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Ex-Muslims, atheists, freethinkers celebrate dissent, seek Dec 20 World Secularism Day

By Rajiv Shah*    

In sharp reaction to the recent attack on “Satanic Versus” author Salman Rushdie, organisations consisting of ex-Muslims, atheists and freethinkers from over 30 countries have celebrated dissent 2022 in Cologne, Germany, to coincide with International Apostasy Day, a comprehensive report on the event sent as email alert to Counterview said.
Held on August 20-21, the extraordinary event had 50 speakers, including scientist Richard Dawkins, activist Ensaf Haidar and actress and founder of Zina Foundation Nazmiye Oral. The two-day event, claim the organisers, was the largest gathering of ex-Muslim and freethought organizations and activists celebrating dissent and freedom.
Organized by the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Freethought Lebanon in partnership with Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Refugee Relief, Center for Inquiry, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Giordano Bruno Stiftung National Secular Society, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and Volkshochschule Köln, the event included speeches, discussions, poetry, theatre, film, music and art.
It included a new song for the event by Shelley Segal, “Murtaad”, protest art in support of Saudi freethinker Raif Badawi by Victoria Gugenheim, a scream for women by Afghan artist Sara Nabil, and a march through Cologne City Centre in support of Salman Rushdie.
At the opening of the conference, Sami Abdallah, President of Freethought Lebanon, said: “We stand for ideas and words while they stand for daggers and guns; we stand for humor and satire while they stand for state sponsored incitement to murder… We are the future, and they are the past.”
Maryam Namazie, spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, called the ex-Muslim movement the “new civil rights movement of our times” and said, Salman Rushdie “is not the first nor will he be the last. The best of our best, cut down by the likes of the Iranian regime (directly responsible for Rushdie’s attack), by fundamentalists of all stripes and by, of course, inhuman ideologies…”
Namazie quoted Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who said, ‘You can cut all the flowers but you cannot stop the Spring’.
Amidst standing ovation, scientist Richard Dawkins, interviewed by Namazie and awarded the Freethought Champions Award, said the ex-Muslim movement was “one of the most important political movements of our time”, praising it as one of the “decisive forces in defence of freedom of expression worldwide.”
Introducing Dawkins, Freethought Lebanon’s co-founder Mazen Abou Hamdan said: “It is difficult to exaggerate the impact that professor Dawkins has had in promoting freethought around the world. In the Arab world alone, millions of copies of his books have been downloaded, and his YouTube videos have been watched hundreds of millions of times… We’re deeply convinced that in a few years and decades, the Middle East will change, and we have you to thank for that.”
Iranian atheist Soheil Arabi, who was on death row for blasphemy and is currently in internal exile after eight years in prison in Iran, was also awarded the Freethought Champions Award. In his acceptance video, he said: “I have no regrets that I have been in prison for eight years, despite the fact that I have lost my health because I think we have paved the way collectively together for liberation. I am a drop in this sea and glad to be part of the society of enlightenment.”
Arabi added, “When one is not free, then you cannot have a normal and meaningful life, you cannot choose; women cannot choose their dress, men cannot even decide on the shape of their beard. We were dead already; we are trying to be alive again.”
Algerian secularist Marieme Helie Lucas, the third person to win the Freethought Champions Award, was introduced by founder of Southall Black Sisters Pragna Patel, who said: “She is the person from whom I have learnt everything there is to know about secularism as a feminist issue.”
Added Patel, “She is a stalwart of the human rights movement – a principled woman who thinks and acts internationally and challenges all of us to break out of our parochialism and do solidarity instead of just talking about it… She is tireless. She is courageous. She is beautiful.”
The awards were sculpted by Iranian artist Sodabeh Gashtasebi.
The celebrating dissent 2022 event adopted resolutions in defence of Salman Rushdie, for an end to Germany’s Code 166 and for an International Day of Secularism or Laïcitém even as unanimously adopting the Declaration on the Celebration of Dissent, drafted by activist Gita Sahgal and other organizers. The declaration insists on ushering in a world where no one is shunned, exiled, imprisoned, tortured or killed for their conscience, a world where blasphemy, apostasy and dissent are celebrated, not criminalized.
Secularism is under concerted attack by the religious-right, including in secular states like France, India, Israel, Turkey and USA
The resolution condemning the violent attack on Salman Rushdie said, “Whilst the attacker’s motives have not yet been revealed, his allegiance to the Islamic regime in Iran clearly links the attack to Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against Rushdie.” It blamed the “Iranian regime, in specific, and the Islamist movement, in general”, and for responding to any freethought “with terror and violence over decades.”
It continued, “Entire generations of freethinkers have been brutally attacked, jailed, tortured and killed for their conscience and expression. Unfortunately, the brutal attack on Rushdie is not the first nor will it be the last.”
Concerned with Code 166 in Germany’s criminal code, which shields religions and religious and ideological organizations from criticism or ‘defamation’ if deemed to ‘disturb the public peace’, with punishment of a fine or up to three years imprisonment, another resolution said, “Since any criticism of the sacred and taboo can be met with a disturbance to the public peace by fundamentalist violence and threats against critics, the code gives succor to the censors and oppressors whilst silencing dissenters.”
It called upon the German government “to scrap Code 166 of the criminal code, drop all sentences and charges pertaining to this Code and to respect the right to apostasy, heresy and blasphemy, which are integral to freedom of conscience and expression and are protected under international human rights law.”
A third resolution, seeking to establish International Secularism Day on December 10 to coincide with the International Human Rights Day, said, “Secularism or laïcité is the separation of religion from the state, education, law and public policy.”
Not sparing India, the resolution noted, “At a time when secularism is under concerted attack by the religious-right, including in secular states like France, India, Israel, Turkey and USA, to name a few, we reiterate the importance of secularism for ex-Muslims, freethinkers, atheists, women and ethnic, sexual and religious minorities.”
“Secularism is a fundamental principle, human right and a minimum prerequisite for the respect of rights and freedoms and for democratic politics and societies”, it added.
*Editor, Counterview


Shashi Shekhar Singh said…
Any threat to secularism and freedom of thought and expression anywhere in the world is against the very principles of democracy and equality and freedom of individual. We stand in solidarity with secularism and freedom of thought and expression everywhere.


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