Below is the text of my speech at the 17 September 2011 rally for a secular Europe in London. You can see video footage of the speech here.
Secularism is an important demand. Secularism is the strict separation of religion from the state. There aren’t 20 definitions of secularism. I know religious groups and their supporters are trying to water down the concept in order to push back secularism but we mustn’t allow them.
We need secularism more today than ever. We need it.
Of course in a secular society people who are religious or not have a right to believe in what they want.
But don’t forget religion in the state, and educational and judicial system has nothing to do with belief; it has to do with political power. And therefore, this fight is first and foremost a battle against religion in political power.
Let’s be frank. There is a demand for the separation of religion from the state because it is harmful when it is part of the state. Because as I often say, like cigarettes religion should come with a health warning: Religion Kills. It kills. And Islam is central to this debate on secularism. It is central; please stop tiptoeing around it.
In my opinion we are living under an Islamic inquisition today. This movement is hanging gays in city centres and stoning women to death in the 21st century. This is not a private religious belief; it is an Islamic inquisition.
With regards Christianity today, it is not that its tenets, dogmas or principles have changed since the days of the inquisition. Its social status, its relation to the state, educational and judicial systems has changed as a result of the enlightenment so that today it seems – only seems – cuddlier. We can see from sexual abuse survivor Sue Cox’s testimony and that of others how harmful it still is depending on its influence and access to power.
As I said before, Islam today is not just a personal belief; it is a political movement with state power in many places. Opposing Islamism and Sharia law or the burka is not an attack on minorities. Don’t forget Islamism is a global movement. Moreover it is not an attack on minorities to defend their rights to equality, to non-discrimination and to living as equal citizens under the law.
The pro-Islamist lobby, including some on the Left, humanists, and feminists keep excusing Sharia courts as people’s right to religion. It’s not. In a Sharia court, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. A sharia judge has said ‘there is no such thing as marital rape; calling it rape is the aggression.’ Domestic violence is seen as the prerogative of the husband. Child custody is given to the father at a preset age irrespective of the welfare of the child. This is Sharia’s family law. Would you accept canon law for people in this country? No. So we cannot and must not accept sharia law or the Beth Din for people either.
They say the burka is a form of clothing; yes if you accept the chastity belt as a form of clothing. Yes, if you accept foot binding as a form of footwear, then yes the burka is a form of clothing. Rather, it is a symbol of the oppression and suppression of women. How can anyone who defends women’s rights support it?
This is not a question of identity: Muslims against everyone else. It’s about politics and choice. There are many Muslims who are more secularist than a large majority of people in Britain. The greatest opponents against Islamism are people living under, suffering under, and resisting Sharia law day in and day out. We need to choose to be on their side and support them.
This is not a question of culture. It is in fact racist to say that people because they were born in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia or their grandparents were born there and they are citizens for several generations now don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else. That’s racist. It’s not racist to oppose Sharia law.
There is a far-Right that discriminates against Muslims. We have to stand up to the far-Right. Don’t forget Islamism is our far-Right. They are one and the same; two sides of the same coin. We have to push back both of them.
We have to choose. No more tiptoeing around. There is an anti-Islamic inquisition enlightenment taking place in the Middle East and North Africa. Where are the secularists defending them? We need to be vocal. They will bring Islamism over the heads of people who have resisted and opposed Islamism and shown their lives are antithetical to Islamism. Libya for example - as a result of NATO’s intervention, the transitional government has said it will bring sharia law. We secularists have to say no. It’s not about a secular Europe; it’s about a secular world.
It’s not about western versus eastern. Secularism is the demand of many people who have never come to the west. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani facing death by stoning in Iran wants to live; she doesn’t want to be stoned. We must choose. Do we choose to be on the side of Sakineh or the Islamic Republic of Iran that wants to stone her? Do we side with Sharia courts in this country or women who want equality?
Secularists must choose and they must be at the forefront of defending the rights of people everywhere against Islamism – today’s Islamic inquisition.