Secular humanist activist Faisal Saeed Al Mutar grew up in Iraq as a common enemy in the ongoing civil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Now, he finds himself living in Texas, which is fraught with its own brand of religious zealotry.
Faisal founded the Global Secular Humanist Movement in September 2010. GSHM, which encourages humanist values, critical thinking and scientific inquiry over faith, mysticism and dogma, has more than 185,000 “likes” on Facebook.
Faisal also launched Secular Post in 2012.
“The mission of the project is to create an open-source journalism community for writers from around the world, to allow them to publish their ideas, thoughts, and opinions for the purpose of advancing the progress of humanity,” Faisal said.
Last year, I interviewed Faisal and he gave us his view of the powerful force of religion worldwide.
“I think religion’s power differs from a region to a region, the most extreme forces can be found in the Middle East or countries Like Pakistan, Uganda, etc.,” Faisal said last year. “But in places like Western Europe and North America, religion is on decline due to the rise of enlightenment and scientific development.”
Now, Faisal has lived in the United States for two months. He’s affiliated with a local secular group and has even given a speech for Houston Oasis, which calls itself “a community grounded in reason, celebrating the human experience.” I talked with Faisal to get an update on what he’s been up to since coming to America.
1. When we spoke almost a year ago, you were still living in Iraq, but you’ve since moved to Texas, which has its own reputation for religious extremism in the United States. What has the experience been like so far?
It’s wonderful so far, I have found a wonderful Humanist / Atheist community here in Houston where I live and they are really welcoming and smart people. I am also speaking in Humanists of Houston 18th of May 2013.
I think religious extremism in the United States can be compared to religious moderation to where I come from, so I have kind of different perception of what religious extremism really means.
2. Being a non-believer in Iraq, did you ever experience any discrimination or violence as a result of your lack of faith?
Certainly, I have been the target of many death threats, verbal and physical. I don’t know how I survived, but I did. I followed very cautious life style for the past 10 years in my life, which means almost half it, that I always keep my friends close and my enemies closer. I am lucky that I got accepted to U.S immigration on March 12th, not another year or month or the next day! Things would be dramatically different if my asylum wasn’t accepted.
But it’s very fair to say that unfortunately in Iraq you may be threatened or killed or for many different reasons. I have lost my brother, my best friend and my cousin for various reasons.
Non-believers are not the only ones who are the target of terrorism, as you know I was living in a country that is still in a sectarian / religious civil war and most of the people killed belong to the two sides that are fighting (Sunnis and Shias) and we non-believers are somehow stuck in the middle in the conflict. They are both united (which is ironic) that we are somehow their enemy.
3. Last time we spoke, Global Secular Humanist Movement had just more than 84,000 fans and was quickly expanding on Facebook. What have you and GSHM been up to in the last year?
Starting in February 2012, I dedicated more time into the movement and how to spread the message globally – we had growth of almost 140,000 last year and we will continue doing that. I would like to give special thanks to all the people who supported the movement since the start and are supporting the movement now. I still remember the date when I first started it and I thought that I would be the only one there, now the movement has about 185,000+ fans from more than 50+ countries, I feel so honored to receive such a huge amount of support.
4. Almost all studies seem to show that religious affiliation is falling worldwide while secularism rises. What do you think of that trend and what can we do to encourage it?
I think that the majority of the world population now has more access to knowledge than before, there is in a correlation in my opinion between knowledge and how we view the world. The best way to encourage it would be to continue doing what we are doing and spread more knowledge about Humanism and Free thought, that’s what I would love to have an impact on and be part of the positive change in the globe.
5. You talk a lot about secular issues and about religion, but also about critical thinking and humanism. What would you say is the most important part of your work as an activist?
It is to communicate Humanism and make it a global language that everyone speaks and to advocate for Human rights and Human wellbeing globally. Global Secular Humanist Movement is the message and the platform to convey this message, everyone with a Humanist outlook is welcome to join and be part of global dialogue of how to make the world a better place.
6. Last year, you said you were working on a book called “Dogma.” Is that still the case? What can you tell us about the book?
It is still the case, the main reason why I am delaying is mostly financial as well as I would like to spend more time in the states and do more research to make sure that most if not all the arguments I am going to use in the book would be supported by huge amount of evidence. The book is about the dangers of unsubstantiated beliefs and how we as humans can live a better life without them, I am also going to write about my life in Iraq and the Iraq war as well as my views on certain topics related to science, philosophy and economics.
7. What other projects are you working on?
I am continuing on a project I started last year, The Secular Post. The mission of the project is to create an open-source journalism community for writers from all around the world, to allow them to publish their ideas, thoughts and opinions for the purpose of advancing the progress of humanity.
I also have new project coming soon with Alex Prodoehl from Colorado called Reasonify. The mission is to make reason and critical thinking a global language. I am looking forward to registering Global Secular Humanist Movement as a non-profit organization and I am looking for people to help me with that. I have been in the United States for two months so far but I am going to achieve that as soon as possible so we will have more time to do great things and make more contributions to the world we are living in.
8. You’ll be speaking at the Humanists of Houston City-wide monthly gathering on Saturday, May 18, 1:00PM-3:00PM. Can you tell us what you’ll be discussing?
I will be speaking about my life as a non-believer in Iraq, atheism across the Middle East, Global Secular Humanist Movement and my views about Humanism, religion and how to make a better global civilization based upon the values of the enlightenment.