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The Taboo on Islamic Apostasy in the Netherlands

From the Council for Secular Humanism newsletter, September 6, 2007. To sign up, go here:

The Taboo on Islamic Apostasy in the Netherlands:
The Ex-Muslim Committee under attack

By Floris van den Berg

A new act in the tragedy of Islam and the open society is now playing in Europe. In several European countries Ex-Muslim Committees are being or have been founded. There is a lot of resistance from both Muslims and non-Muslim naivists. In Germany, Mina Ahadi ( takes the lead in the Ex-Muslim Committee ( Because of death threats, she is now in hiding. On September 11, 2007, the Committee of Ex-Muslims will be founded in the Netherlands. Though the Committee has not yet been established officially, a clash has already taken place. Ehsan Jami, a twenty-one-year-old member of the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA), publicly stated that he is an apostate (though not an atheist), and he criticized Islam and Mohammed. “Allah is a cruel and tyrannical god,” says Jami. Since he made these public statements, he has been threatened and recently has been molested by three young Muslims. Now Jami is in hiding under police protection. Jami and the Ex-Muslim Committee are being supported by the same intellectuals who backed Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Theo van Gogh, foremost apostate Afshin Ellian (Fellow of CFI/Low Countries). And the same public figures oppose this initiative who earlier criticized Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Theo van Gogh. They attack Jami with the same argument: it is the tone of the debate that they criticize because, these critics say, the tone of the statements against Islam is what angers Muslims. There is a strong plea for self-censorship not to criticize Islam. It is perfectly accepted by these critics to bash Christianity, but criticizing Islam is taboo. So, these public intellectuals side with the fundamentalists. They should realize that if the fundamentalists were to gain power, these naivists will also be their enemies. If the Netherlands were to become an Islamic theocracy—liberal Muslims, naivists, liberals and humanists all—would be severely restrained in their freedom. While the naivists clearly see the evils of Christianity, they are blind to the dark side of Islam. This reminds me of Sartre who claimed to be a humanist and an advocate of individual freedom and criticized religion and paternalism in France, but was blind for the evils of communism in the Soviet Union and China. The Dutch public intellectuals all know about Sartre, but apparently they have not learned his lesson.

What is much worse than this plea for self-censorship is that some of these relativistic, malicious naivists go so far as to say that Jami himself is to blame. It is a variant of the mini-skirt fallacy: “The woman who was raped was wearing a mini skirt, therefore she asked for it!” The public debate is turbid because, when the media ask (Dutch) Muslims about apostasy, the answer usually is that it is a private and individual choice. No Muslim says in public that apostasy should be punished with capital punishment. The same is said about homosexuality and Islam. Though publicly Muslims do not advocate violence against homosexuals, the number of incidents of homosexuals being molested by Muslims is rising rapidly. However, Jami did receive numerous (death) threats from Muslims because of his public statement of apostasy and his critique on Islam. Islam is a prison: if you happen to be born in it, you cannot escape. Being Muslim is a life-long sentence. Not a well-informed, autonomous, rational choice. Only if you are religiously na├»ve can you manage to neglect that there is a problem with leaving Islam even in a society as open as the Netherlands. Jami is a new voice in the choir of critics of Islam: Van Gogh was murdered, Hirsi Ali has left for the United States, Jami is in hiding.

Dutch freethought association De Vrije Gedachte has publicly backed the Ex-Muslim Committee. Even the less outspoken Humanistisch Verbond has welcomed the Ex-Muslim Committee. We humanists should hope that ex-Muslims will find their way to the freethinkers and humanists.

Floris van den Berg is a philosopher and Executive Director of CFI Low Countries. He can be e-mailed at


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