Thursday, April 14, 2011

Women's Rights, Sharia Law, and Secularism

In the United States there appears to be broad agreement among liberal- and progressive-minded people to turn a blind eye to Sharia. They have convinced themselves that Shaira is not a real issue, and that anyone who expresses concern about Sharia is automatically a bigoted xenophobe.

This is a potentially catastrophic mistake for everyone who upholds the foundational principles of liberal democracy: human equality, individual liberty, and separation of church and state.

The situation is similar in Europe, but fortunately somewhat better. Which is ironic because no European nation has anything approaching the historical relationship with liberal democracy that the United States has. Indeed, aside from Switzerland and the U.K., every nation of Europe spent some significant portion of the 20th century under totalitarian rule, and quite often this fate was at least partially self-imposed by fascist or communist movements that were supported by a substantial portion of the population.

Possibly it is precisely because Europeans have so much more recent experience, up close and personal, with totalitarianism and also with theocracy, that there is at least some amount of concern expressed over Sharia coming from people who are not right-wing xenophobic Christians. Something like this is suggested by the statement of 12 prominent writers (including Salman Rushdie and Ayan Hirsi Ali) published in the leftwing French paper Charlie Hebdo in 2006 under the headline: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism.

But however ironic it is, and whatever the reasons are, it is nevertheless a good thing that we can look to Europe and find genuine examples of humanists, feminists, and leftists who realize that stopping Sharia, and rolling it back wherever it has gained a foothold, is an urgent necessity.

Below is the press release put out by the UK based One Law For All campaign announcing a conference they held last month on "Women's Rights, Sharia Law, and Secularism". Extensive information on the conference, including videos of the entire procedings, can be found at the One Law For All website here.

To mark and celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day, a one day conference was held on 12 March 2011 to discuss the impact of religion on the lives of women. The conference was organised by One Law for All and the International Committee against Stoning, Iran Solidarity, and Equal Rights Now.

The day started with an opening address by renowned philosopher A C Grayling which was followed by a hugely successful conference with speakers from across the world creating a vibrant and very important debate.

Issues explored included the impact of religion on women’s rights – and whether religion is compatible with women’s rights – and whether it should be curtailed in the interests of the rights and equality of women. A discussion on religion and secularism looked at the relationship between religion and secularism and whether these are interdependent, complimentary or contradictory. It followed with a discussion on religion and the law –looking at religion’s influence on law and law makers, and on the importance of secularism and a closing address by Maryam Namazie.

Speakers included: Ahlam Akram, Executive Committee member of the Arab Jewish Forum and Joint Action for Israeli Palestinian Peace (UK), Helle Merete Brix, Writer and Commentator on free speech and the rise of political Islam (Denmark), Philipp Bekaert, Member of Réseau d’Actions pour la Promotion d’un Etat Laïque (Belgium), Julie Bindel, Journalist and Campaigner to end violence against women and children (UK), Patty Debonitas, Spokesperson of Iran Solidarity (UK), Nadia Geerts, Co-founder of Réseau d’Action pour la Promotion d’un Etat laïque (Belgium), Maria Hagberg, Chairperson of the Network Against Honour-Related Violence (Sweden), Anne-marie Lizin, Honorary Speaker of the Belgian Senate and Coordinator of the Association against Honour Crimes and Forced Marriages (Belgium), Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson of One Law for All, Equal Rights Now and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (UK), Elizabeth O’Casey, Vice-President of the National Secular Society (UK), David Pollock, President of the European Humanist Federation (UK), Fariborz Pooya, Director of Iranian Secular Society (UK), Yasmin Rehman Campaigner against violence against women and for community cohesion (UK), Gita Sahgal, Writer, Journalist and Women’s Rights Activist (UK), Nina Sankari, President of the European Feminist Initiative (Poland), Sohaila Sharifi, Women’s Rights Activist (UK), Annie Sugier, Cofounder of the League of Women’s International Rights (France), Michèle Vianès, President of Regards de Femmes (France), and Anne Marie Waters, Spokesperson of One Law for All (UK).

There was also a reading of Ghazi Rabihavi’s play ‘Stoning’ – ‘A very strong and powerful piece of work, beautifully constructed’ as described by Harold Pinter.