Why do we ignore the plight of ex-Muslims?

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Why do we ignore the plight of ex-Muslims?

Why do we ignore the plight of ex-Muslims?
By Johann Hari
25 October, 2007
The Independent, U.K.

Imagine a woman – let's call her Beth – who has been an unthinking atheist all her life, just because her family and her friends are, too.  One day, she decides to convert to Islam. As soon as she dons the hijab, her neighbours start to swear and spit at her in the street.  A brick is thrown through her window; while she is sleeping, her car is torched.

When she speaks out publicly, the death threats come. She is a "whore" who will be "raped to death."  All the other converts to Islam are receiving the same threats.  Some have been beaten.  Some are on the run.  When they approach the police, they are wary-to-hostile.  The officers ask suspiciously: what have you been doing to anger these Muslim-bashers?

If this was happening this way, it would – rightly – be a national scandal.  There would be Panorama specials, front-page fury and government inquiries into Islamophobia.  But it is happening – only in the reverse direction. All over Europe, there are Muslims who are exercising their right in a free society to change their religion, or to become atheists. And they are regularly being threatened, beaten and burned-out, while the police largely stand by, inert.

Ehsan Jami is an intelligent, softly-spoken 22-year-old council member for the Dutch Labour Party.  He believes there should be no compromise, ever, on the rights of women and gay people and novelists and cartoonists.  He became sick of hearing self-appointed Islamist organisations claiming to speak for him when they called for the banning of books and the "right" to abuse women.  So he set up the Dutch Council of Ex-Muslims.  Their manifesto called for secularism – and an end to the polite toleration of Islamist intolerance.  As he put it: "We want people to be free to choose who they want to be and what they want to believe in."

Ehsan was immediately threatened with death.  He was kicked to the ground outside the supermarket.  He was grabbed in a street with a knife put to his throat.  He can't afford to be glib about the risk: he remembers the near decapitation of Theo Van Gough on the streets of Amsterdam. Y et instead of rallying to Ehsan, his party condemned him.  The Dutch deputy Prime Minister, Wouter Bos, said they disapproved of an organisation that "offends Muslims and their faith."

In Britain, my friend Maryam Namazie recently set up the British Council of Ex-Muslims.  She was immediately flooded with calls from frightened people who wanted to join but were too intimidated.  Endless phone threats inform her that she will soon be beheaded – but she has learned that the police just aren't interested.  "They have never been very helpful," she says.  "They act as if it's your fault for 'provoking' these people, when in fact the Islamist movement uses threats and intimidation as a tool to silence their critics."

People raised on the honeyed multicultural platitudes that religions such as Christianity and Islam are all about love and hugging puppies will wonder why these people would take such risks to leave their faith.  This week I interviewed Mina Ahadi, the founder of the German branch of the Council of Ex-Muslims, after she was named Secularist of the Year.

Mina is a warm fifty-something woman with a big laugh, and when we meet – in a house in London I can't disclose for safety reasons – she is wearing a big jumper and small, wire-rimmed glasses that make her look like any other German hausfrau.  But she has a very different story, taking me back to her childhood in rural Iran.  She tells me: "As a Muslim girl, I was not allowed to do so many things. From the age of 12 onwards I was basically not allowed to leave the house. I couldn't play on the street, I couldn't mix with boys, I couldn't even do the shopping. I  hated it. There was terrible violence towards the women in my community, everywhere.  One of my cousins, Nahid, went into a man's house unaccompanied, and the men in my family tied her to a tree and whipped her.  When I read the Koran for myself I was shocked, because many of these things are actually recommended by the 'Prophet' Mohammed."

She soon realised she was an atheist, a view reinforced by her reading of Charles Darwin.  When she went to university, the Islamists began to force a theocracy on the Iranian people.  She refused to accept the mass sackings of women and the enforced veiling.  She was beaten for speaking out, and had to go into hiding.  One day, her husband and four of their friends were taken away.  Nine months later, in another hiding place, she read that they had been executed.

She decided to seek refuge in Austria, because she read in a book that women's life expectancy there was higher than men's, "and I thought – that's my kind of country!"  But she was amazed to find that even in Europe, Islamist groups were being treated as the respected spokesmen for all Muslims by politicians and journalists.  Even here, the extreme wing threatened her with death for forming the International Committee Against Stoning to save women, and the police did little.  On her visit to Britain, they offered her no protection at all.

If Christian fundamentalists were doing this – as they used to, and would like to again – none of us would hesitate in erupting in rage.  But because Islamic fundamentalists are doing it, we feel awkward, and fall silent.  The difference is the colour of their skin.  There's a word for this: racism.

Women such as Mina expose a hole in the stale logic of multiculturalism.  She shows that secularism is not a "Western" value: she thought of it all by herself, in a rural village in Iran.  Yet the attitudes that lead to the persecution of apostates are widespread even within British Islam, because we patronisingly assume it is "their culture" and do not challenge it.

Some 36 per cent of British Muslims between the ages of 18 and 24 think apostates should be murdered.  The younger British Muslims are, the more they believe it – a bad sign for the future, unless we start arguing back.  This isn't just kids sounding off.  Some act on it: a Despatches documentary this year, Unholy War, found dozens of cases of apostates having their cars blown up, their kids threatened and even being beaten and left for dead, on British streets.

One way to keep up the pressure for this reform within Islam is to have a thriving movement of ex-Muslims.  They demonstrate to ordinary Muslims that if they are appalled by the unreformed bigotry of their faith as it currently stands, there is a rich and rewarding alternative – secular humanism.

If we in Europe do not defend people like Ehsan and Maryam and Mina, who are fighting fundamentalist thugs for the basic human right to believe and say what they want, do we deserve these rights for ourselves?

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Related link:

Related link: www.answeringmuslims.com

Check the interesting blog entry of Saturday, January 5, 2008
"Sam Shamoun vs. Nadir Ahmed: “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”

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When you say we, about whom

When you say we, about whom are you speaking? The RRS or europe?

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What an eye-opening article,

What an eye-opening article, thanks for posting it!

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As much as I am for

As much as I am for fighting bigotry I warn against government censorship as a tool. Good intent should not include bad tactic.

What many in politically correct circles often fail to realize is that THEY may not be the cop, judge or jury, or lawmaker in power deciding what can and cannot be said.

In America we have common law. It is illegal to advocate violence as it should be. It is illigal, for whatever reason, to physically harm someone outside of self defence.

If the atheist says, "Dont pick on atheists", the Christian will say, "dont pick on Jesus". If our laws are based on that type of censorship it can potentially allow a majority to silence, via government force, dissent.

I do not want to give my goverment, control through law making it illegal for me to say, "Jesus is fiction, we need to fight absurd claims". THERE ARE far to many people in this country who would, if given the power, use it to silence my vioce. Fortunatly for me, we have a constitution that wont allow that SO FAR.

I am all for arressting anyone, atheist or theist that says, "Go harm this person", be it over money, jelousy in a relationship or religion.

But I dont want to silince a Christian who equates me to Hitler even if I know they are full of shit. It is one thing to have laws to arrest people for physically harming someone else. It is a bad thing to use government to silence dissent.

Politicall correctness is what Islamic zealots demanded when a cartoonist blasphemed their phrophet. I dont want to live in a country where I cant bitch about things I dont like, be it a polititican or religion. 

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."Obama
Check out my poetry here on Rational Responders Like my poetry thread on Facebook under Brian James Rational Poet, @Brianrrs37 on Twitter and my blog at www.brianjamesrationalpoet.blog

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Well, for my part, I don't

Well, for my part, I don't know nearly enough about the culture or the religion to feel confident doing anything productive for ex-muslims.  As an ex-christian, I have a great deal of experience as well as a lifetime of learning that can benefit those in my position.  I'm afraid I would be a lot less effective trying to do anything related to Islam.

As for moral support, I will give all I can, and if I discovered a worthwhile organization that I could help monetarily, I would.  It's an incredibly worthy goal to help anyone who has been oppressed by any religion.  I can only do what I can in my corner of the world, unfortunately.


Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Zombie wrote:When you say

Zombie wrote:
When you say we, about whom are you speaking? The RRS or europe?


 Don't know what he means by "we" but to me it means all of us, me, the RRS, anyone in the U.S. with a conscience and any organisation and all individuals of conscience in Europe.  We all need to take a stance on this and xtian bullshit, loudly and at every opportunity. 

The time for all freethinkers, agnostics, atheists and even theists to just stand by because we might not be as knowledgeable of a religion or because we don't think it affects us is past.  If we don't start becoming more invovled in voicing protests to the irrationality of religion, or conducting letter/e-mail campaigns, etc., then we will continue to lose freedoms and rights as fundamentalists, xtian and islamic, continue to press their fights for supremacy.  If they prevail we will be witness to the beginning of the New Dark Ages.

Our problem is being too rational and sometimes rejecting their tactics as counter productive to our cause.  It works for their side, why not for ours?

The RRS is doing a great job of getting in your face with xtian asshats, why not become even more activist with islam as well?  They are just as much a threat to our way of life here in the good old U.S. of A. as they are to governments and freedoms in other parts of the world.  Take on any and all in public debates as often as possible and build more and more publicity showing the dangers of irrational thought and how it threatens our freedoms and rights.

We really need to band together as many atheist, freethought, etc. organizations as possible and start approaching this problem as a multi-front "war" with campaigns designed to expose and counter religious intolerance and irrationality.  The billboards recently put up are an excellent tactic, they're highly visible and hard to ignore.  Xtians have been doing ads for years, it's time orgs with our mindset started placing them in magazines, newspapers, etc.

When the docs the RRS is making are done push to have them shown on television in local markets, theatres, etc.  If they are done from a secular standpoint they might even be used for educational purposes in schools and colleges.  When religious orgs start protesting turn those protests against them and show them to be intolerant.  Point out we are not trying to elminate religion (though I think that is a perfectly valid goal) per se, just the mindset of intolerance and reasons for it among fundamentalists. The decline will follow if we are successful.

We need everyone, world wide, to get involved in this.  When governments and citizens approach irrational religion as though they are walking on eggshells, we lose.  Religion is not just a threat to the U.S. and Middle East, it is a threat to all peoples world wide.

I have been doing letter writing "campaigns" locally for several years, unfortunately I live in a largely xtian fundamentalist town.  However, more and more people are now writing letters to the editor and to public officials opposing xtian attempts to influence education and politics.  I don't know how much I may have affected that but I don't remember any letters taking on church/state and other issues here in years past.  I have in the past seen a continuous flow of ignorance coming out of local xtians in the letters printed by the local newspaper.

The more people write public officials, the more we are heard and the more those officials will think about what they do in their official capacity.  We just don't have enough people on the bandwagon yet.  Take a look at how xtians have affected political races.  Religious tests are common now.  Even though a narrow interpretation of the Constitution would limit this to the government requiring such tests and more liberal view would condemn the government for allowing it to go on at all.

Organise support for political candidates like the fundies do.  Dig to find statements or acts of intolerance, or irrational beliefs of opposition candidates and get in your face in putting the info out to the public.  Expose the hypocracies of opposition candidates and take our own to task for any they may have. 

We need to do this or we can kiss our freedoms and rights goodbye.

"Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society." Thomas Jefferson

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Bulldog wrote: Zombie

Bulldog wrote:

Zombie wrote:
When you say we, about whom are you speaking? The RRS or europe?


 Don't know what he means by "we" but to me it means all of us, me, the RRS, anyone in the U.S. with a conscience and any organisation and all individuals of conscience in Europe.  We all need to take a stance on this and xtian bullshit, loudly and at every opportunity. 

Not my article so I can't rightly define "we" there. Were I to guess, I would say Bulldog hits the mark exactly.