New ex-Muslim group launched in Netherlands

A new group of ex-Muslims has been launched in the Netherlands, following similar groups in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and England. It encourages those from a Muslim background who no longer consider themselves to be religious to formally renounce their connection with Islam. The group was launched in a welter of publicity, as leaders of the movement from around Europe signed a “Declaration of Tolerance” on Tuesday.

The Dutch group has been formed by Ehsan Jami, a 22-year old, who has already been attacked three times by Islamist thugs. The formation of the group has caused a great deal of debate and controversy in Holland, which has a Muslim population of around one million.

"There are five sharia schools in Islam which say if you leave Islam you must be killed," Jami told Reuters in an interview while bodyguards stood watch at the door. Apostasy is punishable by death or imprisonment in some Muslim countries and deplored throughout the Islamic world. Jami's "Committee for Ex-Muslims" wants imams and Muslims to recognise fellow Muslims' right to leave their faith and to respect freedom of religion.

Our own Maryam Namazie said: "This is a significant step, because apostasy is a crime which is punishable by death in some Muslim countries and because even simply questioning anything to do with Islam is forbidden as the faith is considered divinely ordained."

Mina Ahadi of the German group said it was significant all three leaders were of Iranian background because they had witnessed first hand the repressions of political Islam. Ms Ahadi is on the shortlist for the NSS’s Secularist of the Year prize this year. Arzu Toker, vice president of Germany's Council of Ex-Muslims, says they are determined to show that not all people from Muslim countries are religious. If we don't show it, many people will think `all these people are just the same,' and that's simply not true," she said.

Ehsan Jami's blunt criticism of Islam, which he likens to fascism and Nazism, has angered many Dutch Muslims, and earned comparisons to the rhetoric of Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders whose party holds nine of the 150 seats in parliament.

News of an attack on Jami in August by suspected Islamists caused an outcry. Filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was critical of Islam, was murdered in an Amsterdam street in 2004 and his partner in that venture, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been under armed guard ever since.

Jami said it was necessary to overcome what he called "persistent taboos" in Muslim society about leaving the faith when he founded the committee for former Muslims. He is also a member of the city council for the Labour Party in Leidschendam-Voorburg near The Hague. On August 10, Minister of Finance and Vice-Prime Minister Wouter Bos, said in an interview with the daily Volkskrant that he did not approve of a committee "which offends Muslims and their faith."

But pressure on Labour to support Jami has since increased, forcing Jacques Tichelaar, the Labour faction leader in parliament, to sign a declaration of support for the committee of ex-Muslims. The group of people supporting the committee had sent the declaration to several hundred opinion leaders, politicians and journalists in the Netherlands, asking them to stand behind the rights of former Muslims to renounce their faith.

But on Wednesday Han Noten, Labour's faction leader in the senate, protested his party's signature on the declaration in an article published by the NRC Handelsblad. Referring to the European Declaration of Tolerance, Noten wrote that "signing the declaration on September 11 can only be interpreted as a provocation. It suggests the issue is about the innocent and the guilty, with former Muslims being innocent and Muslims guilty."

A radio programme Standpunt yesterday polled its listeners on the question: 'The committee of ex-Muslims deserves all support.' Sixty-three percent agreed and 37 percent disagreed.

Read Maryam Namazie’s speech at the press conference here

Maryam Namazie SoY

Maryam Namazie