Cultural Highlights

And a little more again, about that conference at the UN, because Azam sent me the link to this Commission on Human Rights report, and it has more detail than the news articles. You should read it.

Ms. Azam Kamguian from Iran was the first speaker in the session on ‘Infidels and Apostates’. She started by describing her own experience; growing up with an all powerful and pious father. The temptation to subordinate her being to God was very strong but when she was an adolescent she decided that she did not need religion to tell her who she was. “Even though I left Islam, I had to live with it”, she stated.
According to an extremist interpretation of the Sharia Law, the greatest sin is disbelief. Non-believers and atheists do not have the right to life and apostasy is punishable by death. There was a case where a man was executed for having converted his wife. Even in the academic community, discussions of the Koran are considered to be taboo. According to Ms. Kamguian, Islam should be subject to criticism. Currently, if someone criticizes Islam in Iran they face death.

Yep, it’s hard to disagree with the statement that Islam should be subject to criticism, as should any other religion. But…it’s not a news flash that criticism of Islam is not exactly popular in a lot of right-on circles. In fact it’s taboo. So deafening silence greets conferences like this one. Where is the Guardian, eh?

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for the “freedom to change religion or belief”. Mr. Ibn Warraq observed the discrepancy between this standard and the situation in Muslim countries. He first described the evolution of Islam in regard to its position on apostates. The Koran prescribes condemnation for apostates only in the next world, but this has evolved to mean those who change religion must be killed. In some countries, such as Sudan and Mauritania, the penal code provides the death penalty for apostasy. Also, Muslim theologians are aware that apostasy can tempt Muslim women to free themselves from Sharia law and they have taken measures to prevent this from happening. In fighting causes of apostasy and bringing changes to the Muslim world, Mr. Warraq sees one solution: “without any post-colonial guilt, we must defend our values. We still have freedom of expression and the right to criticize Islam”. In this sense, publications in the West are very important in helping populations in Islamic countries.

Aren’t they though. So isn’t it too bad they aren’t helping. Because of post-colonial guilt, no doubt. How depressing it is…

Ms. Fourest listed three main reasons why Muslim extremism is more threatening today. First, Muslim movements compete by rejecting and resisting western modernization. This, in turn, encourages them to add extreme elements to their religion, such as the veil or genital mutilation. These used not to be commonplace, but now “the veil has become almost the sixth pillar of Islam”, she stated. Second, the degree of secularization in Muslim states is non-existent. On that point, Ms. Fourest drew a comparison. Jewish women in Mea Shearim may face the same oppression as those of Tehran, but the former have access to justice, whereas the latter will be put in jail by the state itself. The third factor, mostly playing in places where Islam is a minority religion, is cultural relativism. The minority is expected to continue its “cultural” practices, including wearing the veil, genital mutilations or stoning, for the “folklore”, Ms. Fourest said. Indeed, cultural relativism is a real danger and must be addressed first, since it deprives those who are fighting extremism of the support that progressive humanists should grant them.

Exactly. Cultural relativism deprives those who are fighting extremism of the support that progressive humanists should grant them. Indeed it does. It never stops surprising me how completely this subject gets ignored.

Finally, Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, member of the Dutch Parliament and women’s rights activist, recalled all the discriminations and atrocities suffered by Muslim women in the world. These include the need to be granted permission by a man in order to leave the house; the right of men to divorce their wives by repeating ‘I divorce you’ three times; wearing the veil; inheriting less than men and feminine genital mutilations. “The only way out is education. We must stop financing faith based schools in Europe”, Ms. Hirsi Ali said.

And Hirsi Ali has to have police protection, and, if you remember, has to live in hotels away from her desk and books and papers; she can’t work, her life has been trashed. But – hey – that’s their culture.

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