Everyone should know Nasrin Sotoudeh.

She was born in 1963 in a middle-class family in Iran. She had hoped to study philosophy, but because of inadequate grades ended up studying law. She passed the bar in 1995 and went to work for the Iranian government. From there, she started defending women and children from abusive fathers, and on to more general human rights issues. In 2010, she was arrested for representing a Dutch-Iranian citizen who was accused – and executed – on nebulous drug trafficking charges.

Nasrin was eventually released in 2013 after some international pressure and several hunger strikes to protest her detention and the continual harassment of her family by the government.

She was arrested again in June 2018 and charged for espionage and dissemination of propaganda. At the time, she had been defending women who were protesting the mandatory wearing of hijabs. Last month, Nasrin was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.

Yes – in 2019, this lawyer will be whipped 148 times and essentially spend the rest of her life in prison (she’s currently 55). For defending women who choose not to wear a hijab.

I have some Muslim friends who are female, and who choose not to wear the hijab; I would like them to be able to live in a world that is safe for them making such a decision.

This month, Brunei – a small Southeast Asian country sandwiched between Indonesia and Vietnam – will start enforcing strict Islamic laws that would see gay people whipped and stoned to death. But, to be fair, they’re not the only country who advocate the death penalty for gay people: there are eight others, all of them Muslim countries operating under Islamic law.

I have some very, very dear friends who are gay; I would like them to know that they can live in a world that is safe for who they are.

Are you seeing the common thread, here? Islamic law is at the root of these issues horrors. Here in Canada, we have largely succeeded in the separation of church and state and have adopted a secular society. Despite this, Muslims who immigrate here continually demand that we adapt to their customs and “religious rules”, even suing our secular schools for not providing spaces to pray during the day, even though it is not critical that they pray at absolutely specific times; I have even discussed this several times with devout Muslims who tell me that this is indeed the case – that as long as you get your 5 prayers in during the day, you’re fine. One school offered up a space that could be used by several religious groups for prayer and meditation, but the Muslim students “refused to pray in a space in which prayers to alien gods were offered”.

In Ontario, Muslim parents have even been fighting secular school boards to have the right to exclude their children from mandatory music classes. According to the local Imam, “We here believe that music is haram [forbidden]. We can neither listen to it, nor can we play a role in it”, despite the fact that “Within Islam, the question of whether Muslims are banned from music is divisive and nuanced”.

It is for these reasons of secularism that Quebec is about to pass into law a bill banning all religious symbols for many public sector employees. Despite the uproar from some groups, this bill is supported by the majority of Quebecers, and anyone who knows the history of Quebec and the theocratic rule the Catholic church has exercised in the past will understand why. Oddly enough, while these groups are all crying “Exclusion!”, it is exactly for inclusive reasons that societies become secular.

So now let’s start with the labeling, as social justice warriors will read this and want to label me a “racist Islamophobe”. Fair enough, but let’s dissect that a little.

First of all, labeling someone “racist” for being in disagreement with a religion makes absolutely no sense; Islam is not a race, it’s a religion, so calling out someone as racist against Islam – as has been pointed out by Professor Gad Saad of Concordia University in Montreal – is akin to calling someone a racist for not liking broccoli.

This leaves us with “Islamophobe”, which is generally interpreted as “hating Muslims”. This would be wrong; I do not hate Muslims; I consider myself a humanist and enjoy interacting with people from all cultures, races, and (even though I’m an atheist) all religions (there are fascinating stories to be heard when you take the time to speak with people; they are what makes up the wonderful fabric of humanity). The word is built on the root “phobia” which means “fear”. So “Islamophobia” would mean “a fear of Islam”; fearing Islam as a religion is not quite the case because, technically, most religions advocate peace. However, the fear of Islam as an ideology based on religion, yes – that I do fear, as should any intelligent, rational person.

As long as the Islamic ideology practices these barbaric, inhumane laws, and advocates for and condones these acts, I’ll gladly label myself an Islamophobe – this cannot be allowed to spread any further. When I see the Prime Minister of New Zealand and her female police officers donning hijabs “in support” of the Muslim community, it signals a lack of deep understanding of what it represents and the horrors committed in its name.

And for those of a progressive mindset who’d happily point out that #NotAllMuslims, yeah, well…did you see how quickly thousands of hijab-wearing people mobilized in Quebec to protest the new bill? (Incidentally, the protest was organized by a controversial imam, and several groups – including one Muslim group – were encouraged to stay away from this man and his protest). The day I see Muslims mobilize as massively to denounce unjustly imprisoning, whipping, and stoning people to death, then we can talk.