Interview with Tehmina Kazi

[Previously published in Conatus News]

Tehmina Kazi is an activist, writer and author based in Ireland. Tehmina was, until mid 2016, the Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy (a position she took up in May 2009). British Muslims for Secular Democracy aims to raise awareness within British Muslims and the wider public, of democracy particularly ‘secular democracy’ helping to contribute to a shared vision of citizenship (the separation of faith and state, so faiths exert no undue influence on policies and there is a shared public space). Prior to joining BMSD, Tehmina was a Project Officer at the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Tehmina has done extensive research on domestic and international human rights issues, particularly the detention of foreign nationals and violence against women in South Asia. Tehmina regularly contributes to debates and forums on civil liberties and foreign policy. Her articles have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and blogs.

Image Credit: Tehmina Kazi.

How did you become an activist?

I was always passionate about combating injustices, even from an early age, when I was subjected to a sustained campaign of bullying at both primary school and high school.

I did an A-Level in Politics, loved it, and consequently decided to devote my career to campaigning for the rights of oppressed and marginalised people. I then studied Law with an emphasis on human rights law at university, and ended up working for a number of human rights organisations afterwards. I was the Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy from 2009 until 2016.

Were parents or siblings an influence on this for you?

They support me in everything I do, although deep down they would probably prefer me to be working in one of the “safe” professions like medicine, or a conventional legal career in private practice.

Was university education an asset or a hindrance to this?

An asset. I never went on to become a lawyer after completing my law degree, but my legal education has come in spectacularly useful for my campaigning work, particularly on equality and human rights matters like gender segregation.

Did you have early partnerships in these activist pursuits? If so, whom?

My early partnerships were with far-left anti-war groups. I don’t support them anymore, as many of them are only interested in opposing Western interventions for the sake of it, rather than genuinely working towards the cessation of hostilities and casualties.

How did you come to adopt a socially progressive worldview?

Because I was so keenly aware of injustices, regardless of who the perpetrators were, or who the victims were. I knew I couldn’t just sit back and not even attempt to tackle them (whether I’ve been successful or not is another matter!). Some individuals and organisations turn a blind eye to injustices where one of “their own” happens to be the perpetrator. I had no truck with this kind of tribalism from the very beginning.

Why do you think that adopting a social progressive outlook is important?

Most of us are working towards the same goal: a fairer, more inclusive society for all. Promoting socially progressive values in everything you do — or at least, trying to — is the best way to achieve this.

Do you consider yourself a progressive?

Yes, I do consider myself to be a progressive.

Does progressivism logically imply other beliefs, or tend to or even not at all?

It implies a belief in the FREDA principles: fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy.

What are your religious/irreligious beliefs?

I was a practising Muslim for twelve years, but now consider myself to be a deist with a strong interest in humanism.

As a progressive, what do you think is the best socio-political position to adopt in the United Kingdom?

Enlightenment values: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those of all faiths and none.

What big obstacles (if at all) do you see social-progressive movements facing at the moment?

A lack of sustained funding and resources, personality clashes, groups refusing to work with each other over differences that are ultimately quite petty.

Many groups have either been wound up, or end up running out of steam once a particular charismatic personality decides to leave.

How important do you think social movements are?

Critical, but they should not allow themselves to be torn apart by ego-driven personality clashes. They should keep a tight focus without becoming overly partisan.

What is your current work?

I am the Policy and Advocacy Officer for the Cork Equal and Sustainable Communities Alliance, an alliance of 16 equality and human rights organisations in Cork.

Where do you hope your professional work will go into the future?

More opportunities for creative and non-fiction writing, hopefully! (Tehmina recently published a short story called The Tulip Asylum’ about homosexuality in contemporary Iran)