Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

St. Petersburg Declaration:
Long Suppressed Voices Speak Up

April 2, 2007

What we need now is an Age of Enlightenment in the Islamic world, of the Islamic mind-set or worldview. Without critical examination of Islam, it will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, medieval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant. It will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality; originality and truth.
(Ibn Warraq)

Many of us who immigrated to America thought we had escaped jihad, hateful propaganda, intimidation, and mind control, but we found that even in America, there are powerful Muslim forces who are trying to silence us. For the sin of criticizing terrorism – not Islam, just terrorism – we are threatened.
(Nonie Darwish)

A few weeks ago, a small but determined group of critics of radical Islam gathered in St. Petersburg, Florida, to tell the world about their true feelings regarding Islamism – the kind that promotes violence and aspires to world dominance.  

Rooted in Reality

Robert Spencer, a veteran in the war against radical Islam, described their Declaration as “the most comprehensive and forthright statement of Islamic reform anyone has yet managed to come up with.” He writes that instead of denying that Islam is used to incite violence and oppression, “the St. Petersburg Declaration is firmly rooted in reality, and evinces no interest in fashionable evasions or political correctness.”  

The Declaration issued on March 5, 2007 at the Secular Islam Summit is a brief, clearly worded statement of belief in the freedom of religion, tolerance, and the equal rights of women. 

This document begins by introducing the sponsors “as secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.” 

They affirm “the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience... the equality of all human persons… the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.”  They insist that “the traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance… do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind. We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called ‘Islamaphobia’ in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.”

The Declaration demands that Islam be released from the grasp of  of power-hungry men and the rigid structures of orthodoxy,” and the authors challenge academics and thinkers everywhere fearlessly to examine the origins and sources of Islam and to engage in free scientific inquiry through “cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.”

They further remind all Muslims that there is a future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine; and they assure all members of non-Muslim faiths that they stand with them as free and equal citizens, while they are committed to defend the unqualified freedom of non-believers to question and dissent.  Before all else, they believe that everyone must choose for themselves as “members of the community of conscience.”  In this context, they call on all governments of the world to: 

reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostacy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights; eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women; protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence; reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims; and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation. 

Diverse Voices, One Message

All of the signatories* of this document have a history of steadfastly standing against the apathy in the West regarding the threat of militant Islam. Some of them narrowly escaped Islamic bondage by fleeing to the West. All of them are very active in promoting the ideas and principles enumerated in the Declaration by publishing widely via articles, books, documentaries, and films. 

Two have taken prominent roles in Canada, including Irshad Manji (author of The Trouble With Islam), and Hassan Fatemolla, a Bangladeshi-Canadian playwright who helped lead the campaign against the introduction of Islamic Sharia law in Canada. 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, born in Somalia who became a refugeehg in Holland, has become known for her involvement in Dutch politics and her adamant opposition to the oppression of women in Muslim countries. Her most recent book Infidel gives a fascinating glimpse of life within Muslim countries – as well as within Muslim immigrant communities in the West. She has received many death threats, and even now lives with the protection of bodyguards. 

Wafa Sultan has become famous after her televised debate with imam Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli on Al Jazeera in February 2006.  Nonie Darwish, the lone Christian among the signatories, was born in Egypt and at first fully convinced of the truth of Islam. She grew up being taught to hate all non-Muslims, and especially the Jewish nation. She is the author of Now They Call me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror. 

Afshin Ellian, a refugee from Iran now teaches law at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. Amir Taheri, also Iranian born, is a prolific author and commentator on the issues mentioned in the Declaration. Ibn Warraq specializes in the study of the Koran and is best known for his scholarly Why I am not a Muslim. His just-published book is Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. 

All of the fourteen signatories of the Declaration represent a wide range of beliefs, from deeply religious to atheist. But they are united in their determination to alert an often skeptical and apathetic public to the dangers of militant Islam.

 CAIR Attacks the Messengers

Their task (and ours) is all the more difficult because radical Islam has found a home in many Muslim communities in the West, which are used as springboards for the spread of Wahhabism.  Their spokesmen are adept at playing the victims of Islamaphobia while trying to delegitimize the message of the St.Petersburg Declaration.  

But such critics have one major difficulty: they are unable to maintain their good-faith image if they openly denounce the freedom, tolerance, equality and the separation of mosque and state, as advocated in this Declaration. Who in his right mind would not laud such fruits of an open and civil society?  

Enter the Council on American Islamic-Relations, which bills itself as “America’s largest civil liberties group” whose mission is “to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”    

CAIR’s reaction to the Declaration was not to oppose its content head-on, but to attack the character of its sponsors. CAIR spokesman, Ahmed Bedier tried to raise suspicion by noting that the Summit was funded by neoconservatives, and that ex-Muslims, including Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan, and Ibn Warraq, are in no position to criticize Islam.  

Attacking the persons instead of their message is an age-old technique that invariably fools some people. But it is unworthy of anyone who really wants to engage in dialogue and to enhance understanding. In fact, such a ham-fisted attempt to avoid the truth only serves to confirm the core message of the Declaration. 

Despite the wide-ranging worldviews of its sponsors, the St. Petersburg Declaration is right about the one thing that all freedom-respecting people are able to endorse. It is a courageous step against a new form of dictatorship that many refuse to see for what it really is.  

That such a public stance in Islam-ruled countries would be subject to the death penalty tells us all we need to know about Islamism. And that some of the signatories, living in the free West, have a death sentence pronounced against them is further proof of the timeliness of this document. 

*Fourteen names are attached to the Declaration. Phyllis Chesler, one of the participants at St. Petersburg Summit, reported that additional names could not be released “for security reasons.” 


Islamic “Tolerance” in Action

Early this year the Campbell Baptist Church in Windsor, Ontario, led by senior pastor Donald McKay, scheduled a series of meetings devoted to an in-depth look at Islam. Zachariah Anani, an ex-terrorists converted to Christianity, was invited to present the first three lectures, beginning on January 11. Some 35 Muslims attended this meeting and protested that Anani was inciting hatred by misinterpreting the Koran and taking it out of context. 

Wally Chafchak, a member of the Windsor Police Services Board, who is also a member of the Windsor Islamic Association, denounced Anani’s speech as a hate crime that should be investigated by the authorities. MP Joe Comartin accused McKay of fostering hatred and spouting bigotry. McKay and Anani said they received death threats.  

The Canadian arm of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), ever quick to trumpet any perceived offence to Muslims, sent letters to the Ontario Attorney General and the Windsor police demanding that Anani be investigated for a Criminal Code violation. CAIR-CAN stated in its January 13 newsletter: “If hateful speech is indeed being propagated in Windsor, it must be dealt with promptly under the law. Freedom of speech is a cherished Canadian value, however it is not an absolute.” 

The upshot of the furor against this church’s attempt to subject Islam to an honest critique was that the church leaders were cowed into canceling Anani’s lecture series.  But to his credit, McKay stuck to his position that he is entitled to express his disagreement with Islamists who openly advocate Islamic world dominance.

 The enemies of freedom of speech and religion can chock up another victory in our country. Where were the other Christian churches with their support of this beleaguered church in Windsor? And where was the outcry by the defenders of freedom in the press? Mostly there was silence. Even worse was the so-called expert who did not hesitate to smear Anani and McKay as “trouble makers” and “lying idiots.” (Terry O’Neil, “The Battle of Windsor,” Western Standard, Feb. 26, 2007) 

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