The Algerian socialist-feminist Marieme Helie-Lucas responds to Deeya Khan's film Islam's Non-Believers, which was broadcast on ITV on 13 October.
For the past three decades, we have been witnessing the implementation in politics of the concept of perversity in psychology. Truly, this is a case study.
I first realised this during the “dark decade” in Algeria, in which around 200,000 people became victims, many of armed fundamentalist groups, with women constituting a large proportion.
Following an inexorable process, these were the steps taken by the fundamentalists:
Now, guess what happened? It was the victims, the Algerian democrats, the anti-fascist, anti-fundamentalist Algerians, who never took up arms against their executioners but only the pen, that the left and human rights organisations vilified!
I cannot even begin to tell you how one experiences a sense of madness when responsibilities are turned upside down in such a way; one feels like the raped girl, the battered woman, the child being caned, who have been told by judges, police, families, and media alike, over such a long period of time, that they were the ones truly responsible for sexual attacks, domestic violence, and physical punishment in “education”; and that it was their own behaviour (how libertarian indeed! Just being able to exist in the public space, to express an opinion, in short, just enjoying one’s fundamental human rights!) which induced these responses, which were thus seen as legitimate. Yes, we already have quite a long experience of perversity, which magically turns the victim into the abuser and blames her for the crimes that are committed against her.
On 13 October, Deeya Khan's film Islam's Non-Believers was broadcast on British television. It showed the fate of atheists in Muslim countries; pointed to the growing number of young people who, despite the risk to their lives, declare themselves atheists (one of the most important phenomenon in this decade, although the European media has failed to give it the importance it deserves); and at the organisations who help them. The film gave the floor to young atheists and underlined the work done by the Councils of ex-Muslims that popped up in many places in Muslim countries and in the diaspora. It especially showed the work done by the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, with its formidable organiser Maryam Namazie.
It does not come as a surprise that this film sparked protest from Muslim fundamentalists and that their views were propagated and circulated all around, on the web and in the papers. One could expect such a backlash. They argued, as usual, that denouncing those who call for the murder of atheists, in public statements that are available on the web, is an attempt to malign them by “misinterpreting what they say”. It is equated with attacking Islam itself, with being a miscreant, a kofr who therefore deserves death penalty! These threats have been addressed to anyone involved in the film, from the director, the youth being interviewed, and their support organisations.
What, in fact, do these young people say? That when they stopped believing in the faith they were born and raised into, an often long and painful process that generally starts at teenage, they were drowning into a horrendous moral and emotional solitude; and that long before having to cope with a very grounded fear of being slaughtered for their opinion, they endured years of agony while facing the prospect of family rejection and being ostracised socially.
In Algiers, where I grew up and where there were, after independence (1962), scores of really irreligious youth, if not declared atheists, how many did I see who were truly terrorised at the idea that their mother could find out that they did not observe fast during Ramadan! Who, among high-ranking civil servants, dared open the canteens during the fasting period in state-owned factories? (The answer: only one, in the whole of Algeria, in the national steel sector).
How, therefore, can we be surprised when, 50 years later, while far-right reaction and fundamentalism flourish worldwide, bloggers and writers are assassinated in Bangladesh, Egypt, India, or elsewhere? Director Deeyah Khan reviews the recent cases of atheists’ murders in Bangladesh, so that one can better understand the fear that is gripping young atheists, even those who took refuge in the UK. Several of them hid their faces while testifying in the film, for fear of reprisal.
Yes, fear, today, in the UK, in London. Fear of being physically attacked, of being assassinated. Is this fear so unfounded? I am afraid it is not unfounded: there are several journalists of Algerian origin, experts on Muslim fundamentalism, who have been living for years under police protection in Paris. There is a director and actress of Algerian origin who attackers attempted to burn alive in broad daylight, in the street adjacent to the theatre where she was about to act in her play. “I am 30 and I still hide when I smoke”. It never stopped since the Rushdie affair.
Muslim fundamentalists who presently raise their voices against the film are preparing the ground so the eventual brutal responses with which they threaten young atheists will be considered as legitimate by those who should be our allies: the left and human rights organisations. After all, if they “insult Islam”, and if Muslims “feel offended”, then... One remembers Charlie.
Just imagine, for one second, that Christian fundamentalists called for the murder of atheists in Europe on a regular basis, on the basis that their lack of faith “insults Christianity”. We would be back in the times of Chevalier de la Barre, who himself was so young a man when he was tortured and executed for exactly the same reasons than ex-Muslims today. Would this be tolerated by the left? I doubt it.
Then why this special treatment, this tolerance which only covers up for an unconscious racism, in the wake of such violations of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression, including in the heart of Europe, when it comes to Islam?
We know why. But we do not consider these reasons acceptable. No, it is not an insult to Islam, or to Christianity, nor to any other religion, if an individual states in public that she or he no longer believes in its god. It is the exercise of a fundamental right, a right that is upheld by international human rights laws. Those who impede, or forcibly prevent, the exercising of this right, or inflict punishment on those exercising it, those are the ones who commit a crime, not those exercising the right.
In this days and age, reaffirming this is not totally useless.
For some of the responses to the film, see:
"Muslim man from Leyton accuses ITV of 'vilifying' Islamic scholar, who is rector at Al-Ashraaf Secondary School in Ilford, in documentary", East London & West Essex Guardian, 17 October
"Muslim Responds To Apostasy In Islam", Musa Adnan, YouTube
"A Short Analysis of ITV's 'Islam's Non-Believers' Documentary", Luqmaan Al-Hakeem, ILMFeed.Com