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Blackstar

Atheism and Islam(ophobia)

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/03/sam-harris-muslim-animus

 

a very interesting engagement by Glenn Greenwald (who's without peer as a topical instigator) of claims made by, and accusations leveled against, "New Atheists" like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins on the topic of Islam in the modern world. the topic is at the crux of a number of larger issues: religion, racism, practical foreign policy, and philosophy. what are people's thoughts on this case? should atheists confront and denounce Islam as much (or more) than other religions? at what point does this become counterproductive? can we compare the actions and positions of Islamic fundamentalism with not only other religions but with governments who've warred with Muslim countries?

Edited by Blackstar

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That was a massive article, and to unpack it thoroughly and follow up on the multitudinous links would require more time and energy than I have at the moment.

 

That said, a few points:

  • My view is that Atheists should not dish out criticism or incite violence in the name of rationalism unduly or in an explicitly unequal manner but rather on a situation-to-situation basis. All of the Muslim world should obviously not be demonized and inveighed against simply because of a factional organization of terrorist extremists claiming to carry out their violence in the name of a deity or the popular religion associated with that deity, for example.
  • I consider myself to have originally become an apostate partially on the grounds that I found Christianity to be much less than satisfactorily ethical. As such, you could almost say that I am inclined to be more critical of it because of how dominant a force it is in American society. It seems natural that one would have a keener eye for the enemy at home than one would for the enemy abroad. Thus, it does indeed seem strange that the "new Atheists" are so eager to attack Islam and to a greater degree than other religions which demonstrate misplaced morality. However, can that really be said of Dawkins and Hitchens? I can't claim to know them from all of their writings, but weren't the two of them extremely critical of Christian Theology to begin with? I see how the article applies to Harris, who's obviously being very specific, but how many adamant "New Atheist" xenophobes and/or racists are out there stirring up the flames and blowing the smoke in a very specific direction? I don't claim to know; I obviously have more reading to do.
  • Criticism should be turned inward and felt on a national level. We need to examine our foreign policies and how it affects those countries which we invade or alter drastically by our presence rather than find excuses to push our policies to the extremes of nationalism and imperialism.

Sorry if it seems like I neglected answering your questions specifically. I'm really tired and I do intend to come back to this.

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I don't have time to read the article right now (studying for a test) but I am curious as to the following (for those who are more acquanted with the discussion)

On issues like #femen, what would be the expected atheistic position. I mean does atheism hold some form of morality as a 'belief' system or are they strictly anti-God in an open ended way?

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To a certain degree yes, I think it's more than a neutral religious position and I understand they strive to subvert Christian influence from science and politics. But to me it has always felt like a force against the Christian position on issues like birth control and such, what about #femen, an islamic council condemned Amina to be tortured to death for her social media campaign to liberate women. I would imagine the natural reaction from part of an atheist would be 'that's an atrocity', but if so, are they developing their own form of humanistic morality, how organized is this morality, what does it mean?

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Secular Humanism isn't exactly inchoate, as far as I know, e.g. the American Humanist Association formed in 1941 (of which author Kurt Vonnegut was a leading member), as well as various global secular organizations. Admittedly, I'm mostly unaware of how strongly they effect the political sphere.

 

I don't know that I necessarily believe in "organized entities of non-religious influence" myself. However, I suppose that's also rather contrary to how our current political system works, which might make me a sort of political "luddite" in that respect. The idea of one needing a logo, symbol, or imprint to put their atheism proudly on display seems rather stupid to me.

 

What you mentioned about that woman, Amina, is clearly an atrocity, but also might beg the question—is she striving for political martyrdom?

Edited by Capricancerous

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That answers my question entirely. Thanks.

I don't think Amina knew the exactly what was going to happen to her. I think she might have gotten carried away with the dissenting spirit, I mean not many people would equate a nude picture of themselves on social media intented at a global audience with torture until death. I think the decision was very harsh and only fueling anti-islamic sentiments. I think that the world needs secular societies where Islam is freely practiced, and I think that between 'family circles' sharia law is okay as long as basic human rights are never violated.

 

I support military liberation efforts and the transformation of the East into a global consumerist society. If that reduces Islam to the level of Jehova's Witnesses so what, I welcome that idea.

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Well, it sounds like she wanted to speak out without becoming a poster child after reading up a bit on the matter.

 

Since Femen came out with this statement—

“lethal hatred of Islamists – inhuman beasts for whom killing a woman is more natural than recognising her right to do as she pleases with her own body.”

 

—she seems to have backed away from being associated with the movement and stands again in defense of Islam on the whole.

 

 

 

By the way, Blackstar, what's up with beginning a thread and then being essentially non-contributional on the follow up?

Edited by Capricancerous

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Well, it sounds like she wanted to speak out without becoming a poster child after reading up a bit on the matter.

 

Since Femen came out with this statement—

“lethal hatred of Islamists – inhuman beasts for whom killing a woman is more natural than recognising her right to do as she pleases with her own body.”

 

—she seems to have backed away from being associated with the movement and stands again in defense of Islam on the whole.

 

 

 

By the way, Blackstar, what's up with beginning a thread and then being essentially non-contributional on the follow up?

Interesting, I get a much different perspective from that than I do from the Mexican newspaper where I have been following the situation. I am not surprised she backing out at all, I think she should understand that fanaticism climbs up some places.}

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Well, she kinda dipped her toe in, realized it was too cold and said fuck this shit. Yeah nobody blames her. It just makes you wonder, was it capriciousness on her part? Like, serious naivety?

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I think social media exposes people to a variety of new ideas and while I think her campaign was very innocent and progressive in the same air as the 'pussy riot' protests I think she definitely failed to realize that social media such as twitter has been used by extremist muslim groups in the past and perhaps she was entering that category a lot sooner than the russian counterparts.

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On issues like #femen, what would be the expected atheistic position.

 

 

 

irrelevant on multiple levels. atheists aren't a unified bloc of people beyond their non-belief in deities.

 

By the way, Blackstar, what's up with beginning a thread and then being essentially non-contributional on the follow up?

 

usually i try to wait until someone says something interesting (no offense, your responses were well-considered and well written, i just don't have much to add to them).

 

my own personal view is simply that atheists can inveigh against the perceived evils of religion "unequally", it isn't incoherent to claim that all religions based on a belief in god are false but some are worse than others in terms of their impact on human society. i also think that Sam Harris isn't an ideal proponent of such a strident brand of atheism, because i don't think he's very smart or compelling; particularly in relation to the other "4 Horsemen" [Dawkins can overreach and be a bit shrill, but at least is a highly respected scientist; Dennett likewise has serious philosophical credentials outside of the religion debate while Hitchens was admittedly brilliant in terms of amassed knowledge if wildly scattershot in his implementation of it]. i think a solid rejoinder from Harris should have been equally simple: i am not an Islamophobe, i'm a theophobe who happens to think Islam is the scariest. he goes a bit further than that, and in part because he's not incredibly bright (and has a few biases of his own, i'd claim) he attempts to go after Greenwald personally, which is always a mistake given Mr. Greenwald's obsessive personality. Greenwald for his part seriously conflates the battle between atheism (including those who claim to argue on the side of secularism) and religion with geopolitics, which is the focus of much of his attention (and ire). Greenwald doesn't take the time/have the inclination to argue the philosophical side, and Harris neglects the geopolitical side; i just happen to think that although i often don't agree with Greenwald he's far more valuable as a commentating gadfly than Harris is.

 

that's all relative to this specific article. as i noted in the OP the issues it touches on extend much broader, but nobody seems to be biting on them besides Gomez in his obtuse Gomezish way.

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I think Hitchens carried out the same flawed reasoning as Harris when it came to dealing with Muslims:

 

p1 Islam is Evil

p2 We Should Fight Evil

C  Wars Against Terror/Muslim nations are justified

 

Hitchens was one of the strongest supporters of the War in Iraq and while he made some convincing arguments, I think the root of it all was that reasoning above.  While I agree that Islam (in itself, not just fundamentalism) is dangerous, I obviously don't agree that this is sufficient basis to justify some lower standard of what it takes to declare war.

 

 

So.... as for the article, I guess I would say that I agree with Greenwald that the out-working of Harris' view of Islam is scary and wrong.  I disagree that the original idea, that Islam itself is a threat to modern society, is scary and wrong.  We have to find the tricky balance between two things:

 

1.  Tolerating Muslims, protecting their rights and treating them equally.  And...

2.  Preventing Muslims from harming others.

 

(2) isn't just a matter of terrorism or bomb threats.  It's a matter of how people in the religion influence policy.  This isn't as big of a problem in our country as it will be parts of Europe this century.

 

 

Yes, this is the same thing humanists/secularists/atheists/liberals have to do with Christians and Jews.  And in our country the policy aspect is scarier with those two than with Islam.  But in a global context I don't see how Greenwald could argue that both the growth and violence of Islam make it one of the scarier things facing society moving forward.

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I actually have an anecdote from today that's somewhat applicable.

 

I had Jury Duty for the first time this afternoon.  It was a criminal case involving sexual assault.  They asked all the potential jurors if they had any problems with the minimum or maximum sentencing.  (Note:  In Texas Jurors can decide the severity of punishment if the defendant prefers that to a Judge.  The penalty varied from 5 years probation to life in prison)

 

A man two seats down from me stood up and said that since he was a Muslim he would have to go for the maximum penalty.  Even then he was really compromising since the Quran states that this offense should be punished with death.

 

This isn't something a rational person should want to see more of in society.  You just have to find more intelligent solutions than the ones Harris offers.

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Not technically rape because the person was disabled? I don't understand.

Groping? Surely not.

I don't think many people would be opposed to the maximum penalty at all in situations of rape, to say the least. That's regardless of religion.

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I saw Greenwald on Bill Maher's show.  He annoys me a little bit.  Either he's playing dumb to make a point about how America can be evil, or he's just trying too hard not to single out Islam.

 

In Bangladesh last week there were riots because the people there wanted state punishment for blasphemy.  Islam today is where Christianity was 500 years ago as far as violence and intolerance.

 

And for Greenwald to counter with statements like (paraphrasing), "there were generals in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who saw it as a holy war" as though that's some sort of equivalence... it's just intellectually dishonest.

 

On the other hand, I enjoyed his article today on the media's selective outrage at civil liberty violations.

Edited by fellside

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Really? I thought he presented a more compelling argument than Maher did. I get what you're saying though. It just seemed more like he was concerned with refusing to let the US off the hook for instigating imperialist wars and such, which is not to be ignored.

Here's the clip for Blackstar and anyone else who may be interested and might not have seen it:


Benghazi segues into geopolitics/religion/whatever rather quickly:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MB-itn_LJuM

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