Freethinkers take on religious far-right at secularism conference in Tower Hill

14:06 16 October 2014

Panel discussion chaired by Peter Tatchell (centre) with Hamid Taqvaee, Sultana Kamal, Caroline Fourest, Sue Cox and Gita Sahgal

Panel discussion chaired by Peter Tatchell (centre) with Hamid Taqvaee, Sultana Kamal, Caroline Fourest, Sue Cox and Gita Sahgal


Freethinkers from around the world gathered in Tower Hill for a secularism conference supported by famous atheist Richard Dawkins.

Stalls sold books and merchandise at the conferenceStalls sold books and merchandise at the conference

The two day conference on the weekend hosted speakers from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and America at the Tower Hotel in the shadow of Tower Bridge.

A spokesman for the hotel said they received several emails and phone calls of a “serious nature” over the event that saw police attend the venue, but it went ahead without incident.

It was convened by British-Iranian feminist Maryam Namazie and Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas, with funding from the Richard Dawkins Foundation, to discuss the global struggle against the religious far-right.

More than 250 people packed the hall to hear panel discussions and Prof Dawkins mingled with delegates in support of the event.

Famous atheist Richard Dawkins attended the conferenceFamous atheist Richard Dawkins attended the conference

Ms Namazie said: “I wanted to show that secularism is a universal value, not a western one – that there are many across the world fighting and literally dying for secularism and the complete separation of religion from the state.”

Anti-secular forces in all religions were discussed, with Prof Nira Yuval-Davis talking about Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, Sue Cox of Survivors’ Network on Catholic pederasty, and Karima Bennoune, author of Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, on struggles against Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Secularism is different from atheism,” said Ms Namazie. “There are many believers who are secularists.

“In fact, secularism is good for believers, since religious movements and states have no tolerance for dissent, including by believers who refuse to toe the line.”

A motion was passed declaring solidarity with Kurds fighting Islamic State terrorists in Kobane, Syria, and the conference voted to adopt a manifesto for international secularism.

There was also music from Australian singer-songwriter Shelley Segal, film clips, and a speech on education by author AC Grayling.

Ms Namazie added: “While there were differences amongst speakers, fundamentally we all wanted societies and a world where religious is a private affair, where citizenship is key not one’s background or beliefs and that secularism is a precondition for fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly the rights of women, LGBT and other minorities.”

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