take a stand against Islam and Sharia
Date: 16 Mar 2008
Subject: It's time to take a stand against Islam and Sharia
It's time to take a stand against Islam and Sharia
The Times, UK
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Maryam Namazie, head of the Council of
Ex-Muslims in Britain, says that rights are for
individuals, not religions or beliefs
Picture this, says Maryam Namazie: "A child is
swathed in cloth from head to toe every day.
Everything but her face and hands are covered for
fear that a man might find her attractive. At
school she learns that she is worth less than a
boy. She is not allowed to dance or swim or feel
the sun on her skin or the wind in her hair. This
is clearly unacceptable, yet it is accepted when
it is done in the name of religion."
Namazie is the founder of the Council of
Ex-Muslims in Britain (CEMB) which started life in
the middle of last year. On Monday -- in
celebration of the centenary of International
Women's Day -- she spoke at a conference on
Political Islam and Women's Rights, and launched a
campaign against Sharia.
Iranian Muslim by birth, Namazie, 41, is friendly
and softly spoken. But she does not mince her
words. It takes nerve to start an organisation for
people who have rejected Islam. In Islamic law,
apostasy is punishable by death. Namazie receives
periodic threats, usually on her mobile phone:
"One said, 'You are going to be decapitated'...I
went to the police. They were very attentive at
first because they thought it might be linked to
the attempted bombings in Glasgow . But when they
realised it wasn't, they never bothered contacting
me again." Doesn't she worry about her safety?
"Yes, I do, frequently. I worry about whether I
will live, especially now I am a mother. If I see
someone looking at me strangely, I wonder." Why
doesn't she use a pseudonym? "They can find out
who you are anyway. And the point of the Council
of Ex-Muslims is to stand up and be counted." She
doesn't really like the label ex-Muslim and would
prefer not to frame her identity in religious
terms but, she says, it is like gays "coming out"
30 years ago: something has to become public if
you are to break taboos. The CEMB has more than
100 members with inquiries from people who do not
dare to join. "Some have horrendous stories but do
not put them on the website because they are
Namazie's grandfather was a mullah and her father
was brought up a strict Muslim. Both of her
parents (now living in America) remain Muslim.
When Namazie told her father about the launch of
the CEMB, she remembers that he said: "Oh no,
Grandpa is going to be turning in his grave." "So
I told him that what I am doing benefits Muslims,
too, because if you live in a secular society, you
can be a Muslim, a Sikh, a Christian or an atheist
and be treated equally." Namazie's opposition to
state religion is informed by her own experience.
She was 12 when the Iranian revolution "was
hijacked by the Ayatollahs" and her country became
the Islamic Republic of Iran.
"I had never worn the veil and was at a mixed
school. Suddenly a strange man appeared in the
playground. He was bearded and had been sent to
separate the sexes -- but we ran circles round
him." She can still picture, too, the face of "the
Hezbollah" who stopped her in the street because
her head was uncovered. "I was 12 or 13. It was
really scary." Worse happened to others: "There
were beatings and acid was thrown in women's
faces, and there were executions on television
every day," she says. Then her school was closed
Namazie and her mother left for India. They lived
in a B&B in Delhi and Namazie attended the British
School while her father and three-year-old sister
remained in Tehran. This was meant to be a
temporary measure, but soon her father --a
journalist -- decided that they all had to leave.
The family spent a year in Bournemouth before
travelling to the US where, when Namazie was 17,
they were granted residency.
At university, she joined the United Nations
Development Programme and went to work with
Ethiopian refugees in Sudan. "Six months after I
arrived Sudan became an Islamic state. I was,
like, this is following me around!" Along with
others, Namazie started an unofficial human rights
organisation, gathering information on the
government. The Sudanese security service called
her in for questioning. "I wasn't very respectful
and the UN guy who came with me said, 'No wonder
your parents took you out of Iran'. The Sudanese
guy threatened me, saying, 'you don't know what
will happen to you. You might have a motorbike
accident or something'." The UN quietly put her on
a plane home.
This was a turning point, shifting her from
non-practising Muslim to atheist. Two decades on,
she is devoting her life to opposing religious
power. She is in the midst of organising the first
international conference of Ex-Muslims, to be held
in London on October 10. And she is about to
launch a "no Sharia" campaign.
She must have been shocked, I suggest, when the
Archbishop of Canterbury said the introduction of
some Sharia in Britain was unavoidable. No, she
says; she wasn't even surprised. "It was quite
apt, although he didn't expect the reaction he
got. It was an attack on secularism really. It is,
in a sense, to his benefit if there are Muslim
schools and Sharia. It makes it less likely that
anyone will oppose Christian schools and the
privileged place of religion in society."
She is adamant, though, that no form of Sharia
should be allowed here. "It is fundamentally
discriminatory and misogynist," she says and is
dismissive of the idea that people would be able
to choose between Sharia and civil jurisdiction.
Women could be railroaded into a Sharia court, she
says. "This would hit people who need the
protection of British law more than anyone else."
She believes that we are confused about the
meaning of human rights. "Rights are for
individuals, not for religions or beliefs. 'Every
human is equal' does not mean that every belief is
equal." Islamists portray themselves as victims,
she says, and policymakers have bought into this.
Namazie says that the Muslim Council of Britain
should not be seen as representative of British
Muslims --but would nonetheless welcome any
opportunities to debate with it. "Ex-Muslims are
in a good position to challenge political Islam,"
she says. "We must not let little girls or anyone
else lose their human rights. We can't tolerate
the intolerable for any reason -- including
Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain