Dialogue with my atheist friend

07. September

Dear Sam

I was uplifted with attending the meeting yesterday especially with seeing some new faces, but with all my respect to you as an activist and free thinker I am still perplexed at your stiff position that insists that the only solution to the Palestinian problem is “a one secular” state. My favoured vision also is to see the one state solution; however I can’t fathom the idea that any one of us can claim that he/ she knows what is best for that society! Or that we have the right to impose our ideas on others.

 They know their circumstances better than we do, they have brains to think for themselves, and they are capable of making their own decisions.

It saddens me to see that we as humans -time and time again- fail to have enough insight so we end up not being able to live up to our own principles by giving to others what we want for ourselves: the freedom to choose, the freedom to have their own views on the world, the freedom to create a society that reflects their beliefs, the freedom to live by their own principles.

We always unknowingly fall in the same hole, we think that our ideas are the best, our minds are the greatest, and our principles are the finest. And this is scary because it is “kind of” arrogant.

Why can’t we give people in the Middle East some credit and credibility? Why should we seek to impose our solutions? What different we become from the imperialists whose aim is to impose their vision and control others?

I am perplexed and mystified!!





07- September

Hi Nahida,

A number of points immediately come to mind.  Perhaps most important is Article 16 of the Palestine National Charter adopted by the Palestinian National Council in July 1968 which reads”
The liberation of Palestine, from a spiritual point of view, will provide the Holy Land with an atmosphere of safety and tranquillity, which in turn will safeguard the country’s religious sanctuaries and guarantee freedom of worship and of visit to all, without discrimination of race, colour, language, or religion. Accordingly, the people of Palestine
look to all spiritual forces in the world for support.

This was one of the first things that drew me to the Palestinian cause and over the years I have heard many Palestinian leaders call for a democratic, secular, unitary state based on the above article. Actually the full charter is an amazing document and for me it
demonstrates the intellectual maturity of the Palestinian people.

We have had many discussions on secularity but most important for me is the belief that the Government of a country should be separate from the religious beliefs of its citizens.   I will never accept the imposition of a religion by legislation or any other means for that matter.

I argue with all my heart against a Jewish state not because it is Jewish but because I do not believe it is the role to the state to impose a religion on its people.

The Israeli Government could remove all laws that discriminate against non-Jewish people.  They could even enact laws protecting the rights of non-Jewish people.  But as long as it is a “Jewish State” then by definition anyone who is non-Jewish has secondary status.  Otherwise
why bother having a “Jewish State”.

More importantly I will make the same arguments against any religion.

Perhaps we should be arguing for a three-state solution – an Islamic state, a Jewish state and secular state.

I am afraid this is one where we will have to agree to disagree.





07- September

Dear Sam


But –dear Sam- what kind of secular state do you want?

 A state that will ban the hijab and prevent me from wearing what I want -like secular France, Germany, Turkey, Tunisia, Belgium, and now even Bulgaria?

 A state that will not allow its children to learn about any faith or religion before they’re 18?

 A state that will impose the teaching of evolution -as viewed by Darwin– as the only scientific truth?

 A state that will consider the teaching of the theory of intelligent design an illegal unlawful practice?

 Can you -dear Sam- give me the guarantee that this secular state unlike many others will allow me the freedom to practice my religion without being persecuted for my beliefs like what happened to people of faith in many communist countries?

Will my right to have faith be protected without having to face the accusation of being backwards, superstitious?

Can you give the guarantee that I will be allowed to believe in a Creator the same way it allows others to believe in blind chance as the cause of our existence -by giving us equal rights and similar platforms to teach our views?

Will people of faith be allowed to teach their views to children?


Dear Sam

Consider this scenario: few years from now and miraculously the Zionists agreed to a one state for all, also miraculously they acknowledged their wrong doings and allowed exiled Palestinians to return. Then the nature and the constitution of the new born state were put to the vote.

 Isn’t it the right of the citizens then to decide the nature of their new state? How to introduce laws that will cater for all? As it will be a multi-religious multi-ethnic too.



07- September

Hi Nahida,

I meant to say you looked really well on Tuesday night. I do hope it is an indication that things are getting a bit better for you.

Now for your last letter, It seems that once again we may be down to semantics.

You appear to be working from the premise that taking a particular belief and defining it as a “religious belief” gives it special status, and that it should not be subject to any criticism or restrictions.

Your request for the right to have your faith protected without having to face the accusation of being backwards or superstitious is a perfect example of this, for in every other context this would be considered a restriction on freedom of speech.  The people who believed the earth
was flat, that slavery was morally just, that women who were designated as witches should be burned at the state, that people who were mentally ill should be kept in chains or that women should not be allowed to vote, would have loved to have their rights protected in this way.

History is loaded with “religious beliefs” and as a secularist I apply the same criteria to all. Childhood sacrifice has been an essential part of many religions throughout history, but it is one belief, which we can all agree, should not have its rights protected.  Turning to the
other end of the spectrum, prayer the privacy one’s own home is also an essential part of many religions, but I do not think there are many secularists who would deny people this right.  I certainly would not.

So all other “religious beliefs” fall in between and the issue becomes drawing the line.  If I guarantee you the right to wear a headscarf in public, do I not have to give the same guarantee to anyone who claims their headdress is part of their religious belief, no matter how
offensive some may find it?

Moving beyond headdress, the list of possible conflicts becomes endless and always the same question: where do you draw the line?

Two religious beliefs come to mind on which I would like to know your views.  Jehovah Witness do not believe in blood transfusions and there have been numerous cases where they have been prepared to let their children die, rather than allow them to have a blood transfusion when
it was needed to save the child’s life. Usually the doctors go to court and get a court order allowing them to save the child’s life.  Also some naturists consider nudism to be part of their religious beliefs.
Indeed they argue we are born without clothes and there is no practical need for people relaxing in a warm climate to be forced into wearing clothes.  Thus the question becomes as long as I am guaranteeing religious rights, should I guarantee Jehovah Witness the right to deny their children blood transfusions and naturists the right to go without clothes.  Incidentally can I guarantee the right of two people of same sex to love each other, to share their lives and be free of being considered deviant?


© Copyright 2006 Nahida Izzat & Sam Semoff -PoetryforPalestine – All Rights Reserved

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