Archive for Atheism

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Sympathizes with Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics, Loon Violence with tags , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2012 by loonwatch

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali‘s autobiography is one in which she is the perennial victim of “Islam” and Muslims. When she first burst onto the scene in Europe she was received enthusiastically, as a “brave” woman who was informing the West about the dingy, backward and oppressive “Mooslims.” Ali positioned herself as the standard-bearer of Enlightenment values, affirming the superiority of the West over the Muslim East, confirming the wild-eyed-Orientalist essentializations and fears about pending Islamization.

Ali has always been a useful militant voice for the anti-Muslim movement, expressing vividly the racism and hate that they could only ponder in their minds but dare not speak. Take this sample of her extremism, in an interview with Reason Mag,

Reason: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?

Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.

Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?

Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.

Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?

Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy. 

Reason: Militarily?

Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.

Ali is still used as a potent symbol by the acolytes of the anti-Muslim movement whenever they want to trot out the horrors of Islam, (remember her article on “The War on Christians”) and as their vision of what a “Muslim should be.”

Unfortunately for Ayaan H. Ali, her personal story is full of lies. She never saw war in Somalia, her family fled to Kenya. She was not forced into marriage, but willingly consented to it. She was never threatened with death or honor killing by her family.

Even though Ayaan H. Ali’s compulsive lying and long and detailed radical anti-Muslim activism is catalogued and a matter of record, she is still a darling of the Right. In this respect she lines up well with the fake ex-terrorists/fake ex-Muslims: Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan, Ergun CanerWalid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zacharia Anani‘s of the world who routinely fleece crowds for untold sums, in return for providing the service of bashing Islam and making the crowd feel better about themselves.

Just as Walid Shoebat was recently paid to tell a crowd of Texans about the evils of Islam, and to once more recount the false story about how he transformed from terrorist to Jesus-freak, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was invited to Germany to receive the Axel Springer Award, to recount her “escape” from Islam.

Sympathy for the Devil

In her acceptance speech, Ali expressed her sympathy for terrorist murderer Anders Behring Breivik. Her writings were included in Breivik’s manifesto and she took the opportunity of the speech to try and distance herself from his actions while squarely putting the blame for Breivik’s massacre on his targets.

[T]hat one man who killed 77 people in Norway, because he fears that Europe will be overrun by Islam, may have cited the work of those who speak and write against political Islam in Europe and America – myself among them – but he does not say in his 1500 page manifesto that it was these people who inspired him to kill. He says very clearly that it was the advocates of silence. Because all outlets to express his views were censored, he says, he had no other choice but to use violence.

Firstly, notice the weaselly double-talk on behalf of Ali, she says she is only against “political Islam,” but the fact is, as we showed above, she wants “Islam crushed.”

Secondly, who exactly are the “advocates of silence” that are part of the grand conspiracy of aiding “Islam” in “overrunning” Europe? Presumably the Leftists, as David Vickrey writes sarcastically,

Yes, the “advocates of silence” left Breivik with no other choice than to hunt down teenagers systematically.  Who wouldn’t be driven to desperate acts by this terrible “leftist” conspiracy?

Shockingly, and perhaps because Ali gave her speech in English rather than German the crowd responded with a standing ovation. Vickrey notes,

Maybe because Ayaan Hirsi Ali was speaking English her words didn’t provoke outrage among the German listeners.  On the contrary, her speech was met with a prolonged standing ovation.  The first to leap to his feet and clap was the writer Henryk Broder – cited by Anders Behring Breivik numerous times in his manifesto as an inspiration.

However all was not lost, there was a voice of reason that stood up in the crowd,

Fortunately for us, however, a voice of reason was in the audience, and his reaction was reported in Cicero:

„Träume ich oder passiert das gerade wirklich?“, fragt raunend Daniel Gerlach, Chefredakteur der Zeitschrift Zenith, der im Publikum sitzt. „So reden rechtsradikale Verschwörungstheoretiker. Das ist der Gipfel, den Massenmord durch Breivik damit zu erklären, dass die islamische Gefahr in Europa von dunklen Mächten verschwiegen worden sei.“ Gerlach scheint einer der wenigen Zuhörer im vollbesetzten Festsaal zu sein, die über die Rede entsetzt sind.

(Am I dreaming, or did this really just happen?” asked an astonished Daniel Gerlach, editor-in-chief for the magazine Zenith, who was sitting in the audience.”This is how right-wing conspiracy theory believers talk.  This really takes the cake, explaining Breivik’s murderous rampage as the result of mysterious dark powers keeping quiet about the dangers of Islam in Europe.”  Gerlach seems to be one of the few listeners in the packed hall who is shocked by the speech.)

Breivik, like many in the Islamophobic right was an admirer of Ali’s, and there is no better way to conclude than the way Vickrey did,

In his 1500-page manifesto, Breivik expresses his deep admiration for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, writing that she deserves the Nobel Prize.  For the time being, she will have to make do with the Axel Springer Bild-Zeitung Prize.

Chris Stedman: Sam Harris, Will You Visit A Mosque With Me?

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon People with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2012 by loonwatch

Chris_Stedman_2011

Chris Stedman

A vey good piece by Chris Stedman. He invites Sam Harris to leave his comfort zone, the bully pulpit of his blog, and come experience meeting real, life Muslims, the one he’s eager to have profiled (H/T: CriticalDragon):

by Chris Stedman (Huffington Post)

Sam Harris–I know you’re a busy man, but I’d like to ask you out. Will you go to mosque with me?

I’m not trying to convert you to Islam. Like you, I’m not a Muslim. Like you, I don’t believe in any gods. I’m happily, openly atheist. A queer atheist, even. Like you, I have many significant concerns about Islamic beliefs and practices. But still, I want to visit a mosque with you.

We don’t have to go alone–we could go with Mustafa Abdullah, a young community organizer in Winston-Salem, North Carolina who is currently campaigning against the state’s proposed anti-gay Amendment One. We could attend with Najeeba Syeed-Miller, a teacher and activist who has dedicated her life to peacebuilding initiatives. Or we could go with Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, who is committed to promoting pluralism and opposing bigotry, and who regularly speaks up for atheists as a religious minority in the United States.

Why am I inviting you to visit a mosque with me and my friends? Since I’m asking you publicly (I couldn’t find your phone number anywhere and I’m pretty sure this MySpace page isn’t really you), I should probably give some context.

A few weeks ago I saw you speak at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia. Before I go on, I need to confess: your remarks blew me away. In a weekend full of incredible intellects, your frank, contemplative, eloquent speech on death, grief, and mindfulness was easily my favorite. So I was not prepared for the crushing disappointment I felt when, just a few weeks later, you published a piece called “In Defense of Profiling” in which you unequivocally stated: “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”

Never mind that your argument doesn’t hold water–to quote my friend Hind Makki: “What does a Muslim look like? The 9/11 hijackers didn’t have beards and ‘dressed Western.’ The shoe bomber wasn’t Arab or South Asian. Sikhs wear turbans. The majority of American Muslim women don’t wear hijab. The majority of Arab Americans are Christian–though they often share the same names as their Muslim counterparts. Perhaps Harris would support an initiative that required all Muslims to sew a crescent and star onto our clothes. It would make his airport security time a more pleasant experience. (Though, I suppose, it wouldn’t have stopped McVeigh or Breivik.)” Though as a frequent traveler I share your frustrations with the TSA, profiling doesn’t make sense as a solution to its problems.

Instead, while we’re en route to mosque, I’d like to talk to you about something else. As I read your piece, which (along with the clarifying addendum you tacked on a few days later) failed to explain how you would determine who “looks… Muslim,” I thought back to another moment at the Global Atheist Convention a few weeks ago. As you were speaking, rumors began to fly that a group of extremist Muslims would be protesting the convention. Sure enough, a group of less than a dozen appeared just a short while later, holding signs that said “Atheists go to hell” and shouting horrible things. But to my dismay, their hate was mirrored by hundreds of conference attendees, some of whom shouted things like “go back to the middle east, you pedophiles,” tweeting ”maybe the Muslim protesters [are] gay so [they] don’t have wives? … A lot are/were camel shaggers,” and wearing shirts that said “Too stupid for science? Try religion.” Watching the scene unfold, I was reminded of how much work there is to be done in combating prejudice between the religious and the nonreligious.

I’m not sure you share my concerns about this divide. In fact, last year you wrote this about the 2011 attacks orchestrated by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway that resulted in the deaths of over 70 people:

One can only hope that the horror and outrage provoked by Breivik’s behavior will temper the growing enthusiasm for right-wing, racist nationalism in Europe. However, one now fears the swing of another pendulum: We are bound to hear a lot of deluded talk about the dangers of “Islamophobia” and about the need to address the threat of “terrorism” in purely generic terms.

In the wake of an atrocity of unimaginable proportions–one perpetrated by an anti-Muslim terrorist who was influenced by anti-Muslim writers–I could not believe that you decided to write a blog suggesting that the real problem is the fight against Islamophobia.

Whether you think so or not, Sam, Islamophobia is quite real. The American Muslim community experiences disproportionately high rates of discrimination and violence, and Islamophobic rhetoric has a significant bearing on this. This from a detailed report on the network of Islamophobia in America: “According to former CIA officer and terrorism consultant Marc Sageman, just as religious extremism ‘is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged,’ the writings of these anti-Muslim misinformation experts are ‘the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.’”

As a society, we need to acknowledge the reality of the consequences of Islamophobia. As one Norwegian Muslim recently said:

“I think it is good and healthy that this comes out,” he told AFP in a telephone interview, arguing that Breivik built his ideology largely on the basis of Islam-critical writings in the media and online and rumors he has heard about violent Muslims. “This should help show people that this kind of rhetoric can be very, very dangerous. It is a wake-up call, and I think many people will moderate the way they talk about these things.”

We desperately need to discuss these things. An argument I frequently hear from atheists is that if moderate Muslims really exist, they need to speak out more. The problem is that Muslims are speaking out against extremists who cite Islam as their inspiration. Need some examples? ThereAreSoManyThat.ICan’tLinkToThemAll. (But those eleven are a good start.)

The real problem is the Islamophobic misinformation machine, supported by our conflict-driven media. Stories of Muslims engaging in peaceful faith-inspired endeavors don’t sell nearly as well as stories of attempted Times Square bombings. Yet even coverage of violent stories is skewed against Muslims: for example, the mainstream media largely ignores violence against Muslims, such as when a mosque in Florida was bombed. (Just imagine the media frenzy if that had been a Muslim bombing a church.) The press also ignores stories of Muslim heroism, such as the fact that the man who stopped the Times Square bomber was himself a Muslim. Perhaps we perceive Islam as inherently violent, and imagine that an “Islam versus the West” clash of civilizations is inevitable, because our perspective is shaped by the warped way the media reports on Islam.

The feeling that we need to profile “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim,” as you wrote–that Muslim Americans are dangerous and should be viewed with suspicion–is an outgrowth of the Islamophobic misinformation that proliferates our culture. I’m proud to say that nontheist organizations like the Center for Inquiry, the American Humanist Association, and the Institute for Science and Human Values recognize this, which is why just last week they signed on to a letter (alongside many interfaith and religious organizations) decrying racial and religious profiling.

The idea that we should single out Muslims is a misguided and damaging one, and it has serious ramifications for the Muslim community. After the thwarted “Christmas tree” bombing by a young Muslim in Portland, OR, Eboo Patel wrote:

It would be perfectly understandable if, in this time of Muslim terrorism and Islamophobia, everyday Muslims tried to slink into the shadows, to hide in the mosque. But it would be a huge mistake. Now more than ever, we need Muslim community leaders to be loud and proud about Islam’s glories, to inspire a new generation to follow in the footsteps of the Muslim heroes who bent the arc of the universe towards justice.

As Muslims become more and more marginalized, that will be increasingly difficult. When I posted a link to Patel’s column on my Facebook page, a friend commented on the FBI’s involvement in the Portland incident, and a subsequent arson attack on a Portland-area mosque: “I’m starting to wonder how any of this makes our country more secure or keeps our citizens safe. It certainly made things more dangerous for Muslims in Corvallis.”

I look around and I see a country deeply divided over the place of Muslims in America’s civic landscape–a nation roiling with fear and uncertainty, where hundreds of people will crowd outside of a benefit for a Muslim relief organization and scream things like “go home” and “terrorist” while waving American flags. That despicable display of anti-Muslim hate didn’t really make the news either, by the way.

Profiling feeds this fear and paranoia, and it plays right into the notion held by the tiny percentage of Muslims who are extremists that all Muslims are under attack and need to be defended. It is truly dangerous territory, and not just for Muslims–the recent congressional “Muslim radicalization” hearings in the U.S. echo the anti-gay “lavender scare” and the explicitly anti-atheist undertones of the “red scare” in the 1950s. As a gay atheist, I recognize that it could just as easily be me who is targeted.

But I do have hope, Sam. I’m currently reading a wonderful book called The Young Atheist’s Handbook by Alom Shaha–I could lend it to you after our mosque visit. In the book, Shaha writes about growing up Muslim and later becoming an atheist. In the fourth chapter of the book, he touches on the tragedy in Norway and delves into a lengthy, must-read exposition of the ugly reality of Islamophobia in the U.K., Australia, and the United States. In it, he points to the major role the media has played in guiding the narrative that says that Muslims are a monolithic, loathsome bloc–or as Shaha wrote, a perspective that “see[s] all Muslims as the same, and completely fail[s] to acknowledge the diversity and differences in values that are held by the millions of Muslims in the world.” Shaha goes on to write:

You may wonder why, if I no longer identify as Muslim, I care so deeply about this… Although I am an atheist, I nevertheless find it distressing that people can be contemptuous of all Muslims based on their own prejudices about what it means to be Muslim. Some atheists are guilty of this ideological categorization, too, and it bothers me that some of those who really should know better feel that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot, by definition, get along. I suspect this is a point on which I differ from more-hardline atheists, but perhaps my own experience of being judged for my skin colour has made me acutely sensitive to such judgments being exercised upon others.

Shaha is definitely on to something. Over the last few years, I’ve watched with despair as an increasing, increasingly-less-subtle xenophobic anti-Muslim undercurrent has spread throughout the atheist movement, cloaked by intellectual arguments against Islam’s metaphysical claims and practices and rallying cries in defense of free speech. Though it has been spreading throughout our broader culture, I’m especially disheartened to see it among my fellow atheists. At my first American Atheists conference, for example, I witnessed a crowd of people shout things like “show us some ankle” at three women wearing burkas for a satirical musical performance. It’s one thing to critique Islam; but the glee I saw in some of their faces as people whistled and shouted “take it off” was something else.

Writing about an incident where an American Atheists State Director posted an Islamophobic rant to their official Facebook page, atheist blogger Hemant Mehta said:

It’s always a touchy subject when atheists go after Islam… because people have to be very careful that they don’t stereotype all followers of Islam as if they’re all extremists. Our society does a terrible job of this. Atheists, especially when they’re ‘leaders’ among us, ought to know better than to fall into that trap.

You ought to know better, Sam. Your insistence that Islamophobia isn’t a problem and your willingness to play into the irrational anxieties of those who fear Muslims is irresponsible and dangerous. With your great reach, you have the opportunity to build bridges of understanding–instead, you have chosen to make the dividing lines that keep our communities apart that much thicker.

Read the rest….

Sam Harris, “Profile the Muslim Looking People!”

Posted in Feature, Loon People with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2012 by loonwatch

Sam Harris continues the absurdist act that he has something intelligent to say when it comes to topics other than Neuroscience. We also learn that he possesses a 9mm, and travels with 75 rounds of ammunition, if the religion-bashing industry doesn’t work out maybe he can be the new spokesman for the NRA?

In a recent blog post, the pop Atheist guru writes that “we” should specifically profile Muslims at airports, and “be honest about it.” He is sick of the “tyranny of fairness” in which airport security searches people randomly when we all know that it’s the “Mooslims” who want to kill everyone on the plane. He concedes that he hasn’t “had to endure the experience of being continually profiled…”, and that he would find it “frustrating” if he had, but if someone looks like they may commit a crime (based on their ethnic appearance), they should be targeted for extra scrutiny.He uses the comedian Ben Stiller’s appearance as an example:

“But if someone who looked vaguely like Ben Stiller were wanted for crimes against humanity, I would understand if I turned a few heads at the airport. However, if I were forced to wait in line behind a sham search of everyone else, I would surely resent this additional theft of my time.”

Attempting to speak on behalf of the very people he wants profiled, he implies that Muslims should “welcome” profiling, at the very least it would “save them time!”

He goes on;

We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.

Maybe Sam will want Muslims to wear crescent and star badges so as to be identified as “Muslim?” By saying “conceivably be Muslim” Sam is really saying any Brown, Middle Eastern or South Asian looking person, perhaps someone with a turban?

In a very poor attempt to soften the racialist tone, he adds this caveat;

And, again, I wouldn’t put someone who looks like me entirely outside the bull’s-eye (after all, what would Adam Gadahn look like if he cleaned himself up?)… (emphasis added)

As with most advocates of procedures that single out specific people for harassment, Sam Harris himself doesn’t have to experience the frustration that comes from this harassment. It’s easy to say, “Muslims should just cooperate and make it easier on themselves and everybody else” when one doesn’t have to experience such situations, multiple times, themselves.

He recounts earlier in the blog post an ironic experience he had at the airport whereby he “accidentally” smuggled nearly 75 rounds of ammunition past the inspectors, while a three-year old was momentarily taken from her family so that her sandals could be inspected.

I once accidentally used a bag for carry-on in which I had once stored a handgun—and passed through three airport checkpoints with nearly 75 rounds of 9 mm ammunition.

Question: What the hell is Sam Harris doing with 75 rounds of ammunition?

As of today (May 1st), he has added an addendum to his blog, complaining that some people didn’t take too kindly to his simply presenting the “facts” as he sees them. One of those basic “facts” is;

“…that, in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon. If you grant this, it follows that applying equal scrutiny to Mennonites would be a dangerous waste of time.”

He must have not read the report which stated that only 6% of terrorist acts committed in the United States from 1980-2005 years were committed by Muslims, and that even in 2012 an American is more likely to get struck by lightning than to be killed/hurt by a Muslim terrorist.

He goes on;

“1. When I speak of profiling “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim,” I am not narrowly focused on people with dark skin. In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice). To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, traveling companions, behavior in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest.”

Well that’s a sigh of relief! It’s not “just” dark-skinned Muslims that he wants to be profiled, but all Muslims! What universalistic spirit!

It has already been established that the more “Muslim” a person looks at the airport, the less likely they are to attempt anything violent on the plane. It simply would make no sense for a person to raise a thousand red flags in the minds of airport security, before they even board the plane. The entire point of a terrorist is to accomplish their goal, not to raise the suspicions of everyone around them before they get the chance to do so.

Since the stereotypical image of a Muslim in the minds of many is that of a “dark-skinned man of the Orient,” Muslim profiling is for all practical purposes racial profiling.

Juan Cole wrote about this on his blog nearly a year ago, when two Muslim clerics were forced to exit a plane because the pilot refused to fly if they were still on board;

“The terrorist costume is a simulated reality, circulated in Hollywood and countless news broadcasts, that evokes a causal relation between appearance and action. The terrorist costume is familiar to nearly all Americans: a thick beard, an ashen robe, brown skin, sandals holding dirty feet, and some sort of headgear, usually a turban (Sikh style, of course). The terrorist wearing this costume often sports a Qu’ran, so the audience can be certain that he is a Muslim.

Yet the acts of terrorism that have been committed by radicals of Muslim heritage involved perpetrators, like Mohamed Atta, who didn’t at all resemble the image of the Hollywood terrorist. Rahman and Zaghloul dressed in a way that set off alarms in some of their American co-passengers because the latter entertained Orientalist fantasies. Ironically, Muslim-American clerics are among the more law-abiding people in the country.”

Harris’s pro-profiling views are not shocking to anyone who knows his history of loonieness. Harris after all is the same unprincipled and bigoted individual, who has, as Bob Pitt noted;

backed Geert Wilders, joined the hysterical campaign against the so-called Ground Zero mosque and claimed that “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”

Jeff Sparrow: The Weaponization of Atheism

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2012 by loonwatch

An excellent piece from Jeff Sparrow about the politics of new atheism with a dose of history:

The Weaponization of Atheism

by JEFF SPARROW (CounterPunch)

In a few days time, the Global Atheist Convention meets in the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, a huge building sprawling out next to the Yarra River, just south of the central business district of Australia’s second biggest city.

But walk north for fifteen minutes or so to Victoria Street, Fitzroy, and you’ll find a much less imposing structure with a much older connection to atheism.

From the outside, there’s little to show that what’s now called Brenan Hall, a brick building in the St Vincent’s Hospital site, was once known, rather grandly, as the Hall of Science. Few Melbournians realise that their city boasts one of the second oldest purpose-built Freethought halls in the world, a meeting place constructed by the Australasian Secular Association in 1889.

As non-believers from around the globe come to Melbourne, the Hall of Science reminds us of the city’s long atheist history. But it does more than that. On this spot in June 1890, a man was shot, as a struggle over the direction of Freethought broiled over into a violent brawl. And that long-forgotten conflict over the politics of skepticism has major implications for today.

Both supporters and critics of the New Atheism often tell us that non-belief today is more strident, more aggressive, more polemical than in the past.

They’re wrong, as even a brief acquaintance with nineteenth century Freethought shows.

In Melbourne, a versifier expressed the ASA’s general approach in its journal, the Liberator:

From Pagan Rome and Christian Rome,
To our bright and fair Australia,
Religion’s ever been a cruel
And bloody Saturnalia.

The breezy consignment of the city’s respectable Presbyterians to a category alongside Caligula and Nero reflects an organisation not given to pulling punches.

Joseph Symes, the ASA’s leader, specialized in Hitchens-like confrontations with the pious. We have a record of one Symes lecture entitled ‘Bible Lies’ (a chronicle of the various deceptions pulled by the Lord on his long-suffering followers); on another occasion, he used data from recent archaeological digs (he was a keen amateur scientist) to lampoon scriptural history. Later in his career, Symes embraced pure provocation, bringing slices of bread to meetings so he could, as he announced, ‘have a chew on the body of Christ’.

Atheists back then were as forthright as atheists today. The real difference lies elsewhere. Today, we can identify an atheism that’s not so much militant as weaponised – that is, deployed, all too often, in the service of the extreme Right.

The late Christopher Hitchens provides the most obvious example, a celebrity atheist as famous for boosting wars as for baiting clerics.

Liberal admirers often mentally separated the atheistic Hitchens from the political Hitchens but in reality the two personas were inseparable. When, notoriously, he lauded Bush’s cluster bombs, he did so – typically – by combining his two passions. ‘Those steel pellets will go straight through somebody,’ he chuckled, ‘and out the other side and through somebody else. So they won’t be able to say, “Ah, I was bearing a Koran over my heart and guess what, the missile stopped halfway through.” No way, ’cause it’ll go straight through that as well. They’ll be dead, in other words.’

Because Hitchens was so rhetorically intemperate (recall his attack on the Dixie Chicks as ‘sluts’, his description of the war widow Cindy Sheehan as a ‘sob sister’ and so on); because, as Corey Robin says, he often evinced ‘a cruelty and bloodlust, a thrill for violence and apocalyptic confrontation, an almost sociopathic indifference to the victims of that violence and confrontation’ (witness, for instance, his reaction to the Fallujah offensive, his cry ‘the death toll is not nearly high enough …  too many [jihadists] have escaped’); he was treated indulgently, even by liberals, as New Atheism’s mad uncle, whose uglier outbursts could excused on the grounds of his very eccentricity.

But his weaponised atheism was no anomaly.

Attendees at the convention can, after all, hear much the same thing from Sam Harris, another of the so-called ‘Four Horsemen’. Harris, like Hitchens, thinks that atheists have a special insight into the war on terror, which should, he says, understood as a conflict against ‘a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise’. Most liberals, he continues, fail to understand ‘how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are’. Indeed, ‘the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.’

Harris calls himself a liberal but his positions on Islam are to the Right of any Australian parliamentarians, with the possible exception of Cory Bernardi, a notorious conservative crank.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, another conference speaker, carves out similar territory.

‘We are at war with Islam,’ she says bluntly. ‘And there’s no middle ground in wars.’

Elsewhere, Hirsi Ali, a fellow at the neonconservative American Enterprise Institute, explained the home front consequences of that total war.

‘All Muslim schools. Close them down. Yeah, that sounds absolutist. I think 10 years ago things were different, but now the jihadi genie is out of the bottle.’

Again, it’s the sort of stuff you’d expect to hear from Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer or other sinister representatives of the so-called ‘counter-jihad’ movement.

Such is weaponised atheism: arguments for war and state repression, tricked out as scepticism.

Obviously, not all speakers at the Global Atheist Convention are Hitchensian warmongers. Many denounced the invasion of Iraq. Some oppose the worst excesses of Islamophobia and have the grace to find the polemical excesses of Harris et al somewhat embarrassing.

Nonetheless, the fact remains: leading representatives of the movement express ideas that otherwise we’d associate with the hard Right – and are celebrated for doing so. This is a phenomenon that requires some explanation.

Again, a comparison with the past is instructive.

In the late nineteenth century, religiousity formed the fabric of daily life. Of necessity, the ASA duly offered a secular alternative to familiar Christian rituals, with Symes prompting his followers through a materialist catechism (‘What is science?’ he asked, to which the congregations dutifully chorused: ‘Truth’.) He taught children at a Sunday lyceum, leading them off for excursions with their freethought banners unfurled. ‘It was a picnic in itself,’ gloated the Liberator, chronicling one of those trips, ‘to watch the horrified looks of some of the pious folk as the wagons passed down Brighton Road’.

In other words, while, doctrinally Symes might have shared Hirsi Ali’s hostility to religion, the persecuted ASA could never have adopted her police-state policiies to Muslim schools in Australia because, to all intents and purposes, it was a Muslim school in Australia – organizationally and socially a fringe sect, proselytizing ideas that the mainstream found foreign and threatening.

For atheists back then, state power was obviously problematic, if only because they were usually facing its sharp end. For example, Cole’s Wharf, located only a block or so from where today’s atheists will convene, once provided an unofficial free speech forum, a rare oasis in the desert of Melbourne’s conformity. But when Symes began drawing crowds there, the authorities closed the stumps down. That was why the Hall of Science became necessary: as architectural historian Kerry Jordan explains, the ASA ‘found it difficult to rent premises for their meetings because of their notoriety and opposition to contemporary moral standards.’ The Liberator was singled out for prosecution under the Newspaper Act and regularly seized and burnt by customs officials, while Symes was denounced in the press as a ‘leprous reptile’. Even the Field Naturalists’ Club of Victoria blacklisted him.

The weaponisation of atheism, then, becomes a possibility only with the mainstreaming of non-belief. In the nineteenth century, religious skepticism in Australia barred you from polite society, so that, of necessity, nineteenth century secularists rubbed shoulders with dissidents and non-conformists in a fraternity of the poor and the marginalised. Today, in most circumstances, no-one cares that you don’t believe in God. The Prime Minister is an atheist; in some professions – say, higher education or the arts – it’s considerably easier to be a sceptic than a believer (see many head scarves on Australian TV?). As Sikivu Hutchinson points out, the front ranks of New Atheism consists almost exclusively of ‘elite white males from the scientific community’, a fact that, in and of itself, speaks to the social acceptance of non-belief, at least in the prestigious universities.

These days, it is religion, not atheism, that correlates with poverty. Within Australia, the most fervent believers often belong to immigrant communities; across the world, religion dominates in impoverished states in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

That’s a substantive social shift, and it has obvious consequences for the political orientation of atheism.

But there’s more going on than that.

On 19 June 1890, a group of secularists stormed Melbourne’s Hall of Science and barricaded themselves inside.

Shortly after midnight, another group, led by Symes himself, arrived and fought their way through the doors. After a bloody punch-up, they physically expelled their opponents – and then posted armed guards to keep them away.

A few days later, one of those defenders took out his revolver to clean it. The gun accidentally discharged. The bullet struck a man called William Jackson Brown; he died the next day.

That tragedy didn’t stop the secular in-fighting. Several times over the next year, crowds of freethinkers – sometimes numbering as many as thousand people – gathered at the Hall for prolonged scuffles over its possession.

The anti-Symesites eventually prevailed but their victory proved largely pyrrhic. The divided movement could no longer fund the building’s upkeep – and the prize possession of the movement was forcibly sold, with ownership eventually passing, with tragic irony, to a Catholic-run hospital.

What was the dispute about?

The ASA was initially a very broad organisation, and included in its ranks radicals of all sorts. For a while, those differences could be subsumed into its struggle for freedom of speech. The ASA played, for instance, an important role in the campaign to force open the Public Library on a Sunday, in defiance of strict religious rules that public institutions remained closed on the only day working people might access them.

But the length and intensity of such fights spurred some in the ASA to move left.

At one of the trials of anti-Sabbatarians (yes, secularists actually went to gaol for the right to library access in Melbourne!), a police witness noted a new phenomenon.

‘They don’t confine themselves to the Public Library at all, your worship …’ he said, ‘but they denounce capitalists and even magistrates, your worship.’

These ASA activists increasingly identified the church as merely one amongst many institutions maintaining an oppressive status quo. As one of them declared, ‘Secularism has outlived its usefulness. Our hope … [lies] in Anarchy which is based on rebellion against authority.’

The formation in 1886 of the Melbourne Anarchist Club by ASA members dramatically heightened tensions within Australian freethought, particularly in the context of the massive social polarisations. In 1889, the Maritime Dispute shut down Melbourne and prompted a huge rally on the Yarra Bank, which was very nearly fired on by mounted police. The next year, the shearers strike left the nation on the brink of a civil war, while the world plunged into the deepest economic depression it had hitherto known.

The ASA’s Left began leading Occupy Wall Street style marches through the city, burning government officials in effigy and chanting rude songs about them. Symes, on the other hand, opposed the strikes. Essentially a pre-socialist liberal, his notion of liberty meant, first and foremost, freedom to think. From his perspective, social upheavals were, at best, a distraction from the progress of science and, at worst, a manifestation of incipient barbarism. Increasingly, he turned his polemical powers, like Hitchens denouncing anti-war protesters, on those he called ‘the washed off filth of the association, collected in the Anarchist slough’.

Why should anyone care about an obscure debate amongst minor organisations from long ago?

Because the emergence of Left tendencies in the ASA was indicative of how, all across the world in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, liberal atheism was challenged by a new, more social orientation as labour activists turned, in Marx’s phrase, ‘the criticism of Heaven […] into the criticism of Earth.’ In a few decades time, the Russian revolution cemented an association between atheism and social reform, to the extent that, for many reactionaries, ‘godless’ and ‘commie’ became almost synonymous.

Of course, liberal and even rightwing versions of atheism persisted. But the existence of sizeable left-wing organisations committed to a broadly Marxist approach exerted a huge influence on the politics of atheism in the twentieth century.

That’s the context for the New Atheism, ‘new’ precisely because it emerged only after the traditional Left had more or less collapsed. Its novelty consisted largely of its separation from the communism that had more-or-less owned the movement throughout the twentieth century. In place of that Leftism, the New Atheism repackaged, for a new audience, the nineteenth century liberal positivism that freethinkers like Symes had espoused.

But, of course, the new context made all the difference.

For a start, the New Atheism was turbocharged by 9/11. The heightened, hysterical climate in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks produced some bizarre publishing phenomena – obscure academic studies of the Taliban, for instance, suddenly featured in bestselling lists. Atheist polemics achieved an equal prominence precisely because they provided a simple answer to the newly urgent question that so many anguished pundits posed: why do Muslims hate us?

Again, the political consequences of that particular conjuncture are fairly obvious. Though few care to remember it now, in the early phases of the War on Terror, some of the loudest voices touting for regime change came from so-called liberals, often deploying tropes associated with the social movements and the New Left. Thus the invasion of Afghanistan – as ludicrous as it now seems – was initially shilled, at least in part, as a campaign to liberate women and homosexuals.

Atheism was used in the same fashion. Hitchens, in particular, transformed himself from midlist radical journalist to international celebrity by spinning Bush’s military adventures as a war of liberal tolerance against theocratic backwardness, a claim that, in retrospect, seems almost embarrassingly stupid.

But there were particular reasons why the New Atheist approach was so susceptible to Hitchens’ appropriation. Symes’ project, as we have seen, began and ended with an expose of religious fallacies. For him, as for the New Atheists today, religion was first and foremost a system of ideas – ‘ignorance with wings’, as Sam Harris says. Symes’ project, then, began and ended with its exposing religious fallacies. For if theological ideas were shown to be false, rational and intelligent people would surely abandon their beliefs.

But consider the corollary. If religion is an intellectual doctrine and nothing more than that, the persistence with which so many cling to God faith becomes explicable only in terms of their congenital inability to reason. Or, to put it another way, if religion is purely and simply a fairy tale, then ipso facto those who cling to it are little better than children.

The smugness that so often accompanies New Atheist interventions is not, then, accidental but is bred into the movement’s DNA. Symes rejected the activism of the ASA’s Left explicitly because to him the masses were, at best, dullards. It was very incapacity of ordinary people that made, he said, socialism impossible. ‘The strong, the cunning, the swift … must survive, while the weak, the slow, the dull and those with no artificial advantage must of necessity go to the wall — yes, the brutal truth bids me say, they must be stamped out.’

Back then, Symes’ overt elitism was largely kept in check by his organisation’s marginalisation, since his denunciations were, of necessity, usually directed at powerful clerics and politicians rather than ordinary believers. The New Atheists today find themselves in a rather different position. There’s an obvious rightward dynamic in tremendously wealthy authors (‘Sam’s fee is $25,000 which includes airfare.’regaling audiences of the well-educated and the well-to-do about the ignorance and stupidity of immigrants and the poor.

Moreover, the West’s engagement with Muslim countries over the last decade provides a context in which the weaponisation of atheism becomes almost inevitable.

The traditional Left approach to belief begins with a recognition that religion is not simply a set of ideas. Religion is a cultural identity; it’s also simultaneously an aesthetic, a system of feeling, a guide to social and sexual conduct, an organizational framework and many other things besides. These different functions contradict and complement each other in all sorts of ways.

That’s why the same holy texts can, in different social settings, give rise to entirely different behaviours and attitudes; it’s why both the Anabaptists and Pat Robertson can claim inspiration from the New Testament.

If, then, you wanted to understand the role of religion in Iraq or Afghanistan, simply assessing the truth claims in the Koran does not get you very far – indeed, in some ways, it’s almost a category error. Islam, like all religions, functions on many different levels. It offers, for instance, meaning to people subjected to death and suffering often inflicted by the advanced countries of the West. It provides charity where no social services exist; it gives voice to nationalist resistance in nations where the secular Left was widely discredited by its Stalinism. And it does many other things besides.

Even put as schematically as that, the argument suggests a particular political response. Atheists and others seeking to fostering secularism in the Arab world might do so by, first and foremost, ending the military interventions that have brought so much suffering.

If, on the other hand, religion is seen simply as a dangerous fairy story, then it’s almost inevitable that the fervent believers of Afghanistan are cast as menacing infants – a trope that reiterates, almost exactly, Kipling’s high imperialist image as the subjects of empire as ‘half devil and half child’. Hence the neocon temptation into which so many New Atheists fall, the conviction that military force is morally justified to free the savages from their own delusions, much as the British empire justified its depredations by contrasting Western science with the natives’ pagan superstitions.

Anti-Muslim writers commonly declare that Islam needs its own reformation.

But that’s a charge that should really be leveled at atheism, a movement that urgently needs the kind of political polarization that separated the Right from the Left in the ASA of 1890.

For, at present, the loudest voices speaking on behalf of atheism trot out a crude nineteenth century positivism, a rewarmed (but far more conservative) version of Symes’ freethought. Meanwhile, the atheist Left seems entirely silent. Where, for instance, are the interventions from progressives as the Global Atheist Convention conducts a session lauding Hitchens’ career under the title ‘A Life Well Lived’? Will anyone point out that the author of God is Not Great devoted his well-lived life to apologetics for a military campaign that led to the deaths of perhaps a million people? For progressives, should the devastation of Iraq not matter at least as much as Hichens’ reputation as a witty conversationalist?

A few weeks ago, the editor of the New York Times editorial page noted that the US effectively now runs an entirely separate judicial system for Muslims. Meanwhile, across Europe, neo-fascist organisations, some of them with lineages stretching back to the Nazis, supplement their traditional anti-Semitism with a new anti-Muslim bigotry. It’s a heartbreaking historical tragedy that, with prejudice rising throughout the world, the loudest voices in a movement that once campaigned for liberty uses a rhetoric indistinguishable from the hatemongers and the racists.

But it’s not just that atheism has a Muslim problem (though it clearly does).

In the US, the Republicans have launched a savage war on women’s reproductive rights, an assault justified in religious rhetoric. How, then, should the Left respond?

We could, perhaps, reply to the bishops who denounce birth control by simply declaring anyone who identifies with Catholicism as an ignorant hick.

On the other hand, we might note that, precisely because religion is a contradictory social phenomenon, the vast majority of those who call themselves Catholics actively flout the Pope’s rulings about sex, something that provides scope for a common front against the Right. Indeed, any successful movement against the war on women will, almost by definition, involve those who consider themselves believers.

That doesn’t mean that leftwing atheists should hide their views about God. It’s simply that say that we’re far more likely to win people from religion by working alongside them against the forces of oppression in this world – and thus showing them in practice that religious consolations aren’t necessary – rather than by dismissing them as dupes and stooges.

If religion is a social phenomenon, it will persist so long as social conditions render it necessary. That’s why the defeat of the atheist Right, and the revival of an atheist Left, matters so much. Denouncing God is easy. What’s harder – and much more important – is creating a world that no longer has need of Him.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland magazine and the author of Killing: Misadventures in Violence.

Richard Dawkins: Trying to Use Muslim Women as Foot Soldiers in his Crusade against Religion

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2011 by loonwatch

Richard Dawkins has been an “asshat” for quite a while now. His anti-Muslim, sexist, xenophobic statements have been exposed on our site before.

Below, Fatemeh Fakhraie dissects his most recent inane and despicable comments.

Obligatory Richard Dawkins Post

by Fatemeh Fakhraie (Muslimah Media Watch)

So Richard Dawkins is an asshat. Anyone surprised?

Here’s the comment he left on a thread that discussed sexism:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Richard

And here’s a brief roundup of what people are saying about it.

The Atlantic Wire:

Several comments, including Watson’s own, hit on exactly what the fight’s about. Dawkins has every right to dismiss Watson’s story and to argue that she was not in a high risk situation. But his attempt to prove how insignificant Watson’s story was by comparing it with the much worse scenario of a Muslim woman’s daily life hurts his argument. The fact that something worse is going on somewhere else does not diminish whatever may be happening here. Also, as Watson points out, Dawkins is admired widely for work criticizing creationism and denouncing the use of religion as an excuse for repressing women in particular. To defend only some women from misogyny and not all, she and others argue, is hypocrtical. (sic)

Shakesville:

Again, he implies that “Muslim women” and “American women” are mutually exclusive groups; again, he implies that American women do not “suffer physically from misogyny,” nor are their lives “substantially damaged by religiously inspired misogyny.”

What Tami Said:

High-profile and influential men, like Dawkins, who use their status to minimize sexism in the West, deny the lived experiences of women, and advance the stupid thinking that all Western women are both white and privileged, poison a well already rank with gender bias. Men like Dawkins who sneer at Western misogyny make Western women’s lives more difficult, including women like Watson who are atheists. So, why should Watson and other women continue to hand Dawkins their money and support, and prop up his influence, when he thinks they’re all a bunch of whiny bitches who should be satisfied getting sexually harassed because somewhere (in those bad, brown, Muslim countries) a woman has it worse?

Lots of people have said lots of things about this, rightfully calling out Dawkins’ male privilege and pointing out that the “there are bigger problems” argument is derailing and silencing.

But very few of these posts have touched on Dawkins’ use of Muslim women specifically. And that’s where we come in.

Richard Dawkins is an atheist, and as an atheist, he believes that organized religion is harmful for women. There are plenty of religious and non-religious thinkers who can level-headedly make the case that organized religions use rooted patriarchal norms to oppress women and often works against their own ideals, but Dawkins is not one of those people. Dawkins uses the stereotype of the oppressed Muslim woman and gives little regard to how his politicized views are received by Muslim women.

So no one should be surprised at his comment above.

But that’s doesn’t make it okay. Dawkins’ comment trades in stereotypes about Muslim women “over there.” Does female genital mutilation happen? Yes. Are women not allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia? Yes. Is stoning a thing? Yes. But is Dawkins’ use of these acceptable? No.

It’s unacceptable for Dawkins to make sweeping statements like this because he attaches loaded terms like “female genital mutilation” and “stoning” to a huge, worldwide term like “Muslim women,” and attaches these things to Islam itself, ignoring outside cultural, economic, and social influences. Making blanket statements about FGM and stoning and driving attaches these to all of us, and contributes to the Oppressed Muslim Women stereotype. And you know what that stereotype has done to help us? Nothing.

It’s also just as silencing to female Muslim activists “over there” who are dealing with these issues, and other important ones, such as campaigning for the right to vote, pass their citizenship to their children, or keep custody of their children after divorce. Dawkins is injecting Muslim women “over there” into an issue that concerns us as well (sexual harassment and sexism in belief systems), but uses us to derail this issue.

And what is Dawkins doing to actually help the Muslim women he claims are “mutilated with a razor blade[s],” and “not allowed to drive a car,” and “stoned to death”?

NOT A DAMN THING.

So kindly shut the f**k up, Richard Dawkins, and stop using us as foot soldiers in your crusade against organized religion. We’ll be fine without you.

Spencer Dew: An Atheist’s Idealized Christianity

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2010 by loonwatch

Hey Loonwatchers, there are Spencer’s out there who aren’t loons when it comes to Islam! Spencer Dew reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s most recent book and sheds some much need light on her agenda driven Islamophobia. A real eye opening review.

An Atheist’s Idealized Christianity: The Dangerous Theological Fantasies of Ayaan Hirsi Ali

By Spencer Dew
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born former Dutch politician based now at the American Enterprise Institute, draws on her own harrowing childhood and journey from Islam to atheism (or, as she calls it in the subtitle of her most recent book, Nomad: From Islam to America, a Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations) to argue that Islam poses a grave threat to Western civilization, which she identifies as rooted in the legacy and ideals of the Enlightenment, specifically in individualism, free expression, and rational inquiry.Yet Ali’s work is as much an argument for a specific understanding of Christianity as it is a specific understand of Islam. Ali holds to radically distorted visions of each religion such that Christianity emerges as a private, more or less secular set of beliefs about divine love while Islam emerges as a monolithic, oppressive system of group-think. Christianity is rational and science-friendly; Islam is a continuation of a perverse pre-medieval mindset.

Ali, of course, is an atheist, and she frequently cites 9/11 as the tipping point in her own rejection of religion, claiming in her new book that “I found it impossible to ignore [bin Laden’s] claims that the murderous destruction of innocent (if infidel) lives is consistent with the Qur’an. I looked in the Qur’an, and I found it to be so. To me this meant that I could no longer be a Muslim.”

Building a Straw Horse

Religious terrorists justify their actions via scripture and tradition: from racist militias citing Genesis to Muslim groups drawing on the words of the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet. Ali, however, insists that the exegesis of Islamic terrorists is correct, true to Qur’anic intent and the history of Islam. She dismisses Muslim protests against such justifications as naïve and uninformed. “Most Muslims do not know the content of the Qur’an or the Hadith or any other Islamic scripture,” she argues, going on to insist that while “the much-quoted edict promoting freedom of religion is indeed in the Qur’an… its authority is nullified by verses that descended upon the Prophet later, when he was better armed and when his following had grown to great numbers.” Her own vision of Islam thus shapes her interpretation.

Likewise, in the face of repeating Qur’anic refrains about the compassionate nature of the divine, Ali argues that “Muslims who say that Allah is peaceful and compassionate simply do not know about other concepts of God, or the concepts they do have are wrong.” Nevermind that Islamic thinkers have, since the dawn of the tradition, had much to say about the paradox of a God at once compassionate and just; Ali’s interest here is in constructing a straw horse. Thus, while she holds that “uncritical Muslim attitude toward the Qur’an” poses a threat to civilization, she simultaneously opposes any exegetical work that offers alternatives to her own (and the terrorists’) simplistic, violent interpretations—theological work she dismisses as “reinterpreting the Qur’an so as to tone it down.”

Idealizing Christianity

While Ali is eloquent in her admiration for the ideals of the Enlightenment, she is equally indebted to the Reformation. Recognizing that some humans may still need religion “as a source of comfort,” she is willing to allow them that, yet she rejects what she sees as more problematic manifestations of religion, notably “religion as a moral gauge, a guideline for life,” which function she sees as applying “above all to Islam.” Acceptable religion, in other words, is “protestant” with a small ‘p’—individual piety— something, Ali argues, that should remain in the individual heart and house, but not seek to effect political change.

In contrast to her monolithic fantasy of Islam, Ali offers a vision of Christianity that is equally fantastic, a religion of individualism and critical reflection where the old superstitions have been replaced with humanist abstractions. “Nowadays,” she writes, “God is referred to as ‘love’ or as ‘energy,’ and those who believe in Him have done away with the concept of hell.” While she admits that there are certain “freak-show churches” opposed to, for instance, the theory of evolution, Christianity is presented by Ali as, all for all, a force for the good. Indeed, in her new book, this atheist calls on “the community of Christian churches” to act as “a very useful ally in the battle against Islamic fanaticism.”

One terrifying aspect of Ali’s developing thought on Islam, however, is that “Islamic fanaticism” is no longer presented as an extreme but as the norm. While in earlier writings, Ali made parallels between Christian fundamentalists and their claims about the Bible with “fundamentalist Muslims [who] consider the Qur’an a perfect, timeless representation of the unchanging word of God,” she has now revised her thinking and insists that “Anyone who identifies himself as a Muslim believes that the Qur’an is the true, immutable word of God. It should be followed to the letter.” While some Muslims may not “obey” in this way “they believe that they should.” Thus, seemingly “moderate” Muslims among us are in fact a potential threat, wolves in Western clothing, their religion necessarily in conflict with the ideals of the contemporary Western state. As she chillingly phrases her stance: “Can you be a Muslim and an American patriot? You can if you don’t care very much about being a Muslim.”

A War Between Theologies?

Thus, atheist Ali, in her crusade against Islam, turns to her idealized vision of a Christian community. Arguing that the world is undergoing a clash not so much of civilizations but of theologies, Ali actually begins to resemble none other than the fundamentalist Islamists whom she credits with prompting her religious turn, who likewise frame the current moment in terms of a war between theologies. “I feel we now need a Christian school for every madrassa,” she writes, basing this policy prescription on the assumption that Christian schools “teach not only the full range of sciences and the humanities, but also about a God who created reason and told humankind to let reason prevail.”

Convinced that radical jihadist interpretations represent the true intent of the Qur’an, Ali perceives her own mission as a public intellectual as alerting non-Muslims to the danger in their midst while persuading Muslims to “admit that the Prophet Muhammad’s example is fallible, that not everything in the Qur’an is perfect or true.” In this regard, however, she has arrived at

a theory that most Muslims are in search of a redemptive God. They believe that there is a higher power and that this higher power is the provider of morality, giving them a compass to help them distinguish between good and bad. Many Muslims are seeking a God or a concept of God that in my view meets the description of the Christian God. Instead they are finding Allah.

“Many Muslims… need a spiritual anchor in their lives,” Ali writes, but since Islam must be as she insists that it is, this atheist thinker has, oddly, become a sort of proselytizer for her own idealistic vision of Christianity. “This modern Christian God is synonymous with love,” she writes, “His agents do not preach hatred, intolerance, and discord; this God is merciful, does not seek state power, and sees no competition with science. His followers view the Bible as a book full of parables, not direct commands to be obeyed.”

It is unlikely that many American Muslims will find Ali’s hateful characterization of their own religion convincing—let alone her dreamy musings about a utopian Christianity. Ali may well be preaching, so to speak, to the choir, but it is a choir poisoned by distorted visions of Islam and a dangerous recapitulation of the terrorist fantasy of the world as a battleground between religions and gods.

 

Bill Maher Sounds Like Jerry Falwell

Posted in Feature, Loon Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2010 by loonwatch
Bill Maher and George Bush: Closer in thought then we ever knew?Bill Maher and George Bush: Closer in thought than we ever knew?

You might be reading the title, Bill Maher Sounds Like Jerry Falwell and thinking to yourself, “What?! Bill Maher hates religion, and if I recall he blasted Jerry Falwell at the time of his death for being an intolerant, huckster con-man.” It is true that Maher has made a lot of money out of mocking religion, all religion, he made a movie about it called Religulous. In fact, Maher is constantly seen with his anti-religion crew promoting atheism and agnosticism.

So how could he possibly sound like a Christian fundamentalist such as Jerry Falwell? An analysis of Maher’s work and comments about Islam reveal he has a special and unique bias against Islam that goes well beyond his condemnation or mocking of other religions, which is unfortunate because he has a lot of hilarious and witty things to say about various topics.

Maher’s bias leads to moments where he loses his rationality and rather than comment with his usual sardonic logic, he falls into emotion and repeats worn out stereotypes and caricatures of Islam and Muslims. If that weren’t egregious enough, he also makes statements that are flat out empirically false.

So how does an atheist who prizes rationality and empirical evidence fall so hard off of the beaten path? Some might say it’s the weed but let’s look at the evidence for a second.

The first piece that I want to draw to your attention is a five minute section of the New Rules portion of Bill Maher’s Real Time.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39d1fHRHrM4&feature=player_embedded 350 300]

Maher is on the wrong foot from the very beginning. He starts his monologue by creating an exclusive frame that depicts Islam as the “other,” something that is “outside” and does not belong to the West. This might have something to do with Maher’s ignorance of history since Islam has been a part of the West for over a millennium now. There is no need for me to go into detail about the historical interplay and exchange of commerce, goods and ideas between the Muslim world and the West, nor of the presence of Muslim communities, but if the construct of the “West” is to mean anything it has to include Islam and Muslims.

Omar Baddar makes just such a point and a further rebuttal in his excellent article in the Huffington Post on Maher’s recent confusion,

The implied premise that Judaism and Christianity belong to a cohesive unit called “the West” which stands in distinction from another cohesive unit called “the Muslim world” is absurd. But even if one accepted this false dichotomy, why did Maher’s example of “the craziest religious wackos we have here in America” stick to nonviolent fanatics? Why not abortion clinic bombers?

And what about Jewish extremists in the Palestinian territories? I haven’t heard an argument for why their brutal attacks on western human rights activists accompanying children to school, routine vandalism, and other violent acts coupled with chants of “we killed Jesus we’ll kill you too” are any less wacko.

Structural constraints are another obvious factor to consider. You see, the Taliban can act like they do because they live in a lawless state, and extremist settlers can act like they do because of a culture of impunity provided by the structure of Israeli apartheid. So while Pat Robertson may seem harmless, by comparison, when he issues adeath fatwa on Hugo Chavez, or when he blames a hurricane or an earthquake on gay sex or a pact with the devil or something, a useful question to contemplate is whether he and his followers would be as benign (if one could describe them as such) if they could get away with worse behavior. Thankfully, we live in a system that can enforce law and order; and our wackos have the alternative outlet of lobbying the government for wars against Iraq and Iran, and they send over 100,000 emails to the White House for the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so direct violence from them is somewhat less likely.

I would just add one more comment to the prescient points raised by Baddar above. Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did and do have an active religious component in them. How else can we characterize the war briefings read by Donald Rumsfeld that were always headlined with quotes from the Bible? The Daily Times reported at the time,

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was sold as a fight for freedom against the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.

But for former U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his elite Pentagon strategists, it was more like a religious crusade.

The daily briefings about the progress of the war that Mr Rumsfeld gave to President George W Bush were illustrated with victorious quotes from the Bible and gung-ho photographs of U.S. troops, it has emerged.

….

One of the top-secret ‘worldwide intelligence updates’, which were hand-delivered to Mr Bush by Mr Rumsfeld, includes an image of an F-18 Hornet fighter jet roaring off from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

On it were the words of Psalm 139-9-10: ‘If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast, O Lord.’

The cover of another featured pictures of U.S. soldiers at prayer with a quote from Isaiah: ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us? Here I am Lord, Send me.’

A photograph of Saddam Hussein included a quotation from the First Epistle of Peter: ‘It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.’

The religious theme for briefings prepared for the president and his war cabinet was the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a committed Christian and director for intelligence serving Mr Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In the days before the six-week invasion, Major General Shaffer’s staff had created humorous covers for the briefings to alleviate the stress of preparing for battle.

But as the body count rose, he decided to introduce biblical quotes.

Mr Bush, a born-again Christian, believed the invasion was a ‘mission from God’.

Another of his briefings included the words ‘Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed’ alongside a photo of a U.S. marine with a machine gun.

And on an image of U.S. tanks rumbling through the Victory Arch monument in Baghdad was a quote from Isaiah: ‘Open the gates the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps the faith.’

A photograph of U.S. tanks in Iraq used a further passage from Isaiah: ‘Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung, their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, their chariot wheels are like a whirlwind.’

biblical_quotes_defense

These are wars that have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and were instigated and supported in large part by right-wing Christians and Zionists. It is also salient to mention the involvement of Erik Prince the leader and founder of Blackwater, a security service hired by the State Department and who many consider to be nothing more than a squad of mercenaries. Prince himself is aChristian supremacist and in an affidavit from a former employee is accused of viewing “‘himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,’ and that Prince’s companies ‘encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.’”

There are many more examples that we can give, the Lord’s Resistance Army,  Christian witch-hunts,American Evangelical collusion in the Uganda gay death bill and the war on Gaza in which Israeli soldiers were told by Rabbis in  pamphlets to be “cruel” and not to “spare” the Gazan population, even “innocent civilians.”

So the claim that Muslim “wackos” are somehow uniquely more dangerous or wacky than extremists in other faiths is not only false, it is disingenuous.

However, Maher’s bigoted rant didn’t stop there, it also included his preaching about how “our culture” is better than their “culture.” I thought Maher would have realized by now that NOT ALL MUSLIMS are alike. Not all Muslims speak Arabic, live in caves, beat their wives 24-7, etc.  It’s a point that As’ad Abu Khalil made painfully obvious to Maher and his guests ten years ago when Maher hosted Politically Incorrect (video at bottom). Did Maher just forget that convenient fact or is he just fulfilling the buffoonish American caricature he so often loves to lampoon?

Omar Baddar commented on Maher’s incoherence quite succinctly,

I described Maher’s tirade as incoherent because the “them” in Maher’s equation shifted from “the developing world” at one point, to people whose culture “makes death threats to cartoonists,” to “the Taliban,” and eventually to “Muslims” (not exactly interchangeable terms). None of these categories can be lumped into a “Muslim culture” because the Muslim world is simply too vast to collapse into a cultural category. From Eastern Europe to Africa, from Lebanon to Pakistan, and from Iran to Indonesia, we are talking about completely and fundamentally different cultures. In all five Arab/Muslim countries where I grew up (and went to school with girls in all of them), women are an integral part of public life, and many of them dress like Western women do. So I can assure Maher that many of these societies are not waiting for “the West” to lecture them on whether women can work.

The incoherent ramble got even more incoherent, after making a mealy mouthed and half-hearted disclaimer that “in speaking of Moslems we realize that the vast majority are law abiding, loving people who just want to be left alone to subjugate their women in peace” Maher went on to preach to Moslems saying,

“but I got to tell ya, civilized people don’t threaten each other…threatening, that’s some old school desert s***, and I am sorry, you can’t bring that to the big city. I am very glad that Obama is reaching out the Moslem world, and I know Moslems living in America and Europe want their way of life assimilated more, but the Western world has to make some things clear, somethings about our culture are non-negotiable and can’t change and one of them is Freedom of Speech, seperation of Church and State is another, women are allowed to work here and you can’t beat them, not negotiable, this is how we roll, and this is why our system is better, and if you don’t get that and you still want to kill someone over a stupid cartoon, please make it Garfield.”

The fact is Muslims didn’t react to the South Park cartoon. This was a controversy completely whipped up by the media that gave a group of four-nobody-morons far more attention than they deserved. If Bill Maher and his staff had done a little research, instead of focusing on Revolution Muslim, they would have asked the far more penetrating and relevant question of why so much attention was given to an unknown group that has zero credibility or support amongst American Muslims. Of course this would not fit into the preset narrative that the “Godzilla of crazy religions” (as Maher would put it) “must be offended and threatening.”

Bill Maher also should be put on notice, about how people who don’t believe in his “us vs. them” mentality roll. He should be put on notice about what democracy really is about. It isn’t about high voltage diatribes, and self-congratulatory head nodding, or putting down “the other”. There is also a duty to uphold justice and equality. Muslims don’t want to “assimilate more,” (last I checked that isn’t a condition for being Western) they are already here, they are integrated and they are contributing, and he should know the highest incidences of domestic violence occur here in America, where 2 to 4 million women are the victims of domestic violence every year and in which a quarter of the population will have been victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes.

After this show Bill Maher was on Anderson Cooper 360, and in my opinion it was one of the worst interviews I have seen in a long time. It was so bad that I wished I was watching Bill O’ Reilly or Glenn Beck. On the show Bill Maher repeated many of things he said on Real Time, but one thing was exceptionally noteworthy:

“I haven’t read the Quran in its original, when you read the translation there are many, many, many passages that are not peaceful at all, that are about killing the infidel and so forth, there are many passages like that in the Bible too, not as many.”

Is he serious? The Quran itself is about the size of the Psalms, and only a few hundred of the 6,000 verses relate to fighting and all of them have a context and explanation. None of them command a Muslim to just “slay the infidel.” However, the Bible is filled with exhortations to violence, wiping out whole nations, slaying pagans, enemies and non-Jews who live in Israel. This is one of the reasons that the Israel-Palestine conflict is so intractable, the view by religious Jews that not one centimeter of historic Israel should be owned by a non-Jew.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZN-FhDrB3A 350 300]

I would challenge Bill Maher to find one verse in the Quran equal or even a quarter equal to this odious commandment in the Bible,

“How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” Psalm: 137:9

He will be unable to as there are no verses that come close to advocating such horrendous behavior in the Quran. As far as his retort that Jews and Christians don’t follow such things, a simple search on the internet will disabuse him of that and reinforce the fact that there are people who take the Bible literally and are willing to exact Biblical commandments such as the one above (see Sabbath breakers getting stoned, and license to murder babies).

Part of me believes all of this is for attention.  It seems that Maher desperately wants a fatwa on his head.  He wants the status it would give him: the fame and the soaring ratings. He’ll have ensured himself a position next to Salman Rushdie as one of the victimized on the pantheon of atheist stardom. Maybe it will give him some meaning in an utterly purposeless life?

This whole episode reminds me of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a story in which the pigs lead the other animals in a coup overthrowing the human beings who rule the farm. Once the pigs come to power, they take on the same odious traits of the human beings that had led to the revolt in the first place. The pigs became intolerant, manipulative, chauvinistic, and shallow. Orwell meant it to be a story about the failures and potential flaws of communism but the analogy could be applied equally to many of the new atheists, of whom Bill Maher is one, who rant and rave about the intolerance, shallowness, and wide sweeping claims of the religious but like the pigs are taking on those very same traits.

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Please check out this very instructional episode of Politically Incorrect a few months after 9/11. It is very interesting and highlights the psychology of Islamophobia that languishes deep even in self professed liberals. As’ad Abukhalil really lays it into them,

Part 1:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cu1jajbOnBw 350 300]

Part 2:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STY5FwyJ2O8&feature=related 350 300]

Part 3:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5ENu4zT92c&feature=related 350 300]

Part 4:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqnuKfCddK0&feature=related 350 300]