Sunday, April 4, 2010

Global Atheist Convention: Part 2

Getting up on Saturday morning to be at the convention centre at 8.30am was a serious struggle, as I'd foolishly gone out for drinks the night before (as an aside, the bars in Melbourne are pretty darn cool, and the talent is far, far, far superior to Dunedin) (to any Dunedin-residing male readers: your fine selves excepted, of course). However, I made it with plenty of time to spare and managed to get myself a good seat for the whole day.

The highlight of the first set of talks was Phillip Adams, who talked about the dangers of becoming "Atheist Fundamentalists". It's at this point where I wish I had taken notes from the speakers on the Saturday, because I really enjoyed Phillip's talk, but writing about it in detail is a struggle for me, with my dreadful memory. However, I can tell you that Phillip was an engaging and interesting speaker and I really enjoyed his talk.

Phillip Adams (picture from University of Queensland)

Russell Blackford and Max Wallace's talks shared a common theme in promoting freedom from religion, particularly emphasising the unfairness of governmental policies favouring believers over non-believers. Max Wallace is currently looking for support to make a film about How Taxpayers Subsidise Religion around the world. Even though I was aware of tax breaks for religious organisations, etc, I still hadn't realised the huge extent to which religion gets enormous financial support from supposedly secular societies. Max's presentation was particularly eye-opening in this regard.

After morning tea, there were two talks that really hit home about the real human cost of religious fanaticism, specifically within the Islamic faith. John Perkins spoke about Islam and Terrorism, but the real star of the show was Taslima Nasrin, who received the only standing ovation all weekend for her very moving speech about her experience as an ex-Muslim.

Taslima Nasrin was brought up as a Muslim in Bangladesh, and is now an atheist, humanist and feminist. She has a medical degree and is a writer. Her writing, particularly on Islamic oppression of women, has earned her death threats, public assaults, fatwas issued against her, a price on her head, and ultimately expulsion from her home country. She is an exceptionally brave and intelligent woman. To not be able to live in her home country clearly causes her great sorrow, and her life is continually at risk, but she continues to fight for human rights, and for women's rights. I'm almost in tears again, remembering her talk. It is so easy for us in western countries to forget that so many people around the world still do not have freedom of speech, or freedom of religion. So many women are silenced, oppressed, and abused as the norm.

Taslima Nasrin speaking at the Global Atheist Convention. (Image from Wikipedia)

Just a fortnight before Taslima's talk at the convention, 15,000 people in the State of Karnataka in India took to the streets and rioted, and two people died. Why? All because a local newspaper published an (incorrectly altered) article of Taslima's on the burqa.

The conclusion of Taslima's speech was very moving, and I shall reproduce it here:

I am in other words a stranger in my own country Bangladesh, and a stranger in neighbouring India and a stranger in the West, where I am now living. Where can I go? Nowhere.... But I have a home, a home that consists of a family of people, men as well as women, who bravely oppose the forces of darkness and ignorance. These represent my true home. The hearts of people are my home and my nation, my only safe haven, my shelter and my refuge.

... My home is love, the love I receive from women all over the world, that is my home, the love I receive from atheists, free thinkers, secularists, and humanist[s] is my home, the love I receive from you, that is my home. I do not regret what I have done so far, I do not regret anything that I have written, come what may. I will continue my struggle against all the extremists, fundamentalists, intolerant forces without any compromise to my death. I am all the more committed to my cause.

Listen to Taslima Nasrin's talk in its entirety here. (Thanks to the ABC Blog of the Atheist Convention)

Stay tuned for Part 3....

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