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article imageSecular TV station challenges religious orthodoxy in Middle East

By Brian Booker     May 5, 2015 in World
The Middle East now has its first truly secular media station. has launched an online secular news service to provide people across the region with a viewing experience that is free from religious and government interference. is a non-profit organization consisting primarily of unpaid volunteers, and offers the Middle East's growing secular population a platform to voice concerns and hear from like-minded people.
The channel defends the “right not to believe,” a concept that is taboo across much of the Middle East, a region where agnostics and atheists face constant threats of violence and oppression.
Many newspapers and media platforms in Middle Eastern countries face pressure from religious groups, and in many cases outright control or oversight from governments. These pressures provided the impetus for is currently reaching out for marketing assistance and support through the crowd-sourced human rights website
Reporters Without Borders has ranked Middle Eastern countries as among the worst in terms of Freedom of the Press. Kuwait is considered the most free, but ranks only 90 out of the 180 ranked countries (higher scores are worst). Syria comes in at 177, while Saudi Arabia ranks 164.
Persecution of irreligious people common in Middle East
Atheism and agnosticism appear to be growing across the Middle East, though fears of repression make it difficult to measure “irreligious” people, both the past and present. Social pressures and political realities have forced many secular people into hiding.
Middle Eastern authorities appear to be stepping up efforts to persecute atheists. Saudi Arabia went as far as declaring all atheists “terrorists,” and any form of “atheist thought” is now defined as an act of terrorism.
Egypt, meanwhile, recently launched a crackdown on atheism in spite of the fact that the country's Constitution explicit states that “freedom of belief is absolute.” Apparently, non-belief is not Constitutionally guaranteed.
In one recent case an Egyptian college student, Karim Ashraf Mohamed al-Banna, was found guilty of blasphemy after a local newspaper outed him as atheist. He was recently sentenced to three years in jail, but is now appealing the decision.
Persecution grounded in religious beliefs
Under Islam, atheist and agnostic people are consider “kafir,” which translates to “denier.” Kafir also translates to blasphemy.
Muslims appear to be strictly forbidden from changing their religion, and the renunciation of Islam is one of the three conditions under which a “Muslim” can be executed. (Murder and adultery are the other two conditions.)
Any efforts to convert Muslims is also considered a grave offense by many governments and religious leaders.
Apostasy, or turning away from one's faith, is considered a grave crime by many Islamic authorities. Converting away from Islam, insulting the Prophet Mohammad, or questioning the core tenets of Islam are all considered acts of apostasy.
In some countries, merely proclaiming doubts or criticisms of Islam or the Prophet Mohammad is considered apostasy.
A Pew Research study found that 22 percent of countries have anti-apostasy laws on their books, with punishments ranging from fines to execution. Most, though not all, of these countries are Muslim majority countries.
Unlike irreligious people, Christians and Jews are generally afforded certain protections under Islam. Islam recognizes certain “protected persons”, namely members of other the two other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Christianity. A protected person is referred to as a dhimmi.
Christians living under the Islamic State, for example, have been offered the choice of converting or paying extra taxes, referred to jizya taxes. Of course, many Christians have been killed by the Islamic State.
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