Michael Shermer in Brazil

On 30 August, four Brazilian atheists - including AAI Director Alexandre Shimono - met Michael Shermer at the release of his new book "The Believing Brain" in São Paulo, Brazil. Mr. Shermer kindly answered the following question:"What do you think of religious influence in Brazil?". You can see his answer in the video below (Portuguese subtitles).         

No dia 30 de Agosto, quatro ateus brasileiros - incluindo o diretor da AAI Alexandre Shimono - compareceram ao lançamento do novo livro de Michael Shermer "Cérebro e Crença" (The Believing Brain) que ocorreu em São Paulo, Brasil. Shermer gentilmente respondeu a seguinte pergunta: "Qual sua opinião sobre a influência religiosa no Brasil?". A resposta pode ser conferida no vídeo abaixo (legendas em português).

Global survey finds fewer religious people, more atheists

A recently released global survey on religion and atheism has found that atheism is on the rise and religiosity is declining.
 
Globally, the survey found that 13% of people identify as atheists and a further 23% as non-religious, while 59% of people identify as religious.  On a comparable basis, since the same question was asked in 2005, the number of people claiming to be religious has fallen by 9% while those specifically identifying as atheists rose by 3%.
 
The survey conducted by WIN-Gallup International, an established worldwide network of opinion pollsters, was based in interviews with more than 50,000 people across 57 countries, which collectively cover more than 73% of the world's population.  The survey captures people's self-identification on the topic of religion, specifically including their identification as atheists.  Key findings of the survey include:
  • Religiosity is higher among the poor: 66% of people in the lowest income group are religious compared to 49% in the highest income group,
  • A higher level of education is associated with lower religiosity:  68% of those with no or only a basic education identify as religious compared to 52% of those with higher than secondary school education,
  • Women are slightly more inclined to identify as atheists (14% globally) than men (12% globally)
  • The top 10 countries where people specifically identify as atheist are China (47%), Japan (31%), Czech Republic (30%), France (29%), South Korea (15%), Germany (15%), Netherlands (14%), Austria (10%), Iceland (10%) and Australia (10%).  Ireland, Canada and Spain followed (10%, 9%, 9%),
  • The countries which illustrated the largest increases in identified atheists were France (+15%), Czech Republic (+10%), Japan (+8%),  Ireland (+7%), Netherlands (+7%), Argentina (+5%), Germany (+5%) and the United States (+4%),
  • The largest declines in religiosity between 2005 and 2012 occurred in Vietnam (from 53% to 30%),  Ireland (from 69% to 47%), France (from 58% to 37%),  Switzerland (from 71% to 50%), South Africa (from 83% to 64%) and Ecuador (from 85% to 70%), 
  • The most religious region of the world is Africa, with 89% of people identifying as religious, followed by Latin America at 84%.  In the Arab World 77% identified as religious, although current volatile countries Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan were at 88%, 83% and 84% respectively,
  • The least religious regions of the world are North and East Asia, where only 17% and 39% of people, respectively, identified as religious.  In Western Europe the figure was 51%, it was 66% in Eastern Europe and 57% in North America, and
  • The top 10 most religious countries are: Ghana (96%), Nigeria (93%), Macedonia (90%), Romania (85%), Kenya (88%), Peru (86%), Pakistan (84%), Moldova (83%), Colombia (83%) and Cameroon (82%).

Islam Must be Scrutinised

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain would like to make public its support for Tom Holland’s Channel 4 documentary 'Islam: The Untold Story' .  We are indignant to learn that due to threats made on Holland, Channel 4 has cancelled a repeat screening of the historical inquiry into the origins of Islam similar to the kind of inquiry that has been applied to other religions and histories in Britain for many years.
 
The threats and concerted attempt to stigmatise the documentary and its producers by attacking its credibility and even legitimacy as a field of inquiry is nothing less than an attempt to impose a blasphemy taboo by stealth and coercion against programming that scrutinises Islam.
 
Caving in to the coercive pressure of Islamists will have catastrophic effects on free inquiry and expression where it pertains to Islam. It would not only further silence academic, historical and theological scrutiny of Islam but would also have the chilling effect of exerting added pressure on Muslims and ex-Muslims who wish to dissent from and question Islam.
 
CEMB spokesperson Maryam Namazie says:
 
“Here’s my question to Channel 4: what about the threats on our lives for being apostates, ex-Muslims, atheists, freethinkers, secularists, 21st century human beings?
 
“What part of our thoughts, lives, and bodies do you recommend we cancel to appease the Islamists?
 
“If only there was such an ‘easy’ ‘solution’ for those who are languishing under Islam’s rules.
 
“You may accept censorship and cowardly silence in the face of Islamist threats and intimidation but we cannot afford to do so. And we never will.”

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The increasing role of religion in state schools in German-speaking countries endangers secularism

Image from Spiegel Online

With schools in more German-speaking countries moving to teach religion, as well as religious interest groups applying pressure for the increased importance of religion, especially Christianity, in public schools, there is an increased pressure on the separation of church and state.

In general Europe can be considered a fairly tolerant region regarding the freedom of religion and the freedom to have no religion. Most people in Europe are free to follow whatever religion they wish, or none.

However, it is not quite as simple as that, especially for atheists, as each religion takes advantage of its freedom, and seeks to ensure its own place in society, for example through a presence in public schools.

People’s rights to religious belief are taken seriously in Europe. In some cases, great lengths are taken to ensure religious freedom, and also that religion remains an important part of children’s lives.

A previous Atheist Alliance International story highlighted the influence of religion in German schools, how students are expected to study religion unless written permission is given to study ethics instead, and in particular how the Islamic faith may soon be expected to be taught in all schools in Hesse with at least eight Islamic children. [1]

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Just One More Example

Recently, Atheist Alliance International was contacted by an atheist in an Islamic country.  He had made a video criticising his government's position on human rights and posted it online.  We received this email from him today and publish it with his permission, with identifying information redacted, to illustrate just one more example of the threat to freedom of expression and thought posed by Islamists.

Hi, I have previously contacted you and submitted a video on [redacted] government and its human rights violation. Unfortunately, after much pressure from my family and the prospect of my getting a heart attack because of my Atheism, I have decided to pull the video down. I have to close down all of my email and twitter account and Atheist Nexus account as well. I just wanted to apologize to you because I would have continue leaving the video up but the pressure is so much that I have succumbed. The lesson that I have learn is, Muslims will never tolerate Atheism, Atheist, Apostate even basic human rights - freedom of faith. I guess I really have no choice but to remain hidden and under the radar and just let my rights taken away from me. It is hard, especially when I am feeling all alone and I don't even have any real friends here in [redacted]. My family still hoping that I will repent and become a Muslim again but after our heated debate on human rights and Atheism, I don't think I will ever look at Islam the same way again. I apologize again for the trouble I have caused.

Obviously, it is not this man who should be apologising.

Passion for Freedom Art Festival, London

One Law for All's 4th Passion for Freedom Art Festival will be held dring 3-10 November 2012 showcasing the work of 40 artists from 20 countries worldwide. The artists will be addressing crucial issues related to freedom and religious laws.

The viewing and festival will be held at UNIT 24 Gallery, 20 Great Guildford Street, London SE1 0FD (Closest Underground station: Southwark).

For more information click here.

Success in Brazil

   

Audience at the Congress      AAI President Carlos A. Diaz

Last month, with AAI Director Alexandre Shimono, I was very pleased to represent AAI at the First Secular Humanist Congress in Brazil.  This was an important event hosted by AAI's Affiliate, LiHS, as it was the first time a group of atheists, humanists and secularists had gathered for this kind of occasion in Brazil.  The IHEU and HIVOS supported the Congress and over 200 people attended, including 88 students sponsored by Atheist Alliance International.  Attendees enjoyed interesting speeches and were head to say "this is historical!' and 'this is amazing!'.  A report from LiHS is below.

I was very pleased to see that the Congress (and AAI's support for it) received coverage in Estado de Sao Paulo, one of Brazil's most important newspapers.   Congratulations LiHS on a successful event I hope the enthusiasm from the Congress assists your work in Brazil! 
_____

LiHS report: The 1st Secular Humanist Conference of Brazil was a remarkable success
More than 200 people from all over the country attended to the conference in Porto Alegre

"Getting together and showing to society that it is possible to live ethically and to find meaning in life, without God." This was only one of the objectives of CHS 2012 – a two day, tour de force towards a more rational, more humanist and more secular Brazil.

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Islamic religious education in German State Hesse soon to be mandatory

Thanks to the group German Atheists [1] for translating this from the German media Welt Online [2].

WEISBADEN, GERMANY - The introduction of Islamic religious education is approaching the finishing line in the German state of Hesse. These faith-oriented classes could begin in the 2013-2014 school year, Nicole Beer, minister of education and cultural affairs in Wiesbaden, said in March.
In their 2009 coalition agreement, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) introduced faith-oriented religious education into state schools.  Students in many public schools already are required to attend classes about Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism, unless they receive permission to take a civics class instead. [3]
 
Beer said the religious education would take place in German; also, it would become a compulsory subject, determining whether students could move up grades. The CDU opposed adding the Islam classes.
 
According to an expert report, two Muslim regional associations, Ditib and Ahmadiyya, fulfill the necessary requirements.  Jörg Uwe Hahn, minister of integration and Hessian FDP chairman, said in March he has always compared the introduction of such a religious education with a marathon.  “Now Ditib and Ahmadiyya have reached the stadium again, but there are two or three more laps to run,” he said.  The final decision could be made towards the end of the summer holidays. 

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Egyptian atheist arrested for posting ‘Innocence of Muslims’ on Facebook

Originally published in the Examiner.

27-year-old atheist activist, Alber Saber was arrested in Cairo, Egypt after he posted the now infamous 14-minute trailer for the film “Innocence of Muslims” on the Facebook wall of his group, “Egyptians.Atheists.” Neighbors in his mostly Muslim community of el-Marg in eastern Cairo gathered in protest outside Saber’s home on Thursday and Friday with many calling for his death. According to his mother, one person shouted, “Why are we standing down here? Let’s go upstairs and get him.”

The 14-minute trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” has been blamed for protests and rioting against US embassies in Cairo and in other cities throughout the Middle-East. In Libya, the attacks have led to the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Alber Saber was arrested on Friday after his mother called the police out of fear of the crowd outside their home. Saber was arrested under the rarely used law that prohibits insulting religion. He was allegedly thrown in a crowded jail cell and the officer allegedly told those in the cell that Saber had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. There are reports that Saber has been attacked in the jail cell and according to one blog, his neck was slashed with a razorblade.

A Facebook page has been created to demand for Saber’s release. The “Free Alber Saber” Facebook page has over one thousand “likes” at the time of the publication of this article.

Child 'Marriage' and Sharia Courts: It Must End Now

There is growing evidence that young children – some as young at 5 years old – are being “married” to older men in Sharia courts across Britain. This is increasingly being sanctioned by the Islamists who run Britain’s network of Sharia courts, and there is evidence that this practice is growing.

A recent undercover investigation by the Sunday Times found imams in Britain willing to “marry” young girls, provided this was carried out in secret. The imams had been approached by an undercover reporter posing as a father who said he wanted his 12 year old daughter married, to prevent her from being tempted in to a "western lifestyle".

Earlier this year, it was also reported that at least 30 girls, some as young as 9, were “married”  in sharia courts in one London borough alone.  Clearly, child “marriages” are an abomination; they are nothing short of religiously-sanctioned child rape and paedophilia.

One important way to tackle this matter is to galvanise support for the Arbitration and Mediation (Equality) Bill introduced to the House of Lords last year by crossbench peer, Baroness Caroline Cox. The Bill is due for a second reading in October.

The Government has so far declined to support Cox’s Bill. They do not believe there is a parallel legal system in operation. They also insist that everyone has full right of access to the British courts. This is simply not the case. There are many with little or no English language skills, trapped by community pressure, who believe Sharia courts operate as real courts and who regard their decisions as legally binding. The idea that they can easily instruct a high street solicitor to help them access their full rights under UK law is far from reality.

The Government must be pressured into taking immediate action, including by supporting Cox’s Bill, and shutting down Sharia and religious courts. If child welfare takes precedence then the Government is duty-bound to take action.

Sign our new petition in support of Baroness Cox’s Bill; tell the Government that enough is enough! Please sign it now.

Read the full statement by One Law For All here.

Ambassador's death result of political use of religion, not simple mob mentality

This isn't really a story about a trailer for a movie. It's a story about the use of religion as a violently divisive political tool.

The hate has a direction, and it has a political purpose, grander than a Youtube video.

Late at night on September 11, an apparent riot over a Youtube clip of a movie mocking the Islamic prophet Muhammad turned into a full-scale assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. By the time the night ended, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chrisopher Stevens, lay dead.

It's easy to draft the narrative, 'Dumb Muslims freak out over dumb movie.' But there's a more complex narrative in these protests and all of them. Really, we're seeing a dangerous and all-too-frequent tactic by government and paramilitary groups: using people's most prized cultural beliefs about life and death and good and evil as a control and manipulation tactic. In these cases, hate has been fomented by agitators with distinct political purposes. The tool they used is an old one: religious belief.

Ansar al-Sharia is a militia with ties to former Libyan ruler Muammar Ghadafi. Its goal is to establish a government based in the political application of religious law.

It may have been wishful thinking on the part of the Muslims with whom Chris Stephen of the Guardian spoke, but the people who were there don't remember anything like a typical protest. [1]  What they remember is a deliberate attack. Individuals carrying military-grade weaponry slipped through a mob creating chaos in order to assassinate an ambassador whose career ran parallel to the Libyan revolution to overthrow Ghadafi in 2011.

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Petition to free arrested Egyptian atheist Alber Saber

More information has come to light regarding the arrest of Alber Saber in Egypt, as reported by The Examiner on 16 September  2012, including reports of Saber being abused while in captivity by other prisoners who were incited against him, and also of his mother being further harassed by the mob, which threatened to burn her alive in her own home unless she leaves the neighbourhood. [1]

There is now a petition to free Alber Saber, which quotes a television interview with Saber’s mother, where she indicated that her son had been tortured for three days in custody, and that no lawyers are prepared to assist them, due to receiving death threats themselves.

Atheist Alliance International encourages all readers to show their support for Albert Saber, and for the freedom of expression, through signing the petition.

[1]   American Humanist Association statement.

The Profane in Pakistan

In Pakistan, two young women have recently become the target of violence and accusations of blasphemy, as retribution for speaking out about modernisation and education, or for simply belonging to a minority group, highlighting ongoing divisions in the country.

Malala Yousazai , a 15 year old girl, was attacked earlier this month for being an activist for the rights of children and education for girls. [1]  Malala was shot in the head by a member of the Pakistani Taliban, for what a spokesman for the Taliban claimed as ‘obscenity’ and bringing secular and Western ideas to Pakistan. She has since been moved to a military hospital then to the UK, and while there are hopeful signs she remains in a critical condition. This incident has resulted in public outcry within and outside Pakistan, suggesting that violent and unjust acts may not be as acceptable as the perpetrators appear to believe.  Avaaz has started a petition to support Malala and the right of Pakistani girls to receive an education.

The attack on Malala follows the 16 August arrest in Mahrabad, Pakistan, of a 14-year-old girl on a charge of blasphemy.  Rimsha Masih spent two weeks in remand in an adult prison after her accuser said she had been carrying a bag of refuse which included burnt pages of the Koran. As blasphemy laws in Pakistan decree a life in prison for anyone who defiles the Koran, and require no evidence other than the word of the accuser, there is little hope for most who are accused. [2]

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First information stall on secularism, humanism and atheism in Dublin

Brendan Maher launched first ever information stall about secularism, humanism and atheism in Ireland on 6 October 2012 in Dublin's city centre.  Brendan says:

"The purpose of this initiative is to furnish information on secularism, humanism and atheism to the person in the street.

This idea began about two and a half years ago when I noticed that there were about two or three street preachers in the vicinity of the GPO.  Since then the number has grown to about nine.  There are a range of different Christian groups and a few Islamic and Hari Krishna people.  I felt that there had to be an alternative view given, a rational, ethical, scientific and realistic view of things.

Although we live in the era of the computer there are still many people who live their lives without reference to the computer.  A stall like this and the personal approach can be quite effective.  I do not see it as proselytising but as an information exercise to help raise awareness with regards to secularism, humanism and atheism.

Because of the success of this first event I plan to have the stall at the GPO on the first Saturday of each month from 12 to 2 pm.  Perhaps this could be done in other cities in the country.

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Vale Paul Kurtz

The influential thinker known as the "father of secular humanism", Paul Kurtz, died on 20 October 2012 at age 86.  His numerous book, articles and talks substantially contributed to the development of secular, humanist values as an alternative worldview to religion, and encouraged people to think critically about religion and its impact on society.  This valuable work will be continued by many organisations that Paul Kurtz helped develop, including the American Humanist Association and the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Atheist Alliance International offers its condolences to Paul Kurtz' family, friends and colleagues.