Archive for Atheist

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.

Pennsylvania “Sharia Court”: Loons Jump the Gun AGAIN on Ginned up “Legal Jihad”

Posted in Feature, Loon Sites with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2012 by loonwatch

Zombie Atheists

Zombie Pope and Zombie Muhammad Marching in a Halloween Parade

by Ilisha

(H/T: CriticalDragon1177)

All across the looniverse, there is an uproar over an alleged triumph of Sharia in a Pennsylvania court case presided over by a “Muslim” judge.  It’s not the first time anti-Muslim bigots pounced on a story of so-called “legal jihad” before they got their facts straight.

This time, Pennsylvania State Director of American Atheists, Ernest Perce V, was parading down the street as “Zombie Muhammad,” when an outraged Muslim bystander allegedly grabbed him, choked him from behind, and attempted to remove a “Muhammad of Islam” sign from around his neck. Both men complained to  police, Perce for assault and Elbayomy because he apparently thought insulting Islam was a criminal offense.

Perce filed charges, but a judge dismissed the case after he allegedly said, “I’m a Muslim,” and chastised the atheist in question for his misinterpretation and lack of understanding concerning Islam. Judge Martin is not a Muslim, and later said himself he is Lutheran.

Parts of the court video are garbled, and it seems he either misspoke or part of his statement was inaudible.  In any case, his statements and decision to dismiss the case have sparked a fresh controversy over  the limits of free speech.

The judge said in part:

Before you start mocking someone else’s religion you may want to find out a little bit more about it. That makes you look like a doofus…

Here in our society, we have a constitution that gives us many rights, specifically, First Amendment rights. It’s unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others. I don’t think that’s what our forefathers really intended. I think our forefathers intended that we use the First Amendment so that we can speak our mind, not to piss off other people and other cultures, which is what you did.

I don’t think you’re aware, sir, there’s a big difference between how Americans practice Christianity – uh, I understand you’re an atheist. But, see, Islam is not just a religion, it’s their culture, their culture. It’s their very essence, their very being. They pray five times a day towards Mecca. To be a good Muslim, before you die, you have to make a pilgrimage to Mecca unless you are otherwise told you cannot because you are too ill, too elderly, whatever. But you must make the attempt…

Then what you have done is you’ve completely trashed their essence, their being. They find it very, very, very offensive. I’m a Muslim, I find it offensive. [Unintelligble] aside was very offensive.

But you have that right, but you’re way outside your bounds on First Amendment rights.

Pamela Geller’s hate site, Atlas Shrugs, blared the headline: “AMERICAN MUSLIM JUDGE WHO IMPOSED SHARIA IN PENNSYLVANIA COURT THREATENS TO JAIL INFIDEL VICTIM FOR BLASPHEMY — RELEASING RECORDED AUDIO OF THE CASE

The inflammatory headline was followed by, “Infidel victim, Ernest Perce, has received 471 verifiable threats.” No source was cited to substantiate the claim.

Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch declared:

This is enforcement of Sharia in a Pennsylvania court. The attacker supposedly got off because he “is an immigrant and claims he did not know his actions were illegal, or that it was legal in this country to represent Muhammad in any form. To add insult to injury, he also testified that his 9 year old son was present, and the man said he felt he needed to show his young son that he was willing to fight for his Prophet.”

Though part of the statement on Jihad Watch is in quotes, it’s unclear who Spencer is quoting. A full transcript of the judges statement is here, and the defendant’s immigrant status and lack of legal knowledge are not cited as reasons for dismissing the case.

Spencer also doesn’t explain how this is an example of Sharia. What Islamic Law did the judge cite in this case? Spencer doesn’t say, and apparently that’s fine with his no-evidence-required audience.

Although Eugene Volokh of  The Volokh Conspiracy strongly disagreed with the judge’s decision, he said:

…This is not a situation where the judge “applied Sharia law” in any normal sense of the phrase. The judge claimed that he simply didn’t find enough evidence against the defendant. Perhaps the judge was biased against the victim because of the victim’s anti-Muslim speech, but an anti-Sharia law wouldn’t have helped avoid that. More broadly, a law banning judges from “consider[ing] … Sharia Law” (in the words of the Oklahoma anti-Sharia amendment) wouldn’t keep judges from concluding that someone who insults members of other religious groups should be admonished, punished, or even stripped of the right to legal protection — they would just conclude this based on their own notions of refraining from offending other groups….

The case has nothing do with Sharia, and everything to do with the interpretation and application of American Law.

In the US, free speech is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and in most cases, speech that is distasteful, inflammatory, racist, sexist, or even outright hate speech, is usually permitted. However, there are exceptions, including ”fighting words” and “incitement to imminent lawless action.” Though the judge did tell the plaintiff it was his opinion he’d gone way outside the bounds of free speech, this was not the stated reason for dismissing the case.

In response to the controversy, Judge Martin gave a statement clarifying :  ((H/T: Just Stopping By)

This story certainly has legs. As you might imagine, the public is only getting the version of the story put out by the “victim” (the atheist). Many, many gross misrepresentations. Among them: I’m a Muslim, and that’s why I dismissed the harassment charge (Fact: if anyone cares, I’m actually Lutheran, and have been for at least 41 years).

I also supposedly called him and threatened to throw him in jail if he released the tapes he had made in the courtroom without my knowledge/permission (Fact: HE called ME and told me that he was ready to “go public” with the tapes and was wondering what the consequences would be; I advised him again to not disseminate the recording, and that I would consider contempt charges; he then replied that he was “willing to go to jail for (his) 1st amendment rights”- I never even uttered the word “jail” in that conversation).

He said that I kept a copy of the Quran on the bench (fact: I keep a Bible on the bench, but out of respect to people with faiths other than Christianity, I DO have a Quran on the bookcase BESIDE my bench, and am trying to acquire a Torah, Book of Mormon, Book of Confucius and any other artifacts which those with a faith might respect).

He claims that I’m biased towards Islam, apparently because he thinks I’m Muslim. In fact, those of you who know me, know that I’m an Army reservist with 27 years of service towards our country (and still serving). I’ve done one tour in Afghanistan, and two tours in Iraq, and am scheduled to return to Afghanistan for a year this summer. During my first tour in Iraq, I was ambushed once, attacked by a mob once, sniped at once, and rocketed, bombed, and mortared so many times that I honestly don’t know how many time I’ve been attacked. Presumably by Muslim insurgents. My point: if anyone SHOULD be biased towards Muslims, one would think it would be me. I’m not, however, because I personally know or have met many good, decent people who follow Islam, and I shouldn’t characterize the actions of those who tried to kill me as characterizations of all Muslims.

When I asked him why he dressed up as “Muhammad zombie,” he told me that it was because he was reflecting the Muslim belief that Muhammad rose from the dead, walked as a zombie, and then went to heaven. That was one of the reasons I tried to spend 6 whole minutes trying to explain and de-mystify Islam through my own knowledge, and in an attempt to prevent an incident like this recurring in my community. Unfortunately, the message was obviously not received in the vein that I had intended. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I did use the word “doofus,” but didn’t call him that directly; I said something akin to “ if you’re going to mock another religion or culture, you should check your facts, first- otherwise, you’ll look like a doofus.”;

In short, I based my decision on the fact that the Commonwealth failed to prove to me beyond a reasonable doubt that the charge was just; I didn’t doubt that an incident occurred, but I was basically presented only with the victim’s version, the defendant’s version, and a very intact Styrofoam sign that the victim was wearing and claimed that the defendant had used to choke him. There so many inconsistencies, that there was no way that I was going to find the defendant guilty.

A lesson learned here: there’s a very good reason for Rule 112 of Rules of Criminal Procedure- if someone makes an unauthorized recording in a Court not of Record, there’s no way to control how it might be manipulated later, and then passed off as the truth. We’ve received dozens upon dozens of phone calls, faxes, and e-mails. There are literally hundreds of not-so-nice posts all over the internet on at least 4 sites that have carried this story, mainly because I’ve been painted as a Muslim judge who didn’t recuse himself, and who’s trying to introduce Sharia law into Mechanicsburg.

Attempts to link the case to Islamic Law are illogical and absurd, but will no doubt provide convincing “evidence” for those already inclined to believe “creeping sharia” is a genuine threat to America.

However, the case may very well spark a wider debate. The idea that a judge may have sacrificed free speech on the alter of religious and cultural sensitivity is bound to attract attention, especially as Western democracies increasingly grapple with issues of multiculturalism, provocation, and the boundaries of free speech.

**********

The judge’s controversial statements begin in minute 29:

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.

 

Wafa Sultan: A Poseur Playing off of Ignorance to Further Hate

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2009 by loonwatch

Wafa Sultan: A Poseur Playing off of Ignorance to Further Hate

"Atheist Muslim reformer" Wafa Sultan with anti-Muslim loon Pamela Geller
“Atheist Muslim reformer” Wafa Sultan with anti-Muslim loon Pamela Geller

We must begin this profile with a question: Is there a more contemptible poseur than Wafa Sultan who calls herself an atheist but in the same breath also claims to be a Muslim reformer, which would kind of be like Christopher Hitchens calling himself a Christian reformer? It is difficult to answer that question with certainty considering the wide pool of bigots who combine charlatanism with raving and incorrigible insanity. But for sure one thing is certain, she is completely undeserving of the 15 minutes of fame she has succeeded in procuring.

In this sense, Wafa Sultan falls into the same category as Walid Shoebat, Brigitte Gabriel, Nonie Darwish, Kamal Saleem, Zachariah Anani and other self-proclaimed turn coats from their Arab and Muslim identities. As we mentioned before this group attempts to parlay their “otherness,” and so-called “insider knowledge of the Muslim world,” (the “I’ve been there, I know” line) into a cash cow. Meanwhile, we are supposed to be duped into freaking out and running back to them for more “expert” advice brought to us from our loyal friend who ventures into the other side on our behalf.

Sultan is no different, her tale of flight into Islamophobic stardom is a curious and thoroughly modern one. In the beginning of this tale Sultan was invited onto a show hosted by the well known anchorman of AlJazeera’s Opposing Viewpoints (Ittijaah al-Mu’aakas), Faisal Al-Qasim for the purpose of a debate with professor Ibrahim al-Khouly from Al-Azhar on the topic of the Clash of Civilizations and the Clash of Religions. Al-Qasim, brought her onto the show originally after noticing some of her articles on the Arabic website called AnNaqed (The Critic). The New York Times reported that the website was an Islamic reform site, but in actuality it turns out that it is a Christian website,

[T]he web site called Annaqed (www.annaqed.com) she supposedly wrote for before being noticed by Al-Jazeera Television is not an “Islamic reform Web Site” as was reported in the New York Times article, but rather an Arab nationalist blog run by a Syrian Christian who defines it as being “in line with Christian morality and principles.” The site is also replete with anti-Muslim writings.

On the show she supported the thesis of a clash and stated that the conflict between the West and Islam is,

a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another that belongs to the 21st century… a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality.

MEMRI, (Middle East Media Research Institute) which peddles in biased, selective, de-contextualized, error-filled, and misleading translations of news, shows and opinion from Middle East television took the 45 minute show and per its modus operandi chopped up and edited the show into a 5 minute sound bite of Wafa Sultan’s attack on Muslims and Islam. In the process, and without any respect for translational integrity they also attempted to deceptively frame Professor Khouly as proclaiming Sultan a “heretic,” when, as this fully translated transcript shows he did no such thing. Instead Khouly responded to Sultan’s jibes with questions that though we might not agree to the way he frames them are far from irrational or undebatable,

…here we must ask a question, who facilitated the conflict and indeed initiated it; is it the Muslims? Muslims now are in a defensive position fighting off an aggressor… who said Muslims were backward? They may be backward in terms of technological advances, but who said that such are the criteria for humanity?

That is just the beginning of the story, the MEMRI produced video was downloaded to YouTube where it went viral receiving over a million hits and like wild fire the anti-Muslim blogosphere picked it up. Instantly, over night, Sultan was a star. In this consumer age, MEMRI’s rendition of the show gave the public what it wanted to see: a spectacle. It fit in well with the narrative of an oppressed Mooslim woman “finally” standing up for her rights and taking on the world of Islam.

Sultan capitalized on the spotlight she had and with all the ingenuity and creativeness of a con-artist spun a tale which essentially boils down to her “dark days growing up in the barbaric ‘Islamic nation’ of Syria.” A good example of her deception can be gleaned from a recent article she wrote for the neo-conservative website Hudson New York,

As an Arab woman who suffered for three decades living under Islamic Sharia, it is clear to me that Islam’s political ideology and Sharia must be fought relentlessly by Western civilization to prevent its application in a free society. (emphasis added)

This encapsulates the opportunism that motivates Sultan and it also reveals the contempt with which she holds her readers whose intelligence she seeks to insult with such a blatant lie. She attempts to paint her three decades in Syria as a nightmare in which she suffered the brutal force of a Taliban-esque regime that implemented Islamic law on her constantly. The absurdity is only matched by the bravado of her claim, as anyone who cared to check (Wikipidea for instance) could tell you that the regime that ruled Syria had nothing to do with Islam.

The regime in Syria, during much of the time period that Sultan talks about was ruled by the secular, anti-Shariah Ba’athist dictator Hafiz al-Assad who happens to come from the same privileged sect that Sultan was born into: the Alawies. Her allegation is even more obscene considering the fact that Hafiz al-Assad massacred 20,000 villagers in Hama, Syria who were members of the Muslim Brotherhood. One has to ask Sultan, if you were made to suffer for thirty years under Islamic Sharia’, how could you, a woman, have finished your medicine degree at the University of Aleppo? On top of that, would an Islamic Sharia state as horrid as you describe have funded your education for free?

Another good example of her tale of woe is the profile carried by self-described “bad girl of Islam” Asra Nomani in TIME magazine. Asra Nomani, who can’t pen anything without including herself writes,

I connected with her (Sultan’s) anger and pain. She questioned Islam in 1979, when, she says, she witnessed the murder of a professor by men with alleged ties to the ultraconservative Muslim Brotherhood political group.

As to the claim that her professor (thought to be Yusef Al-Yusef) was gunned down before her eyes in a faculty classroom at the University of Aleppo, Halabi said the incident never took place. “There was a professor who was killed around 1979, that is true, but it was off-campus and Sultan was not even around when it happened,” he added.

InFocus contacted the University of Aleppo and spoke to Dr. Riyad Asfari, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, who confirmed Halabi’s account. “Yes, the assassination took place off-campus,” he said. Dr. Asfari was keen to add that no one had ever been killed in a classroom anytime or anywhere at the university.

Syrian expatriate Ghada Moezzin, who attended the University of Aleppo in 1979 as a sophomore, told InFocus that she never heard of the assassination. “We would’ve known about the killing if it had happened,” she said. “It would have been big news on campus and I do not recall ever hearing about it.” Moezzin, who lives in Glendora, Calif., added that government security was always present around the university given the political climate in Syria at the time.

Half-truths and lies corroborate and reveal the true motive behind Sultan’s hate and invective against Islam: money. The article reveals more,

Adnan Halabi*, a Syrian expatriate who met and got to know the Sultans when they first came to the United States, spoke at length about the Wafa Sultan that very few people know.

According to Halabi, Dr. Wafa Ahmad (her maiden name) arrived in California with her husband Moufid (now changed to David) in the late 80s on a tourist visa. Contrary to what she told the New York Times, they came as a couple, leaving their two children back in Syria.

Another source named Nabil Mustafa, also Syrian, told InFocus that he was introduced to Moufid Sultan through a personal friend who knew the family well, and both ended up having tea at the Sultans’ one-bedroom apartment one evening in 1989. It was then that Moufid told Mustafa the story of how he was reunited with his two children. According to Mustafa, Moufid Sultan told him that a short time after they arrived in the country, his wife, Dr. Wafa Sultan, mailed her passport back to her sister Ilham Ahmad in Syria (while the passport still carried a valid U.S. tourist visa). With Ilham bearing a resemblance to her sister Wafa, the plan was to go to the Mexican Embassy in Damascus and obtain a visa to Mexico, making sure that the airline carrier they would book a flight on would have a layover somewhere in the Continental United States.

With an existing U.S. visa on Wafa Sultan’s passport, Ilham Ahmad had no trouble obtaining an entry permit to Mexico. Shortly after, Ilham and Wafa’s two children landed in Houston, Texas. She and the children then allegedly made their way through customs and were picked up by Moufid and brought to California.

Taking advantage of an amnesty law for farmers, the Sultans applied for permanent residency through a Mexican lady who worked as a farm hand. She helped Moufid with the paperwork by claiming he had worked as a farmer for four years. The application went through and the Sultans obtained their green cards.

As incredible as the story sounds, Mustafa told InFocus that to the best of his recollection, this was the exact account he heard from Moufid Sultan. Halabi, who is not acquainted with Mustafa, corroborated the story, which he heard from Dr. Wafa Sultan herself but with fewer details. Dr. Wafa Sultan declined InFocus’ repeated requests to be interviewed or comment on the allegations. InFocus contacted the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to check on the veracity of the story but an official said that they would look into the allegations, which could take months to investigate.

Halabi alleges that Ilham Ahmad lived as illegal resident with her sister Wafa for years until she met an Arab Christian named Khalid Musa Shihadeh whom she ended up marrying (they were married in Nevada on 12/8/1991 and filed for divorce in 2002). It was during that time that Halabi got to know the Sultans well.

Halabi alleges that the Sultans lived in dire poverty. “Their rent was over $1,000 per month and Moufid was only making $800,” he said. Dr. Wafa Sultan was forced to rent out a room in her apartment and work at a pizza parlor in Norwalk, Calif. where a personal friend used to pick her up and drop her off daily. This same friend used to help the Sultans out with groceries and occasionally loaned them money just so they could make it through the month. “It was a serious struggle,” Halabi recalled. “The Sultans lived hand to mouth for years on end.” Further, Halabi said that at no point during the period he knew the family did Sultan ever discuss religion, politics or any topic relevant to her current activities. “She is a smart woman, articulate and forceful, but she never meddled in religion or politics to the extent she is doing now,” Halabi said.

Sultan is not condemned only by Muslims, non-Muslims have come out and strongly condemned her as well.

Sultan’s detractors include not only Muslims but members of the Jewish community as well. In an op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times (June 25, 2006) and titled “Islam’s Ann Coulter,” Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who attended a fundraiser for a local Jewish organization where Sultan was a speaker, wrote, “The more Sultan talked, the more evident it became that progress in the Muslim world was not her interest…. She never alluded to any healthy, peaceful Islamic alternative.”

The rabbi mentioned that Judea Pearl, father of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, “was one of the few voices of restraint and nuance heard that afternoon. In response to Sultan’s assertion that the Koran contains only verses of evil and domination, Pearl said he understood the book also included ‘verses of peace’ that proponents of Islam uphold as the religion’s true intent. The Koran’s verses on war and brutality, Pearl contended, were ‘cultural baggage,’ as are similar verses in the Torah.”

He added, “Sultan’s over-the-top, indefensible remarks at the fundraiser, along with her failure to mention the important, continuing efforts of the Islamic Center (of Southern California), insulted all Muslims and Jews in L.A. and throughout the nation who are trying to bridge the cultural gap between the two groups. And that’s one reason why I eventually walked out of the event.”

The hope is that more and more people like Rabbi Stephen Stein will see Wafa Sultan for who she is: a hateful, opportunistic poseur. The atheist who calls Islam and Muslims “backward and primitive,” “incapable of reform,” the Qur’an as only filled with “evil,” yet can’t see the self-contradiction in her befuddling statements that growing up in secular Syria she “suffered from Islamic Shariah” and “I even don’t believe in Islam, but I am a Muslim.” Go figure.

UPDATE: In retrospect, our piece on Wafa Sultan seems not to have been harsh enough on her hate. In light of recent comments she has made while on her book tour at synagogues and churches, the poseur can properly be renamed, Wafa Stalin Sultan because the atheism that she believes in is propelled by the same genocidal and insane impulses that led another loon, Joseph Stalin.

Atlas Shrugs (read: Pamela Geller on Drugs) made our jobs easy by posting a video clip of Wafa Stalin Sultan going off the deep end. In the video, Sultan is addressing a group at a synagogue in NYC and says,

“I believe King Abdullah can change Islam overnight, but you need to put pressure on him to do it, and the same kind of pressure you put on Japan, you might need it” at that moment someone from the audience interjects and asks, “atom bombs?” Wafa Sultan replies, “Yes. At some point the West will need to do it.” At the end of her speech, she utters something quite strange for an atheist, “God bless you and God bless America.” More charlatanism?

During the question and answer session she divides moderate Muslims into three categories: 1.) a majority, 80% who are unaware of the real teachings of Islam, 2.) huge chunks of them are practicing Taqiyyah, 3.) a very small progressive group who have no effect. All talking points from the far right-wing wing.

The rest of the question and answer session is interesting as well, and pocked full of more and more lies from Wafa Stalin Sultan. Check it out for yourselves.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDeqlwhE2xc 300 250]

This disgusting little woman continues with her fascist fearmongering, she says, “Islam is infiltrating and you are doing nothing about it.” Someone from the audience then asks Sultan, “How would we stop it from infiltrating?” Sultan replies, “Get involved in politics, you have to know the kind of leaders you are choosing.” The man then says, “If we got involved in politics, what would our platform be, what would we say?” Sultan replies quoting Geert Wilders, “Islam is not religion!” The man interrupts and asks, “what would our platform be, what would A, B and C be?” Sultan replies, “the same you dealt with Nazism. The same way, the same exact way. The same way!” To this she receives a big applause from the all too captive audience…”you reversed the Japanese culture, the same, you might need to do it, you might need to do a heavy pressure, I cannot predict the kind of pressure, you understand it, I don’t have to say it.” Quite chilling the way she nonchalantly advocates nuking Muslims.

Sultan also says, “You know Geert Wilders has said if he becomes Prime Minister of Holland he will ban the Quran, I admire him for that.” The audiences glibly agrees with her with mutterings of “yes.” If you want to see how fascism takes hold then watch the video. My only question is how much are these synagogues and churches paying her for her speaking appearances?

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQaix-jM82M 300 250]