Archive for New Atheism

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….

Anti-Muslim and Faux Liberal Sam Harris to Debate Dr. Robert Pape Soon?

Posted in Feature, Loon People with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2012 by loonwatch

Sam Harris, considered one of the “four horsemen” (now perhaps the “three horsemen” after the death of Christopher Hitchens) of the cult of new age atheism may be set to debate Dr. Robert Pape, or so he claims on his website:

Almost invariably, I am urged to read the work of Robert A. Pape. Pape is the author of a very influential paper, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism” (American Political Science Review 97, no. 3, 2003), and the book Dying to Win, in which he argues that suicide bombing is best understood as a strategic means to achieve certain well-defined nationalist goals and should not be considered a consequence of religious ideology. No one has done more to convince my fellow liberals that if we just behaved ourselves on the world stage, our problems with Islam would go away. I am happy to say that Pape has agreed to discuss these issues with me on this page in the coming weeks. Stay tuned…

I don’t believe Sam Harris belongs on the same stage or platform with Pape discussing these issues. He has no study in the field of “suicide terrorism,” he is a novice going up against an academic who has researched and critically analyzed the issue from various angles, and whose work has been the subject of intense scrutiny and peer review.

The tone and tenor in which Harris discusses his possible future encounter with Pape is revelatory in the sense that it exposes the fact that Harris’s mind is already made up. He is not interested in a real dialogue or conversation nor does he seem to be open to the possibility of changing his mind. Harris, like all dogmatists, has already arrived at his conclusion, he is entrenched in his belief that suicide terrorism is largely, if not completely a “consequence of religious ideology.” This is mostly the case because “suicide terrorism” being linked to religious ideology is vital to his claim that Islam is “uniquely” violent and should be held to a different level of scrutiny than other religions.

This recalls a prescient point Reza Aslan made in his interview with us when questioned about his encounter with Sam Harris:

There is no doubt Sam Harris is a smart guy, he has a PhD in neuro-science. You can be a smart guy and be ignorant about particular topics and issues. The problem with Sam Harris is that he tends to write about the things he is ignorant about, (laughs) I think Sam Harris should stick to writing about neuro-science, I think his last book was great. When Sam Harris writes about neuro-science, in other words his expertise, I think it’s great, I love reading his work. When he talks about religion, a topic he knows nothing about, that he’s never studied as an academic discipline, that he’s done no field research in whatsoever, and in which he frankly is unqualified to opine about, that’s the problem. I don’t write about nero-Science because I’m not a neuro-scientist.

Either way, it seems Pape has accepted Harris’s request to debate and it will be interesting to see the correspondence between the two. For Harris it may turn into a similar humiliation as the one he received when going head-to-head with Scott Atran:

******************************************

Lastly, I want to say a few words about the article in which Harris reveals he may be debating Pape. Harris titled the article, Islam and the Future of Liberalism, in it he essentially repeats many of his common, uncritical, and by now, well worn attacks on Islam and Muslims.

Like the predictable Islamophobe that he is, he illustrates his post with this image:

Orientalism 101 anyone?

Yes Sam, Afghan women in burqas is a really great way to illustrate the “threat” of  liberalism accommodating “evil Islam.” Can somebody send Harris, Edward Said‘s Covering Islam? He’s got some readin’ to do.

Harris writes,

I appear to have left many viewers with the impression that I believe we invaded Afghanistan for the purpose of rescuing its women from the Taliban. However, the points I was actually making were rather different: I think that abandoning these women to the Taliban is one of the things that make our inevitable retreat from Afghanistan ethically problematic. I also believe that wherever we can feasibly stop the abuse of women and girls, we should. An ability to do this in places like Afghanistan, and throughout the world, would be one of the benefits of having a global civil society and a genuine regime of international law.

Here is another instance of Harris posturing as an expert on an issue that he is wholly unprepared to discuss, mostly due to his lack of understanding.

Here are some facts for Sam to ponder: 1.) Afghanistan is a tribally based culture, following tribal customs and norms that are ingrained within society and which formed over thousands of years, you are not going to transform that over night, and you are definitely not going to do so with ‘smart bombs’ 2.) Who did the US replace the Taliban with? Northern Alliance war lords, many of whom are the most egregious violators TO THIS DAY of women’s rights. When they ruled before the Taliban child rape was endemic, as it has become once again today. 3.) Changing attitudes towards women can only happen from within society, unless Harris is advocating the removal of women and girls from their husbands, fathers and brothers? Oh wait, he has pondered such stupidity in the past.

Harris is not finished with the inanities, he writes,

Recent events in Afghanistan demonstrate, yet again, that ordinary Afghans grow far more incensed when a copy of the Qur’an gets defaced than when their own children are accidentally killed by our bombs—or intentionally murdered. I doubt there is a more ominous skewing of priorities to be found in this world.

Excuse me for how inarticulate I am about to become, but this must be said: Sam Harris is a S**THEAD. Harris dehumanizes Afghans, to him they are a bunch of dirty savages who cannot even properly mourn or balance their outrage. Regardless of what Harris says, yes, Afghans are very upset that they are being occupied and murdered by an invading foreign nation. The recent protests were not only in response to Qur’an burnings as Harris would have us believe, but as we noted: the murder, maiming and jailing of innocent Afghan civilians!

Harris continues the Islamophobic, anti-Muslim drivel in the rest of the article. He pushes the myth about the silent “millions” of moderate Muslims who are too “afraid” to speak out against violence in the name of their faith. He says that he finds the concept of a Jewish State “obnoxious,” but he immediately contradicts himself writing, “But if ever a state organized around a religion was justified, it is the Jewish state of Israel, given the world’s propensity for genocidal anti-Semitism.”

Profound double standards but that is something Harris has in common with the rest of his Islamophobic buddies in the anti-Muslim movement and hence comes as no surprise.

US Atheist Group Targets Muslims and Jews

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2012 by loonwatch

Atheist  Billboard

American Atheists has taken aim at Muslims and Jews with new billboards in Arabic and Hebrew. While atheists should be absolutely free to compete in the marketplace of ideas just like everyone else, this group isn’t merely offering an alternative to religion.

Despite their presumed appreciation for rational skepticism, the group appears to have been taken in by so-called “ex-Muslim” and confirmed loon, Ibn Warraq, and their negative portrayal of Islam sounds like it was cut-and-paste from a far right anti-Muslim hate site.

US atheist group targets Muslims and Jews

by Bob Pitt, Islamophobia Watch

CNN reports that the American Atheists organisation are targeting Muslim and Jewish communities with billboards in Arabic and Hebrew describing God as a “myth”.

Warraq and GellerPamela Geller and Ibn Warraq

“We are not trying to inflame anything,” American Atheists president Dave Silverman is quoted as saying. “We are trying to advertise our existence to atheists in those communities. The objective is not to inflame but rather to advertise the atheist movement in the Muslim and Jewish community.”

Yeah, right.

American Atheists, you may recall, is the organisation involved in the “Zombie Muhammad” case, in which one of their members claimed that he was assaulted by a Muslim during a Halloween parade. After the case was dimissed because of lack of supporting evidence, American Atheists expressed outrage that the judge had refused to take the word of a white American over that of a “Muslim immigrant”.

The American Atheists website features a long essay attacking Islam and Muslims which the authors state is “greatly dependent upon the excellent books written or compiled by Ibn Warraq”. It contains passages like these:

Mohammedans prefer to be called Muslims – a term derived from the Arabic ’aslama, meaning ‘to resign oneself [to Allah]‘. They prefer their religion to be called Islam (from Arabic ’islam, meaning ‘submission’) rather than Mohammedanism. Most western scholars have gone along with this, rather than risk the wrath of purportedly peaceful members of ‘the third great Abrahamic faith’. Nevertheless, Mohammedanism seems to be a perfectly appropriate name for a religion which currently poses so great a threat to secular civilizations throughout the world….

Despite the occasionally tolerant references in the Qur’an to “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians in addition to Muslims), the non-Muslims need to be eliminated. Convert them or kill them, or make them pay a religious ransom to continue the private practice of their religion. (Of necessity, Muslims must reject the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.) Atheists and Agnostics, who deny the reality of Allah, are also wicked blasphemers. They need to be eliminated also. It is preferable to kill them.

True, the authors go on to state that intolerance is “a natural attribute of all monotheistic religions”. However, no extended essay can be found on the American Atheists site attacking Christianity and Christians in equally vitriolic terms.

But this has become a distinguishing feature of the so-called “new atheism”. The legitimate secular objective of separating church and state has been sidelined in favour of attacking minority ethno-religious communities, and Muslims in particular, often employing language which is indistinguishable from that of the racist right.