Tortured For Being An Atheist. I Interview Waleed Al-Husseini
Waleed Al-Husseini is a Palestinian ex-Muslim. He fell afoul of the Palestinian authorities after blogging critically about Islam in 2010. For this ‘crime’, he was jailed and tortured. He managed to flee to France where he currently resides. He details these experiences in his French language book: ‘Blasphémateur’.
I initially recorded a conversation between us which I hoped to release on The Godless Spellchecker Podcast. Due to a combination of poor audio and a language barrier, I felt it would better serve Waleed’s story to arrange a written interview instead.
Stephen Knight: You are a Palestinian writer and activist living in France. Please tell me what your experience of living in The West Bank was like?
Waleed al-husseini: In Palestine, all my activism was confined to the internet and blogging because talking openly about atheism, or criticising Islam is just not something you can do there.
I was writing about these things for 3 years until I got arrested. I spent 10 months in jail before I was sentenced to 7 and a half years. My crime was being an atheist! The first 4 months in jail were really bad. I was beaten and made to stand for long periods of time. I was only able to sleep for two hours a day. “Who finances your atheism?” is the question they would ask me all the time. They just don’t accept that you can leave Islam by choice, they think it must be a conspiracy!
SK: So, just for your writing and interest in free thought you were imprisoned and tortured. What sort of things had you written?
WA: I was writing about Islam and asking whether Islam is compatible with democracy and human rights. And I was demonstrating that the answer is ‘no’.
I was writing about women’s rights within Islam and how I am against the hijab because it is insulting to women. I criticised the Qur’an and also Allah, because the Qur’an shows Allah to be a sexist, racist, bloodthirsty sadist! For this, I was arrested.
SK: You were also tortured, wasn’t you? Can you tell me a little bit about what form that took?
WA: That was such a hard time. In the first 4 months I was only able to sleep just 2 hours a day and most of the time I was made to stand, like on one leg and while raising one hand or two or standing on small cups that left some marks on my feet. There was some beating and all that time was the same question: “who’s giving you the money to do that?
One of our problems is that they always believe you are being financially supported by someone else. They don’t accept that it could just be your choice!
When they didn’t find anything, then the trial started. It was considered a military issue, even though I’m a civilian! They explained that my actions could have an effect on the entire Palestinian people, not just me. This was treated as a threat to the entire of society!
I got let out of jail after ten months and the authorities told me I mustn’t leave my house, or use the internet or telephone. But I left Palestine through Jordan because their borders belong to Israel. I went straight to the French embassy and I got a visa and was granted asylum in France. The Palestinian courts ruled that I should serve 7 and a half years in jail, but by that time I was already here in Paris.
SK: How do you feel about being an open ex-Muslim and critic of Islam in France? Do you feel safe?
WA: The situation here in France kind of complicated. I feel free, but not safe yet. Since being here, I have been threatened on the Internet and in the street too, especially after I released my book and after doing interviews on French television. And threats by who? By Muslims who’ve never even read my book.
In a cafe once, a Muslim was very aggressive with me. He said “I don’t need to read your book because I know who is behind it already! Jews and Zionists!”
They never read people who disagree with them. It’s happened before for many free thinking Arabs who’ve been killed for their writing. When they ask the killer “did you read his writing?”, They say “no! He is a kaffir!”
SK: When and why did you start questioning your faith?
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”How can I be free if Allah chooses everything for me?”[/pullquote]
WA: I started to question around 13 years old. At school we studied Islam and the Qur’an. So my first question was whether we had freewill or not because it didn’t seem logical! How can I be free if Allah chooses everything for me? He chose me to be kuffar [nonbeliever]! And he chose Muhammad to be a prophet. Allah will be sending me to hell for his own choice. Where’s the justice in this?
I never got the answers I needed so I started searching by myself. I read Muhammad’s life and the hadith and I was shocked more and more with what I read. I’ve detailed my full reasons for leaving Islam on my blog here http://proud-a.blogspot.com/2010/08/why-i-left-islam.html.
SK: How has all this effected your family?
WA: My family was accepting of me as an atheist because I’m their son. They also thought that maybe it’s because I’m still young and when I grow up I will come back to Islam!
But after my arrest, it was hard for them because people would blame them all the time, especially my parents. My two brothers would also get into fights with other people over me.
And even what I’m doing now still has an effect on them, so to protect them I don’t talk a lot about our relationship in order to try and avoid these problems.
SK: What do you think when Muslims and Non-Muslims say attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the recent attacks on The Bataclan have ‘nothing to do with Islam’?
WA: This the most laughable thing! For them the Jihadists are not Muslims, neither are the Shiite or the Wahhabis, yet at the same time they include all Muslims to say “Islam is the fastest growing religion”. Funny, isn’t it?
These attacks have such deep connections to the Qur’an. Yes, you can find peaceful verses in the Qur’an too, but we know that two sides of the Qur’an exists: the cute one and the violent one! And even Muhammad did the same things that ISIS are doing! Do Muslims now think that when they fought the other in the past they did it with flowers?
SK: It’s almost impossible to have a sensible, open discussion about the Israel/Palestine conflict without bias and accusations, but given you’re from the region, I can’t pass up the opportunity to ask you your opinion on it.
WA: I think it’s time for peace. The problem is that the fundamentalists hold the power on both sides! It’s complicated. We should be looking for the people who really want peace, whether they are pro Palestine or pro Israel! The best things to be is pro peace!
I think the time is now up for the Palestinian President because they are a dictator and not for peace! Only for his own goals. We need a new group for leading Palestine, a group with different ideas. The bridge of peace should not be built by political means, but by economic means and by art and music! Then maybe the political stuff could work.
SK: There’s a lot of talk about ‘Islamic reform’ at the moment. Do you see that as a realistic goal?
WA: For me no! Islamic reform will not work. All the reform movements of the past have failed. The problem is Islam, because the problem is the fundamentals of Islam! What I think that will work better is to stop the Islamic project, and stop saying ‘Islam is the solution’. We need Muslims not to care for religious affiliation and demand democracy from Muslims! The Islamic text will never change, what changes is the way we look to the text. And that is what I will talk about in my new book.
SK: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Is there anything else you would like to tell my readers?
WA: Thank you for this interview. I hope we get past fundamentalism soon and become more about humanity. English readers will soon be able to read my book blasphémateur!