Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, March 06, 2007

he "Secular Islam Summit" (which I mentioned here last week) wrapped up yesterday in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Gateway Pundit was there -- blogging away throughout the entire event. Jim has at least 8 articles up already, so hit that front page of his and just keep scrolling. It sounds as though Wafa Sultan made quite an impression, along with many of the other participants.

The Summit released The St. Petersburg Declaration (and you may view the scholar Ibn Warraq delivering it via video on that page):
Released by the delegates to the Secular Islam Summit, St. Petersburg, Florida on March 5, 2007

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.

We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.

We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamaphobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.

We call on the governments of the world to
reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostacy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights;

eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women; protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence;

reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims;

and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation.
We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy.

We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam, and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.

We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine;

to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens;

and to nonbelievers: we defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent.

Before any of us is a member of the Umma, the Body of Christ, or the Chosen People, we are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must chose for themselves.
Jim says that there was an announcement during the Monday session, that some delegates had been forced to stay away from the Summit due to death threats against them in their homelands. This is of course deplorable -- but to be expected. Yet this event was an important step for the much needed enlightenment movement within Islam, and further proof that secular ethics (as with democracy and fundamental human rights) are not incompatible with the religion. Free inquiry is basic to human values, and the submission to dogmatic edicts of intolerance is not a natural condition for human beings.

The Jawa Report's Ragnar Danneskjold was also blogging from the Summit, and has an interesting summary of what the various speakers brought to the table. In an update to Ragnar's post though, Chief Jawa Dr. Shackleford couldn't resist getting a dig in against another blogger:
Dean Esmay readers might note that all of those at the conference are Muslims, yet each of them is an "Islamophobe" under his five points.
Far be it from me to step between Dean and Rusty in their ongoing blogo-feud, but one need only to know the most basic information about one of the main participants, to know this is not true. As I said here last week, the conference will likely be castigated by hard-headed Muslim chauvinists (those of the same bent as the ones issuing death threats to keep attendance down), as a meeting of apostates. The fact is that several of the panelists are ex-Muslims. Ibn Warraq is best known for his book, "Why I am not a Muslim". I'm sure that Wafa Sultan has explicitly stated that she has left the religion as well. Indeed, right at the top of the Declaration, are the words,
"We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree."
It's a considerable exaggeration to state that "all of those at the conference are Muslims..." They are, however, a solid majority.

Tawfik Hamid had grown up in a secular Muslim family in Egypt, but was radicalised as a teenager and joined Jamma Islamia, a terrorist organisation in Egypt then led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was in Canada late last year, and met the National Post's Michael Coren. I quoted a passage from the National Post article in November, when he spoke of the uncomfortable and inconvenient truths which lie behind Islamist suicidal terrorism. It seems a suitable occasion to revisit the article, and offer a longer quote this time.

He had spoken to Coren of the sexual frustration dynamic behind suicidal jihadis, who are almost exclusively Sunni Muslims. Shia Islam, he said, has a doctrine of temporary marriage, obviating the "need" for religiously forbidden extra-marital sex. But for the young and passionate Sunni fundamentalist, the promise of unlimited ecstasy with the beautiful virgins of heaven is a powerful incentive. "Don't for a moment underestimate this blinding passion or its influence on those who accept fundamentalism... I know. I was one who accepted it," he told the writer.
This partial explanation is shocking more for its banality than its horror. Mass murder provoked partly by simple lust. But it cannot be denied that letters written by suicide bombers frequently dwell on waiting virgins and sexual gratification.

"The sexual aspect is, of course, just one part of this. But I can tell you what it is not about. Not about Israel, not about Iraq, not about Afghanistan. They are mere excuses. Algerian Muslim fundamentalists murdered 150,000 other Algerian Muslims, sometimes slitting the throats of children in front of their parents. Are you seriously telling me that this was because of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians or American foreign policy?"

He's exasperated now, visibly angry at what he sees as a willful Western foolishness. "Stop asking what you have done wrong. Stop it! They're slaughtering you like sheep and you still look within. You criticize your history, your institutions, your churches. Why can't you realize that it has nothing to do with what you have done but with what they want."

Then he leaves -- for where, he cannot say. A voice that is silenced in its homeland and too often ignored by those who prefer convenient revision to disturbing truth. The tragedy is that Tawfik Hamid is almost used to it.
Tawfik Hamid was also a panelist at the Secular Islam Summit. If you are interested in hearing what this or the other courageous voices had to say in St. Petersburg, YouTube user Center for Inquiry is posting videos of the panels (check that page, as he's putting up more as I write this). Here are direct links to the videos posted so far (speaker biographies here):

Opening Remarks

Part 1 (29:02) Ibn Warraq

Part 2 (35:13) Irshad Manji

Inside the Jihadi Mind

Part 1 (17:03) Tawfik Hamid

Part 2 (23:43) Nibras Kazimi, Q & A

Part 3 (27:01) more Hamid / Kazimi Q & A

Rediscovering Secular Traditions

Part 1 (35:29) Shaker Al-Nabulsi, Shahriar Kabir

Part 2 (21:55) Afshin Ellian

The next event to anticipate is a documentary by Canadian "Muslim refusenik" Irshad Manji, set to air on PBS' "America at a Crossroads" series on April 19: Faith without Fear. Irshad is not an apostate from Islam, she's simply a Muslim woman who refuses to drown her own intellect in submission to repressive Arab cultural values which are already outdated by many, many centuries. A "renaissance Muslima" if you will. Her base of operations is here.


More clips have been added, for the final session of the first day.

Separating Mosque and State

Part 1 (26:30) Walid Phares

Part 2 (37:31) Hassan Fatemolla, Salameh Nematt

Part 3 (40:47) Q & A


More clips have been posted from Day 2 of the conference.

Secularism and Islamic Thought

Part 1 (44:33) Ibn Warraq, Nonie Darwish

Part 2 (42:19) Wafa Sultan, Tashbih Sayyed

Part 3 (45:10) Q & A

Press Conference

Part 1 (24:03)

Part 2 (50:52)

The St. Petersburg Declaration

St. Petersburg Declaration - English

St. Petersburg Declaration - Farsi

St. Petersburg Declaration - Arabic

St. Petersburg Declaration - Bengali

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