Islamophobia and (some?) New Atheists

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by Neil Godfrey

Disclaimer: this post expresses my own view entirely. Others who also have posted on this blog may or may not think quite differently.


Time to get dirty hands and write about something important. Something unhealthy has been happening in the name of criticizing “tenets of religious belief . . . bad ideas and behaviors.” Prominent public intellectuals, in the name criticizing harmful religious beliefs, have become mouthpieces for ignorance and intolerance.

Just as it is incumbent upon Muslims to marginalise their own violent extremists, mainstream atheists must work to disavow those such as Harris who would tarnish their movement by associating it with a virulently racist, violent and exploitative worldview.Murtaza Hussain

Jerry Coyne, who has written probably one of the best books for generalists arguing the case for evolution, and whose blog I check from time to time for updates in the sciences, also from time to time posts disturbingly ignorant articles about Islam or Palestinians. Richard Dawkins, whom I respect and love as much as anyone does for his publications explaining evolution, was not very long ago interviewed by a Muslim on Al Jazeera and unashamedly threw off all his scientific training by relying entirely on anecdotal and media portrayals of Muslims. I have previously criticized Sam Harris for doing worse. Chris Hitchens, as much as I admire his works on Kissinger and Mother Teresa and his all-round wit, was guilty, too.

Over the last few days Jerry Coyne has been posting his disapproval of anyone suggesting his views on Islam (shared by the other names above) are Islamophobic. See Nasty atheist-bashing in Salon, Playing the Islamophobic Card and New Attacks on New Atheists (and one defense). He accuses such critics of quoting the likes of Harris out of context, of not defining what they mean by Islamophobia, of fallaciously accusing them of guilt by association with neo-fascists, and worst of all, of failing to address any of their actual criticisms of the Muslim religion.

After reading the several articles and related links to which Coyne and Harris have been responding (Scientific racism, militarism, and the new atheists; Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens: New Atheists flirt with Islamophobia) I believe that Coyne’s rebuttals do not stand. Coyne, Harris and Dawkins, for all their intellectual magnificence in other fields, are fanning social attitudes that facilitate bigotry and popular support for war.

Why are their criticisms of the Muslim religion wrong?

I am an atheist. I have experienced some of the best and worst of religion. I wish for a world where humanity has discovered that religion is long past its “use by” date. I believe that the Abrahamic religions in particular are responsible for immeasurable sufferings and torments among societies and individuals. I have no time for their belief systems. The sooner we all outgrow our awe of our holy books the better. (None of this means I believe in attacking individuals for their beliefs. There is a difference between criticizing belief systems and targeting individuals over their personal faith.)

I have compared different varieties of Christianity today with the various drugs on the market. Vapid Anglicanism is a mild aspirin. Happy Pentecostals are the happy marijuanas. I know of a few cults that are the deadly heroins. (They really do reduce addicts to ill health, poverty, anti-social life-styles and death, literally. Suicides, untreated illness, ignorance within and without the cults.)

I would not be surprised if I ever learned that I could do the same with the faiths of Judaism and Islam.

I have read several criticisms of Christianity and of its worst mutations, the fundamentalists and cultists: Churches That Abuse, Combatting Cult Mind Control, Leaving the Fold, The Mind of the Bible Believer. If you want to read criticisms of the Christian faith and the damage it can do then these are some recommended classics.

But here’s the point. Not one of them can be compared with the criticisms of the Muslim religion found in the writings of Coyne, Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens.

Is that because Christianity is not nearly so bad in the damage it inflicts?

That’s an interesting question. It’s worth stepping back a bit and looking at the big picture.

It is very easy for a citizen in a Western country to look at the world through the window of its mainstream media and decide that the biggest challenge peace-lovers everywhere face is the primitive barbarism flourishing among those of the Muslim faith.

They blow up innocent people, they oppress their women, and so on and so on.

Ergo, the Muslim religion is evil. Unquestionably more evil than the Christian religion whose adherents (mostly) don’t do any of those things.

But back up a minute and compare those works criticizing sinister Christian cults (the ones I listed above, Churches That Abuse, etc.) with the criticisms of the Muslim religion.

Here’s the difference.

The criticisms of the Christian cults, and of Christianity as a belief system in general, focus on the relationship between the believer and the belief system. That is, they explain how a certain belief system (e.g. a God who goes without sleep to spy on your every fleeting thought) causes guilt-ridden dysfunctioning in a believer. They explain how a redefinition of words (e.g. “love” means “keeping the commandments”) isolates an individual from the mainstream social discourse.

Readers of these works can see the extent to which they themselves identify with such dysfunctional belief-systems.

Contrast the criticisms of Islam by the likes of Coyne, Harris and co.

They strap bombs to themselves and blow up innocent people; they oppress their women. . . .

How does the Muslim family of Malala Yousafzai respond to accusations that Muslims oppress their women? How do the mourners of the multitudes of innocent Muslims advocates of democracy who have been killed and maimed recently in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia respond to accusations that the Muslim religion teaches them to kill innocents?

This is what is wrong with the Coyne-Dawkins-Harris-Hitchens criticisms of the Muslim religion. They equate extremist actions that MOST Muslims deplore with the entire belief-system of Islam.

I have no doubt that most Christians would deplore the actions of those who murdered “abortion doctors” in the name of Christianity.

So why don’t “most Muslims” deplore suicide bombings and oppression of women?

If you are seriously wondering what is the answer to that question then you are a victim of the mass media distortions and would do well to seek out alternative authoritative sources for your information. Or simply turn on your independent, multicultural or national radio station and tune in to programs interviewing Muslims and Muslim leaders and hear what they have to say about their concerns and interests. Pew polling makes it clear that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Middle Eastern countries reject groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda. There is also strong support for equal opportunities for women. I suspect the ratios would be much higher among Muslims living in Western countries.

To what extent is Islam to blame for extremist behaviour?

As for suicide bombing, I have referenced before the one scholarly research work done that seeks to understand this horror, Dying to Win by Robert Pape. Who were the modern pioneers of this atrocity? A mixtures of Islamists, Christians and Socialists without any particular allegiance to religion. This was in the 1980s in Lebanon. The cause was political and national. Other regular practitioners have been Buddhists in the recent Sri Lankan war.

Before the 1980s there were vibrant socialist and secular political movements among the Middle Eastern states (Arab and Iranian) crying out and dying for political freedoms. Western backed tyrannies in those same countries eventually brutally snuffed out those movements for most part. The only centres of organized resistance remaining were found in the mosques.

This is the error that Coyne, Harris, Dawkins make. They rely upon mass media impressions and distortions to lay the blame for suicide bombing on religious belief systems. Their thinking is ankle-deep and logically fallacious. Because some of these bombers believe they will receive a heavenly reward after death they jump to the conclusion that it was because they believe in the heavenly reward that they were in part motivated into a suicide bombing mission.

As Pape’s rigorously researched study demonstrates, all suicide bombing can be attributed to political causes. Mainstream western media protects many of us from the realities of life in the West Bank and Gaza and we cannot comprehend the conditions that have driven some people there to prefer to exchange their physical existence for a symbolic life.

When Coyne, Harris, Dawkins lay the blame for atrocities on a belief system shared by millions who abhor those atrocities, they are not serving the interests of rational public discourse. On the contrary, they are bolstering the general ignorance and bigotry that allows political powers to get away with war after war of aggression and conquest.

Modern twists and turns

A funny thing has happened to anti-semitism since the Second World War. Today, the Jewish branch of semites are widely depicted as fundamentally deserving above other peoples, while the vilifying stereotypes that were once reserved for Jews have now been transferred by association to members of an entire religious system instead. Racism has morphed into an inverted kind of anti-semitism. Biological targets have been superseded by more broadly encompassing demonic ones. An atavistic return to some form of medievalism?

Christians don’t do the same things some Muslims do for the simple reason that Christians for most part live in countries that happily rule the world. Mulsims experienced their 9/11 in 1982 at the hands of Christians and Israelis — who from their position of power did not have to resort deviously to suicide missions to accomplish their wills. An American foreign secretary can publicly concede that causing the deaths of half a million Iraqi children is worth a foreign policy goal. Mainstream Western media does not serve its constituents well by informing them of what Middle Eastern peoples generally have experienced at the hands of Western interests.

I take up Murtaz Hussain’s invitation to disavow myself from those such as Harris and Coyne who would tarnish atheism by associating it with an Islamophobic worldview. In its place I would love to do what little I can to open up glimmers of what the world looks like behind the cameras of mainstream media.

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171 thoughts on “Islamophobia and (some?) New Atheists”

  1. Bravo, Neil….

    I don’t know if you are familiar with the anthropologist Scott Atran – so a few quotes below.


    The scientific ignorance and tomfoolery of many of the new atheists with regard to religion, and history, makes me almost embarrassed to be an atheist………………………I certainly don’t criticize the Four Horseman and other scientifically minded new atheists for wanting to rid the world of dogmatically held beliefs that are vapid, barbarous, anachronistic, and wrong. I object to their manner of combat, which is often shrill, scientifically baseless, psychologically uninformed, politically naive, and counterproductive for goals we share.

    Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values and What It Means to be Human: Scott Atran.


    Sam Harris and others at the conference tells us that suicide bombers do what they do in part because they are fooled by religion into seeking paradise, which includes the promise of 72 virgins. But neither I nor any intelligence officer I have personally worked with knows of a single such case (though I don’t deny that their may be errant cases out there). Such speculations may reveal more the sexual fantasies of those who speculate rather than the actual motives of suicide bombers. All leaders of jihadi groups that I have interviewed tell me that if anyone ever came to them seeking martyrdom to gain virgins in paradise, then the door would be slammed in their face.

    An Edge Discussion of BEYOND BELIEF:

    Science, Religion, Reason and Survival

    Salk Institue, La Jolla November 5-7, 2006



    And some much needed reason and logic from the above book:

    “Over the course of human history, and across the world today, religion has helped to promote tyranny and rebellion against oppression, to inspire monumental works of creativity and of stunning stupidity, to keep people in fear and to diminish their fears, to deliver justice and to excuse injustice, to help and to harm children and other living things. The scientific study of religion and irrationality suggests that neither is likely to go away or even be greatly diminished by science and rational debate. Reason’s greatest challenge – in politics, ethics, or everyday life – is to gain knowledge and leverage over unreason: to cope with it, compete with it, and perhaps channel it, not to fruitlessly try to annihilate it by reasoning it away.”

  2. “They rely upon mass media impressions and distortions to lay the blame for suicide bombing on religious belief systems”. Of the violent jihadists who leave martyr-video footage when they target civilians, virtually all talk about religion and theology rather than secular political grievance. And they are able to cite surahs to, as they see it, support their disregard for the lives they take.

    That is the danger of any sacred text – but most particularly a text that is positioned as eternal and directly dictated by God – that the nastier elements can translate into nasty actions. Just to take a recent example, the clerics who recently issued fatwas authorising Syrian jihadists to rape non-Sunni women could not do so on the basis of their own personal badness, but on the basis of Qur’anic references to sex slaves taken in war. The god-breathed Bible has plenty of such odious references too, but are there any pastors who issue religious rulings based on them? Like most Muslims, Christians get by morally by not following to the letter what their book says.

    I don’t understand your comment re Malala Yousafzai. Or the idea that the religious right – courted for so long by the imperial powers – can represent ‘resistance’.

    1. “Of the violent jihadists who leave martyr-video footage when they target civilians, virtually all talk about religion and theology rather than secular political grievance.”

      What is your evidence for this claim? On the contrary, they explain exactly the political reasons for what they are about to do. The 9/11 terrorists, the Palestinians who have become suicide bombers, all have made very clear the worldly reasons for their acts.

      You say that most Christians get along without turning the vile bits of their Bibles into commands for them today. You seem unaware of the simple documented fact that the vast bulk of Muslims abhor terrorism, murder, the Taliban, Al Qaeda. You need to ask why it is that some Muslims are doing what most Muslims reject. That requires a bit of thought and learning about reality.

      I don’t understand your questions or what you don’t understand in your last paragraph.

      1. I think he doesn’t understand that Malala Yousafzai’s family – Muslims all – supported her and her cause, and that this shows that not all Muslims take the Taliban postion regarding women.

        1. You would be wrong. I don’t understand why anyone – whether they had benevolent or malevolent intentions – would assume that Muslims are a homogeneous mass, that given individuals or groups within a given population represent that entire population; and that criticism of individuals and groups implies criticism of all. it is a bizarre world-view, and this is the mirror-image of it. Holding Malala’s family to account somehow for the misogyny of the Qur’an and salafist clerics is to me incomprehensible. And, given the nature of Malala’s situation, somewhat reprehensible. In this respect the underlying viewpoint resembles the racist perspective in that it is premised on one representing all.

        2. As per my response below to Neil – i would be genuinely fascinated to know how you deduced from my post above that I don’t understand that “not all Muslims take the Taliban postion regarding women”.

          What made you think this?

      2. “You seem unaware of the simple documented fact that the vast bulk of Muslims abhor terrorism, murder, the Taliban, Al Qaeda.”

        How did you arrive at this deduction, from “Like most Muslims, Christians get by morally by not following to the letter what their book says”?

      3. “What is your evidence for this claim? On the contrary, they explain exactly the political reasons for what they are about to do. The 9/11 terrorists, the Palestinians who have become suicide bombers, all have made very clear the worldly reasons for their acts.”

        I had in mind the videos I’ve seen over the years (Hamas as well as the London bombers), and of course M. Atta’s lengthy letter. I don’t have time to search them out for you, but a quick google brings up http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7330367.stm and “I’m doing this because the rewards, the big rewards that Allah has promised those who step on his path and Inshaallah [God willing] become martyr and the best of amongst those to me is the guarantee of Jannah [paradise] for myself and my family and those that are close to me. On top of this is to punish and to humiliate the Kuffar [non-believer], to teach them a lesson that they will never forget.”

        1. I’m sorry you don’t have time to seek out the evidence for your claim. A single BBC soundbyte doesn’t cut it, sorry. Do you have the full transcript of what he said prior to his act or do you only want to present an edited newsbyte of the trial afterwards? I can understand you opting for the latter if you only want to hear what feeds your bigotry.

          1. The link, if you’d looked at it, *was* to the full transcript.

            Things are truly bad in atheist circles if criticising the Qur’an and ahadith, how they are interpreted by jihadists and salafists, and how they then manifest in the oppression and slaughter of mainly Muslim people, is kneejerk-read as “bigotry”. Where and what is this “bigotry” you divine in me?

            I read accounts in the paper yesterday from victims of clerical sex abuse in Scotland. There is significant anti-catholic bigotry in Scotland and Britain generally, but I feel it would be a wretched disservice to the victims’ experience to automatically assume that anyone who (as I do) blames the religion, is a bigot and hates catholics. I feel the same about your use of Malala: the thing you find important enough to blog about is not what happened to her or the religious grotesques who did it. You have discovered what Muslims have known for many decades – that the vast majority of victims of salafist jihadism are Muslims – and somehow contort that victimhood into a defence of the Qur’an from those who say it inspires the mistreatment of the insufficiently devout as well as the murtad and the kaffir.

            One of the priests threatened his young victim with “the burny fire” if he told – the threat was effective. It reminded me of a discussion I had recently on amazon with 2 christian fundamentalists about gehenna – one distorted scripture to fit with his humanity, the other distorted his humanity to fit scripture. Obviously I ‘approve of’ the former – but the latter was right. An objective reading of the gospels does not make me a ‘fundamentalist’.

            I suspect that people who assume that even an interest in Islamist wrongdoing is “Islamophobic”, and see criticism of what you quaintly describe as “dark-skinned” people) in anyone who criticises Islam, may be confronting their own demons. I am not interested in throwing cheap insults around the internet (and will not respond again to being called a bigot) but would ask you to consider this possibility, and the possibility that you are doing the victims of Islamist violence (and politics) a great disservice.

            1. I have never “defended the Qur’an” any more than I have ever defended the Bible. I wish both would vanish from the status of holy books and be relegated to the status of ancient relics for museums and ancient literary studies.

              I deplore wrong-doing in anyone, myself included. It makes no difference if the perpetrators are Moslem, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Israeli, atheist, pantheist, anything.

      4. “I don’t understand your questions or what you don’t understand in your last paragraph.”

        OK. Sources of my incomprehension 1 and 2:

        1. You ask how Malala’s family respond to accusations that Muslims oppress their women. This seems singularly inappropriate, in that Malala made an incredibly courageous stand *against* the oppression of women. Why on earth would you (and it is you) direct the accusation against them, of all people?

        2. How can ‘resistance’ be associated with a broad movement of the far right, Islamism? Political Islam in its many manifestations has historically worked hand in glove with imperialism and colonialism. The MB taking the IMF shilling in Egypt is only the latest in a very long track-record of, well, non-resistance.

        1. Okay, so you do understand, then, that devout Muslims like Malala Yousafzai and her family are prepared to stand up against the oppression of women and demand, even at the cost of life, the education of Muslim girls.

          Your point number 2 sounds like it’s directed to readers who know nothing of the real world but who seem to rely upon whatever information tickles their bigotries.

    1. I was addressing it with my sentence beginning, “Racism has morphed . . . ”

      Islamophobia, as I use the term, is a fear and loathing of Islam and “the impartation of ethno-cultural attributes onto” adherents of Islam. It is an imputation of racist stereotypes into the entire membership of a religious group. They are incapable of being trusted, they are taught to lie, to kill on command, they are child rapists, etc etc etc. An atavistic return to the religious superstitions and fears of the Middle Ages and the ensuing sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

      1. [A] fear and loathing of Islam and “the impartation of ethno-cultural attributes onto” adherents of Islam


        an imputation of racist stereotypes into the entire membership of a religious group

        are two different things. I see nothing wrong with the former and oppose the latter.

        1. Then you agree with Murtaza Hussain’s definition of Islamophobia (I was quoting his definition, and one that Coyne overlooked) but you disagree with the implications of that definition. This is returning to the same “generalisations and ethno-racial condescensions” that we were supposed to have left behind in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

          1. I still can’t find “Murtaza Hussain’s definition of Islamophobia” on either his Al Jazeera article or this post, even with the use of my browser’s “Find” feature. Islam does not exist in a vacuum. Ethno-cultural attributes can be predicted with some accuracy from someone’s status as a Muslim and are useful for the identification of possible Muslims. Not all those who fear Islam are racist, though some surely are. I admit to being afraid of all religions.

  3. Not much to say here except amen, Neil. We have got to be as ready to criticize each other for lapses in critical thinking as we are anyone else. None of us is immune to believing nonsense just because we’ve rejected one particular kind of nonsense.

    1. The naivety of Dawkins, Harris and Coyne about the way the world works is astonishing. (Hitchens was a special case.) I imagine minds like theirs have achieved so much because of their dedication to their work and special skills and that this has left them so little time to learn how things work outside their specialist areas. It has been a regret of mine that as my own career has advanced upwards I have had less time for social activism as I used to do. It is easy to understand why people at the top are so ignorant of what lies outside their busy professional world. The lessons of Julien Benda are still lost on most public intellectuals.

  4. So why don’t “most Muslims” deplore suicide bombings and oppression of women?

    If you are seriously wondering what is the answer to that question then you are a victim of the mass media distortions and would do well to seek out alternative authoritative sources for your information

    Really? I think the reality is that Islam has a much larger degree of radicalism than Christianity of Judaism at this point in history. Evidence here:


    1. You know what they say about lies, damned lies and statistics. I am surprised that any educated person would buy into a tendentious presentation of statistics to advocate racial vilification. Read the same statistics in the Pew Polls themselves and you can see an opposite message. The presentation you are reading on that site has removed all the nuances and qualifications of both questions and responses in order to fan bigotry.

      But people so disposed will see 30% support in one country as evidence that a third of all Muslims support a certain act, and overlook that in other countries the figure is much, much lower. That tells any objective reader that there are geo-political forces at work — not “Islam”. Further, an honest presentation of statistics would also point out changes in those numbers over recent years, whether they are declining or rising.

      I recommend seeking out information that is based on solid research such as Robert Pape’s book that I mentioned and relying on the original data, not repackaging of it by Islamophobes.

      1. Your argument:

        This is what is wrong with the Coyne-Dawkins-Harris-Hitchens criticisms of the Muslim religion. They equate extremist actions that MOST Muslims deplore with the entire belief-system of Islam.

        I have no doubt that most Christians would deplore the actions of those who murdered “abortion doctors” in the name of Christianity.

        So why don’t “most Muslims” deplore suicide bombings and oppression of women?

        assumes that the demographics of Christian groups can be extrapolated to Muslim groups. I provided documentation that Muslim groups are much more radicalized, and your answer is to denigrate the data as “lies”. Then you cite the same data (Pew, eg) as corroborating your argument. This is not you at your best, Neil.

        1. You missed my point. Data is data is data. It only takes on meaning when we interpret it. And the context and way data is presented can be tendentious, even lying, certainly agenda-promoting. Propaganda is rarely outright lies. The most effective propaganda has always been to tell lies with the “truths” at one’s disposal. Masses of facts, of details, can also be presented as propaganda. Jacques Ellul demonstrated this long ago in Propaganda. Even masses of facts (selected, of course, and often ripped from context) can overwhelm the target audience so that the average person cannot possibly begin to unravel them or think them through one by one with a clear head — that’s what I see in some of the websites that dehumanize Muslims.

          We are back in the days of the Red Scare.

      1. I have also read of Christians burning witches and more recently murdering Jews, Muslims, and obliterating cities and villages from the air. Fortunately the social and religious bigotries so easily fanned in Bangladesh do not represent Muslims per se — as the material evidence clearly demonstrates.

        A dark skinned and impoverished people are seen to behave in a certain way in the name of Islam and that ethno-social event/action is imputed into all members of a particular religion worldwide: that’s Islamophobia.

          1. You can say, factually, that 100,000 Muslims or 100,000 Bangladeshis or 100,000 dark skinned South Asian Bengali types were calling for atheist bloggers to be killed. But to say this in a context that implies this is typical of Muslims per se is no more helpful for social harmony and tolerance than is saying that Black races are lazy and less intelligent than whites.

            Some men are red.

            Socrates is a man.

            Therefore Socrates is red.

            0.07% of Bangladeshi Muslims demand death for atheist bloggers

            Socrates is a Muslim.

            Therefore Socrates demands death for atheist bloggers.

            1. If 100,000 people say they want atheist bloggers to be killed, that is an interesting fact for atheist bloggers.

              How much irrational fear is generated by the fact that 100,000 people would happily see you killed, and how much is rational fear?

              If somebody says he wants you dead, then you should not pretend that nobody wants you dead. If people say they want to kill you , then it is only common courtesy to take them seriously.

              As it happens, black people are , at present, , on average, less intelligent than whites. This is because years of discrimination do leave a mark. How could it be otherwise? How can discrimination have zero effect? But the fact that , on average, black people score less on IQ tests than white people means very little other than that it shows that black people have been discriminated against, in terms of education, pre-natal and post-natal care etc.

              1. What is your point, Steven? I would not feel safe traveling in certain areas of the world. You appear to be ignoring my argument and trying to suggest that I am claiming all Muslims or all Bangladeshis are rational and tolerant. I do believe there are many areas in the world where people grow up in ignorance and bigotry and doing certain things in certain places would be to put my life at risk. So I either don’t go to those places or I don’t do things in certain places that would single me out for a quick demise. So what is your point and what has it to do with my argument? Do you understand my argument?

              2. Your argument seems to me to be that Richard Dawkins thinks all Muslims want to crash planes into tall buildings.

                This is obviously a straw-man on my part.

                ‘I do believe there are many areas in the world where people grow up in ignorance and bigotry. ‘

                Dawkins would claim that the people on the march demanding the death of atheist bloggers did not grow up in ignorance of Islam. They might be ignorant of many things (who isn’t) but they are not ignorant about the religion they practice and study.

              3. So Muslims who do not add their voices to those in the Bangladesh demonstrations are not true Muslims, do not know their religion, are hypocrites?

                Do you think it is worth trying to understand why those Muslims in Bangladesh and why those in other parts of the world (and even, I dare say, in other parts of Bangladesh) behave differently? Do you think we might find an explanation that encompasses the historic violence of both Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent?

                How about a better attempt to understand my argument instead of your strawman substitute?

              4. ‘So Muslims who do not add their voices to those in the Bangladesh demonstrations are not true Muslims, do not know their religion, are hypocrites?’

                Why are they hypocrites? Because there are no large-scale Muslim protests against people who want atheist bloggers killed? Why should Muslims protest against that? Simply by remaining silent, they are voicing their disapproval of the actions of the minority of Muslims. What more can you expect of them?

                What is your argument? That Dawkins is too easily persuaded by the sight of 100,000 Muslims marching to demand the death of some atheist bloggers? Isn’t that the purpose of the march? To strike fear into blasphemers?

              5. Surely you felt a slight unease when you slipped in your baseless inference that the majority of Muslims support the actions we see happening in Bangladesh?

                No, Steven, you are not even trying to recapitulate my argument, are you.

                When we studied history we learned, crudely, to break down every event into background and immediate causes. It is as simplistic as any racial stereotyping to reduce any behaviour to a single attribute, whether it be genetics or association with a holy book.

  5. Thanks Neil. Unfortunately I’m too busy at the moment to make a fuller reply other than to say that you have made an important statement here.

  6. 2 interesting books that I can recommend that will give a different perspective that contrasts sharply with the narrowness of the mainly mass media inspired narrative we get from the western media.

    Firstly, “September 1, 2001 Feminist Perspectives” Eds Hawthorne and Winter, present essays and articles from feminists that were not published in the mainstream media for some strange reason [sarcasm].

    Its particularly interesting to read the POV of Islamic feminists in Afghanistan to the proposed and then actual invasion of Afghanistan which was supposedly taken with their interests in mind. Not so.

    Which raises the seeming paradox that in the mind of many westerners to be a feminist in an Islamic society is a contradiction.

    That is the subject of the other book.

    “In Search of Islamic Feminism – One Woman’s Global Journey” by Elizabeth Warnock Ferna.

    She, refreshingly, discovered that one cannot judge feminism by the criteria of western, particularly American [the home of the author], social understandings and that in Islamic societies “Islamic women define their own needs …determine the boundaries of their own very real, very viable feminism” [from the back page blurb].

    2 good reads.

  7. I appreciate that you characterized your comments as solely your own. Having said that, let me lend my voice in support.

    I think part of the problem lies in a general consensus that has arisen (stealthily, I might add) over the past century among the general public, the popular media, and dull-witted elites that our modern, tolerant, multicultural, secular society came about because of, rather than despite our Christian heritage.

    We in the West are mostly ignorant of the long struggle against the tyranny of “faith.” For centuries anyone with different ideas ran the risk of public torture and execution.


    Go ahead. See if you have the stomach to read the whole thing.

    Arm in arm with this childish notion that Christianity is “special” and uniquely tolerant of science and skepticism, is the equally naive but much more pernicious idea that Islam is uniquely intolerant of the same. History shows both to be false.

    More disgusting to me personally is the fact that people who ought to know better resort to the tired, empty accusation of “political correctness” when anyone points to these facts. I used to listen to a certain biblical scholar’s podcast who used the term “Islamofacism” as if the term had any meaning whatsoever. Such is the result of right-wing corporate propaganda. Hey, it’s “Hate Week!” Who are we at war with this time?

    1. So, the demonstrated intolerance and antipathy toward science of Christianity is evidence that Islam and Muslims do not have a demonstrated intolerance and an antipathy to science – is that your argument? That partiality to Christianity explains the anti Islam sentiments of atheists?

      1. Roger: “. . .evidence that Islam and Muslims do not have a demonstrated intolerance and an antipathy to science – is that your argument?”

        No. As you can tell by a careful reading of what I wrote, I reject the idea that Islam is uniquely intolerant of diversity and uniquely antagonistic toward science. It is only as a result of a very long struggle that we now have secular, representative democracies in the West.

        Roger: “That partiality to Christianity explains the anti Islam sentiments of atheists?”

        Not solely. Today’s “new atheists” are against any religious group that tries to stifle human progress. But there is, I believe, an unspoken belief that Christianity has proved itself to be “corrigible,” but that Islam may not be. That is, many people assume that Islam is intrinsically violent and cannot be reformed. I don’t think the historical evidence supports such a totally pessimistic view.

        That view, by the way, plays into the hands of the fanatical right wing who desperately need a permanent enemy for their desperately desired permanent state of war.

  8. BOO! I disagree with your criticism of Harris. You are making it easier for women to be kept in slavery by rationalizing the brutal sadistic behavior of extremists that control and strike fear into their neighbors.

    1. Religions adapt to their wider cultural and social matrices. We see that in the variations of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam as these take root in different cultures. Listen to Muslim leaders in the West — that is, I suspect, those who are your own neighbours. They are grappling with these issues of modernization, of democratic values vis a vis the traditions of their faith, right now. Listen to Muslim women who are your neighbours, too. You may have to break away from the newsfeeds of Fox or Fux as Jim Carrey calls it and get to know your neighbours.

      At the same time, Pew polling, current events and first hand reports from people who know the region demonstrate that the majority of Muslims in the Middle East want the same things you and I want for ourselves and our families, including political freedoms.

      Muslims are not demons or subhuman barbarians but just as much people like you and me and anyone else who is a Catholic or a Jew. And like all people everywhere their behaviours and political views and ways of thinking have long historical roots that vary from country to country.

      To project the ignorant barbarism of the Taliban into Muslims generally is as sinister as any racism we have known.

      1. ‘To project the ignorant barbarism of the Taliban into Muslims generally is as sinister as any racism we have known.’

        Were the 100,000 Bangladeshi Muslims who demanded that atheist bloggers be killed all part of the Taliban?

        ‘Just as it is incumbent upon Muslims to marginalise their own violent extremists, mainstream atheists must work to disavow those such as Harris who would tarnish their movement by associating it with a virulently racist, violent and exploitative worldview. ‘

        How do you marginalise 100,000 people?

        1. How do you marginalize the largest Muslim nation in the world, Indonesia, where I have spent a good deal of my time and where my brother has long lived. I have met many Indonesian Muslims (nearly all Indonesians are Muslims) and several times I have had occasion, in our discussions, to let them know I am an atheist. I may even have told two or three that I have a blog. I have been accepted as a good friend or acquaintance and still keep in contact with some of these Musliims. They would spit on the name of Taliban or Al Qaeda or the very thought of clamouring for my hanging.

          Among a multitude of other Muslims among whom I have lived (three years consistently with devout Muslim communities) there is an Arab with whom I worked day to day (and who has invited me to her religious meals for social concourse, though she knows I am an atheist) and who comes from — horror of horrors — YEMEN — and who revisits her home twice a year. It is as clear as day from contacts and herself that those whom they clearly hold at arms length as killers are despised by likes of her, her family, and communities. Okay, that is anecdotal so I guess you don’t count those Muslims who live in the lowlands and urban areas of Yemen.

          Have you ever travelled abroad? Do you have any idea what 100,000 means in terms of Asian populations? Do you know what significance that has for peoples of similar affiliations globally?

          Do you have any idea what would prompt hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims to wake up one day and be told that two bloggers blasphemed their Prophet or God, and to all of a unison rise up and say, “Let’s go out and make sure they are hanged!”

          Get real, Steven. Relate to real life. Get to know what people are like and how they work.

          1. ‘How do you marginalize the largest Muslim nation in the world, Indonesia, where I have spent a good deal of my time and where my brother has long lived.’

            Indonesia is a good example of what Muslim countries should be like. As far as I can make out, Australia has an army basically on the off chance that a vast country like Indonesia might one day invade (correct me if I am wrong on that), but that has nothing to do with Indonesia being a Muslim country.

            ‘Do you have any idea what would prompt hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims to wake up one day and be told that two bloggers blasphemed their Prophet or God, and to all of a unison rise up and say, “Let’s go out and make sure they are hanged!”’

            I have an idea of what would prompt that – Islam.

            This is probably all a matter of geographical perspective. I lived in Bradford which has a large Muslim population, and I lived pretty much in the middle of it. There were a lot of mosques and lots of shop windows advertising public talks on incomprehensible (to me) bits of Muslim theology, but I never felt threatened. Why should I have been?

            Everybody was perfectly normal, but it is still the case that Bradford was the scene of some Muslims calling for Salman Rushdie to be killed.

            1. Sorry Steven, but you have just made yourself a laughing stock here. I suspect most Australians don’t even know Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. Ever heard of good old fashioned racism? But our defence policies have much more to do with the larger geopolitical worlds of China and America. There are news sources other than Fox/Fux, you know.

              Curious that you would even suggest that an army that is raised “basically on the off chance that a country like Indonesia might one day invade” should find itself engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Solomon Islands! Maybe our strategy is to attack Indonesia from North as well as South!!! Please, stop your silliness and get back to doing what you are really good at — exposing the fallacies of HJ scholars.

              By the way, I also suggest you go out and actually meet some of your Muslim neighbours and get to know them. Or are you too afraid because of what you see on your favourite TV channel?

          2. Indonesia seems to be a popular reference for those making the arguments you are making, Neil. It has a history of religious tolerance among moderate Muslims.. But that is changing, which bolsters my viewpoint – that Islam is becoming more radicalized, and more aggressively Islamist. See:






            1. No-one is suggesting that there has, since the 1980s and ’90s, not been not a growth of extremist Islamist movements that are responsible for terrorist crimes. That’s what has prompted this discussion in the first place.

              The question that needs to be asked is why this has happened from around that time and whether this is a characteristic of Muslims by nature or has contingent political or other causes.

              Islamophobia is what we see among those who believe it is a characteristic of Muslims by nature. The adherents of this religion, generally, are seen as mindless or brainwashed enough to let themselves be possessed by and act upon evil.

              Now that to me sounds not unlike the processes that are behind ant-semitism or other forms of racism.

              (I can probably give you a list of links of news stories demonstrating that terrorist groups in Indonesia are less of a threat today than they were in 2002. Many have been jailed and shot. But that would not advance the debate at all.)

        2. “…mainstream atheists must work to disavow those such as Harris who would tarnish their movement.”

          Atheism is not a movement; it’s not even a worldview or a paradigm. I suspect that most atheists rarely even think about the fact of their lack of belief, let alone whether popular authors need their disavowal. You could make the case that Harris is a humanist and that mainstream humanists should distance themselves from him, but the idea that high-profile atheists speak for atheism is a bit silly.

          1. This is something that mystified me for quite a while. I agree with you. I have never seen atheism as a “movement”. But it does appear that there are, nonetheless, organizations that actively promote atheism. I have no problem with that — I see that as just another form of promoting reason. But there do seem to be some people who attach their atheism status to other beliefs. Maybe — I don’t know — this is more of an issue in America where there appears to be less tolerance for atheism generally? I don’t know.

      2. People everywhere want essentially the same things. It’s harder to obtain those things if you have to fight your way through religious sanctions and beliefs. It’s quite a bit less dangerous to help Christians and Jews get beyond their superstitions. And, if you say that is not true, I can only roll my eyes and shake my head at your own obvious bias.

  9. Having been raised a Protestant (a Baptist), here is how I feel about this issue: Having come to see Catholicism as not actually Christian in many if not most respects, I’ll try to keep this explanation from becoming any more complicated or longer than it ought to be. Catholicism, speaking to it as a collective whole, did not try to remain true to the much more simple beginning of the Christian faith, as that (true or not) was presented by what was most likely its fairly quixotic, though selfishly pragmatic, designers (even as I think it did originate from Jesus’ disciples located in Jerusalem primarily, from a group that Paul learned things like an early number of Christians having a number of about 500, etc.)—what its very best designers made of it after Jesus was gone while hoping to pay as much tribute to their deceased leader as possible… which misreporting what really happened was most likely justified in the minds of those disciples due to a need for a new form of Judaism as well as a need to pay trubute to their former leader [called by me a new form of Judaism in light of places like Jeremiah 31 and Isaiah 53… including other places like Isaiah 1, that slyly, even strategically, repudiated the First/OT Covenant’s sacrifices as meaningless since that system had already become outdated just as it was debuted–while allowing any representatives of non-Christian Judaism, in my opinion, to tell us exactly what Judaism was intended to be, I see as a misleading mistake… even as Christianity is actually a natural result of what no tiny portion of Judaism’s scriptures previously said]. Meanwhile, the earliest and best form of Christianity was its simplest and purest form–purest, that is, if including a large number of falsifications can in some way be considered pure. But I’m talking about human perceptions here, as those falsifications were needed so that their endorsed-by-scripture form of Judaism had enough to get off the ground [Obviously, I’m an historicist in the HJ debate].

    Even though some blame for violence coming from Christianity can be attributed to Protestantism, not just Catholicism, Catholicism was much more singularly a power-hungry organization going back to what emerged from its inception, which organization, after obtaining Rome’s official approval, resorted to forced conversions as early as the end of the fourth century, then more of that came later, and after that the Inquisitions—all of which were expressions of same central concept of using religion for political power while it was hoped that its leadership, at any given time, would be more successful if its populace was uniformly compliant to the state’s endorsed system. Since Catholicism was mainly a political power play, its decision makers WERE NOT careful to keep their form of Christianity pure and simple—not carefully kept in accord with the Christian movement’s roots as best could be deciphered—which led to many Catholic amendments of extra-Jewish cultural practices and rituals… which Catholicism’s impurity, as well as its proclivity for coercive violence, is what eventually gave steam to the Reformation that broke away from Catholicism, which break has generally been seen, by no small number, as a pure return to the roots of Christianity while leaving that corrupt system which had prevailed for far too long, as the reformers treated the origin of the religion—those events reported by the authors of the Gospels and Acts—as truthful, perfectly reliable, historical information.

    To me, the long history of Catholic violence is too readily compared to the recent violence arising from Islamic fundamentalism, since the most careful non-Catholic Christians are to never, under any circumstance–at least according to their religion’s statements–resort to violence unless some might be conscripted into military service and forced to use it (which whether a Christian using force in that instance is even debatable.) What I’m saying is this: Early Christianity–according to the statements we have from it–was emphatically nonviolent, while Islam is not, which is enormous contrast in my view, while Catholicism turned into some sort of violent political machine, therefore wasn’t really Christian, since it didn’t try hard enough to follow the earliest Christian teachings as if those were actually true and authorized as ought to be expected from something that claims to be Christian. From the viewpoint of a former Protestant (a nonviolent Baptist in my case), I don’t think a religion that allows violence—even though that religion allows violence in the form of self-defense as something that’s justifiable (as how defenders of the Qu’ran always tell those of us who question it regarding how there are so many suras that enjoin violence [which compartively the New Testament NEVER enjouns violence, NOT EVEN ONCE] as we are told by Muslim apologists that those meny statements by their holy book that endorse using of violence has to do with CONTEXT, therefore that religious book had license to contain those types of statements in relation to what was going on with Muhammad at certain times)—should compare too favorably at all with another religion that requires its adherents to submit to martyrdom rather than resort to the use violence under any circumstance whatsoever. You might pin violence of Catholicism–obviously YOU WILL–but you cannot pin any violence on the early Christian movement, at least how that has been represented to us as having been during the first century. A person can, of course, argue that what has been reported to us for the first century isn’t accurate, and that would be right; but there is no mistake about what is shown as having been taught by the NT when it comes to any sort of violence. For Christianity’s earliest version, as depicted by the NT, was nothing at all like either Catholicism or Islam, even though the NT’s central religious concepts were indeed flawed in certain respects, while very seriously their historical basis is inaccurate. [But to understand and derive meaning from all of that, in my view, a person must discern what the leaders of that movement were most likely attempting to do, then we can benefit from all of that in certain ways. Or, we can essentially throw everything the NT says away, because it’s not substantial enough to be seen as containing anything historical, therefore it has nothing that we can learn a certain number of very important important lessons from–which is where the mythicist side in the HJ debate leads, in my opinion.]

    With regard to violence today: A strong emphasis on nonviolence is needed for everyone, which should include a very strict criteria for when resorting to violence as self-defense might be allowed, since how violence is viewed is so important to our species’ evolution–i.e., becoming better human beings.

    1. What matters in the real world is what people are like today. I think it’s probably true to say that we all interpret our past myths to meet the needs of today.

      One can understand any religion starting out as an estranged minority preaching the obvious survival tactics and fantasizing of the day when their deity himself will give all their persecutors their comeuppance. The moment the same group wins power, however, it can be different story, as it was with Christianity. Allegorical interpretations and the embracing of the Old Testament as allegory for Christian guidance was all part of the revision of the myth of origins meeting the new circumstances of Christian power.

      The same thesis would hold true if Islam as we know it actually followed, rather than inspired, the conquests of the Arabs. In that case the past myth of the conquering Islam was created to justify/explain the appearance in the ninth century of a Muslim-Arab empire.

      1. Since “wins power” is more a description of something wielded by the elite of a group, perhaps the words: “becomes prosperous” would democratize things a bit.

        Compare the relative affluence of the various Islamic peoples. I think you have evidence that where a people become more prosperous their radical, literalist views of their sacred texts become more allegorical and spiritualized (e.g. Paul’s, turning Old Testament carnage into, “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities” etc.). It follows that free trade, and respect of a people will eventually lead to more prosperous conditions for them. A recurrent OT prophetic rant was that the people had become prosperous and then had forsaken the exclusive elements of the Yahweh cult.

        1. Right now there is a discussion on the radio about those who commit mass shootings in Western countries. Insanity is one of the issues raised, but it is pointed out quickly that not all insane people resort to mass shootings. What they have in common is an intense feeling of having been unjustly victimized. They come to the point where they want to lash out, to wreak their own kind of justice.

          Now that sounds very plausible to me. And it is a depressing sign that such an all too common human factor is not considered when it comes to the all too human violence of peoples in Bangladesh, say.

          Steven Carr — I chose not to address this point when it was first raised — demonstrates his western dominion perception by inferring that western designed IQ tests are a measure of universal absolute measures of intelligence.

          One can quickly see historical and a wide range of current politico-economic factors in the ways different peoples behave as national or other large-scale collectives. To blame a single factor, in defiance of consistency of the evidence, for human violence is as helpful as blaming a single race or a single psychological bent (they are all insane).

          Where does that leave us? Solve the problem by killing off or in some other way oppressing and isolating and incarcerating the Jews, the insane, and the Muslims?

          1. For the benefit of some who have commented here, no, I am not justifying mass shootings and do not believe in making it any easier or more likely for mass shootings to happen. I believe that a rational and informed approach to the problem is the most effective way to reach a solution.

          2. ‘Steven Carr — I chose not to address this point when it was first raised — demonstrates his western dominion perception by inferring that western designed IQ tests are a measure of universal absolute measures of intelligence.’

            I did no such thing. They are debatable.

            It is a while since I looked at the numbers, but don’t certain Asian groups score more highly on these ‘western designed tests’ than white Europeans?

            My main point about mentioning that is that poorer people have worse ante and post natal care and worse nutrition than richer people, and poorer people tend to have darker skin than richer people.

            If you believe, as I do, that the environment has a large effect on intelligence, then it is hard to claim that poor people are not affected by the environment they are put into.

            Of course, I may be wrong and it may be the case that environment has zero effect on intelligence.

  10. Those criticizing Harris, Dawkins et al, for their comments on Islam have no clue what the hell they’re talking about regarding Islam. Read:

    An Exchange with Glenn Greenwald by Sam Harris



    “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.”

    – Omar M. Ahmad, founder of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) July 4th, 1998 http://www.danielpipes.org/rr/394.pdf

    “I want to see the U.S become an Islamic nation.”

    -Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR Spokesperson

    “The 9/11 hijackers should be honored as martyrs.”

    – Warith Deen Umar, Former Muslim Chaplain, New York Prisons

    “I am a traitor to America because my religion requires me to be. We pledge to wage jihad for the rest of our lives until either we implant Islam all over the world or meet our Lord as bearers of Islam.”

    – Samir Khan

    Islam Reality


    Why did they hate us in 1783?


    Three Things About Islam


    1. I invite you to read my post again and respond to the points I made in it. You have merely demonstrated the main problem I addressed: that too many Westerners are blind to the real beliefs and attitudes of the vast majority of Muslims. The video clips you show remind me of the Reds under the Beds Cold War fear mongering propaganda, and even of the crude Nazi propaganda against Jews. Have you ever thought to investigate the questions beyond this sort of thing?

    2. I ask again — why not do a little serious investigation about the Barbary Pirates for starters? You have seen some video clips. Now check the sources for yourself. Make it even more interesting and do a comparison with the Christian buccaneers of Elizabethan times — those who plundered and killed in the name of God and the Queen or King. Or look at the imperial conquests of the past, those that were undertaken for Gold, God and Glory, and see how often God himself is clearly the main motivator above the other two Gs.

      Once having done that, bring your study of the Barbary Pirates into some context of a wider study of the Muslim nations at the same time and subsequently.

      It may take a little effort. Understanding others and the past always does. But understanding others a little better, and their respective pasts, really is a worthwhile and rewarding exercise.

      1. Foreboding. A video produced by Christians who are determined to evangelize the world using their Muslim counterpart of the same as a goad to win support. If worse comes to worst then let’s pray that God himself will step down from his throne and join the ranks of secular atheists. Meanwhile, I will burn incense and utter prayers on the altars of clerics of both sides who long for harmony. That such clerics exist on both sides is hidden from view by this video whose makers seem to want to see tornadoes of fear and ignorance sweep across the world.

  11. perhaps my perception is incorrect—but after reading some of the comments, I get the impression that there are some people who feel that “religious justification” for killing is irrational but a non-religious/ideological justification for killing is fine. This cannot be right?. The U.S. has been using drones to kill innocent civilians in Phillipines, Af/Pak border, Yemen and perhaps elsewhere…..It may be that to Americans the justification that —they are a threat to us so we must kill them before they harm us—type of justification may make sense—but it seems insane to me. Imagine a society where people go off killing each other just because they are perceived as threatening? —if we can understand that this is not right on a domestic/national scale—then it cannot be right on an international scale……

    We are all human beings and as such we have much the same nature—“justifications” can be manufactured and whether these are religious or non-religious is irrelevant—what is important to consider is if they are morally/ethically right/wrong. This is not easy to see because justifications are clothed in propaganda—and one needs a critical attitude to arrive at truth.

    Nelson Mandela said

    “no one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

    It does not matter if the justification for dividing the human family into “us” vs “them” is religious or non-religious. Neither is right because such divisions cause harm. Critical thinking to arrive at truth or constructive criticism for improvement can be beneficial, but unthinking criticism and/or criticism based on ignorance is unhelpful/harmful…..and that which causes harm is wrong.

    John F Kennedy said….

    “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”

    At a time when intolerance is on the rise globally, it is important to reflect on how our speech and actions promote tolerance or intolerance……………….

    1. Americans do not justify killing innocent civilians, they are collateral damage. The Americans kill because they think their target is trying to kill them. Religious reasons for killing could be for dissing their God.

      1. Why do you think that Islam terrorism is something we have seen only since around the 1990s and only from certain parts of the world? (Can the recent Buddhist killings of Muslims in Burma be explained by your theory?)

        1. Not sure who you are directing this at but I have a theory, could it be because these groups used to be snuffed out by brutal colonialists and more lately Russians that could respond by escalating violence? I remember the stories of how Islamic enemies would be buried in pig carcasses to deter dying in the wrong places. As liberalism begins to assert itself, fanatics will use this misguided tolerance to grow their power. I believe that relates back to Harris’ comment about Fascists filling the vacuum…

          1. I don’t know whom you are referring to or what you mean by “liberalism”. I don’t know what you mean by “misguided tolerance” or what you think should replace it. Nor do I know whom you are referring to as “brutal colonialists” or when or where these existed. Nor do I understand your reference to the Russians “snuffing out certain groups” since I understand those they were fighting eventually drove them out of Afghanistan. Nor has it been made clear to me who are the “fascists” you mention nor in what way Harris’s views differ from theirs on this issue. My initial question remains unaddressed, it appears.

  12. I think the internet atheists have been found out. Atheism is a respectable philosophy but internet self-promoters do it no good. The Guardian had to close its comments on the criticism of Sam Harris at nearly 4,000 responses:


    “Sam Harris, the New Atheists, and anti-Muslim animus”

    “A long overdue debate breaks out about whether rational atheism is being used as a cover for Islamophobia and US militarism”

    1. But I thought nobody criticised the New Atheist leaders for their racism in wanting Muslim extremists not to have people killed for the crime of blasphemy?

      And yet there are over 4000 responses criticising them.

      But even the BBC are Islamophobes. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22044724

      Just look at the headlines

      ‘BBC Panorama has uncovered fresh evidence of how some Sharia councils in Britain may be putting Muslim women “at risk” by pressuring them to stay in abusive marriages.’

      Would the BBC ever dare to say that Christian courts in Britain are forcing Christian women to stay in abusive marriages?

      Of course not. But change it to Muslim councils , and it is all fair game for the Islamophobes.

      1. The Sharia councils exist specifically because Islamic law differs from UK common law on the subjects of marriage and divorce, child custody and inheritence. According to Sharia, women must request a divorce at a Sharia court, while men can simply repeat it 3 times and it’s done and legally binding. The BBC interviewed muslim women who complained about the resistence they experienced trying to get a divorce this way. Is it the BBCs fault for reporting on this? All of this was perfectly predictable before these councils were given their outrageous status as arbitration tribunals in the first place. Now the “islamophobes” are proven right so it’s “islamophobic” to report on it.

  13. Would the BBC ever dare to say that Christian courts in Britain are forcing Christian women to stay in abusive marriages?

    No, because there are no Christian courts.

    But there are sharia courts which charge women twice as much in fees as male Muslims (because a woman’s claim needs more corroboration and paperwork). The BBC is a news organisation and should report such things.

    1. “No, because there are no Christian courts.”

      They are all Christian courts. This is taken from the official royal charter on press censorship just for one example:

      “ELIZABETH THE SECOND by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Our other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith:”

      That’s right the monarchy of the United Kingdom channels the power of a Christian God.

  14. I don’t have a problem with much of what you say, but:

    “malalaYousafzaiHow does the Muslim family of Malala Yousafzai respond to accusations that Muslims oppress their women? How do the mourners of the multitudes of innocent Muslims advocates of democracy who have been killed and maimed recently in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia respond to accusations that the Muslim religion teaches them to kill innocents?”

    Wasn’t Malala Yousafzai shot at by fundamentalist Muslims, and aren’t the innocent people being killed in Saudi Arabia, for example, by fundamentalist Muslims as well?

    1. I don’t know what a “fundamentalist Muslim” is but it is apparently reliably reported that she was shot by one of the Taliban. Malala Yousafzai and her family are Muslim and are clearly opposed to everything the Taliban stand for. What does that tell you about the Muslim religion per se? The Taliban were recruited from madrassas and knew nothing about the world outside their primitive remote tribalism. I think you can trace the attitudes to women back even to pre-Islamic days in that little narrow society. But even if not, these are people who are ignorant of anything outside their own tribal ways and who lack the sophistication to even be aware of valid possibilities for other interpretations of their books. When they entered Kabul for the first time (before the latest western invasion) they were looking for the naked women they had heard walked the streets. Malala Yousafzai and her family, I strongly suspect, are embarrassed to have their religion associated with the likes of the Taliban. Read my post. This is the point.

  15. My perspective — there is no difference in any of the Abrahamic religions. They are all based on memes that can be used to defend and promote extreme behavior. Most that follow them don’t go to the extreme (hence the word). But some do. In different times and different places, violence and oppression has been more prevalent in one branch than in others. It seems that the worst violence and oppression is in extreme Islam right now. But that will change over time…but as long as these memes persist, it will happen again and again and again.

    Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. – Steven Weinberg

    Religion is way past its “use by” date.

  16. Yes but even Steven Weinberg can leave reason behind on occasions. Even with no religion. As one of the writers I most enjoy reading, for all the knowledge and insight he brings, and how he can express thoughts I have grappled towards myself but never been able to express as well, I was very pleased to find a collection of essays by him that I had never read before – but then disappointed to find one essay which in support of the state of Israel was such a distortion of facts and logic that it took a lot of work to seek out the hidden assumptions that led him to write such rubbish.

    The worst Islamophobe is Acharya, whose love of the American constitution is no excuse for her amity with the extreme right in Holland and her echoing of the arguments of the racist EDL in England. She is not the most dangerous as she has little influence with her wierd and wonderful views. It is Harris and Hitchens who wrap up evil in the flag of reason who can provide real cover for evil. Their belief in the dogma of the immaculate conception of European enlightenment cut off from its Near Eastern roots is breathtakingly arrogant.

  17. The latest news via Al Jazeera: Bangladesh protesters demand blasphemy law. It is clear from this article that the demonstrators are from certain geo-economic-social regions and that something far more than blasphemy is involved. Think history, civil war, war crimes, death penalties imposed on popular leaders. It is equally clear that the demonstrators do not speak for all Bangladeshi Muslims. The scenes here remind me of the public lynchings of witches in another era of our own history. Far more than religion went into the making of those scenes.

    Yes, I deplore religious thought systems that make this possible. But it is also clear that the same events would very likely be happening if the people had some other religious history. Christianity and Judaism have had some very dark moments in their time, too — and still do today in certain areas. The task of the humanist and secularist is to avoid falling into the same demonizing mind-set. We have less excuse with more resources at our fingertips than ever before to understand what is making this world tick and to advocate positive responses that will avoid adding to the pain.

  18. “Before the 1980s there were vibrant socialist and secular political movements among the Middle Eastern states (Arab and Iranian) crying out and dying for political freedoms. Western backed tyrannies in those same countries eventually brutally snuffed out those movements for most part. The only centres of organized resistance remaining were found in the mosques.”

    Partially true. I’d add that the West also coddled, funded and armed islamic fundamentalist movements, from the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to even Hamas, believe it or not.

    “During the Cold War anti-Leftists in the West supported fundamentalist religious groups as a way to fight against Marxists and other “radical” Leftists. In fact, Hamas was created with the assistance of Israel because the Israelis thought that it would be a good idea to draw support away from the secular PLO and Popular Front.

    The same thing took place in Afghanistan with America backing the Islamic Jihadis there in opposition to the Marxist regime and Soviet invasion to support it. On a broader level, this has taken place all across the West, but especially in America, where corporations and political parties supported religiosity to combat Leftist ideology throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

    The result is the world that we see today, with growing religious fundamentalism, conflict, and sectarian violence.

    The Israelis wish they were still dealing with the PLO or the Palestinian Popular Front. The Leftism of the Cold War era was a Leftism that had developed through The Enlightenment era of Western Civilization. It extended the ideas of The Enlightenment: women’s rights, democracy, racial equality, the breaking down of national boundaries, and economic equality.

    The big problem was that last one, economic equality. In defense of economic inequality the West was willing to sacrifice everything and collaborate with the most barbaric and backwards of ideologies and cultures.

    The conflict of the Cold War was at least a conflict between two modes of thought within the same framework. Marxists and secular Leftists were fighting for equal treatment of women, equal treatment of homosexuals, the end of racism, the end of conflict between nations, the end of religion as a tool for suppression of rights and thought, and the end of economic exploitation.

    That was the big fight of the Cold War, to “defeat” the people fighting for these things. Well, now that we have defeated Leftists, now what?

    In order to defeat the Left the West has armed and emboldened religious zealots from the Dark Ages, which have now, predictably, turned on the institutions that coddled them and are now raging across the planet attacking the very cultures that armed and funded them. This includes both the Islamic fundamentlaists from the Middle East and the Christian fundamentalists in America.



    1. “In order to defeat the Left the West has armed and emboldened religious zealots from the Dark Ages”.

      Colonialists have long looked to religious men to control and deliver subject populations – the British colonialists were masters of the ‘take me to your (religious) leader’ principle, but the Americans really took the ball and ran with it.

      I don’t agree that leftism is a product of the european enlightenment – ideas such as secularism and socialism are indigenous to – and more longstanding in – countries such as India and China.

    2. Great explanation, Xanti. As far as I could tell that was on the mark and a very good overview. The only thing I differ on with what you have written here is your last sentence: I do not equate Christian fundamentalism to Islamic fundamentalism, that is if they both try to carefully obey each one’s main book–the New Testament and Qur’an. I also do not consider Catholicism actually Christian since I respect Protestantism the most for trying to recover the early Christian formula when it was realized that Catholicism was way, way off from that… even though the reformers didn’t realize yet that the “history” in the New Testament wasn’t actual history, of course–until this darn thing was allowed to play itself out for several more centuries (so that those who started the Reformation were no longer around, of course, to take lots more observations and draw far better conclusions about the entire enterprise. And yet far too many today still don’t seem to have a clue about all of this! But some of us are onto what really happened, which is important I think.

      People can’t really live in a perfectly nonviolent way–with no military at all, or as complete pacifists, at least not yet–as how the New Testament actually proposes that we do. But give the NT credit for leading the way toward nonviolence, which to me is an unexpected positive result from Jesus taking Isaiah 53 seriously in relation to himself (passing on that example) as then nonviolence rubbed off on the group that had followed him and became one of its main tenets. Meanwhile, a person would not expect that encouraging followers to be willing to die as martyrs to become something popular as how that did; but when you add the status of hero to that with everlasting life following it, where a person is potentially transformed by that into one of the religion’s greats, then in a world where no-one really knows yet what’s real that becomes an attractive option. So I don’t credit Christianity all that much for bringing humanity nonviolence, since I treat that happening more like an accidental outcome of one Jewish prophecy in particular which was bought into as a messianic prophecy by Jesus. But when comparing Christianity to Islam, the NT does not allow any violence AT ALL coming from any Christian, while Islam’s book is comparatively immersed in the topic of how violence is at various times needed as well as useful. There is no comparison between the two in that respect. Islam is far more virulent, and I have looked at this matter enough on my own so far to know that with certainty no matter what some try to mount in that religion’s defense. Both Christianity and Islam are bad and untrue but Islam at its source is inherently worse. This is ultimately why so many prominent atheists have positioned themselves as almost unreservedly opposed to it. That fact underlies all of this I think. However, I’m not saying we can’t sympathize better with Muslims, that we can’t empathize and better understand their plight, or that their individuals don’t retain their own rights to choose for themselves what they feel they should or must believe.

  19. ‘ I suspect most Australians don’t even know Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world.’

    Really? Amazing!

    I had no idea Australians were so ignorant. I mean, Indonesia is fairly close. How can they not know that?

    What do Australians do in schools? The stereotype in Britain is that they surf on the beach and have barbies, and watch Neighbours, but surely they must study a bit of geography.

    And as pointed out, I spent quite a few years living in Manningham in Bradford. There are probably more Muslims there than on British TV in a whole week.

    I mean, it has 78 mosques…. Not bad for a small region in the UK.

    1. ‘ But our defence policies have much more to do with the larger geopolitical worlds of China and America. ‘

      It is a while since I looked at Aussie politics. Is the army there to defend against China?

      According to Wikipedia, – The proportion of Australian voters mentioning Indonesia as a threat reached one in five after the Dili massacre of 1991 and increased to three in ten after the atrocities in East Timor following its 1999 independence referendum. In 2004, an Australian Strategic Policy Institute survey showed 29% of those polled identified Indonesia as ‘most likely’ to pose a threat to Australia in the future, a slight decline from the figure of 31% recorded in 2001. In all surveyed periods, Indonesia was unambiguously recognised as the country representing the most likely threat to Australia

      I personally can’t even begin to imagine Indonesian hordes invading Alice Springs. But I’m not an expert on South East Asia military matters.

      1. Please tell me your point re Islamophobia. I know those figures very well. Knew them at the time they were first published. What is your point? What does this have to do with Islamophobia? Please explain. Do. Really! Do you have any notion of what offended Australians at the time of the East Timor-Dili business? Would you care to relate that to Islam in any way? Please Steven, I thought you were better than this.

    2. I re-edited my post since you replied. But if your intent it to offend me on the basis of my nationality you have failed. The only impact of your reply here is that I find you vacuous.

      So this is what it has come down to. I challenge you on your Islamophobia (explicable given that your phobia is having to confront such a large concentration of mosques in your own narrow locality) and you resort to good old British bashing of Antipodeans. I don’t bash Brits for being Brits. But you seem to find grounds for pulling out all sorts of stereotypes from your end when I challenge you on the logic and evidential basis for your Islamophobic claims.

      I’m glad you have told us about your own neighbourhood. We can now put in perspective your comments. You never felt threatened but you still believe adherents of the Muslim religion should be feared. Right. Understood.

      1. ‘You never felt threatened but you still believe adherents of the Muslim religion should be feared. ‘

        I never said that. I said that atheist bloggers should be afraid of the 100,000+ Bangladeshi Muslims who demanded that atheist bloggers should be killed.

        I tend to worry about people who want to kill people like me – even if they have brown skin. I’m like that…. By nature, I’m a worrier.

        As for Indonesia, you said I was a ‘laughing stock’ for thinking that the ADF’s purpose was to defend against Indonesia (even though I said that Indonesia was hardly likely to invade)

        I should point out that http://www.themonthly.com.au/why-australias-defence-all-sea-middling-power-hugh-white-6161 Hugh White iProfessor of strategic studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.is hardly a laughing stock.

        He wrote recently ‘With Asia’s main players off the board, we only had to be able to defend ourselves against our immediate neighbours – and Indonesia was the only conceivable adversary.’

        He said that that time was now past. So I was hardly a laughing stock, just a little behind on Australian current affairs.

        1. I keep asking you — and you keep avoiding an answer — what has this to do with the issue of Islamophobia? You keep avoiding the Moslem factor when it really counts for some reason, though that is what this discussion is all about. That’s what I have been trying to push from the start. You seem to assume that Indonesia is a code word for a need to fear Islam. Why Indonesia is even stressed at all by you when you are trying to tell us we should fear Islam because of what hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis are doing right now is very curious. Look at Bangladesh. Study what is going on there and why.

        2. Oh Steven. get real. I did not say you were a “laughing stock for thinking ADF’s purpose was to defend against Indonesia”. Come on now. Do read and respond to what I do say. I also did not say we were planning to engage China directly in conflict. I really did think you were more careful than this.

          And do get real. 100,000 Bangladeshis are not causing you to lose sleep tonight because they might kill you within a few hours. Your Moslem neighbours are not doing that. Let that register. Ask them why they don’t want to kill you. (Or get a friend of a friend to ask some of them.)

          And do stop and take a breath and look at what is happening there in Bangladesh and ask yourself Why! But that will mean having to make the effort to read more than what you hear on the headlines of mainstream TV. It will also mean having to ask yourself why they did not rise up spontaneously a year ago when they heard of the same atheist bloggers then.

          My earlier response about the Australian military was to demonstrate that it trains to fight overseas and is not in conflict with Indonesia. Yes, geo-political strategists regularly update long term potential security threats and they would exist in relation to Indonesia regardless of whatever religion Indonesians are — simply by virtue of history and geography. Meanwhile, Australian soldiers are training certain Indonesian forces. Indonesia’s government is well publicized as rooting out terrorists and the terrorist threat there has diminished significantly since the Bali bombing.

          Now what does any of this tell us about the nature of adherents of the Islamic faith?

  20. “Muslims experienced their 9/11 in 1982 at the hands of Christians and Israelis — who from their position of power did not have to resort deviously to suicide missions to accomplish their wills.”

    The obvious implication of this statement is that Muslims had no choice but to engage in suicide missions in order to accomplish their “wills”.

    To what “wills” are you referring, specifically?

    The will to kill many people? The will to deliberately spread fear? The will the destroy that which is useful in order to please one’s magical, invisible friend?

    Please be specific. And do you, too, possess such “wills”, Vridar?

    1. I am sorry you see the “obvious implication” in my statement that you do. Try reading it again. I reject utterly your “obvious implication”.

      The “wills” I am referring to are the intentions of anyone at any time. Some resort to violence to achieve what they want or to react to what they experience. That’s true of humanity generally, the powerful and the powerless.

      I find your reference to wanting to kill many people and spread fear very disturbing. I do not believe for a second that most Muslims, any more than most Christians, have truly wanted bloodshed and fear anywhere in the world. I am reminded of the times people blamed Jews, Germans, Japanese as genetically deficient when it came to enhancing civilized values in the world. Islamophobia does not say Muslims are genetically deficient, but it does assume that they are mindless servants of evil.

      That is itself another form of dehumanization, of demonizing the other.

    2. You should actually perform the death count yourself. Count who has killed more and through violence, political and economic means disenfranchised more. Did you know that there is an CIA group of dissenters who estimate that the organisations activities have caused the deaths of over 6 MILLION people?

  21. Everybody has their blind spots and it is devilishly tricky to avoid them sometimes.

    I haven’t read a good reply to Greenwald’s post. Harris certainly missed. Although I thought Hussain’s piece was dead wrong in its main point – that Harris is comparable to scientific racists. The issue is much more subtle than that.

    Good post, Neil.

      1. Approaching 1,000 tweet visits in the last 3 hours. I wondered what was going on. Thanks for explaining.

        This is encouraging. I was beginning to feel a bit down about the extent of the problem of demonizing the adherents of a whole faith based on so many of the responses till now. It’s obviously a major problem that does need serious addressing. I do thank those commenters who have expressed support for my post. I should also thank, I suppose, those who have “come out” in strong objection to it — they’ve driven home to me a little more the extent of unreason in modern enlightened societies.

  22. I think moderate Christians and moderate Muslims have been caught with their pants down, so to speak. With moderate Christians, they want to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, is the Jew’s Messiah and God’s Son and they celebrate many things which signify that. But if you accept all of that about Jesus, then a person who accepts him in that way should be paying close attention to everything Jesus is shown to have said—should pay close attention if he is actually trustworthy and deserving of such respect—in light of him having been shown to claim that even though “heaven and earth will pass away, my words will never pass away,” even as many of those alleged sayings of Jesus are very, very problematic… as well as the words of those who have been shown as further developing his viewpoint, like the author of Revelation.

    The same thing applies to moderate Muslims. To be a Muslim, any kind of Muslim at all, you must adhere to the religion’s five pillars, like traveling to Mecca and associating with other Muslims who are radical in the religion’s behalf. You must also take what the Qur’an says seriously which puts a person in the same boat as moderate Christians by them accepting several things that are not just radical at their roots but also false.

  23. Thank you Neil for pointing out the incoherence and fundamentally illogical argumentation populist atheists have taken. The tough part of being a Muslim engaging these issues with atheist is that their scientific outlook has afforded them a bias. The assumption is that they understand the issues critically. But peel back the arguments, and layer after layer just reveal a cultural bias and a presumption of a authoritative values. In his own words, Dawkins doesn’t have to read the Quraan to criticise Islam. That leaves us a with a new secular chauvinism, that is very western in outlook, and rarely turns the judgements in on itself.

    Rarely do people associate Guantanamo or Depleted Uranium weapons or even Western Economic and Political exploitation with the failures of the secular west. Conveniently, the victims can be imagined the victimisers because an action falls within the fold of a religious world view. Yet it doesn’t appear as a non-religious world view has allowed people to rectify the crimes of their inherent political systems.

    1. Are you saying that all cultures are equal? Can I agree that Guantanamo is bad and also believe that the acts of terrorism in the name of ALLAH deserves condemnation? Most irritating of all is the bias of left wingers that justify the enslavement of women and all the other crimes of the groups they support.

      1. Your cultural measures are relative, conveniently ignore local conditions, and they open up neat avenues of double-standards. Most people living within their rights who cultivate an Islamic culture in their lives, are not just happy to do so but also live full and successful lives and are of a benefit to the society around them. Enslavement of women? How about systemic enslavement of the poor? What about discrimination against women? What about violations of international law?

        The fact of the matter is that the American and NATO’s war on terror is ILLEGAL and IMMORAL on a massive scale, resulting in the deaths and enslavement of millions. Does that not highlight a major failure in western culture? Since there is no religion that can be burdened with the failure, right wing secularists conveniently presume that there is no systemic problem. Why? Because religion and God are neatly defined boxes where all the worlds ills can be placed. People are forcing the evidence to suit their ideas. But speak openly to contemporary westerners from a variety of non-European cultural backgrounds and they’ll point out the systemic prejudice and abuse they experience on a daily basis. Talk to international NGO’s and they’ll tell you all about the way political and Economic exploitation of non-Western cultures is the foundation of the civilised western exterior. No different to the colonial west of a hundred years ago.

        The objective is not to stigmatise culture and and beliefs which are subjective anyway. But to establish a free and equitable environment where people can legitimately express their personal beliefs without prejudice and pursue their own lifes ambitions without prejudice. The reality of the Muslim world is that the West supports secular and theocratic regimes that offer these people none of that freedom. Which further entrenches the Muslim world’s outlook that the Western political model will continue to fail them.

        1. The systemic problem is simply the concentration of power. Can you honestly say that if it wasn’t the US that had $700 billion per year to “build empire” with, but Egypt, the world would be a utopia of equality, and there would be no attempts to stuff Islam down our throats? It’s delusional to think that a country where 83% of the people believe that the penalty for apostacy is death and that has an islamist for president would be so tolerant.

          How are millions being killed and enslaved exactly? If you refer to the death toll in Iraq: this was surely a powder keg carelessly set off by the US, but it was not American bombs, bullets and grenades that killed the most, it was Sunni killing Shia and vice versa.

          1. I’m so glad that you admit the core of your belief i.e. Empire and the Imperialism are core tenets of Western identity, and your view of the outside world is essentially one of violent barbarians who must be tamed (and conveniently economically exploited).

            Well, how are Muslim women enslaved exactly? The women in my family are all scarved practising Muslims, most of whom are educated with Masters level secular education. I expect you mean their enslavement quite metaphorically by how you perceive their treatment. But you’re clearly speaking from an emotional racist standpoint. Prejudice is what informs your position, even though outwardly it doesn’t take the form of prejudice.

            If it actually were Muslims dropping bombs all over the United States or Germany, then you would be completely justified in making assertions of Muslims forcing Islam down everyones throats. But noone is. And that is what you need to deal with. The wild accusations are simply your attempt at avoiding any form of accountability. Not what Islam and Muslims could do, but what your own civilisations imperial construct actually IS DOING.

            You also need to accept that the United States is an occupying power in Iraq with responsibilities (one of which was to not violate international law and lie to go to war in the first place). So yes, the entire situation can be placed at the door of your cultural establishment, because with $700billion, it’s easier to simply buy democracy, not bomb it into (out of?) existence. In fact, the estimation of completely eradicating global poverty is around $120billion.

            Also the material evidence of civilian casualties from American activity (often lowballed in the Western press) cannot be talked away. Direct casualties number in the HUNDREDS of thousands. Indirect casualties are multiples of that.

            War conduct, which is the marker of this western extremism is atrocious. Compare that to the foolhardy Muslim nations (Pakistanis, Afghans, Iraqis etc) who are actually fighting this war on terror on behalf of Westerners by lining their own children up like fodder, only to have you attack their basic beliefs and capacity for humanity and civilisation. What a sad joke indeed.

            1. You make an awful lot of assumptions about what I think and what my beliefs are.

              About enslavement, I was quoting you and asking what you meant. You quite spectacularly misunderstand me, and rant and rave, accuse me of racism out of the blue. As always, there is a nature vs. nurture distinction here: race is 100% nature, religion 100% nurture. Blaming people for their genes is unfair, blaming people for believing harmful or false things is not.

              I believe Empire and Imperialism are quite universal “sins”. If you have power you are very likely to abuse it, and apply it to hold on to it. The Arabs conquered the north of Africa and Spain when they had the power to do so. I think those that bear signs saying “Islam will dominate the world” are voicing a more widely held dream, yes. The US must be roundly criticized for its imperialism and the crimes it commits. However, did you really think the US would just accept being spat in the face on 9/11 and do nothing?

              Muslims do stuff Islam down everybody’s throat already. Atheists are persecuted, sentenced to prison if they speak up. Cases exist in Indonesia, Egypt, Tunesia just to name a few. Apostates from Islam have to fear for their lives wherever they are. Critics must always weigh whether they want to risk that their lives will never be the same after they speak up about Islam. And that is regarding people living in Europe or the US, let alone muslim majority countries.

              1. “Most irritating of all is the bias of left wingers that justify the enslavement of women and all the other crimes of the groups they support.”

                So actually, I’ve made no assumptions. I take your statements to their logical conclusions, to show the dichotomy in judgement and the prejudice that drives it.

                “However, did you really think the US would just accept being spat in the face on 9/11 and do nothing?” You constantly evidence the double standard and then say I’m ranting when I point it out. By the time 9/11 had happened, half a million people in Iraq may have already been lost to depleted uranium ammunition and sanctions, Palestine was being spitefully occupied, Afghanistan was in tatters and numerous other murderous actions (political and economic) committed by the western Imperial construct etc. There was no real civility by the western establishment to slow it down, bring perpertrators to book, nor vehement atheist criticism (with all it’s scientific measures and statistics) of the evil it entails. In fact you find it a minor “sin” and “necessary”. The irony is that the evidence of this abuse is not just clear, but voluminous after centuries of this pattern of dialogue and activity.

                Clearly you do not afford the Muslim world the privilege of being offended by it’s repeated abuse. If people are entitled to different levels of rights depending on who they are or where they’re from or what religion they adhere to.. then that is clearly RACIST. There is no other definition for this.

                Considering that Apostasy has been treated rather unjustly as a crime in parts of the Muslim world and you conclude that is a major flaw of the Islamic cultural construct (though it mostly isn’t always the case and the Islamic ruling on freedom of conscience is of primacy to majority of Muslims). But consider the similar treatment of prisoners of conscience who are Muslims in Guantanamo or Western whistleblowers (like Bradley Manning) and you can rarely even muster the slightest bit of concern about the state of of the Western cultural pact.

                I find it strange that when victims number millions (indicating to me a significant flaw), it is necessary, but when victims number hundreds (indicating to me, a need for reform) … yet you can still boldly conclude that rot is at the Islamic heart. It’s the kind of facetiousness that non-Europeans and non-Westerners have learnt to accept after many generations of similar experience. And if you think that that implies people have laid down and accepted this second class status (you call a necessary evil), you have a seriously flawed outlook of humanity.

              2. I find it strange that when victims number millions (indicating to me a significant flaw), it is necessary, but when victims number hundreds (indicating to me, a need for reform) …

                There seems to be a law that we (I mean the “we” of any nation) accept our own actions as just, or understandable, or regrettably necessary, or an unfortunate and unintended aberration even though they are the same or comparable to the actions of our enemies. I can never get my head around the way documentaries or news stories even today will condemn as a war-criminal a German military officer in WW2 who, say, shot a dozen civilians in a village in order to put an end to villager attempts to kill the troops under his command on the one hand, yet on the other hand we can justify as an unfortunate necessity the snuffing out of two entire cities of 150,000 or so civilians in Japan in order to avoid further losses to the troops under ‘our’ command.

              3. I feel that this “other”-ing of people and their suffering is actually the mutually parasitic force that fuels most human conflict. For me, Love, Peace and Understanding are not sentimental romantic goals, but a necessary dogma that comes from acknowledging our shared human frailty. If that lesson comes from religion, science, philosophy, politics etc. I’d support it. But if any of these actually fuel this constant alienation, then I find it will tend to have a destructive influence and should be shunned. Have the conversation and be frank, but don’t dehumanise others and/or imagine yourself exceptional in the process. 21st Century human beings should have the knowledge, wisdom and experience to achieve this goal, regardless of race or creed.

                I also feel that people in power and with means have a moral responsibility, not just to others, but themselves too, to seek non-violent resolutions to conflict. Sanctions, threats of war, espionage, trade-barriers etc. are all forms of aggression. Whether the Western world likes it or not; non-white, non-Christian, English and French speaking are westerners here to stay, with all our bastardised idiosyncrasies. This outcome was a historical certainty the first time a white person boarded a ship to set sail across the tip of Africa or traverse the Earth from some port in Europe.

                Some of these idiosyncrasies are deplorable, most are harmless, and many are even beneficial. But by isolating people for being different and constantly seeking fault in them, one can never hope to cease any crisis or make any progress to reduce conflict. It’s disingenuous to think so. And no high standing in the scientific community erases the nature of that dialogue or it’s inevitable outcome.

              4. I share your sentiments. It was only after I left religion behind that I was truly able for the first time to acknowledge that we are all one family in this drifting boat together, and are not to be divided between sheep and goats, or opposing camps, as all three Abrahamic religions teach. If we ever doubt any of this, we only have to talk to people we see (even those wearing Muslim costume) in order to be reassured.

                Sure there are real criminals who do do harm but happily they are the outcasts of all societies. A few people have from time to time tried to humanize Hitler, say in a movie, and have met with indignant outrage. That’s a big mistake, the outrage I mean. Only by acknowledging that Hitler was one of us can we begin to understand ourselves in ways that really matter.

              5. “that we are all one family in this drifting boat together, and are not to be divided between sheep and goats, or opposing camps, as all three Abrahamic religions teach.”

                Is this not the essence of the matter at hand. These religions do teach separation, distinction, chosen people, saved and damned and provide cover for prejudiced treatment of “not us”. Depending on the ignorance and poverty of the population and the form and stability of a government, these prejudices are expressed differently and we in the west see the expression in some Muslim societies as particularly egregious…but they are different only in form, not in substance.

                To the extent that the ideas in these religions do not create restraint and tolerance, but actually provide cover for this prejudiced behavior, It seems to me quite fair to criticize the tenets of these religions (and any worldview that does the same) and to point out examples wherever they occur.

                I don’t think you would find any cover for these types of predujdiced behaviors in this “good” book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Good-Book-Humanist-Bible/dp/0802778372/

              6. Agreed it is fair and right to criticize tenets of any religions that provide cover for prejudiced behaviour, and in this case that’s exactly what it appears most Muslims do when they argue that violent extremist Muslims are mis-using or wrongly interpreting certain tenets to excuse their prejudiced behaviour. (I am using “criticize” in the technical sense of what scholars do when they interpret books/other biblical texts.)

                The criticism of the tenets of their writings does happen among the Muslims themselves. We do not help the situation when we take the extremists’ interpretations of those tenets at face value — oblivious to how must Muslims interpret/criticize them — and then lump all Muslims together as potentially dangerous believers of tenets as interpreted and understood by the extremists.

              7. Banality of evil and all that. Naturally, my perspective of religion differs from yours. But that’s no reason for us to deny our shared vision of our common humanity. The single human family is an idea I encounter and learnt in my Islamic religion. You didn’t. So what. Doesn’t relieve either of us from the burden of what we know about our human nature. We came to a shared truth through different paths. That’s a necessity of the human condition. In the 21st century, I find the nation state more divisive than religion. It’s usually the platform for that division. Faith in nation, state, the scientific establishment even, are forms of faith that can take on dogmatic divisive forms. Is it not the people who need reform and assessment too? Thank you for your response Neil.

  24. The problem is Abrahamic theocracies especially where the general population is undereducated, underemployed and underfunded. It just turns out that most of these are Islamic at this point in time. Back when there many Christian theocracies, similar atrocities happened. And all we have to do is read the OT to see what happened in Jewish theocracies. This has nothing to do with atheism. But until the Abrahamic memes are replaced with humanistic ones (be they couched in some form of theism or not), the problems will persist and prevail.

  25. I grew up in a Muslim family and community in Canada and can agree with a lot of the points in this post. A lot of Muslims I know reject the killing of innocents and support equality of women. I know this since I had similar beliefs (I’m an atheist now). However, focusing on these Muslims as examples of why everyone is wrong about Islam is a major issue for me. I personally find liberal and peaceful Muslims to be as much of a threat to Western civilization as the extremists. This is because the liberal Muslims act as shields to protect from any criticism of extremists and of their faith.

    1. This is because the liberal Muslims act as shields to protect from any criticism of extremists and of their faith.

      Can you expand on what you meant by this? It sounds similar to my own criticism of mainstream Christianity insofar as it makes a virtue of faith (unreason) and a virtue of reverencing an ancient set of books as if they have relevance for today. Those are the preconditions that lead to many other “sins”, in particular an environment that supports the flourishing of cults and extremists.

      But I’m not sure you are meaning the same thing in relation to Muslims.

      1. Sorry, I should have expanded on my last point a little more.

        I was trying to explain how I find liberal Islam to be a threat to Western civilization since it allows the faith to be free from important criticism. There are a lot of issues with the religion that I believe are not being addressed since many thinkers and journalists are focusing on liberal Muslims who have ‘conformist’ interpretations of Islam. Focusing on these liberal Muslims will not make the issues go away and will likely strengthen extremists and their ideas. I find the liberal Muslims to be building out a community that extremists can then exploit without any repercussions.

        I find this behaviour towards Islam dangerous and will eventually cause society to not address issues posed by the faith (and as an ex-Muslim, I can tell you there are major problems). Although these ‘new-atheists’ may act quite harsh and intolerant towards Muslims, I think that they are on the right track in making it normal to criticize this faith.

        1. Criticism of any faith is a good thing in my books. And that’s why I am encouraged when I hear Muslim leaders in particular talking about the need of their religion to undergo a serious introspection. Christianity has had a very different history with the Reformations and challenges of the Enlightenment etc.

          We should be encouraging such initiatives among those Muslim leaders who are pushing for that sort of self-reflection. That’s one reason I fear the demonization of the entire religion (meaning by implication all adherents of the faith) is counter-productive.

          When I left Christianity for a while I thought it would be a good thing to rid the world of all forms of Christianity. In a theoretical sense I still think that. But at the same time I cannot deny that religious or spiritual beliefs do seem to be very much embedded in the “human condition”.

          1. I like your last comment very much, Neil; and I think that what Darius brought just above was very helpful also. I think the post was constructive by allowing many to state their thoughts on this, air those so to speak in a way that others (who tend to be studious or else they most likely wouldn’t be here) could check those against their own perspectives. While I agree with the new atheism taking a hard approach against both Islam and Christianity, this post may very well have helped more of us to guard against bringing racism into the mixture of how we view this. I find dark skin often attractive, by the way.

  26. Here is why New Atheists such as Harris, Dawkins, Coyne, etc are right to judge and name Islam as being the most dangerous religion:

    None of them has ever claimed that every person who calls themself a Muslim is a supporter of any or all of the atrocities that are carried out by Islamic extremists. In fact, they have all stated that it is other Muslims who suffer most at the hands of Islamic extremists. It is the IDEAS that are incorporated within Islam that makes it the most dangerous religion on the planet to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Islam creates a chaos of suffering, inequality and violent hatred within and without Islamic countries in a way that no other religion does.

    1. Ideas do not exist apart from expressions of human thoughts and beliefs. The Islamophobia of Coyne, Harris and co is directed against people. They “idea-lize” people with demonic ideas. They do not see people as human but as de-humanized and idea-lized instead, like robots programmed to kill and hurt. Those that do not “yet”(?) kill and harm are just waiting to be awakened by the right circumstance, such as those crying out for the deaths of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, before they, too, act out their programmed mindset, like some alien-possessed characters in a Dr Who movie.

      That is the reality of how Coyne and others are portraying the adherents of Islam — they who must be feared. No-one fears an idea that they believe is not lying in a human ready to be turned on by something otherwise trivial to make them kill.

  27. In any worthwhile debate, the assumption must be that all participants are being honest or the whole thing is doomed to end in ugliness – very public ugliness as it happens, in the case of blog debates. If we examine the recent publishing of Murtaza Hussain on Sam Harris, we must immediately conclude this assumption of honesty is premature. Harris demonstrates this quite clearly in his blog response: when we consider his exposition of Hussain’s careful excision of context with regards to the “fascists” quote, it is impossible to defend Hussain’s good faith here, regardless of which side of the debate you are on. Yet, as of the time of writing, Hussain has not acknowledged this, nor retracted it, nor apologized for it. The only conclusion that can be drawn from this, should be obvious to anyone: Hussain has set out to damage Harris by outright defamation. It is trivial to make a mess, but it can take very serious effort to clean up that mess. Hussain knows this, of course. Incidentally, recent tweets by Hussain support that this is his motive, as can be readily seen online. As for Greenwald’s involvement in this whole thing, he should really have known better than to endorse this blatant libelous defamation.

    1. What utter bullshit. Harris’s “fascist” quote has the same meaning whether in full paragraph form or not; whoever wants to see can click the words which are a link to his full piece. I invited him to specify what he finds so sensible about them or apologize and in typical fashion he arrogantly declined.

      Furthermore, as part of his public slander of me as a misquoter and “abysmally dishonest” he has decontextualized his own quote from a broader argument. Viewed in a vacuum I wouldn’t say that quote isn’t evidence of anything, viewed in the context of a million public statements – yeah, I get the impression that he’d support fascist policies to suppress the rights of Muslims.

      The depressing, sheeplike fanatacism of Harris-followers such as yourself is absolutely stunning. Your critical thinking and reading comprehension abilities are evidently quite weak, while your predilection to blindly follow the dictates of some purported intellectual authority is strong. Some freethinker.

      1. I think pretty much every sentence of that reply is fallacious, congratulations. Tu quoque… ad hominem… Way to add to the debate.

        If you still deny your mined quote thoroughly misrepresents the point made by Harris when he said it: I’m sorry, but his point seemed quite clear. Allow me to quote again what you don’t seem to be getting about the argument:

        “Such fanatics are, as I thought I made clear, the wrong people to do this, being nearly as bad as jihadists themselves. I was not praising fascists: I was arguing that liberal confusion and cowardice was empowering them.”

        Yet, you framed this by prefacing it with this statement:

        “Harris has stated that the correct policy with regard to Western Muslim populations is in fact that which is currently being pursued by contemporary fascist movements today.”

        Blatantly dishonest. This isn’t to say your criticism of Harris is invalid, it may very well be valid: I have no horse in this race. Try to criticize the points he is actually making, instead of the points you either maliciously pretend or erroneously believe he is making. What you are doing right now is simply smearing, however you want to spin it.

        These are important discussions about the world we live in, let’s not let it devolve into lies, abuse and the like.

        1. What Harris is saying, it appears to me, is that the fascists have the right idea about Muslims but this is embarrassing because of all the other things associated with fascism. What liberals need to do is take the wind out of the sails of the fascists and make their attitudes and policies on Muslims their own.

          Harris is clearly embarrassed by association with fascists — that’s a a good thing. He should be. But his complaint is that part of the popularity of the fascists is the result of them espousing views that the liberals should be more courageous in espousing themselves. That way people can embrace fascist views while no-one remembers they are fascist anymore.

          If the fascists have the right policy then liberals should steal their policy and shout it louder so that people can no longer be accused of being fascists — even though they hold the same views on this matter!

          1. It isn’t about the fascists’ policies at all! If anyone actually believes Harris would want to melt Muslims into wax as Hussain tendenciously tried to suggest, they are out of their mind.

            It is simply about the very real fact that very few (if any at all) liberal politician dare say anything critical all about Islam, for fear of being branded Islamophobic. In effect, this could humorously be referred to as Islamophiaphobia, if it weren’t for the fact that it has grown to become a warranted fear, not an irrational one.

            Examples of this have been rampant in recent months and years.

        2. This is funny, you placed his most recent “explanation” into the past tense to make him seem more reasonable at the moment and me somehow malicious in my misinterpretation.

          I invite you to imagine what the reaction would be like if someone had substituted the word “fascist” for “Hamas” in that sentence and “Islam” for “Judaism” – holding all else. Needless to say the maelstrom of outrage would’ve rightfully drummed the speaker out of respectability and probably into some SPLC hate group watchlist. (by the way Robert Spencer, who is actually designated by the SPLC jumped in this debate to write and defend Harris – utterly hilarious)

          If someone says something is “sensible” they are offering an ambiguous endorsement of it. Its a weighty statement which they should make with some care, and upon being called out might want to back up and specify what exactly is sensible instead of doubling down.

          Apparently no one except Harris and a very select band of new atheists can actually tell wtf he’s talking about when he says something.

          1. Can you clarify what you mean by the first sentence of this response? I haven’t edited any word in quoting either you nor Sam Harris?

            Let’s talk about the thought experiment you proposed (considering it verbatim): it is not hard to imagine that in the world we currently live in, your prediction about what would happen would be fairly realistic. This isn’t at all hard to explain, BUT I posit that it is not at all an indicator of what you think it is an indicator of. (I fully concede that we are now entering ‘dangerous’ territory. Bear with me.) Judaism, in our society, _is_ unjustly afforded some protection from criticism, under the aegis of religious tolerance. It is hard to imagine Harris – being an atheist – arguing against this point (in fact, I can recall reading or hearing him making this very point), so I do not think you two differ in opinion about this as much as you think. It is similarly not hard to argue that Hamas’ view is in fact antisemitic (or do you disagree on this?) and not simply critical of Judaism, in which case much of the point you were making with this analogy evaporates. The fact that is not an organization that simply objects to Judaism, can be readily seen in the Hamas charter, which declares the Jewish race as subhuman. Coming back to the analogy, public opinion and sensibilities are warped with respect to knee-jerk reactions to certain utterances, to the point that anyone saying taboo A is immediately disqualified about everything else (call this B here) they say. Clearly, this is a natural way for humans to ensure their energy is spent on worthwhile discussions as opposed to, say, debating crazy racists or for example crackpot conspiracy theorists. Your assumption, then, that there is nothing worth discussing about B (or even some aspects of A), however logical, is false.

            As an aside, kindly leave Robert Spencer out of the argument – this is fallacious: we are discussing Harris (who is not guilty of any fact Z simply because some person X with view Y defends him on some point).

            As far the point about the perceived endorsement of fascists and their policies, kindly refer to my reply to Neil just above this, which explains this confusion that seems to lie at the heart of the criticism. Please do read this, it is the post signed (Comment by Paul — 2013/04/10 @ 2:16 pm).

            1. I’d read that comment. The point is how heinous it is to ambiguously suggest what they say is “sensible” when you look at what they ACTUALLY say. The people who – interspersed between their violent fantasies about what they’d like to do to Muslims – may make the occasional salient point about integration,can scarcely be described as sensible. My invitation was for it to be specified what exactly is sensible (I don’t intrinsically know what Harris believes or have unquestioning faith in his goodwill) from what they do in fact publicly say.

              Also as I’ve repeatedly said the article wasn’t about this quote, it is a collection of his arguments where the real-world implications of the stuff he says is laid out. Viewed in a vacuum I’d agree that quote is not evidence of anything. Viewed in context of all his public statements and writings the picture looks a quite different. Academic philosophers do posit terrible situations as thought experiments, my case is that he pretends to do this merely to find justifications for his far-right neoconservative ideology. He never misses a beat, every “thought-experiment” comes down as something John Bolton would give his enthusiastic endorsement to.

              Harris is little more than a court intellectual for the far-right. He offers a veneer of academic detachment and objectivity to policies based on the exercise of pure power. Any talk of “moral consideration” is quaint at best.

              Suggested reading which does far more comprehensive work exposing this charlatan:

              http://mondoweiss.net/2012/06/sam-harris-uncovered.html (long read)

              http://ggsidedocs.blogspot.com.br/2013/04/murtaza-hussain-replies-to-harris-and.html (more from me)

              1. By the way, of all the quotes the “fascist” one was probably less offensive than:

                “The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns.”

                I have never heard something so risible in my life.

              2. I am with you in disagreeing with that quote. Yet, I must come back to the earlier point I was making. My view on discourse on these issues is that NO ONE should be taking ANY absolutist views (except me taking this absolute view that there should be no absolutist views 😉 traditionally defined relativism is self-refuting of course, but I digress into philosophy). I mean this on two levels: on the level of views on the issues themselves, and – more importantly here – on the meta-level of the discussion itself. Harris is surely only human, and you needn’t agree with everything he says to find truth of much of what he says. Because of some of the stuff you disagree with in his writings, you discard everything. In some bizarrely poetic way this exactly reflects the reasoning of someone who calls the whole of Islam reprehensible because of a very small bad part of it. Do you see what I mean to say here?

              3. I don’t reject all of what he says (for instance I have no opinion on his neuroscience work or the integrity of his atheism advocacy), but I have the distinct impression that he his fear and hatred of Muslims has clouded his rational faculties. He seems incapable of offering even the slightest nuance in his views on this minority, and when inevitably subject to accusations on this point he acts as though his goodwill is a given and his opponents must necessarily be acting in good faith.

                All of this again could be dismissed were there not a massive war going on around this debate. Instead of his conscience being shocked by the horrific events on the past decade he seems in all his positions to be calling for more blood, or to try and rationalize the worst atrocities. Its despicable, and again while I do not claim to make any judgement about his inner character I believe his rationality on this issue has been forfeited to the darker emotions.

              4. (I think you should not call it “fear and hatred of Muslims”, it is their bad ideas he hates, not the people.)

                Well, in my view, much of his pessimism can be – in essence – related to the fact that he doesn’t think the world should just be trusting the leadership of a certain Islamic state on their word that they are researching nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Now, I know the actual war being fought has little if anything to do with the aforementioned state. This doesn’t change the fact that I have the feeling that the possibility of this potentially world-devastating scenario informs much of his thoughts on actual policy in most somewhat related situations. Now, none of us can really predict the future or know what the intentions with the aforementioned nuclear program are. Given the stakes, should any such thoughts really be dismissed without any consideration, given the reality of the world we are in right now? Simply calling it fear-mongering does seem quite callous.

                (If only we could turn back the clock and uninvent the nuclear bomb… that really was the biggest mistake ever.)

                About the accusations of bad faith on his opponents’ behalf: as previously discussed, in arguing that his views are bad, this should be done rationally and honestly. And I have yet to see any remotely convincing argument that is both of these things, that really shows your claims about Harris to be factual and not just _assumptions about his bad faith_ from you and ‘yours’. (This bad-faith game is becoming a bit like ping-pong by now, have you noticed?) I can see you are making a somewhat more balanced argument now, in this one-on-one discussion with me, than you were in the various blog posts. (I feel compelled to reiterate the point here on the ethics of journalism, especially given the ability to spread memes, false or otherwise, using the Internet.) Passion about this subject is clearly not something only Harris has. Have you reflected on the fact that your own faculties may also be clouded by various things, the most obvious of which – in this context – perhaps would be your faith (which I’m sure is a large part of your very identity)? When discussing politics rationally and secularly, it shouldn’t be playing a role (on the level of the discussion), yet I don’t think anyone would ever really proclaim it doesn’t and not be lying about it. More generally, religious sensibilities of all kinds, which remain prevalent in our society, however secular it may be, are also to blame. Harris rightfully made this point over 7 years ago, of course, and it has changed somewhat (I haven’t seen any rigorous research on this, but it is my feeling that it has), but these things don’t happen overnight.

              5. If you get the impression that I’m speaking more civilly its because I’m speaking to you. Frankly I think if after being fully cognizant of all Harris’ views and statements you still see his problem is purely with “ideas” in my opinion you are far too myopic to spend much further time in discussion with. (You will likely argue the same of me, and never shall our positions meet.) You’ve shown absolutely zero evidence of his nuance while I’ve offered ample evidence of his malignancy. Accusing me of smearing him is a hilarious conceit – he has been smearing himself with his own noxious words for years.

              6. (This will be my last comment)

                Harris’ disgusting take on the Iran nuclear issue follows a typical pattern. He makes a tabloid caricature out of his subject, then argues it is likely necessary to do something unthinkable to the subject. This is the tactic of the worst demagogues and hatemongers in history, it is the bread and butter of the worst fanatics including those who inspire Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups. Ultimately, all these people are more the same than they are different.

                Such repulsive rhetoric must be opposed vociferously, and it is good that this episode has brought some light to it. I do my best to raise awareness against dangerous extremism, but I’ve never been so pleased as when Glenn gave his own magnificent deconstruction of Harris in such a mainstream outlet. I believe it will do a lot of good for the public discourse, and perhaps teach Harris some of the humility which his father apparently neglected to endow him with.

              7. It’s unfortunate, especially since you have in effect declared the discussion over, that you apparently completely failed to understand the point of the last paragraph of the previous post I made. Actually, given the frequency with which this particular point has been made and the evasive way it has been dealt with every single time (hint: it hasn’t been dealt with at all by ‘your side of the argument’) it becomes very hard to take any of this seriously for any rational debater. Not a single point of substance has really been made for your case against Harris, instead relying on spurious claims of demagoguery, laughable comparisons to scientific racism in the past, guilty by association arguments or more generally, appeals to emotion. It is a shame your side of the argument keeps resorting to just rehashing this same mantra. “Harris is bad, because only a bad guy would say this thing I disagree with: here are some crazy people, contemporary and historical; Harris is totally like them! Just take my word for it.”

  28. I’m sorry Neil, but you’re just grossly misreading Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Coyne if you think what they say means “ALL MUSLIMS are x.” Harris, in particular, has been explicit in rejecting this interpretation of what he’s saying. That you keep equating his view to this suggests you’re not trying to understand his position at all.

    His concern is with the *ideas* inherent to Islam and how their being taken seriously affects, especially, Muslims–who are far and away the most common victims of militant Islam. Calling this concern “racism,” requires you to ignore a lot of what Harris writes, or to assume that he’s just lying about what he believes. How is it racist to criticize a belief system, just because most of the people who hold it happen to have darker skin? Is it racist to criticize the belief in witchcraft that is causing children to be killed for it in Africa, just because those who believe it are African? Ridiculous. Beliefs have consequences, and it’s neither irrational, nor ‘phobic’ to talk about them.

    Not all Muslims are calling for the death of cartoonists or bloggers, but many are, and for *explicitly religious reasons*. What’s more, ONLY Muslims are doing so. Surely that makes the belief system at least relevant–no? Or what socio-political, non-religious reason could anyone possibly have for wanting to kill a cartoonist for drawing Mohammed? Can you think one? To borrow from Harris’ own case, why do we not have Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? Why is walking around Utah with a sign putting down Joseph Smith not dangerous in the same way as walking around the middle east with a similar sign about Mohammed? Islam is *at least* a factor.

    What’s more, it’s hard to see how we can dismiss the relevance of Islam when those who are engaging in this violence are explicitly appealing to religious justification for their actions. Why bend over backwards to ignore their stated motives, in order to conclude that religion has *nothing* to do with it, as Scott Atran does? What reason could you possibly have to assume, from the get-go, that religious beliefs can’t POSSIBLY be the source of the violence, when even those engaged in it would disagree with you?

    You point out that the vast majority of Muslims are non-violent–which is obviously true. I’m not sure why you seem to require ALL Muslims to be violent before it’s sensible to talk about a problem with Islam. Remember that the criticism *isn’t* (all) that Muslims are dangerous (this is your caricature of their position), but that the ideas inherent to Islam are dangerous. What percentage of people holding a set of ideas have to take those ideas to dangerously literal extremes before it’s fair to call those ideas dangerous? Sure, it’s wonderful that most don’t, but surely it isn’t irrational to call the ideas “dangerous,” and to worry about them when a significant enough percentage of adherents do take them seriously to cause a world terrorism problem–and to have many countries run under the tyranny of those people.

    Anyway, sorry for the length of this.

    1. Thank you, Jason, for presenting a serious engagement with my post. I do welcome this. It makes a nice change from some of the other knee-jerk simplistic reactions.

      I would prefer you to fill in “x” there and try to present what I do say, exactly. I appreciate you expressing your concern that I am not trying to understand the opposing argument. I hope I can try to show you that may not be the case. I certainly won’t tell you to just “kiss my arse” if you disagree with me as Jerry Coyne does.

      I know they say “not all Muslims” are violent, etc. And that is something I did address in my post.

      I don’t think you understood my point about racial stereotypes. You are speaking of traditional racism but I was arguing that we are not dealing with any conventional understanding of racism.

      Yes, beliefs do have consequences, but the problem with the argument I am addressing is that the terrible acts we see are explained in terms of certain beliefs when the evidence suggests the acts have far more complex causes. What I am criticizing is a simplistic view of the causes of those terrible things.

      I agree with your statement that “the belief system is at least relevant”. Yes. Now that’s an excellent point. It does not begin with wild assumptions but is a measured starting point from where we can begin to try to understand what is happening.

      You asked why we don’t have Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers. Why single out Tibet? We did have many Sri-Lankan Buddhist suicide bombers until recently. And we do have Burmese Buddhist communities killing Muslims and forcing them to flee as refugees from their homes. The point is not that there is something intrinsically violent about Buddhists but that each of these events is historically contingent.

      It’s a repeat of the Red Scare days. Then we had mass fears of Red Tentacles or Yellow Hordes spreading out to take over the world. The reality was, as we know now, grounded in contingent geo-political and social-historical situations.

      I have never said we should “dismiss the relevance of Islam” in these actions. I have said that Islam has many problems it needs to deal with, and many Muslims are now attempting to deal with these things. It appears you may have been inadvertently misreading my own argument.

      I don’t know Scott Atran, but I do know it is easy in an emotional debate to wax hyperbolic and overstate things. But it is my post you are engaging with here and in my recent companion post I do not “bend over backwards to ignore the stated motives” of the demonstrators in Bangladesh but point out that they want Sharia Law and do not want the death penalty on their leaders for war crimes.

      The sources of violence are more complex than mere religious beliefs. That has been my point. Religion has historically been used as a rationale to cover or deny more sinister motives for violence — all religions. But the reason I am not persuaded that religion is the primary cause of Muslim violence is the simple fact that the violence is occurring in contexts that have clearly contingent and complex factors at their root.

      Now there are some Muslims who do want to commit crimes in the name of their religion. I have never denied that. This is obviously a very serious problem. But the most constructive way of responding to this is to acknowledge all the facts and that includes the fact that most Muslims do reject the actions of these criminals.

      Ideas are in the heads of people. They do not exist in the abstract. When we say Islam is dangerous because of its ideas that we read in the Koran then we are denying the Muslims themselves the right to define their own religion. We all like to laugh at some cruel biblical laws but we don’t believe that all Christians act on or even believe they should follow those as we interpret them. We are talking about not ideas but people who hold certain beliefs. Some readers, or at least one, has said they cannot even bring themselves to read my post. The very topic is too disturbing. The issue is about believers, people. They are the ones being affected by this discussion. You yourself finally concede this, it seems, when you express a fear that these people are susceptible to ideas that will make them impose tyranny on many nations. Now that’s why we should be supporting those in Bangladesh who are opposed to a party that wants to do that. Maybe that means supporting others there who are also Muslims. The ignorance and bigotry that is being spread by Harris and co is their equation of Islam per se with those political extremists. (It’s a crude analogy, but it reminds me somewhat of the way some people for a long time equated Germans with Nazis, or Japanese with prison-guards on the Burma railway.)

      Don’t apologize for the length. It is good to read a serious argument.

      1. The beginning of your last paragraph suggests you think it is an absolute to say it’s always unfair to deny a hypothetical group X the right to define their hypothetical religion Y. Suppose religion Y demands daily human sacrifices. Certainly the right thing to do here is to make sure the ideas in religion Y do not spread, get taken seriously and put into practice. Surely, no civilized person can dispute this.

        1. I agree that there are certain humanistic values that should always trump certain indigenous cultural or religious practices. What I was addressing was the propensity of too many to define for themselves someone else’s religious beliefs and practices without regard for what they themselves say they believe and what they do. That’s the difference.

          1. I’m sure you know no one here is suggesting Muslims aren’t free to pray how they like, eat and fast how they like or do virtually anything basically. The basic issue is Shahid and the Quranic verses on apostasy, which have proven to be dangerously easy to exploit for insane violence. This is the reality of our world today, whether you like this or not. And we should acknowledge this and not beat around the bush, if I’m using that idiom correctly.

            Then there is the issue of women’s rights in Islamic societies. Here we have simply the fact that the Western world is ahead of them by a few centuries; inherently the Quran in not much worse than the Bible with respect to the position of women. Do we not have the obligation however, to further the progress of women’s rights, given that this issue is detrimental to the lives of half of the population of these societies? You can call this arrogance motivated by a moral superiority complex, of course.

            But really, would Western civilization not be even better off now had, say, another civilization (no such civilization existed in our reality, of course) shown us the way on this subject earlier? Personally, I’m pretty embarrassed (as a white male) that equal rights for women have taken us in the West so long to realize. Aren’t you?

            1. What is the basic issue really? Those verses you speak of have been there for centuries. If they were responsible for what we see today then we have to explain why they have only decided to act themselves out now. Does not this fact alone suggest that something else is at work, here?

              And many Muslims say that those verses are illegitimately used by extremists. Do they not have a right to define their own religious beliefs about their holy books as Christians also do about their book that has a God ordering genocide?

              I have posted in the past on the role religion has played in the Zionist dispossession and cultural destruction of Palestinians. That does not mean I blame religion entirely or even primarily for the crimes committed there. It has a supportive role and is used to rationalize crude motives. To understand the crimes often carried out (or supported) in the name of religious beliefs one must dig into the history and the hard evidence of what the different actors have actually said and done. Once one does that it is clear that religion is not the primary motivator although it is a clearly aggravating part of the problem. Ditto with the Muslim religion.

              I don’t understand your point about women’s rights. We know the wide diversity of Muslim views on this just as we are aware of the wide range of Christian and Jewish views. I believe wholeheartedly in supporting the family of Malala Yousafzai and all Muslims (and Christians and Jews) who are working for women’s rights within their own communities and more generally.

              1. Firstly, let me quickly rebut your first paragraph completely so I can maybe get a quick response on it (I will reply to the rest later, it is 1AM here). With respect to apostasy, you seem to be not really in the loop. Apostasy has been punished severely since the beginning of Islam, with only a minority of places under Sharia being even remotely mild about this. To deny this shows very little historical knowledge. With respect to the problems with Shahid only manifesting recently, this is a pretty embarrassing defense of it. It seems trivially obvious that this is a consequence of ever increasing ease of acquiring and/or manufacturing explosives and detonators.

              2. Which is why we should absolutely be opposed to any efforts to implement Sharia law in our own societies, as well as peacefully advocate for international human rights norms that would disable such provisions (i.e. death to apostates) in attempts to implement Sharia law elsewhere. As Neil said, however, what ultimately matters here is not some intrinsic Islamic doctrine, but the way Muslims themselves define and interpret their faith. Polling does show that significant majorities of Muslims in some Islamic countries approve of the death penalty for apostates (86% in Jordan, 84% in Egypt, 76% in Pakistan), but it also shows that this support is significantly smaller in others (51% in Nigeria, 30% in Indonesia, 6% in Lebanon, 5% in Turkey); I would expect that among Muslims in Western countries the proportion would be even smaller. Point being, as Neil would suggest, the danger to apostates posed by Sharia law is obviously dependent on a variety of contingent factors, and not simply “Islamic doctrine.”

                Given that there are active liberal-humanist movements within Islam who are working to shift such attitudes further in a more tolerant direction, we, as secular humanists, should offer our solidarity to such efforts as well as other processes that might bring this about. What we should absolutely not do is interpret this as an imperative to “expose” the inherent evils of Islamic doctrine and launch a self-righteous propaganda campaign against “Islam” – particularly not when our own states have been engaged in systematic violence against a number of Muslim societies for a good two decades. This approach – which is basically what Sam Harris and company are doing – can only alienate the hundreds of millions of moderate Muslims (people like Malala Yousafzai) who could otherwise be part of the solution.

                Regarding suicide bombing, you raise a fair point about the technological factor in all this. It is entirely plausible that the value broadly placed on martyrdom in Islam may explain the popularity of suicide bombing among Muslim extremists. That said, the presence of non-Muslim suicide bombers, whether the prolific Tamil Tigers or Christian Palestinians, suggests once again that more is in play. Surely the fact that Palestinians have been under a brutal, decades-long, military occupation is a far more significant causal variable than the role of martyrdom in Islam per se? If our chief concern is with the threat that suicide bombings pose to human life, then our energies would be far better spent advocating for a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than chasing ideological windmills that most Muslims don’t even support. I should add though, that in all this visceral outrage over suicide bombing and Islamic martyrdom by some of the New Atheists, it is never actually clear why this is so much more despicable, dangerous, or worthy of our attention than the far deadlier acts of state violence that Israel and the United States now routinely commit in the Muslim world.

                Finally, for whatever it’s worth in a debate like this, perhaps I should clarify that, like another commentator, I too am an Atheist raised in a Muslim family.

      2. Thanks for your reply. I still do not think you’re getting at the core of the matter, though: namely that if you took away the belief in Islam from the people engaging in this violence, the violence would go away. This is almost too clear to need an argument, but I’ll try to support it anyway. Yes there are other enabling factors, and yes there are other causes of violence. (As you put it: “The sources of violence are more complex than mere religious beliefs. That has been my point.”) But that’s muddying the waters. It’s not wrong to be concerned about Influenza merely because it isn’t the only cause of illness. You accuse Harris of *racism* merely for calling out Islam as a risk factor for violence in the world.

        What’s more, Islam is the *only* belief system that gets defended in this way. When racists engage in genocide, it would be absurd to suggest their racism isn’t a necessary condition for that genocide–so absurd that nobody does it. When people talk about Nazi Germany, people are happy and right to point to the socio-economic factors that lead to the rise of Nazism; but nobody suggests that anti-antisemitism wasn’t an important factor in producing the Holocaust, or that magically getting rid of the antisemitism in 1930s Germany wouldn’t have prevented the Holocaust. Of course it would have.

        In the same way, Islam is a *necessary condition* for a lot of violence in the world right now. Not all of the violence. Not the majority of the violence. But a lot of violence. Again, not all Muslims are violent, and Muslims aren’t the only people who are violent. That isn’t the argument. But there is a significant population that is violent, or that supports violence, which they manifestly would not do were it not for their belief in Islam. You agree that beliefs matter, but I don’t believe you’re acknowledging by how much they matter.

        Your argument amounts to “beliefs don’t kill people, people kill people,” which is as misguided as the American NRA propaganda about guns. Sure, just like guns, beliefs need people to kill people; but just as with guns*, this doesn’t make beliefs danger-neutral. Something is dangerous when it increases the probability of (especially *lethal*) violence. The belief in Islam manifestly does so in the world today–so manifestly that a “benefit of the doubt” style of argument isn’t sufficient. The burden of proof has to be on the person suggesting that belief in Islam is not causal to the violence especially when, as I argued, those who engage in it explicitly believe that it is. And the moment you admit that Islam is a risk factor for terrorism and violence in the world, it ceases to be irrational or racists to suggest that Islam is a dangerous idea.

        1. Forgot to follow up on my note

          *Interestingly, the case of guns is far more complex than most liberals think. Statisticians have a hard time eking out any measurable effect in terms of a decline in homicides in areas that enact stricter gun laws, like Canada (where I’m from) or Australia. All modern, democratic countries are experiencing roughly the same *decline* in homicide rate, regardless of gun ownership, which is, at least, very strange.

          I also forgot to add that the whole idea that we shouldn’t criticize Islam for fear of alienating moderate Muslims isn’t at all convincing to me. I think we should speak openly and honestly about what is true. It’s the same as atheists who argue that we shouldn’t call ourselves atheists for fear of creating a barrier to Christians who won’t listen to what we have to say, or skeptics who say we shouldn’t target religion at all, because we need Christian allies in the fight for the teaching of evolution, etc. I find this condescending to the people whose feelings are being protected. I believe we shouldn’t refrain from honest analysis merely because it will offend.

        2. My previous reply to Goolam also addresses your criticism of my position.

          Your analogy with influenza suggests I have not made my argument clear to you. I am saying that Islam cannot be compared to a single malign entity like a viral disease. That analogy expresses the very argument I am trying to overturn. Racist and other undesirable social attitudes have all too often effectively compared target groups with virulent diseases.

          The analogy I would use of Islam is the same that I would use for any religious belief system in this context: each religion is like the collection of bacteria in one’s body or in an ecosystem. Each religion has within it bacteria that do good, that are harmless and that do harm. Islam is the same as any other religion — each religion consists of the full range of bacteria found in any one system. Our bodies or our environments become unbearable when the bad bacteria get out of control. We run into trouble if we try to eliminate all bacteria because some bacteria is bad.

          You accuse Harris of *racism* merely for calling out Islam as a risk factor for violence in the world.

          This is the problem. Why attach such a generic label as “Islam” to violent acts perpetrated primarily by Middle Eastern males. Because “Middle Eastern males” sounds (and is) racist (and sexist). How does applying the label “Islam” avoid unjust stereotyping of the majority of Muslims as we would be stereotyping Middle Easterners or Arabs by using another label? Most Muslims reject the specific religious beliefs that extremists use to rationalize their violence. But Harris and Coyne would equate the entire Muslim religion with the interpretations of the extremists that most Muslims reject.

          1. I messed up submitting a reply (after being away for a few days–sorry for the long delay), but I’ll give it another go. Maybe it’s for the best, as I’d missed the link to the earlier post.

            First, the Influenza thing, which has proven illuminating. You say “I am saying that Islam cannot be compared to a single malign entity like a viral disease.” But Influenza isn’t one viral disease. It’s a family of viruses that go from mild at one end, only serious to the elderly or those with compromised immune systems, to extremely virulent, killing millions in a year and spreading with the ferocity of a plague. And, even more salient to the point at hand, the virulent strains grow out of the less virulent strains.

            Like it or not, militant Islam (virulent Islam, maybe?) is a part of Islam. Sure, it’s a minority, it’s extremist, it’s *fringe.* You can’t lop off the edges of the bell curve and define the thing by the middle. You accuse Harris and company of lumping all Muslims in with the extremists (I see no evidence that they do), but you want to completely isolate the extremists from the thing of which they are the extremist form. I suppose you can do that if you want, but it’s certainly not irrational to *not* do that.

            In the earlier post you linked to, you point to Koranic criticism, and to the majority of Muslims having peace-friendly interpretations of the text. This is, of course, true. You teeter on the suggestion that there’s merit in these interpretations over the more barbaric interpretation, which I don’t think is true at all (they are about as plausible as any Christian apologists’ spin doctoring of problematic passages of the Bible), but your larger point is that most Muslim’s favour these readings. This is, of course, true; but besides being just another way of approaching the fact that the militants are fringe, it ignores an important fact, which I hinted at with the Influenza family analogy: there’s something inherently dangerous about promoting as the infallible word of God a book that has to be so carefully interpreted in order to avoid getting the impression that you should kill infidels and apostates. It’s great that most Muslims so interpret the book; but the sheer plausibility of the literal interpretation will always be lurking like a snake in the grass–and the world would certainly be a better place if we could get fewer people to essentially worship a book that explicitly encourages religious persecution.

            This leads to the another important point about it: it’s easy to make your case if you focus entirely on terrorism, because it’s clearly a fringe, extreme form of Islam that engages in terrorism. But Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Coyne don’t focus only on terrorism, and neither should we. It is NOT only extremists that maintain reprehensible levels of homophobia and sexism on account of their belief in Islam. Many “moderate” Muslims still blame women for being raped, for instance.

            As to your last point, it’s not a generic label. It’s the label the terrorists themselves choose. It’s the explicitly stated impetus of their action. Once again, your criticism amounts to EITHER suggesting that, since some people can believe in Islam without supporting the violence, therefore Islam is not relevant (something you’ve already rejected), or to pedantically wishing we used the phrase “the militant form of Islam” every time. Besides being tedious, I just don’t think this is a helpful thing to insist. Again, the fact is that by reducing belief in Islam, reduce the pool of people at risk of one day failing to squint just right while looking at the Koran, and starting to take its encouragements literally–or perhaps I should say *seriously*.

  29. Here is a little more on my own comparison of Christianity with Islam (regarding their intrinsic natures, which to me relates to this, even as Baptists are plenty free to criticize Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or whatever, and have preferences in the exercise of their freedom of religion, even as I can do that as an atheist now as well), which many atheists have been telling me that they don’t like me holding one religion above another; but that’s too bad:

    There are these unifying things required to be called, or assumed to be a Muslim: Acceptance of the five pillars of Islam, that Muhammad is God’s prophet, everyone needs to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, etc. To be a Muslim you must think the Qur’an came from God through God’s prophet. There are many, many places in the Qur’an that discuss how to fight and use violence–whether in spreading the religion or in self-defense… and claiming self-defense is its apologists’ way to not let their book be condemned as hate speech.

    In comparison, NT Christianity–not Catholicism–calls for its followers to die as martyrs before resorting to violence, which shows an astronomical difference between the two religions at their core teachings. Islam at it’s roots is at the very least quite bad, if not even evil by our day… while we atheists can still empathize with many who don’t understand what’s really going on at the basis of their belief system. The NT is so nonviolent, in fact, due to it following Jesus’ example in relation to Isaiah 53, that it doesn’t even teach self-defense, not really, which has helped societies to become more nonviolent (again, not Catholicism).

  30. “This is what is wrong with the Coyne-Dawkins-Harris-Hitchens criticisms of the Muslim religion. They equate extremist actions that MOST Muslims deplore with the entire belief-system of Islam.”


    This premise statement is just factually flimsy and hence your argument is wrong. “Most” is just barely descriptive and ignores huge segments of the religion who would like nothing better than to see the smoking remains of Western society.

    Almost half of muslims polled in 2006 supported Osama bin Laden (49.9%). Sizable numbers polled by Pew suggest violence is accepted in defense of the faith by Muslims in Western democracies.:

    26% of younger Muslims in America believe suicide bombings are justified.

    35% of young Muslims in Britain believe suicide bombings are justified (24% overall).

    42% of young Muslims in France believe suicide bombings are justified (35% overall).

    22% of young Muslims in Germany believe suicide bombings are justified.(13% overall).

    29% of young Muslims in Spain believe suicide bombings are justified.(25% overall).

    Huge segments of the Muslim population supported attacking the US:

    61% of Egyptians approve of attacks on Americans

    32% of Indonesians approve of attacks on Americans

    41% of Pakistanis approve of attacks on Americans

    38% of Moroccans approve of attacks on Americans

    83% of Palestinians approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (only 14% oppose)

    62% of Jordanians approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (21% oppose)

    42% of Turks approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (45% oppose)

    A minority of Muslims disagreed entirely with terror attacks on Americans:

    (Egypt 34%; Indonesia 45%; Pakistan 33%)

    Suggesting large segments of the Muslim faith are peaceful followers of Allah and that lumping them in with radical elements is hyperbole is just not supported by polling data. .


    1. These figures are extremely interesting, but not for the reason you think. Have you actually investigated their sources and checked their original contexts?

      For example, you write/quote:

      Huge segments of the Muslim population supported attacking the US:

      61% of Egyptians approve of attacks on Americans

      Wow, that’s not the impression I gained from all the news footage not so long ago of events in Tahrir Square or from all the tourists I hear who visit Egypt. This is indeed most shocking! So I checked the source: http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/feb09/STARTII_Feb09_rpt.pdf

      Here is what I found:

      1. Rejection of Attacks on American Civilians

      Large majorities denounce attacks on American civilians, whether in the US or in a Muslim country, though there has been some softening in the numbers who hold this view strongly. Most reject the argument that such attacks are the only way to get the US to listen to the Islamic people and a growing percentage perceive them as an ineffective method for achieving political ends. As a general principle large majorities reject the use of violent methods such as bombings and assassinations to achieve political goals.



      So where does the 61% of Egyptians approving attacks on Americans come from?

      It takes quite a bit of dogged perseverance to find it in the cited source. Here it is:

      First, there is this question that was asked:

      7. Views of Groups That Attack Americans

      In regard to the generic category of groups that attack Americans, views are divided. Only small numbers in all countries say they would speak favorably of such groups or would approve if a family member were to join such a group. However, significant numbers say they would at least have mixed feelings if a family member were to join such a group and more people say they express approval of such groups to others than say they express disapproval.

      Consistent with this possible ambivalence about al Qaeda, respondents tended to show divided feelings about the general category of Muslim groups that attack Americans. Respondents were asked how they felt about “groups in the Muslim world that attack Americans” on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 meaning not all supportive and 10 meaning very supportive. It should be noted that the question did not specify whether these would be attacks on civilians or military forces, because in fact such groups tend to do some of both.

      Alert readers might wonder where this is leading. Note the question is not whether you approve of attacks on Americans, but what you thought of the groups that do this. There is no clarification on whether these groups in the respondents’ minds were military, whether they were in the Middle East even or in a state of war, or were complex organizations that incorporated charity work as well (as some do) or what other things these groups did that might affect feelings towards them.

      Here are the results:


      Now we come to the 61% figure:

      In a different question respondents were asked: “Thinking about groups in the Muslim world that attack Americans, would you say you disapprove of all these groups, approve of some but disapprove of others, or approve of all or most of these groups?”

      In Egypt a majority (52%) said they approved of some groups that attack Americans; another 9 percent approved of most such groups, while 29 percent disapproved of all of them.

      52% + 9% = 61%

      Of that 61%, 52% said they approved of some groups that attack Americans. Presumably these are mostly military targets — in the Muslim world (not anywhere in the world) — since we saw at the beginning of the survey that the overwhelming majority of Egyptians oppose attacks on American civilians.

      Thanks for alerting me to this site. I think someone may have posted from it earlier and I paid less attention to it then — I usually ignore such sites preferring instead to look at the original sources. From this little exercise on just one figure you might understand why I tend to be suspicious of figures that are presented like this.

      If I get a moment I might do a more complete post examining the truth behind each of those other figures, too.

      Just goes to show ya can’t believe everything ya read on the internet!

      1. When bias already begins at the start of the analysis, it’s very easy to say “only Muslims”. Of all the nations of the world, which nations are currently illegally occupying and colonising land? Of all the nations in the world, which has invaded nations and repeatedly bombs civilians? Of all the nations in the world, which arm and train either theocratic fascist regimes? Of all of these nations, which are doing these what is the major form of government of these nations? Muslims will not reform their cultural heritage in the presence of such overwhelmingly negative outside forces. And the reform will be indigenous to their circumstances. Attempting to cut people off from the only spiritual tradition which sustains them on a day to day basis is not only stupid, it will only entrench things in the culture which need not be.

        The obvious weakness in all these arguments is that “not all Muslims manifest violence” against women or others and derive this belief from their belief system. However, not all Americans and/or Westerners manifest violence against Arabs and Muslims. But some have brought misery to MILLIONS. As far as evidence goes, shouldn’t the materiality of the evidence be considered!? Of all the rational approaches to critiquing the religion, none of these critiques finds anything to reform in the dominant western global narrative. I find it hard to believe that a sincere westerner who observes the mass of evidence would turn the criticism, critique and reform against the outside less dominant culture.

        1. Approval of the 9/11 attacks is different from the figures Neil offered. I can’t verify this, but many who approved of the 9/11 attacks may have felt as though they could later back off from that a good bit after some symbolic justice looked to have been served. Besides, some who thought similarly to Osama bin Laden, people who also dislike the U.S., appear to have, before the Iraq War, viewed the U.S. as a nation of wimps who were so sinful and Satanic that its people would have no resolve to prosecute any kind of response to such an attack, nor would the U.S. even be able to deal with Saddam Hussein’s intractable leadership when it came to him defying weapons inspectors. There were many factors at work in Iraq… and in the U.S. we have so many people with the freedom of speech to criticize the government, which many constantly do, so that some even went so far as to accuse this government of plotting the 9/11 attacks. And liberal criticism, which is wrong perhaps 50% of the time, Islamists leaders love to cherry pick from those in behalf their own cause. Liberals who are too liberal for their own good feed that frame of mind held by Islamic leaders, end up helping those leaders to maintain control and not lose influence, which influence from such leadership was no doubt behind the recent demonstrations in Bangladesh about the need for atheist bloggers to be killed—seemingly a plea to Islamists who might be able to get to some of those atheist bloggers and thereby do their religion a big favor, a plea for some outside help, perhaps, amidst other the other politics mentioned.

          And please give me one example of a vocal Islamic leader (a moderate) who advocates in behalf of nonviolence. Advocating for nonviolence doesn’t fit the intrinsic mold of that religion since its book for GIVING PEOPLE GUIDANCE isn’t nonviolent [How many times do some of us have to say that? Therefore, some, in view of that inherent problem, may have picked a dud religion, sorry.]. Vocal Islamic leaders tend to, OF COURSE, hold to their own religion’s Quranic fundamentals, which are not about nonviolence as how early Christianity’s fundamentals were, that is if any person here might care to read what’s in the NT with regard to that [the verses for that theme are listed just below] (which I’m not, meanwhile, advocating for acceptance of Christianity either, of course, since I’m now an atheist… but one could well argue that NT Christianity helped the world become less violent, that it brought that into focus as something to be emphasized before the minds of very many which concept wasn’t held to be as nearly important previous to that—not Catholicism again, mind you, (don’t make the mistake of viewing Catholicism as representative of early NT Christianity where Christians were told to lay down their lives like sheep rather than ever resort to violence, which is very, very un-Catholic when it comes to that organization’s long historical record. (Please, I hope that some will refer to these fourteen places for a prevalent NT theme regarding nonviolence: Romans 8:17; 12:14; Corinthians 4:12; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 4:9; [NOTICE PARTICULARLY 2 Corinthians 4:10-11]; Galatians 1:13; 1:23; 4:29; 5:11; 6:12; 6:17; and Philippians 3:6; 3:10-11. [I left the ones found in 1 and 2 Timothy out so that scholars won’t complain that I used those two epistles.)

          And if some people can’t afford, or don’t have the capability, to fly planes and drop bombs on Europe yet, then many will use whatever they can as a substitute to express their feelings of great resentment. And why, pray tell, was it so evil for the U.S. to patrol waters using the aircraft carrier called the U.S.S Cole, which then meant that the ship, by rights, should be attacked? Could that have been religious envy or resentment which was behind that attack to some extent? Oh, oh, oh: the U.S is soooo bad, is imperial, and wants everyone to be slaves to it—talk about stupidity! The U.S. has humans just like everyone else, therefore some or even many may get out of line, yet everyone else in the U.S. is constantly looking over every other person’s shoulder about that and often even going too far in their criticism as we attempt to have the best possible course for the country. Excessively liberal liberals are strangely a very good fit with Islamic leadership, therefore rather than try to argue any of this with some people, sometimes a person like Jerry Coyne may choose to try to ignore and simply move on.

          1. I presented those figures for the sole purpose of trying to restore some researched factual basis to the discussion. I was responding to other people’s distorted and decontextualized use of the same figures to tell lies.

            If one wants to find examples of vocal Islamic leaders (moderates) who advocate on behalf of nonviolence one only has to look and listen. e.g. http://groups.colgate.edu/aarislam/response.htm and http://kurzman.unc.edu/islamic-statements-against-terrorism/

            As for 9/11, the simple (surely well-publicized) view of so many Muslims, especially in the Middle East, that they cannot believe Muslims were the ones who committed this atrocity, speaks mountains about their attitude and belief that 9/11 was an unspeakable crime. They can only believe it must have been their enemies who committed such an act.

  31. Thanks for those links; that helped quite a bit. I’m glad to see that there is some of that. One thing that I forgot to mention in that last medley which included several things was how the birthplace of Islam–Saudi Arabia–is harboring some of the religion’s worst radicals, and no-one yet has told me how Muslims, who are the moderate type, handle their pilgrimage to Mecca to associate with that sort.

  32. A simple standard. Does any criticism of the actions in the Muslims world whether it applies to human rights, adherence to international law, respect for progressive values, counting the dead etc .. get equally applied to the western construct? If the qualifier for criticism “what MUSLIMS do” instead of “what PEOPLE do”, then this evidences a prejudice. And no matter how accurate the judgement, how thoughtful the analysis, how considered the reasoning … if all you’re doing is legitimizing the greater more culpable evil (the powerful must by necessity and all civilised norms held to a higher standard than the powerless), then you are nothing more than a petty propagandist.

  33. There is a serious issue of ‘Village Atheists’, who encourage this behavior in their more competent brethren. It’s an issue of being pointlessly nasty, and as wilfully ignorant of their target as the Fundies are of evolution.

    I find that the New Atheism and the liberal-humanist ideology in general show are the worst marks of a religion; as much as it may upset our modern ‘skeptics’ the notion of ‘equality’ is every bit as mystical and blatantly false as ‘the Trinity’, and probably far more dangerous.

    I don’t care for most religious folks, ‘pew potatoes’ and intellectual cowards that they are; and the ‘New Atheists’ are as often as not their pseudo-secular twins.

    To deal with the specific issue of Islam and its potential to be used by crazies – well, certainly it can be. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, far more blood has been split by avowed Atheists and pro-democracy crackpots than any crusader in maille.

      1. I seriously doubt your average person is capable of being ‘good’. Your average person is a product of evolution, a social and mental coward who deserves everything he gets. Gnosticism, secularized, leads to misanthropy. Along with the Old Testament ‘Prophets’ and YHWH-SAVES I can have nothing but contempt for this ‘adulterous generation’. A bunch of putzes and fuckups.

        1. I agree with you obvious sentiment that secularised society has proven far more destructive in the past century than any religious force. Did you ever think though that maybe the problem is fundamentally one of human nature and behaviour? I don’t doubt that the average person is capable of being very good. The average person is a product of the environment they are nurtured in, as much as they are a product of biological evolutionary forces. You actually are displaying the misanthropy you say the putzes and fuckups cannot help but display. Any psychologist will show you that a nurtured child will become a good and productive adult. Disclaiming others of their humanity or claiming a higher capacity than others, is the inspiration/rationalisation of conflict.

          1. Bullshit. And I am a misanthrope. My point was precisely that people are fucking boring, useless idiots. What you call a ‘good and productive adult’ I call a nobody, another addition to a string of zeroes. The human race is trash, and they’re incapable of being ‘reformed’. They need to be *replaced*.

            1. RJ: You made a good point in your first comment that I at least accepted as valid. I think a few of us are trying to be a good bit more optimistic that you appear to be at this time. At least humans talk about about justice and compassion, and other higher objectives almost constantly, which means many people from different perspectives are doing what they can to have a more satisfactory world to live in. Depsite how animal-like the human race has remained in so may ways while supposedly proposing that higher values were being pursued purely and only by them in the name of a religion, for instance, so many in the world do defintely strive for higher values rather than just resorting to a dog-eat-dog mentality. A person who sees the world too pessimistically soon loses enough reason to live, or at least it seems to me they would. Evolution, besides just rewarding aggression and explotativeness, also teaches us to be successful at living; and being too pessimistic isn’t conducive to that success. To me it’s kind of like why mothers are nurturing: If mothers of most every species–at least mothers in those higher life forms–weren’t nuturing and altuistic in behalf of their offspring, then life wouldn’t even be possible in the cases of most every higher species. I’m not trying to lecture anyone on this, but I’ve dealt with this sort of potential problem in my own mind after deconverting from Christianity.

            2. lol … you made my day. Grumpy Smurf style… hahaha! So what is the measure of people who aren’t “boring, useless idiots”. Who has ever qualified for not being that and why? Most religious people avoid this subject too, despite the fact that religions generally seek to achieve this. But it tends to undermine dogma and doctrine of the establishment. The subject is generally only given lip service. Most atheists do the same. It’s easy to define what’s wrong with any established system, but how do people define what’s right with it?

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