Another victory for secularists in London
Today, on October 8, 2005 the National Secular Society, established in 1866, hosted its first Irwin Prize for “Secularist of the Year” in London. The £5,000 annual prize, sponsored by NSS member Dr Michael Irwin, was awarded to Maryam Namazie adjudged to have made the most significant contribution to the promotion of secularism in the preceding year. The award was presented at a lunch at the Montcalm Hotel in London. The event also featured cutting edge cabaret from stand-up comedian Stewart Lee, who is also co-author of the controversial “Jerry Springer – the Opera”.Seven others had been nominated, including the Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has highlighted violence against Muslim women and Nicholas Hytner, director of Britain's National Theatre, who came under fire for staging the musical "Jerry Springer -- The Opera", which many Christians regard as blasphemous.
Maryam Namazie's speech at the event follows:
Receiving the Secularist of the Year award is a great honour, particularly given the National Secular Society's long outstanding work in the promotion of secularism and reason.
Whilst there are so many who have worked closely with and supported me in the fight for secularism, there is one – Mansoor Hekmat - who must be commemorated today for having shaped and inspired myself and generations of secularists in Iran and the Middle East. Many of them are at the forefront of the fight for secularism there as well as in countries they have fled to. A good case in point is Homa Arjomand and her successful campaign against the Sharia court in Canada.The National Secular Society's continued works as well as the newly established Irwin Secularist of the Year award reveal that the fight for secularism is once again one of the most significant battles for the liberation of humanity from the yoke of religion. This battle, however, is slightly different from the one fought in centuries past. Though political religion is facing a revival, it is the political Islamic movement which is spearheading this. And this rise is taking place within a new world order in which universal norms and values taken for granted only decades ago can no longer be taken so. In this climate of cultural relativism, Islamists and their apologists have perfected the use of rights language to dupe and silence any opposition. And of course when that doesn't work, they issue their death threats and fatwas.In this context, the ban on conspicuous religious symbols in public schools and institutions in France – the most basic separation of religion from the state though no where enough – is called 'discriminatory' a 'restriction of' 'religious freedoms' or 'freedom of belief', even 'a violation of women's and girls' rights' by Islamist groups in Britain. They have attempted to revise and reverse the meaning of very basic concepts.
Tolerance is another catch phrase they often use. Again they are turning the concept of tolerating human beings – which deserve much more than mere tolerance in my opinion - into one of tolerating all beliefs and ideas, particularly theirs.Also, they often speak of fairness and equality. The proponents of a Sharia court in Canada and the incitement to religious hatred law or Islamic schools in Britain say they merely want what other groups already have. Preposterously, the basis for equality is not the highest standards available in society as one would expect but the most regressive and reactionary ones! And don't get me started on Islamophobia. It is now even deemed racist to criticise beliefs and ideas and movements associated with them. And – silly me – all along I thought racism was aimed at individuals and groups of people not beliefs and political movements. Needless to say, even their topsy turvy concepts of rights and equality go out the window when they actually gain power. In Iran, Iraq and elsewhere, they kill and maim indiscriminately, tolerate nothing and no one, and say it is their divine right to do so.
Of course the tide is slowly turning, thanks to the work that we all have been doing and the fact that the religious movements' vile face is becoming more familiar to people across the world.
But much more needs to be done as you know better than anyone else. We need an uncompromising and shamelessly aggressive demand for secularism – a 'bulldog' approach – but again this is only a minimum if we are to ensure that human values are safeguarded and that the human being is put first and foremost.
Today, more than ever, we are in need of the complete de-religionisation of society as well.
This is truly a necessity of our times.