Secularist of the Year Award
Maryam Namazie wins the NSS Irwin prize for Secularist of the Year award
Yesterday, October 8, 2005 Maryam Namazie, adjudged to have made the most significant contribution to the promotion of secularism in the preceding year, was awarded the National Secular Society’s (NSS) first Irwin Prize for “Secularist of the Year” in London. The £5,000 annual prize, sponsored by NSS member Dr Michael Irwin, was presented by Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee at a lunch at the Montcalm Hotel in London. The event also featured cutting edge cabaret from stand-up comedian Stewart Lee, who is also co-author of the controversial “Jerry Springer – the Opera”.
In introducing Namazie, Keith Porteous Wood, NSS executive director stated: ‘Maryam is an inveterate commentator and broadcaster on rights, cultural relativism, secularism, religion, political Islam and many other related topics. The present revival of Islam has heightened interest in Maryam’s work, and at last her writings are gaining a mainstream audience. She has spoken at numerous conferences and written extensively on women’s rights issues, particularly violence against women.’
In her acceptance speech, Namazie acknowledged Mansoor Hekmat’s role in inspiring an entire generation of secularists and spoke of the rise of the political Islamic movement and its attempts to dupe and silence opposition using rights language. She went on to say: ‘We need an uncompromising and shamelessly aggressive demand for secularism but again this is only a minimum if we are to ensure that human values are safeguarded and that the human being is put first and foremost. Today, more than ever, we are in need of the complete de-religionisation of society as well.’
Namazie is a well known campaigner for secularism and refugee and women’s rights and against political Islam. She is host of TV International, a Central Council member of the Organisation of Women’s Liberation, and director of the International Relations Committee of the Worker-communist Party of Iran amongst others.
Seven others had been nominated, including the Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has highlighted violence against Muslim women, and Nicholas Hytner, director of Britain’s National Theatre, who came under fire for staging the musical “Jerry Springer — The Opera”, which many Christians regard as blasphemous.
For more information, contact Maryam Namazie, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07719166731.
Keith Porteus Wood’s introduction of Maryam Namazie
Maryam Namazie 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 the Sudan to work with Ethiopian refugees. Half way 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.
Soon after her return to the US, she was elected executive director of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees, an international organisation with 60 branches in nearly 20 countries. As director of the refugee-run organisation, she campaigned on behalf of thousands of Iranian asylum seekers and refugees, intervening successfully on many cases. Some successes include preventing the deportation of over 1000 from Holland, including having spoken at a parliamentary meeting on the issue; and a successful campaign to persuade the Turkish government to extend the period in which asylum seekers can apply for asylum.
Maryam Namazie has also been a member of the Organisation of Women’s Liberation Central Council since its establishment; there she has worked on numerous campaigns, including against stoning, executions, sexual apartheid, and women’s rights violations particularly in Islamic societies. Some successes include the Homa Arjomand-led campaign against the Sharia court in Canada. She was a speaker at its first public meeting in Toronto and continued supporting and highlighting the issue and mobilising support.
Other campaigns she has worked on include preventing stonings and executions in Islamist societies, opposing the veiling of children, opposing Sharia or religious laws, defending the banning of religious symbols from schools and public institutions, opposing the incitement to religious hatred bill in the UK, and calling for secularism and the de-religionisation of society not only in Iran but in Britain and elsewhere.
Maryam is an inveterate commentator and broadcaster on rights, cultural relativism, secularism, religion, political Islam and many other related topics.
The present revival of Islam has heightened interest in Maryam’s work, and at last her writings are gaining a mainstream audience. She has spoken at numerous conferences and written extensively on women’s rights issues, particularly violence against women.
More recently, Maryam has been hosting a weekly programme on International TV. This is broadcast via satellite to the Middle East and Europe and can be seen on the Internet. TV International focuses on issues pertaining to the Middle East from a progressive, left-wing perspective. The programme promotes secularism amongst other values and has developed a considerable following amongst people in Iran and the Middle East as well as in Europe and the west.
The issues raised in the programme provoke much correspondence, and she has been roundly criticised by Islamists, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and even Ken Livingstone after his invitation to this country of Yusuf Al Qaradawi.
So she must be doing something right.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are sure you will agree with us that Maryam Namazie is a worthy and noble winner of this first Irwin Prize.
Maryam Namazie’s speech
Receiving the Secularist of the Year award is a great honour, particularly given the National Secular Society’s long outstanding work in the promotion of secularism and reason.
Whilst there are so many who have worked closely with and supported me in the fight for secularism, there is one – Mansoor Hekmat – who must be commemorated today for having shaped and inspired myself and generations of secularists in Iran and the Middle East. Many of them are at the forefront of the fight for secularism there as well as in countries they have fled to. A good case in point is Homa Arjomand and her successful campaign against the Sharia court in Canada.
The National Secular Society’s continued works as well as the newly established Irwin Secularist of the Year award reveal that the fight for secularism is once again one of the most significant battles for the liberation of humanity from the yoke of religion.
This battle, however, is slightly different from the one fought in centuries past. Though political religion is facing a revival, it is the political Islamic movement which is spearheading this.
And this rise is taking place within a new world order in which universal norms and values taken for granted only decades ago can no longer be taken so.
In this climate of cultural relativism, Islamists and their apologists have perfected the use of rights language to dupe and silence any opposition. And of course when that doesn’t work, they issue their death threats and fatwas.
In this context, the ban on conspicuous religious symbols in public schools and institutions in France – the most basic separation of religion from the state though no where enough – is called ‘discriminatory’ a ‘restriction of’ ‘religious freedoms’ or ‘freedom of belief’, even ‘a violation of women’s and girls’ rights’ by Islamist groups in Britain. They have attempted to revise and reverse the meaning of very basic concepts.
Tolerance is another catch phrase they often use. Again they are turning the concept of tolerating human beings – which deserve much more than mere tolerance in my opinion – into one of tolerating all beliefs and ideas, particularly theirs.
Also, they often speak of fairness and equality. The proponents of a Sharia court in Canada and the incitement to religious hatred law or Islamic schools in Britain say they merely want what other groups already have. Preposterously, the basis for equality is not the highest standards available in society as one would expect but the most regressive and reactionary ones!
And don’t get me started on Islamophobia. It is now even deemed racist to criticise beliefs and ideas and movements associated with them. And – silly me – all along I thought racism was aimed at individuals and groups of people not beliefs and political movements.
Needless to say, even their topsy turvy concepts of rights and equality go out the window when they actually gain power. In Iran, Iraq and elsewhere, they kill and maim indiscriminately, tolerate nothing and no one, and say it is their divine right to do so.
Of course the tide is slowly turning, thanks to the work that we all have been doing and the fact that the religious movements’ vile face is becoming more familiar to people across the world.
But much more needs to be done as you know better than anyone else. We need an uncompromising and shamelessly aggressive demand for secularism – a ‘bulldog’ approach – but again this is only a minimum if we are to ensure that human values are safeguarded and that the human being is put first and foremost.
Today, more than ever, we are in need of the complete de-religionisation of society as well.
This is truly a necessity of our times.