In his New Year message, IHEU President Roy Brown highlights 2005’s successful World Humanist Congress and IHEU’s increased focus on campaigning and social action, especially in Africa and South Asia. He calls for humanist voices to be raised in response to fundamentalism and promises that IHEU’s delegations to the UN will continue to make their presence felt. He urges all Humanists, secularists and rationalists to join in the battle for hearts and minds.
We look forward with enthusiasm to 2006 after what has been a good year for IHEU and International Humanism, but a rather mixed year for humanity and the voice of reason.
The year started on a high note with the 5th World Atheist Congress in Vijayawada, India and continued with the highly successful World Humanist Congress in Paris in July.
In September the IHEU Executive Committee made a key decision to focus more of our attention on campaigning and social action, particularly on behalf of the most deprived and oppressed of our members in Africa and South Asia. Humanism needs its philosophy but philosophy alone is not enough if it fails to lead to social change. During 2006 IHEU will open a regional office in India and will begin working more closely with our 14 member organisations in that country. We shall also move forward with out plans to establish a Humanist School and pan-African Humanist Institute in Kampala, Uganda. During the year we will be asking our member organisations for help in raising funds for a number of humanist projects in developing countries, projects that can make a real difference to the lives of thousands of the poorest of our fellow human beings.
2005 ended on another high note with the decision of the US federal court in Dover Pennsylvania that Intelligent Design theory is not science and cannot be taught as an alternative to the Theory of Evolution in science classes. Time alone will tell whether this marks the high water mark for Christian fundamentalism in America or merely a minor setback in the fundamentalist’s ongoing war against science and reason.
Elsewhere in the world we have rather less to celebrate. The victory of the Shiite fundamentalists in Iraq elections and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan must give us pause, while the unchanging face of Hindu oppression of the untouchables in India, and the grisly reports of imams in tsunami-devastated Aceh, Indonesia blaming the women survivors, many of whom lost their entire families, for bringing down the wrath of Allah on their communities, leave only feelings of utter disgust at the depravity and inhumanity of those who claim to know the will of God.
As we enter 2006, many see the “clash of civilisations” as a clash between Islamic fundamentalism and Christianity: between the cult of Jihad and a new Crusade. But as Taslima Nasrin pointed out in her paper read at the “Victims of Jihad” conference at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, the real conflict is:
between modern, rational, logical thinking and irrational, blind faith… between modernity and anti-modernism. It is a conflict between the future and the past, between innovation and tradition, between those who value freedom and those who do not.
As the voices of fundamentalism become ever more shrill, where are the voices of moderation, of reason and of compassion? We must do more to ensure that whenever the voices of fundamentalism are raised, humanist voices are raised in response. The IHEU delegations at the UN in Geneva and New York will continue to make their presence felt, shaking the complacency of the religiously-dominated national delegations. In the Spring we will be holding major conferences on Bioethics in New York, and at the UN in Geneva on the plight of the Dalits in South Asia.
Let us resolve to make 2006 the year that reason and humanity once again claim centre stage. I urge you all, Humanists, secularists and rationalists, to join us in the battle for hearts and minds. Put pen to paper, fingers to the keyboard, write letters and articles to press, call in to radio chat shows, participate in televised debates, challenge the unspoken assumptions of the religious that their ancient texts and antiquated misogynistic, homophobic, anti-modern worldviews have any relevance at all in the modern world. And let your activism involve fund-raising on behalf of our fellow humanist organisations.
May I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful New Year in the cause of Humanism.