Tag Archives: theocracy

The Betrayal Of Believers To Theocracy

Too often I hear that the vast majority of atheists have no issues with religion. Clearly they have enough of an issue not to be religious themselves. Worryingly, the use of anti-theism to denote hatred of religious people by atheists themselves, is up there with using islamophobia rather than anti-muslim hate.

It is as if theism was just another idea in the market place, just another product. One that desperately needs a health warning. It poisons everything. Including secular liberal principles.

Not least when an unholy alliance is being offered with theocrats by some atheists. I am dismayed by British Humanist Association (BHA) stance: 

In a debate with me a few years ago, the then Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips (now a BHA trustee) called Sharia courts “people’s right to religion”. Andrew Copson, its Chief Executive, has stated on Facebook on 8 December 2014 that he had visited a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council with three of his fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life and was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do”. [Maryam Namazie]

It is fine for a woman to go to arbitration for a faith where men say prayers thanking God they were not born a woman or where a woman has less standing in civil matters than a man. The tradition of patriarchy and demeaning women given sanction as religious freedom.

Thus do we betray feminism and the equality of citizens by bending over backwards to say we are not anti-religion by putting theocracy before these values. Religion having a role in civil law is a base camp for extremists to exploit. The radicals do not need the legislature when they can rule on family life in the community.

So we help to oppress the very people we claim have a choice. That is how people wash their hands of it.

In the Law Society debacle where the Society had endorsed discriminatory practices by issuing Sharia-compliant guidance on wills, the current BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, wrote: “The issue has been totally blown out of proportion… It’s just advice so that solicitors can provide a service to (Sunni) Muslim clients who want a will that fits with their beliefs. It does not claim to do any more than that.” 

Many women’s rights groups, including Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, Nari Diganta, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation and One Law for All disagreed and campaigned against the guidance, which was eventually withdrawn. The Law Society made a very public apology for endorsing discrimination. [Ibid]

It misses how religion impacts on society – how as Hitchens mentions religion poisons everything. In a race to say it is not religion, but people who are at fault, we forget religion is a creation of the human mind. As such it is subject to fault, to being a product of its time and the machinations of a believer or cleric. Where even good people can do terrible things because they think the unimaginable.

Religious freedom is about protecting people in their opinion on religion and in their practise. That cannot come from diminishing the equality of citizens before the law. That is the argument against religious councils ruling on civil matters. Why legal advice that promoted discrimination based on extreme interpretation of religious doctrine was inexcusable.

In the name of avoiding appearing anti-religious, I cannot betray the secularist principles that uphold the equality of citizens. We must not help religious hardliners in their community obtain power. The supposed tyranny of equality nazis is about ending discrimination in society and the use of the law to do so. For some reason, many want to abandon it where it does not directly affect them as non believers. Handing some keys over in the hope that it will prevent radicalization penetrating deeper. Neglecting that theocracy in the modern age only needs the run of civil matters, rather than the legislature, to influence the everyday life of citizens. The attitude of some atheists seems to be: the fringes are the front line let us appear to on the moral high ground.

When you see that wall of separation between church and state laid siege too, then once more unto the breach dear friends. Let us seal it with our arguments, for too many have done so with their bodies in the world. Under theocratic law and fundamentalist hands they died. Under one law for all we stand.

In this, to rally when many a leader has already called the retreat as they flee to the supposed high ground to keep themselves safe, do watch the video above which is a few minutes long. It is a highlight of Christopher Hitchens debate with Tony Blair. It is the reason why theism needs countering. Why secularism is important.

Watch, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and by argument shall we not let the wall fall. For we shall make it bigger.

Freedom needs to be defended. Both against fundamentalists and those cultural relativists that will willingly betray the human rights of others as long as they are ok.

I am against theism because I value humanity too much to see its freedoms and lives sacrificed to false gods. Universal human rights are for everyone – which is why theocracy must be opposed.

Update 25 March 2015

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association has written a full reply to Maryam Namazie’s article, from which I quote three paragraphs above.

It is republished with Andrew’s permission:

The BHA, on grounds of equality and human rights, opposes any legal recognition of norms which contradict these principles. We do not consider sharia to be ‘law’ and we do not consider the bodies advising on it to be ‘courts’. The secular civil and criminal law binds everyone and there should be no exemptions from it for any alternative jurisdictions within the UK. We have promoted this view to successive governments and to a wide variety of other public bodies over the years and today.

I have responded to some of the points in the blog you quote below. (The quotes from the blog are the bits in italics.)

In a debate with me a few years ago, the then Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips (now a BHA trustee) called Sharia courts “people’s right to religion”.

What Naomi said was that, in situations where parties were free from coercion and no laws were being broken, access to religion-based dispute resolution was a right for religious people in a liberal society that respects freedom of association. She also said that there should never be any implication that this sort of arbitration was law. Speaking shortly afterwards she said, ‘‘Many religious “laws” are inherently gender unequal, and as such are antithetical to the principles of democracy and the rule of law which we uphold in a liberal democracy. We welcome any clarification that religious laws, judges and tribunals should have no de facto or legal recognition in English law and have no standing in our domestic courts, as this new Bill may seek to do. Just as important is that government and others should undertake serious and wide-ranging work to ensure that women and men from every part of society, right from school age, understand their civil rights as citizens.’ You can see this statement at https://humanism.org.uk/2011/06/09/news-822/

Andrew Copson, its Chief Executive, has stated on Facebook on 8 December 2014 that he had visited a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council with three of his fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life and was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do”.

This is a misleading and selective quote as it gives the impression that I support sharia “courts” and that the BHA does. Both impressions would be untrue but in fact, this is a quote from a post on my personal Facebook wall made in a private capacity. As such, I consider it to be firmly in the realm of my private life. However, since it has been selectively quoted in this way and made public, I am willing to reproduce it in full for you, although with strong reservations about this conflation between my private life and my employment:

Visited the London Beth Din of the Chief Rabbi of the United (Orthodox) Synagogues and the Islamic Shari’a Council today as part of a fact-finding trip with three of my fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life.

Having heard how they operate, examined their cases, and spoken to the men and women who run them, I’m left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do. In civil matters, the Beth Din make arbitrations just as any other private organisation may do under law if the parties consent. The Shari’a Council was founded in 1982 to give religious divorces to women who were unable to get them and now makes judgments on religious matters alone which are quite outside of the law. They both seem to me to operate entirely within the private sphere and – where their activities intersect with anything that falls under English law – they do not act unlawfully.

I’m still left with a lot of humanist reasons why I wish people didn’t want to use them though. It’s a shame that religious people – like those I spoke to today – feel that they should comply with scriptural injunctions which treat men and women unequally and impose what I think of as unreasonable, unfair, and irrelevant restrictions on behaviour. And that they do this even though they agree that these principles are unfair – as some today did – amazes me!

If you want to do something about that, though, it has to be through culture rather than the law, right? Or *are* there ways in which public agencies should intervene to influence people not to use these voluntary services?

And here’s another question. One of the women who runs the Shari’a Council said how worried she was about growing literalism and conservatism (an imam I was speaking to last week said the same) of some Muslims and panels set up to make judgments under shari’a in the UK. What is a good response by wider society to that? Would encouraging the liberal shari’a councils, which interpret scriptural injunctions in light of moral contexts and social reality, risk legitimising them? And might it have the opposite effect anyway? Would giving approval to them risk undermining the liberal councils in the eyes of disaffected and defensive Muslims who would feel that those councils were (because sanctioned) less authentic than the more conservative and literal-minded councils to which they might then flock?

Lots to think about on this Commission!

I’m sure you will agree this is not an endorsement of sharia based decision making.

 

In the Law Society debacle where the Society had endorsed discriminatory practices by issuing Sharia-compliant guidance on wills, the current BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, wrote: “The issue has been totally blown out of proportion… It’s just advice so that solicitors can provide a service to (Sunni) Muslim clients who want a will that fits with their beliefs. It does not claim to do any more than that.”

Many women’s rights groups, including Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, Nari Diganta, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation and One Law for All disagreed and campaigned against the guidance, which was eventually withdrawn. The Law Society made a very public apology for endorsing discrimination.

This quote is taken from an email sent by Pavan to a private email group run by ‘End Violence Against Women’ in which she was arguing that the issue of the practice note had been blown out of proportion in the media and elsewhere. I think she was right – there was widespread public misapprehension that the law had somehow been changed, which was untrue.

Nonetheless, you can believe that something has been blown out of proportion but still not think it is good, and the BHA was against the practice note and not in favour of it as is wrongly claimed here. We met with the Chief Executive of the Law Society and other Law Society staff to voice our opposition to it. (As far as I know, none of the other groups listed here did so.) And we welcomed its withdrawal when it came (at which point we received the same letter from the Law Society that all other groups that had voiced their opposition received. You can see the story at https://humanism.org.uk/2014/11/24/bha-statement-withdrawal-law-society-practice-note-sharia-wills/)

Those who defend Sharia courts or Sharia-compliant wills as people’s “right to religion” don’t see or don’t want to see that Sharia law is one of the pillars of Islamist rule as is terrorism. It is in fact a form of terrorism against the population at large. This point of view will rightly condemn the hacking to death of Avijit Roy or Raif Badawi’s flogging but will tell those wearing Jesus and Mo cartoons or loudly proclaiming their apostasy that they are “out to offend”, implying that it is the way we criticise or mock Islam that brings on the threats. They also often conflate a criticism with Islam with an attack on Muslims, thereby implying that our the manner of our criticism feeds into racism and “Islamophobia”.

In relation to Jesus and Mo cartoons, we have never done anything other than actively championed the right of our student affiliates to free expression and worked hard to support them both with legal support and media assistance (e.g. https://humanism.org.uk/2013/10/04/lsesu-atheist-secularist-humanist-society-incident-freshers-fair/ and https://humanism.org.uk/2012/10/05/news-1124/ and many more) . We haven’t said any of the other things here either – in fact, we’ve frequently said the opposite.

Alom Shaha, a trustee of the BHA, said in a debate on Islam at the 2014 World Humanist Congress: “You can express whatever views you like but as people have pointed out the expression of your views has consequences, and if one of the consequences of your views, the expression of your views, is that there is hatred and intolerance of other human beings, I’m just simply suggesting that you consider how you express your views. I think the term Islamophobia is indeed problematic; perhaps I should have used the term anti-Muslim bigotry…”

At this event (at which we also invited Maryam to speak), Alom was of course not speaking on behalf of the BHA but as a prominent ex-Muslim and writer and thinker on these issues. Nonetheless, I can’t see anything wrong with what he is saying; he seems to me to be making a reasonable point.

Whilst groups like the BHA rightly condemn the Sharia court sentence of stoning to death for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in Iran, they cannot find “a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do” when it comes to Britain.

As stated above, this is not the position of the BHA.

I do not know why these claims have been made on this blog but I hope the responses above address your concerns.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Secular Conference London 2014: The Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights

Imagine a conference where over two thirds of the speakers are women. From across the world. Artists, professors, authors, journalists, human rights activists. One who feared having children because of the threat to their lives.

You are told in no uncertain terms the consequence of colonialism, and how the war on terror has deliberately strengthened extremists. It happened during the Cold War. History repeats itself, with insanity expecting a different result.

That while attending the conference, you do not just deal with what hits the media. You hear about projects such as in Afghanistan, where women had to make their own centre (as no men would come near them to help work), yet their improvised skills were so good they were then asked if they would paint the mosque.

Moved when another recounts being abducted and held hostage the last time she attended such a conference as this; the fear from her voice pulling on your heart strings. Tears dripping onto your iPad as you blatantly tweet in your own name what is being said without a second thought of your own safety. That the song from a band in Indonesia called “Sister In Danger” is not lyrical invention. When protestors of a movie in Tunisia move their hand across their Adam’s apple in a slicing motion it is not just bravado.

A professor recounts hearing shots ring out on campus one evening. He rushed out to a former student who had become a faculty member. Bleeding to death, no other staff came to aid one of their own. There is no one else from the university either to join the professor at the mourning prayers. The assassinated man is Ahmadi, and even in death his blood can not wash away his heresy in a Pakistan State that declares them non muslims. He never was one of them after all, in life or death.

I did not have to imagine these voices – because Maryam Namazie gave them a platform. The conference was filmed and you can read my live tweets clicking on the tweet above, and following my timeline.

Please let me make this appeal. Regardless of what you think of God, how that manifests in your devotion or derision, humanity suffers too much in a brief time on earth. This is not an academic debate with timed responses. Celebrities on talk shows making points for applause or laughs.

The oppression done by extremists and religious nationalists is the concern of all humanity. It is by no means a complete solution to the hell on earth that exists. Only a beginning, and it starts with the idea that humanity is one and equal to each other.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Sam Harris We Need A Serious Narrative To Counter Islamism

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Sam Harris has written a blog post in the aftermath of prior to his appearance on Bill Maher’s show. On the show, Ben Affleck showed concern that all Muslims were being judged by one variant of extreme Islam as true in the whole world.

For Sam, as he stresses in his post, the true believers are ISIS. If you as a Muslim, who does not believe like ISIS in punishment for apostasy, blasphemy, or polytheism you are one of “many of whom do not take their religion very seriously.”

Rather an odd way for Harris to encourage such unserious Muslims:

Understanding and criticizing the doctrine of Islam—and finding some way to inspire Muslims to reform it—is one of the most important challenges the civilized world now faces.

While Sam calls his article Sleepwalking Into Armageddon I want to scream at Harris to wake up to reality. Calling people not serious Muslims is part of the religious fire which is helping the implosion throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Just ask an Ahmadi or a Shia.

Theocratic States are the problem. Whether Iran sentencing to death Mohsen Amir Aslani for stating Jonah being swallowed by a big fish was metaphor. Or Rafi Badawi sentenced to imprisonment and regular lashings hosting a liberal secular site in Saudi Arabia. About thirty countries deny basic human rights thanks to their blasphemy and apostate laws.

Such emotional human narrative was never used by Sam Harris or Bill Maher. It is the principle and concept, rather than using the names and examples of those dying by oppressive theocratic regimes. It comes across as an academic discourse that dehumanises people; it does not help us win over the emotional (but less informed) argument that Ben Affleck gave.

Sam Harris tries to use biblical scripture, and the teachings of Jesus, for why the West is secular.

Despite all the obvious barbarism in the Old Testament, and the dangerous eschatology of the New, it is relatively easy for Jews and Christians to divorce religion from politics and secular ethics. A single line in Matthew—“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”—largely accounts for why the West isn’t still hostage to theocracy.

Just one slight problem. That is not a literal interpretation of the Gospel. To quote from Reza Aslan’s “Zealot”:

The truth is that Jesus’s answer is as clear a statement as one can find in the gospels on where exactly he fell in the debate between the priests and the zealots—not over the issue of the tribute, but over the far more significant question of God’s sovereignty over the land. Jesus’s words speak for themselves: “Give back (apodidomi) to Caesar the property that belongs to Caesar . . .” The verb apodidomi, often translated as “render unto,” is actually a compound word: apo is a preposition that in this case means “back again”; didomi is a verb meaning “to give.” Apodidomi is used specifically when paying someone back property to which he is entitled; the word implies that the person receiving payment is the rightful owner of the thing being paid. In other words, according to Jesus, Caesar is entitled to be “given back” the denarius coin, not because he deserves tribute, but because it is his coin: his name and picture are stamped on it. God has nothing to do with it. By extension, God is entitled to be “given back” the land the Romans have seized for themselves because it is God’s land: “The Land is mine,” says the Lord (Leviticus 25:23). Caesar has nothing to do with it. So then, give back to Caesar what is his, and give back to God what belongs to God. That is the zealot argument in its simplest, most concise form. And it seems to be enough for the authorities in Jerusalem to immediately label Jesus as lestes. A bandit. A zealot. [Location Kindle 1520]

Does Sam Harris want Christians to take seriously that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews? Because that is the literal interpretation – real estate divinely given. Let no Caesar take away. We know the bloodshed such an idea of the Holy Land has led to.

Instead Sam has modified the text to suit a liberal secular agenda. That it is scripturally incorrect does not matter. His idea of what the scripture means is a perfect fit for the moderate Harris.

Woe betide any Muslims that attempt to do likewise with their Koran or Hadith. Sam already knows your scripture in a way he does not even know the bible. He has passed a fatwa that you are not a serious muslim. While twisting how Christianity is to fit a secular paradigm. Do as I say not as I do. It is a contradictory and frankly confused counter message.

So much for the counter narrative and the Christian secular narrative. On Bill Maher’s show again Maajid Nawaz (author of “Radical” and whom Sam Harris singles out as someone we should support) talks here about the ideological narrative of islamism – and how relatively new it is. Note how he gives the human emotional narrative I mentioned.

We need to make the case for universal human rights, and how a theocratic state prevents that. We need the concept of pluralism, that a religion is more varied than any claim to orthodoxy about one true version. Whether by a mullah or an atheist, the history of ideas and culture has shown different rivers flowing through time. Despite claims there is one true source, and one course to follow.

Tom Holland introduced me to the concept of various rivers flowing into the Koran, rather than my suggestion it was a plagiarised work. In the concluding part of his critical review of Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence” in today’s Sunday Times he states:

Islam, by militarising Christian notions such as martyrdom and spiritual struggle, then helped the Arabs forge the largest empire the world had ever seen.

From that point, the struggle for competitive advantage between Christian and Muslim powers would repeatedly witness the drafting of theologians as well as soldiers. Had Armstrong only set about tracing the evolution of such dynamics, she would have succeeded in endowing her book with the focus it so signally lacks.

We need to get serious about the human, the theological, ideological narrative of the evolution of islamism. Harris needs to get that sharp focus as does Armstrong. Until he does, his challenge will be dismissed by the very Muslims he is trying to inspire.

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In An Ideal World Gays Must Be Executed says Abdul Qadeer Baksh

Abdul Qadeer Baksh, Chairman of the Islamic Centre in Luton, states gays would be executed in an ideal world – an Islamic state. He defends holding this view because this, sharia, would only happen if all the British people wanted (consented) to it. Talking about Saudi Arabia he claims sharia acts as a deterrent – punishments rarely happen.

You know, like the ten years imprisonment and 2,000 lashes for dancing on a car at night naked.

Tommy Robinson replied to him that in an ideal Islamic state Abdul wants gay people to be too scared to be gay. Sadly that fear already exists, not just in Islamic States but in Islamic communities. Abdul was rightly taken to task for adding to that by the host Olly Mann.

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More on the ideal Islamic state can be found on Abdul’s blog and all quotes come from the same post The Five Higher Goals of Sharia Law – they are his words:

The purpose of the Islamic Law is for humans to achieve happiness in this world and the hereafter, by following the law of adopting the good and neglecting the bad.

The Islamic Law does not command anything that is not good for people, and it does not forbid anything that is not bad for them.

In an Islamic state we will be killed if we do not know what is good for us. Like being heterosexual. Procreation as a matter of life and death within marriage.

In order to protect the family, Islam forbids adultery, any other shameful deeds, and whatever leads to these deeds; such as the mixing of men and women.

In addition, Islam imposes the wearing of a veil for women in front of strange men to avoid seduction and sexual desire, for in Islam; women are precious jewels protected from being trifled with, misuse, and abuse.

The degeneration of women together with the veil. No Abdul I do not hear citizens of the UK calling for this to be imposed by law. What I am hearing is someone whose pretence at moderation is stretching credulity to breaking point. You do not speak for the Muslim people I know.

In the same post the Islamic state must deal with unbelievers:

Allah (S.W) obligated the community and the government to protect religion, to ease the means of practicing it. Thus, it must defend it; prevent every thing that leads to disobedience and disbelieving, by stopping the guilty and performing the punishments according to the law.

Now there is a huge difference between following a faith voluntarily without sanction, and in the Islamic state all will follow this or else punishments exist by force of law via sharia. The ideal state for Abdul Qadeer Baksh is quite simply hell on earth. The punishment for apostasy and being gay just a few examples. Remember the death penalty is good for you keeping the faith.

For Abdul these things enshrine “human rights.” To which I can only reply long live the secular state to protect us from the religious idealists that claim to be moderates. The enemies of reason that destroy language as they will an individual’s rights – rights that no state, faith or other person can take without violating another’s humanity. Universal human rights.

We are people, citizens. Using the freedoms we have to enjoy in our imperfect little state, may we expose the supposed “moderates” in our midst that would wish to have “happiness” ordained by law. These hell imposers of a black heart, and the destroyers of the human spirit that finds joy through life in all its diversity.

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Lejla Kurić Rebuts Mo Ansar On Women and Islam

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Regular readers will remember I covered Lejla Kurić’s post on Mo Ansar and Islamic extremism in Bangladesh and that she very kindly allowed me to use her illustration of Malala in my first Huffington Post piece on Assed Baig’s Skin Deep Analysis of the West and Malala.

Lejla has written her response to Mo Ansar’s interview on “Isn’t Islam Anti-Women?

Ansar arguably exaggerates the importance of Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, and claims that she has been smeared as a “child bride” by those hostile to Islam. He omits to mention that this is also what Islamic scripture, the Hadith, states and that, consequently, it is what many Muslims believe to be true. Ansar’s opinion may or may not have a historical basis but it goes completely against Islamic orthodoxy, which elsewhere he tries to persuade us is the way forward.

On Ansar’s idealised view of Sharia under the Ottoman Empire:

In the Ottoman Empire, Sharia Law governed uniquely Muslim affairs, and any disputes involving a Muslim party were therefore under the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts. Christians and Jews had similar autonomy in their communities. Qanun was legislation enacted by the Sultan, addressing matters not covered by Sharia, mainly relating to the functioning of state institutions. Furthermore, it was drafted by the Sultan’s private secretary, an Islamic scholar, to ensure there would be no conflict between Qanun & Sharia.

How describing Mo Ansar as a feminist leaves a bad taste in the mouth of Muslim feminists:

Feminism is a progressive movement of solidarity and ideas, which fights for the rights and opportunities women are denied for no other reason than that they are women. Ansar, meanwhile, is a religious traditionalist, and religious traditionalists are by their very nature reactionary. He denigrates the struggle for female emancipation and equality and yearns instead for a return to what he pretentiously calls “traditional models of male-female interplay”. That of course is his right in a democracy. But his views have no place in feminism and there is no reason why they should excite any attention whatsoever.

Do read the full post published today here.

You can read my earlier reply to Mo’s interview “Islam and Women” here.

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