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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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Witchcraft Branding, Spirit Possession And African Children

Originally published in Sahara Reporters

I just returned from a two day conference on Witchcraft Branding, Spirit Possession and Safeguarding African Children. The conference was organized in London by a UK based charity, Africans United Against Child Abused (AFRUCA).

The aim of the conference was to mobilize the faith communities against the practice of witchcraft branding by highlighting the negative impact of this phenomenon and the belief in spirit possession on African children in the UK and in Africa.

According to the organisers, ‘The conference will explore the issue of the branding children as witches in all its dimensions looking at different factors underlying the phenomenon, its impact, different policies and strategies to tackle this growing problem. A focus will be put on the importance of religious beliefs given the role the faith organisations can play in enforcing the recommendations that will come out of the conference’.

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Report from the Nigerian Humanist Convention

Slightly overdue, but here is my impression of  the highly stimulating 2011 National Humanist Convention in Nigeria held in Abuja at the beautiful Vines hotel over two days.

The Nigerian Humanist Movement was started by Leo Igwe in 1996. People gave it a short shelf-life and warned Leo he was starting on a fruitless and impossible quest to bring non-religious ideas to a fiercely religious country. 15 years later the organisation is still going and growing and conducting campaigns not just in Nigeria but in other parts of Africa too.

This was my first convention of this sort as was the case for many of the participants. Because of this, the convention played an important role in linking isolated humanists who’d never come face to face with another non-believer. This was evident in the passion and excitement with which people spoke and their desire to express their opinions.

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Oyedepo, Oyakhilome, Ashimolowo, Others Come Under Attack At Humanist Forum in Abuja; Sheila Solarin Urges Nigerian To Fight for A Better Society

Sent to AAI from its Affiliate the Nigerian Humanist Movement. Originally published in Sahara Reporters.

Stupendously wealthy Nigerian Pentecostal preachers and clerics have come under serious attack at the two-day national convention of the   Nigerian Humanist Movement (NHM), which ended Saturday afternoon in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

The forum brought together students, children, scholars, government officials, atheists, sceptics, rationalists, agnostics, freethinkers and professionals from different fields to discuss Humanism as the next step in Nigeria.

Declaring open the forum which marked the 15th anniversary of the birth of  the NHM, Leo Igwe, the administrative secretary of the Oyo State –NHM,  told  participants that many people  across  Nigeria and the world  were looking up to them. “Meetings like this should spread message of reason, science and free inquiry, and usher in an era  of positive  and progressive change, hope and light,” he charged.

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Being Pakistani and atheist a dangerous combo, but some ready to brave it

Originally published in Pakistan Today

Members of Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics trying to make their presence known and reach out to others sharing similar beliefs
 
KARACHI - They realise that they belong to a country where apostasy means inviting the risk of death – even if spared by government authorities and courts, a fanatic mob would certainly not.

But they have still chosen to tread a perilous path in their attempt to reach out to other Pakistanis sharing similar beliefs and more importantly, to let the world know they exist. They are a group of Pakistani atheists called the Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics (PAA). They first tried to make their presence known two years back by making a page about their group on Facebook. On August 14 this year, they launched their website www.e-paa.org that was literally an instant hit. It received more than 17,000 hits in just 48 hours after its launch from 95 countries, including Saudi Arabia.
 
How did the idea to bring together Pakistani atheists on a single platform come up? “When I became an atheist, I honestly thought there were no others like me in Pakistan. Through discussions on various social networking groups and forums, I found a few others like me. So we decided to make this group to find out how many more were out there,” says Hazrat NaKhuda, one of the founding members of the group. For obvious reasons, the PAA members go by pseudonyms to protect their identity.

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Humanists to Meet in Abuja

All is now set for the historic convention of the Nigerian Humanist Movement to be held on September 23 to 24 at Vines Hotel Durumi in Abuja. The event will be the first meeting of the county’s growing community of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers,secularists and skeptics at the Federal Capital of Nigeria. Many friends of humanists and supporters of humanism and freethought including university teachers and students will attend. The theme of the convention is HUMANISM AS THE NEXT STEP.

This convention marks the 15th anniversary of the Nigerian Humanist Movement (NHM). 

The event is taking place at a crucial time Nigeria is grappling with the problems of religious extremism, superstition and related human rights abuses.

Some years ago Nigeria was polled as one the most religious nation on earth. It may still remain the case today. The fact is that most Nigerians, at least nominally, profess one religion-mainly Christianity or Islam- or the other. Most Nigerians identify with the faith of their families, communities and tribes. Few Nigerians are openly and expressly non religious. All Nigerians are pressured socially and politically to be religious and to remain religious. So most Nigerians who are non religious and who renounce religion remain in the closet. NHM provides a sense of community to all non religious and non theistic Nigerians and strives to bring a humanist perspective to issues of national importance.

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