Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Brave women: Tunisia and Uganda

Tunisia is at a crossroads. Fresh off of elections and embarking on writing a constitution, the country still has an opportunity for a (relatively) democratic secularism. Reading a call from HRW for the dropping of criminal charges against a TV station for airing a film claimed to "defame" religion, I learned that more than one determined filmmaker is critically commenting on religion there:
Laws that criminalize the “defamation” of religion or religious groups are not compatible with norms of freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its general comment on article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Tunisia has ratified, stated that it is not permissible for “prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws … to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.”

Since the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, there have been other attacks on artistic expression by groups claiming to act under the banner of protecting Islam. On September 26, protesters forced their way into the Afrikart Cinema in downtown Tunis to protest its screening of Secularism, If God Wills, a film about atheism shown as part of a cultural evening.
Intrigued by this description, I checked the link and discovered the following:
Online commentators, including on Facebook, have vilified the documentary under its former title, Neither Allah Nor Master (Ni Allah ni Maître) and its director, Nadia al-Fani, a Franco-Tunisian, largely because al-Fani has openly declared her atheism in interviews on Tunisian television and made it the subject of her film. Al-Fani has received numerous online death threats.
I found this interview with al-Fani, in which she argues: "I think in order to live together there must be this concept of secularism. I already had this position before the fall of Ben Ali, that to ask for democracy, is to ask for secularism."

In Uganda, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, who recently won the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, is leading a different but related struggle - for LGBT rights. Here's a short video about her:

Martin Ennals Award Laureate 2011 Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera from True Heroes Films on Vimeo.

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