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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Iranian dissident Mina Ahadi wins Secularist of the Year prize

Dawkins says women will defeat militant Islam
Richard Dawkins says that it is “the awakening of women” that will solve the problem of “the worldwide menace of Islamic terrorism and oppression”.

His remarks came while praising Mina Ahadi, winner of this year’s NSS Irwin Prize for “Secularist of the Year”.

Mina Ahadi is an Iranian woman who was forced to flee her native country after leading a campaign against the compulsory veiling of women. Because of her resistance to the clerical regime, her husband and four of her colleagues were executed, and she only narrowly escaped the same fate.

She now lives in Germany and has founded the Committee of Ex-Muslims, a movement that is rapidly spreading across Europe. She has also founded the Committee Against Stoning, which now has 200 branches worldwide.

Richard Dawkins said: “I have long felt that the key to solving the worldwide menace of Islamic terrorism and oppression would eventually be the awakening of women, and Mina Ahadi is a charismatic leader working to that end. The brutal suppression of the rights of women in many countries throughout the Islamic world is an obvious outrage. Slightly less obvious, but just as outrageous, is the supine willingness of western liberals to go along with it. It is worse than supine, it is patronising and condescending: "Wife-beating is part of 'their' culture. Who are we to condemn their traditions?" A religion so insecure as to mandate the death penalty for apostasy is not to be trifled with, and ex-Muslims who stand up and fight deserve our huge admiration and gratitude for their courage. Right out in front of this honourable band is Mina Ahadi. I salute her and congratulate her on this well-deserved award as Secularist of the Year.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “We are proud to have been able to give Mina this honour – she is a woman of incredible courage and tenacity. The suffering she has endured has not dimmed her determination to improve the lot of women oppressed by Islam and other religious traditions.”

Introducing Mina to the members and supporters of the NSS who gathered for the presentation in London last Saturday, Keith Porteous Wood, the Society’s Executive Director said:
“What can we say about this year’s winner – except to affirm our deepest admiration for Mina Ahadi’s courage and commitment?

“Mina Ahadi started her serious political activities when she was 16 and living in Iran. She was at university in 1979 in Tabriz at the time of the Iranian revolution and she began immediately to organise demonstrations and meetings to oppose the compulsory veiling of women. This courageous dissent got her noticed by the Islamic regime’s authorities and soon she had to go underground to avoid retribution.

“At the end of 1980 her house was raided by the police and her husband and four of their comrades arrested. Mina escaped only because she wasn’t at home at the time.

“Her husband and the four arrested were all executed by firing squad soon after. She lived underground for some time and then fled to Iranian Kurdistan in 1982, where she continued to struggle against the Islamic regime for the next ten years. In 1990 she went to Vienna. She moved to Germany in 1996 and has lived in Europe since then.

“In all that time, Mina Ahadi has struggled mightily for the rights of women. She founded the International Committee against Stoning – which now has over 200 branches throughout the world. She also heads the International Committee against Executions and is the spokesperson for the newly formed women’s rights organisation, Equal Rights. She formed the Central Council of ex-Muslims in Germany early this year to help people renounce Islam and religion should they so wish.

“This brilliant idea has now been replicated in several other European countries, including in Britain by our own Maryam Namazie.

“Undeterred by the inevitable death threats, Mina has pressed on, determined as ever to protect women from the ravages of Islam.

“Apostasy, of course, is forbidden in Islam and in some Islamist states it carries the death penalty – including in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and Mauritania. She calls such states “Islam-stricken” and her own experience of living and suffering under such regimes has made her ever more determined to rescue others from their clutches. I cannot tell you how proud the National Secular Society is to honour this wonderful, compassionate, kindly but strong-as-steel woman.”

Maryam Namazie, NSS honorary associate and winner of the award in 2005, and now head of the Ex-Muslim Council of Britain, sent this message of congratulations to Mina:

“Your winning the 2007 Secularist of the Year award is a cause for celebration for people across the world. This well-deserved honour reiterates your leading role in the battle for secularism, rights and a world worthy of 21st century humanity.

“You and your movement have always been about saving lives and putting people first. Thanks in large part to your efforts, it is this life-affirming politics that is finally gaining the recognition it deserves.

“Putting people first is revolutionary in a world where people are dehumanised and deemed to be represented by political Islam or US militarism and labelled by a million characteristics beginning with religion, nationality or ethnicity and never ending in human.

“In such a world, millions of often resisting and dissenting people are deemed to be represented by the likes of the misogynist and inhuman Islamic regime of Iran, the Muslim Council of Britain or the Islamic Human Rights Commission. In such a world, opposing the political Islamic movement and defending its victims is deemed to be in aid of US militarism whilst opposing US militarism is deemed to be in support of political Islam. In such a world, people, real live human beings, are absent from the equation.
“To bring people back into the equation, to give their dissent and resistance a voice, to defend humanity without labels, is what you and your movement have done. This recognition is a victory for all of us. I salute you.”

The whole event was an upbeat occasion with entertainment provided by singer Esther Williams and comedian Christina Martin. It was rounded off by a moving performance of an Iranian love song by Elizabeth Mansfield – by that stage there wasn’t, as they say, a dry eye in the house.

Mina Ahadi was interviewed on the Radio 4 PM programme on Thursday. Listen again here (32 minutes into the programme)
26 October 2007

See a video of the event here:
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

See pictures of Secularist of the Year here

Johann Hari on Mina

See also: Public hangings ratchet up state terror and suppression in Iran

The Ex-Muslim Council of Britain’s website


Published Fri, 26 Oct 2007