At the Ex-Muslims Conference

Anthony Grayling spoke at the Ex-Muslims conference and tells us how it went.

The conference was opened by the head of the Iranian Secular Society, Fariborz Pooya, and addressed by the extraordinary and courageous Maryam Namazie, spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, who subjected Islamism – political Islam – to scrutiny, arguing that it serves as an agency of Islamic states with serious implications for the lives, rights and freedoms of individuals, many of whom have left their countries of origin precisely to escape the repressive political and social climates there…A source of frustration for many is that they are lumped into “the Muslim community” whose self-elected spokespeople are more representative of the Islamic states that many in their “Muslim community” have fled: which is why the Council of Ex-Muslims makes a point of calling itself this, to reinforce the point that not everyone who was born into a Muslim community has to be permanently forced into homogenised membership of it.

Yes, which is why it’s irritating to see Brian Whitaker’s comment (October 16 at 11:01 a.m.).

I really can’t see much point in this organisation. It’s too much in the Hirsi-Manji mould to have any credibility among Muslims – who, after all, are the people it’s supposedly seeking to influence. I suspect it will achieve nothing more than stirring up the usual prejudices.

Oh is that so – then why did my friend Maryam invite my friend Gina Khan to attend, and why was Gina so pleased to be invited? And as for the ‘Hirsi-Manji mould’ – Manji is a Muslim, as is Gina. Why is Brian Whitaker assuming ahead of time that there are no reformist liberal Muslims? That’s rather stupid and one-eyed, isn’t it? Maybe he’s the one ‘stirring up the usual prejudices.’

Among those who spoke were Ibn Warraq, Joan Smith, Richard Dawkins, and the founder of Germany’s Council of Ex-Muslims, Mina Ahadi, a woman as extraordinary and admirable as Maryam Namizie. It is a speaking fact that the lead in these eminently important and courageous movements is taken by women…

How I wish I could have gone. Did any of you go? Tell us about it if so.

One of those speaking at the conference, my friend Ibn Warraq, recently edited a book on apostasy in Islam, which combines a scholarly overview of doctrines on apostasy in the various schools of Islamic law, with a collection of powerful personal testimonies by those who came to leave Islam either for another faith or none. It was interesting to compare the accounts there given with those in Louise Anthony’s book Philosophers Without Gods, which collects similar accounts by ex-Christians and ex-Jews. The personal cost in family and community terms of rejecting the doctrines of any of these religions is very similar; only in Islam does the danger of being murdered for doing so remain.

(I reviewed the Ibn Warraq book for Democratiya).

Nothing of what was discussed at this important and moving conference was anything but real: real lives subjected to death threats, discrimination, coercion and stigmatisation – and all because the people involved think for themselves, a right that the rest of us take for granted and, when it is threatened, jealously guard.

Brian Whitaker please note.

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