Monday, 13 October 2008

Debating political Islam and Sharia, with a bit of Dawkins and some comedy thrown in

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If you're wondering why this blog has been a bit quiet, it's because we were out of the office on Friday at Conway Hall, attending the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain's first ever conference, entitled "Political Islam, Sharia Law and Civil Society" (not that this explains yesterday's lack of action).

Speakers in the three main debates included prominent ex-Muslims such as Maryam Namazie and Mina Ahadi, and a host of journalists, writers and campaigners including AC Grayling, Johann Hari, Ibn Warraq, Hanne Stinson and Joan Smith. Our very own Caspar Melville chaired the first debate – a discussion on apostasy in Islam and the limits of free speech. There was some discussion of the importance of free speech to a plural societies, and to what extent that should, or should not, be limited in order to avoid offence.

In the afternoon the discussion turned to Sharia law, and there was firm opposition to its application in the UK, particularly in light of the fact that Sharia courts are already operating in civil cases. Johann Hari spoke passionately on this subject, citing instances where the use of Sharia by judges in Germany has led to decisions greatly to the disadvantage of the women involved (you can read Hari on this here). Following this debate the hall adopted (unanimously, strangely enough) a resolution against the use of Sharia law in Britain.

There was a bit of light relief just after lunch when the comedian Nick Doody delivered a fantastic stand-up set (he wrote about this in our Sep/Oct diary), and following the Sharia debate Richard Dawkins gave a presentation based on his article from earlier this year, in which he tore to pieces the "evidence" provided by the Turkish creationist Harun Yahya in his Atlas of Creation. Of course, there was a serious message behind Dawkins' eloquent and amusing dissection of Yahya's propsoterous arguments – we have to remain vigilant against the encroachment of creationism into science, and the best way to fight against it is through education.