Call to Action – Defend Apostates in Malaysia
Members of an atheist group in Malaysia are facing threats and government-sponsored “re-education” after their photos were seen in a Facebook post. Recently, a government official urged citizens to “vehemently” hunt down the young atheists whose pictures appeared in the post. They were members of the Atheist Republic whose founder, Armin Navabi, has provided a service to over a million subscribers who find inspiration and connection through his posts and encouragement. In a world where non-believers too often find themselves isolated and silenced, Navabi has created something extraordinary. The young Malaysians in the photo had gathered to celebrate the connection freedom from religion too often removes. They are now in great peril.
In response to this story, Gretta Vosper, a United Church minister in Toronto, and an atheist (yes, you read that right), wrote a letter to the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Affairs, and her local MP urging them to speak out against this dangerous situation in time to stave off the kind of bloodbaths that have stained the streets of Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. She shared it publicly on her blog so that others could copy and adapt her letter and add their voices to hers in calling for tolerance and responsible leadership.
Vosper’s original letter can be read here.
Below is an adapted version (removing Vosper’s personal references) that any of us can copy and send. (Of course, you can always add your own personal comments.)
Chrystia Freeland’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also send a copy to your own federal MP. You can find your Canadian Member of Parliament here.
Dear Ms. Freeland,
I write with deep concern for atheists and secular humanists in Malaysia. Recently, whether intentionally or otherwise, one of Malaysia’s Government Ministers, Shahidan Kassim, who is reported to be close to the Malaysian Prime Minister, incited extremists to violence against atheists, secular humanists, and ex-Muslims by challenging Malaysians to hunt them down “vehemently” and return them to the Islamic faith.
The statement from the government official was in reaction to a photograph of several young people who are members of a Facebook group, The Atheist Republic. They had gathered together to meet one another and build friendships. It was a casual and friendly gathering and, as so often happens when joy is present, photographs were taken and posted to social media. This photograph of the happy gathering of atheists in Malaysia will be used to imperil their lives and to “hunt them down vehemently” as Minister Kassim has urged Malaysian citizens to do. All their lives are now in grave danger.
The founder of the Facebook group is Armin Navabi, copied on this letter. He is an ex-Muslim who lives in British Columbia. Subsequent to the posting of the photograph, Armin has been the subject of threats, including a call for his beheading. Others have called for the burning alive of the members of The Atheist Republic pictured in the photograph.
In 2013, Bangladesh, despite its status as a secular state, refused to placate extremists calling for the execution of secular humanists, instead choosing to label them atheists and further incite hatred against them. In 2015, Avijit Roy was murdered by machete-wielding attackers while in Dhaka for a book fair. The editor and publisher of Avijit’s book, The Philosophy of Atheism, were both subsequently murdered. Avijit’s co-author, Raihan Abir, is a good friend. He was recognized as a refugee by the Canadian government in 2015. He and his family are now helping grow Canada and make it a better place.
We cannot stand idly by and watch Malaysia become another Bangladesh, indifferent to or even supportive of the murder of atheists and secular humanists. Canada has had a long and friendly relationship with Malaysia, dating back to the earliest days of that country’s founding. We continue to build on our sixty-year history and share our Canadian values within our relationship. Those values include the protection of marginalized groups and advocacy for religious freedoms. The right to refuse religion, the freedom from religion must be just as strongly defended as the right to believe.
I urge you to reach out to Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and remind him of his democratic obligations to protect all Malaysians, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. I urge you also to request that he publicly and swiftly denounce the words of Minister Kassim before they are used to spread fear, sanction violence, or lead to the murder of innocent civilians.
Thank you for continuing to be a voice for responsible leadership around the world.