Iran Moves toward Secularism. (World Report)

Article excerpt

In this new column, Bill Cooke comments on developments of concern to humanists worldwide. A longtime New Zealand humanist activist, Cooke is now a senior editor of Free Inquiry and director of the Center for Inquiry's new Commission for Transnational Cooperation--EDs.

The death sentence against Hashem Aghajari, a reformist and an academic at Modarres University in Teheran, roiled an already volatile situation in Iran. Aghajari's crime? Saying that the people should not blindly follow religious leaders. In something of an understatement, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami called Aghajari's arrest "inappropriate." In December, 10,000 students took to the streets to protest the lack of basic freedoms in Iran and to call for the release of Aghajari and other political prisoners. The state encouraged the Basij, a lawless mob of religious "police" (really state-sponsored thugs) to organize violent counter-demonstrations.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah, has been encouraging Iranians to undertake nonviolent protest against the Islamist regime. Pahlavi backs a secular democracy and advocates a popular referendum to choose Iran's new system of government. Gholam Reza Mohajery Nejad, a former Iranian student leader once imprisoned and tortured and now residing in Los Angeles, says that a growing groundswell of Iranian opinion favors secularism. One symbol of the shift: Abbas Abdi, a leader of the forces that occupied the U.S. Embassy in Teheran in 1979, has now been arrested by Iran's Islamic government for advocating closer relations with the United States.


Humanist organizations in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand presented their annual awards to outstanding humanists. The Humanist Association of Canada honored novelist Kurt Vonnegut's lifetime contribution to humanism through his novels and public statements. Australia's Humanist of the Year Award went to Donald Home, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales; former chancellor of the University of Canberra; and journalist, social critic, and commentator. And in New Zealand, the annual award went to Andrew Williams, a city council member in one of the country's largest cities who challenged the practice of beginning council meetings with prayer. …