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No Sharia law – Support Muslims fighting religious tyranny

This is a longer version of an article which appears today of Comment is Free

This Saturday’s London rally against Sharia law and all religious tyrannies should be huge.

Millions of people are suffering at the hands of clerical regimes, especially our Muslim brothers and sisters in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Sadly, the turn out in Hyde Park will probably be quite small. This is odd. Most liberals and left-wingers would protest loud and strong if these persecutions were perpetrated by a western regime or by Christian fundamentalists. But they get squeamish when it comes to challenging human rights abuses done in the name of Islam. They fear being denounced as Islamophobic. They confuse protests against fundamentalist, political Islam, which seeks to establish a religious dictatorship, with an attack on Muslim people and the Muslim faith. These are two very different things. Saturday’s protest is in defence of Muslim people – and all people everywhere – who are victims of any form of religious tyranny.

Sharia law is, however, one of the most barbaric manifestations of fundamentalist religion, which is why we need to highlight it. While other faiths are also often oppressive, Sharia is especially oppressive. Its interpretations stipulate the execution of Muslims who commit adultery, renounce their faith (apostates) or have same-sex relationships. Sharia methods of execution, such as stoning, are particularly brutal and cruel.

The horrors of Sharia law, and the need to support Muslims who are resisting it, has been reinforced by the stoning to death this week in Somalia of a 20 year old woman divorcee who was accused of adultery. According to the BBC, the woman was buried up to her waist and then stoned to death in front of 200 people near the town of Wajid. Her male partner was given 100 lashes.

This is the fourth stoning of an adulterer in Somalia in the last year. Earlier this month, a man was stoned to death for adultery in the port town of Merka, south of Mogadishu. His girlfriend, currently pregnant, will be stoned to death after she gives birth. A 13 year old girl who had been raped was stoned to death for adultery in the southern Somali town of Kismayo last year.

Somalia is an extreme example of the Sharia oppression that exists in large parts of the Muslim world. As ever, Muslim women are often the main victims. Our rally is in support of Muslim women who are campaigning for equality. We cannot accept the way many Islamic states, including western allies like Saudi Arabia, restrict women’s freedom of movement, make women subject to the control of male guardians, deny women access to certain jobs and positions in government and enforce the compulsory veiling of women (the hijab, niqab, jilbab or burqa).

Saturday’s protest is organised by the One Law for All campaign, which was launched on 10 December 2008 – International Human Rights Day. It has since received the support of over 20,000 groups and individuals.

To answer questions about the campaign, it has set up a Q and A section on its website.

Speakers at Saturday’s rally include philosopher AC Grayling, columnist Johann Hari, Bangladeshi feminist writer Taslima Nasrin, Rahila Gupta of Women Against Fundamentalism, Pragna Patel from Southall Black Sisters, Houzan Mahmoud of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and Muslim refugees from Sharia law in Iran.

The organisers have made it clear that supporters of the English Defence League and the British National Party are not welcome. We are telling them: STAY AWAY. We reject their racist and anti-Muslim agenda.

“Saturday’s rally is in opposition to all religious laws in Britain and worldwide,” said One Law for All campaign spokesperson, Maryam Namazie.

“Our rally is being held to mark Universal Children’s Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Simultaneous acts of solidarity will take place in countries across the world, including Australia, Canada, Denmark , France , Germany , Nigeria , Serbia, Montenegro and Sweden.

“In particular, we are showing solidarity with people who are resisting Sharia law and defending universal human rights and secularism,” she said.

This the key point of the protest: to show support for the many courageous, inspiring Muslims who are campaigning against the inequalities and inhumanities of Sharia law, often at great risk to their liberty and life.

Contrary to the way our critics are trying to misrepresent our campaign, this is not an attack on Muslims or Islam. Nor are we uniquely condemning Sharia law. We reject all religious laws and courts, including those inspired by Judaist and Christian fundamentalism.

In a democracy, everyone should be subject to the same laws, with the same rights and responsibilties. Religious rulings should not influence the laws or courts in any way.

Britain cannot claim the moral high ground. We are not a secular democracy. The Church of England is the established church, the official state religion. Some of its bishops are granted automatic places in the House of Lords, by virtue of their religious office, and they are able to speak and vote on legislation. No other faith in Britain has such privileged law-making status and power.

When I speak at Saturday’s rally, I will defend Muslims and people of all faiths against hatred and discrimination. The victimisation of people because of their religious beliefs is just as wrong as victimising people because of their race, gender or sexuality.

However, it is important to acknowledge that the religious right, which exists in all faiths, is a serious threat to human freedom wherever it manifests itself, whether in the US, Iran, Russia, Italy, Uganda, Israel or the UK. We see the deadly consequences of faith-inspired fanaticism: the shooting dead of abortion doctors by Christian fundamentalists in the US and, on the West Bank, the illegal seizure of Palestinian land and homes by Judaist zealots.

This is why our protest supports secular democracy. Secularism is often confused with anti-clericalism. The two are not the same. Secularism is not against religion per se. It is against giving religion privileged status, rights and protections.

We believe there should be a separation of religion from the state. No faith should dominate any government and seek to impose its creed on the rest of society. When this happens, freedom of expression is diminished and minority faiths are victimised. We saw this happen when Protestantism became the state religion in England and Catholics suffered great persecution from the late 1500s. We also see it today in Iran where the Shia-dominated state persecutes the Sunni Muslim minority (especially the Arabs and Baluchs).

The reverse happens in Sunni ascendant Saudi Arabia, where Salafi and Wahhabi interpretations of Islam are enforced and Shia Muslims, and dissident Sunni Muslims, are the victims.

For these reasons, secularism is not only an important element of freedom of expression. It is also the best guarantee of religious freedom, as it prevents any one faith becoming politically dominant and abusing its powers to oppress people of other faiths.

The organisers of Saturday’s rally believe that Muslims and all peoples worldwide should have rights, freedoms and choices, in accordance with the principles of equality and non-discrimination that are enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are not western values. They are international humanitarian values, agreed by the global consensus of the member states of the UN.

It is wrong to tolerate the denial of human rights to non-white Muslims in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, when most of us would never tolerate the denial of these rights to white (and non-white) people in Britain. There should be no double standards. No cultural and moral relativism.

Defend universal human rights.

One law for all.