Why Secular Values Require Constant Defence

The Founding Fathers

In her book Freethinkers, Susan Jacoby constantly highlights how often great thinkers are neglected from the American historical canon due to their criticism of religious authority or social norms. This may seem odd to anyone who knows even a little about the Founding Fathers and, for example, Abraham Lincoln – but we know of these gentlemen due to their role as presidents and founders of the very nation itself, despite their antagonism toward organised religion and its “truths”.

During the late 18th century, many thinkers – prominently those fighting for abolition and women’s equality, which were often united causes – optimistically presumed that the deliberate neglect of powerful activists would be eroded, since the values themselves would come to fruition; and, thus blooming, all would recognise those who originally distributed the seeds of such knowledge. But even today, the names William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and Ernestine L. Rose, are quite forgotten by those who more confidently remember other names within the era.

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Being Part of the “One Law for All” Campaign

I was invited by Maryam Namazie, the spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britian, to be a petitioner; along with AC Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christopher Hitchens, and others. You can find yours truly on this list along with other better, greater writers and thinkers.

It was launched on the 10th December, 2008, the same day I wrote my article on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to campaign organiser, Maryam Namazie, ‘Even in civil matters, Sharia law is discriminatory, unfair and unjust, particularly against women and children. Moreover, its voluntary nature is a sham; many women will be pressured into going to these courts and abiding by their decisions. These courts are a quick and cheap route to injustice and do nothing to promote minority rights and social cohesion. Public interest, particularly with regard to women and children, requires an end to Sharia and all other faith-based courts and tribunals.’

The campaign has already received widespread support including from AC Grayling; Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Bahram Soroush; Baroness Caroline Cox; Caspar Melville; Deeyah; Fariborz Pooya; Gina Khan; Houzan Mahmoud; Homa Arjomand; Ibn Warraq; Joan Smith; Johann Hari; Keith Porteous Wood; Mina Ahadi; Naser Khader; Nick Cohen; Richard Dawkins; Shakeb Isaar; Sonja Eggerickx; Stephen Law; Tarek Fatah; Tauriq Moosa; Taslima Nasrin and others. It has also received the support of organisations such as Children First Now; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran; European Humanist Federation; International Committee against Stoning; International Humanist and Ethical Union; Iranian Secular Society; Lawyers Secular Society; the National Secular Society; and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

The campaign calls on the UK government to recognise that Sharia law is arbitrary and discriminatory and for an end to Sharia courts and all religious tribunals on the basis that they work against and not for equality and human rights.

The campaign also calls for the Arbitration Act 1996 to be amended so that all religious tribunals are banned from operating within and outside of the legal system.

In the words of the Campaign Declaration: ‘Rights, justice, inclusion, equality and respect are for people, not beliefs. In a civil society, people must have full citizenship rights and equality under the law. Clearly, Sharia law contravenes fundamental human rights. In order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all those living in Britain, there must be one secular law for all and no Sharia.’

Roy Brown, immediate past president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union said, “IHEU is lending its full support to this campaign. It is intolerable that the very values on which UK society is based – human rights, equality and the rule of law – are being undermined by the quiet and insidious application of systems of law that have no basis in equality or justice.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, which is also supporting the One Law for All campaign, said: “It is a grave error for the authorities in this country to give credence to Sharia in any form – whether legally or in terms of informal arbitration. When women are being subjected to violence in their marriages, it is not acceptable for religious authorities – which are, by definition, misogynistic – to arbitrate. A two-tier legal system, with women’s rights being always secondary to religious demands, is unnecessary, undesirable and ultimately unjust.”

To RSVP to attend the launch or for more information, please contact Maryam Namazie, email: onelawforall@gmail.com, telephone: 07719166731; website: onelawforall.org.uk. The campaign’s website will be available on the day of the launch.

One Law for All

Campaign against Sharia law in Britain

Declaration

We, the undersigned individuals and organisations, call on the UK government to bring an end to the use and institutionalisation of Sharia and all religious laws and to guarantee equal citizenship rights for all.

Sharia law is discriminatory

Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals are discriminatory, particularly against women and children, and in violation of universal human rights.

Sharia law is unfair and unjust in civil matters

Proponents argue that the implementation of Sharia is justified when limited to civil matters, such as child custody, divorce and inheritance. In fact, it is civil matters that are one of the main cornerstones of the subjugation of and discrimination against women and children. Under Sharia law a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s; a woman’s marriage contract is between her male guardian and her husband. A man can have four wives and divorce his wife by simple repudiation, whereas a woman must give reasons, some of which are extremely difficult to prove. Child custody reverts to the father at a preset age, even if the father is abusive; women who remarry lose custody of their children; and sons are entitled to inherit twice the share of daughters.

The voluntary nature of Sharia courts is a sham

Proponents argue that those who choose to make use of Sharia courts and tribunals do so voluntarily and that according to the Arbitration Act parties are free to agree upon how their disputes are resolved. In reality, many of those dealt with by Sharia courts are from the most marginalised segments of society with little or no knowledge of their rights under British law. Many, particularly women, are pressured into going to these courts and abiding by their decisions. More importantly, those who fail to make use of Sharia law or seek to opt out will be made to feel guilty and can be treated as apostates and outcasts.

Even if completely voluntary, which is untrue, the discriminatory nature of the courts would be sufficient reason to bring an end to their use and implementation.

Sharia law is a quick and cheap way to injustice

Proponents argue that Sharia courts are an alternative method of dispute resolution and curb legal aid costs. When it comes to people’s rights, however, cuts in costs and speed can only bring about serious miscarriages of justice. Many of the laws that Sharia courts and religious tribunals aim to avoid have been fought for over centuries in order to improve the rights of those most in need of protection in society.

Sharia law doesn’t promote minority rights and social cohesion

Proponents argue that the right to be governed by Sharia law is necessary to defend minority rights. Having the right to religion or atheism, however, is not the same as having the ‘right’ to be governed by religious laws. This is merely a prescription for discrimination, inequality and culturally relative rights. Rather than defending rights, it discriminates and sets up different and separate systems, standards and norms for ‘different’ people. It reinforces the fragmentation of society, and leaves large numbers of people, particularly women and children, at the mercy of elders and imams. It increases marginalisation and the further segregation of immigrant communities. It ensures that immigrants and new arrivals remain forever minorities and never equal citizens.

One law for all

Whilst arbitration tribunals are part of British law, they are subject to such safeguards as are necessary in the public interest. Clearly, public interest, and particularly the interests of women and children, requires an end to Sharia and all faith-based courts and tribunals.

Rights, justice, inclusion, equality and respect are for people, not beliefs. In a civil society, people must have full citizenship rights and equality under the law. Clearly, Sharia law contravenes fundamental human rights. In order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all those living in Britain, there must be one secular law for all and no Sharia.

Petition

One Law for All

  • We call on the UK government to recognise that Sharia and all religious laws are arbitrary and discriminatory against women and children in particular. Citizenship and human rights are non-negotiable.
  • We demand an end to all Sharia courts and religious tribunals on the basis that they work against and not for equality and human rights.
  • We demand that the Arbitration Act 1996 be amended so that all religious tribunals are banned from operating within and outside of the legal system.

reposted from Butterfliesandwheels.com.

Op-Ed: Music of the Merging Sphere

From CFI Campus Inquirer, Feb ’09

There has been a merging of spheres within modern thought. Their harmony is conducive toward a continued enlightenment. The first is the Darwinian process of evolution by natural selection, while the second is the secular endeavors rising against the tumult of religious obfuscation, absolutism, and dogmatism. It is important to disengage the harmony to listen to the singular music of each sphere. By so doing, we are able to realize why it is that secularism and evolutionism as so intrinsically entwined.

To begin, it is necessary to give a general answer: “Darwin made it possible,” says Richard Dawkins, “to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Though I find the term “atheist” superfluous, the meaning here is clear: those of us who see meaning, beauty and fulfilment of this life within this life, rather than from an external source, have a need to explain the diversity of the natural world. If one is shackled into a religion, the origin of species is easily explained by postulating a great deity. Without a deity, how on Earth (notice this pun) could this apparent design arise?

Arise, Darwin, to claim the mantle of greatness.

Darwin called his idea as overwhelming and shocking as “confessing a murder”. Why? The main reason for its tether to humanism is the removal of the godlike pedestal Man had stood on. It was from his great intellectual height and insight that he looked down upon other animals as “lower”, that he looked upon the earth made for his delight. But, placing Man squarely as part of the natural process-as just another ape-the greatness of existence, the egotistical focus on humanity’s “purpose”, crumbled into dust. Today, people are still revolted at not being “more special”, at being at base a “wild animal”. Darwin put it beautifully when he said, “Man still bears the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

Given to superstition, sounds, faces, voices, conspiracy-theories, complicated over-analysis, ghosts, demons, humans want their lives to be part of something more: a battle between good and evil, governments focused on manipulating them, and so on. The natural explanations for all these things, including for the diversity and beauty of life, are somehow “less” interesting than “magical reasoning”. Science has demolished ordained knowledge, which crumbled with the edifice of Man’s egotistical “purpose” as part of a god’s “plan”. Hence, the reasoning why evolution by natural selection is often tethered with the hopes and exploits of Reason’s defenders.

The most incredible impact that something external can have on us is through the visual; thus something overwhelmingly (visually) breathtaking would have the greatest impact on us. And the natural world, surrounding us every day, demanding an explanation for its complexity, is just that.

Thus we struggle to say that something so beautiful and essential can be explained-in general, simply, and specifically, quite intricately. But it is part and parcel of the project to demolish the superstitious and supernatural and external sources of wisdom. Nothing is grander than the wonder of the world around us-and explaining it does not remove its beauty. Thus, my co-thinkers and I have a big job on our hands: fighting for natural explanations for all things (ghosts, life, nature), and instilling wonder and appreciation for life’s poetic qualities. This is all very humanist and why it is closely linked to the enterprise. Thus the sphere of evolution by natural explanation harmonizes with the enterprise to remove the supernatural and capture the present as most beautiful.

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Works Cited:

– R. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Penguin Books), p. 5
– D. Quammen, The Kiwi’s Egg: Charles Darwin & Natural Selection (London: Phoenix Books)
– C. Darwin. The Indelible Stamp: Four Essential Volumes in One. J.D. Watson (Ed.) (London: Running Press).
– S. Pinker, How the Mind Works (London: Penguin Books)
– Ibid. 211 – 284