Jerry Coyne, meet Hector Avalos

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by Neil Godfrey

I don’t know if Jerry will permit the following words appear on his blog. He has trashed my comments in the past. I submitted the comment in response to Heather Hastie on female genital mutilation: Is it Islamic?  I avoided specific reference to FGM and spoke instead more generally of barbaric practices. (We all know the real instigation of all that has contributed to the current outrage is 9/11 and that FGM is just one more opportunity to kick Islam to the exclusion of other religions.)

Am I permitted to post an alternative view here?

Associate professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and author of The End of Biblical Studies and Fighting Words, Hector Avalos, shows us how ALL religions that are grounded in unverifiable beliefs are at various times and places susceptible to being used to justify a host of barbaric behaviours.

Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Taoism, ancestor worship — all have been used to justify horrific practices.

By focussing on just the one religion that is being used by certain peoples in certain times and places and with certain experiences to justify evils we are focusing on the symptoms and missing the real reason for the problems.

No-one blames Christianity or ancestor worship for the barbarisms that drenched pre-Communist China in blood even though these beliefs were used to justify all sorts of hideous tortures and cruelties. We did not always have terrorist Muslims crazed to kill Westerners.

There are reasons that prompt people to flick switches and use religion to justify horrors. The common factor in all of these contingencies is the way we give social respectability to belief systems that are unverifiable.

If we don’t recognize the causes (the real causes) of religious violence and barbarism we are not going to help progress civilized values but could in fact be contributing to the ignorance and chaos.

See, Muslim Violence: Understanding Religion and Humanity.

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Neil Godfrey

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19 thoughts on “Jerry Coyne, meet Hector Avalos”

  1. Islamophobia, a nonsense word made up to stop criticism of Islam.

    No-one blames Christianity for its barbarity when the leaders of that belief held power is untrue. Plenty have and will continue to blame it and strangely we do not have christophobia to stop them.

    If you think that concern for millions of women who are suffering the mutilation of their genitals is just a stick to beat Islam then you ignore their pain.

    Yes, Avalos is correct in that belief in nonsense is dangerous. Reality has a habit of kicking your backside when ignored. But the real question to be answered is when does a religion become dangerous. It is fairly obvious that it is when the leaders of that religion gain power over society. How they do it is irrelevant, it may be by strength of arms, democracy etc, but once in power they have to maintain their religion to the exclusion of others and the barbarism is the result. Islam is a special religion in that it openly desires power over society, the hadiths mandate the leaders to do so to enforce all to believe.

    So yes, less of more of the recognising that Islam is inherently and demonstrably barbaric and that criticising an ideology is not being racist.

    1. And yet – many of the criticisms of Muslims are basically racism draped in criticism of a religion. Coyne is very bad at this – his criticism of Muslims crosses the line into flat-out racism so often that I’ve stopped reading his blog altogether. Sam Harris is also bad about this – probably worse than Coyne.

      Criticizing “Islam” is much like criticizing “Christianity” – there are thousands of flavors of Christianity from the extremist Catholics in North Ireland who used their religion to justify bombing the English to the nuts in Utah who set up polygamous compounds to the folks who devote their lives to charity. You see the same amongst Muslims, yet you wouldn’t know it from the pure racist hatred that gets spewed disguised as criticism of a religion.

      1. ‘Racism’? Are Muslims a different race to Hindus and Sikhs?

        Gay Muslims are being thrown to their deaths from the tops of towers. It is not racist to find this deeply disturbing, and to note that Islamic law often prescribes the death penalty.

        As a straight, white , non-Muslim , I have much less to fear from Islam than people living in Pakistan, where a mosque was bombed just the other day.

        Why is it racist to wish for a world where all Muslims everywhere are freed from Sharia law?

    2. @ Acleron: Why don’t you do a little study into the things you are talking about? For starters why not have a look at earlier posts that have appeared on Vridar here and that I listed at http://vridar.org/2014/10/13/the-politics-of-the-muslim-controversy/

      Instead of just making up nonsense about the origin of the word Islamophobia why not actually read and learn what its real origin is? Islamophobia, the word’s origin and meaning

      Why not do a little reading or learning beyond Fox news and see what happens when “Muslims” do get into power in democratic countries? See the posts linked earlier (Politics of the Muslim controversy). Who were the blood-thirsty tyrants who overthrew the elected Islamic government and squashed all public support for it in Egypt not very long ago? Oh yes, they were also Muslims, but they were the good Muslims on America’s side, so we don’t talk about those, unless it is to laud their great courage and resolve to “save” Egypt.

      From what I have seen recently the IS leaders are a collection of brutal losers, psychopaths, men damaged by the brutalities of what they have experienced in Iraq and Syra, who defy their “Muslim leadership”.

    1. Thanks, I did overlook that request of Jerry’s. But I also see that since I posted my comment there he certainly has let through other comments telling everyone what great posts they think Jerry and Heather have written.

      I have taken your advice and submitted this post to Heather Hastie’s blog.

      1. Some great posts from you again, Neil.

        I have posted the below on Heather’s website – am awaiting for her to approve it. Hopefully she will. I also asked her why Jerry Coyne doesn’t allow comments on his website that are against his views – surely he knows that some people just read his website, and won’t bother going to Heather’s website, so surely he should allow all comments on his website.



        You cite Fatwa 60314 to show how Muslim scholars advocate FGM.

        Can you please also cite the Fatwa by Qaradawi? He is one of the leading Sunni scholars in the Islamic world – he has a huge following, and is the Chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. His Fatwa can be found here:


        As you can see, he has clearly changed his view on FGM – he first said if someone wants to do it to their daughters, they can. He now calls it the work of the devil.

        Qaradawi is an orthodox Muslim scholar. He follows the same Islamic texts that the other scholars you have mentioned follow. I think if you’re going to use Fatwas from Muslim scholars to say Islam promotes FGM, you should also make your readers aware of Fatwas from Muslim scholars to show that Islam can also condemn FGM.


          1. That’s the original fatwa, which dates from at least 2007 – that’s the earliest I can trace it back to across it. However, in 2009 he changed his stance, saying that with further knowledge of the damage it causes, it cannot be considered Islamic anymore.

            That’s a good question regarding Coyne. To say that if you want to discuss it you have to go and do it at Heather’s website is just so wrong – he knows perfectly well that many of the people who read the article on his website will not follow the links to Heather’s website where the original article is, therefore, he should allow debate in his comments section. But he is also well aware that if he allows comments from the likes of Neil, then his readers might not believe the “black and white” picture he likes to paint about Islam.

            The thing about Coyne is, he claims to love science, yet his views, when it comes to judging religion, are formed on anything but scientific rigor.

    2. Heather Hastie has posted it on her blog but I have had a closer look at more of the details of her original post and met with one respondent to my comment and it’s pretty obvious there’s no interest in genuine discussion likely to come from that quarter. I doubt voices of reason are going to have any impact till after all the bloodshed and hatred have run their course. But they must speak, though, despite the futility of it all.

  2. >>We all know the real instigation of all that has contributed to the current outrage is 9/11 and that FGM is just one more opportunity to kick Islam to the exclusion of other religions.>>

    Um, no. Yes, there was a huge new interest in Islam after 9/11, and a lot of outrage. But FGM came to my attention when Ayyan Ali’s book described it, and news stories since then have continued to draw my attention. But I don’t “kick Islam to the exclusion of others.” I think that circumcision is an abomination, for example. I can’t see any problem with pointing out the idiocy of Islam, or the dangers wrought by some of it’s believers. I also think evangelical wingnuts in the American military are dangerous, I fear the the rulers of Pakistan and India are way to religious for the health of the world, and I think that ISIS is a brand of religious based thuggery that apparently had the goal of being worse than the Christian Lord’s Resistance Army.

    Mutilation of children in the name of religion is abominable, regardless of the choice of religion.

    1. That’s fine and good. The post was not addressing those who have campaigned against FGM independently of any religious rationales. If we really want to rid the world of FGM we will focus on the practice itself and the damage it does and we will study carefully the best ways to address each case. That’s how programs to rid the world of social ills are usually carried out. Just blaming a religion that is used to justify it is only going to be counterproductive.

  3. Simplification and reductionism can be useful tools in analyses. Oftentimes definitions are also reductionist and it is interesting to note what they include as well as what the exclude…..

    FGM— according to how WHO defines it, FGM includes 4 types/categories and it includes what is understood as female circumcision (harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes). It does not include male circumcision, procedures performed for cosmetic purposes, or sex reassignment surgeries. All of these could be perceived as “harmful”, “barbaric”, “uncivilized”…..etc…One might even propose these are “non-medical purposes”…….

    Examples of other words that have interesting inclusions/exclusions by usage are “genocide” (coined by Rapheal Lemkin, 1943) which excludes killing soldiers or killing of people during revolutions or those acts done by the “West”(for example the violence and lynchings committed on African Americans are not considered “genocide”)…….and “terrorist” which includes Muslims and excludes others….

    In “international” conversations—it is helpful to define our usage of (English) words because these words can have different meanings depending on region, culture, religion…etc….

    1. Classic. That almost tops Fox News bringing in Phil Robertson as an expert on Islam. But as we’ve already established in the West when you need an expert on Muslims you don’t turn to brown people.

      1. Sennels is something else, though. I mean really something else. He’s essentially pushing a modern form of scientific racism in his writings. It’s utterly appalling that Coyne would promote Sennels. Aside from the fact that Sennels is an anti-Muslim ideologue, he kept no statistics or records of his research on Muslim youths. His so-called ‘study’ is bascially just a pseudo scientific polemical rant.

    2. I can understand scientists like Coyne and Dawkins going after religion given the way Creationists have been gaining poliitical influence in the US and now even the UK (and Australia, too). But Coyne has certainly let his loathing of religion extend to political and social issues where ideology and ignorance too often reigns. Someone needs to tap him on the shoulder and remind him of the work of anthropologists, political scientists and others.

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