Ziauddin Sardar has strange ideas about fame and fortune. If death threats and intimidation are what he is alluding to, then let him rest assured that there are better ways of getting there – most of them kowtowing to religion and Islam not the other way round.
Clearly, having an ‘ex’ in front of your name doesn’t make you one and the same with every other person or group using the prefix. There are also ex-servicemen, ex-political prisoner organisations and even Sardar’s newly founded Council of ex-Columnists and I am pretty sure they all have different aims and objectives from the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB). Just as the aims of the ex-Islamists are different.
As I have said in a New Statesman column a while back, publicly saying one is an ex-Muslim is important in a day and age when Islam has political power. Similarly, the right to criticise Islam – political Islam’s banner - is vital. Saying you are an ex-Christian or poking fun at Jesus and the pope today when Christianity has been reigned in by an enlightenment is not the same as doing and saying so during an inquisition.
Religion or the lack thereof is a private matter but not when you are killed for it. Then a public renunciation and criticism becomes a historical necessity and task. It is an important way of breaking taboos and paving the way for others to do so if they choose. While Sardar makes light of this, public renunciations and criticism involve serious risks for many across the world, including in Britain.
But that is not all that the CEMB stands for. It is also about challenging political Islam, and demanding the right to religion and atheism as a private affair, citizenship rights, humanity without labels, universal rights, an end to religion’s intervention in people lives, and secularism.
And the CEMB is not about creating a new ‘ex-Muslim’ identity as Sardar alludes. In fact, it is opposed to identity politics that creates imagined communities, segregates and ghettoises citizens so that the state can shrug off its responsibilities and hand over masses of people with culturally relative rights to regressive Islamic organisations and their so-called community leaders. Nor are we calling for an ‘Islamic reformation;’ if you ask me, religion can only be ‘reformed’ when and if it loses political power.
The fact that a majority of the founding CEMB members (though not existing members) are ‘Iranian exiles’ or that I am a worker-communist (err, not the Nationalist-Islamic Mujahedin-e-Khalq but I will leave the Iranian history lesson for another time) is beside the point. Suffice it to say that this and many other battles led by people like myself, including against Sharia law in Canada, for refugee and women’s rights, for a third camp against US militarism and Islamic terrorism, for secularism, against child veiling and honour killings and so on are a reflection of the specific conditions in Iran and the left-leaning and secular battle raging there against an Islamic regime.
Finally, in the end, society measures organisations according to their aims and actions and their relevance to people’s lives. Undoubtedly, it is our unequivocal defence of human values and 21st century humanity that are the reasons behind our resounding success not the prefix in our name or any ‘insider information.’
You can read the CEMB’s manifesto and find out more information about the organisation and an international conference it is organising in London on October 10 entitled ‘Political Islam, Sharia Law and Civil Society’ on our website.