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Atheists in Syria’s So-Called Islamic Uprising

While the Syrian revolution may have been gradually co-opted by Islamic rhetoric on media outlets, Syrian activist Ayman Ghojal still manages to find a place for his niche atheism.

Written by Syria Untold Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Ghojal, who has been arrested twice by regime forces, has refused to let the growing Islamic rhetoric sway him away from his revolutionary ideals, nor allow it to silence his “subversive” ideas. Nevertheless, he and his colleagues, find themselves increasingly trapped between the regime’s oppressive machinery and a conservative society that looks disaprovingly at their outspoken irreligiosity.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 9.59.33 AM

According to Ghojal, “when the Syrian revolution started, it encompassed the full wide spectrum of Syrians. Atheists and agnostics are probably one of the first groups that embraced the revolution wholeheartedly from its early days, even when the overwhelmingly religious communities were still qualifying their support.”

As a response to what Ghojal and his comrades saw as co-opting the Syrian revolution into a monotone Islamic narrative, they decided to start distributing secular pamphlets against the regime. They distributed them in opposition areas, and signed them by the name of “Syrian Atheists.” To their surprise, the pamphlets were removed not by security forces, but by people from the community itself. That was despite the fact that the pamphlets poked fun at Bashar al-Assad and its regime, as well as Adnan al-Arour (a religious scholar who became a powerful mobilizing figure for Islamists in the early months of the revolution).

Some of the pamphlets read: “President Bashar al-Assad… thank you for serving as proof for Darwin’s theory of evolution,” and “People arise from your sleep, we have finally ended the rule of the beasts.” Ghojal believes that theirs was the first organized protest at “attempts to divert the uprising from its initial ideals of freedom, dignity and citizenry to a nothing more than a religious conflict.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 9.59.45 AMDespite the fact that many of the early demonstrations started at mosques, Ghojal and his friends refused to follow that out of moral honesty and ideological preference. They used to wait for the demonstration to leave the mosque before joining it. In that, and in refusing to repeat religious chants during demonstrations, the group of atheists stood firm in their refusal to “placate the so-called ‘public mood’ during a momentous event like a revolution, which was itself a response to the hegemony of another monotone ‘public mood’.

The group has also faced attempts to discard and silence their contributions in the virtual realm as well. The posters and banners that they created and shared on social media websites were soon altered to remove their name from them, despite the fact that their main idea was to emphasize the revolution’s main strength: its peacefulness.

The experience, as Ghojal admits, was only an attempt to assert their existence and independence. Despite the fact that rejection was expected, he feels that it has served its purpose and more importantly has given them an immense sense of confidence. The feeling of urgency to break the sacredness of both the political and the religious, is more than evident in Ghojal’s words: “I haven’t been able to forget the first time I yelled for the downfall of the regime. It was a new rebirth and a manifold sense of irreverence towards a far worse fetish than any religion; that of  idolizing man.”

This post first appeared on Syria Untold.


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