In Conversation with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar (Part 2)

Posted on 2011/11/18

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Feature Image In Conversation with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar is a 20 year-old Middle-Eastern Humanist.

If this were not rare enough, in September 2010, Faisal created the ‘Global Secular Humanist Movement‘ Facebook page with aim to, “promote public understanding and acknowledgment of the secular humanistic worldview, including equal individual rights and acceptance for people who hold it.”

In just over a year, his page has attracted more than 15,000 people from around the world. It is a place where the free expression of ideas are welcome, disagreements are discussed and much can be learnt. Faisal is dedicated to encouraging global discussion between Humanists and is a daily contributor to the group.

I started talking to Faisal when I joined his page, and he started sharing my blog articles. It was his idea start a public discussion between us so we could share our ideas and demonstrate the different experiences of two Humanist from very different parts of the world.

Contrasting Faisal’s Middle-Eastern upbringing, I am a 27 year-old who has lived in England his whole life.

In our second day of conversation, we talked about what humanists can do to change their world.

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 ’What should Humanists try to change about the world and how can we achieve these goals?’

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Faisal

I personally think the impact on the world should start from the individual - himself or herself. As a young Humanist myself who reached 20 this year, I think I should set up a great example how to be a kind moral person, a deeply engaged person without any belief in a GOD or a religion, and to set up an example of the separation bettween religion and morality.

It is absolute nonsense to think that we need religion and a big brother in the sky to be good. I consider that as an insult to humanity and enslavement of our critical thinking faculties that we have in our brains. We must take care of each other because we love each other. That should be our moral code – not caring for reward.

Morality is not a “business”, it must be part of our personality. I think we can all show the parts of the world who don’t share our way of thinking that it is quite alright to be humanist. That’s what we believe and there is nothing wrong about being one at all.

We need to gain the public trust to receive the rights we deserve such as gaining a public office, and so on. At at this moment, the world really need leaders who are rational, skeptical, compassionate and moral – and who make their decisions accordingly. Leaders who recognize their responsibility and try their best to make the world a better place to live because it is the only one we have.

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James

I think it is important to emphasize, as the primary objective, a striving for religious freedom – not a ban on religion. Most Humanists understanding this, but the religious often misunderstand our position. Hence we are called ‘aggressive’, and the like.

I do not think it has been better articulated than by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Religious freedom is contained within an understanding of a freedom of speech and freedom of expression. It is the liberty to say what you like about religion and participate (or abstain) from religious practices (all other laws permitting, of course).

Ever though there should be no law against religious ignorance or stupidity, this does not mean we cannot strive for its eradication. Religion causes a tremendous amount of suffering in the world in the form of guilt, fear and stultifying obedience. Competing religions cause even more suffering. Any benefit these ideas bring mostly consist of a blissful ignorance.

The way we can strive for a less religious world is through scientific and philosophical education. But, this opportunity obviously depends on the first goal for a global freedom of expression.

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“What do you think each humanist can do to help achieve global religious freedom?”

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Faisal

­I think the best we can do is to engage in various forms of civil discussions with people of faith, about what can be done to preserve the human right of having the freedom of belief (and non-belief).

We can try to find a comprimise about shifting private beliefs out of public life, politics and education (in particular). We can try to find ways of achiving secular democracy in which people both of faith and reason can live together peacefully, sharing a common goal of making each day better than the other.

It is a fact that in a religious state, only the people who share the religion of state have the opportuiny to have basic human rights while all the other people who don’t share the same religion of state (or have no religion at all) are being treated unequally – sometimes exiled, and sometimes even “killed”. The best examples would be places like Afgainstan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and also Medival Europe when the church used to burn heretics alive and discrimante any person who holds a different definition of reality than them. Look what they did to the father of modern science Galileo Galilei? Instead of appreciating his hard work they jailed him! What a shame!

While, on the other hand, in a secular state every person will be having their human rights and treated equally by law, regardless of their religion or the absence of it. So the best way to enhance religious freedom in my opinion is to create a modern secular state with  evidence based education where crtical thinking is being taught in young ages aside with the eductional curriculum.

James

I think a large part of the work needs to be done within secular countries (or countries with large secular communities, like my own). If humanists educate themselves about religious injustices in their own countries, they can make a big difference by encouraging others to vote for change on these issues.

For instance, in the United States – the one true secular state – churches are not taxed. This is supposed to be an actualization of the separation between church and state. But who pays for a firefighters when these buildings catch fire? Another important question is to ask why are there Christian pastors on US military payroll?

Also, as a supposed consequence of separation of church and state, the US has no state-mandated education on religion. And so most US citizens leave their state education with no encouragement to learn about any other religions, or indeed their own. This leaves them very closed minded and unequipped to cope with subtle political issues such as the ones I have described.

Back in my home country, we often forget how religion permeates our lives. There is no separation of church and state. We have Church of England bishops required by law to sit in our government (the House of Lords). We are not citizens, we are subjects. It is not he United States, but the United Kingdom. And the monarch is the head of the Church and the state.

These legal issues need to be address. I think the best way to do this is to keep pointing it out to the non-religious uneducated populations of the Western world. Eventually, the injustices will be noticed, and our political action can take effect.

As for the Middle-East, there are a great number of brave humanists who are trying to make a difference. But, without the chance of vote, with state oppression, and in an overwhelming minority, I think it will be very difficult for them to make a noticeable impact within their lifetimes. And the impact they do make is often at considerable personal cost.

This is why I consider it a moral duty for the West to assist. There are diplomatic endeavors, but the defining change of our age has been through military intervention.

I am furious when I hear it suggest that Iraq ‘was better under Saddam Hussein’, or that there were less deaths in Afghanistan under the Taliban. It is the Taliban causing the deaths! These people have no idea the mental and physical suffering the of Iraqi or Afghans suffered under their oppressors. And the concept that the Iraq war was for oil – what would these people have said in 1992 if Bosnia had had large oil reserves?

How would a TEDx event in Baghdad have been possible under Saddam? How would a school that teaches girls to read have been possible under the Taliban?

I do not speak on behalf of the governments who invaded these countries, nor do I suppose the wars were motivated by a pure concern for the well-being of the Iraqi or Afghan peoples. But, you cannot deny that every day, US and UK troops protect citizens from Taliban or Al-Qaeda, who would rather see these people dead than free.

A lot of humanists are likely to disagree with what I have just said – the anti-war movement is large in the US and UK. Whatever your pet political theory, you cannot deny the changes in these countries towards democracy. I am not justifying the deaths (most of which are caused by the religious in the name of theocracy), but I would wish humanists to consider the moral consequences of what they say before they protest against these two wars.

I think this is the first thing Western humanists can do for their Middle-Eastern friends – recognize the true nature of the problem they face. Only then can we think about finding a solution.

Posted in: Politics, Religion