal values and anti-secularism rather than the dissenters.

‘I would also urgently call on politicians to insist on citizenship rights. When I came to De Balie, I fell in love with Amsterdam, this beautiful city and wonderful people. But what really affected me, too, was the day after, I spoke to two groups of students. One from a wealthier school in a wealthier area, and one from a school with a lot of students with Muslim parents. And to me, the difference was very stark – from the level of education, access to resources and information, to whether one was more open to different ideas or not.

‘Our societies are sleepwalking into disaster because of the segregation of our children, based on their families’ background and beliefs. It does lead to huge inequalities in the access that people get, and also in the way that people feel particularly on whether they belong in a society. If you are treated as an outsider, even if you were born in that society, you will begin to feel like that. That is a key issue – education has to be secular and level the playing field for all children despite any differences.

‘We have to start insisting on secular education, on treating children and people as citizens no matter what their backgrounds, on making people feel they really belong and that they are really equal – rather than say ‘well that’s their culture’, as if they are separate from the rest of society.’

‘In Britain, for example, a primary school that taught pupils about homosexuality as part of a programme to challenge homophobia has been forced to stop the lessons after Muslim parents complained and withdrew their children. In another primary school, a play on Darwin and evolution was cancelled after complaints by Christian parents. This is the influence of the Christian-Right and Islamism to the detriment of our societies as clearly not all Christian or Muslim parents think this way. Some will feel that their children have lost valuable lessons as a result of the cancellations but the religious-Right are always the loudest though they by no means represent a majority. The only response can be to insist that education be secular and that respect for human rights and citizenship be essential learning despite what parents think. Also access to the latest advances in science and human knowledge is key. The insistence on universal values and secularism is crucial in all aspects of society but particularly education and the law. It’s really a minimal framework for us all. Also with regards children, it is important to see them as human beings with rights separate from their parents. Children are not the property of their parents to do with them as they wish and they have a right to an education worthy of our century.’

What would you like to say to us, as citizens? What can all of us do today?

‘I would say – be brave. We have to stand up against the racists, against dehumanization and against ghettoization of people based on their background. For citizenship rights. And also to stand up for the dissenters within minority communities, for those who are speaking up, and who are at great risk of threats, violence, shunning and ostracization even in Europe. We have to stand up against all fundamentalists and in defense of our common humanity.

‘It is very important for people on the left who are concerned about throwing flames onto the fires of racism, to understand that the fundamentalists are our far right. They are, fundamentally, very similar to the white supremacists and the racists – similar in their reliance on religion, on violence, on scapegoating and on othering anyone who doesn’t look and speak like them; they are similar in their misogyny, their homophobia and their anti-Semitism. They are the same, just wearing different clothes. Look underneath and it’s the same thing.

‘We, the progressives, are fighting all manifestations of beliefs that violate people’s rights, and so we are also fighting the religious right. We are defending universal values, we are defending secularism and we are defending the dissenters who are challenging the status quo. As any left person should be doing and has historically done.’

And what would you ask of the media?

‘In the media, it is always the most regressive and reactionary voices that are brought to the table as the so-called ‘representatives of the community’. The dissenting voices, the feminist voices, the socialist voices within the so-called minorities are almost never heard. And by feminist voices, I mean those for whom women’s rights trumps religion and belief. I do not mean ‘Islamic feminists’, an oxymoron, who are more interested in defending Islam.

‘Unfortunately, when it comes to the dissidents, we don’t fit the media’s narrative to speak about issues that we have put our lives on the line for. Thankfully, the internet has opened up the space for us, even if the media ignores us and acts like we don’t exist. As I have said before, the Internet is doing to Islam what the printing press did to Christianity.

‘To support dissenters, you’ve got to see them first. If you cannot even believe that they exist, how can you support them? Only when you see there are lots of people who don’t agree with repression, and who are fighting for real equality, who are fighting against racism and against discrimination, including in religion, then you will side with the people who are dissenting rather than regressive community leaders and Islamists.’

Sometimes I think some people on the left do not want to see. It would mean having to acknowledge there are power structures within minority communities. I feel some people would rather see all Muslims, in a simple good guy/bad guy-scenario, as one homogeneous ‘community’, deserving of their protection against the far right. To see otherwise, to them would be – uncomfortable.

‘Of course it is uncomfortable! Do you think I feel comfortable every day? I do not. It is very, very uncomfortable saying things that are not acceptable. It is not something that is very easy, we all feel very uncomfortable. But you know – some things need to be said and done. How would the Dutch feel about being seen as one and the same as Geert Wilders? That’s how I feel being seen to be one and the same as an Islamist. There is no homogeneity, and much dissent including amongst minorities. Do you think brown and black people are unable to think freely or dissent against the status quo?

When I speak out for instance on women’s rights in Islam, I sometimes am told that I, as a non-Muslim white woman, have no right to do so. What helped me a lot were the words of Zineb el Rhazoui: ‘If you let yourself be silenced for fear of being called Islamophobic, or a racist – then you’re siding with our oppressors.’ But I think, too many people on the left still are hesitant to speak out about this.

‘One of the problems of identity politics is it seen to be progressive and left but it actually promotes far right politics. It feeds into the narrative of both the fundamentalists and the far right or the white supremacists. Identity politics sees Muslims as a monolith, as a homogeneous group. So the far-Right wants to deport and hate all Muslims as they see them as one and the same as the fundamentalists. This is the problem with identity politics. It doesn’t allow us to see people’s humanity.  And some on the left think they must support the Islamists in order to support a ‘Muslim minority’.‘Identity politics only allows you to see those in power as they ‘represent’ the community and determine or impose ‘authentic’ culture. But they are really only self-appointed. People have many characteristics that define them – there is no homogeneity in any society or community or culture. I mean, does everyone in the Netherlands think exactly the same way?

We do not. We have 17 million ‘bondscoaches’ [coaches of our national football team], and 13 political parties in parliament, last I counted.

‘Does everyone in Britain think the same way? I mean – look at Brexit! There is dissent and lots of it. So why would someone think that does not exist in minority communities? Are we less then you? How patronizing first of all, to say or to think that we all agree with our ayatollahs. Do Dutch people all agree with the pope? Are they all Catholics, and hard core ones at that, who are anti-abortion and anti-gay rights and anti-women’s rights?‘Of course not! So why is it that they would think that we are like that? How patronizing. How racist. To see us all as one and the same as our oppressors.

‘Identity politics does not see the dissent. It doesn’t see those political and social movements fighting for change. How can you show solidarity with dissenters when you are too busy looking at the mullahs and the imams and the ayatollahs? You won’t be able to see the feminists and the socialists and the labour activists and the apostates who are risking their lives to challenge the status quo.’

Kenan Malik said: ‘What is called ‘offence to a community’ is more often than not actually a struggle within communities’. For instance, a political cartoon can be considered ‘offensive’, when basically it is challenging power. As it has always done. In your lecture at De Balie you showed a rather old Arabic cartoon mocking religious leaders. Do you agree with Malik’s point of view?

‘One hundred percent. First of all, what does ‘offensive’ even mean – is being against Brexit an offense to the British community? Or is not caring about Brexit an offense to the English or the Christian community? Universal values, the concept of citizenship, are not about ‘group rights’; they’re about individual rights. There are very different types of people and beliefs within the so called ‘Muslim community’ – as is the case in any society.

‘Many ex-Muslims are told we are not allowed to talk about Islam, because we aren’t ‘real Muslims’. You know how many times I have been told: ‘you come from a Shia tradition and Shia’s are not even Muslims, so you were never a Muslim to begin with’? Which I find interesting because when they count the statistics of Muslims, they count everybody in. That is the problem with identity politics – you are never Muslim enough, you’re never black enough, you’re never woman enough, you’re never minority, enough to speak about these issues.

‘But I will speak about any issue that affects human beings – because before anything, I am a human being. I see our common humanity and I see the universality of our struggles and fights. Identity politics does not see those commonalities. It just wants to defend identity at any cost. It will defend culture and religion at any cost. But I think we should be defending human rights and human lives, as best we can. And hold human beings sacred, rather than beliefs, culture, religion and very specific often imagined identities.’

‘On the issue of offence, we are all offended by somethings but somehow most of us never see the need to kill for it. The fundamentalists, however, are offended by everything that has to do with 21st century lives and will threaten or kill anyone who doesn’t agree. Also, interestingly, they are never offended by stonings and decapitations and book burnings but always by unveiled women or gay sex or singing and dancing. The whole offence industry here in the west is really not about religious sensibilities but Islamists demands to impose blasphemy and apostasy laws where they don’t exist.’

I find it very difficult to explain this concept of the ‘regressive left’ to people who I feel, are being – just that. They say ‘That’s a right-wing framework! No one on the left supports forced hijab!” And that in itself, is indeed absolutely true. But in the Netherlands, I feel, it is like a fault by omission, a fault of not speaking out. We always speak out about anything except – when it comes to dissent or emancipation in Muslim communities. And then, people on the left say: ‘Welllll … it has to come from within the communities, we cannot impose our values, these things take time, and look at where we were in the Netherlands 50 years ago.’

‘The point is not that some on the left – and I say this as someone firmly on the left – is not against forced hijab. Of course, they are against that. The point is: they never criticize hijab as a tool to manage, control, and police women’s bodies. When you say: ‘Look at where we were 50 years ago, we have to be tolerant’ – that’s tolerance of the intolerable. We are in the 21st century after all. Doesn’t everyone deserve the same rights and freedoms?

‘When you say ‘That is their culture, that is their religion’ – you are seeing them as something that is different from the rest of ‘white’ Dutch society. If ‘white’ girls in Holland were made to wear religious symbols because their parents were religious or segregated from boys because their parents thought they would bring chaos in society if there was mixing of the sexes – would they say ‘well, you know, it’s the parents’ culture’? Of course not! Why say it when it comes to girls from Muslim backgrounds?’

People also say: ‘Of course we are against oppression, but that is in other countries. In the Netherlands, all women are free to choose, so wearing the veil must be their free choice and if we speak against it, we would be no different from the authoritarian regimes.’ What is your point of view on this?

‘Framing it in the language of choice is actually part of the narrative of the fundamentalists. And if you do that, then you don’t see all the pressures, all the subtle and sometimes not so subtle threats, and all the coercion that takes place behind the scenes, in order to impose this on women and girls or on gay people, or on apostates, or on any other minorities within minorities, to show conformity within that community. And particularly when it comes to children, using the language of choice is an excuse to ignore child abuse.

‘Of course there are women who ‘choose’ to wear the veil, like there are women who refuse to leave a violence relationship, but seeing it as a free choice misses the point. The veil is an instrument to control and police women – like foot-binding, like suttee, like FGM. By focusing on a woman ‘choosing’ to throw herself on the burning pyre of her deceased husband, one ignores and even legitimizes women’s oppression and misogyny.

‘People who say ‘it’s their culture, it’s a choice, it’s not our place’ think that if they don’t rock the boat, it will keep some sort of social peace. But actually, it will not. There is a battle going on. Isn’t it better that all of us, as progressives, have a stake in that fight? So that the society that comes out of it, is one where progressive people have been involved, and not just the fascists – be they either the white supremacists, or the Islamists, or the Christian right.

‘Things can change fundamentally if more people will be involved who are anti-racist and pro-human rights, irrespective of background and belief. That would make that fight so much more human. And the results would be so much more human.’

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