Interview with Yahya Ekhou on Mauritanian free thought

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Through Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Yahya Ekhou is a Mauritanian human rights activist and writer. He obtained a master’s degree in NGO management. He founded and is the President of the Liberal Network in Mauritania. He is also the head of the Estidama Foundation for the capacity building of NGOs in Mauritania. Some accolades include winning the 2017 Arab Youth Excellence Award presented in Cairo, Egypt, by the League of Arab States and the Arab Youth Council. He attends international conferences. His autobiography will be published this year under the title Free people cannot be tamed.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What do you think is the underlying story of free thought?

Yahya Ekhou: Free thinking for me is having the right to freely express my beliefs and to correct the idea that atheism is a disease or mental deformity that must be cured.

What I believe is disbelief.

Atheism is an instinct.

Jacobsen: How did your worldview and critical thinking expand over time early in your life?

Ekhu: I come from a very religious family and have studied the Quran and Islamic law. The facade of the mosque answered me, go pray and don’t ask such questions any more.

This answer was the start of the research journey, the deeper you research new questions emerge.

Do religions unite us or divide us?

All religions say that religion unites people.

But the truth is, it only unites believers.

As for the unbelievers, they are the lost unbelievers, etc.

They must be cursed and hated because they are infidels.

Until I get to Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion

This book allowed me to answer many of my questions

Internet really helped me find information

Because there is a severe censorship of information and books in Mauritania.

Jacobsen: What happened to your nationality? Why? Is this common?

Ekhu: Mauritania has the most severe blasphemy law in the world.

While article 5 of the Mauritanian constitution states that “Islam is the religion of the state and of the people”, which means that non-Muslims have neither rights nor citizenship, because it is about ‘an Islamic republic like Iran and Afghanistan.

Also, article 306 of the Mauritanian Penal Code stipulates that “Anyone who changes or changes religion will be killed and will not repent”.

Anyone who leaves Islam will move out.

A religious fatwa was issued to kill me, and as a result, protests took place in Mauritania calling for my murder, after I wrote an article on Facebook titled “Why Doesn’t God Protect Believers In him ?

An international arrest warrant has been issued against me to bring me back to Mauritania.

In addition, my Mauritanian nationality has been revoked.

Revocation of citizenship is a type of repression and silencing of various voices demanding equal citizenship rights that are unrelated to creed.

With all of this, there is a major international media blackout on what is happening inside Mauritania, for several purely economic reasons.

He cares more about the power of the state than about the person.

The type of nationality you hold will determine the degree of attention you receive from international media and international organizations.

The interest in Iran and Saudi Arabia can be summed up in one word, “oil”.

Jacobsen: What is the state of Mauritania for ex-Muslims now?

Ekhu: Ex-Muslims live in a very miserable situation, as there are many of them in prisons and many have been executed.

In the shadow of international silence, because as you know, no one knows Mauritania or cares about it because it is not at the center of the world’s attention economically, culturally or politically.

Jacobsen: In becoming an atheist, what were some of the consequences in social and professional life? Did this have an impact on family life?

Ekhu: The social system in Mauritania is a tribal system, and I belong to one of the largest tribes, the “Tijkant” tribe, which leads the religious stream in Mauritania.

And for this reason, my family tried to kill me and disowned me. He also tried to kill my sister because she supported me and now resides in Egypt.

Now I have no contact with my family.

One of the harshest consequences is that the social institution made up of tribes and state institutions come together, so that anyone who criticizes religion or embraces a different ideology or religion or calls for the secularization of the state. to eliminate religious laws.

His rights are violated by the force of law.

Jacobsen: For the foundation of the Network of Liberals Mauritania, what is the importance of giving a voice to different, more centrist points of view, in the midst of a very conservative Islamic context?

Ekhu: The reason I founded this organization is my belief that rights are not given but taken away.

If you don’t claim your rights, you won’t get them automatically.

Dictatorship societies do not automatically transform into democratic societies, for example, Europe today enjoys the freedom and rights that thousands of writers, activists and intellectuals have paid for with their lives.

I believe in the need to change the situation inside Mauritania for the better.

With the efforts of young people who have realized that we are in an era which no longer accepts selectivity in the granting of rights.

Everyone deserves equal citizenship rights, no matter what they believe in. I want Mauritania to be secularized so that rights are for everyone.

What I’m trying to do is that it’s not just what happened to me, but thousands of activists and young people inside Mauritanian prisons. I am the only one lucky enough to be the voice of the oppressed inside Mauritania.

I will take advantage of my stay in Europe to highlight the situation of freedoms in Mauritania.

The Mauritanians tried to silence me with threats, and even by force, only I was the victim of an attempted murder inside Germany.

Because it bothers them to tell the world what is going on inside Mauritania.

Jacobsen: How did you get to Germany?

Ekhu: After my family tried to kill me, I fled Mauritania.

It was a long road from Mauritania to Mali, passing through Egypt, then Turkey, then Germany.

Winning my freedom was not a path strewn with roses.

Jacobsen: How can individuals or organizations contact you?

Ekhu: I look forward to being in contact with any person or organization interested in my history or my country through my personal account on Twitter and Facebook “Yahya Ekhou” or the website of the Liberal Network in Mauritania.

https://liberals-mauritania.org

Jacobsen: Thanks for the opportunity and your time, Yahya.

photo by Daniel Born to Unsplash


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