Northern Light

Making history

This past week European media filled its pages with reports, comments, and analysis about the European Union summit that ended early Saturday morning with 27 member states agreeing on a revised and diminished version of the earlier rejected EU-constitution.

The fate of the treaty is still unknown – in Denmark and the UK influential media outlets have already called for a referendum – but given the space allocated to coverage of the summit one is led to believe that history was being written.

I am not so sure, however. I think most of the European media last week missed a crucial and groundbreaking story that future historians may take as their point of departure, when in 50 years they will be writing the history of Europe in the first half of the 21st century. The event took place last Thursday at Westminster in London. The Iranian born rights campaigner and socialist Maryam Namazie announced the formation of the British branch of the Council of Ex-Muslims, and she and her supporters made it clear that this is going to be a Europe-wide movement.

Quite a few events turn out to be of historical significance only in hindsight. They don’t get attention at the time of their unfolding. December 5, 1965 a hundred people or so attended the first public demonstration in Moscow against the Soviet government’s human rights violations. Standing in silence on Pushkin square they expressed their protest. How many papers ran that story on the front page the next morning? Not many, though some now would argue this was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Empire. The same goes for the Soviet media’s publication of the Human Rights Charter included in the Helsinki Accords Final Act in 1975. It was used by dissidents, first in Russia, later in Czechoslovakia and other countries behind the Iron Curtain to establish a human rights movement calling on the communist governments to honor their obligations. In that sense it planted the seeds of what transpired 10-15 years later.

The launching of the British branch of the Council of Ex-Muslims builds on the success of similar branches already operating in Germany, Holland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. They already have hundreds, if not thousands of members.

The Ex-Muslims challenge the Islamists and the Western European governments which tend to lend too much credence to imams supported by money from the Middle East. They commit a big mistake by ignoring secular people with Muslim backgrounds.

I think there are similarities between this new movement and the human rights movement under Communism. Their critique of a totalitarian ideology – Communism and Islamism – comes from the inside, they have first hand experience of the assault on freedom and equality that is being committed in the name of the ideology, and their criticism cannot easily be denounced as bigotry, xenophobia, Islamophobia, or other name calling that often is being used to intimidate critical voices.

The human rights movements in the Communist bloc put pressure on their own governments, calling on them to adhere to their own constitutions and live up to their international commitments. The councils of Ex-Muslims urge authorities in the European countries to treat them as citizens with individual rights and insist that they have the right to exercise their right to freedom of religion, including the right to leave religion, a trivial right to us in the West, but in the Muslim world that is by no means the case. If the Ex-Muslims succeed they will make a huge contribution to the process of integration in Europe and serve as role models for people in the Muslim world.

Mina Ahadi, a courageous woman living in Cologne, Germany, founded the Council of Ex-Muslims in February this year. In voicing their defiance of Islamists in Europe members of the council put individual photos and their names on a website under the label, ”We have renounced religion.”

Renouncing Islam is punished by death in a number of countries including Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Yemen, Afganistan, Pakistan and Sudan. In other parts of the world apostates are being shunned by family and friends. Thus, this act is a choice that brings about serious consequences, and since the announcement of the Council in February, Mina Ahadi has been living under police protection. Though this may have intimidated potential followers of the movement, its ranks in Germany alone have surged from 40 to 400, a very encouraging development.

Death threats are nothing new to Mina Ahadi. A year or so after the Iranian revolution in 1979 the secret police showed up at her house in Tabriz. Fortunately, she was out, but her husband and five guests were taken into custody and executed by the Islamic government a short time after. Ahadi, 24-years old at the time, went into hiding and years later she fled to the West.

She settled in Cologne, Germany, where she has been following the appeasement of the authorities towards political Muslim organizations with growing bewilderment and unease.

”I know Islam and for me it means death and pain,” she said to Der Spiegel in February.

”I haven’t been a Muslim for 30 years. I am also critical of Islam in Germany and of the way the German government deals with the issue of Islam.”

What does Mina Ahadi mean by that?

”When we are speaking about people coming from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Turkey, they are all being labeled Muslims. In doing so we put 3.5 million in the same category, though the only thing most of them have in common is the fact that they are human beings. We need a new way of thinking,” she said in a recent interview with Jyllands-Posten.

”Muslim organizations in Germany behave as if they represent all 3.5 million and the government and politicians accept it, but they represent 20,000 at most. The politicians are very naive and display a false tolerance. We want to stand up to political Islam and to Western governments that bow in and pursue a policy of cultural relativism. We have to finish this cozy diplomacy.”

The demands of the manifesto published on the website of the British Council of Ex-Muslims:

Taking the lead from the Central Council of Ex-Muslims in Germany, we demand:

  1. Universal rights and equal citizenship for all. We are opposed to cultural relativism and the tolerance of inhuman beliefs, discrimination and abuse in the name of respecting religion or culture.
  2. Freedom to criticise religion. Prohibition of restrictions on unconditional freedom of criticism and expression using so-called religious ‘sanctities’.
  3. Freedom of religion and atheism.
  4. Separation of religion from the state and legal and educational system.
  5. Prohibition of religious customs, rules, ceremonies or activities that are incompatible with or infringe people’s rights and freedoms.
  6. Abolition of all restrictive and repressive cultural and religious customs which hinder and contradict woman’s independence, free will and equality. Prohibition of segregation of sexes.
  7. Prohibition of interference by any authority, family members or relatives, or official authorities in the private lives of women and men and their personal, emotional and sexual relationships and sexuality.
  8. Protection of children from manipulation and abuse by religion and religious institutions.
  9. Prohibition of any kind of financial, material or moral support by the state or state institutions to religion and religious activities and institutions.
  10. Prohibition of all forms of religious intimidation and threats.