Many people in this day and age have affixed the term ‘Terrorist’ to be synonymous with a caricature. In the eighties and nineties, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) presented an all too advertised use of the word. Now written into our collective thoughts; Radical Islam takes up the mantle: with politicians making their metaphorical bones in attacking Islam for this justification of terrorist activity, and thinkers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, pointing out the justifiable correlation of the religion and widespread violent tendencies.
With many being complacent towards terrorism, it is a straightforward critique to make by right-wing politicians; who see the complacency as a permissive attitude towards violence. Advocates have since attempted to dissuade this mode of thinking. Quilliam foundation and others strive to de-radicalise the climate of ‘us vs them’ that has remained prevalent since the Bush administration’s War on Terror began. Another activist is Maryam Namazie, an atheist and outspoken representative of the Ex-Muslim Council of Britain.
Namazie, initially born in Iran in 1966, was forced to flee with her family after the Iranian revolution of 1979. She set up the Ex-Muslim council to act as a support group for those too afraid to openly leave the faith; providing them with support, community, and in some instances helping them to flee. Her opinions are seen by many commentators as extreme enough to be barred from universities for Islamaphobia. She ceaselessly works with members of a growing secular, sceptical and atheistic population living in Islamic-dominated countries. Her work was epitomised in a 46-minute long documentary film, titled ‘Exposure’.
Following in the work of Namazie, the film observes what the group achieves within the Islamic communities of the UK and internationally. As a piece, it sheds light on a polarised atmosphere that persists within communities, outwardly united under the religion of the prophet, preaching fraternity and peace, while being profoundly repressive and suspicious of outsiders and contrarians.
Exposure makes the incontestable statement that the non-believing children of devout Muslims, are all too often placed under a sword of Damocles; between living a lie, or of being ostracised by their family and community. In many tragic occurrences within the film, and as observable in news reports, apostates are brutally murdered.
“I feel like when you leave Islam: your intelligence gets attacked… They make you feel like you’re stupid for making such a decision” – claims Sadia, recipient of help from, and enthusiastic volunteer for the Ex-Muslim Council of Britain
These occurrences are all too frequent, not just in the UK, but across the world. Namazie, through the film, describes the creation of a growing underground dissident movement of atheists, intellectuals, bloggers, who strive to show the world the persecution they are subjected to. With recent news from Pakistan, regarding blasphemy laws; an online writer, Azmat Ali, makes a brief analysis regarding the treatment of ‘non-religious’ people within Pakistan.
“Intolerance, especially in matters of religion, are extreme”.
These free-thinkers reside in secret and communicate online as a community of international writers, advocates, speakers and volunteers. They are making it their stated mission to help uncover related stories, to make the world hear the plight of fellow apostates. Many of the publications and posts by these individuals on social media had been subject to an intellectual cull by providers in light of being pronounced as‘Blasphemous’ by Pakistani officials.
“Internet and Social Media is our battleground… Our numbers are growing each and every day.” Claimed an anonymous blogger, living in hiding.
Despite adherents to the law debating that no such deaths have occurred under the law, reports from international news sources counter these claims, though failing to mention the violation of international law that such acts represent.
The repression that these individuals live under is not just witnessed through ostracism. It is manifested through murders of writers, lecturers and bloggers throughout the film. To their shame, the Western left has mostly ignored this vulnerable group.
Living under the current of society for these people, often shields them from the tumultuous tide of repression from fledgeling governments, seeking stability. Exposure demonstrates this exercise of maintaining security, told with the tragic fate of many atheists, condemned by the government and murdered by angered mobs. The 2013 Shahbag protests are referenced, both by Namazie, as well as by the individuals who fled or know people killed in the outpouring of violence. Here, the movie hits shyly on underlying reasons behind the targeting of atheists within Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The humanity cannot help but be felt; expressed in every word from those living and those who have lived under an anachronistic and repressive dogmatism. Sadia, whose heart-wrenching account presents the viewer with the consequences of ostracism: her brother, an outspoken atheist, left dejected by his community and family, resorted to drug dependency as an escape from the psychological pain, ending with the loss of his life.
Exposure presents a candid glimpse into Islam’s domain; a composite of the passive public, and the increasingly evident influence of fundamentalist sections.
Exposure showcases a tragic story of people living under a repressive system that shames and shuns on the lesser scale and violently suppresses on the further end. Real bravery is defined in individuals such as Namazie, Sadia and the anonymous members of the Atheist and secular Ex-Islamic community. The feature makes no fabrications as to the dangers they face, of the struggles they carry, but also of the hopes, they strive for.
Exposure is a compelling and necessary film. It is a film that epitomises Islam’s inner conflicts in 46 minutes. As Hirsi Ali stated, The religion in dire need of reform, through the empowering of its reforming intellectuals and closeted Atheists.