Sunday, March 10, 2013

No to Sharia!

 As an atheist, I was exhilarated to learn of a conference of ex-Muslim writers taking place in Frankfurt, three hours away from where I stay. It was on March 8th to celebrate the International Women’s Day. The panel consisted of celebrated women writers who have spoken in spades against the grave injustices perpetrated by Islamofacist regimes and on a bandwidth of other issues in West and South Asian regions. I would have an opportunity to meet Taslima Nasrin and Maryam Namazie. A friend even offered to sponsor the train journey if I can make a report of the event. The offer was too tempting to let go. I decided to travel to Frankfurt.
The event took place in a student building in Goethe-Universität. I have not seen such a university building. It was adorned with political graffiti, with not an inch spared, filled with expletives against capitalism, Nazism, sexism etc. Though I have to remark that Germany is left-leaning – a place where the American left would be considered almost to the right -, this was no ordinary place. It seemed like a left bastion. Leftists on steroids. I went up to the first floor. I was preparing for my bags to be checked. Isn't such a conference capable of attracting some threats? But nothing. They were pretty cool about it. They allowed me in handing a pamphlet about the conference headlined with a quote from Taslima Nasrin.“Es gibt viele moderate Moslems, doch der Islam selber ist nicht moderat”. There are many moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate.
There are many moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate -Taslima Nasrin

The conference was kick-started by videos of feminist movements by FEMEN known for their bold topless protests, who attempt to arrest attention by using sexuality for political purposes. It blended with the theme of the event filled with bold writers known for holding no punches back. The video that stood out the most to me was the women in Stockholm protesting hijab imposed by the Iranian government.
Some of the writers could not make it. The Egyptian feminist and writer, Nawal El Saadawi sent a video message. She talked of her participation is Egyptian revolution. She castigated varied kinds of oppression, ranging from capitalist class oppression to the Islamist oppression. The list of writers who could not make it sadly also included Taslima Nasrin. I was very disappointed. She was apparently entangled with a legal case filed against her back in her home country. I did not get the exact reasons since many of the announcements were made in German. “Life’s too short to learn German”.

Houzan Mahmoud with Maryam Namazie
There were many writers on the dais whom I was not completely familiar with. One such writer took me aback was an Iraqi Kurdish writer, Houzan Mahmoud. I later figured out that her articles have been regularly published in The Guardian. She had essentially expanded the theme of conference from Sharia Law to all kinds of injustices. She insisted that we need not only strongly oppose Islamofascist regimes who indulge in public hangings and stoning every Friday. But also oppose neo-liberal capitalist forces, the 1% who have usurped power and resources. I was a bit surprised at the mention of Occupy movement.  But who better understands the tyranny of capitalism than the people who have lived under it. Who were invaded to be liberated but ended up bringing Islamist governments to regime, with 1,033,000 people killed until as on August 2007, tearing apart the region into warring Islamic militia resulting in the worst sectarian violence, drastically rising crimes against women, resulting in a total break down of law. Women in post-Saddam Iraq have been traded $200 for a virgin and $100 for non-virgins to neighboring countries. She talked about how her country was ravaged with dictatorships and wars, where one has had no sense of normalcy. 
She asked for the entire political structure to be dismantled, support progressive socialist movements. Any right wing conservative party would lead to human rights violations. She remarked how free market policies and privatization in Iraq has adversely affected women. She said the struggle needs to be for universal rights, a struggle for justice. This was followed by a German translation of her speech. The hall was ensued with loud applause.
Maryam Namzie giving a table thumping speech
Maryam Namzie giving a table thumping speech
Then came the moment I was waiting for. Maryam Namazie stood up and headed towards the lectern. She had picture illustrations to accompany her speech. She said smiling to the largely German audience that they can look at the pictures to get some idea if they did not understand what she spoke.  Maryam Namazie started talking about modern forms of resistance movements. From the Arab Spring to Harlem shake. Harlem shake is the latest internet meme that has hit YouTube where people do crazy dance moves to a song. This was used by hundreds of protesters who danced outside the headquarters of the Muslim brotherhood in Cairo.

Harlem Shake at headquarters of Muslim brotherhood. Source: Mashable
She said, “Even if you are not looking, it is becoming impossible not to see the immense modern resistance taking place day in and day out even in the darkest corners of the globe”. She called this the new period of development after many decades of Islamic terrorism, US-led militarism,  unbridled free-market reign and the retreat of all things universal. She referred to the Occupy protests across the globe, that much of the protests today are to do with occupying public spaces, citizens taking back control, from Egypt to Wall Street. Its demands are deeply rooted in the criticism of the current economic crisis, capitalism, inequality, mass unemployment, poverty as well as dictatorship and Islamism.
The Arab spring of winter does a disservice to the female revolution. It denies its existence by only focusing on Islamism and oppressive forces
She remarked that the hallmark of this era is the high visibility of women in resistance movements. She likened this to a female revolution that challenged and attempts to bring to an end the racist cultural relativism and multiculturalism. She said the Arab spring in winter -which focused on Islamism and oppressive forces- is doing a great disservice to this female revolution by denying its very existence. It was followed by a loud applause. But she was quick to point out that Islam still to this day unlike others would sentence apostates to death in all countries under Islamic rule. It is not that Christianity is any better but today we are living in the era of Islamic Inquisition. Hence, criticism of Islam is key.
“By disregarding this resistance, the much needed solidarity and support for this has been hindered. The foot soldiers of this revolution are workers, the unemployed, the youth, the women, the poor. Islamists did not spearhead the revolution, nor were they instrumental in them. They were no where to be seen. The demands of the revolution were not Islamist demands. People were chanting for education, bread and healthcare while the Islamists were saying no Bikinis!”. The Islamist demands of Sharia and veil were not people’s demands. The gain for the Islamists is a gain for the establishment.
The foot soldiers of this revolution are workers, the unemployed, the youth, the women, the poor. Islamists did not spear head the revolution, nor were they instrumental in them
She insisted speaking to the largely European audience that criticism of Islam, Sharia or the veil does not amount to racism. She used the example of the Saudi government that arrested 23-year-old journalist, Hamza Kashgari. He had tweeted that women in Saudi Arabia cannot go to hell since they are already living in one. He was arrested for apostasy and blasphemy with a pending death sentence. But when other countries accuse Saudi government of spotty human rights record, Saudi government accuses them of racism. She also castigated many postmodernist left groups for allying with Islamist groups and coining the term Islamophobia used to scaremonger people into silence. She further goes on to say that this does not mean that racism does not exist against Muslims and makes the important point that far right does use Sharia and Islamism to promote its racist far right agenda.
Sharia law is a code of death and despair
She later on goes to describe the inhumanities of Sharia law particularly against women. Iran has nearly 130 offences that are punishable by death. She called Sharia law “a code of death and despair”. She agreed that all religions are anti-women and needs to come with a health warning, “Religion kills”. 
It was followed by a loud applause. But she was quick to point out that Islam still to this day unlike others would sentence apostates to death in all countries under Islamic rule. It is not that Christianity is any better but today we are living in the era of Islamic Inquisition. Hence, criticism of Islam is key.

All religions need to come with a health warning, “RELIGION KILLS”
She brought the interesting point that Islamic laws is an exercise to control people, every single aspect of women’s lives. Though there are positive differences in Sharia Law in different countries, it is not because of progressive interpretations but because of progressive social movements aimed at secularization of rights. She said the right to religion is a personal right. Religion as a part of state, education system, judicial system is the end of any form of  equality, choice, rights, freedom. It is no longer personal beliefs but a question of political power. She supports the french system of secularism, Laïcité, which requires a strict separation of religion and state. The belief that the more regressive and reactionary you are, the more authentic Muslim you are is Islamism’s narrative.  No where is resistance against Islamism greater than the countries under Islamic rule. She ended her table-thumping speech with roaring applause in the hall.
No where is resistance against Islamism greater than the countries under Islamic rule.
It is time for Q&A. I grabbed the microphone and with my shaking voice congratulated the panel for expanding the discussion to all kinds of injustices, social and economic injustices. I had to ask the question lingering in my mind. I told them that I was from India which has a Hindu majority and and a Muslim minority. There are injustices within the Muslim society against women, though one of the major concerns there is the majoritarian intolerance of the Hindu right. I told her how when I shared links critical of Islam, it was latched on quickly by the Hindu right who cherry-picked talking points, many a time distorted arguments and used them to attacks Muslims. 
Riot started after 59 Hindus were burnt by a Muslim mob
I also pointed to her how after the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 that resulted in brutal massacre of thousands of Muslims, criticisms of Islam have been used to justify these attacks. She had something very interesting to respond to it. She said this is not unique to India. Indeed, European right indulges in furthering their racist agenda the exact same way. Despite that, however ugly it is, we need to speak the truth. If the left does not speak up against the ugliness and injustices of Islamism, this space will be filled by the right with their racist agenda. One thing that was clear to me by the end of the conference was the difference between the criticism of the left and right against Islam. The criticism from the left comes against regressive laws and regimes trying to suppress people. It is a robust defense of the women, the men, the children against this repression. While the criticism of the right is targeted against these very people who are being repressed.
Then continued some conversations in German. Followed by Iranian food served at the cafe. I decided to take leave after this. While I was leaving, I happened to notice Maryam Namazie by herself at the table full of books on display. I quickly took out the camera and ran towards her. She recognized me. She even asked me for my email address so that she could add me to a mailing list. I asked her how she could speak with such candor, so fearlessly given the antecedents of Salman Rushie and Hirsi Ali. She said jovially, I get a few death threats now and then. But never mind! There are people who suffer manifold more. I have to speak up for them. I could barely smile for the photo. I had just experienced for the first time how it feels to be star-struck. I had to miss the party that followed because I had a train to board back home. I walked back to the train station straining my neck staring at the glittering skyscrapers of Frankfurt.
Written by Amith  and earlier posted on his blog... here 

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