Why the New Atheism Isn’t Islamophobic

In the past few weeks, there’s been a barrage of attacks on the so-called New Atheists, accusing them of inciting bigotry against Muslims or of fostering irrational hatred for Islam. This charge has been laid by Murtaza Hussein on Al Jazeera, Nathan Lean on Salon, and Glenn Greenwald on The Guardian, among others.

Now, it’s true that some high-profile New Atheists have made serious missteps when speaking about Islam. But it’s equally true that New Atheism is a freewheeling, disputatious, leaderless movement with a broad diversity of views, and just because we hold someone in esteem doesn’t necessarily mean we agree with all or even most of what they think on issues other than atheism.

The late Christopher Hitchens, for example, made some bloodcurdling and wholly unacceptable warmongering remarks at a conference in 2007. But the other side of this story – not reported by Hussain, by Lane or by Greenwald – is that the audience was seriously upset, and responded with boos, walkouts, and ferocious criticism. Sam Harris has also faced strong criticism and pushback for some ill-chosen remarks about airport profiling.

On the other hand, some of the statements used to condemn New Atheists have been lifted out of context. For example, Hussein criticizes Dawkins’ remark about “Islamic barbarians,” ignoring the fact that Dawkins wasn’t describing Muslims in general, but a specific group of people: the fanatical fundamentalists who conquered part of Mali last year, burning books and smashing historic Sufi tombs in the city of Timbuktu. The epithet “barbarian” is an appropriate term for people who seek to destroy the relics and records of human history, just as with the Taliban who destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

Some of the same points hold for Harris. He’s been accused of supporting torture, when in fact he explicitly argues that it should be illegal, even though there are extreme and admittedly improbable ticking-time-bomb scenarios where it might be the only way to obtain information that would save lives. (This is, as he notes, the same position taken by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) He’s also been accused of cheering the idea of a nuclear first-strike against Islamic countries, when in reality he says this would be an “unthinkable crime,” even if we were compelled to do so as an act of self-defense against a regime of martyrdom-seeking fanatics who acquired a nuclear weapon.

But above and beyond these specific points, the core message of the New Atheists is one that any progressive ought to agree with, namely that no idea is sacred. No belief is above criticism, no matter whether it stems from culture, religion, politics, or science, no matter how old and venerable it is, no matter how many millions of people may believe it or think that questioning it is impolite. The only questions that matter are “Is it supported by the evidence?” and “Is it opposed to human rights?” And if an idea, any idea, fails on both counts, it can and should be thrown out.

Obviously, nothing I say here should be construed as a defense of imperialistic wars against Muslim countries (for the record, both Dawkins and Harris were against the Iraq war). Nor do I seek to justify any policy which entails denying Muslims the same legal and constitutional rights granted to everyone else. But the fact remains that there’s a frightening strain of violent illiberalism in Islam, and often it’s not far from the surface.

As Richard Dawkins points out, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, one of the U.K.’s leading moderate Muslims, favors the death penalty for apostates from Islam (although he says that “it is very seldom enforced,” as if that were a mitigating factor).

Many, even more outrageous incidents come readily to hand. The artist Theo van Gogh, a distant descendant of Vincent, was murdered in the street by a Muslim fanatic for making a film that criticized the treatment of women in Muslim societies. (His friend and collaborator, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was also targeted and still routinely gets death threats.) When the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Mohammed in a show of support for free speech, there were violent riots around the world, a Danish embassy was bombed, and police have broken up several murder plots against the cartoonists (one of whom, Kurt Westergaard, was attacked at home by a man wielding an ax).

And when the firebrand Dutch politician Geert Wilders made an admittedly inflammatory anti-Islam film called Fitna, the kingdom of Jordan sought to have him extradited so he could be prosecuted for violating Jordanian anti-blasphemy laws. No matter what one thinks about the merits of Wilders’ film, this ought to chill the spine of every free-speech advocate, since it would mean that any Islamic country could exercise a veto over any speech anywhere in the world. When the Netherlands refused to extradite Wilders, the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference issued a statement strongly condemning the decision and saying they were “deeply annoyed” by it. The OIC has also been active at the United Nations, pushing hard for international treaties that would outlaw “defamation of religion”.

But it would be misleading to say that the New Atheists are concerned about Western lives above all else. Indeed, what we recognize is that the people who suffer the most from unchecked Islamic fundamentalism are other Muslims (or ex-Muslims). When Islamic theocracies rise to power, it’s their own people they oppress, especially GLBT people and women.

We’ve seen this in Mali and Afghanistan, where a girl was shot in the head for going to school. We’ve seen it in Saudi Arabia, still a cruel theocracy where women are treated as prisoners of men. We’ve seen it in Pakistan, where Taliban incursions in regions like the Swat Valley mean a reign of terror for those living there, and where heroic human-rights advocates like Salman Taseer have been shot down in the street (and mobs cheered his assassin). We’ve seen it in Bangladesh, where a democratic government has arrested atheist bloggers at the instigation of Islamists, who are marching to demand that they be put to death.

We’ve seen it in Egypt, where a nominally democratic government has convicted the atheist blogger Alber Saber of blasphemy, and is prosecuting the renowned satirist Bassem Youssef for “denigrating Islam.” We’ve seen it in the preachers and lawmakers who blame women for the violent sexual assaults committed against them.

We’ve seen this pattern in stable, established democracies as well. In India, angry Muslim mobs have been able to shut down newspapers and get their staff arrested, just for printing editorials in favor of free speech and secularism, by exploiting laws which forbid “acting to outrage religious feelings”. (It should scarcely need saying that laws like this directly incentivize the worst behavior, since they reward people for being irrational and easily angered.) In Indonesia, a soft-spoken civil servant named Alex Aan was beaten and imprisoned for being an atheist. And in Malaysia, the law made it illegal for non-Muslim religious publications to use the word “Allah” under any circumstances, even if that was the correct word for “God” in the writer’s own language. A court ruling which set aside this law under an extremely narrow set of circumstances still provoked rioting, vandalism and firebombing of churches.

As horrendous as all of this is, none of it means that Islam is intrinsically violent in a way that other religions aren’t. (That would be a hard argument to defend, considering that Islam is a theological descendant of Judaism and Christianity, and the Qur’an’s ideas about theocratic monarchy, holy war, hellfire for unbelievers and paradise for the righteous are all based on similar passages in the Bible.)

Rather, it means that at this point in time, at this stage in its historical and cultural development, Islam as a whole hasn’t yet shed the anti-democratic, anti-humanist baggage of its past. Islamic society badly needs an Enlightenment to curb its worst tendencies, just as the historical Enlightenment curbed the worst tendencies of medieval Christianity. The Arab Spring could serve that purpose, but there are worrying signs that religious fanatics are exploiting and hijacking it. And in the meantime, we still have real people suffering under the crush of theocracy; we still have the grave danger of medieval mindsets in control of modern-day weapons.

The New Atheists are speaking out to call attention to this because we care for the welfare of humanity. Contrary to those who assert that culture is immutable and moral progress impossible, we believe that people can be better than this; that if given the chance, they can be persuaded by rational argument to set aside the superstitions that have caused so much unnecessary bloodshed and destruction. We may fail, or we may go astray at times, but I’m confident that the goal at which we aim is a worthy one. Our most ferocious critics ought to consider whether they can say the same, and to ask themselves what end state they’re seeking to bring about.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • L.Long

    Sorry but using xtians as a plan the so called ENLIGHTENMENT is at most a way of islamic or xtian slap down where people in general basically tell them all to take their BS and go to hell. This would produce a majority of moderates that will start looking all sad and picked on. BUT the moderates, the religion, are the main problem because if all the fundies disappeared today, in less then a year the new crop of fundies will be seen growing from the moderate base. I’m not xtian-phobic or islamophobi; I’m religio-phobic. Individual FAITH in BS is one thing, get them gathering together and eventually they will come for you!! Just look at history!

  • Cade DeBois (@lifepostepic)

    Charming display of sober reason and grounded emotions in L.Long’s comment. Not at all reactionary.

    Anyhow…

    “New Atheism is a freewheeling, disputatious, leaderless movement with a broad diversity of views”

    That may be how you see yourselves, but from the outside, it’s anything but. And I’m tired this is game. I’m tired of New Atheism’s “it’s not religiosity because we say it’s not” religiosity. I’m tired of its “we have no leaders because we say we don’t” authoritarianism and fidelity to leaders like Dawkins and Harris. I’m tired to trying to have a discussion with people who simply cannot be honest with themselves about their own belief system and practices and who think they can rewrite the meaning words like reason, skepticism, faith, religion, belief and of course, atheism. It’s so unbelievably self-centered, self-serving, chuavinistic and bigoted. And above all, I’m tired of every criticism being answered with “You don’t know atheism”, which is essentially what all this is. Yeah, nearly a decade of studying philosophy and theology–I actually do know quite a bit about atheism, and about bigotry and bullshit too.

    Dismissing entire groups of people because of their perspective and thus demeaning them as inherently unreasonable, superstitious, unreliable or intellectually inferior to you is bigtory. That’s the definition of bigotry. Dismissing an ongoing scrutiny by critics as simply not understanding you rather than an opportunity for dialogue, growth and introspection–that’s just juveniles. The title of this should have been “You don’t know my world!!!”

    I was hoping that this recent wave of criticism would have clued same of you in, that some of you could exercise the reason and logic you so piously claim to adhere to. Again, I’m disappointed. Instead of realizing that the same bad thinking, defense of privilege and chauvinism that spawns the misogyny that is so prevelent among atheist cricles is at the root of this too. Well, a few of you are–and for it, Dawkins and his Dawkinites mock them like a pack of insecure 8th graders and people like you play “Hey, look over there!” in the hopes that the rest of us won’t see what is right in front of our eyes. Oh so tedious and sad.

    Also, I had to note this gem

    “This is, as he notes, the same position taken by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.”

    LOL. So, is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy the New Atheist’s Talmud now or something? You New Athiests kill me.

  • Bdole

    I think you could successfully argue from their holy texts that Christianity has the least material to justify violence compared to Islam or Judaism. The other two religions arose in the context of theocracies while Christianity arose as a sect of a religion that had little political power within the Roman empire. Much of the violence of Christians in the past could be argued AGAINST using their own New Testament.
    However, the major exception is the doctrine of hell, which makes it necessary by any means possible to convert people, similar to the way the US undertook some of the bloodiest wars to prevent the spread of communism. The “eternal” consequences of allowing populations to become Muslim or non-Christian definitely could motivate war, even though not explicitly endorsed by the New Testament writers (whoever they may have been).
    Any time state and church merge, it’s bad for everyone. England today would seem to be a counterexample, but the curch doesn’t make laws, it’s simply the state church, like a state bird or state flower. It doesn’t seem to have any official policy making or legislative power-kind of like their royalty, a relic of a less enlightened past. Maybe an English person could correct me about that.

    The upshot of all this is that I doubt Islam can or ever will be tamed, except through loss of faith. Violence is in its DNA. If Israelis don’t start imperial wars to stake out a “greater” Israel whose borders are specified by “Moses” and others, and if they don’t oppress the Christians and Muslims within their borders it’s only because the vast majority of them don’t actually believe in their prophets of old.

  • trucreep

    I’m constantly seeing the actual problem either being missed or ignored here on the Atheist channel. No one is saying criticism of Islam is Islamaphobia, and Greenwald in particular has expressly said as much, and I think everyone agrees that no idea is sacred. The main problem they’re pointing out is that they’re using it as an excuse to condone fucked up shit the US does to Muslim countries. All from the perspective of “helping the people.” Hussein explains this perfectly on Harris’s Facebook page.

  • MNb

    “Is it supported by the evidence?” and “Is it opposed to human rights?”
    As a Dutchman I can tell you that Ayaan Hirshi Ali didn’t always care about these questions when islam was the subject. As I have lost sight of her – in The Netherlands she’s not relevant anymore, not even for the 30% unbelievers – I don’t know if that still is the case.
    Point is: you give a fine example of a New Atheist who suffered from islamofobia indeed. That obviously doesn’t justify in any way the death threats she receives.

    “We’ve seen this pattern in stable, established democracies as well.”
    I don’t think India and Indonesia belong to this category.

    “Islamic society badly needs an Enlightenment”
    The nice thing is that that already happened with the muslim minorities in Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname. These countries have racial issued, but not religious ones.

  • MNb

    “I’m tired of its “we have no leaders because we say we don’t””
    So CadeDeBois replaces it by “Dawkins and Harris are the leaders of New Atheism because I say so”. Great.
    I have news for you. I dislike The God Delusion and I’m not the only Atheist, New or Old-School (not that there is any difference in my eyes; Dutchies like Domela Nieuwenhuis and Anton Constandse were just as radical 100 years ago).

  • http://Disqus Obliged_Cornball

    “But above and beyond these specific points, the core message of the New Atheists is one that any progressive ought to agree with, namely that no idea is sacred. No belief is above criticism, no matter whether it stems from culture, religion, politics, or science, no matter how old and venerable it is, no matter how many millions of people may believe it or think that questioning it is impolite. The only questions that matter are “Is it supported by the evidence?” and “Is it opposed to human rights?” And if an idea, any idea, fails on both counts, it can and should be thrown out.”

    Ah! So human rights themselves must be among the ideas that are not “sacred” – at least in the sense that their particulars (or even their existence!) must be challengeable on rational grounds. And of course there’s your standard of believing things according to evidence – an idea that I would argue *should* be sacred, but allegedly still can’t be under the “New Atheist” code. Now, none of this means that we should go back to the excess dogmas of religion, but the very idea that we can judge some ideas as better than others presumes some kind of fixed standard for assessing the value of an idea. I argue that this standard must be independent of religion (if religionists and atheists alike are to avoid circular reasoning) – and that it entails something similar to the things you describe as tenets of the New Atheism. However, let’s not pretend that these things are mutable – I certainly wouldn’t want to entertain someone’s “non-dogmatic” assertion that we should “leave open the possibility” of belief without any evidence (LOL).

  • Adjel

    The word means “irrational fear of Islam.” Our fear of Islam is not irrational at all.

  • Quath

    Cade DeBois, there are not any real leaders of Atheism just like there are no real leaders of Science. There are prominent people who stand up and talk about it, but there is no dogma or people who must be followed. Instead it is about the ideas. You either accept the ideas or not. It doesn’t matter who said them.

    When I have to deal with Islam in any kind of argument, I find myself on both sides of the issue. They think just like Christians (but without as many denominations to choose from). So I defend they are no better or worse than Christians. But at the same time, they believe in similar crazy things that Christians believe in.

  • GCT

    @Obliged_Cornball,
    Oh FFS. Do we really have to play the stupid game of, “You said there are no absolutes, but that’s an absolute, so ha ha?”

    No, those things are not sacred…nothing is. We use evidence and reason to guide our decisions and beliefs because they work. The scientific method works. Faith does not work, so we discard it.

    Now, none of this means that we should go back to the excess dogmas of religion, but the very idea that we can judge some ideas as better than others presumes some kind of fixed standard for assessing the value of an idea.

    No, it does not presume a “fixed standard.” I can judge some ideas better than others based on rationality, reason, evidence, etc. If the evidence changes, then I change my conclusion accordingly.

  • Quath

    Obliged_Cornball: Questioning humans rights is perfectly acceptable. You would need some good arguments and should be aware of the arguments for human rights. For example, you could make a case for human rights out of a selfish desire to live life as comfortable as possible. Therefore, you will compromise with society to make it as fair for all because such a place makes the world better for you. Or you could justify it as a biological desire to help others like you. Or you could justify it through the human feeling of empathy.

    So feel free to question it.

  • Adjel

    The word “Islamophobic” means irrational fear of Islam. Our fear is not irrational.

  • GCT

    @Cade DeBois,

    That may be how you see yourselves, but from the outside, it’s anything but.

    And, apparently as a hated minority we are not allowed self-expression or self-determination. No, we shall be defined by you. You get the final say on what we actually do, think, believe, etc.

    And I’m tired this is game. I’m tired of New Atheism’s “it’s not religiosity because we say it’s not” religiosity.

    Please explain how rejection of faith and rejection of religion is tantamount to religiosity.

    I’m tired of its “we have no leaders because we say we don’t” authoritarianism and fidelity to leaders like Dawkins and Harris.

    Well, if you actually read the OP for comprehension, you would have noticed that we criticize Dawkins and Harris when we disagree with them. But, hey, that would be hard to explain and hold onto your religiously privileged view of atheists.

    I’m tired to trying to have a discussion with people who simply cannot be honest with themselves about their own belief system and practices and who think they can rewrite the meaning words like reason, skepticism, faith, religion, belief and of course, atheism.

    Yes, it must be hard being the privileged majority that knows what us stupid, naive, and dishonest hated minority members really think. We are either too stupid or too dishonest to understand that not having a belief system is the same as having a belief system. That not engaging in religious practices is the same as engaging in religious practices. That using the correct definitions of reason, skepticism, faith, religion, belief, and atheism is actually wrong, wrong, wrong as soon as a religiously privileged bigot says so. Oh, please master, please come and show us all how stupid and dishonest we are. Please throw your infinitely valuable pearls before us swine.

    It’s so unbelievably self-centered, self-serving, chuavinistic and bigoted. And above all, I’m tired of every criticism being answered with “You don’t know atheism”, which is essentially what all this is. Yeah, nearly a decade of studying philosophy and theology–I actually do know quite a bit about atheism, and about bigotry and bullshit too.

    Yes, you do seem to know quite a bit about bigotry…only not in the way you seem to think.

    Dismissing entire groups of people because of their perspective and thus demeaning them as inherently unreasonable, superstitious, unreliable or intellectually inferior to you is bigtory.

    Which is what you are doing right now, only you are doing it to a hated minority from a privileged position. But, I’m sure you already knew that seeing as how you’re an expert on what does and does not constitute bigotry, right?

    Dismissing an ongoing scrutiny by critics as simply not understanding you rather than an opportunity for dialogue, growth and introspection–that’s just juveniles.

    Considering that you don’t seem to know what you’re talking about in regards to what atheism is, it’s hard to take you seriously when you whine about how juvenile we are for not simply taking the abuse that you have directed at us.

    I was hoping that this recent wave of criticism would have clued same of you in, that some of you could exercise the reason and logic you so piously claim to adhere to.

    Yeah, I know right? I mean, who cares if they quote mine and take things out of context so long as they stick it to those goddamned atheists who are a bunch of ignorant dishonest little shits that can’t hope to ever polish the jackboots of the glorious privileged class.

    Again, I’m disappointed. Instead of realizing that the same bad thinking, defense of privilege and chauvinism that spawns the misogyny that is so prevelent among atheist cricles is at the root of this too.

    Because, that makes total sense. Yes, the people who use reason, rationality, and evidence to reject misogyny must clearly be guilty of not using reason, rationality, and evidence in all other areas of their lives. Truly, I don’t want to be involved in a land war in Asia…wait, are you Sicilian by any chance? If so, I’m glad these are comments on a blog and death is not truly on the line.

    Well, a few of you are–and for it, Dawkins and his Dawkinites mock them like a pack of insecure 8th graders and people like you play “Hey, look over there!” in the hopes that the rest of us won’t see what is right in front of our eyes.

    What is right in front of our eyes is your blatant atheophobic bigotry and religious privilege. Too bad you can’t see it.

    LOL. So, is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy the New Atheist’s Talmud now or something? You New Athiests kill me.

    I do so love when some religious bigot makes a crack like this which shows that they haven’t the faintest idea what they are criticizing (or don’t care because they hope other bigots will simply assume that they are sticking it to those stupid atheists) and also one that indirectly shows how bad religion is by basically saying atheism is bad because it’s comparable to religion. But, far be it from me to make a blanket statement like, “You theists kill me,” because that would actually be a bit bigoted to make blanket statements like that, even if it is against the majority in an uneven power relationship. But, I see that hasn’t stopped our intrepid Cade DeBois, who is not afraid to let that atheophobic bigot flag fly proudly. Good on ya’.

    TL:DR version (Cade is a bigot and is pretty brazen about it).

  • Infophile

    On the other hand, some of the statements used to condemn New Atheists have been lifted out of context. For example, Hussein criticizes Dawkins’ remark about “Islamic barbarians,” ignoring the fact that Dawkins wasn’t describing Muslims in general, but a specific group of people: the fanatical fundamentalists who conquered part of Mali last year, burning books and smashing historic Sufi tombs in the city of Timbuktu. The epithet “barbarian” is an appropriate term for people who seek to destroy the relics and records of human history, just as with the Taliban who destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

    Your privilege is showing here, Adam. The word “barbarian” has a long history of being used to dismiss and degrade people of other cultures, and is commonly seen as a slur. Imagine a parallel statement: “He wasn’t describing black people in general, he was describing black people who yell things at the screen in movie theaters, for whom the N-word is a perfectly acceptable term.” Does that sound incredibly racist to you? Now imagine how it feels to a resident of Mali who’s heard their whole country and people frequently described as barbarians, to hear a qualification like this.

  • Improbable Joe

    Yeah, it is a shame that real and valid criticism of Islam is derailed by irrational fear and hatred of Muslims. No, Islam is not an existential threat to the West. No, Muslims and/or Arabs are not more prone to violence than people of other religions/regions. It is especially ridiculous coming from Americans, with our larger-than-everyone-else military budget and preponderance of gun nuts, to claim that OTHER cultures are especially violent. Iraqis didn’t kill hundreds of thousands of Americans and destroy America’s infrastructure. Muslims aren’t conducting daily bombing runs on Western countries with drones. Islamic countries have terrible human rights records, and the West does too. We’ve got religious-based child rape too, we torture people too. Our hands aren’t remotely clean either.

    Especially when you correct for social and economic factors, making a special big deal out of Muslims (as compared to other groups) is absolutely irrational, and more a sign of bigotry than anything else.

  • JA

    When will we stop referring to murderers/terriorists as “Radical Muslims” and call them what they really are: “Devout Muslims”?

  • JA

    Please give a definition of “New Atheist”.a

    As an Atheist, I do not accept any “gods” as real. That’s that.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    I for one have been enjoying the Greenwald/Harris dispute from the sidelines. Two narcissists with legions of online enablers. they deserve each other. Harris, Dawkins et al are no more representative of the average New Atheist as Greenwald is representative of the average thoughtful liberal.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani J. Sharmin

    The thing of it is that religion, unlike many other things for which people are also discriminated against, is a belief system or ideology, a person can actually disagree with a person’s religion without discrimination. Hence, all of the argument about if something in particular was really discrimination or just disagreement. As often happens with these articles concerning the Islamophobia among “New Atheists,” I find myself agreeing that some of the examples cited are discriminatory while disagreeing about others.

    I think discrimination against Muslims is an issue in society, and that is of course going to also be in atheism, since atheists are living in the same society as everyone else. The way it often shows is that there are atheists who advocate actions against Muslims (like profiling) that they wouldn’t advocate against Christians or other religions, even though they say that they are not singling out any one religion. And this undermines the whole idea of caring about human rights violations committed by religion, because it suggests that Muslims don’t have the option of equal rights; it suggests the best they can hope for is to be protected from harm by other Muslims by being discriminated against by non-Muslims. I agree with you, Adam, that part of the point is caring about human rights for everyone (and I’m glad that many people were against Harris’s suggested profiling) … but there are atheists who seem concerned only about protecting themselves against Islam, with no concern for how their suggested tactics affect Muslims or others living in majority-Muslim countries. I don’t think this discriminatory view is more common among atheists vs. the rest of the population, and it’s certainly not some doctrine of atheism or whatever … but it is an issue.

    I think Infophile makes a good point on the “barbarians” thing. The word is used all too often to refer to entire groups of people, so I understand that its use can cause suspicion of a person’s motives. Plus, it’s an example of how certain people (including certain atheists) are eloquent and in-depth when talking about lots of other topics (in the case of Dawkins, about evolution and even about the Bible) will make short, simplistic, statements when talking about Islam.

    As a side note, the comments along the lines of “fear of Islam is rational due to the contents of Islam” are getting old. Look, I don’t particularly like the word “Islamophobia” either, but it’s being used as a shorthand for discrimination against Muslims, not disagreement with the doctrines of Islam. If someone calls something “Islamophobic” and I don’t think it’s an example of discrimination against Muslims, I say so. I try not to sidestep the issue of discrimination against Muslims by intentionally misunderstanding what the other person’s trying to say.

  • Adam Lee

    @Cade DeBois:

    Dismissing entire groups of people because of their perspective and thus demeaning them as inherently unreasonable, superstitious, unreliable or intellectually inferior to you is bigtory. That’s the definition of bigotry.

    No, actually, it’s not. Dismissing people because of, say, their skin color, or their gender, or their ethnic background, is bigotry. Dismissing or criticizing people because of their perspective – in other words, because of their ideas – is not bigotry. The rest of your vague and confused criticism vanishes once this point is corrected.

    @Bdole:

    England today would seem to be a counterexample, but the curch doesn’t make laws, it’s simply the state church, like a state bird or state flower. It doesn’t seem to have any official policy making or legislative power-kind of like their royalty, a relic of a less enlightened past.

    Ha! That’s a great line, although not 100% true – the Church of England has guaranteed representation in the House of Lords. In my understanding, they can’t actually block legislation that way, but they can do a lot to slow it down and/or gum up the process.

    @Obliged_Cornball:

    Ah! So human rights themselves must be among the ideas that are not “sacred” – at least in the sense that their particulars (or even their existence!) must be challengeable on rational grounds.

    Yes, of course. The nature, scope and extent of human rights is an area that can be debated, and frequently is. What on earth made you think I would say otherwise?

  • Improbable Joe

    @Adam Lee:
    You said “Dismissing people because of, say, their skin color, or their gender, or their ethnic background, is bigotry. Dismissing or criticizing people because of their perspective – in other words, because of their ideas – is not bigotry.”

    That’s not quite fair or rational. It is fair and rational to dismiss ideas. It is even fair to dismiss people’s opinions when they make claims based on the ideas that are fairly dismissed. BUT! It is bigotry to dismiss people across the whole spectrum of human experience because they hold specific ideas that can be dismissed.

    Specifically: You don’t dismiss your doctor or dentist or lawyer or surveyor or car mechanic because they are a Christian. So how can you say that you can dismiss a whole people in their entirety for their beliefs?

  • GCT

    Agreed with Improbable Joe.

    Is it not bigotry when people paint all atheists with the same broad brush strokes to call us all immoral monsters, Stalins in waiting, and other such nonsense?

  • David Hart

    If I may wade in, I suspect we may be dealing with different senses of ‘dismissing’.
    It is one thing to ‘dismiss’ the entirety of a person, to say that they have no value to society, or cannot be right about anything. It is another to dismiss their views on a particular subject or range of subjects, if those views stem from an ideological framework that has not once in centuries of trying been proven to correspond to reality.
    Someone who believes in gods, or the power of prayer, or souls, simply is superstitious, and it’s not bigotry to say that the overwhelming evidence points to the conclusion that they’re talking nonsense when they talk on those subjects.

  • NIklaus Pfirsig

    Adam,
    The new Atheism is not Islamophobic, but it seems that many of the new Atheists are.
    Islamophobes fear Islamism, a political movement that seeks to establish governments based on extreme interpretations of Islamic law.

    Please keep in mind that Islamism has equivalents in both Christinality(Dominionism) and Judaism(Zionism). All of these “isms are founded on the same precepts.
    1. Most people are too self interested, too selfish and too undisiplined to act in the best interest of society.
    2. Because of reason #1, Democracy is doomed to fail because it lacks structure, and because laws agreed on by men lack the morality conferred by , and as such are destined to fail.
    3. People will best be governed by the laws of God as revealed by the prophets and interpreted by the clerics of

    The really weird part in my view is that these three major theocratic movements( Dominionist, Islamist, and Zionist) are based on the same holy books, and the only real difference lies in the names and languages. They all have the basic belief that making the church synonymous with the government will result in a virtuous government, but history has shown that theocracies result in a corrupt church and not a virtuous state.

    Islamophobes fear and hate Islamist governments and extend their animosity to all followers of Islam on the prejudiced on the mistaken belief that all Muslims are Islamists who want to force their theo-political system on the world.

    If you read through the rhetoric of New Atheists on Islam, you will notice they harp on and on and on about the evil actions of the Saudi government, or the atrocities in Darfur and other countries and imply that all of Islam is represented by the actions of these theocrats. This is akin to claiming all Christians as Snake handling white supremacists because the KKK makes Christian claims.
    In the US, there are all levels of Christians. Some almost never go to church, some attend two or three times per week. Some consider the bible as a guide to making difficult decisions, some have never actually read it and others think it entirely true.
    I know several Muslims, Two are coworkers, some are friends some are neighbors. Some of them are devout, taking part in all the ceremonies and observing the strict rules of diet and cleanliness, others could be called Muslims in name only. Some hold very high family values others don’t. A few years ago, one was arrested as a terrorist. He was the one that avoided the neighbors and kept to himself.
    When anyone stereotypes people by extending the actions of the worst of the worst as exemplary of the entire group, that is about as bigoted as you can get.

  • Adam Lee

    Specifically: You don’t dismiss your doctor or dentist or lawyer or surveyor or car mechanic because they are a Christian. So how can you say that you can dismiss a whole people in their entirety for their beliefs?

    Well, of course. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t trust a Muslim doctor to diagnose an illness because he believes that Mohammed took dictation from an angel and flew to heaven on a winged horse. People of all faiths are capable, in most circumstances, of compartmentalizing their absurd beliefs from their everyday lives. But there are times where a person’s religious beliefs govern their choices – when their decisions come specifically from their perspective as a Muslim believer (or a Christian believer, or a Hindu believer, or whatever), and if their beliefs aren’t grounded in reality, then those choices shouldn’t be considered reasonable or worth emulating.

    It is another to dismiss their views on a particular subject or range of subjects, if those views stem from an ideological framework that has not once in centuries of trying been proven to correspond to reality.

    Thanks, David! That’s exactly what I was getting at.

  • Michael R

    This article is an embarrassment to the rationality community. How can the author know so much about current events yet devote one paragraph to the doctrine of Islam? It defies belief.
    http://fjordman.blogspot.com.au/2005/09/islam-is-most-warlike-religion.html
    “Islamic texts encourage terror and fighting to a far larger degree than the original texts of other religions, concludes Tina Magaard. She has a PhD in Textual Analysis and Intercultural Communication from the Sorbonne in Paris, and has spent three years on a research project comparing the original texts of ten religions. “The texts in Islam distinguish themselves from the texts of other religions by encouraging violence and aggression against people with other religious beliefs to a larger degree. There are also straightforward calls for terror. This has long been a taboo in the research into Islam, but it is a fact that we need to deal with,” says Tina Magaard. Moreover, there are hundreds of calls in the Koran for fighting against people of other faiths. “If it is correct that many Muslims view the Koran as the literal words of God, which cannot be interpreted or rephrased, then we have a problem. It is indisputable that the texts encourage terror and violence. Consequently, it must be reasonable to ask Muslims themselves how they relate to the text, if they read it as it is” says Tina Magaard.”
    ——-
    Can the author really see no difference between Muhammad, Jesus and the Budda? Let me give you a clue: one of them was a warlord and the others weren’t.
    The only possible way to equate Islam with other religions is to deny Islamic doctrine and history. And that’s exactly what the author does. It’s patently obvious that the Islamic doctrine of jihad and martyrdom is the key difference between nutters and bombers.
    If the author refuses to discuss Islam, he should stop using the word, because he’s not talking about Islam AT ALL. He’s talking about Muslims, which are instances of Muhammad, the archetype. It’s like talking about disease while excluding the subject of genetics. Cause and effect. Doctrine and behaviour.
    Embarrassing.
    A Rational Study of Radical Islam, by Dr. Bill Warner:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9sYgqRtZGg

  • Azkyroth

    Damn it, I’m tired. Can someone else take out the trash tonight?

  • NoCrossNoCrescent

    What a silly rant, all full of straw man arguments. As for calling large groups of people wrong when they are wrong, well, that is what happens, and their numbers don’t change the fact that they are wrong. The only reason not to call them wrong is political correctness.
    By the way do you ask if an encyclopedia is the equivalent of the Talmud every time one is quoted?

  • NoCrossNoCrescent

    Hm. So it was the fault of the US when the Taliban shot Malala in the face?

  • Deanjay1961

    Given that the US supplied Afghanistan with pro-fundamentalist children’s textbook into the nineties, we actually did have something to do with it. Afghanistan would be much better off today if the Soviets had succeeded in keeping it communist and we had not supplied the Mujahadeen. The US is one of the parents of the Taliban.


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