Thank you for circulating the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s (CEMB) report on our October 10 conference entitled ‘Political Islam, Sharia Law and Civil Society and for forwarding member Robert Pitt’s response to that report. Given the inaccuracy of his response, I thought it best to provide you with the below information:
The CEMB is an open and independent organisation with a published manifesto. Membership is open to all atheists, unbelievers and ex-Muslims who agree with our manifesto, irrespective of their political affiliation. The fact that I and a majority of the 25 founding members (though not a majority of existing members) are worker-communists and Iranian refugees has to do with the specific revolutionary situation in Iran and the ongoing battle against the Islamic regime there for the past three decades. This is being manifested more often than not in the struggle against political Islam here in Europe. Whilst our outlook is reflected in the founding manifesto and organisation, our political affiliation is beside the point. It is interesting how any campaign initiated by communists and socialists become ‘fronts’ whereas the same does not apply if say a member of the Labour Party begins an organisation addressing a social or political issue. This terminology may still be useful for those who are prone to hide their political views and have internalised the cold-war’s right wing propaganda against the left but for the rest of the world, organisations like ours receive support because of what they say and do and how important they are for people’s lives.
Pitt says the Worker-communist Party of Iran is ‘Islamophobic,’ implying that criticism of Islam and opposition to political Islam are racist. Clearly, there is a big difference between Muslims and political Islam - as a contemporary right wing political movement like many others, as well as between Muslims and Islam, which is the ideological aspect of this contemporary movement and a belief like many others. Pitt’s blurring of these distinctions and the accusation of racism are devious ways of silencing criticism and opposition and frankly defending the political Islamic movement at the expense of our rights and lives. (You can read more about my position on this here and here.)
Of course we welcome debate and criticism on relevant issues we are raising, including at the conference, such as apostasy, the right to reject religion without fear of death; the right to criticise belief and religion; freedom of expression; Sharia law; faith schools; citizenship rights and so on. But Pitt says the conference was a fraud because there was ‘scarcely an ex-Muslim’ there. I am not sure how he can tell by looking at photographs alone especially since some of the ex-Muslims attending were not photographed at their own request. Anyway, given the fact that renouncing Islam is punishable by death in countries under Islamic rule and mired with threats and intimidation for those living here in Britain, it is more difficult for ex-Muslims to participate in public events. But, again, the number of ex-Muslims at the conference is irrelevant. It is like saying those who are against the war on Iraq are frauds if they are not Iraqis. Clearly to oppose apostasy laws and political Islam, demand an end to Sharia and defend one law for all you do not need to be a Muslim or an ex-Muslim. As you did not need to be black to oppose racial apartheid in South Africa.
Finally, Pitt asserts that our Council was formed as a follow up to the council in the Netherlands. This is factually incorrect. The Dutch council, which is no longer in existence, was formed in September 2007; the British branch was formed in June 2007, the Scandinavian ones in May 2007 and the German one before that. Yes, Ehsan Jami was at the conference, but if you look at the footage of the panel he was on it is clear that the panelists and most of the audience did not agree with him. He faced strong criticism for his views. We felt it important to have him there particularly to show the differences in perspective between the now defunct Dutch council and the other councils. Whilst we unconditionally defend Jami’s right to freedom of expression and to live free from fear and intimidation, we don’t agree with him on fundamental issues. I mean all ex-Muslims don’t think alike just because they have left Islam and in any case, speaking on a panel or platform with people of differing and opposing views does not make us all one and the same. Moreover, Pitt mentions Geert Wilders, the right wing Dutch politician, as an example of why our report should not have been distributed by Unison. In fact, though, at the conference we showed a film called ‘Fitna Remade’ by Reza Moradi which is a criticism of Wilders’ film, Fitna, the Movie, and his virulently anti-immigrant and racist perspective.
Rather than deal with the real issues at hand, Pitt raises irrelevant and erroneous facts and accusations of racism because he believes this will help in his efforts to undermine our important work and thereby defend the political Islamic movement he is so enamoured with. Despite such efforts, though, our work gains strength because it is a necessity of our era. The political Islamic movement’s first victims are ordinary working people everywhere, many of them Muslims. At the end of the day, what matters most - and will be remembered - are where people, unions, political organisations, and so on stood on these life and death issues.
We hope this helps in providing a better understanding of our organisation. We would be pleased to discuss and debate this and any aspect of our work with Unison at your convenience.
Letter forwarded by Unison Rep
From: Robert Pitt
RE: Conference on Political Islam, Sharia Law and Civil Society a Success
The so-called Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain is a complete fraud. There was scarcely an ex-Muslim at this conference! The CEMB is a front organisation set up by the Worker-Communist Party of Iran, a rabidly Islamophobic far-left sect. It's modeled on the Council of Ex-Muslims in the Netherlands launched by Ehsan Jami, who was one of the speakers at the conference. Jami's an ally of the Dutch far-right racist Geert Wilders. UNISON should be more careful about the sort of stuff they circulate.