|Political Islam versus Secularism
Islam against Islam is an interesting topic. The irony of a believer
criticizing the beliefs is provocative. I am not a Moslem. I am
an atheist. However, I have lived Islam; I have first hand experiences
of Islam. I was born within a religious conflict: a religious mother
and an atheist father. From childhood I began to see the flaws,
the restrictions, the misogyny, the backwardness, the dogma, the
superstition, and uncritical nature of Islam vis-à-vis the enlightenment,
the freethinking spirit of atheist thinking.
I became an atheist at the age of 12.
The establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran after a failed
revolution laid bare many other appalling and cruel dimensions of
Islam, which we later came to use the term political Islam. It was
not only dogma or superstition anymore. It was torture, summary
executions, stonings, amputations, and the rape of 9 year olds in
the name of marriage. Another face of Islam? Perhaps. But a real
one. Millions in Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Nigeria,
and Iraq are experiencing this true face of Islam daily.
With the coming to power of the Islamic Republic in Iran we began
to witness a revival of the Islamic movement as a political movement,
i.e. the emergence of political Islam. I prefer not to talk about
this movement as fundamentalism, but rather political Islam. We
are talking here about a contemporary political movement which refers
to Islam as its ideological framework and vision. It is not necessarily
a doctrinaire and scholastic movement, but it embodies different
and varied trends of Islamic tendencies. It is a political movement
seeking hegemony and a share of power in the Middle East, North
Africa and in Islamist communities.
This movement embodies Islamists who in the fight against secularization
of society in the West, hypocritically defend the freedom of clothing,
so as to fight against the banning of veil in schools and for under-aged
girls and those in Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Algeria who throw
acid at unveiled women, cut them with knives and razors, and who
lash them for not observing the dress code. They are part and parcel
of one movement. This movement is a threat to humankind. A movement,
against which all freedom loving, equality seeking human beings
must take a firm and uncompromising position.
Islam against Islam may imply finding ways and means to reform
Islam, to resort to so-called more moderate interpretations of Islam.
As a personal, private belief this may be possible, as a political
movement is not. What we are experiencing today, the movement which
has terrorized the world, what we have become first hand victims
of, is not capable of being reformed. We are dealing with a political
movement which resorts to terror as the main means of achieving
power. My experience in Iran explicitly shows that the only way
to deal with this movement is to relegate it into private spheres,
cut its hands from the state, education and societal sphere. To
do this we need to build a strong movement both in the region and
In this brief time I have, I like to focus on few points, which
opinion can be the basis for an international united front against
political Islam in order to make the world a better, more humane
and safer place.
Defence of secularization and de-religionisation of society. This
banner has historically proven successful in the fight against the
church and now against the gains of political Islam. The voice for
secularism has become loud and clear in Iran. There is a strong
movement for secularization of society in a country under the siege
of political Islam for 25 years. We should unequivocally raise this
banner, in the West, and in the East. We should recreate the spirit
of the 18th century, the enlightenment, the French Revolution, in
a contemporary manner.
The fight for universality of human rights and women’s rights is
an important cause. In the past two decades the Islamists were largely
helped by the proponents of cultural relativism. The Western academia,
media and governments by defending this racist concept turned a
blind eye to the atrocities committed by this misogynist and reactionary
movement, not only in the so-called “Moslem world”, but in Islamic
communities in the West. Apparently, there are some rights that
are suitable for Western women and not appropriate for women like
me, who are born in the other part of the world.
The veil, sexual apartheid, and second class citizenship became
justified by reverting to this arbitrary concept of “their culture”.
A violation that felt appalling if committed against a Western woman,
was a justifiable action committed against a woman born under Islam.
This double standard, this sheer violation of humane principles
must be stopped. I must admit that it has been pushed back a great
deal. We have fought hard against it for more than one decade.
Defence of children’s rights must be extended to areas where so-called
religious beliefs are concerned. Veiling of under-aged girls must
be banned, not only in schools, but altogether. Veiling of children
is a clear violation of their universal rights. Just as we fight
for obligatory education for children, abolition of child labour,
banning of corporal punishment, we should fight for banning of veiling
of under-aged girls. This demand has the same significance as other
basic children’s rights. The veil deprives a child from a happy
normal life, from a coherent and healthy physical and mental development,
stamping their life as a different being by segregating them. It
defines two sets of gender roles and imposes it upon children who
have no way of protecting themselves and demanding equality and
freedom. Children have no religion; they are only by accident born
into a religious family. The society has a duty to protect them
and uphold their rights as equal human beings.
Abolition of religious schools is another important arena. This
too is an important principle of a secular state, and protection
of children’s rights. Children must be free from official religious
teachings and dogmas. Religion’s hands must be eradicated from children’s
lives. The new legislation in France, regarding banning of conspicuous
religious symbols in public schools and institutions, is an important
step but insufficient. In order to safeguard children’s rights,
religious schools must be abolished.
Otherwise, we create religious ghettos, isolate children from religious
families from the society, and condemn them to a life in isolation.
The new legislation is the easiest way out for the state. But we
cannot remain indifferent to these kids’ lives. The society and
the state have the duty to protect their rights. They should be
allowed to integrate in the society, to go to school like any other
kid, and to be free from meddling of religion in their lives, at
least until they are still children.
The recognition of the right to unconditional freedom of expression
and criticism is one of the important pillars of a free society
and free thinking. The right to criticize Islam is an important
means to fight religious predominance in society. We need and must
criticize Islam relentlessly, without the fear of being beheaded
in countries under the siege of Islam, or being called racist in
the West. Islamophobia is a new term created by Islamists, or their
apologists in order to stop a growing critical movement against
Islam and Islamic movements. This is as hypocritical as it is regressive.
I like to call upon all of you here to recognize the importance
and the urgency of demanding secularization and de-religionisation
of the state and society, unconditional freedom of expression and
criticism, recognition of women’s equality and universality of their
rights, banning of child veiling, and abolition of religious schools.
In order to build a better, safer, freer and a more egalitarian
world, we must unequivocally raise this banner.