Islamophobia again

UPDATE: I just learned that, by complete coincidence, Sam Harris has just published his own response “On Islamophobia and other libels.”

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Readers have called my attention to two reports, one from Business Insider and the other from Arabnews.com, about Saturday’s demonstration in Bangladesh in which thousands of Muslims called for the execution of  local atheist bloggers.  Arab.news:

DHAKA: Hundreds of thousands of Jamaat-e-Islami supporters rallied in Dhaka yesterday after staging a “long march” to the Bangladeshi capital to demand the execution of atheist bloggers for allegedly defaming Islam.
It was the latest protest to rack Bangladesh, deepening tensions between secularists and the largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, whose leaders are under trial for crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence.

The radical group converged on Dhaka’s main commercial hub to protest against what they said were blasphemous writings by atheist bloggers, shouting “God is great — hang the atheist bloggers.”

They defied a pro-government national strike by secular protesters — who staged a smaller rival protest in Dhaka yesterday — aimed at foiling the radical’s group march.
“Around 200,000 people attended the rally,” Dhaka’s deputy police commissioner Sheikh Nazmul Alam said, while protest organizers put the number at over half a million.
Authorities said, meanwhile, two activists of the ruling secular Awami League had died in the last 24 hours in clashes with Jamaat-e-Islami demonstrators, bringing to 96 the number killed in violence linked to the war crimes trials.

Protest organizers called yesterday’s rally the “long march.” Many began traveling by foot on Friday from remote villages to Dhaka’s Motijheel area that became a sea of white skull caps and robes.
“I’ve come here to fight for Islam. We won’t allow any bloggers to blaspheme our religion and our beloved Prophet Muhammad,” said Shahidul Islam, an imam at a mosque outside Dhaka who walked 20 km

. . . There has been vociferous debate between staunch atheists and fundamentalists in Bangladesh’s social media for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an anti-Islam blogger was murdered.

Earlier in the week, four online writers were arrested on charges of hurting Islamic religious sentiments in a country where 90 percent of people are Muslims.

Even given odious defenders of Christianity like Bill Donohue, it’s unimaginable that such rallies could be held by adherents to many other religions.  Can you imagine Catholics, for example, rallying by the hundreds of thousands to call for the death of anti-Catholic bloggers? Or murdering them? (Yes, I know that an abortion doctor or gay man is occasionally killed by religious bigots in the U.S., but calls for murder on this scale characterize just one faith.)

Note, too, that you can’t blame those calls for murder on political disaffection with the U.S. or other “colonialist” nations. The violence was threatened and carried out against Bangladeshi secularists, and explicitly in the name of Islam. Try to fit that into a colonialist narrative!

That brings me to the continuing accusations of Islamophobia against the New Atheists.  An invidious accusation of such Islamophobia appeared the other day in a piece called “Islamophobia and (some?) New Atheists” written by Neil Godfrey on a blog called Vridar. I’m lumped as an Islamophobe with Harris and Dawkins (an honor, though an undeserved one) and, in fact, am singled out for special opprobrium.  First the bouquet and then the brickbats:

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.

I’m not going to try to defend my own posts here, except to say that critics like Godfrey can take a number, get in line, and, well, you know the rest. . .

It’s immensely dispiriting to read pieces like this and many of the ensuing comments.  I still can’t quite understand why it’s sort of okay for atheists to level strong criticisms at other religions (Sam, after all, wrote Letter to a Christian Nation, and I spent an entire week on this site documenting the immorality of the Catholic Church [e.g., here and here]), so long as that religion is not Islam.  We’re not accused of Catholicphobia or Baptistphobia, but only Islamophobia. I think this reflects a double standard, for such accusations hold Muslims to lower standards than, say, Catholics, especially in view of the palpable fact that Muslims, inflamed by religious ardor, in general behave much worse adherents to other faiths. And they’re far more willing to impose their religious views on those of other faiths—or secularists.

I’ll reprise the accusations against New Atheism associated with “Islamophobia”:

1. It’s racism.  No it’s not, it’s criticism of a religion whose tenets are antidemocratic, anti-gay, and anti-woman, anti-freethought, and whose adherents want to impose their religiously-based morality on the rest of us. Granted, there are those bigots who dislike Muslims because many of them are “brown people,” or want to deny them immigration or prohibit them from building mosques or worshiping in the U.S., but New Atheists are not among these.  And, of course, Islam is not a race (i.e., a genetically differentiated population) but a religion whose adherents come from genetically diverse ethnic groups. In that way it’s like Judaism.

2. Islamic violence is motivated not by religion but by politics, particularly hatred of Western oppression. I don’t know how people can level such a criticism. Yes, politics is sometimes mixed into the motivations, but read Lawrence Wright’s Looming Tower to see how large a role the desire to impose Muslim values on others played in the rise of Islamic extremism.  And really, look around you. Are those rioters in Bangladesh, who would willingly kill atheist bloggers, motivated by the political oppression they get from those bloggers? Read what they wrote about the bloggers insulting Mohamed and Islam.  Are the extremists lying?

Don’t forget, too, that most Muslim violence is aimed not at Westerners, but at other Muslims. The Sunni versus Shi’a schism, responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, is a religious schism, and would not have happened without Islam.  Are the fatwas leveled at Islamic dissidents, or ex-Muslims like Salman Rushdie, motivated by colonialism? What about the deaths of Theo van Gogh for making an anti-Islamic film, or the threats against Ayaaan Hirsi Ali, another ex-Muslim? Colonial oppression? Death threats for naming a teddy bear Mohamed, or against those who publish caricatures of Mohamed? All politics, naturally.  And then there’s all the religiously-based violence against Muslim women, motivated, of course, by those oppressive women!

3. New Atheists single out Islam for special criticism. Wrong—see #1.

4. Islam is no worse than any other religion.  People who make this claim immediately label themselves as either biased or ignorant. Really, can you say that Episcopalians are responsible for the same kind of violence and oppression as is Islam? Or Buddhists, Hindus, Lutherans, and so on?  Granted, Catholicism has been a force for evil in this world, what with child-raping, oppression of women, facilitating the spread of AIDS, and so on, but even Catholicism is nowhere near as bad as Islam as a source of violence and hatred.  Granted, when Catholics ruled Europe, they did a lot of bad stuff, including the Inquisition, persecution of heretics, and so on. But that’s just the point—in theocracies there are few curbs on religious excesses. Catholics no longer rule the world, though they effectively ruled Ireland (with deleterious effects) quite recently. There are few Christian theocracies nowadays, but many Muslim ones. And I defy you to read the Qur’an and argue that it isn’t a book written to inspire hatred and divisiveness.  I’ve read it. There’s nothing in Buddhism, or even the Bible, that can equal it.

5. There are many moderate Muslims who deplore the violence of extremists.  I’m sure this is true, but the problem is twofold: those moderates don’t often demonstrate (where are the hundreds of thousands protesting the fatwas against Rushdie, or the calls for death of secular bloggers?). Further, if they tried to organize, they would face the opprobrium of more violent Muslims.

Yes, some of you may point me to enlightened Muslim clerics or citizens who publicly decry fatwas, honor killings, and so on, but compared to the thousands who rise up when the Prophet is insulted, that’s a drop in the bucket.  The silence of moderate Muslims simply empowers the violent ones. And remember, if you’re a Muslim apostate, you’re under a death sentence. Catholics are free to leave the Church if they reject its tenets; Muslims, not so much. You can tell a disaffected Catholic, “Why don’t you just walk?”, but that doesn’t work so well with Muslims.

I do recognize and applaud the bravery of Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents like Malala Yousafzi and Maryam Namazie. Their bravery comes at a high price—their safety. But recognize, too, that the threats to their safety have nothing at all to do with vestiges of imperialism and everything to do with Islamic perpetuation of outdated and ludicrous brands of morality.

6. The U.S. and other Western nations brought the violence on themselves (see #2).  Some of this is true, as surely the violence of some Muslims against Americans reflects dislike of American boots on “Muslim soil.” But even here religion often plays a role, and, at any rate, countries like Denmark are not oppressive colonialist states. Muslim extremists threaten to shoot or blow up anyone who disses their prophet, regardless of whether those people are “colonialists”. Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are not oppressors of Muslims. They are apostates.

Godfrey’s article notes the deplorable massacre at Sabra and Shatila in 1982: the killing of hundreds to several thousand Palestinian and Lebanese civilians by Lebanese Christians, probably with the complicity of the Israeli military.

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. 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. 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.

The Sabra and Shatila massacre was odious, and a war crime. But how does that justify the attacks on the World Center, or those who aren’t Israeli soldiers or Lebanese Christians?

7. New Atheists who criticize Islam know nothing about either Islam or religion.  I deny this charge. Yes, Dawkins says he hasn’t read the Qur’an, but I think his reply here is apposite: how many of us who decry Nazism have read Mein Kampf?  By their fruits shall ye know them, and the fruits of the Qur’an are poisonous. Further, I have read the Qur’an, and so has Sam Harris and so did Christopher Hitchens. I’ve spent a long time reading about religion and paying attention to it in the news. I’ve talked to a fair number of religious people, and debated several of them. I’ve read tons of theology. I’ll match my knowledge of religion, including Islam, against most other Americans. Many of us do know what religion is about, and what Islam is about. After all, many atheists were formerly religious, and left their faith because it harmed them.

Take a number and get in line. . .

140 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Yes.

  2. TJR
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    The Vridar piece does seem to consist largely of straw men.

    It seems that “islamophobia”, like “free will” or “scientism”, is a word that is defined in so many different ways that it obscures rather than clarifies.

  3. Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    “Islamic violence is motivated not by religion but by politics”

    Ironically, this is a very Western view of the problem. I’m pretty sure the average Muslim doesn’t see a difference between politics and religion.

    • Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      That is a perceptive comment. Islam is an entire life-system that covers every facet of a Muslim’s sexistance.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

        And it differs from most of the more evangelical tentacles of Xianity by, just how ?

        • Posted April 9, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

          I would say that even evalngelcal Christans can differentiate between church-state-poltics-life but Islam is contiguous and its all one and the same thing to a Muslim.
          I generalise of course since not all Muslims are the same but from the Muslim fiends and colleagues I have it seems that way.

  4. Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    §

  5. Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Sound of Madness.

  6. Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Great piece. I don’t know if you caught this debate between Lawrence Krauss and Hamza Tzortkis at UCL (aka segregation gate). I figured you might enjoy it since it concerns Islam vs Atheism:

    http://soundmadness.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/islam-vs-atheism-the-big-debate/

  7. Dermot Carney
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Footnote on Malala: now being educated in Birmingham, England, in a private girls’ school, presumably for her own safety. I also wonder who is funding her. Some private philanthropist? The government?

  8. Dermot C
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Footnote on Malala: now being educated in Birmingham, England, in a private girls’ school, presumably for her own safety. I also wonder who is funding her. Some private philanthropist? The government?

    • Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I think it’s the Pakistani government. Charity funds the school she intends to build in Pakistan.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Malala’s school Edgbaston High School for Girls charges £3335/term for her age group. The Pakistani government will be paying her school fees.

      Her parents have joined her in Birmingham & it’s their new home.
      Her father is education attaché at the Birmingham Pakistan consulate.

      Three weeks ago when she started school:-

      ‘I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school,’ she said. ‘I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity. I miss my classmates from Pakistan very much but I am looking forward to meeting my teachers and making new friends here in Birmingham’

  9. Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I often enjoy Neil Godfrey’s articles on Vridar. I note, though, that in this complaint about “Islamophobia” by Coyne, Harris, Dawkins and Hitches, he does not once quote any of the four.

    This is at odds with his usual articles on Biblical scholarship, which usually quote extensively and are very well argued.

    This is typical of complaints the “New Atheists”, which often consist of straw manning rather than rebuttal of actual statements.

    • gr8hands
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      You have to look at the works “as a whole” in order to perceive the Islamophobia. Or something.

    • muuh-gnu
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Neil is a very interesting case. His blog is focusing on discussing the non-historicity of Jesus, i.e. on exposing the bias and logical fallacies of current mainstream Biblical scholarship.

      He has something in common with all the Biblical scholars he discusses on his blog: Many of them are atheists working on the history of early christianity. Their works are elaborate, insightful and overall just interesting. But dare to ask why they unanimously claim that Jesus existed even though they cant exactly prove it, and many of them suddenly go berserk and turn into apologists, start calling people names, start commiting every single logical fallacy under the sun, it is like you arent talking with the same respected scholars any more. For some reason, questioning Jesus’ historicity strucks such a nerve with them, that they forget all their scholarly manners.

      The sameseems to have happened with Neal here.

      Like all the Biblical scholars which biased fallacies he regularly exposes in his blog (Hoffman, Ehrman, McGrath), he suddenly throws away all the integrity and intellectual credit he has built up over time, just to attack the evil atheists because they dared to touch that one special religion one is not supposed to touch. As an avid Vridar reader, I’m more than deeply disappointed, I’m quite shocked how quickly the tides can turn and otherwise intelligent people can start spewing irrational nonsense when you touch their special nerve.

      I would be quite interesting to find out what personal connection Neil (an atheist) has with Islam, that made him turn into an apologist and abuse his own Bible-focused blog to attack completely unrelated Islam criticism.

      • Posted April 9, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        I can tell you that Neil is an ardent supporter of the Palestinians and seriously describes Israel’s policy toward them as “ethnic cleansing”.

    • Marella
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      I read Vridar as well, the recent series about Ignatius has been very interesting. I was so depressed when I saw the “Islamophobia” article that I couldn’t even read it and respond. I am so disappointed with the ease with which otherwise skeptical people can be sucked into the “Islamophobia” industry, it is bizarre and I really think it can only be residual anti-colonialism that motivates it. I seem to spend far too much time pointing out that a phobia is defined as an IRRATIONAL fear, and fear of Islam is anything but irrational, especially since I am female, and the thought of being confined to a cloth bag when I leave the house does not much appeal.

  10. Christian
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    The radical group converged on Dhaka’s main commercial hub to protest against what they said were blasphemous writings by atheist bloggers, shouting “God is great — hang the atheist bloggers.”

    “Radical”, is that worse than “militant”?

    • Kevin
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      And are they really “radical”?

      Or are they mainstream?

      • Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        Considering the fact that you almost never see anyone out and about marching for peace, it’s somewhat hard to believe that the lunatics who want people killed for speaking their mind are the vast VAST majority.

        Granted, anyone marching for peace/free speech etc. would probably be cut down where they stand.. It’s still quite odd that muslims in non-islamic countries do fuck all to protest the insane acts of terrorists or what amounts to a 200.000 strong lynch mob..
        Never saw any protests during the whole cartoon debacle either.

        If muslims want to front their peaceful agenda, get off your fucking ass and protest.

        • Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

          Granted, anyone marching for peace/free speech etc. would probably be cut down where they stand.

          This is clearly not the case in Bangladesh (which as the post describes, has a 90% Muslim population). A much bigger secular movement against the Jammat-e-Islaami extremists mentioned in the post has been going on for months in Bangladesh. Just look up “Shahbagh protests”. Many of these protesters must, of statistical necessity, be Muslims.

          Also, contrary to what the post seems to suggest, it is the Jamaat-e-Islaami extremists, and not the secularists, who seem to be on the backfoot in Bangladesh. This latest rally just seems to be a frustrated attempt at a show of power.

          • peadarmaccionaoith
            Posted April 10, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

            Yes, well said.

            Jamaat are small, and the demonstrations against the war criminals have been much bigger.

      • Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

        No the Jamaat-e-Islaami extremists are most probably not “mainstream”, at least not given the recent events in Bangladesh.

  11. Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    My response to #4 is that other religions are not materially different from Islam. The issue is the lack of secular authority in Muslim countries. The curbs on religious extremism are extrinsic, they must come from outside the religion. Given the opportunity, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism have all oppressed outsiders.

    The check on such oppression is always secular authority. Do you really think that Southern baptists wouldn’t hesitate to lynch atheists or Catholics if given the opportunity? Is there really more violence in the Koran than in the Bible?

    The liberal argument is that the West has made the Middle East region ripe for such religious extremism by supporting regimes that allow it. This support has been either explicit with direct aid, or implicit by buying oil from the oligarchs. These same oligarchs foment Islamic sentiment for several reasons (as pointed out in Looming Tower and other analyses), largely to deflect dissent from themselves.

    Furthermore, educating the populace in a secular manner would 1) cost money, and 2) might lead to a democratic uprising and dissipate political power from the sheikhs and imams. Yet we support these yahoos.

    In this regard, yes, the onus is on the Western nations to be forthright in placing the blame where it should be, and some of it is on us.

    • Tyle
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Great comment. I think it raises an interesting question: How should we should decide “where the buck stops” when assigning blame? So for example, IIUC you concede that Islam is the proximate cause of certain problems, but point out that poverty, bad regimes etc. are a “more ultimate” cause.

      But perhaps “whose fault?” is not the most fruitful question to ask, and instead we should focus on “what is the intervention I’m most capable of facilitating?” From this perspective, it seems plausible that Jerry/Sam etc. are leveraging their talents/positions about as well as possible to create better outcomes on this issue.

      Or perhaps not, and if Jerry and Sam were purely altruistic (i.e. if which issues they intrinsically *care* most about don’t count) they should switch to talking about American imperialism, or the necessity to pursue effective charity, etc.!

      • Tyle
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        I’ll add two things:

        – My above comment is intended as ‘related thoughts’ rather than as a ‘retort’, because I fully agree with your primary thesis. Sorry if this was obfuscated by certain word choices (such as ‘concede’ rather than ‘agree’).

        – By “don’t”, I meant “doesn’t”. :)

  12. Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I am from Bangladesh and a Muslim family. Not only that Islamic violence is motivated by religion, but violence under the veneer of religion give it impunity here.
    Most Underprivileged people here has only access to “Islamic” version of morality and I am ashamed to say that it primarily teaches hatred to non-Muslims and their way of life. People can argue whether it is the correct version of “Islamic” morality but there is no shortage of Islamic-scholar (A’lim) around here. And they invariably agree on these issues. This morality suggest an atheist is so bad that he is almost disqualified for life. Atheism is a horrible idea to them, the highest level of sin one can imagine. If that’s not bad then what else! But I don’t blame the fanatic mob seeking death penalty, I blame the society for not making alternative and superior moral views available to them.

    • Marcoli
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      I think these are very thoughtful comments. Do those who fan the hatred for non-muslims and atheists have an agenda for power?

      • Posted April 9, 2013 at 1:41 am | Permalink

        They do indeed have an agenda for power. They want sharia-law in the country. But I see that as a very remote possibility. Though people in Bangladesh can easily be manipulated by certain religious issue, they are quite indifferent to religion in their day to day life. Mullahs(Islamic clergy) are seldom paid attention to in most practical issues. But they have been successful over the years to distort the world view of millions of people.

        The education system is more than just dissatisfactory here. Most get their ethics from Mullahs in early age. Non-Muslims (kafeer) are portrayed as wicked peoples, who are in perpetual conspiracy to destroy their faith and religion. The misfortune that Muslim nations suffer from world politics are used as vivid example of west trying to destroy Islam. And the activities of NGOs trying to improve the condition of women are also seen as a part of the same sinister plan. Science is also seen as a instrument to corrupt a believing mind, and many avoid science education for the sake of keeping their belief intact(this doctrine is becoming less pervasive now).
        Violence against those who speak against Islam is considered the deepest expression of faith. Intolerance is actively taught.
        Few grow out these early indoctrination. Even people seemingly leading modern-life carry deep within them this narrow world-view. This I think can actually explain why there is almost universal support (in the Muslim world) for the death penalty of Danish cartoonist.

  13. Kevin
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Wait — you read the Koran, too?

    And you didn’t publish a review? Compare and contrast?

    I hear it’s deadly dull and repetitive. And primarily focuses on all the nasty things that will be done to nonbelievers in hell.

  14. John K.
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I have found most charges of “Islamaphobia” to be very blatant ad hominem attacks that avoid the actual criticisms. Nobody want to be labeled a racist, after all, and predictably the response to such charges is usually along the lines of “I am not a racist”. The actual criticisms then get buried as intended. Even charges against the contents of the holy books become “racist”, which is ludicrous right on its face.
    “By their fruits you shall know them”. Damn right. It is hard to take calls for tolerance seriously from those who forbid non-Muslims from even entering Mecca.

  15. Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    “Catholics are free to leave the Church if they reject its tenets”

    Not in Germany. Here you have to appear at court personally and pay a fee of 30€. That is why I’m still a member.

    • Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      I’d love to hear why that is – never heard this before

      • jayp
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        I think it’s tax. Since there is a church tax, the state must validate that you are actually leaving the church.

        • muuh-gnu
          Posted April 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

          No. In Germany you regularly pay church tax if you identify as a catholic or a protestant.

          If you identify as atheist or are member of a small non-registered church, you dont have to pay anything.

          Since the tax is not voluntary, and is collected by the German state as a paid service for the churches, many christians do not want to pay it. The only way to avoid paying it is to formally renounce Christianity.

          Now, since to avoid the tax, too many people started leaving christianity, the state decided to intervene and to slow down the hemorrhaging by introducing a “leaving fee” of 30 EUR and by only recognizing the formal renouncement of the faith if done before a court and in person, during work hours.

          So basically oyu have to take a day off and pay a fee to leave the church.

          At the court, you get a certificate of renunciation, which you have to keep for the rest of your life. The church can at any time in future, say in 20 years later, ask you to prove that you are _not_ a member, and if you cant, they can and do sue people for the “losses” they suffered by you not paying the taxes. The law maker decided that it is unreasonalbel for the church to keep a list of their members, and that the burden to prove non-membership is on the former members.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

            So basically oyu have to take a day off and pay a fee to leave the church.

            That sounds deeply, deeply odious. And, of course, if I were subject to such laws, I would schedule things so that my “divorce” from formal religiosity coincided with some other pre-booked time off from work. Like a friend’s marriage, a funeral, or a visit to the VD Clinic.
            Contemptible bureaucratese such as that deserves to be abused, shamelessly.

        • Posted April 9, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink

          I think taxing churches is a good thing.

          • Posted April 9, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

            While I completely agree that taxing churches is a great idea, unfortunately this is not what the phrase means. Everyone in Germany pays a ‘church’ tax to the state that is then passed on to the major churches. Rather like forced tithing. One can designate which church is to receive your tax ‘contribution’ although there are a limited number of state-approved churches.

            • Posted April 9, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

              So in Germany, atheists pay for churches to remain open?

              That, is illogical Captain.

      • Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure. I guess it has to do with the fact that the state collects the church tax. Several agencies keep a record of your membership and will be informed.

    • lkr
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Is that true in all of Germany, or does it vary from state to state?

      — and aren’t you also subject to an annual “church tax” levied by the government and remitted to the church you’re officially registered in, if you DON’T file the court papers and pay the 30 Euros?

      • Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        Indeed the formalities vary from state to state. In some states there is no fee. But as far as I know in all states you have to appear at some agency in person. You can’t just write a letter. The church tax depends on your income-tax. It is 8-9% of your income-tax. So if you have no income there is no church tax for you. Because I have a low income it is cheaper for me to stay a church member than to leave and pay the 30€ fee.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          Since you’re a paying member of the church, I’d expect you to be using church facilities. In particular, the toilets. At about 4am (just late enough to make “going back to bed” an exercise in ineffectual frustration). Every morning. Until the Church pays you to leave.
          But then again, I’m just nasty.

      • Christian
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

        It indeed varies from state to state. Some still don’t charge a fee (mostly eastern states). There are also different offices where you can renounce your church membership.

        Here’s a website which also has some English pages on this issue: http://www.kirchenaustritt.de/english.htm (the colors are a bit odd, though).

    • Posted April 8, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the Church-State relationship in Germany is an odd coupling. Most of us in the US are not aware of the deep entanglement of the two entities, but having lived in Heidelberg for a couple of semesters, I now have a better understanding – a few more details here: http://dougandrhonda.blogspot.de/2013/03/secular-europe-not-really.html

      • Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        Also note that religious education teachers have to be approved by the church. However they are employed and payed by the state like any other school teacher. Not long ago a teacher who was openly gay and criticized the church got his teaching permission revoked by the catholic church.

        • Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

          Exactly right – and indeed many of the approved religious educators are clergy in the Catholic or Protestant church.

  16. DekeBrodie
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I don’t know the quotation he means when he says

    An American foreign secretary can publicly concede that causing the deaths of half a million Iraqi children is worth a foreign policy goal.

    But I suspect that no American foreign secretary (sic) said that in those words.

    P.S. Would this be the same American ‘foreign secretary’ who helped bring the No-Fly Zones that saved so many Kurdish and Marsh Arab lives?

  17. Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    3. Atheists are equal opportunity critiques of religion, that said, where I live the Hindoos are not known to interfere with how we should live our live so I don’t have to write about Hindu’s as I have to do about Christians.

    7. Any argument that disproves the Abrahamic god disproves Islam. One need not know all the contents of the hadiths to critique Islam in general. Knowledge of Islam is only required when one wants to critique a particular tenet of Islam then and only then should one spend their time researching on that particular issue.

    2. is it remotely possible to separate religion and politics from the life of a Muslim? The Koran and hadiths give guidelines on how one has to live their lives and this covers their relationship with others, governments and so on. And this hadiths, especially the ones collected and edited by Bukhari are claimed to have been spoken by Mo. The Muslim can’t avoid this.

  18. Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I’ve no idea where the zeal of Muslims comes from, but neither do my Muslim friends or colleagues.

    Maybe its the lack of zinc. See this article by Edward de Bono

    lazingminds.co.uk/love-hate-it-denmark-marmite/

    • Hempenstein
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      I Googled him and found the proposal you refer to. But given the reaction to Marmite (which I happen to like) here, sending Marmite there might trigger more riots. Suggest limited trials.

      • Posted April 9, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

        It amuses me to think of Marmite and Zatar covered flat bread

  19. KCS
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    “…The Sunni versus Shi’a schism, responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, is a religious schism, and would not have happened without Islam….”

    What would you call this? Auto-Islamophobia?

  20. Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    It is unfortunate timing for an atheist blogger to decry Islamophobia at almost the same moment that 100,000 Muslims march to demand that some atheist bloggers be killed.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Of course I thought about that, but then I realized that this is not a blog. :-)

      • Posted April 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        Ah… but would Islamic thugs respect such idiosyncratic pedantry?

        /@

  21. Marcoli
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Excepting the articles from Middle Eastern sources, I have been wondering if the others behind this recent spate of articles on Islamophobia really have another agenda. What they might really want to do is to scare off Dawkins and Coyne and Harris from their anti-Christian / anti-religion postings.

  22. Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Some points that are relevant to the post, but that do no find mention there:

    1) Much bigger protests have been going on in Bangladesh for months now (look for “Shahbagh protests”) demanding that the death sentence for 1971 war criminals such as the president of the Jammat-e-Islami party be carried out, and that the Jammat-e-Islami party be banned.

    2) Since 90% of the Bangladeshi population proclaims itself Muslim, it does seem statistically very likely that many of the secularists participating in the Shahbagh protests are also Muslims.

    Given that, I am not sure how one can claim that it is all religion and no (or little) politics that is motivating the Jamaat extremists.

    • peadarmaccionaoith
      Posted April 10, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Given that Jamaat derive and attach their politics from/to religion, it is a moot distinction.

  23. Mark Joseph
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Earlier in the week, four online writers were arrested on charges of hurting Islamic religious sentiments in a country where 90 percent of people are Muslims.

    “Earlier in the week, four online writers were arrested on charges of hurting Islamic religious sentiments in a country where 10 percent of the people, that is, at least 16,000,000 men, women, and children are non-Muslims. This denial of basic human rights to the minority is in explicit contradiction with enlightened political thought in all civilized countries.”

    There, whoever you are at arabnews.com, fixed it for you.

    (Hoping I did the strikeout text in the first paragraph correctly!)

  24. DV
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Sam Harris writes: “… I believe this field of study [the paranormal] has been unfairly stigmatized.” and “… I cannot categorically dismiss their contents [referring to the books "The Conscious Universe" and "20 Cases of Suggestive Reincarnation"] in the way that I can dismiss the claims of religious dogmatists.”

    Unfortunately it seems Harris does not appreciate where the scientific unknowns lie. We have mapped out very well the science around our scale of the physical universe. The unknowns are only in the very small and the very large. Whatever we find out about the ultimate composition of matter, or what is causing the accelerating expansion of the universe, we are sure they will have no impact in the the middle scales in which we operate. In other words, at this point we can already categorically dismiss ideas like telepathy and reincarnation. It is precisely because of this confidence about our knowledge of the middle scale of the world that we are able to dismiss claims of religion. Harris shows emotional attachment to what he surely knows can’t be true when he reserves categorical dismissal for the paranormal.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Yes. With the Higgs field now safely under the hat, beyond reasonable doubt (5 sigma with look-elsewhere), the EM sector is protected up to at least 100 GeV.

      That is, if there is no visible biological mechanism (of a few eV), forget about it. No prayers, no soul, no life after death, no reincarnation, no homeopathy, no espers, no telekinesis, no astrology. (And, it seems, no biological radio communication – too weak.)

      The 11 significant digits of QED tests guarantee it. Sure, there can be the haphazard high energy cosmic ray striking the upper atmosphere, or the rare dark matter particle hitting an atom nucleus and contributing minuscule heat to a system. But no interactions worth a damn … or the 11 significant digit.

      In this matter, Harris is now the equivalent of a Flat Earther. :-/

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      D’oh! The “11th” significant digit.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        “Worth a damn” is bigendian of the 9th significant decimal digit.
        I’ve been reading too much cross-platform stuff today! Endianness in normal life! Cough, splutter!

    • Marella
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      Could we have a citation to where this quote is from? I have read most of Sam Harris’ work and I don’t recall him being into the paranormal. He supports the value of meditation I know, but that is not paranormal.

      • DV
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

        It’s from the link that Jerry gave of course. I wouldn’t comment on something completely unrelated as that would be inexcusably out of topic. :)

      • pulseteresa
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

        It’s in the link Jerry provided at the top of his post, which will take you to Sam’s latest post. I read it. DV is engaging in some quote mining here. Here’s the link to Sam’s “My views on the paranormal: ESP, reincarnation, etc.: http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/#paranormal

        • DV
          Posted April 9, 2013 at 4:50 am | Permalink

          Quote-mining? Tell me what is the context in which Sam really did not mean the words as I quoted them?

        • Posted April 9, 2013 at 5:14 am | Permalink

          I think DV excerpts from SH are appropriate and relevant to his point.

          SH isn’t into the paranormal; he’s not swallowing psi-woo hook, line and sinker: “The fact that I have not spent any time on this should suggest how worthy of my time I think such a project would be.” 

          But SH reserves judgment on this basis: “Can I say for certain that a century of experimentation proves that telepathy doesn’t exist? No. It seems to me that reasonable people can disagree about the statistical data.”

          DV’s point (reinforced by Thorbjörn) is that SH should now be aware that we don’t have to reserve judgment. The statistical data is irrelevant. Physics has ruled out the existence of any mechanism, force, way of transferring energy/information, &c., by which psi could work.

          /@

          • Posted April 9, 2013 at 5:14 am | Permalink

            * DV’s

          • DV
            Posted April 9, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

            Exactly. And SH thinking the project is not worth his time, doesn’t say much. Apparently he thinks it is worth somebody’s time, just not his.

            • Posted April 9, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

              “Apparently he thinks it is worth somebody’s time” … hmm… I’m not sure that follows.

              /@

              • DV
                Posted April 9, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

                “If some experimental psychologists want to spend their days studying telepathy, or the effects of prayer, I will be interested to know what they find out. And if it is true that toddlers occasionally start speaking in ancient languages (as Ian Stevenson alleged), I would like to know about it.”

              • Posted April 9, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

                Fair point.

                /@

  25. CC
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand how Islam is seen as one big evil religion and yet its expanding rapidly. Doesn’t add up.

    • gbjames
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      What doesn’t add up? Diseases commonly spread among populations.

      • CC
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        The fact that muslims are icreasing in the world and yet people are still ignorant about it. I know lots of muslims who are practicing Islam and don’t have any of this issues like, women’s roles and status in Islam.

        • gbjames
          Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

          Ask them what the punishment for apostasy should be. Ask them what should happen to blasphemers.

      • muuh-gnu
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        > Diseases commonly spread among populations.

        Islam is not spreading randomly like a disease, it is spreading purely by higher birth rates.

        > and yet its expanding rapidly. Doesn’t add up.

        Being born into Islam (and subsequently being forced to obey its sick rules) is not a voluntary process. And once youre born into it, theres no official way to leave, since the punishment for apostasy is death.

        • CC
          Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          How about the thousands who convert to Muslims every year?

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

            Numerically negligible numbers of people convert to Islam – down in the 5th or 6th significant figure. I’ve known several people (indirect relatives, casual acquaintances) who have considered converting to Islam, but they’re outweighed by ONE of the many Muslim colleagues I’ve shared rig canteens with who have 6 children and two pregnant wives.

  26. gr8hands
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t it strange? Usually Dr. Coyne (and atheists in general) gets accused of only attacking christianity and not islam!

    • gbjames
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Atheists are accused of attacking whichever one then didn’t most recently criticize. If you attack all of them you are accused of not distinguishing. If you attack one of them you are motivated by some particular bigotry.

      Can’t win!

      • Sastra
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        Yes. The correlation to this is that when atheists go after fundamentalism they get sneered at for picking easy targets:”Oh, yeah, they can’t deal with sophisticated theology.” Go for the sophisticated theology however and they whine “hey, we’re not hurting anybody! You ought to dismantle the extremists.”

  27. Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Here’s yet another website with a pro-Lean article, this time from Fred Clarkson, a person fairly well known for his well-researched articles describing the various far-right Christian Dominionists and theocrats. I posted my shock at his similar view that Harris/Coyne are indeed Islamophobic:

    http://www.talk2action.org/story/2013/3/31/205618/572/Front_Page/We_Have_A_Better_Story_To_Tell

  28. Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    As someone who lives in Spain, I’d just note that Catholicism comes in as a close second. Nacionalcatolicismo was horrendous. Priests were basically spies for the regime, keeping an eye on everything that happened in their parishes. Here in left-leaning Andalusia, many are still rightfully distrustful of the clergy. Just last year a scandal broke that revealed the church cooperated to remove babies from their mothers after birth, telling the mothers the child was dead so they could be re-homed in more appropriate (right-wing-catholic) families. Wherever there has been fascism, Catholics weren’t far behind.
    But, yes, Islam has taken over as the more evil of these two evils.

  29. Posted April 8, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    JAC sets the bar too low: “I’ll match my knowledge of religion, including Islam, against most other Americans.” I would wager that his knowledge of religion is greater than that of many US clergy members and perhaps more than most university professors.

    • John
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Clearly that is true. JAC has studied these religions without the vice-grip of doctrinal predisposition. Can you imagine how different the experience would be if you took a degree in Divinity as a rational atheist. Imagine your outlook; imagine your immunity to the prejudice of the insider. I think your point goes for some university professors, too, although have had a few that really tried to keep it about information rather than belief. Big difference.

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

        A rational atheist taking a degree in Divinity would uqalify as a true martyr for the cause. Sheer torture.

        • Timothy Hughbanks
          Posted April 8, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

          qualify – I’m dyslexic typist, apparently.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      I shall make another attempt to locate my 14y.o. school report which proclaimed my R.E. exam result as “100%” with a rider that “As an atheist, Karley should be ashamed of himself!”
      The points about independence of thought being a good starting point for theology are well made. If you think that the “-logy” in “theology” means “study”.
      Otherwise, independence of thought is a positive hindrance to “theology”.

  30. Golkarian
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    The thing is people may disagree strongly with Hitchens, but he was not relying on news reports (though that statement was applied mostly to Dawkins), he was probably the best informed on this issue (other new atheists generally have more knowledge of science or philosophy), so you have to respond to his arguments, not just wave them off as ignorance.

  31. Jeremy Rodell
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure whether or not the New Atheists are “Islamophobic”, but sometimes I think they are guilty of promoting a simplistic, black and white, and unhelpful view about the approximately 1 billion people who are Muslim.

    That includes 10% of the population of London (it’s 5% in the UK as a whole). As far as I can see, the vast majority just get on with their lives as British citizens. Those who I have met range from hardline (very few) to very moderate in their views. They also range from Sunnis, through Shi’ites to minority groups such as Ahmadis (motto “Love for all, hatred for none”). Of course, many have views I don’t agree with, but the number who advocate death to apostates, let alone atheists, is minute. And many of those I’ve met are delightful people.

    Here’s some data http://www.brin.ac.uk/wp-content/documents/Field-Muslim-opinions-and-opinions-of-Muslims-Dec-2010.pdf, based on a survey of British Muslims (the British Social Attitudes survey data are given in brackets as comparison):
    While 84% endorse a literalist view of scripture (BSA 10%), the 44% creationists is lower than in many US states(BSA 14%). And 60% agree that religion is a private matter which should be kept out of public debates on socio-political issues (BSA 71%). One of the other top line findings was “Negative attitudes to Islam/Muslims correlate with lack of knowledge/proximity” (try replacing Muslim with Black).

    It really isn’t black and white.

    Like it or not, Islam will be a major feature of the global scene in the future as it has been in the past. And change can only come from within. So surely the best thing to do is to encourage and look for common ground with liberally-minded Muslims, such as British Muslims for Secular Democracy. Telling them that their holy book is “a book written to inspire hatred and divisiveness” (see post above) really isn’t going to help.

    • Tyle
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      It’s not black and white, of course, but there are also people who, lost in shades of grey, don’t see what is in fact a relatively clear picture.

      http://www.pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/ (To me, this supports your contention that black and white is wrong, but also that there is a relatively clear picture.)

      I’m not saying you’re one of these people. But since they exist, doesn’t that make it a useful social function for people like Jerry to disabuse them?

      • Jeremy Rodell
        Posted April 9, 2013 at 2:16 am | Permalink

        The Pew survey (of Muslims in Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey – none in the west) is interesting but certainly doesn’t illustrate that things are black and white. In fact it shows on almost all issues considerable diversity. For example:

        It says “Many Muslims see a struggle between groups that want to modernize their countries and Islamic fundamentalists, and in five of the seven countries where the question was asked, more of those who see a struggle identify with the modernizers than with fundamentalists.”

        85% of Pakistan Muslims think there should be gender segregation in the workplace, but 89% of Lebanese Muslims think there should not be.

        • Tyle
          Posted April 10, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          “The Pew survey…certainly doesn’t illustrate that things are black and white” Agreed. I’ll add that you certainly didn’t read what I wrote.

          What it does show is shockingly high levels of support for suicide bombings, theocracy, misogyny, stoning, …

          You’re asking that we not have an honest conversation about this, because…people don’t want to hear the truth? Gotta say, I’m not convinced.

          • Jeremy Rodell
            Posted April 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            Firstly, apologies. You’re right – I misread what you said in your previous post.

            I think we’re in complete agreement about the fearsome challenge presented by the numbers of people in various places who support suicide bombings, theocracy, misogyny, stoning… (sometimes the whole lot). This really is a clash of values and “civilisations”. It was probably always there to some degree, but was less visible until there was globalisation, which both brought different value systems into contact on a large scale, and instant global communication extending to the remotest places.

            The question is: how best to respond to it? I would argue that the only way to make a difference is to defend and support liberal voices both within Islam itself, and within other groups in Muslim countries (especially people persecuted for atheism). But one of the sources of strength for fundamentalists is fear and resentment of western interference, so one of the worst things we can do – other than try to use force – is to say things like the Koran is “a book written to inspire hatred and divisiveness”. If I were either an atheist blogger languishing in a Bangladeshi jail, or a liberal Muslim trying to do what I can without putting my life at risk, I’d be furious at anyone who said that while at the same time claiming to be on my side.

    • Tyle
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      “Surely the best thing to do is to encourage and look for common ground with liberally-minded Muslims… Telling them that their holy book is “written to inspire hatred and divisiveness” really isn’t going to help.”

      Why can’t you just stop at saying this is a good way, rather than the only way? Why do you have to go on to tell Jerry that he should just shut up about certain things (such as the Koran being divisive, a claim which is very plausibly true)?

      • Jeremy Rodell
        Posted April 9, 2013 at 2:26 am | Permalink

        If someone says to you that something that you value very highly is “written to inspire divisiveness and hatred” how likely is it that you will listen to anything else they have to say? Of course there is freedom of speech, but there’s also the question of what is helpful in a diverse world, and the message given by how anyone chooses to express themselves.

        So, yes, I would stand by what I said: it really isn’t going to help.

        • gbjames
          Posted April 9, 2013 at 4:28 am | Permalink

          Oh, Lordy, I tire of hearing that direct and honest statements are outside the bounds of reasonable conversation. Please think about how disrespectful and patronizing that idea is to religious persons.

          • Jeremy Rodell
            Posted April 9, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

            I’m sorry you find a reasonable point, reasonably made, so tiresome. And, no I don’t think many (or maybe any) Muslims would find it disrespectful or patronizing to argue that it is not helpful (and that’s all I said) to claim that the Koran was “written to inspire divisiveness and hatred”. Maybe worth asking a few.

            I’m not saying that this perspective is out of bounds, clearly it’s not, and we have freedom of speech. But when there is a battle going on between moderates and hardliners in the Muslim world, I wonder what value it serves to make the hardliners’ point for them.

            • gbjames
              Posted April 9, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

              The value is that they will know a little bit more about the real universe they live in, that many non-Muslims see their founding documents as inherently divisive. We see the same sort of divisiveness in Christian “holy” books. Pretending that this is not the case, self-censoring in the vain hope of being “helpful” is not something that I see as beneficial to anyone.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      While 84% endorse a literalist view of scripture (BSA 10%), the 44% creationists is lower than in many US states(BSA 14%).

      I know little about the Koran, but what does it say about creation? Is it possible to be a literalist and not be a creationist, without contradicting yourself? (It isn’t if you are a literalist concerning the Bible, of course.)

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

        Is it possible to be a [Koranic] literalist and not be a creationist, without contradicting yourself?

        Unless I’m drastically misunderstanding things, the answer is “No”. If you are a “[Koranic] literalist” (can ANY Muslim be other?), then you are required to be a Creationist.

        • Jeremy Rodell
          Posted April 9, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

          Apparently around 50% of British Muslims (84% v 44%) don’t agree with you.

          People aren’t always consistent, and that’s true of us all.

          • Posted April 9, 2013 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

            No doubt it’s complex, but the wealthy nations do indeed have an agenda of keeping the masses under the control of religion. To wit:

            From wiki: “The Saudis have spent at least $87 billion propagating Wahhabism abroad during the past two decades, and the scale of financing is believed to have increased in the past two years. The bulk of this funding goes towards the construction and operating expenses of mosques, madrasas, and other religious institutions that preach Wahhabism. It also supports imam training; mass media and publishing outlets; distribution of textbooks…”

            Re: Hamas, also from wiki: “In the early 2000s, the largest backer of Hamas was Saudi Arabia, with over 50% of its funds coming from that country,[184] mainly through Islamic charity organizations…”

            Re: Hezbollah, also from wiki: “According to reports released in February 2010, Hezbollah received $400 million dollars from Iran.[89][90][91][92] The US estimates that Iran has been giving Hezbollah about US$60–100 million per year in financial assistance.[93] Other estimates are as high as $200-million annually.[88]”

            The oil money and other funding from the West is used directly to foment anti-West pro-fundamentalist sentiment. Large super-national organizations funnel immense wealth to building madrassas when families like the the Ibn Saudis and Kuwaitis should be building universities and secular legal infrastructure, and looking to relatively small states like Bangladesh as examples of anything significant is misleading.

            Railing on about how stupid indigent Muslims are and screaming that they should just see the irrationality of religion is pointless.

            • Posted April 9, 2013 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

              Sorry, I meant to post this in response to Jeremy’s later comment downthread.

    • Posted April 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Maybe it’s a cynical view, but we should look at who benefits from the pervasive fundamentalism in the Islamic world. Instead of incessantly blaming the morons who are screaming in the streets, what about their political leaders who foment this counter-productive diversionary activity?

      And don’t tell me that they are sovereign nations and out of the West’s influence. We support the sheikhs and imams, financially and politically. We buy oil, we give aid, we even fight wars (Gulf War 1) to protect these businessmen.

      It’s not that I think Harris is wrong, I just don’t understand his frustration with unwashed ignoramuses while their university-educated, pseudo-religious, Machiavellian leaders laugh all the way to the Bentley dealership. Yeah, their religion is punk, but so is every other religion if left out of secular jurisdiction.

      I cannot help but imagine that if I were an indigent ignorant goat-herder with no political power, my land taken away after oil is discovered, my kids drinking choleric water, my wife dying in childbirth, I might look for empowerment in a fantasy world, too. Who really knows?

      The solution is not in criticizing the fantasy religion, but in giving an alternative reality to replace it. That’s what the European Renaissance was all about.

      • Posted April 9, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        Okay, “Renaissance” should be “Enlightenment”.

        • Jeremy Rodell
          Posted April 9, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

          Which countries were you thinking of? Clearly not most of the world’s major oil producers, which are – according to the International Energy Agency – (in order): Saudi Arabia, Russia, USA, Iran, China, Canada, Iraq, UAE, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria.

          In the case of Bangladesh, the example that started this post, a poor country with only a small oil production (around 90th in the world), according to this report from Al-Jazeera (worth a read) http://blogs.aljazeera.com/blog/asia/bangladeshi-clerics-fight-atheist-bloggers “…Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently said she had no intentions of enacting a law against blasphemy. Her government has said it will look at the 13 points Hefazat have put forward but the likelihood of any of them being implemented is very slim” which doesn’t sound too much like your hypothesis about “political leaders who foment this counter-productive diversionary activity…”

          It’s complex.

          • Posted April 9, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

            No doubt it’s complex, but the wealthy nations do indeed have an agenda of keeping the masses under the control of religion. To wit:

            From wiki: “The Saudis have spent at least $87 billion propagating Wahhabism abroad during the past two decades, and the scale of financing is believed to have increased in the past two years. The bulk of this funding goes towards the construction and operating expenses of mosques, madrasas, and other religious institutions that preach Wahhabism. It also supports imam training; mass media and publishing outlets; distribution of textbooks…”

            Re: Hamas, also from wiki: “In the early 2000s, the largest backer of Hamas was Saudi Arabia, with over 50% of its funds coming from that country,[184] mainly through Islamic charity organizations…”

            Re: Hezbollah, also from wiki: “According to reports released in February 2010, Hezbollah received $400 million dollars from Iran.[89][90][91][92] The US estimates that Iran has been giving Hezbollah about US$60–100 million per year in financial assistance.[93] Other estimates are as high as $200-million annually.[88]”

            The oil money and other funding from the West is used directly to foment anti-West pro-fundamentalist sentiment. Large super-national organizations funnel immense wealth to building madrassas when families like the the Ibn Saudis and Kuwaitis should be building universities and secular legal infrastructure, and looking to relatively small states like Bangladesh as examples of anything significant is misleading.

            Railing on about how stupid indigent Muslims are and screaming that they should just see the irrationality of religion is pointless.

            • Jeremy Rodell
              Posted April 10, 2013 at 3:31 am | Permalink

              Yes, agree completely. This is about the Saudis and others using their wealth to export the fundamentalist Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam, while the Iranian Shi’ite government backs Hezbollah. So this is not so much (ref your original post) about political leaders using fundamentalism to subjugate their own people – I don’t see much evidence of that – but rather the recycling of oil money to promote either a fundamentalist form of Islam or – as in the case of Iran – straightforward political power against their enemies (aka the US and its perceived proxies).

              But that comes back to my original concern. If we take the example of Hamas in Gaza, which has recently scuppered the Gaza Marathon because it insisted on men and women running separately. Most Gazans are Muslims. Are we doing them any good by telling them all that the Koran is “a book written to inspire hatred and divisiveness” (as the original post here does) or would it be better to give moderate Gazan Muslims our support in their battle against the Saudi-backed hardliners?

              • Posted April 10, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

                Agree. I don’t think any of us can know the motivation of Mohammad for writing the Koran. Some Muslim view their religion as one of peace and others will use it as an excuse for violence. Just like Judeo-Christianity. There is NO materially difference; the only difference is the extrinsic mitigating influence of secular authority.

                I guess we’ll have to disagree on why the Saudi political apparatus sees value in maintaining the status quo of a massive underclass of West-hating paupers. Their economy is built not on human resources but on the exploitation of natural resources…the humans are extraneous.

  32. Posted April 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I have but one quibble with this excellent post. That the murder of Theo van Gogh was not motivated by colonialism.

    Wrong.

    Theo, a native Dutchman, was murdered by a Muslim colonist

  33. Posted April 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    (Yes, I know that an abortion doctor or gay man is occasionally killed by religious bigots in the U.S., but calls for murder on this scale characterize just one faith.)

    Keep an eye on Uganda and its on-again off-again Christian-based death penalty for gay people.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      s/Uganda/East Africa/
      Uganda may well be the worst and most vigorous, but it’s by no means the only country so affected.

  34. Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Watch this video to see what Islamists in England think of blasphemers and homosexuality. If the younger generation of Islam holds these views in an open society, then what hope is there for the religion to ever come out of its medieval intolerant mindset?

    Skip ahead to minute 54.

    http://soundmadness.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/islam-vs-atheism-the-big-debate/

  35. Sastra
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    This is interesting. There is a slight difference in the phrasing between Arab.news and globalpost. (Ed Brayton writes about the latter source here.)

    Contrast:

    There has been vociferous debate between staunch atheists and fundamentalists in Bangladesh’s social media for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an anti-Islam blogger was murdered.

    with

    The debate between militant atheists and fundamentalists has been a popular subject in Bangladesh’s blogosphere and on social media for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an atheist blogger was murdered.

    Notice the significant word change here? Sure you did. I bolded it. The Arab site refers to “staunch” atheists. The American site refers to “militant” atheists. Militant because they write blogs. And they are being killed by other militants, who use weapons instead of words. Same thing — if you’re an atheist.

    That. Ticks. Me. Off.

    • Jim Sweeney
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      It could be because the Communists used to call themselves “militant atheists”. In other words, it’s a dog whistle.

      • Marella
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        Oh really? I didn’t know that. Explains a lot.

    • elsburymk14
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • Christian
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I also noticed that.
      However, I read quite a few news reports on this issue and as far as I can tell, those Muslims haven’t been called “militant” by anyone. At most they’ve been described as “radical” as I noted above.

      That. Ticks. Me. Off.
      Indeed. It causes an impression of false equivalence.

    • Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

      Another word change noted – atheist for anti-Islam. There are a fair number of anti-Islam bloggers that are fundamental xians.

  36. KP
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    The Sunni versus Shi’a schism, responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, is a religious schism, and would not have happened without Islam.

    I just posted about my colleague in the Anthropology Dept. in the “Acceptance of evolution vs. religiosity in the U.S.” thread.

    To further his apologist stance for religion, he brushes these schisms (also the one between Catholics and Protestants in N. Ireland) as the product of tribal squabbles over land, or some other form of property, that pre-date the introduction of Islam or Christianity (depending). Then religion just becomes a substitute for the original squabble. It’s a weak excuse for dismissing the fact that religion is the problem NOW.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      he brushes these schisms (also the one between Catholics and Protestants in N. Ireland) as the product of tribal squabbles over land, or some other form of property, that pre-date the introduction of Islam or Christianity (depending)

      I’m not an Ulsterman, but I don’t need to be to call “bollocks” on that claim.
      Slap your “colleague” around the head with a convenient lump of masonry, and tell him to actually STUDY what he is spouting upon.
      One of my best friends ever ended up responsible (OK, sharing responsibility) for me getting a loaded, safety-off, 9mm pistol waved in my face twice in one evening. And he was a Ulsterman (born and bred), Protestant (B&B), Republican (B&B) ; just like the originators of the Republican movement.
      Your colleague needs to actually go and learn some history before ejaculating about it in public.

  37. Posted April 8, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Really, can you say that Episcopalians are responsible for the same kind of violence and oppression as is Islam? Or Buddhists, Hindus, Lutherans, and so on? Granted, Catholicism has been a force for evil in this world, what with child-raping, oppression of women, facilitating the spread of AIDS, and so on, but even Catholicism is nowhere near as bad as Islam as a source of violence and hatred.

    Nazi Germany was the most Christian nation in the west prior to WWII.

    And need we forget the religious troubles of the Protestant Reformation? For example, over 500,000 French Huguenots had to flee France for very good reasons:

    In what became known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 24 August – 3 October 1572, Catholics killed thousands of Huguenots in Paris. Similar massacres took place in other towns in the weeks following. The main provincial towns and cities experiencing the Massacre were Aix, Bordeaux, Bourges, Lyon, Meaux, Orleans, Rouen, Toulouse, and Troyes.[24] Nearly 3,000 Protestants were slaughtered in Toulouse alone.[25] The exact number of fatalities throughout the country is not known. On the 23–24 August, between about 2,000[26] and 3,000[27][28][29] Protestants were killed in Paris and between 3,000[30] and 7,000 more[31] in the French provinces. By 17 September, almost 25,000 Protestants had been massacred in Paris alone.[32][33] Outside of Paris, the killings continued until the 3 October.[32] An amnesty granted in 1573 pardoned the perpetrators.

    Islam is not special in its atrocities. And you, like many westerners still fail to understand the what and why of it because, at its roots, we’ve been major players in causing it. So we deny it. We want to pretend it’s the religion and that they’re ‘just bad’ and ‘just that way,’ you know, semi-savages we white folk tried to bring into the modern world…

    The truth is the religion is only a catalyst for deep seated problems we caused/amplified for centuries upon centuries.

    None of this, btw, absolves these people of their barbaric practices and beliefs. But it is to point out our ‘moral superiority’ is quite false and we’ve been major players in the problem.

    • Dermot C
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Who ‘we’? Include me out; or as my Estonian sister-in-law says, “Outclude me.”

    • Gary W
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      Islam is not special in its atrocities.

      It is in today’s world.

      The truth is the religion is only a catalyst for deep seated problems we caused/amplified for centuries upon centuries.

      No, Islam is a cause of deep-seated problems. “We” (by which I assume you mean the U.S. and other western nations) didn’t write all those barbaric teachings in the Koran or make Muslims practise them.

    • Marella
      Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      Religion keeps alive conflicts that would have been forgotten centuries ago without it.

    • Dave
      Posted April 9, 2013 at 1:18 am | Permalink

      Shorter version of the above:
      “Kill us, we deserve it”

  38. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    We’re not accused of Catholicphobia or Baptistphobia, but only Islamophobia. I think this reflects a double standard, for such accusations hold Muslims to lower standards than, say, Catholics,

    Possibly one of the significant points is that the schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism has been very public for far over a hundred decades now, and the schism between “Catholic” and “Protestant” is 50-odd decades old. Indeed, many people treat them as significantly distinguishable religions.
    But amongst Western critics of Islam, a comparable degree of discrimination does not apply.In my (slight) knowledge, about a hundred decades ago there was a major schism in the (~) “Ummah of Muslim Brotherhood over the question of … oh, something to do with Mohammed (may his name ever be mentioned, though I forget why) having a nephew who was a “Pope”, and the other Pope ordered him killed … or something. Sorry; I don’t get paid to memorise this particular bullshit. Perhaps Tom Lehrer could bring the clarity he does with the “Elements” song?
    Anyway, long story short : huge massacres in the last hundred decades of [Xtianity | Islam] lead to schisms which are now identified as distinct religions. So the next time you are talking to “a Muslim”, you need to interrupt him (you won’t be allowed to talk to the women, if you’re a man ; also vice versae), and clarify if he’s Sunni or Shia(h). And then, use the Sunni-Shia(h) fracture to continually interrupt them and make it hard for them to maintain their flow of verbal diarrhoea.Sorry, I’m just being a contemptible plastic politician. I blame the Maggon myself : I really want to know where her dead bones are buried so that I can dance (to Plastique Bertrand, je espere) on the rancid bitch’s bones.
    She doesn’t realise how lucky she was that the FSM is magnanimous (and forgetful – it’s the Beer Volcano), so rarely pursues justified vengeance past the first several aeons (gigayears). But I’d still dig up her bones to remind her how hated she was by millions.
    [RANT] [MUMBLE]

  39. Mark Erickson
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Funny that you ended your quote of Godfrey just before the header, “Why are their criticisms of the Muslim religion wrong?”

    And short bolded phrases as stand ins for others’ arguments is the dictionary example of straw-manning.

  40. Diane G.
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    sub

  41. ealloc
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    Islam certainly deserves criticism as the worst major religion, and such criticism is not islamophobic.

    Where I think Harris verges into islamophobia is when he supports banning Muslim immigration to western countries, advocates racial profiling, opposes the building of Mosques, when he brings up torture in the context of Islam, and in his rhetoric that “we are at war with islam, not terrorism”. He supports Geert Wilders, who says immigrants should have to renounce islam to immigrate.

    The problem with this is that there are many relatively harmless flavors of Islam. Most muslims in the US are perfectly fine people, for example, and to impose these conditions on them is unfair harassment. For many, Islam is a part of their cultural identity rather than the center of their belief system: Their secular beliefs inform their spirituality more than the other way around (as with most religions). Requiring them to give up a harmless but significant part of their cultural identity is too much. Harassing them for trying to build a Mosque is cruel and unusual. These positions are unnecessarily antipathic to Muslims.

    I find the “war with Islam” rhetoric islamophobic because it falsely attributes a large amount of violence to Islam. This is not to say Islam is not violent – it often is. But Buddhists are also very violent and militant, but do we call what they do “Buddhist terrorism” and are we at war with Buddhism? No – while religion is involved in that type of conflict, it is more of an ethnic conflict in which religion plays a role as a facet of ethnicity. Many Muslims are violent in similar ways to those Buddhists, but they are *additionally* violent in a way we refer to as “Islamic terrorism”, and *that* is mainly a reaction to imperialism. Yes, the local violence against atheists, Coptics, Hindues, and other Muslims is a horrific side of Islam that should be fought, but it is local to those places and does not justify persecuting Muslims at home, and is not the fundamental cause of our conflict with the middle east. Why try to make this into a religious war when it is not? This false attribution to Islam just sounds like a way to excuse persection against innocent Muslims at home and justify continued war.

    It’s true the cases of Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the danish cartoonists can fairly be called Islamic terrorism caused by Islam itself, but again I don’t think this justifies persecuting Muslims, and I think imperialism fuels even this to a degree (though definitely not justifying it!). Violent Buddhists don’t care what we do over here, and without our history of conflict with the middle east I don’t think violent Muslims would either.

    • Pete UK
      Posted April 9, 2013 at 1:48 am | Permalink

      The peaceable US muslims do, as you say, have a different world view from the terrorists and again from those mobs in Bangladesh. They insist that we remember this. And we do. We acknowledge it all the time. We bend over backwards to recognise it.

      But it is their choice to label themselves as “muslims”: adherents of the same religion. Who presumably worship the same “true” god who, if we allow his existence at all, could surely only have one plan and one recipe for how humans should live. And who take their guidance, to a greater or lesser degree, from the same texts.

      I think any discussion of a religion is implicitly and immediately a generalisation which we have to hedge around with qualifiers. But as it is probable that every single adherent will have a set of beliefs that differ, however slightly, from everyone else’s, the only proper way to handle religion is with the techniques of population variation and dynamics. In this respect it’s more like biology. How you could possibly do it is another matter, but wouldn’t it be handy to have precise stats on which bits of the Bible every Christian has read or had quoted at them, broken down by year and geography and sect? Of course we will never will.

      Or, to put it more pithily, “no true Scotsman” is being far too woolly. It should be “No true red-headed Aberdonian etc etc scotsman”.

  42. Posted April 9, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    One of the more thoughtful analyses of the ongoing “Islamophobia” controversy can be found here:

    http://saiu.org/2013/04/08/is-islamophobia-real/

    Having read some of what Greenwald has written, I think the real source of his animus toward Harris is that he thinks the criticisms of Islam by Harris (and the NAs in general) are (or can be) used to justify US military actions in the Middle East. Greenwald’s credibility would be enhanced considerably in my eyes if he were simply to admit that the charges of racism and Islamophobia are wrong and instead focus his attention on his real beef: US foreign policy, about which there can and should be real arguments and discussion. But of course such candor and willingness to admit error is rare in public discussions where saving face is very important…

  43. pbrain72
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    It’s an oxymoron coined by a poxy moron!
    I just don’t get where the irrational fear aspect of it comes into the equation…

  44. Jeremy Rodell
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    Everyone – please help defend the Bangladeshi bloggers, whose position is pretty dire. Here are the details of what to do: http://iheu.org/story/call-action-defend-bloggers-bangladesh.

    If you use Twitter, the hastag is #HumanistSolidarity and/or follow @iheu


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