Political Islam in the heart of secular Europe

The following speech was given at the International Humanist and Ethical Union Congress on July 6, 2005 in Paris, France, at a parallel session entitled ‘Women’s rights in religious and secular societies’.

  • Sixteen year old Atefeh Rajabi was publicly hanged in the city centre in Neka in Iran on 15 August 2004 for “acts incompatible with chastity”.
  • In April this year, Amina was publicly stoned to death in Argu district, Afghanistan after being accused of adultery by her husband.
  • This month, physicians have been beaten for treating female patients and women have been brutally attacked for not being veiled in Basra, Iraq.

The list is endless.

These examples are only some of the most visible and heinous aspects of the situation of women and girls living in Islam-stricken societies and under Islamic laws – burqa-clad and veiled, bound and gagged, and without rights.

It is truly the outrage of the 21st century.

But it is no longer only in places like Neka, Argu, or Basra where political Islam and religious rule are wreaking havoc but also in the very heart of the secular west and Europe albeit in different and more subtle ways but outrageous nonetheless.

Here the Islamists are ‘more civilised’.

They demand the ‘right’ to veil for women and children in France when in the Middle East they impose compulsory veiling by throwing acid in the faces of those who refuse and resist. In Britain, they cry racism and Islamophobia against anyone who speaks out against Islam and its political movement, whilst in Iran and its likes they hang ‘apostates’ and ‘Kafirs’ from trees and cranes. Here, they demand the prosecution of those who ‘incite religious hatred’ when everywhere it is they themselves who incite hatred and violence than can be articulated or imagined. Here in the EU, they call for tolerance and respect of their beliefs, when it is they who have issued fatwas and death threats against anyone who they deem disrespectful and intolerable. Here, they call for ‘equal’ rights demanding a Sharia court for ‘Muslim minorities’ in Canada and Britain whilst it is their very Sharia courts that have legalised Islamic injustice and barbarity in the Middle East.

Steadily, political Islam, using rights language, and cries of racism and Islamophobia – and now of incitement to religious hatred in order to silence any opposition and criticism – is gaining ground and hacking away at secularism in Europe, even though criticism or even ‘phobias’ of ideologies, religions, cultures or political movements are not racism.

Even in the heart of secular Europe and the west, women who have resisted political Islam, no longer feel fully safe. We can soon be prosecuted and face up to 7 years imprisonment in Britain for being offensive against or going beyond the ‘legitimate’ criticism of Islam. We are already called racists and Islamophobes whenever we speak for women and against Islam and its movement. It is we who are deemed extremists by the Mayor of London when we oppose the visit of Qaradawi, the so-called Islamic scholar whose support for women’s ‘modesty’ and violence against women and his condemnation of sexual acts as ‘perversions’ are no different from the Islamic laws in Iran.

And even here, women’s rights, our rights, are culturally relative and never universal. Even here each and every one of us is forever the ‘Muslim minority’ who must have Sharia courts, faith schools, the ‘right’ to veil… Never ever citizens equal before and under the law, but fragmented minority communities deserving of the same rules and regulations that we resisted and fled in the first place.

Islam and political religion are constantly repackaged in a thousand ways to make this cultural relativism and appeasement more palatable for the western audience. There is now moderate Islam, Islamic reformism, Islamic human rights, Islamic feminism and Islamic democracy (oxymorons in my opinion).

A hundred years ago, the avant-garde humanity would have laughed at the proposition that human liberation could be achieved through priests, moderation of religion and the emergence of new interpretations from within the church. Today, sadly, ‘professional scholars’ and academics can prescribe that the Iranian woman can for now take secularism to mean the addition of a lighter shade of black to the officially approved colours for the veil”.*

Yesterday’s ridiculed notions are today replacing the human values fought for and taken for granted by modern society.

The rise of religion and the erosion of secularism and universal norms are part and parcel of the New World Order, which has transformed citizenship rights into fragmented communities identified by anything but our common humanity, and human and universal values with cultural, religious and backward ones.

The values of the 18th century enlightenment are slowly being replaced.

Even in France where the ban of conspicuous religious symbols in schools and government offices were important steps, Islamic schools – where child veiling, an abuse of children’s rights, continues unabated – were still deemed permissible.

The urgent question we must all ask ourselves is how can we defend secularism, universalism and values worthy of 21st century humanity? I believe it is only via another transformative enlightenment by this century’s avant-gardes. We must give no more concessions to religion, superstition and cultural relativism; we must no longer respect and tolerate inhuman ideals, values and practices.

An uncompromising and shamelessly aggressive demand for secularism is only a minimum, though, if we are to ensure that women’s rights are safeguarded and that the human being is put first and foremost.

Today, more than ever, we are in need of the de-religionisation of society.

Anyone can have any beliefs, express them, publicise them and organise around them. The question is what regulations society puts in place to protect itself. Today society tries to protect children from the tobacco industry’s advertising. The religion industry’s advertising could be treated in exactly the same way. Smokers have all their rights and can establish any association and institution to advertise the benefits of tobacco and unite all smokers, but this does not mean giving a green light to the tobacco industry. The machinery of Islam and the other main religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.) are not voluntary societies of believers of specific ideas; they are enormous political and financial institutions, which have never been properly scrutinised, have not been subject to secular laws in society and have never accepted responsibility for their conduct. No one took Mr. Khomeini to court for issuing a death fatwa against Salman Rushdie; notwithstanding that inciting to murder is a crime in all countries of the world. And this is only a small corner of a network of murder, mutilation, intimidation, abduction, torture, and child abuse. I think that the Medellin drug cartels (Escobars), the Chinese triads, and Italian (and American) mafia are nothing in comparison to organised religion. I am speaking of a legitimate and organised struggle by a free and open society against these enterprises and institutions. At the same time, I regard believing in anything, even the most backward and inhuman doctrines, as the undeniable right of any individual.*

This avant-garde battle has already begun in Iran where an unprecedented anti-Islamic backlash and the demand for secularism are being championed by society. We are witnessing the beginning of this era’s enlightenment in a place which has been ruled by a pillar of political Islam over the past two decades. In addition to recognising this reality and the historical juncture we are at, this Congress must pick up the challenge for uncompromising secularism and the call for the de-religionisation of society. This is the only way – today – to mark the centenary of the 1905 French law of separation of church and state.

* Mansoor Hekmat, The Rise and Fall of Political Islam

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