Freethinkers festival 2021

October 28, 29 & 30
With independent minds from all corners of the world, each more courageous than the next. From the 28th till the 30th of October at De Balie. 

The notion of freedom and the city of Amsterdam are inextricably linked. As early as the 17th century, the city served as a safe haven. For freethinkers, renegades, and other troublemakers. It is no wonder that sharp minds like René Descartes, John Locke and Baruch de Spinoza were drawn to the city. Where else could they live, think, write and publish? Those who were chased away for their views elsewhere were welcomed with open arms in Amsterdam. As a dissenter, you were seen and heard. From that time on, our city has remained a beacon. For radical thinkers, refomers, and rabble-rousers.

In the run-up to the city’s 750th anniversary, we reflect on our notion of freedom and what it means. How free are we? Free from religion, dogma or ideology? And what has this freedom brought us? How does freedom relate to empathy and compassion for others? How do we defend our freedoms and what can we learn from history? From Thursday evening the 28th till Saturday evening the 30th of October, we host the Freethinkers Festival 2021, with independent minds from all corners of the world, each more courageous than the next.

Festival programme

Freethinker: Can Dündar
28 october / 20:00
A staunch defender of free speech and a political refugee in Germany, Dündar will be reading an essay in which he looks to the future. Can we still live together in freedom and safety in the Europe of tomorrow? Get your tickets here.

Freethinker: Mohamedou Ould Slahi
29 october / 20:00

The official opening of the freedom festival revolves around Mauritanian writer Mohamedou Ould Slahi. He will give a lecture about his experience imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay and what is left of freedom after such injustice. He will also go into conversation with De Balie director Yoeri Albrecht about freedom, imprisonment, and forgiveness, before several actors will read out different texts about freedom. Tickets can be purchased here.

The long arm of…
30 october 2021 / 16:00

In this programme we will discuss the influence of repressive regimes on the Netherlands’ doorstep. Critical thinkers who have fled their home countries in search of the freedom to think and write autonomously often fail to find it even here. Countries such as Iran, Turkey, China, and Morocco still exert influence on Dutch or EU citizens, oftentimes through intimidation and sometimes violence. Can Dündar, Keyvan Shahbazi, Alerk Ablikim and Laila Ezzeroili tell their stories before looking towards what countries can do to better protect people like them.
Purchase your tickets online now.

Against women? On the close relationship between religion and the patriarchy
30 october / 21:00

In this programme we will discuss the complex relationship between religion and the role of women. Across the world, religion is misused to limit the rights of women. But which systems underlie this repression? Are religion and oppression two sides of the same coin, or is religion being used by patriarchal structures to keep women under control? Writers Deborah Feldman, Maryam Namazie, and Nazmiye Oral will discuss their own experiences with these topics, and the answers to these questions at large. For tickets, visit this page.

Line-up Freethinkers Festival 2021

The British-Iranian Maryam Namazie is a prominent human rights activist. She is a spokesperson for Iran Solidarity, One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Although Namazie has lived in England for many years, the Iranian state and media still keep tabs on her.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi was detained without trial in the American prison at Guantanamo Bay for 14 years. The book he wrote about his experience, Guantánamo Diary, became an international bestseller and was recently adapted into the celebrated film The Mauritanian. At De Balie, he will talk about his life in captivity and how the experience of total unfreedom changed his view of freedom.

Alexander Noordijk is a gay pastor Alexander Noordijk that serves various churches in and around Amsterdam. What does faith mean to him, how does he find God and how can we let each other live in freedom, while still looking out for one another? Alexander Noordijk has also experienced threats and harassment in Amsterdam. How can we accept each other in freedom and learn from each other?

Can Dündar is a journalist in exile. An icon of the free press in Turkey. As editor-in-chief of the newspaper Cumhuriyet, he was responsible for a piece published in 2015 about Turkish trucks carrying weapons to Syria. A staunch defender of free speech and a political refugee in Germany, Dündar will be reading an essay in which he looks to the future. Can we still live together in freedom and safety in the Europe of tomorrow?

Deborah Feldman wrote the autobiography Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, which tells the story of how she left her Jewish Orthodox community in Brooklyn. The 2020 Netflix show Unorthodox was loosely based on her book and became a global hit. Her latest book Exodus, Revisited was published in August.

Keyvan Shahbazi fled Iran in 1983. In his recently published autobiographical debut De Amerikaan van Karadj (The American of Karadj), Shahbazi describes how he and his family became victims of Khomeini’s regime. After he fled the country, he received calls from and was harassed by the intelligence services of Iran. They used his mother, who was still in Iran, to pressure him – which shows the influence that foreign states can have on Dutch citizens.

The 21-year-old Alerk Ablikim is a Dutch-Uighur activist. His father is currently imprisoned in a concentration camp. In the Netherlands, Ablikim also has to deal with harrassment from his homeland, in the form of emails, text messages, and even phone calls where he can hear shouting and panting. How free is he to speak out when his homeland is always breathing down his neck? 

Diederik Boomsma is the party chairman of the Amsterdam CDA and a PhD candidate in the philosophy of law. He took the initiative to compile a book about the different views of freedom within the city council.

Laila Ezzeroili is a Dutch citizen and activist with an unwanted, but compulsory, Moroccan nationality. She campaigns for freedom of choice in nationality and against interference and influence by the Moroccan state.

Nikki Sterkenburg (1984) has written for Nieuwe Revu, Quote, Elsevier and Vrij Nederland. Earlier this year, Maar dat mag je niet zeggen (But you can’t say that) was published by Das Mag. For this work of non-fiction, she spent years getting to know members of the Dutch far right. The result is a book that is as impressive as it is disturbing, and that was praised by critics and the public alike.

Tirza de Fockert is a councillor for GroenLinks Amsterdam, where she mainly focuses on education, integration and LGBTQI+ rights. At the Freethinkers Festival 2021, she will share her views on tolerance and living together in the city. What do Amsterdammers have in common, despite their differences?