Freedom of Conscience and Expression

The first speaker was Maryam Namazie on “The Right and Duty to Criticize Islam.” Namazie is a former Muslim. Freedom of conscience, Namazie said, is not a “Western” value, and it matters most when it comes to criticizing religion and things held sacred. This is vital to human progress. And Islam, in particular, she asserted, is a culture of violence that has wreaked havoc on its peoples. A “moderate” religion is one that has been reined back by an Enlightenment.
Religious freedom, she insisted, does not include the right to be respected and sheltered from being offended. Criticizing a belief is not the same as attacking the person who holds it. It’s the human being—not a creed—that must be held sacred. And, Namazie said, this is not a clash of civilizations, but rather a clash of the uncivilized.
Next was Institute for Humanist Studies Executive Director Matt Cherry, on “Freedom of Conscience as a Fundamental Right.” He noted that identifying onself as an ex-Muslim (as in the case of Ms. Namazie) is very dangerous in today’s world, because Islam does not recognize a right to leave the faith. Such apostates earn a death sentence. That, of course, is a fundamental violation of the principle of freedom of conscience. And, echoing Ms. Namazie, he stressed that it’s not religions that have these rights, only individuals do.
Matt called attention to the case of Dr. Younis Shaikh, a Pakistani professor sentenced to death for blasphemy. Invoking the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the US government, together with some NGOs, was able to get Dr. Shaikh freed. (Shaikh’s blasphemy consisted of telling his students that, prior to the start of the Islamic religion, Muhammad and his deceased parents were non-Muslims.)

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