Below is Part 2 of “An Atheist in Kuwait.” TheHumanist.com speaks with Ben Baz Aziz, an Egyptian living in Kuwait who was arrested and deported for his atheism. Joining him is a fellow atheist blogger who anonymously goes by ExZombie.
TheHumanist.com: Do you know of other atheists living in Kuwait?
Ben Baz: Yes. We had a group containing around 200 members. Others will not share their atheism, many of whom are famous writers or academics who are afraid to be known. I can refer to ExZombie, who can answer more questions regarding atheists in Kuwait, since he established many atheist gatherings, including a group called Infidels Anonymous.
ExZombie: Infidels Anonymous was established on Facebook in 2009, yet we’d held monthly meetings since 2003 in a local traditional café, a gathering that became known as “the meeting under the infidels’ shed” in reference to the shed the infidels used to gather under to discuss the prophet’s shenanigans. We meet in person or through the Internet, and discuss openly everything, but for safety reasons the Infidels Anonymous became a safe haven to vent and discuss issues regarding religion, customs and traditions, philosophy, history, and even news.
TheHumanist.com: How difficult is it to be an atheist in Kuwait? Do you hide your atheism, and if so, how?
Ben Baz: It’s hard to say that you are an atheist, but it’s harder to criticize religion. I don’t hide my atheism—everyone around me knows about it. I just keep calm until they open a discussion. During a discussion, I usually say I’m a skeptic in the beginning, but then I declare that I’m an atheist when I’m sure they’re not going to harm me. One day, I was wrong in my certainty—when I was reported to the police by someone at work.
ExZombie: It is quite difficult to give a straight answer on this question. Being an atheist in Kuwait is difficult and easy at the same time; there is backlash and reputations are easily tarnished in Kuwait which takes a heavy toll, people shunned, and it is risky, but you can to some degree isolate yourself and enjoy the bubble with others who share your beliefs. or lack of beliefs. Personally, I was a militant atheist for a brief time, but I used to vent and express my thoughts through blogging and poster designs. Due to the social nature in Kuwait, it is common to have two lives, one where you can pursue any vice you wish, and one where saints roam the country. Under this facade, we hide our beliefs.
TheHumanist.com: Do you believe there will ever be true religious freedom for atheists in Kuwait?
Ben Baz: Not in Kuwait. Not even in the whole Middle East until they change blasphemy laws and constitutions that establish Islam as the state religion and the main source of legislation.
In Egypt the number of atheists is increasing rapidly. Once we had a maximum of 3,000 atheists participating in closed groups on Facebook. Now I believe this number is over 30,000 active atheists online in the Middle East. A clash between the increasing number of atheists and their governments seems likely.
ExZombie: Hopefully, the constitution will declare that the freedom of belief is absolute. Through advocating for a more secular state, this will allow more religious freedom in Kuwait.
TheHumanist.com: Is there any kind of support network for atheists or groups of people that help find homes for atheists who have been kicked out of their homes? Do atheists in Kuwait know how to request asylum?
ExZombie: Infidels Anonymous was established to be the basis of a social safety net. Through individual efforts it gave support and advice (legal and emotional) to those who had trouble at home due to ideological differences. There are a few cases where we had to find new homes in order to protect them from abuse, and they were mostly women. As for asylum, unfortunately, no.
TheHumanist.com: What can atheists and humanists living in the United States do to help atheists like you and others living in fear in countries like Kuwait and elsewhere?
ExZombie: We would appreciate any help we can get to establish a secularist NGO to legally protect people from discrimination, to protect the rights of people, their beliefs, and lifestyles from being affected by any one sect. Right now we face difficulties with the ministry–they are refusing to give us permission to organize due to misguided and ill interpretations of what secularism means. If we resort to going to court, it might force them to grant us permission to establish the NGO, but it’ll be a gamble. We have to explain to the judge what secularism actually means and not what the clergymen say it is.
TheHumanist.com: What are your plans for the future?
Ben Baz: As Voltaire said: “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.” I have deactivated my Arabic blog and I stopped all my contributions in Arabic, but I am writing for Atheist Ireland and volunteering secretly for the Atheist Alliance International. And, for many reasons, I must leave Egypt for my safety and start volunteering and working for humanity’s sake.
ExZombie: Other than creating the NGO for secularism, we opened a bookshop that holds a number of challenging books that debate religions and ideolgoies. We’ve faced many backward people trying to burn the bookstore or enticing extremists to enter and destroy the books. But we hope to stay open.