“Secularism is probably the one big issue for our century. This century is not, as many still think, marked by a religious or spiritual revival. What we are actually witnessing is the rise of extreme-Right political movements, working under the cover of religion. Everywhere. No one is spared… Secularists are being attacked in many places in the world today: they are jailed, killed, tortured; their very existence is considered an offence to believers in many non-secular states. … There is a need for secularists around the world to come together and examine their situations, to exchange information, to strategise and to join hands,” writes Algerian secularist Marieme Helie Lucas.
This is the impetus behind the 11-12 October 2014 International Conference on the Religious Right, Secularism and Civil Rights in London with speakers from countries or the Diaspora as diverse as Algeria, Bangladesh, Canada, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Poland, Senegal, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, UK, USA and Yemen.
A C Grayling
British Philosopher, UK
A C Grayling is Professor of Philosophy and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford. He has written and edited many books on philosophy and other subjects. He writes for various papers and is a frequent broadcaster on BBC radio. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and in 2003 was a Booker Prize judge. He is also Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.
One Law for All Campaigner, UK
Aliyah Saleem spent 6 years in an Islamic school in Britain and 1 year in Pakistan. In Britain, she was veiled, prohibited from using a camera and mobile phone. She was expelled when a camera was confiscated during a surprise room check and revealed an unveiled photo of herself. The experience traumatised her and she now campaigns for secular education for all.
Tunisian Academic, University of Manouba, Tunisia
Amel Grami is a Professor at the University of Manouba, Tunisia, where she has been teaching for twenty years. She was on the frontlines of Manouba’s successful struggle to defy a Salafist siege last year. Today, she is one of the world’s leading experts on Religion and Women’s Studies. She has made multiple contributions to international seminars and round tables, is a writer and responsible for the translation program of intellectual and civilization works in Tunisia National Center for Translation.
Pianist and Composer, UK
Pianist and composer Anne Lovett has been described as one of the greatest artists of her generation, with a crystalline and beautiful tonal clarity and huge sonic power, plus absolute virtuosity and a rare musical intelligence, expressiveness and ability to communicate. Her music has been described as fresh and exciting akin to a rock or pop concert with the distinctive emotional depth of classical music. 2014 sees her signing a publishing deal with major publishing house, Faber Music in London.
Political Activist, UK
Bahram Soroush is a founding member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. He is a social and political analyst and commentator that has been interviewed in a variety of British and international news media, including the BBC, ITN and New Channel TV. He is a Central Committee member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran.
Ben Baz Aziz
Ben Baz Aziz is a blogger -since 2010 and writer at Ithink magazine. Presenter at Arab Atheist broadcasting. He focuses on LGBT and atheist rights in the Middle East. He was working at the Kuwaiti Centre for Active Citizenship when he was arrested and imprisoned on 31/12/2012 for blasphemy. He was released on 14/2/2014 and is now living in Egypt.
Caroline Fourest is a French writer, editor of the magazine ProChoix, and author of Frère Tariq, a critical look at the works of Tariq Ramadan. She has written many books on such topics as the conservative right, the pro-life movement and on current fundamentalist trends in Abrahamic religions. She served as President of the Gay and Lesbian Center and received several awards, including the National “Laïcité” award in 2005 and “political book award” in 2006.
Student Activist, UK
Chris Moos is a secular student activist. After getting harassed and threatened with physical removal by his university he has led a successful campaign for the right to wear ‘Jesus and Mo’ t-shirts, and co-organised the campaign against gender segregation, as well as the campaign in support of PPC Maajid Nawaz, all of which received national news coverage. Chris was a nominee for the Secularist of the Year 2014 award.
Researcher, Sri Lanka
Chulani Kodikara is a Senior Researcher at the International Center for Ethnic Studies in Sri Lanka and author of ‘Muslim Family Law in Sri Lanka: Theory, Practice and Issues of Concern to Women’ and ‘Women and Governance’ in Sri Lanka. She was Deputy Director to Secretary General at the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process and a Senior Programme Coordinator of Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum (MWRAF).
Daphna Baram represented Palestinians as a defence lawyer in military courts in the West Bank and Gaza and was deputy editor in chief of the liberal Jerusalem based weekly Kol H’air. Since moving to the UK in 2002 she contributed commentary for the Guardian, The Independent, The New Statesman, The BBC and AlJazeera. She has been performing stand up comedy since 2010.
Labour Historian, India
Dilip Simeon is labour historian and public intellectual in India. He is Board of Trustee Member of the Aman Trust, which works to understand and reduce violent social conflict. He was senior research fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library between 2005 and 2008. During 1984 till 1992 he participated in a campaign for communal harmony and justice for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage.
Yemeni Writer and Academic, University of Zurich
Elham Manea is an associate professor specialized in the Middle East, a writer, and a human rights activist. She has published academic and non-fiction books in English, German, and Arabic. She works at the Political Science Institute at the University of Zurich and a consultant for Swiss government agencies and international human rights organisations. Her concept of humanistic Islam was first published in a series of articles in Arabic.
Muslim Women Research and Action Front, Sri Lanka
Faizun Zackariya is a Member of the Sub-Committee On Gender Issues In the Peace Process and Co-Founder of Muslim Women’s Research and Action Front. She is also Co- founder of Citizens for Justice, building inter-ethnic solidarity at grassroots level. An advocate for gender equity and justice for women, she has authored many articles related to, politics of identity, displacement, dispossession and citizens rights.
Founder, Iranian Secular Society
Fariborz Pooya was born in Iran. He took part in 1978-79 revolution, but moved to UK in 1979. He studied economics and politics at Oxford Brookes and Birkbeck College, University of London. He founded the Iranian Secular Society, was one of the founding members of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and writes and comments on politics and secularism. He also co-hosts political-social TV magazine, Bread and Roses.
Director, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Fatou Sow is a Senegalese Sociologist. She is a member of a number of African and international associations, including founding member of Le Groupe de recherche sur les Femmes et les lois au Sénégal. She is International Director of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, a solidarity network that provides information, support and a collective space for women whose lives are shaped, conditioned or governed by laws and customs said to derive from Islam.
Director, Centre for Secular Space
Gita Sahgal is an Indian-born writer, journalist, film-maker and rights activist. She is currently Director of Centre for Secular Space, and a co-founder and active member of Southall Black Sisters and Women against Fundamentalism. In February 2010, she was suspended by Amnesty International as head of its Gender Unit after she was quoted criticizing Amnesty for its high-profile associations with Moazzam Begg, the director of a campaign group called Cageprisoners.
Secretary, Worker-communist Party of Iran
Hamid Taqvaee is a Marxist thinker and leader of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. He is a political and social commentator and analyst who has had a significant impact in the development of Marxist critique of religion in Iran and the Middle East. He has been an influential figure in the Left and opposition movement in Iran in the 70s and following the Iranian revolution. He has written numerous articles and been interviewed extensively on Iran and other issues.
Homa Arjomand is an Iranian–born political activist in Canada running the International Campaign against Sharia Court in Canada and others including to close down Iranian embassies and for One Secular School System in Ontario. She received the 2005 Toronto Humanist of the Year award and was recognised as women of the year by Gazette Des Femmes amongst others. She is the Spokesperson of Women’s Liberation in Canada and founder of the Cultural Bridges Association.
Spokesperson,Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
Houzan Mahmoud is a Kurdish women’s rights campaigner and the Spokesperson of the Organisations of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. Houzan is an international voice for women’s and workers’ rights in Iraq and Kurdistan; has led many campaigns internationally, including campaigns against the rape and abduction of women in Iraq, and against the imposition of Islamic sharia law in Kurdistan and Iraqi constitution, and honour killings.
Human Rights Activist, UK
Horia Mosadiq works for Amnesty International on their Afghanistan dossier. Previously, she was Director of the Afghanistan Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium and an advisor to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and a journalist in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A former member of the Afghanistan Media Commission, Horia writes articles for Afghan media, and is regularly interviewed about human rights, women’s affairs and media.
Imad Iddine Habib
Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco
Imad Iddine Habib is a Moroccan atheist threatened for his atheism. He is founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco, the first public atheist organisation in a country with Islam as the state religion. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain declared May 15 “International Imad Day” in order to galvanise support for his case. His case was also highlighted in a 2013 CEMB report on the political and legal status of apostates in Islam.
Inna Shevchenko is leader of FEMEN, topless activists against various manifestations of patriarchy, including dictatorship, religion, and the sex industry. She was kidnapped and threatened by the Belarus KGB in 2011 and was given political asylum in France. In July 2013, Olivier Ciappa, who together with David Kawena designed a new French stamp depicting Marianne, said Shevchenko had been the main inspiration for the depiction.
Julie Bindel is an English writer, feminist and co-founder of the group Justice for Women. She is a journalist whose work regularly appears in The Telegraph, Independent and The Guardian. She has been involved in feminist law reform campaigns for victims of domestic violence and originally began writing as a way to get the message across to the wider public. In August 2010 she entered The Independent’s “Pink List” as ninety-eighth of the top 101 most influential gay and lesbian people in the UK.
Kacem El Ghazzali
Kacem El Ghazzali is a Moroccan secularist writer, blogger, activist and atheist. He was the head of the Moroccan Center for Human Rights’ Youth Chapter and is a member of the Executive Board of the Moroccan Bloggers Association. In 2012, he launched the “Masayminch” initiative, which calls on Moroccans who do not observe Ramadan to eat publicly. Since 2012 El Ghazzali has served as the International Humanist and Ethical Union Representative at the UN in Geneva.
Professor of international law, University of California – Davis School of Law
Karima Bennoune is a law professor at the UC Davis School of Law, and author of “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism”. In 2007, Bennoune became the first Arab-American to win the Derrick Bell Award from the Association of American Law Schools Section on Minority Groups. Currently, she sits on the Board of the Network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws.
Kate Smurthwaite is a stand-up comedian and political activist. She has appeared on more than 500 TV and radio shows including This Morning, The Big Questions, Woman’s Hour and The Moral Maze. In 2013 she won a Three Week’s Editor’s Choice Award for her show at the Edinburgh Festival. Kate is a writer for BBC Three show The Revolution Will Be Televised and is the Vice Chair of Abortion Rights UK.
Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, a presenter of BBC Radio 4′s Analysis and a panellist on The Moral Maze. His book From Fatwa to Jihad was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. As a scientific author, his focus is on the philosophy of biology, and contemporary theories of multiculturalism, pluralism and race. These topics are discused in The Meaning of Race (1996), Man, Beast and Zombie (2000) and Strange Fruit: Why both sides are wrong in the race debate (2008).
Kiran Opal is a human rights activist, writer, and editor from Canada. She is co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America. She serves as Editor of ExMuslimBlogs.com, and consultant to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and its affiliated Forum. Born in Pakistan, she came to Canada as a refugee in 2004. Kiran graduated with high distinction in Anthropology from the University of Toronto and is writing her first book exploring Islamic imperialism.
LCP Dance Theatre
Dance Theatre, UK
Formed in 2006 in London, LCP is a multimedia and multiethnic dance company which emphasises human rights issues mainly human trafficking. The aim is to bring awareness of inequality and violation of human rights around the world through the performing arts. With support of BBC Performing Arts fund 2011 for the best choreography awarded to Mimmo Miccolis, LCP created a unique human rights based dance performance ‘Rights(?)’.
Writer, Documentary Maker, Canada
Lila Ghobady, Iranian writer and documentary maker in exile; acted as Co-director and Producer for very first underground documentaries secretly made inside Iran, including Utopia and Epitaph, which deals with Iranian sex-trade workers and war refugees. Her recent documentary “Forbidden Sun Dance” is based on the life of Iranian dancer and choreographer who was forced to flee when dancing was banned.
Maha Kamal is President of the Colorado Prison Law Project and Commissioner at the Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice’s Commission on Inclusiveness. She studied International Law at the University of Denver and was a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. She co-wrote the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s 2013 report entitled Political and Legal Status of Apostates in Islam and organised a successful Kafir Comedy Night. She was disowned by her parents for leaving Islam. She is also a photographer, and graphics designer.
Magdulien Abaida is a Libyan Activist; president of Hakki (My Right) Organization for Women Rights; founding member of 7/2 Movement which organised The Anger Day of Libyan women on 7/2/12, a secular movement against religion involvement in women personal lives, seeking equality. She was working on a project for Hakki organisation regarding women rights in the constitution when she was kidnapped by Islamists in Benghazi in August 2012. She fled after her release three days later after being threatened with death for defending Women rights. She is now a law student at Birbeck university.
Marieme Helie Lucas
Marieme Helie Lucas is an Algerian sociologist, political theorist and author. Marieme was born in Algeria to a ‘family of feminists’ and had been active in the liberation struggle of Algeria. She is founder and former International Coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, a solidarity network that provides information, support and a collective space for women. She is also the founder of Secularism Is A Women’s Issue, which focuses on the threat of the erosion of secular spaces and of formal secularism, and challenges all forms of fundamentalisms.
Maryam Namazie is Spokesperson for Fitnah, One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; editor of Fitnah’s Unveiled; Central Committee member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran; and National Secular Society Honorary Associate. She was was awarded Journalist of the Year Dods Women in Public Life Awards and was NSS’s 2005 Secularist of the Year Award winner. She is the producer and co-host of Bread and Roses TV.
Nadia El Fani
Film-maker, Tunisia, France
Nadia El Fani, a Tunisian film-maker living in France, risks arrest and up to five years in prison if she returns to Tunisia after Islamists filed a complaint against her for her film “Neither Allah nor Master”. The film is an account of Tunisian life immediately before and after the fall of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Others films include Ouled Lenine, Laicite, Inshallah! and Our breasts, our weapons!
Secularist, Campaigner, Sudan, UK
Nahla Mahmoud is an environmentalist and human right activist originally from Sudan. She works with a number of campaigns in the UK including One Law for All and Secular Middle East and North Africa. She leads the Sudanese Humanists Group and is Spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.
Nina Sankari is Vice President of the Atheist Coalition in Poland. She writes and translates articles for the biggest free-thinking and feminist centres in Poland. She has participated in many international conferences related to secularism, women’s rights, and on political and social issues.
Nira Yuval Davis
Israeli dissident, UK
Nira Yuval Davis is a diasporic Israeli Jewish sociologist and an anti-racist anti-fundamentalist feminist. She is a founder member of Women Against Fundamentalism and the International Research Network on Women in Militarized Conflict Zones. Currently she is the Director of the research centre on Migration Refugees and Belonging at the University of East London. Her works include Women Against Fundamentalism: Stories of Dissent and Solidarity, 2014.
Nuclear Physicist and Social Activist, Pakistan
Pervez Hoodbhoy is a Pakistani nuclear physicist and recipient of a number of awards. He is also a prominent environmentalist and social activist and regularly writes on a wide range of social, cultural and environmental issues. He is the chairman of Mashal, a non-profit organization which publishes Urdu books on feminism, education, environmental issues, philosophy, and modern thought.
Peter Tatchell has been campaigning for rights and global justice since 1967. He is a member of the queer human rights group OutRage! and is the Green Party’s spokesperson on human rights. New Statesman readers voted him sixth on their list of “Heroes of our time”; he was Campaigner of the Year in The Observer Ethical Awards, Evening Standard’s 1000 Most Influential Londoners and the 2012 Secularist of the Year winner amongst others.
Director, Southall Black Sisters
Pragna Patel is a founding member of the Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism. She has also written extensively on race, gender and religion, including ‘Citizenship: Whose Rights?’, ‘Faith in the State? Asian Women’s Struggles for Human Rights in the UK’, and ‘Shrinking Secular Spaces: Asian Women at the Intersect of Race, Religion and Gender’. She was listed in The Guardian’s Top 100 women: activists and campaigners.
Founder of Ex-Muslims of Scotland, UK
Ramin Forghani is the Iranian-born founder of Ex-Muslims of Scotland, an organisation affiliated with the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the Vice Chair of the Scottish Secular Society.
Franco-Syrian Politician, FranceRanda Kassis is President and founder of the Movement for a Pluralistic Society. She was a member of the Syrian National Council until she was excluded for her warnings against Muslim fundamentalists in 2012. From a young age, Randa Kassis revolted, including by opposing Christianity, her parents’ religion, and by refusing to join the Baathists. She has published «Crypts of The Gods», was formerly President of the Syrian Secular Coalition and one of the founders of the Association for the Protection of Freedom of Speech in the Arab world.
Rumy Hassan is Senior Lecturer at University of Sussex and author of Dangerous Liaisons: The Clash between Islamism and Zionism (2013) and Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truths (2010). Hailing from a South Asian Islamic background, he is firmly opposed to sectarianism and instead stresses the importance of secularism and humanism in bringing people from different backgrounds together and, accordingly, he has been highly critical of multiculturalism and multifaithism.
Safak Pavey is a Turkish MP representing Istanbul for the main opposition social democrat party. She also serves as an United Nations independent human rights expert. Safak is known for her work in the field of human rights, humanitarian aid, peace-building with a background embracing diplomacy, activism and politics. She worked for the UN Human Rights and UNHCR including on missions in the Middle East. She was recently honoured with the ‘Secularist of the Year Award’ by NSS.
Salil Tripathi is an award-winning journalist, a contributing editor at Mint and at Caravan in India. Earlier, he was foreign correspondent based in Singapore and Hong Kong before moving to London in 1999. In the UK, he was board member of English PEN from 2009 to 2013, and co-chaired PEN’s Writers-at-Risk Committee. He has won awards for his journalism. His book Offence: The Hindu Case, about free speech and Hindu nationalism, appeared in 2009.
Sameena Zehra is a comedian, storyteller, Blues singer, and actor. She has worked at The National Theatre and toured with the RSC, and is a regular performer in The Poetry Army. Sameena co-hosts Immigrant Diaries, a show that tells stories of the immigrant experience from around the world. She has written and performed two solo comedy shows which have toured fringes in Edinburgh, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Sanal Edamaruku is an author and rationalist and founder-president of Rationalist International and the president of the Indian Rationalist Association. He is the editor of Rationalist International, author of 25 books and other articles. In 2012, he was charged with hurting religious sentiments for his role in examining a claimed miracle at a local Catholic Church. He moved to Finland to evade his arrest.
Shelley Segal is a Melbourne based singer-songwriter involved in secular activism. ‘An Atheist Album’ is a passionate response to dogmatic belief, inequality, religious oppression and the idea that only the devout can be grateful and good. Segal relishes her ability to use song writing and music to explore issues of importance to her. The record gives a voice to the often underrepresented views of non-religious people, the fastest growing minority in many countries.
Siba Shakib is an Iranian/German film-maker, writer and political activist. She was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. She has travelled to Afghanistan many times over the last five years, visiting the north as well as the territory that was commanded by the Taliban. Several of her documentaries have won awards. Her international best-seller Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep has been translated into 27 languages and won a P.E.N. prize.
Soad Baba Aïssa is founder of the Association for Mixing, Equality and Secularism (AMEL means Hope in Arabic). In 2004 she participated in the campaign 20 ans Barakat against family law in Algeria and in 2008 in the Caravan from the South which mobilized women on both sides of the Mediterranean against religious fundamentalism and for women’s rights. She has been involved in popular education with grass roots organisations. She is of migrant origin with dual citizenship.
Campaigner,Survivors Voice Europe
Sue Cox is the co-founder of Survivors Voice Europe, an international organisation that has at its heart the support and empowerment of catholic clergy abuse survivors.She is 66 years old, was a single mother of six, and is now a grandmother. Her own abuses at the hands of a catholic priest from the age of ten until thirteen, resulted in a downward spiral of mental and emotional disturbance, alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorder and serious self harming. These days Sue is a health care professional and the head of a large teaching organisation.
Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra, Bangladesh
Sultana Kamal is a lawyer, human rights activist and Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra. She was active in the ’69 mass upheaval as well as other social activism. In 1971 she joined the Muktibahini and was one of the founders of the Bangladesh Field Hospital for freedom fighters. Sultana and her sister Saeeda were the two out of four women to get Special Commendation for their role in the liberation war. She received Ananya Top Ten award in 1995 and the John Humphrey Freedom Award 1996 Canada.
Taj Hargey is the Director of Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford and Imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation. He received his Ph.D. in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies from Oxford University.
Taslima Nasrin is a Bangladeshi-born award-winning writer, physician, and activist, known for her powerful writings on women oppression and unflinching criticism of religion, despite forced exile and multiple fatwas calling for her death. She has received the prestigious literary award Ananda from India, The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament, the Kurt Tucholsky Award from Swedish PEN, the Simone de Beauvoir Award and Human Rights Award from France, and UNESCO Madanjeet Singh prize for Promotion of the Tolerance and Non-violence, amongst many others.
Terry Sanderson is a writer and journalist and current President of the National Secular Society, which campaigns for the separation of church and state. He was prominent in organising the Protest the Pope demonstrations and is a frequent broadcaster and columnist. He is also a well-known gay rights activist and wrote a media monitoring column for Gay Times for 25 years. He has written seven books.
Palestinian blogger and Founder, Ex-Muslim of France
Waleed Al-Husseini is a Palestinian blogger. In October 2010, the Palestinian Authority arrested him for allegedly blaspheming against Islam on Facebook and in his blog. His arrest garnered international attention. He founded the Council of Ex-Muslims of France in 2013. His ‘I’m Proud to be an Atheist’ Facebook page has more than 110,000 ‘likes’.
Yasmin Rehman is a freelance consultant and doctoral candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Her area of research is polygamy and the law. She has worked for more than 20 years predominantly on violence against women, race, faith and gender, and human rights. Yasmin has worked for Local Government, the Metropolitan Police Service as Director of Partnerships and Diversity (2004-08) during which time she also held the Deputy national lead for forced marriage and honour based violence. Yasmin has most recently been commissioned as founding CEO of a race equality charity in East London, followed by Transforming Rehabilitation bid and now reviewing police responses to domestic abuse for national charities. Yasmin is currently member of the Board of EVAW (End Violence Against Women Coalition), an Independent Adviser for City of London Police and a member of the Centre for Secular Space.