I am truly honoured to have been awarded the International Secularism (Laicite) Prize from the Comité Laïcité République in Paris on 2 November. The wonderful Malek Boutih won the National Prix and Étienne-Émile Baulieu the Scientific Prize for 2016.
Here is my acceptance speech in English. Video and text below.
Thank you for this wonderful honour. I am so glad to have the support of so many present here, including my husband and son, as well as my Muslim parents.
We live in an age where totalitarianism is masked as divine righteousness, theocrats legitimised, dissent vilified and victims blamed for their own murder.
This is a time where “solidarity” is no longer an act of defending revolutionaries but fascists; where there is always support for Islamist projects like Sharia courts, the burqa, gender segregation, apostasy and blasphemy laws – whether de jure or de facto – but never for those who refuse to be silenced, erased and “disappeared”.
It’s a time when “progressive” all too often means protecting regressive identity politics, which homogenises entire communities and societies, and deems theocrats as the sole legitimate arbiters and gatekeepers of “community” values.
It’s a politics of betrayal – devoid of class struggle and political ideals – which sees any dissent through Islamist eyes and immediately labels it “Islamophobic” and blasphemous.
We are called “aggressive apostates”, “fundamentalist secularists”, “native informants”, “inflammatory”. We are accused of violating the “safe spaces” of Islamists on universities and even “inciting hatred”.
Don’t believe it. That is the Islamist narrative.
In the world today, it is we who are being slaughtered not the other way round.
In their world everyone dies yet we are accused of being “offensive” – as if cartoons and apostasy are worse than murder.
Islamists discriminate against, shun, flog, imprison, terrorise, abduct, and slaughter but somehow it is always the victim whose “provocation” is to blame – whether it’s Charlie Hebdo or Avijit Roy…
Laicite is not a theoretical discussion for ivory tower academics and champagne socialists. It’s a matter of life and death for many of us:
• The likes of Asia Bibi in Pakistan facing execution for blasphemy
• Young ex-Muslims (Islam’s Non Believers) in Britain facing a life-time of shunning
• The likes of Afsana Lachaux whose rights violations in a discriminatory Sharia court in the Middle East have been upheld by French courts due to bilateral agreements
• Human Rights Activist Narges Mohammadi given a 16 year prison sentence for opposing executions; Jafar Azimzadeh sentenced to 11 years for labour organising; or dual nationals used as pawns such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff as well as Siamak and Baquer Namazi in Iran
• Blogger Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for writing about religion and politics and on and on and on…
“Secularism is the solution”, is a graffiti Raif Badawi saw scrawled in a Saudi prison lavatory. Yet we are told that secularism is a neo-colonialist demand by so-called “anti-colonialists” whose worldview always coincides with the ruling elite, including in former colonies, and never the dissenters. Those “anti-fascists” who are only anti-some fascists, some of the time. Those who are “anti-racist” as long as we do not venture outside the pigeonholes that we are meant to live and be buried in; (if we dissent, though, they are at the forefront of insisting on racist cultural relativism and “different” rights for “different” people). The so-called progressives who condemn us to living lives within the confines of Islam whilst the sky has no limits for them…
They cannot begin to understand that no one needs Laicite more than those who live, struggle and die under the boot of the religious-Right.
And this includes the innumerable voting with their very feet and dying as we speak to seek refuge in secular societies, including the women, men and children of Calais, who deserve the basic human right to asylum and protection, not vilification and criminalisation.
And it includes believers. The right to religion must have a corresponding right to be free from religion to have any real meaning.
The historical battle that we are faced with today is not a clash of civilisations as the vile far-Right says in order to promote what is fundamentally white and often Christian identity politics. Rather, it’s a clash between theocrats on the one hand and secularists and universalists on the other – across real or imagined communities, borders and boundaries -- and including many Muslims and migrants.
Secularism is not French or Western or Eastern; it’s universal.
It must be unequivocally and unashamedly defended against this era’s totalitarianism.
Today more than ever, we need Laicite and we need it now.
Our very lives depend on it.