Congress Win in India
In what must be the most unexpected election victory of the decade, the Congress Party in India, led by Sonia Gandhi, fifty-seven, swept to power in May. And then, to circumvent the ongoing criticism of her foreign birth, Gandhi very magnanimously withdrew from contention as prime minister. With the return of Congress to power, it is to be hoped that the secular principle, which is so essential to the peace and prosperity of India, will be strengthened after a long run of encroachments against it by the outgoing Hindu nationalist government.
Victory in Lancashire
A potentially significant legal victory for nonreligious citizens has been won in Great Britain. Ian Abbott’s daughter, an atheist, wanted to move to a school that did not impose religious education, but the Lancashire County Council Bill Cooke is international director of the Center for Inquiry–International.
Academics at the Frontlines of Freedom
The prolific Bangladeshi scholar and poet Dr. Humayun Azad has been fighting for his life since he was attacked with butchers’ knives by Islamic fanatics in February. Dr. Azad, professor of Bengali at Dhaka University, has long been a critic of the lack of democracy in Muslim societies and is a strong supporter of the separation of mosque and state. And in Iran, the reformist academic Dr. Hashem Aghajari has been rearrested and the death penalty reimposed following the election “victory” of the religious conservatives in a contest hobbled by the banning of opposition politicians and which was boycotted in protest. The unrest in Iran in 2003 was sparked by the detention of Dr. Aghajari.
Dr. Shaikh Stands Up for Freedom
At a meeting in Geneva of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in April, Dr. Younis Shaikh described the blasphemy laws in his home country of Pakistan as a source of national shame. As reported in the previous issue, Dr. Shaikh was imprisoned for three years on charges of blasphemy, which in Pakistan carry the death penalty. He was quietly released last November and promptly left the country. Dr. Shaikh told the commission that the real victims of militant Islamism are Muslims themselves, whose lives and faith are impoverished under the pressure of the archaic Sharia law.
Peter Singer Honored
Peter Singer, a regular columnist for Free Inquiry magazine, has been honored in Australia, his home country. Singer is the 2004 Australian Humanist of the Year, the choice of the State Humanist Societies. This award began in 1983 and has been bestowed on a proud succession of influential Australians.