Human Rights Approach
At the first conference of the CEMB, there was two things underlying the talks: that human rights require that people are protected, rather than groups or religions. The other was that political Islam is different from many other religions because it rejects the distinction between private and public aspects of modern life – and rejects the secular notion that your faith should do no harm to others. Ideas are protected by blood, whether by the death of Apostates, or threats to the life of those that speak out against Islam.
Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive — the risk to be alive and express what we really are. – Don Miguel Ruiz
In Conway Hall, where the conference took place, above the stage by the celling emblazoned on the wall is To thine Own Self Be True. In a pluralistic society that should not be difficult – where more then one idea can be accepted. A.C Grayling made the point that tolerance should not be easy, while you should not move to the point that you tolerate the intolerant. Sharia Law does not treat women and men equally before the court, and many women do not speak English – to claim that the whole process is voluntary when British law has rights for women from dividing estates to custody of children is absurd when there is in reality no access to the law of the land in Muslim communities for women.
Ahadi made the point though that how the left and the right of politics deal with this issue is wrong. The right that it is a threat to the British way of life, while on the left that different cultures need to be accommodated. In practise the question is do we want a European ideal or a human rights ideal? The dutch politician Ehsan Jami seemed to be of the former notion, requiring an end to dual citizenship with an Islamic country. As Ahadi mentioned, the debate had changed since 9/11 from foreigners as they were called to being called Muslim – even though she had renounced Islam and many refugees were escaping political Islam.
Apostasy by its nature rejects free expression – the penalty being death in some countries, though whether the Koran itself advocates such punishment is disputed. In that sense one would hope that one day those that view the afterlife as being the judgement would prevail. However Sharia Law is gaining acceptance in Muslim countries, and even in Britain is established supposedly on a voluntary basis for civil matters but legal sanction given to the outcome of cases. Sharai Law was likened to a Trojan Horse that political Islam uses to take on the apparatus of the state.
in that use of free expression we have to make the distinction that we are against Islamophobia. This is a struggle of ideology on the nature of the relationship between the state and citizens. It may be argued that the only logical consequence is that you have to allow all forms of speech to allow criticism and guard freedom, with Pooya arguing that it should unlimited, unconditional. A.C. Grayling made the point that you had to be very specific about the limitations – which namely should be on what you cannot choose as a person. For example: gender, age, race but religious belief is free game because you consciously choose that.
One video that was shown was Fitna Remade which outlines the case rather well (without the Islamophoba immigration bashing of the original documentary).
Islamic Penal Code
President Ahmadinejad has been supporting efforts to have the death penalty for Apostasy judicially sanctioned once again. Iran needs to know that the world is watching – the Islamic Penal Code would allow men to be executed for abandoning Islam, with women serving life imprisonment. The Iranian Parliament voted 196 in favour with 7 against. This goes against the existing constitution in Iran.
On one subject, however, sharia law is unequivocal: men who change their religion from Islam must be punished with death. So when the judge heard the case of Rashid’s father, he could refer to sharia and reach a straightforward decision: the death penalty. There was no procedure for appeal.
Nevertheless, in the 18 years since Hossein Soodmand’s execution, there have been no judicially sanctioned killings of apostates in Iran, although there have been many reports of disappearances and even murders. “As the number of converts from Islam grows,” notes Ms Papadouris, “apostasy has again become a serious concern for the Iranian government.” In addition to 10,000 Christian converts living in Iran, there are several hundred thousand Baha’is who are deemed apostates.
There is another factor: President Ahmadinejad. “The President didn’t initiate the law mandating the death penalty for apostates,” says Papadouris, “but he has been lobbying for it. It is an effective form of playing populist politics. The Iranian economy is doing very badly, and the country is in a mess: Ahmadinejad may be calculating that he can gain support, and deflect attention from Iran’s problems, by persecuting apostates.”
The new law is not yet in force in Iran: it requires another vote in parliament, and then the signature of the Ayatollah. But that could happen within a matter of weeks. “Or,” says Papadouris, “it could conceivably be allowed to drop, were there a powerful enough international outcry”.
Time may be running out for Rashin’s brother. She believes that the new law will be applied in an arbitrary fashion, with individuals selected for death being chosen to frighten others into submission. That is why she fears for her brother. “We just don’t know what will happen to him. We only know that if they want to kill him, they will.” [Daily Telegraph]