Kaveh Mousavi (a pseudonym) is, according to his online bio,
… an atheist ex-Muslim living in Iran, subject to one of the world’s remaining theocracies… He was born at the tenth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. He has ditched the Islamic part, but has kept some of the revolutionary spirit.
While he was getting his brand new Patheos blog set up, Kaveh wrote a guest post over at Dan Fincke‘s place, in which he describes what it’s like to be an atheist in Iran. As you can imagine, “picnic” and “walk in the park” aren’t in Kaveh’s lexicon.
It shapes your life maybe more than any other thing about you. If you are not a 12-Imam Shiite, you lose most of the opportunities in life. And if you are not a practicing member of one of the four “official” religions, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, you officially don’t exist. In the forms you have to fill out to get jobs or register for anything, these options are the only four options. According to the Islamic Republic, you have no right to have jobs, study in universities, open a bank account, or live, unless you belong to one of these four religions.
Atheists are not only absent from the official forms. They’re also absent from the public discourse. It’s not [only] that you are demonized constantly and discriminated against, but also your existence is completely ignored, deliberately ignored. “We are all Muslims”. You hear that sentence more than any other in Iran. In every discussion which touches religion — and being a theocracy it’s almost every discussion — people take great care to remind everyone that yes, everyone, no atheists here, all Muslims.… One has to wonder why, in this society where we are “all Muslims”, Islam needs to be defended on every channel and every book.
In the West, Kaveh says, we cannot imagine how pervasive religion is in Iran.
There’s no street without some religious symbolism. No ritual. No event. No book without “In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate”. No greetings or goodbyes. No bill. No official form. Think of the most secular thing and it’s still religious in Iran. The only secular space I can think of is the privacy of my own room. Being an atheist in Iran means that everything, from the walls and the floors and the streets and the houses, everything tells you “you’re not one of us.” …
Being an ex-Muslim is like giving up your privileges. You were the majority until a day ago, now suddenly you are the most hated minority.
Like Kaveh, I write under a pen name. It’s to protect my livelihood: I run a wedding-photography business, in which I deal with many clients who are religious, and who elect to have Christian or Jewish ceremonies. A certain number of them wouldn’t have hired me if the first thing they’d seen when they Googled my name was pages and pages of Friendly Atheist / Moral Compass blog posts.
Kaveh‘s anonymity, on the other hand, is a little more life-and-death. Literally. No comparison.
Would you announce the fact that you are an atheist? Of course, you can’t — you could be hanged. But how far would you go? Would you tell your family? Friends? No one? Would you come out everywhere except where it’s absolutely dangerous? Would you be a proud traitor, or would you act like the criminal you’re supposed to be, hiding your opinion like a dirty secret? How much would you lie? You have to lie anyway, but it’s a matter of degrees. Would your whole life be a lie?
It’s good to have him join us here at Patheos. He’s already hit the ground running (by defending Bill Maher against charges of anti-Muslim bigotry). Let’s hope he stays safe.
(Image via Shutterstock)