Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.), PO Box 3372, Wellington, New Zealand – Registered Charity No. CC36074

The Humanist Society of New Zealand is a Member Organisation of the International Humanist and Ethical Union

Humanist Newsletter July 2020

Kia ora: Covid-19 has edged us into a changed world. Social issues in our society are highlighted – issues that have always been there – issues of race, poverty and injustice. Humanism is entering the political arena. Beyond the debate on the existence of God there is the need to apply Humanist principles to society’s dilemmas. At the 2014 Humanist World Congress in Oxford, UK there was a session on ‘Humanism and Politics’. One of the speakers, a politician, was adamant that Humanism had no place in politics. Yet now, in 2020, Humanists International has a position paper on Palestinian land. This month, Te Henare will discuss with us Treaty obligations and secular humanism, at our upcoming meeting. Humanist NZ, NZARH, and the Secular Education Network are lobbying Parliament. Humanism can be a transforming influence.

Monthly meeting: Monday 6 July 6.30 pm until 9.00pm

Te Henare- Atuakore: Maori Atheists and Freethinkers

Treaty Obligations vs Secular Humanism

Te Henare will begin by sharing his personal story from a traditional Māori upbringing to becoming a nonbeliever and freethinker. There is sometimes a clash between equally important ideals in NZ society. For example, our obligations to tangata whenua under the Treaty and ideals like secular humanism. Te Henare will share his thoughts about this clash using the examples of karakia in public spaces and speaking rights of women during pōwhiri (formal welcome) ceremonies.

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the Katherine Mansfield Room

2020 Humanist NZ AGM

7 August 2020 – 6.30pm Thistle Inn

The 2020 AGM will be preceded by a talk ‘Unsettling Pakeha Fragility’ by Penny Leach. This presentation is from Penny’s thesis towards her Master of Arts in Politics at Massey University NZ.

If you have an interest in promoting humanism in NZ we would welcome you onto our committee. With this new era of Zoom you do not need to be Wellington based. If there are issues you would like raised at the AGM please outline and send to [email protected]

Education and Training Bill: Progress through Parliament

This Bill was introduced 2 December 2019 with 1st reading 5 December. The Select Committee reported back on their consideration of the 597 submissions on 8 June 2020. The 2nd Reading was 24 June and at present is being discussed by the Committee of the whole House.  Humanist NZ, NZARH, the Secular Education Network, and various members of these organisations advocated strongly for the ‘opt in’ option to both Religious Instruction and observance. There was also strong support from the secular community submissions to abolish completely Religious Instruction. There was disappointment that the select committee did not improve the Bill. While Religious Instruction is opt-in with the Bill, religious instruction remains a feature of state primary education, and religious observance still requires pupils to be opted-out by their parents. Hopefully a change will occur with the committee of the whole house. We will report progress.

Humanists International: Position Statement on Annexation of Palestinian land

Hello everyone, the HI Board wishes to inform us of a Position Statement that was adopted 30 June 2020 on the Annexation of Palestinian land planned to take place from 1 July 2020:

Humanists International is opposed to the peace plan presented by Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu due to become operational from 1st July 2020. The interventions by current Government of Israel against the Palestinians has been shown to be against both International Law and the 4th Geneva Convention.

Humanists International unequivocally opposes the Annexation of the Palestinian land which will prevent the implementation of Palestinian statehood by the very nature of the division of the country, violating the human rights of those concerned.

On Islam and Bloodletting in Northern Nigeria Leo Igwe: Opinion Nigeria

Leo Igwe is indefatigable in his writing to protest the detention of Mubarak Bala. This article by Leo was suspended by persons who intruded on the Opinion Nigeria site. The managers of Opinion Nigeria had to find and suspend these intruders before restoring Leo’s article. It is printed here in solidarity with Nigerian humanists.

When Mubarak Bala was arrested his son was 6 weeks old. His wife Mariam is distraught.  The magnitude of Mariam’s distress is unimaginable!! A judge has finally written an order to allow Mubarak’s lawyers to see him. But as of June 29 court officials had still not typed and sealed the order despite the lawyers calling multiple times daily.

(Today 1 July 2020)It is Day 64 and Benue Humanist continues his daily Facebook Vigil:” Where is Mubarak Bala? Dear country men and woman, keep asking please?” #FreeMubarak Bala

Something is amiss in African religiosity and sense of piety because sometimes the African holier-than-thouness comes across as shocking and surreal. It is difficult to understand that Africans, in this case, African Muslims and to be specific Northern Nigerian Muslims could deem it fit and appropriate to kill or threaten to kill another African of the same faith or of a different faith or none for saying or writing something critical of Islam, Prophet Muhammad or the Qur’an.  And some Muslims have gloated over this. “We do not joke with our prophet. We do not joke with our religion”.  Others quipped: “We love our prophet more than our lives, more than the lives of our parents”. One imagines many more other Muslims nodding in sanctimonious approval.

Religion compels people to believe the unbelievable and to pretend to comprehend the incomprehensible. Religion makes people wallow in self-deceit and absurdities, motivating believers to commit horrible and atrocious crimes. The penchant for violence and bloodletting in the Muslim community has become mind boggling. Even as some Muslims continue to peddle the notion that Islam is a religion of peace. From all indications, this peaceful Islam has become elusive and flies on the face of reality and everyday life experiences in Northern Nigeria.

It is important to ask: what went missing in the religious formation and information of Nigerian Muslims who think it is acceptable to jail or spill the blood of a human being for saying something critical of a foreign religion, a foreign prophet, and yes a foreign deity? Look, this is not to say that religion is less superstitious if it is African; or that a prophet has more reverential capital if he is local or that a deity is less an imaginaire if it is African. No, not at all. All religions, gods, and prophets are of equal value. All religions, gods and prophets have as much worth as human beings invested on them. In fact all religions, gods, and prophets are worthless without human beings. Many Muslims may not subscribe to this proposition. They need not to. The fact remains that there is something out of synch in Northern Nigerian Muslim piety and sanctimoniousness. Bear in mind, the emphasis is on Northern Nigerian, not on all Nigerian Muslims. Nigerian Muslims are not monolithic. A relatively tolerant and more accommodating form of Islam or Muslimness is practiced in South-west Nigeria. Muslims in Northern Nigeria unlike their counterparts in other parts of the country take pride in a form of Islam that thrives on violence, intimidation, and bloodshed.

Islam is practiced in Northern Nigeria as if nothing else matters- as if humanity does not matter. Life does not matter. Nigeria does not matter. It is Islam or nothing. It is Islam or nobody. Islam in northern Nigeria is driven by nihilistic tendencies.

Of course, this narrative does not apply to all Muslims in Northern Nigeria- in Kano, Jigawa, Gombe, Yobe. Incidentally, Muslims of other climes in this part of the country have wittingly and unwittingly allowed this scorched-earth bloodthirsty form of Islam to overshadow and overwhelm them, and to become the face of Islam in the region.

Arabs introduced Islam to Africa to further their imperialistic political, economic, and cultural interests in the region. Arabs promoted Islam through scholarly teaching and preaching. They also used wars and violence, invasion, and annexation. Those who brought the religion of Islam to Africa killed and enslaved Africans. The real tragedy is not that the history of Islam in Nigeria, nay in Africa is characterized by violence and bloodshed, or that those who introduced Islam to Africa used or resorted to violence at some point. The real calamity is that African, Northern Nigerian Muslims use and resort to violence with impunity in promoting and defending this foreign religion. They kill and are ready to kill other Nigerians in furtherance of the Islamic faith, as an expression of Islamic piety or a habitual way to assuage their anger over any supposed insult on prophet Muhammad. What a shame! Northern Nigerian Muslims act as if they are entitled to violence, as if they have a monopoly of threat, force, and intimidation. The only way to be safe and to feel safe in northern Nigeria is to profess Islam even if it means threatening violence or engaging in religious bloodletting in the name of Islam, Prophet Muhammad or Allah. This is utterly outrageous and a scandalous manifestation of piety.

Muslims in Northern Nigeria need to be reminded that Islam is a foreign religion, Allah is a foreign God and Muhammad a foreign prophet. And nothing can change this fact or detract from this historical reality. The Arabic nature and culture of Islam are self-evident. Islamization is a form of Arabization. The Islamic religion has no more or less value than other religions, Allah than other gods, Qur’an than other sacred texts, prophet Muhammad than other prophets and messengers. Muslims may not or better will not agree to this. But this proposition is a fact. And look, there is nowhere in the Arab world that African religions and gods are recognized the way Arab religion, Islam, and Arab god, Allah are recognized in Nigeria. There is no Arab country where people worship African, Nigerian gods, and revere African Nigerian prophets as African Nigerian Muslims revere Islam and prophet Muhammad. Why? Muslims should point out anywhere in the Arab world that people are fighting and killing themselves over some supposed insult on an African deity, prophet, or religion as is the case in Northern Nigeria. Does that make Islam a truer, better, and more credible faith? Not at all.

Arabs, who brought Islam to Africa designated African religion as a false, ‘nonbook’ religion for a purpose-in order to impose their religious norms and cultural myths on Africa and Africans. And they succeeded in this task.

By getting Africans to embrace the misconception that Islam is a better religion, or rather the only true religion and Allah is the only true God and Muhammad the greatest messenger from God, those who introduced Islam to Africa made Africans imbibe and internalize their religious, cultural and prophetic inferiority. By making it a religious treason to question or criticize Arab cultural myths and dogmas, African muslims are affirming their intellectual inferiority?

Meanwhile, Islam is as superstitious and counterintuitive as the traditional African religion. There is nothing special about the Islamic faith and the Islamic prophet. In fact claims of an afterlife in paradise, the promise of 72 virgins, the existence of Allah and the jinns, the prophethood of Muhammad, the revelation of the Qur’an and other Islamic doctrines are like traditional religious beliefs matters of faith, not matters of fact.Religious bloodletting will not change this reality or diminish the urgency and necessity to critically evaluate these claims. 

Contempt for humanity that Muslims in Northern Nigeria have rampantly displayed does not add value to Islam or African Muslimness. Instead, it reinforces the notion that Islam is a violent religion and that Muslims are actual or potential terrorists. More so, any time Muslims in Northern Nigeria kill or persecute persons of the same faith, of other faiths or none in furtherance of the counterintuitive notions as in the case of Mubarak Bala, they reaffirm their socio-cultural, intellectual and religious inferiority.

Westernization and Laicization from the Ottoman Empire to a Secular Republic in Turkey

This is the first part of Peter Bacos’s talk on the modernising reforms of Mustafa Kemal to create the secular industrial nation of Turkey.

The Treaty of Sevres had imposed harsh terms on Turkey and many Turks were furious at the docile way the Sultan had bowed to western pressure and were determined to resist it. An uprising begun in eastern Anatolia led to the creation of the Association for the Defence of the Rights of Eastern Anatolia which elected Mustafa Kemal, who had distinguished himself during the Dardanelles campaign, as its leader. A new Ottoman parliament was elected in January 1920 where the Kemalists and their sympathisers formed the majority. The Greek – Turkish war ended in the victory of the latter by the end of 1922 and the Treaty of Lausanne of July 1923 gave far better terms to Turkey than the previous one. Before that Mustafa Kemal had decided that Turkey could not be represented by two sovereign powers at the treaty negotiations, the sultanate, and the Assembly. It was necessary to separate the sultanate and the caliphate and abolish the former. There would not be a sultan from now on and an Ottoman prince would take over the functions of the caliph, with powers uniquely religious and no longer political. Through this compromise Mustafa hoped to disarm the opposition of the religious elements to the political changes, conserve the advantages of a legitimate and revered authority above politics all while putting an end finally to the personal autocracy of the padishah. The resolution adopted 1 November 1922 contained 2 articles. The first declared that, “the Turkish people considers that the form of government of Istanbul resting on the sovereignty of an individual has ceased to exist 16 March 1920 and has passed into history”; the second recognised that the caliphate belonged to the house of Osman but affirmed that the title depended on the Ottoman state and affirmed that the Assembly would choose as caliph the member of the house of Osman who by his knowledge and his character would be the most worthy and the most satisfying. Mehmed V1 did not wait any longer; on 17 November one had learnt that he had fled from the palace and embarked on a British man of war which took him to Malta. The following day the National Assembly of Ankara pronounced his deposition and elected caliph his cousin Abdulmecid. Still Kemal knew the significance of the caliphate within the Muslim world. In 1517 the Ottomans had conquered Egypt and deposed the Abbasid dynasty who were caliphs. This title was now acquired by the sultans, and although not Arabs gave them immense prestige within the Muslim world. Kemal did not want the new Turkey to have this international responsibility. The Muslim religion had not served science or progress, and Kemal who had a veritable hatred towards the hodjas or teachers wanted a complete separation between church and state on the French model. On the 3 March 1924 the National Assembly voted on the three points submitted to it by Ataturk, the deposition of the caliph, the abolition of the caliphate, and the expulsion from Turkish territory of all members of the house of Osman. The following day the last of the caliphs followed the last of the sultans into exile.

In abolishing the caliphate Ataturk launched his first open offensive against the forces solidly entrenched behind Islamic orthodoxy. The traditional Islamic state was in theory, and according to popular conception, a theocracy, in which god was the sole legitimate source as much of power as of law, while that the sovereign was only his regent on earth. The faith was the official credo of the order politically and socially established. The Koranic law, coming from the same source and administered by a unique magistrature, governed as well the questions civil, criminal, and constitutional like the rules of rite and of doctrine. The sovereign appeared as the supreme incarnation of the Holy Law, “the shadow of God on earth”, that he maintained and which maintained him, the ulemas being the defenders of it and the authorised interpreters. From the beginning of the Ottoman reforms the ulemas had seen their power largely diminish, constrained as they had been to abandon successively vast swathes of their prerogatives, legal, social, and pedagogic. However, they still conserved a great power and an even greater influence. A good part of the schools of the country stayed under their hold; the laws concerning the family and personal questions were still dominated by the code that they administered; since the disappearance of the sultanate and of all the other institutions of the ancient regime they stayed the sole power of Turkish society having the cohesion, the organisation and the authority permitting them to defy the sovereignty of the new regime. More than once in the past the ulemas had retarded or caused to fail the enterprises of the reformers; Ataturk was determined to forbid them to handicap his revolution. The abolition of the califate, a devastating blow to their hierarchic organisation as a whole accompanied itself with a series of other assaults, the suppression of the Ministry of the Sharia, the closure of schools and higher religious institutions, then a month later the abolition of the special Koranic courts where the judge/theologians applied the holy law. The new order was going to be confirmed by the republican constitution, adopted by the National Assembly 20 April 1924, which attributed the legislative power to the Assembly and reserved the judicial function to independent courts acting, “in the name of the nation.”

Kemal’s next attack was on the traditional headgear of the Turks, the fez. It may seem very strange to a westerner that coiffure could have such significance in a society when to most people it is a very trivial item of apparel. However, for Muslims it was of fundamental importance because the coiffure expressed and affected their relations with their neighbours and their ancestors as well as their place in society and history. Islam was a religion and a civilisation, different from other religions and civilisations which united Muslims among themselves and separated them as much from their pagan ancestors as from their infidel neighbours. The vestments and in particular the coiffure was the sign visible and exterior through which the Muslim manifested his allegiance to the Islamic community and his rejection of others. Without doubt in the 19th century there had been vestimentary changes which distinguished the elites dressing in a more western way, but even the dandies of Istanbul had conserved one distinctive sign; the fez. This hat introduced barely a century before had been furiously rejected at first because it appeared as an infidel innovation before being finally accepted and adopted by the Muslims of Turkey and many other countries to the point of becoming the latest symbol of Islamic identity. All the body of the Muslim could be westernised but his head, on the other hand, stayed Muslim, the grand red fez proclaiming with defiance that he refused to conform totally to the West. As far as Mustafa Kemal was concerned the civilization meant European civilization. In November 1924 he stated to the National Assembly: “The Turkish nation has become aware with a great joy that the obstacles, which for centuries have constantly prevented Turkey from joining the civilised nations which march forward on the path of progress, have been removed. The peoples non – civilised are dedicated to stay under the boot of those who are civilised”. A few years later in a discourse he was even more emphatic. “Gentlemen, it is necessary to abolish the fez which sits on the heads of the nation like the emblem of ignorance, of negligence, of fanaticism, and of the hatred of progress and civilization for to accept in its place the hat, coiffure used by the whole civilized world, and in this way to demonstrate that the Turkish nation in its mentality as in other aspects removes itself in no way from the civilised social life”. In September 1925 there was a wave of decrees against the theocracy forbidding any person who exercised religious functions from wearing vestments or religious insignia and ordered all civil servants to wear the costume, “common to civilised nations of the world”, that is to say the suit and the western hat; ordinary citizens remained free to clothe themselves how they wished. On the 25 November of that year a new law obliged all men to wear a hat while the wearing of the fez became a crime.

Another problem, much more delicate, was female apparel. In a discourse in August of that year at Kastamonu, Kemal attacked the veil at the same time as the fez. “In certain places I have seen women who put a piece of cloth, a serviette or something of this kind on their head to hide their face, and who turn the back or who crouch down on the ground when a man passes close to them. What signifies this behaviour? Gentlemen, can the mothers and daughters of a nation civilized adopt these strange habits, this barbarous posture? It is a spectacle which covers the nation with ridicule. It is necessary to remedy it immediately.” But the great reformer himself did not dare legislate against the veil. The unveiling of women, which occurred among the educated classes in the cities progressed only slowly elsewhere. It was necessary to wait until 1935 until the banning of the veil was proposed during a congress of the People’s Party, without any result moreover.

It was necessary to reorganise entirely the juridical system of the country in order to harmonise it with, “the common practice of civilised nations”. The reforms of the 19th century had already removed from large sectors of law the authority of the Sharia and of its interpreters. On 8 April 1924, going still further, Mustafa Kemal had abolished the Koranic tribunals. But, even after all these changes the Sharia stayed still in force in the majority of domains of family and personal law, and continued to be applied by judges who, even though they sat in lay tribunals, stayed largely by their training and their conceptions, doctors of holy law. Kemal was determined to put an end to this. On 11 September 1924 a commission of 26 jurists undertook to adapt the Swiss civil code to the needs of Turkey; the fruit of their work was adopted on the 17 February 1926 by the Assembly and became law on the 4 October. One would not know how to exaggerate the importance of this change in the evolution of Turkey. Without doubt a number of legal reforms had intervened before, under the Tanzimat and the Young Turks and more than one prescription of the Sharia had been tacitly abandoned, in particular in the administrative, commercial and criminal law, but it was the first time that a reformer dared to invade the intimacy of religious and family life, apanage exclusive of doctors of holy law, and that not clandestinely but in a full frontal assault. In this way, the Sharia, this gift of god was abrogated by the Assembly, its prescriptions declared null and void and replaced by the new Turkish civil code. This was the end of polygamy and the repudiation – all the ancient obstacles to the liberty and dignity of women, and replaced by marriage and civil divorce with equal rights for both parties. More shocking still in the eyes of believers, a Muslim could from now on legally marry a non-Muslim, and all the adults legally obtained the right to change their religion should they wish to.

Change did not happen overnight and in rural areas many of the old customs persisted. However, a breech had been pierced in the fortress. The authority of the state, always so important in a Muslim country, was from now on incontestably on the side of reform and the defenders of tradition found themselves cornered, and forced into clandestine resistance. At the end of a series of defeats the ulemas had been finally chassed from the last bastion of their power and influence; the legal system and the coercive apparatus charged with its application served in a determined effort to break their power forever. Kemal clearly expressed his objectives in a discourse that he delivered during the inauguration of the new faculty of law of Ankara on the 5 November 1925: “The negative and overwhelming force that has condemned our nation to decline, which has finished by breaking and conquering the men of initiative and of energy that our fecund nation has never failed to produce is the law which is from now on in your hands, the law of its faithful votaries. Think of the Turkish victory of 1453 and the capture of Istanbul (Constantinople) and its place in the history of the world. This same strength, this same power which, against the will of the whole world has been too weak to overcome the malign resistance of men of law, to welcome in Turkey the printing press which had been invented almost at the same time. It has been necessary three centuries of observation and hesitation, efforts and energy deployed for and against before that the ancient laws and their interpreters authorised the entry of the printing press into our country. Our objective is to create laws entirely new, and to extirpate like that the very foundations of the ancient legal system.” Among these new laws the most important was indubitably the civil code. At the same epoch commissions of jurists harnessed themselves to other domains, borrowing and adapting various Western legal systems. In a few years Turkey possessed new codes of obligations, of commerce, maritime law, civil and criminal procedure as well as a new judicial apparatus to apply them.

The new session of Parliament embarked on other laws which would give to the Turkish state a character more secular, more modern, more national, and less Islamic. The second article of the Constitution of 1924 commenced in effect by these words: “The religion of the Turkish state is Islam” a formula which went back to the first Ottoman constitution of 1876. On 5 April 1928 the party of the People decided to suppress this phrase from the constitution. Five days later, 10 April, the Assembly voted an amendment to this effect and modified three other articles in order to make disappear all expressions and allusions religious. Turkey was now a state lay and modern by its constitution, its laws, and its aspirations. There remained still one symbol powerful and universal which connected it to the Orient and separated it from the community of western nations; the Arab alphabet. The Koran was written in Arabic, which made it a holy language and it was just this religious symbolism that Ataturk wished to break. The Ottoman elite spoke a heavy language merging with Turk so-called elements borrowed from Arab and Persian and using the Arab alphabet. The result was curious; despite the 612 characters used, an insurmountable obstacle for a great part of the population the Arab alphabet was not capable of offering to the Turkish language the expression of all its vowels, and the Turkish populace did not use the language, limiting itself to that which the Sublime Porte called, “the meagre language of a beggar”. It is this last witness of Muslim identity which was now going to follow the caliphate and the Koranic law into the dustbin of history. In January 1928 the Minister of Education gave a discourse in praise of the Latin alphabet. Fifteen days later a former minister went even further: “The adoption of Latin characters is for us a necessity. The ancient literature is dedicated to fall into dust”. A commission was appointed to examine the possibility and manner of adopting Latin characters. The deputies were all mobilised to a man. Kemal alternated the irresistible seduction and the naked violence; “all those who obstruct my path will be pitilessly crushed”. Kemal spent the summer in Istanbul and personally directed the discussions and he was without doubt responsible for the fact that they were completed in six weeks. In a lecture he delivered he said: “Remember that it is shameful that in our country 80 to 90 percent of the population is illiterate. It is not our fault; it is the responsibility of those who have not known how to understand the Turkish character who have enchained their minds. The moment has now come to extirpate the errors of the past. We are going to repair these errors and to do this, I wish the participation of all our compatriots. Our nation will show by its literature and its intelligence that it has its place in the civilised world”. The alphabetical revolution definitively cut off Turkey from the Ottoman Empire. What revolutionary could boast like Mustafa Kemal of having engendered a new language?

Now Ataturk became the school master of the nation; he conducted tours of the nation educating and testing the nation in village squares, classrooms, town halls and cafes. Soon other ministers followed him and the nation resembled a giant school; from one end of the country to the other intellectuals and politicians armed with chalk and blackboards taught the people how to write the new characters. In the 1920’s the illiteracy rate was still about 90%. Kemal said that, “If I had not been head of state I would have wanted to be minister of Education”. He marched in the footsteps of Jules Ferry and all the men of the French third republic; like them he elaborated a doctrine, a religion even of education. Teachers were baptised, “the pilots of future liberation,” and set out on the assault of religious obscurantism. On 1 November 1928 the Assembly opened its new session in presenting the new alphabet to Mustafa Kemal on tablets of gold; on 3 November it adopted a law inaugurating officially the new Turkish script and banning for public use to write Turkish with Arab characters from the end of the year. Some days later civil servants must sit exams to show that they mastered the Roman alphabet. The objective of the change was not so much practical and pedagogic as social and cultural, and Mustafa Kemal in forcing his people to accept it was as much shutting the door on the past as opening another one on the future. Nothing would oppose itself from now on to the final rupture with the past and with the Orient in order to definitively integrate Turkey to the civilisation of the modern West. In 1934 the National Assembly voted a law imposing a surname on all Turks; up till then the Empire did not know patronymics, which multiplied the confusion. As a result of this, in November of that year Mustafa Kemal became Ataturk; “ata, “means both father and ancestor in the language and, “turk,” is self–explanatory. Another honour the Assembly awarded him was that of Gazi, an honorific title reserved for great conquerors who have fought the infidel. To be continued.


Peter Bacos is a Wellington member of Humanist New Zealand.