Atheism And Human Rights Abuses In Africa

Originally published by Sahara Reporters.  

Today around the globe too many atrocities are being committed with impunity in the name of god, allah and other constructs, which have over the ages, identified or associated with the so called supreme being. The dream of a secular peaceful world where people of all faiths and none can coexist in harmony- continues to elude many across the region. Millions of people- theists and atheists- continue to suffer and are abused due to superstition, religious fundamentalism and supernaturalism. In this piece I will focus on two of such areas.

The rights of non-believers. I have heard it proclaimed at the UN that the rights of women are human rights. I have also heard it proclaimed that the rights of gay people are human rights. These proclamations changed the way human rights are perceived around the globe. Personally I have yet to hear it proclaimed at UN, or at our regional and national human rights bodies that the rights of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers are human rights. I do not want these rights to be implied or assumed as currently the case in most countries. I want them to be expressly declared as universal human rights.

In spite of the progress the world has made in terms of upholding human rights and liberties, and getting states to honour their obligations under various instruments and mechanisms, equal rights have yet to be extended to religious non-believers in most parts of the world particularly in Africa.

The full article is available here: http://saharareporters.com/article/atheism-and-human-rights-abuses-africa-leo-igwe.

Witchcraft in Malawi - new report released

The Association for Secular Humanism in Malawi (an AAI Member) has released a report on the extent of witchcraft in Malawi - and it is depressing reading. Belief in witchcraft is widespread, the number of cases is rising and people suspected of witchcraft are often subject to violence. The report recommends ten initiatives to combat the violence against those accused of witchcraft.

Atheist Alliance International congratulates the Association for Secular Humanism for its work to document the extent of the problems in Malawi and its ongoing campaign against superstitious and dangerous practices.

Read the full report

Religion and Government, Gambian Context

As it is the concern of many atheist and free-thought organizations in other parts of the world, Gambia Secular Assembly concerns itself with the separation of religion from government.

In The Gambia, religion is so juxtaposed with government that one finds it hard to distinguish one form the other. This is manifested in the serious promotion and propagation of particularly of Islam, the dominant religion.

The Gambian State, largely supposed and believed by the population to be secular, has condoned the involvement of the State with religion. This is an unchecked involvement that extends to the State’s investment in the construction of a mosque on the grounds of a State residence – State House has an Imam (Islamic religious leader) paid from the government coffers to head prayers and conduct other religious services, such as the annual celebration of the birth of the 'prophet' of Islam, Muhammad named Maw lud al nabi in Arabic.

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How religion poisons Brazilian politics

Originally published on the Secular Humanist League of Brazil's blog here.

In Brazil we’ve witnessed a growth in the number of national representatives elected in 2010 who only work to try and limit individual rights of women, gays and other minorities hated by biblical text. They are known as the “evangelical bench“. I would rather call them “theocratic bench”, since I know not all evangelical Christians think their beliefs should be forced down everyone’s throats, let alone by the power of a purportedly secular government.

Since we’ve got constitutional separation of church and state, we should at least hope their actions were halted. But often government is very dubious. In 2011, Marco Feliciano, a representative who is also a preacher, tried to pass a bill to make religious teaching mandatory for students in public schools. Fortunately, his bill was rejected at once.

On the other hand, public schools have been forced to offer religious teaching for decades, with no orientation whatsoever of what kind of teaching this would be, rendering a not so unexpected result of public tuition hijacked by religious proselytising, as has been proved by human rights scholar Debora Diniz. The law says students can choose not to attend religious teaching, but the truth is that most of them are not even informed of this right.

Another example of religious intrusion is that last July the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro has approved a law that forces public libraries to have bibles in their collections. No such thing has been done in relation to the Quran or the Baghavad Gita, of course.

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Critical Thinking and Educational Reform

 Leo Igwe from the Nigerian Humanist Movement, an Affiliate Member of AAI, writes about the need to reform Nigeria's education system to teach students to think critically and help them combat superstition and religious fanaticism.

http://www.momentng.com/en/news/6449/critical-thinking-and-educational-reform.html

11 February 2012: A day to defend free expression

The One Law for All 11 February rally for Free Expression is being held in London from 14:00-16:00 hours at the Old Palace Yard opposite the House of Lords. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain fully supports the action. Speakers are: Richard Dawkins (Scientist); A C Grayling (Philosopher); Alex Gabriel (Blogger); Anne Marie Waters (One Law for All); Caroline Cox (Peer); Derek Lennard (Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association); Faisal Gazi (Spittoon.org); Gita Sahgal, (Centre for Secular Space); Hasan Afzal (Stand for Peace); Jennifer Hardy (Queen Mary Atheism Humanism and Secularism Society); Jenny Bartle (National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies); Jim Fitzpatrick (MP); Kate Smurthwaite (Comedian); Kenan Malik (Writer); Lilith (Poet, Anti-Injustice Movement) ; Marco Tranchino (Central London Humanist Group); Mark Embleton (Atheism UK); Maryam Namazie (One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain); Nick Cohen (Writer); Nick Doody (Comedian); Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters); Rashid Ali (Centri); Rhys Morgan (Student activist); Roy Brown (International Humanist and Ethical Union); Rupert Sutton (Student Rights); Sohaila Sharifi (Equal Rights Now); Sue Cox (Survivors Voice Europe); Sundas Hoorain (London School of Economics Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society); Susan Zhuang (University College London Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society); Terry Sanderson/Keith Porteous Wood (National Secular Society); and Yasmin Rehman (Campaigner). There will also be messages from Jesus and Mo creator and Richard Dawkins. Iranian Secular Society’s Fariborz Pooya will be the Master of Ceremonies.

Boko Haram and the threat of political Islam

Originally published in the Daily Times

Nigeria’s most deadly Islamist sect, Boko Haram, has just detonated mutiple bombs in the city of Kano. Curfew has been imposed and the city, the state and the entire nation is engulfed in tension, fear and uncertainty. Several lives have reportedly been lost. This group appears unrelenting in its murderous campaign.

Kano has joined the ranks  of northern states -Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Plateau, Niger where the terror of Boko Haram holds sway. Religious crisis orchestrated by Muslim fundamentalists is not new to this northern city but these attacks have brought a frightening dimension to Islamic militancy in the region.

The Spokesperson of Boko Haram, Abdul Qaqa, told journalists that they carried out the attacks on the city because the authorities had refused to release their members arrested and detained by the police. So with these attacks, Boko Haram has sent very clear signals to the authorities in Kano and beyond- “Capitulate”, “Surrender”, “Do our Bidding”, “Join forces with us”, “Embrace our cause” or “Be destroyed”.  Since last year, Boko Haram has carried out bomb attacks on several institutions including the UN building and police headquarters in Abuja. This militant group has targeted churches and southerners or anyone they percieved to be opposed to their cause of implementing sharia and enthroning  political islam. It has declared a war on anybody, muslims as well as non muslims, opposed to or critical of its cause. This is characteristic of the totalitarian nature of political Islam- a social political and economic order based on Sharia.

A fringe movement that started with a group of Islamic preachers on the streets of Maiduguri a few years ago, has turned to a real threat to Nigeria’s corporate existence and a terror to the world.

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Blasphemy laws protect religion from legitimate scrutiny

 Yesterday we shared a great article about Indonesian Atheists and its work to stand up for rational thought in Indonesia.  Today we heard that an Indonesian man has been bashed and may be charged with blasphemy after he posted "God does not exist" on his Facebook page.  Blasphemy laws restrict free speech in an effort to protect religion from legitimate scrutiny and criticism.  If religion could actually withstand rational appraisal it wouldn't need such protection.

‘God Does Not Exist’ Comment Ends Badly for Indonesia Man

Original published in The Jakarta Globe

An Indonesian civil servant who posted “God does not exist” on his Facebook page has been taken into police custody for his own protection after he was badly beaten.

The man, identified as Alexander, 31, now faces the prospect of losing his job, or even being jailed, if he fails to repent and accept one of six official state religions.

Blasphemy carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

Local media reported that when Alexander arrived at work at the Dharmasraya Development Planning Board (Bappeda) on Wednesday, a group of men, also understood to comprise government officials, attacked and beat him before police arrived and took him into protective custody.

Dharmasraya Police Chief Sr. Comr. Chairul Aziz told the Jakarta Globe that Alexander moderated a Facebook account titled “Ateis Minang” (Minang Atheists) and had written an update that “God does not exist.”

Chairul said he could not confirm the reports that Alexander was attacked but say that he had taken into protective custody to “anticipate anarchy.”

“Besides, he is also afraid of being intimidated or hurt.”

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No Need to Believe: Indonesia's Atheists

This article was originally published in The Jakarta Globe

At first glance, Karl Karnadi may look like any other 20-something trying to find his place in the world. It doesn’t take long, however, to realize there is something positively different about him. 

Consciously argumentative, eagerly opinionated and thoroughly knowledgeable, Karl stands for something many Indonesians still find utterly unfathomable: He is an outspoken atheist, and the founder of the rapidly growing Indonesian Atheists community. 

Karl, 29, does not keep his beliefs private, something many other Indonesian atheists have chosen to do in the face of frequent hostility. He makes no bones about his rejection of what he refers to as supernaturally infused beliefs, and he is passionate about fostering a fundamental change in Indonesia while remaining realistic about the challenges. 

Furthermore, Karl promotes tolerance, and is far less hostile toward religion than some of the world’s most recognized scholars of nonbelief such as Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett and Richard Dawkins. 

Established in 2008, Karl’s IA has 677 active members on its Facebook page who discuss the profusion of religiously related topics around the country. 

The IA community has also taken part in a variety of scientific and philosophical seminars and gatherings, and has expanded its ties with similar groups outside Indonesia. 

“We’ve built a network with other nonbelievers and humanist organizations in Southeast Asia,” Karl says. 

With other atheist associations in Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, IA has established a joint Web site called Southeast Asian Atheists, or sea-atheists.org, which hopes to broaden the discussion among atheists from different backgrounds. 

“Starting last year, we have also affiliated ourselves with a global network called Atheist Alliance International, through which we build close contacts with similar communities around the world,” Karl said. “From Pakistan, Brazil, Ireland and Afghanistan, there are atheists and agnostics everywhere.” 

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The Rise of Atheism in Pakistan

Originally published by The Commentator

An increasing number of young Pakistanis are adopting Atheism and openly questioning the existence of a God. Many analysts have attributed this trend to the rise of Islamist militancy in Pakistan as well as access to social media and other technological tools that allow people to share and explore new ideas.

A Facebook group called ‘Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics’ was launched a few months ago and has already attracted over 800 members. I caught up with the founder of this group, a young Pakistani Technologist operating under the pseudonym ‘Hazrat Nakhuda’, in order to discuss this new phenomenon.

Ghaffar: What inspired you to launch the Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics group?

Hazrat Nakhuda: Atheist groups and movements are a global trend. PAA is a part of that but it is different. The problem is that most of the groups for freethinkers are in secular countries. In my view the battle for reason, rationality and freethinking doesn’t need to be fought (with urgency) in England, Holland or Canada. It is here, in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia where we need to fight the battle for reason. It is here where the battle will be the most hard-hitting, it is here where reason needs to triumph, and it is here where we can’t afford to lose.

Almost every Muslim-majority country is under-developed economically or socially. I believe that when a religion is adopted by a state it stifles progress. Pakistanis are running 40,000 Madrasas but 30 percent of the children under the age of 5 are malnourished.

We missed our millennium goals to eradicate polio because we couldn’t run the refrigerators that housed the vaccine, but we spent a fortune on the ‘Islamic bomb’.

This country would praise Mumtaz Qadri (the murderer of Salman Taseer), and yet marginalize the only Nobel laureate of the country because he was from minority sect.

If you want to see how much a hindrance religion can be in the progress of a nation, look at Pakistan.

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Campaigner: Religion is behind homophobic persecution in Africa

Originally published in Digital Journal

One of Africa’s best-known human-rights activists says religion is very much behind Nigeria’s recent outlawing of same-sex unions, which could mean a 14-year jail term for anyone convicted of entering into a gay marriage contract.

Also, according to a report in Nigeria’s Vanguard: “Those who abet or aid such unions could receive 10 years, as would ‘any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations’ – a provision that seems to target gay advocacy groups as well.”

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