Back in mid-September I did a post called ‘Is New Atheism a Cult?’ The discussion is still going on – so far there are 336 comments. A few days ago a link was posted there by a commenter to an Alternet article by Guardian journalist Jeff Sparrow called ‘We Can Save Atheism From the New Atheists Like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris‘. It’s garnered a lot of interesting discussion. I finally got around to adding my two cents worth today, and the comment quickly became rather long, so I’ve decided to make a post out of it. So, here’s what I think:
The article starts off with the erudite comment, “Why are the New Atheists such jerks?”
Great start Mr Sparrow. Thus, I respond with an equally erudite, “When are you going to grow up?”
My main issue with Sparrow is that a lot of what he says is unfair stereotyping or misrepresents the views of those he’s criticizing. And he’s often just plain nasty. For example:
So how did a movement ostensibly full of progressives end up so identified with writers who sound less and less like incarnations of pure reason and more and more like your Islamophobic uncle after he chugs his sixth pint?
For goodness sake. It’s just juvenile, schoolyard stuff. It’s not clever, it’s childish.
Initially he moves into an attack on Dawkins and his tweets around the Ahmed Mohamed saga, the 14 year old boy arrested in Texas for taking a bomb (actually an electronic clock he’d pulled apart and put back together) to school.
Dawkins has never quite mastered the art of the Tweet. 140 characters is just not enough for him. I imagine him typing what he wants to say, then having to delete half of it, and by the time he does that it no longer says what he thinks it says. And, of course, there are always plenty of people around to attack him if he makes the slightest misstep.
Anyway, he got it wrong with clock-gate, but what Sparrow fails to mention, presumably because it wouldn’t fit his narrative that Dawkins is a racist Islamophobe, is that Dawkins initial tweets were very supportive of the boy, and completely on his side. It’s only when it turned out that he, like many, felt like they had been fooled by Mohamed’s expression of what happened that he changed his tune. The tweet Sparrow implies was Dawkins first came 2-3 days into the saga.
Next he has a go at Sam Harris. He has one good point, which I’ll get to, but telling his readers that his favourite comment from blogger PZ Myers about Harris is, “Sam Harris [is] full of paranoid, racist shit,” is just plain ignorant. Even if it were true that Harris is paranoid and racist, and he isn’t, that’s really not the sort of comment a decent journalist should be celebrating in my opinion. Seriously, what a jerk!
However, I have to agree with him that Harris was wrong when he said in his latest podcast that GOP primary candidate Ben Carson understood the Middle East better than Noam Chomsky. While I disagree with Chomsky’s analysis, he clearly knows the topic much, much, much better than Carson. Carson’s knowledge of the Middle East is an embarrassment in someone who wants to be president. I note that Harris has updated his podcast since he said that, with special reference to what he said about Carson, and I haven’t listened to that yet. I’m interested in what he has to say, and will reserve my final judgment until then. I’m not quite sure how he can get around the comment though.
Sparrow is of the opinion that it’s no big deal being an atheist these days. It used to take “considerable courage” to proclaim one’s atheism, but nowadays New Atheists are, he says, “insiders.” While it’s true that for many it’s no “big deal,” it’s not true that atheism is so commonplace there’s no stigma attached to it. The attitude toward atheists in the United States is so bad that I’ve written about it several times, and my comments are supported by statistics from such reputable organisations as Gallup and Pew. He dismisses the experiences of atheists in the US with:
Even in America, something of an anomaly on these matters, religious presidential candidates direct their evangelical huckstering at Smallville, USA and not the sophisticates of the big cities.
This is just not accurate. Every presidential candidate, religious or not, has to parade his Christian credentials to have any hope of winning the election. “God bless you and God bless America” is something every candidate and president says with alarming frequency. In fact, in most states demonstrated religiosity is a requirement for any public office.
In Great Britain where Sparrow writes from, and where being an atheist is not generally frowned upon, we hear constantly of atheist speakers being uninvited, or of attempts being made to uninvite them. Atheist and former Muslim Maryam Namazie has been a frequent victim. Just in the last week, after failing to get Namazie uninvited from a speaking engagement at Goldsmith University, the university’s Islamic society instead did all they could to disrupt her talk.
Sparrow makes the comment:
As a philosophical tendency, the New Atheists were popularisers rather than innovators, using advances in biology and neuroscience to illustrate pretty well-worn arguments against religion. Indeed, in some crucial ways, they represent an intellectual step backward from a left that had recognised atheism as necessary but scarcely sufficient.
He notes here, with a bit of spite thrown in for good measure, that New Atheists have a “tendency … to illustrate … arguments against religion.” Well, yes we do. So what? Why should we not express our opinion about the subject, and who is he to tell us what we can and can’t talk and write about anyway? He attacks us further, making his point using a Marx quote:
Marx dismissed those who trumpeted their disbelief to children as “assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogeyman”.
In his usual pettifogging way, he’s reinforcing the point that New Atheists oppose the ideas of religion. He’s goes on about all the things religion can offer to people, as if that’s something New Atheists deny, and worse, as if that’s a reason not to criticize. He says it again in another way, “By contrast, the New Atheists engage with religion purely as a set of ideas …”.
So three times Sparrow’s buttressed his case that New Atheists attack the idea of religion. He then makes the spurious and intellectually dishonest leap that a lot of critics of New Atheists make – that by attacking the ideas, we’re attacking the people. He writes:
But what happens then? You’re left with no explanation for their devotion other than a susceptibility to fraud. To borrow Dawkins’ title, if God is nothing but an intellectual delusion then the billions of believers are, well, deluded; a collection of feeble saps in need of enlightenment from their intellectual superiors.
This is simply rubbish. Yes, God is a delusion, but that is ABSOLUTELY NOT saying believers are “feeble saps in need of enlightenment from their intellectual superiors.” That is a complete misrepresentation of what most New Atheists think about believers. The fact is, which Sam Harris as a neuroscientist is probably far more aware of than Sparrow, we can all be manipulated, and religion is only one way this can happen. (This YouTube video on the subject is excellent.) He goes on:
That’s the basis for the dickishness that so many people now associate from the New Atheism, a movement too often exemplified by privileged know-it-alls telling the poor that they’re idiots. But that’s only part of it. For, of course, the privileged know-it-alls are usually white and those they lampoon the most are invariably Muslim.
Seriously? Who’s the dick? If anyone is being arrogant here it’s him. The reason that a whole lot of people have suddenly decided that New Atheists are dicks is a few people, like CJ Werleman, were caught plagiarizing and instead of having the guts to apologize instead started lying about those who caught them, sullying their reputations, and a lot of people were ready to believe them. And Dawkins isn’t very good at Twitter.
And here comes the accusation, which I knew would raise it’s ugly head: that New Atheists hate Muslims. Sparrow has just used considerable ink to criticize us for attacking ideas, which we do, then says we attack people. To him, somehow disagreeing with an idea someone has is attacking them personally. This is intellectually dishonest, and I’m simply not even going to bother with this spurious argument.
He then launches into an attack of Christopher Hitchens. Most of the arguments being made on the ‘Is New Atheism a Cult’ post are around this topic, and there are some good ones on both sides. It’s a pity Sparrow didn’t read these comments about what he wrote before he wrote it. 🙂
Sparrow continues with the ad hominem attack:
You can see how the argument works. If belief in God stems from intellectual inadequacy, then all believers are feebleminded – and the most devout are the most feebleminded of all. All religions are bad but some religions – especially those in the Middle East, by sheer coincidence! – are worse than others.
I find it outrageous that this guy has the gall to put these thoughts that I’ve never had into my (as a proud New Atheist) head. I have never, and most New Atheists have never, suggested that belief in God is a result of “intellectual inadequacy” or that “all believers are feebleminded.” For goodness sake! For a start, I was one of those believers myself until well into adulthood, and since Sparrow insists that as a New Atheist I’m also a “privileged know-it-all,” how did I manage to be both? Does he think I sit at family gatherings looking down on my feeble-minded relatives who’ve nevertheless managed to do a lot better than I have? What kind of people does he think we are?
In a different world, religion might not be necessary. But we’re not in that world yet. In the struggle for social change, the religious will play just as important role as anyone else. If you don’t believe in God, that’s great. But you’re not helping by being a jerk about it.
Who exactly is being a jerk here? I’ve got my faults, but if someone who knows me was asked to name them, they wouldn’t include being a “jerk” towards religious people, or anyone else for that matter.
I’m a liberal. That means, among other things, I want equality of treatment and opportunity for all. One of the biggest problems I have with religion is so many of them have rules that lead to them treating others badly. If you’re a Roman Catholic or a Mormon or a Muslim, for example, but you still treat women or atheists or LGBT people or people of colour as equals, then I have no problem with you. If on the other hand you use your religion as an excuse to treat the people in one of more of those groups as less than your equal, I will speak out.
And when a terrorist yells “Allahu Akbar,” and I put much of the blame on Islamism, that is NOT the same as assigning religion as the primary motive. The problem I see with Wahhabi Islam is that it provides a framework for responding to issues with violence, terror, murder, and suicide. When your religion has violent jihad as a tenet, that is a problem.
What my point is, is that without the belief that killing and dying with the long-term goal of establishing a worldwide caliphate, the response of Islamists to the very serious issues they are facing wouldn’t be murder and suicide. This is what New Atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest book is all about (which I haven’t read yet, but you can see the basics here) – how to reform Islam so that the violent jihad response is ameliorated.
Sparrow attacks New Atheists for basically being horrible people – but his article is full of small-mindedness. I get the impression that a lot of the people who attack Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are simply jealous of their success.
Note: Thanks to all the commenters who have already commented on the Sparrow article: Paxton Marshall (who posted it), Yakaru, Ken, and Diane G.
Thanks for writing that, Heather. Yes — Sparrow’s article is a complete and utter disgrace. If you want to publish an imbecilic, infantile hit-piece about New Atheists in the Guardian, you have to take a number and get in line.
Infantile because it’s entirely personality based: dividing humans up into good and bad and hides behind PZ myers’ apronstrings. (This used to be known as an appeal to authority, and an ad hominem attack, and recognized instantly as logical fallacies, complete with a link to wikipedia, but those old days on the internet are obviously gone.)
And imbecilic because he simply asserts generalizations rather than constructing an argument that leads up to a general point.
There’s a whole squadron of these people who are obsessed with the idea that atheism is all about what Dawkins Hitchens and Harris say, and who completely ignore not only other atheists, but even ignore and shout down and insult those Muslims who agree with the New Atheists.
These idiots don’t know how to argue. Salon published an article by an idiot called Curis White a while ago, in which he repeatedly accused Hitchens of lying. Never once did he or his editors think it necessary to indicate what any of the lies were. He also accused Hitchens of ignoring religious scholarship when he concluded Moses probably didn’t exist and the Jews were never enslaved in Egypt. He was kind enough to include a quote from Hitchens (which he’d nabbed not from Hitch but from another of Hitch’s critics). Had he checked the original he would have seen that Hitchens was in fact quoting directly from leading Israeli archeologists.
Sorry for ranting, but these people are simply lazy parasites with absolutely nothing to offer.
If Sparrrow wants to “rescue” atheism, he could try doing something creative and original himself, and see if the Guardian would publish it for him.
That last paragraph sums up nicely what I think. People like Sparrow though seem to be too busy criticizing atheists who have achieved positive change to do anything creative and original themselves.
One thing I didn’t say in the post, but which also annoys me about these guys, is that they make so many personal comments about those they’re attacking. For example, they go on about Dawkins privileged background as if that somehow means he’s not allowed to have an opinion, or express it. It seems you’re only allowed to be a voice for atheism if you’ve come from the streets or something. It’s actually just another form of elitism.
Yes… and ironically, these folks focus exclusively on privileged white males, and completely ignore those who, so to speak, come from the streets, or have brownish skin. And The Guardian which is falling over itself to publish these gormless turkeys refuses to give atheists like Maryam Namazie a fair platform.
Meanwhile Namazie’s (or rather the Council of Ex-Muslims’) #ExMuslimBecause campaign is an extraordinary success. But don’t expect Sparrow or Andrew Brown or any of the other Guardian atheist-clickbait-bashers to cover it.
Yes! Ayaan Hirsi Ali is another New Atheist the regressive left attacks mercilessly and unfairly. While she’s doing amazing work trying to stop child marriage in particular and also FGM, they’re siding with CAIR against her.
There’s no doubt Ali has been treated poorly, but not all of the criticism has been unfair. Her interview with Dave Rubin was mostly very good I thought, but there were two large clangers that will get her offside with the left, regressive or not. She talked of Israel as though they were innocent of all wrong doing, saying something like “they’re a democracy after all”, as though democracies, by definition can do no wrong. Then Dave asked her to respond to the criticism that she hangs out with too many neocons. Her response was to the effect that she couldn’t see what that problem was and that if being a neocon meant wanting people to have better lives (can’t remember her exact words), then she was fine with it. It should be no surprise that she is accused of being a neocon apologist when she rolls out such uninformed responses. Even Sam Harris knows better and she isn’t helping him either. While he hasn’t said anything so foolish, he defends her unreservedly, as does Maher. Throw in Hitch and it’s not difficult to see why there’s a meme of an atheist neocon movement, particularly among those who don’t have the inclination to dig any deeper, which is most people.
None of us gets it right all the time of course. I think I’ve said to you before that while I admire Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, Hirsi Ali, Coyne, Namazie and others, that doesn’t mean I agree with or support everything they say.
Hirsi Ali is reluctant to criticize Israel, and I think that undermines her position. I’m not anti-Israel either, but I’m quite open to admitting there’s a lot to criticize about their actions.
As for hanging around with neo-cons, I don’t like her answer much, and I think she should have just said what I see as the truth there. When she first move to the US, a right-wing think tank were the only ones who’d give her a job. (She’s stated none of them ever said or did anything to undermine her atheism, and they were strongly supportive of free speech.) Also, she’s married to a rw historian, so that naturally influences who their friends are.
People’s friends is of absolutely no consequence. If it is thought that someone’s views are skewed by who the associate with, then those views should be criticized. Otherwise it’s just this tribalistic identity politics again.
There is a strong tendency on the left at the moment to focus on personalities rather than views. One level it’s understandable and necessary — to decide in principle whether or not someone is worth listening to; but having decided that they are, I think it is wrong to then treat every point of disagreement as a black mark against their entire reputation. It’s infantile, because it’s what children do when trying to figure if someone is “safe” or not.
Regarding Sam Harris supposedly saying that he’d support Carson over Chomsky, I haven’t checked out exactly what he said or if he is *again* being lied about. I’ve heard him say previously that if the left fails to respond to Islamist terror, then we will wind up with the only people opposing it being loons on the right.
I don’t take his opponents seriously enough any more to want to risk wasting time doing the fact checking they didn’t do; I also don’t find Sam’s political views so compelling that I would want to understand every detail; and I am currently reading his brilliant book “Waking Up”, which, speaking as someone who has practiced meditation for the last 25 years and read masses of books on spirituality, is the best book on the subject I’ve come across. So I will spend my time reading that, rather than trying to figure outr of Glen Greenwald is still a deceitful writer, or Cenk is still a bit too dull to be dealing with the topics he takes on.
(I hope I’m not ranting too much here, Heather — on my own blog I’m far more terse! I’ll try and wind it in from now on.)
I like your “rants” Yakaru, because I mostly agree with them. Makes all the difference! 🙂
You make a point here I particularly like – about the way the regressive left finds someone they decide they don’t like (like the kid the popular kids have decided is going to be bullied at school) and even though they agree with most of what they say, they use every tiny disagreement with them to try to blacken their name. Harris especially has the courage to stand up to them and fight back, which is good, but he’s mentioned conversations with others who feel they can’t even speak out because of the kind of attacks they could come under from that crowd. Dawkins speaks up, but often makes things worse instead of better, and Hirsi Ali does too, but as Ken has pointed out, comes up with some bad answers.
(Sorry, I should have made it clearer that I’m not accusing Ken of simplistic arguments or being infantile. I’m just ranting generally about a form of critique that bugs me.)
Thanks, I appreciate the clarification and understand the frustration, but…
“People’s friends is of absolutely no consequence.”
If they’re just friends, fine, but if they’re celebrities in their own right speaking out on your behalf, then they open themselves to criticism too. That’s just the way it is.
“There is a strong tendency on the left at the moment to focus on personalities rather than views…”
I don’t think you’ll find much disagreement with that here, though I think the right can be just as dismissive based on who they think you are.
“Regarding Sam Harris supposedly saying that he’d support Carson over Chomsky, I haven’t checked out exactly what he said or if he is *again* being lied about. I’ve heard him say previously that if the left fails to respond to Islamist terror, then we will wind up with the only people opposing it being loons on the right.”
The problem with this is that the left want desperately to respond effectively to Islamist terror – whether they’re happy to call it that or not – but don’t agree with Sam’s prescription for doing so. He can express his frustration with that situation however he wants, but he should be learning by now that not all ways are equally effective.
“I don’t take his opponents seriously enough any more to want to risk wasting time doing the fact checking they didn’t do;…”
We all have to make choices on how to invest our time, but I don’t find it that easy to discriminate. I’ve been reading Greenwald for years and find him a great source of information and clear analysis on many topics. That he has misrepresented Harris is deplorable and makes me suspicious, but I’ve no proof yet that he is not trustworthy on many other matters.
It’s the same with Sam. I’ve found his logic impeccable on so many issues; the illogic of religion, free will, mindfulness. So when his logic fails me on something huge like regarding the role of geopolitics on terrorism, I can’t help but be more wary in general. This is probably a good thing of course.
Now misrepresentation is worse than flawed logic for sure, so I’m not drawing a false equivalence, just saying I don’t write anyone off lightly.
The majority of my friends are atheist or agnostic, and if not for me, I doubt any of them would have heard of Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens. (I think it’s important to note that I’m the only atheist that was raised evangelical christian.) When I send articles, recommend books or talk about atheism, my atheist friends could care less, as they never buy the books, discuss the articles or engage in any meaningful conversation on the topic. I will also add that they never begrudge me sending them atheist related material. I would bet a bundle that most atheists (and I have to include agnostics) don’t spend much time analyzing their own dis-belief in god and/or religion. Just as many religionists don’t analyze their own belief…if they did, there would probably be fewer of them. Perhaps the atheists who delve into the material are more likely to be converts than simply born without a religious influence.
I guess my point is there seems to be a forced intellectual battle going on in a bubble that the majority of atheists don’t pay attention to because they are comfortable in their atheism and it’s not a large part of their identity. (This seems to be the attitude of the average European atheist as well.) As Heather pointed out, it appears rather obvious that Sparrow and other atheist bashers are jealous of the success of the New Atheists and their rhetoric is geared towards religious people and religious apologists, not your average atheist. It’s a tactic to create an emotional response without any substance or originality…reminds me of Republican tactics: fear and misdirection with a sprinkle of ad hominem attacks, but nothing meaningful.
Then again, maybe the fact that my atheist friends don’t really dwell on atheism like I do is the exception, not the rule.
I think you have something there Mark. A few people I know have sort of drifted into atheism, and I’d like to think me talking about it from time to time made them think about things a bit. None of them were deeply religious in the first place though. They just believed because that’s how they were brought up. However, none of them read Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et al, and I suspect most have never even heard of them. As you say, they’re just comfortable being atheist – it’s the position that makes sense to them. There’s no big deal about it.
Thanks, Heather. I think much of your criticism of Sparrow is entirely fair, but I also have issues with Harris and Dawkins and don’t agree with some of your comments about them here. But I don’t wish to go through all that again, because it’s been covered at length in the ‘Is New Atheism a Cult?’ thread and other threads.
Fair enough – we have rather done it to death on the other thread! 🙂
Good critique Heather. I find much to admire in the New Atheists. Dawkins and Coyne have done outstanding work in explaining evolution to the public. I fully support their (and your) efforts to undermine superstitious beliefs, and expose the damage done by them. My primary concern is their contribution to the public perception of Islam and Muslims in the US and other western countries. This is not a merely academic concern, because IMO it influences the likelihood of US/UK/western military attacks on Muslim countries. Today, the US public is opposed to further war, but the public mood is easily swayed. We have too quickly forgotten how the public was misled into supporting the Iraq (and Vietnam) invasions. The Bush/Blair/neocon/war-profiteer alliance used the public hysteria created by 9/11 and other terrorist attacks to stir up public animosity against their intended target, Saddam Hussein. Did it matter to the public that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11? A Muslim is a Muslim to most westerners, so Bush/Blair and their enablers in the press were able to divert attention from Saudi Arabia, where al Qaeda and the 9/11 attackers came from, and Pakistan, which had enabled the Taliban and harboured bin Laden. So we invade Iraq. Brave new world eh?
In the US, and in all the countries with a significant arms industry, there is a built in constituency for war. Recently we had a discussion about why the US and western powers continue to ally with the brutal Saudi regime. A review of arms purchases by Saudi Arabia and its Persian gulf allies may make this easier to understand. In 2014 these purchases amounted to $8.4 billion from the US (up from $6 B the year before, and part of overall US arms sales of $23.7 B). Other purchase were from the United Kingdom $1.9 billion, Russia $1.5 billion, France $1.3 billion and Germany $1 billion. https://www.rt.com/news/238881-saudi-arabia-arms-import/ Saudi Arabia is using these weapons today to slaughter the long oppressed Shia minority in Yemen, and is said to be increasing its arms purchases by $2 B to replace those expended in those attacks. Haliburton gave Dick Cheney a $34 million retirement package, and in return received $38 billion in contracts for the war.
The war profiteers and their allies are working to sanitize the public’s memory of the Iraq war, as they have for every war, and thus prepare the public for the next war. Stop the Bush-bashing, they say. Yes, we made mistakes but our motives were good, and after all, Saddam was a bad guy. Waterboarding is not really torture. Bush/Blair really did (sort of) believe there were WMDs. The area has always been a tinderbox, so it is not really our fault that the whole region is now in chaos. The Muslims have always been war-like people and force is the only law they understand. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that we killed, or whose lives we destroyed, were just “collateral damage”.
The access and wooing that Hitchins received from Bush administration officials to support the Iraq invasion, is representative of the efforts the war-profiteers make to further their ends. And though the US is the center of this war propagandizing, it is going on in every country that has a military industry. They seize on every opportunity to stir up public support for war. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, France, and then England have joined in the Syrian bombing. Anyone heard any accounts of civilian casualties? That’s not the kind of information you get from the mainstream press is it? They are only Muslims, so it’s bogus to compare their casualties with ours. Britain and France were the initiators of the western meddling in the near east in the infamous Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916 that divided up the Ottoman lands between them. They were imperialists then; they are imperialists now.
The driver of this perpetual warmongering is, of course, greed. But religion and patriotism, often conflated, are primary tools. Obama is vilified for “not standing up for America”. He is not really a Christian. In fact he is a secret Muslim. The enemy, of course must be vilified. Donald Trump’s call to register and badge Muslims as the Nazis did Jews, and his bogus claim that he saw thousands of Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks, has only enhanced his popularity. Jeb Bush proposed only letting in Christian refugees from Syria. Jerry Falwell, Jr. President of Liberty University, responded to the San Bernardino massacre by urging his students to apply for concealed weapon permits. “I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he said. This kind of talk stirs others to take action. Here’s a list of Islamophobic incidents in the US in the two weeks following the Paris attack. http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/12/01/3726648/islamophobia-since-paris/
Of course the war-mongers never justify their imperialism in terms of profits. It’s always about the spread of democracy, or our responsibility for the well-being of the people we are asked to invade. (Take up the White Man’s burden). A few days ago, one of the leading imperialist mouthpieces, Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox broadcasting and the Wall Street Journal, was introduced by one of imperialisms leading practitioners, Henry Kissinger, for a speech at the Hudson Institute, a leading Imperialist think tank. “A U.S. leader must understand, be proud of and assert the American personality,” Murdoch said, noting that Kissinger had offered a forthright defense of American exceptionalism in his book “World Order.” To clarify what he meant by “assert the American personality”, he celebrated past US military successes and lamented that we have lost that fortitude “in favor of a culture of self-obsession.” “The left seemed to be happy for the incarceration of millions, whether in Vietnam under Ho or in China under Mao,” he said. “Why agonize over inhumanity when you could blithely celebrate yourself?” The assumption is that we can save people from inhumanity by invading and bombing them.
So what about the New Atheists? To my knowledge none but Hitchins have supported military action against Muslims. Sam Harris has provided a justification for torture, but I think has not explicitly supported the Bush/Cheney/CIA torture programs in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, or elsewhere through renditions. NAs are right to condemn brutality and misogyny wherever it occurs, and certainly there is plenty of that in Muslim countries. And if a terrorist screams allahu akbar as he’s killing people, it’s reasonable to assume he is a Muslim. But how about some balance? Where is the recognition that the Iraq and Gaza invasions were acts of terrorism? Where is the recognition that western imperialism is not a thing of the past, but is ongoing? Where is the expose of the religious motivations of western imperialism? Where is the recognition that people who have been continually invaded, occupied and abused by the west have legitimate grievances? That it’s not just the teachings of a prophet-warrior from 1400 years ago that inspires their actions? Maybe the influence of the NAs is not sufficient to add much to the Islamophobia that is rife in the US, but they certainly haven’t helped to quell it by denying that Islamophobia even exists.
Of course no one can address all problems and the NAs are quite justified in focusing their criticisms on the pernicious influences of religion. But whether they intend to or not, the NA obsession with Islam as more pernicious than other religions, has added to the chorus of neo cons, Christian zealots, and war profiteers calling for increased military action against Muslims. Words and ideas have consequences. Public intellectuals should consider the consequences as well as the truth of their statements.
Class A rant, Paxton.
This is excellent Paxton.
I do wonder how much effect the opinions of Harris and Dawkins have on US conservatives though – they see them (atheists) as just as much the enemy and just as evil as Muslims by in large. No NA supports torture, including Sam Harris, who has argued the subject at length. Those who say he does support torture are either lying, misrepresenting his views, haven’t read what he’s actually written about the subject, or have been sucked in by someone else or says he does support it (like Greenwald, Aslan, Werleman etc). And yes, waterboarding is torture.
I too am extremely concerned by the link between politics, lobbyists, and the war industry, especially in the US. Halliburton is just one of several companies that literally gets away with murder. It was Cheney that made the Iraq war happen, and as you say, he made a personal fortune off it. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents are on him and those like him. I think the invasion of Iraq was an act of greed rather than an act of terrorism, although of course it was exceptionally terrifying for those who suffered and continue to suffer.
And yes, there is still Western Imperialism. The problem is that Western democracy really is a better and fairer form of government than what many Middle Eastern, Asian, and African countries have. Personally, I want the people in those countries, especially those who are oppressed (and there are billions of those) to be able to live as I do. I want the women to have equal rights and an equal voice to men. I want everyone to be educated. I want them to have access to clean water, good food, warm clothing, and suitable shelter, and not to live in fear. It’s really difficult to promote those values without being at least patronizing. Many people genuinely want those good things for all people, but they do overboard about forcing it on others. Rather a lot, for example, seem to think their religion is an essential part of the mix.
I’ve just seen a news alert that Trump is calling for a stop to all Muslims entering the country. Unfortunately, that’s likely to make that a-hole even more popular. That’s one of the reasons is so important for Obama to take a better leadership role, so people have an alternative. Let’s face it – most people want to be lead. His latest speech is a start, but it’s a start he should’ve made years ago.
Jerry Coyne had Obama’s speech along with Jerry Falwell’s appalling comments and the excuses why people on the no-fly list should be allowed guns from Marco Rubio on his site this morning in a piece called ‘Obama lays out solution for mass shootings while right-wing gun craziness continues.’ At first Falwell didn’t seem to be getting that much applause given the size of the crowd, but when he started saying, “If more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they, before they go out there and kill,” they were right behind him. As Jerry said, “Seriously ‘end those Muslims’?”
I don’t think there’s anything untrue in what the NAs say. They have a different point of view from you, and focus on different things than you would. That’s not the same thing. I get it’s frustrating, especially because it’s an issue that’s so important to you, but outside other atheists, I’m not sure that the leading NAs get heard all that much.
And they definitely don’t deny Islamophobia even exists (well, maybe Hitchens did to a certain extent, but he’s no longer with us). What we say about Islamophobia is that any criticism of Islam has come to be called Islamophobia, which actually masks genuine anti-Muslim prejudice, which really does exist and is serious. NAs do NOT support anti-Muslim sentiment. We criticize the tenets of the religion, along with those of every other religion. Islam gets more attention because at the moment, it is a small number Muslims who are using their religion as an excuse for terrorism and murder. I am a New Atheist and I decry those who make that about all Muslims, and my experience is that other NAs do that too.
“What we say about Islamophobia is that any criticism of Islam has come to be called Islamophobia, which actually masks genuine anti-Muslim prejudice, which really does exist and is serious.”
Yes — I much prefer the term Muslimophobia to Islamophobia.
I do too – I should start using it myself, like I always use DAESH instead of the other names for it. Lead by example and all that. 🙂
Actually, many of the most prominent NAs do say the term Islamophobia is meaningless. Certainly, Dawkins and Harris do and I think I’ve heard Maher agree.
I don’t think Muslimophobia is really a better term, because I don’t think bigotry is the sole matter. I’m currently in a debate elsewhere with people who believe that Daesh is purposely creating refugees to infiltrate Western countries to raise the number of Muslims there so that they can then impose sharia law on everyone and that I’d better wise up if I don’t want my daughter to be forced to wear a burka. Now I don’t doubt there is bigotry at play here too, but I haven’t heard a better word for such insanity than Islamophobia.
So Dawkins, et al, are being foolish to deny that Isalmophobes exist and are better focussing on why they feel the term doesn’t apply to them. But I’m not sure they all could all do so, which is perhaps why they prefer to deny there is such a thing instead. Sam Harris in an email to me said that al Qaeda’s purpose (this was pre Daesh) was to establish a global caliphate, despite bin Laden’s stated goals being regional to the ME and that he said 9/11 was meant to elicit an over reaction from the US that would further those goals by destabilising the ME. Sam also claimed the only reason the US was in the ME was defensive. Now I really don’t believe Sam is a bigot, but I can’t say with as much certainty that his concerns about Islam are well enough within reasonable bounds not to be called a phobia.
Actually, what you describe there does sound like Islamophobia more than Muslimophobia. People that irrational completely bemuse me. I tend to forget they’re real I think. So maybe I need to re-think this.
There are definitely people who are scared of Islam full-stop, separately from the people who follow it, though they’re always scared of Muslims too.
Perhaps I should just deal with the issue on a case by case basis like I try to do most things.
I see Islamophobic as parallel to anti-Semitism. I don’t know when we started attaching “phobic” to names of groups of people. You don’t hear “Christophobic” or “Hinduphobic” do you? Russophobic? Germanophobic? I guess its from xenophobia, which is pretty common most everywhere. I agree that “Muslimophobic” better describes the phenomenon, but its probably too late to change. Like “racist” or “anti-Semitic” it is a very nebulous term that should be used with caution. It’s easier to describe as a social tendency than to ascribe it to an individual person.
Paxton, I don’t think that fits very well. Anti-semitism is clearly racist as it’s about the individuals and not Judaism as a dogma. I don’t know what else we’ve attached “phobic” to actually, but Islamophobe really does fit people like I referred to, as they’re concern is more the dogma and less a particular race of people. Also makes more sense as Islam is evangelistic, while Judaism isn’t so there is one one race. I agree it should be used with caution and that many on the left do use it to shut down debate as the same prominent NAs complain.
Actually Ken, although DNA studies show a common middle eastern origin for most Jewish groups, related not only to arabs (including Palestinians) but other groups such as Kurds, Armenians, and Assyrians, there has been considerable admixture with other groups, especially in the female lineage. The female lineage of Ashkenazi Jews may be as much as 50% southern European. Most mixing is thought to have occurred during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, when there is evidence that Judaism was a proselytizing religion.
In fact race is a very problematic biological construct, and what we call racism almost always has a very large cultural component. Islam, like Christianity, clearly includes people from a variety of races, however defined, so it’s technically not correct to call Islamophobia racism. But the same can be said of Judaism albeit on a much smaller scale.
Moreover I would claim that much of what is called “anti-Semitism” but is more appropriately called anti-Judaism, is indeed more concerned with Jewish religion and culture than with race. In particular, Christians have historically persecuted the Jews for their rejection of Christ and supposed participation in his execution. To a lesser extent Muslims have persecuted Jews for their rejection of Muhammad and the Quran. Both Christians and Muslims have disparaged (and also relied on) Jews for their participation in usury. Clearly this is not racist but cultural. A good study of this is “Anti-Judaism: the western tradition” by David Nirenberg.
So I don’t think there is any good basis for the claim that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are fundamentally different or that one is racism and one is not.
I agree with Ken here. Yes, DNA studies show that Jews are pretty much indistinguishable from those who persecute them. In the Levant, they are just as much Semites as Jews are. However, “anti-Semitism” has come to be understood as a term referring to a Jewish race, even though technically that term is meaningless. All racism is ultimately cultural and based in fear. I’m not accusing you, but for many I think this argument is one used to justify prejudice. It’s similar to anti-Zionism being used as an excuse for anti-Semitism.
I’m not too sure about, “To a lesser extent Muslims have persecuted Jews for their rejection of Muhammad and the Quran.” Like all prejudice, it depends on time and place. All prejudice is wrong, no matter where it is, and I cringe at the idea that the sort of thing being taught about Jews in Palestinian classrooms to children is less bad, or OK, because of the horrors visited upon Jews by our Christian ancestors.
Heather, that was a beautiful response until the last sentence. Palestinian resentment against Jews today has nothing to do with how Christians treated Jews in the past, and everything to do with how Israelis are treating Palestinians in the present.
I still don’t get it, Paxton. Yes, the detail is more rich as you have described and anti-Judaism is a more accurate term than anti-Semetic, but Jews are still generally persecuted as individuals. Certainly the Nazis looked for people with “Jewish blood”, even if many were now Christian. Also, the people I referred to as Islamophobes seem perfectly happy to let non-Muslim refugees into the US, say Christian Syrians, but not Muslim Syrians, despite their race likely being exactly the same. As I said, I don’t claim one is all about racism and the other all about dogma; they are almost always mixed (except maybe with Sam Harris), but I do think the main drivers of each are different in an important way that gets blurred by saying they’re they’re no different.
Thank you for the gracious and interesting response to my “class A rant”, Heather. I saw, and mostly agreed with Jerry Coyne’s piece on Obama and Falwell. Coyne is an amazing guy. I’m continually astounded that he can speak so articulately on so many topics every day, while doing his scholarly work, teaching, writing books, doing book tours, etc.
But Coyne wrote something in another WEIT post recently, that really floored me: “The only Muslims I know are ex-Muslims, so I have no idea whether such “moderate” Muslims are ubiquitous.”
Now Jerry Coyne teaches science in an elite American university that attracts students from around the world, in a major metropolitan area with people from around the world. He travels extensively, including to India, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, and speaks to diverse groups. He writes extensively on religion and especially Islam. And the only Muslims he knows are ex-Muslims? Am I being petty, or did he misspeak, or is this indicative of a certain mindset?
Yeah – I haven’t read that post in full yet (I got interrupted part way through and haven’t been back), but the little I have read troubled me. I’ll get back to you.
I’ve read Jerry’s post now. It sounds like he’s still mulling the issues over in his mind to me.
More importantly, I read the article he was referencing by Suraiya Simi Rahman. It was very interesting, and worth the read. I can imagine that if the Reformation was happening now in Christianity, someone might write an exactly similar article about that. She made many points that I think are valid too, some of which I’ve made myself and seen elsewhere. I don’t want to mention names without permission, but one of the readers here comes from a strict evangelical background and he remembers he and his older brother feeling about their religion in their teens the way Rahman describes Muslim teenagers feeling. The Us vs Them thing, and doing what God commands, and in fear of hell. He was also influenced by an older brother he looked up to, feeling good because they were sharing something.
As far as the “The only Muslims I know are ex-Muslims..” comment, it seemed to me he was talking about close friends, those he discussed the subject with intimately. Personally, I wouldn’t presume to say I “know” certain demographics, even though I’m acquainted with many members of that demographic. It would feel like a lie.
Heather: “As far as the “The only Muslims I know are ex-Muslims..” comment, it seemed to me he was talking about close friends, those he discussed the subject with intimately. Personally, I wouldn’t presume to say I “know” certain demographics, even though I’m acquainted with many members of that demographic. It would feel like a lie.”
If you were going to write about and criticize Islam as extensively as Coyne does, don’t you think you’d make a point of getting to know some Muslims. In my career as an engineering professor in an American university, I knew many Muslim students, professors, visiting scholars etc, and became good friends with a few. By and large they had the same kind of concerns, aspirations, love for their families and friends, empathy as I have. It’s only by knowing people of different races and cultures can we really see our common human nature. Coyne has surely had the same opportunities. If he meant “close friend” why did he say “the only Muslims I know”. Coyne usually chooses his words carefully and is seldom so slipshod with language. And knowing a person and exploring the experience of that person is not speaking for a demographic. It is recognizing the humanness of that individual. Come to think of it, speaking of a demographic is exactly what Coyne is doing in this and many other posts. To characterize a demographic without knowing a single member of that demographic is not only a lie, it is an arrogant lie.
This is not something I’m going to argue with you about. I simply gave my impression of what he said, and I felt uncomfortable even doing that. I don’t like the idea of discussing a friend behind his back.
Robert Pape is an expert on terrorism: “What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common, since 1980, is not religion, but a specific strategic motivation to respond to a military intervention, often specifically a military occupation, of territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon and the West Bank in the 80s and 90s, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and up through the Paris suicide attacks we’ve just experienced in the last days, military intervention—and specifically when the military intervention is occupying territory—that’s what prompts suicide terrorism more than anything else.”
Reading the article as a whole, Pape is saying almost exactly what I have always said. The quote you mention above is slightly out of context, and needs to be read as part of the whole – there are other parts that could make it look like he says is the exact opposite of your quote.
I do not say, for example, that it is all about religion, but that religion is a recruitment tool (which Pape says also) and that it gives people inspiration to be suicide bombers (which Pape says also). Nothing he says jibes with what I say.
It is important to note that he is talking about ALL terrorist activity, not just that perpetrated by DAESH and al-Qaeda because that skews the figures a bit. There is a difference with them, and that’s where I differ from him (or maybe it just wasn’t in the Alternet article). I think he ignores a couple of the stated objectives of both DAESH and al Qaeda – to destroy Shi’a Islam, and to bring about the Muslim version of the End Times myth.
Hi Heather. You and I have had discussions of free speech in the past. Questions of uninviting or disrupting speakers (especially ex-Muslims criticizing Islam) seem to be high on the NA agenda of late. I support free speech, but have been called a social justice warrior (SJW, a characterization I happily embrace) because I think free speech doesn’t always take priority over other considerations. In particular, I would argue that denying someone a platform, or even disrupting a speech, isn’t a violation of free speech as long as the speaker has other venues in which to express herself. It may be rude, and justify expulsion of the disrupters, but it is not a violation of free speech.
I’d be interested to hear what you and other NAs think about this free speech issue: http://www.timesofisrael.com/state-drops-incitement-charge-against-mk-who-called-cop-traitor/
The Palestinian MK has pled guilty to “insulting a public official”. Should this be illegal? Have her free speech rights been violated? If this had been a Jewish MK, would she have been subjected to the same charges?
I think her free speech rights have been violated, as long as it’s true that she didn’t incite violence. I think you’re probably right that there is a double standard in this case.
My problem, as we’ve discussed before, is mainly around hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to free speech, and the case you’ve highlighted appears to fit into that category.
There’s a big problem with female ex-Muslims being allowed to speak openly. This has been made most obvious recently by the Maryam Namazie incident at Goldsmith U. While she speaks out in opposition to the treatment of women and gay people in Iran, the feminist and LGBTQ+ societies at that university blindly support the Muslim group who oppose her, and oppose equal rights for women and gay people in Muslim societies. It’s a disgrace imo.
No, it shouldn’t be illegal to insult a public official. Can’t believe that’s the case.
I think free speech needs to be respected about just about all else and that denying someone the right to speak should not be tolerated unless there is an immediate safety issue. But I agree there are times where it may acceptable to do so via disruption for instance. Like Greenpeace violates property rights and other laws to draw attention to issues, so disrupting a prominent speaker can do the same. But I’d say it’s better to admit what is happening and say why, rather than deny it is prevention of someone’s speech.
Although this article is primarily about Sam Harris (why is he reviled by so many people?) it contains a revealing paragraph about Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
“Fellow anti-religious zealot Ayaan Hirsi Ali exemplified the inherent conservatism of New Atheism in her lionization of Egypt’s brutal Western-backed dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Sisi violently overthrew Egypt’s first and only democratically elected government. A month after toppling Egyptian democracy, Sisi massacred at least 817 and likely more than 1,000 peaceful protesters at Raba’a Square, in what human rights organizations called a crime against humanity. His regime militarized Egyptian society. His soldiers shoot protesters in the street. In the past two years, he has locked up tens of thousands of dissidents, primarily from the Muslim Brotherhood and left-wing parties, and doled out mass death sentences to hundreds of people at a time.”
I don’t have time to read the article (I’ve got people staying), but that paragraph shows a strong bias in opinion.
Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood was democratically elected, but there are several factors why that happened. They also didn’t stick to what they said they’d do regarding the equal treatment of women etc.
So, I don’t know enough about Hirsi Ali’s views of el-Sisi to know whether she lionizes him. He’s certainly a major a-hole, and there’s much to criticize about his rule. However, there is a good argument to be made that the Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t actually what the people wanted following the Tahrir Square protests. The MB were the only group that were organized and prepared for an election, and pretty much won by default.
It’s very easy to dislike Sam, I think, for bad reasons and good. Being an outspoken atheist, he’s always going to rub some people the wrong way, those who believe in belief, for instance. But add to that his belief in Western exceptionalism that we’ve discussed, which makes him in essence a neocon apologist, and he’s not going to get very far without being roundly criticised. I’ve spent lots of time defending him, but am starting to think it’s just not worth it any more.
I think the West digs itself another huge hole when it talks up democracy to the point of forcing it on people at gunpoint, but then baulks at who the people choose when they do get to vote. It’s the same with Hammas in Palestine. Why should any of these people trust Western intentions when we will show no respect at all for their choices.
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stepped up his rhetorical campaign to convince the world that the surge in Palestinian violence here is not born of frustration against Israel’s decades-long military occupation, but is instead the work of radical Islam.”
I think this illustrates the danger of focusing on Islam as the reason for Muslim violence. It takes the onus off of Israel and the west for their military assaults, and ill-treatment of Muslims. Like Netanyahu, we are in denial of the terrorism we have inflicted on them.
Netanyahu seems to have gone off his trolley a bit lately. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, or what he’s up to. I certainly can’t see there being any positive outcome from the way he’s been since he won the election. Maybe that win has made him show his true colours and he’s always been like this, or maybe Israel is becoming more conservative and he needs to act like this to retain popularity at home. Maybe he’s after martyrdom or something. I’m having trouble getting my head around his behaviour lately.
What Netanyahu is up to this week is no different than last; the total sabotage of a two state solution. But he going to manipulate the situation to his advantage as best he can regardless of what people focus on. We should focus on whatever the real causes of conflict are. This includes Islam, but to a much smaller degree than other factors, as have been discussed here already.
Sorry for hogging the thread, but here’s a rebuttal of the Salon (Norton) article.
The author, Rachel Ford, makes good points about generalizing what one NA says to all NAs, and about taking quotes out of context. But however much he hedges his comments, I still think there is something creepy about Harris’ stated preference for Carson over Chomsky and fascists over liberals. And I think Ford is totally unconvincing in her defense of Hirsi Ali. Although Ali does not explicitly endorse al-Sisi’s brutal slaughters, she knows about these crimes and that he overthrew a democratically elected government, and she still expresses support for him. Of course my (US) government is still giving him boatloads of money, so we’re more guilty than Ali.
I like what Ford says. She makes pretty much the same points I would have. I agree with you about Harris’s Carson/Chomsky comment as I’ve stated before. It’s clear that Harris doesn’t actually like Carson (thank goodness!), but the idea that in any universe he’d vote for him is pretty troubling. Same with el-Sisi. I don’t endorse him, it’s more of a case of the best of a bad bunch. And the MB is NOT moderate. They’re still insisting FGM is the best choice for the women who belong to you, for example, and would institute the Saudi version of Sharia.
I don’t think Sam prefers fascists over liberals, as the article points out, and didn’t even use such language in that case, unlike Carson/Chomsky, where he did. But there I go defending him when I just said I’d had enough. As I alluded to above, his language is veering too close to the clash of civilisations meme for me. Once people start implying that conflict with Islam is inevitable, they have removed themselves from the search for a solution and the term Islamophobia starts to apply. Ali seems similar. While she has better reason than most to fear Islam, her neocon apologetics leave me cold, though like Sam, there’s plenty that she says that makes perfect sense. Very frustrating.
Why do the new atheists want to wage a war on liberalism? I often see remarks like this from prominent new atheists: “the regressive Left’s self-blaming based on Western imperialism” (WEIT, 12 Dec 2015).
Regressive? Meaning what? Just a clever put down?
Self-blaming? When I and other liberals criticize the Iraq or Gaza invasions, we are not blaming ourselves. We are blaming warmongers like Bush, Blair, and Netanyahu. Liberals attempts to apply the same standards to western behavior as to Muslim behavior is self-loathing? That’s the basest kind of psycho-babble, meant to demean the other rather than engage the issue.
And to dismiss western imperialism as a cause of Muslim violence against the people who have invaded them, overthrown their governments, stolen their oil and land, is simply bizarre. I realize people’s motives are complicated, and that religion is certainly involved in the mix, but to dismiss the real, tangible reasons for Muslim revenge, as they so often do, either indicates they are living in some la-la land, or that they have some ulterior motive. Are they really trying to get at truth, or are they just neocons in disguise?
Because it is liberals that criticise NAs most strongly. But it’s wrong to say they are waging war. They are responding to criticism as best they feel they can, which often isn’t very good.
As most NAs self-identify as liberals, a term is needed to distinguish the good liberals from the bad. The bad are those that, according to the good, have forgotten the plight of individuals that are persecuted, particularly where Islam is dominant, in their belief that persecution based on religious dogma is trumped by the goal of changing imperialist foreign policies.
That’s not quite fair. At least in democracies, citizens are responsible for their govts, because they collectively grant them power. So to blame Bush for something is to say the US and ultimately voters have responsibility.
Well, I think so too, but lots of people don’t, either because they are ignorant of what is actually going on, or because they accept the propaganda that excuses it (exceptionalism, etc).
Remember too, that many on the left insist that religion has little or nothing to do with the problems, just as the prominent NAs do the opposite. So their reaction is partly justified.
I think more deluded than active neocons, but the problem is it amounts to support for the same dreadful policies.
Great responses Ken and Yakaru. Ken, if everybody were as reasonable as you, the world would be a much better place.
I guess I’ve not followed the debate long enough, or have not paid enough attention to know who started insulting whom first. To use strong language in making one’s point is good, but to call people demeaning names adds nothing to a discussion. I find that both sides degrade their argument by spewing out venom.
I’m a long-time and rather outspoken liberal and atheist, and I see no conflict between the two. In fact, I don’t see atheism as implying any political, national or ethnic views or biases whatsoever. Atheism is even compatible with many views regarded as religious, so long as they don’t imply belief in supernatural beings or powers. Atheists commit themselves to rationality, so any political position that can be rationally defended is compatible with atheism.
But I guess my liberalism trumps my atheism, because I have found that no one is totally rational, and whether a person subscribes to a god called Allah, or to a three in one trinity, or the terrifying Yahweh of old, makes little difference in the “this-world” rationality of most people. I see religions doing some good things as well as bad things, but agree that there are archaic, and often deleterious practices and precepts preserved by religious fiat, that should be changed. I applaud the new atheists for challenging privileges assumed by religious groups in the public sphere.
But how anyone who knows anything about the history of the middle east in the 20th and 21st centuries, can address attacks of middle easterners on westerners without addressing westerners attacks on middle easterners is incomprehensible to me.
So to parse your comments on “the regressive Left’s self-blaming based on Western imperialism”
1. It’s ambiguous whether “regressive” is a modifier to distinguish the good liberals from the bad, or it’s a descriptive adjective describing the left in general. Maybe it is meant to single out just that portion of the left that is self-blaming, but it is a common accusation directed at all “bleeding heart” liberals, to claim we are are motivated by guilt rather than compassion.
2. And who do they think have “have forgotten the plight of individuals that are persecuted, particularly where Islam is dominant” if they don’t factor in the suffering of individuals in those lands inflicted by the west? . Anyone who thinks that those who blame western imperialism for much of the Muslim violence against us, are doing so out of guilt are very misinformed. We are doing so out of anger at those who conducted and are still conducting that imperialism in our names.
3. I’m willing to accept responsibility for my country to the extent of trying to influence it and criticize it, but not to feel guilt for what I couldn’t change. Don’t forget that Bush and the Supremes stole the 2000 election. Al Gore won a majority of votes. So yes, I think that my country has a responsibility to countries we helped destroy and refugees that we helped create, but I still blame Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld and their enablers for making it happen, not myself or those like me who opposed it
4. Ken: “Well, I think so too, but lots of people don’t, either because they are ignorant of what is actually going on, or because they accept the propaganda that excuses it (exceptionalism, etc).” You are too kind Ken. It is greed, and profit, and power, and perhaps some messianic visions that drive the imperialism and lead people to demonize the people we are exploiting.
5. Most liberals I know don’t dismiss religion as part of the motives of jihadists, but they try to see the bigger picture also. Religion is a complex phenomenon and acts on societies in many ways, and to claim that anyone who yells allahu akbar is primarily motivated by religion is to ignore the broader context of western imperialism.
Yakaru, you make a very interesting argument: “the racism of low expectations” is reminiscent of “take up the white man’s burden. Both are patronizing, and used to justify all kinds of discrimination, violence and exploitation. Though nobody “causes” anyone else to do anything, they may influence other people and to an extreme degree. To say that we should deny the destructiveness of our Iraq invasion, because to do so would demean the intelligence of the Iraqis is, I’m sorry to say so, ludicrous. Whether an action is initiated by a state or an individual is irrelevant to the victims. The double-standard is not that we apply a lower standard to Muslims, but that we apply a lower standard to ourselves. Most Americans are in denial about the extreme amount of harm that westerners have done to middle eastern societies. To claim that acknowledging western imperialism as a predominant cause of Muslim violence against westerners, is just a symptom of self-loathing, is either to be wilfully ignorant of history or to be wilfully dishonest about the situation.
I’d say it was Sam who was misrepresented first by certain people on the left.
I’ve never thought about it before. I think my atheism simply finds expression within my liberal politics. I think one reinforces the other. It is true though that unless it’s an issue where religion is explicitly impacting on public policy, for instance, my activism is driven more by my politics than my atheism. Perhaps that’s what you mean.
But so many simply don’t know history, or have such an incomplete understanding as to may as well not know it. It is ultimately an individual’s responsibility to inform themselves, but certainly our corporate media don’t do their jobs well (or do them very well, depending on your viewpoint).
The inventors of the term are clear that they mean only a segment of the left. They consider themselves liberals (and they mostly are), so it couldn’t apply to all. The charge of self-blaming is really a different issue. It predates NA rhetoric and isn’t something they usually say, because most don’t deny the US has at least made “mistakes”. Bill Maher was one of the first to complain about liberals, I think. He was against the Iraq war and thinks the US should just leave all Arab lands to stop pissing them off. So he won’t be one saying the left is self-blaming. What got him going is the conflation of criticising Islam as a dogma, with Muslims as people. He started complaining that his side was getting it wrong, that some weren’t standing up for traditional liberal values of free speech (cartoons of Muhammad) or women’s rights, when they refused to call out Islam. Of course, this isn’t really new either as people have long practised cultural relativism about what is right and wrong. Sam tells the story of a doctor on some Presidential council of medical advisors he heard give a speech where she displayed this relativism. He spoke to her afterwards to see if she was serious and asked her “If there was a religion where it was written that ‘one in three shall walk in darkness’ and this was interpreted as an instruction to poke the eyes out of every third child born, would you not speak out against it?” She said she would not. He was aghast, I think rightly.
Anyway, “regressive” clearly refers to just a portion of liberals, and particularly those who claim, very unfairly imho, that Maher and co are bigoted towards Muslims because they insist on criticising Islam the dogma.
Yes, well many people just don’t seem to get that. People like Sam don’t even see it as imperialism as far as I can tell.
I never mentioned guilt, though anyone who voted for Bush twice should feel some 🙂
4. … You are too kind Ken. It is greed, and profit, and power, and perhaps some messianic visions that drive the imperialism and lead people to demonize the people we are exploiting.
Agree that’s part. I was referring to the average Joe.
That’s Maajid Nawaz’s line and I don’t think it is the same thing at all.
We’ll, I don’t think Yakaru is saying that. Both are factors, as we seem all to have agreed. The debate is about the relative influence of each on creating terrorism. And, I would add again, the debate should also be about the degree to which we can influence each cause. It seems obvious that we have more control over our own actions than someone else’s.
I think you have missed the point, Paxton. There’s no “war on liberalism”. It’s not about denying that western aggression and imperialism exist and are harmful, but rather about a double standard. Regressive liberals are those (it is argued) who judge Arabs and Muslims by lower ethical standards than we judge our own actions.
As Maajid Nawaz calls it, the racism of low expectations. Saying that suicide bombings are a result of Western actions, assumes that Arabs are incapable of exercising the same degree of self control as, say the Vietnamese or Tibetans.
We argue for equal treatment and equal application of ethical standards, regardless of culture, race, religion, etc. Those who opposed the #ExMuslimBecause campaign, as “hateful and poorly timed” judge that Muslims are incapable of accepting that some will leave the faith, and that those who have left should not talk about it.
This kind of liberal ideology does exist and can be identified clearly enough to deserve a label, to make it clearer who we are criticizing.
Except that those apologising for neocons aren’t arguing for equal treatment and application of ethical standards when it comes to the actions of their govts. And so we start another run around the circle.
If anyone really says that kind of thing, I condemn it unconditionally, and would fully expect other NA’s to do the same.
They don’t usually say it explicitly, as Ali has, but it’s the case whenever they minimise Western interventions as a major cause of Islamic terrorism.
“They don’t usually say it explicitly…”
Exactly. Which is why it is beyond me why they are so frequently accused of saying it. And it’s why I think people would be better off singling out an explicit statement and analyzing it, than making these general accusations of what they supposedly implicitly mean.
Like I say, it’s a weak way to make an argument. Content is needed rather than assertions.
Agreed, no one should be misrepresented. It is by no means a one way street though. So often I’ve heard Harris complain that someone is apologising for Islam, when what they said was that Islam isn’t the main factor in causing terrorism.
I don’t see the NAs in general denying the effects or the extent that Western aggression etc has had on the ME or the rise of ISIS. More that there has been too much reluctance to accept that religious extremism is also an ingredient. It’s a matter of emphasis, and not mutually exclusive. Religious ideas are being very effectively used by ISIS to further their vision of a fascist state. Part of our response to this must be to find a way to disarm those religious ideas and limit their spread and appeal, as well as promoting peace and human rights, and not causing any more chaos.
True in general, but Harris, at least, actively minimises the causal effect of Western aggression, as I’ve documented in several threads. Unfortunately, while he did show some signs of modifying his views a bit a year or so ago, after watching Dirty Wars in particular, I think he feels so assailed now, that he will simply dig in no matter what. And his prescription for how to deal with the religious aspects seems to ignore politics as well. So no discussion of the Saudi funding of Whabbism and that the US won’t challenge it, for instance, or that the Israeli govt is an alliance of right-wingers and religious fundamentalists who believe the illegal settlements are needed to achieve biblical prophesy.
You put it very succinctly above, Ken–
“The debate is about the relative influence of each on creating terrorism. And, I would add again, the debate should also be about the degree to which we can influence each cause.”
“Regrssive left” is, I believe, Maajid Nawaz’s term. They are fairly easy to identify — they are the ones who scream “porch monkey” at him simply because he talked to an “imperialist” like Sam Harris. (In fact he is one of the few people to debate Sam and get some sense out of him, as well as some concessions. By simply refusing to discuss the existence of God, and conceding the point that there is no good evidence but that he doesn’t want to either discuss it or promote it, the conversation could move on in a way that few religious people can allow. Sam was happy to move on too.)
I can only think of that infamous confrontation with Ben Affleck. At one point Sam was saying that Muslims need protection from Islamist fanatics, and Affleck was just screaming “Bigot!!” at him repeatedly.
the thing is to have a discussion. One does not need to ear bash or shout down one’s interlocutor until they concede every single point. And one can concede that, for example, that Sam is attempting to redress an imbalance in emphasis on religious influences on terrorism. He may be going somewhat too far, but that doesn’t mean he is necessarily being an apologist for imperialism. At worst, he is getting the proportions wrong. If one is not prepared to grant someone like Sam Harris that degree of intellectual honesty, then there is no one else on this entire planet with whom one can discuss differences of opinion either. (Again, general point, not directed at at anyone here!)
(Both Sam and Hitchens have been opposing Western kow-towing. Hitch of course has written extensively about the poisonous influence of the Israel lobby in Washington and called for an end to funding of illegal settlements on the grounds that the US constitution prohibits it under separation of church and state.)
Yes, the thing is to have a discussion, and it’s a pleasure to discuss these issues with such thoughtful and informed people from around the world. The Internet has made a major contribution to civilization.
Likewise, Paxton! I have learned a lot from your views and your honest approach. And thanks to Heather for providing excellent writing and making a space for sensible discussion. I think I’ve become more civil since being here, and learned that I need to listen better!
“Regressive left” is Nawaz’s term and one I like very much. I really like your points Yakaru about being able to have the discussion without conceding every single point etc. Harris’s contribution to the discussion has been very valuable, even though he places too much emphasis on religion as a cause. His work with Nawaz in particular has moved things forward in a positive way that others haven’t been able to. I have a great deal of respect for them both, and am looking forward to reading their book (which according to my Amazon Wish List someone has bought me for Christmas!).
I largely agree with you both, but the problem is that both sides then inevitably walk away from the conversation feeling the other is not taking the threat of terrorism seriously enough, as they insist on ignoring the “real” problem. It’s very difficult for this not then to become a discussion about who is therefore apologising for whom and Sam doesn’t hesitate to join in.
Hitch is the only one who had an abiding interest in geopolitics and at least often got it right. Sam gets his “proportions” massively wrong, if that’s what it is, by talking down the role Western aggression plays in causing terrorism to the point that he really doesn’t advocate for change at all. I’m with Paxton in just not being able to take seriously someone who either doesn’t know the history of ME interventions, or just won’t admit what massive provocation the West has undertaken there for the last 100 years. One can’t help questioning a person’s intentions under such circumstances.
Are you serious?
Are you really F***ING serious?
No one in the academic world takes any of those you mentioned as being anything to be jealous of. Seriously. I am not joking.
Dawkins is a normal scientist – he didn’t excel in his field at all. He wouldn’t even make it into the top 10,000 scientists in the world. The only thing he has done is write about other people’s ideas. So what? That makes him a decent writer, not a great scientist. Decent writers are a dime a dozen.
Harris – what exactly is his success? So he wrote a book that was apparently a bestseller? So? Even Glen Beck has written bestsellers.
Hitchens – privately educated, hugely privileged – that’s why he got into Oxford. There were probably tens of thousands of students more intelligent than Hitchens who didn’t get into Oxford the year he did because they did not have the privilege he did.
Left with a 3rd class degree. I haven’t followed his works in detail, but from what I have read, he seems to be just another bloke who was commenting on politics and other stuff – again, dime a dozen.
1) I have probably studied and worked with hundreds of people more “intelligent” than any of these, they really are nothing to be jealous of.
2) Even if we assume that they are/were highly intelligent, the idea that people are criticising them because they are jealous of that is just nonsense.
Now I know why some people might think that – it is because they are projecting their own feelings onto others. So if someone gets jealous of people who are intelligent or successful, then they will project that feeling onto others and think others also get jealous of those more intelligent and successful.
A perfect example is Jerry Coyne, who has many times written about people being jealous. What Jerry really means to say is “I get jealous of others more intelligent and successful than me and so I am projecting this onto everyone else and assume they also get jealous of others who are more intelligent and successful than them.”
My academic background is in Computing from a university which is rated in the top ten in the world, and I can tell you, my year was full of some people who were not very nice – they wanted to be the ones to get the top grades, they wanted to be the ones who will go onto do PhDs and then become famous in their field, and they would do anything to achieve that, even if it meant “using” others.
One of my managers was a guy who has a PhD in Physics from Oxford and was working on a space probe, and then he ended up in IT – I always wondered why he suddenly changed track, and then one day I found out it was because he hated the backstabbing in the academic world.
So, yeah, you can see Dawkins really wishes he was a great scientist, you can see he wanted to be one of those who made great discoveries, but he isn’t a great scientist, and he seems really bitter about that.
So, one final time – most of us don’t give a sh*t about how intelligent or successful someone else is, we don’t have any inferiority complexes, and when we criticise a person, it’s because we think that person is a bit of a tw*t, nothing more, nothing less, no matter how many times those in the New Atheist echo chamber try and act as if we are jealous of these completely normal, nothing-to-be-jealous-of human beings.
Phew! I’m lost for words after that.
There is no New Atheist echo chamber.
I’m glad you at least have the ability to make more nuanced judgments about people, and make your decisions for yourself. However, that ability is actually not common, and I’m continually surprised to learn that most people are threatened by intelligence or success in others.
I’ve read people arguing that Dawkins is a top scientist in his field. I’m not is a position to judge or make the arguments.
For many the jealousy comes from the financial success these people have from writing popular books, and also from the level of respect they have.
There is backstabbing everywhere, in every walk of life. A-holes are not limited to top academia. There are good people everywhere too.
Just because you follow a wide range of opinions, it doesn’t mean all New Atheists do – many of them are indeed in this echo chamber. This isn;t something particular to New Atheists – many people are in echo chambers, like religious fundmentalists, nationalists, partisans etc.
I totally disagree with you that most people are threatened by the success of others. I have the benefit of knowing people from various different ethnic, religious and class backgrounds – I was raised in a working class area and now mix primarily with middle-class people. In the working class, I seldom saw people jealous of the success of others – if anything, I often saw admiration – they looked up to people who were successful. Amongst the middle classes, I do see jealousy more frequently – but it still isn’t anything like what you suggest. The majority of people I know are more worried about their own lives than those of others.
Yes, there are good people and backstabbing everywhere, but I do believe that in top academia the nastiness is statistically much worse.
Dawkins isn’t a top scientist in his field at all, as E O Wilson put it, Dawkins is an “eloquent science journalist … What else is he? I mean journalism is a high and influential profession. But he’s not a scientist, he’s never done scientific research”. I completely agree.
Unfortunately, in society, it isn’t what you know that counts, it is what the perception people have of you that counts, and so the general public just see Dawkins in the media and they assume that just because he went to Cambridge he must have been super intelligent (simply not true, I know people who went to Oxbridge who weren’t very bright but got in because of very hard work and privilege), and so the myth is born.
AU: I’m critical of the new atheists’ simplistic view of religion and their obsessive focus on Islam. But to diminish their intelligence and accomplishments is, imo, barking up the wrong tree. Each of the four horseman has made a serious contribution to the intellectual life of our time. Doesn’t make them right. Interestingly, Dan Dennett, who is probably the most distinguished of the four in his own field, seems to have largely avoided the islamophobic controversy.
Dan was always the quiet horseman. I’m not entirely sure why he was considered one at all; I guess because Breaking the Spell came out at the right time. Victor Stenger would be a much more appropriate fourth horseman for my money.
I do like Dan though, other than his stance that compatabilism is enough to establish that we have free will – Sam is so much more convincing in his arguments that free will is an illusion. An absolutely great book of Dan’s is Darwin’s Dangerous Idea from 1996. It is a description of Darwinism from a philosophical perspective and is not a light read, but really worth while if you need something over the holidays!
No they haven’t.
Anyway, first of all, there are different types of intelligence. One can be very good at one type, and poor at another type. Does this make the person intelligent or not?
I have scored in the top 1% in the past in numerical and logical reasoning tests I have had to do – yet when it comes to verbal reasoning, I score in the top 10%, and when it comes to spatial reasoning, I score in only the top 30% or so. I think it would be impossible for me to even get in the top 5% in spatial reasoning, I am just not good at it. So there is clearly a huge difference in my intelligence when it comes to different types, so talking about intelligence as a whole is actually quite meaningless.
Secondly, the kind of things we measure when we think about intelligence are heavily biased towards us Westerners. For example, working out how people are feeling by looking at their facial expressions and body language – this is a form of intelligence too. So is hearing a sound and being able to know which direction it came from. I would guess that people from African tribes are better than us at these things.
Anyway, when it comes to things like science, religion, philosophy, it is mainly logical reasoning that is of importance (and numerical reasoning for some types of sciences), so when discussing people like “The Four Horsemen” (gosh, how childish does that even sound?), it is these types of intelligence that I am concerned with, and, yes, I stand by what I have said – there is no evidence that any of these guys are really intelligent. Zilch. None. Whatsoever.
Really intelligent is 0.1%. That means, you are in the top 6 million intelligent people in the world.
Top 1% isn’t really intelligent. Top 1% means you are in the top 60 million people in the world.
Top 5% – that means you are in the top 300 million people in the world.
Now here is the thing – I have studied with people and know people who went to Oxbridge, who I wouldn’t even put in the top 5%. I would say they are in the top 10% but got to study at the best universities in the world because of their hard work and privilege. There was a guy who I studied with who has ended up with a PhD from one of the best universities in the world who was probably not even in the top 10% – he would really struggle in group exercises, and only managed to get a 1st because he had an older brother who helped him in his revision and dissertation.
Top 10% = top 600 million people in the world – nothing special at all.
So, yeah, you are wrong to suggest that Dawkins and his groupies are really intelligent people. They might be, but nothing they have achieved suggests that they are, and the way things normally work is that you do not make claims unless you have proof. Therefore, it is very possible that these guys are only in the top 10% or so, which means, they are in the top 600 million people in the world, which makes them anything but special – however, human beings like to look up to others, and just like religious people make their teachers into things they are not (prophets, saints etc), NAs make Dawkins et al into something there is no evidence they are – really intelligent.
I agree with AU that jealousy is an unconvincing explanation for the hostility various writers have directed at new atheists. But in this world of information overload I think there is strong pressure to use ever more provocative language just to get attention. Thus mere disagreements become bitter personal feuds. We are certainly seeing this phenomenon among the Republican presidential nominees. The only way to get heard is to make over the top accusations about your opponents.
And of course the news outlets are also struggling to be heard, and inclined to exaggeration and fear mongering. Even more than the scariness of the candidates last night, I was disgusted at the way the whole thing was framed as if the very survival of the US was at stake. The fact is that probably no nation in the history of the world has been more secure from invasion and conquest than the US is today. We’ll probably never be totally secure against one off attacks like San Bernardino, but the idea that if we don’t destroy Isis, or don’t stop Iran’s military build up, the US is vulnerable, is lunacy. There has never been greater power imbalance between the west and its potential enemies. If we really feel the need to worry, we should focus on China, not Islam.
I wrote several pages of notes from last night’s debate in preparation for an article, but basically they all said exactly the same thing over and over again.
Of the thirteen candidates, Rubio, Kasich, Bush, Fiorina, Christie, and Graham showed any real understanding on the situation in the Middle East, but their solutions were all almost entirely military. Only Rubio and Graham seemed to get all the nuances.
I suspect Carson’s popularity will go down even further. He was exposed as an idiot. Paul and Trump didn’t look much better.
CNN were trying to make it all about attacking Trump, but the candidates in the main debate were more after Rubio – they recognized he’s the real threat.
Heather, the only one that didn’t scare the crap out of me was Rand Paul. The reuse it was just military interventionism and ever more military interventionism. Black and blacker. As Paul said, regime change is a failure. We (the US) can take out any regime in the world, with only a handful of exceptions. But we can’t build a replacement. The DAESH military structure is Saddam Hussein’s officer corps. What did we think would happen when we replaced a minority Sunni dictatorship, with a Shia government? The right solution imo is to work with Russia, Brit, and France to end our military involvement and offer only mediation and technical assistance for a truce and a peace.
Paul was the only one who “didn’t scare the crap out of me” regarding terrorism too. However, his position is all over the map because at the same time as he’s saying the kind of things you and I would agree with, he’s also trying to get votes so he’s saying things like “all options have to be on the table.” He’s just not clear about where he stands, and I don’t find him reliable.
However, I consider libertarianism selfish, economically stupid, irresponsible, and just wrong. I wouldn’t want him anywhere near the presidency for the sake of vulnerable USians in particular, but also because stuffing up the US economy is bad for all of us, and he would be even worse than most of them economically.
I was shocked by how many of them advocated carpet bombing of Raqqa and Mosul. I’ve heard that regularly for months from people like Fox’s Eric Bolling, but I didn’t realize the idea was so much in the GOP mainstream. Have these people learnt nothing since 2001?
I too have a very wide socio-economic group that I mix with. My own extended family is multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, working class, middle class, and upper class. We get together at family gatherings and none of those things matter – we talk and laugh on a completely equal footing, and no-one thinks they’re more or less important than anyone else, and no-one is treated as if they are. This is pretty normal in New Zealand. Personally I grew up poor working class, but those distinctions aren’t a big deal here like they are in Britain. We have no nobility, and everyone expects to be able to shake the PM’s hand, call him by his first name, and have a drink and a chat with him at the pub.
I’m not sure EO WIlson is the most reliable commentator on Dawkins. Didn’t they have a debate about 20 years ago where Dawkins pretty much wiped the floor with him? (I haven’t seen the debate myself, so can’t be sure if that’s accurate.) To say Dawkins has never done scientific research is simply not true, although he hasn’t done anything new for a long time. Wilson’s comment is just nasty.
I don’t assume people who went to Oxbridge are super bright – I too have met several that aren’t. It does mean he’s not stupid. Besides, I never feel intellectually threatened (even when I should), and it never worries me to say I don’t know stuff.
“I’m not sure EO WIlson is the most reliable commentator on Dawkins. Didn’t they have a debate about 20 years ago where Dawkins pretty much wiped the floor with him?”
Yes, and recently Wilson repeated the same mistake he made back then — he believes in “group selection”, a (now) widely discredited concept involving animals behaving altruistically for the good of the species (in regard to survival and reproduction). It was never plausible but very popular, and was eventually demolished by the concept of the gene as the basic unit of evolution.
Sociologists tend to like Wilson and hate Dawkins, but only because they don’t understand genetics (which can in fact be very effectively used as a scientific basis for anti-racism and social justice).
Because of the commenting limits, this is showing up as a reply to Heather, but it’s a reply to Yakaru.
You make it seem as if geneticists all agree with Dawkins when in fact there are many who don’t.
I am not a sociologist, I come from a scientific background, and I don’t like Wilson, and I am not saying he is correct and Dawkins is wrong, because my scientific background teaches me that to hold an opinion on something, you should have studied it thoroughly, and as I have not studied genetics, I simply cannot come to my own conclusion as to which view is correct.
What I do know is that the view of Dawkins is far from proven, judging by the way his fanboys talk about Dawkins one would be forgiven for believing the theory is 5 sigma! 😀
Anyway, whether Wilson is correct or Dawkins is correct is irrelevant to Wilson saying Dawkins isn’t a scientist. He isn’t. He seems never to have done any scientific research. Maybe to you regurgitating what others have already said in a slightly different ways qualifies your hero as a scientist, but it doesn’t to me or others from within the scientific community.
No, my views on Hitchens are not silly, what is silly is your level of hero-worshipping.
Dawkins was in fact prominent in his field and could be fairly said to have excelled in it. The Selfish Gene systematized insights of two somewhat underrated biologists and Dawkins’ reworking of thei ideas was swiftly adopted as the standard text book model for evolution ever since. He regards the idea of the extended phenotype as his best original achievement. That’s fair and modest claim. Beyond that he is an excellent popularizer of science, and has made many people unhappy by stating the simple truth that there is no good evidence for the existence of God. Regardless of whether his views on religion are simplistic or not, the evidence that is not there for a simplistic version of God is also not there for a sophisticated version of God. It’s not his fault that the majority of people are shocked by this news.
Your view of Hitchens is extremely silly.
Siding? Seriously, most people are not intersted in childish games like “siding”.
The job of liberals is to support the minorities that suffer prejudice, and therefore, liberals work with CAIR, as CAIR looks out for the rights of Muslims. This doesn’t mean they endorse every position CAIR takes.
And, just pointing out the good things that Ayaan stands for, ignoring the other things that no liberal I know can ever support, and then accusing liberals who speak out against Ayaan as being “regressive” – well, who now is being childish and indulging in name-calling?
Once again, there is a good reason the left do not like Ayaan. The fact she stands up for some noble causes, like campaigning against FGM and women’s rights, is irrelevant. Would you support someone who stood up for race equality yet was happy to attack women? Of course you wouldn’t. Similarly, we do not support Ayaan because of the Islamophobe and neocon that she is.
Ayaan said we are at war with Islam. When she was asked if she meant radical Islam, she said no, she means Islam. When she was asked if we need to defeat it militarily, she said we need to use all means. This kind of language is simply unacceptable to a liberal. Now New Atheists are actually very similar to neocons in many ways, that’s why Maajid Nawaaz is so popular on FOX News these days, why Jerry Coyne has often cited right-wingers when it comes to Islam, why Richard Dawkins retweets articles by Breibart, and why Sam Harris talks about fascists being the only ones who talk about the threats of Islam in Europe, so to a New Atheist these views might be acceptable – but, let’s be clear, this doesn’t mean that if they are not acceptable to a liberal it somehow makes the liberal a “regressive”, it instead makes the New Atheist a neocon and not a liberal.
I very largely agree (though I have no issue stating when I think Ali and others have something right and it also doesn’t mean I’m buying into everything they say), but that isn’t the whole story either. I really do think people should be able to criticise Islam as a dogma without being considered racists. I do not see that doing so is incompatible with also criticising neocon foreign policy in the very strongest terms. My issue with Sam and co is that they don’t agree and seem to feel that to do the latter somehow weakens their arguments re the former, which needn’t be the case. But their most vocal critics do not stop at this critique, which seems damning enough, but insist that any criticism of religion is inherently racist and therefore out of bounds and support this too often with misrepresentations of positions to make their case. All unnecessary and equally unhelpful in this debate and yes, seems pretty regressive to me as a tactic. Both sides seem to prefer maximising differences rather than looking for any common ground. Makes it harder to get anywhere.
Well put. They don’t seem to have found any common ground even for a discussion, let alone agreement.
Agree too with your comments about Dennett — Darwin’s Dangerous Idea is well worth reading, and I also wouldn’t have put him on a level with the other three. Personally, of their books I think God is Not Great is the one that will best stand up to time. People seem to write it off as an anti-religion tirade comprising nothing but predictable cheap shots, but the later chapters are especially incisive, I found, looking at religious power structures and ideologies through the lens of modern European political history.
I suspect Dennett was preferred to Stenger because he talks about evolution (the favorite topic of one of the Alpha Males) and looks a bit more presentable in a suit.
Nonsense. Show me one example where someone like Glenn Greenwald or Max Blumenthal or anyone else on the so-called “regressive left” has said criticising religion is racism.
I think we can admire Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s courage and achievements, and agree with many of her criticisms of Islam, and still think that under the present circumstances her anti-Islamic militancy is dangerous. We can respect her reasons for being so bitter against the society she was raised in, while also realizing that millions of Muslims have equally good reasons to be bitter that western imperialism has destroyed their lives. The danger is that in focusing on individual stories of heroism and suffering, we lose sight of the big picture. We obsess over Paris and San Bernardino while blissfully ignoring the suffering inflicted on Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, the occupied territories etc by westerners and our Arab henchmen like Saudi Arabia. One of my criticisms of the new atheists, especially Dawkins and Coyne, who come from data driven disciplines, is their focus on isolated events and failure to look at the data on who is really inflicting suffering on whom.
You say, “Would you support someone who stood up for race equality yet was happy to attack women? Of course you wouldn’t.” Actually that’s not my position. I would support their position on race equality but not on women. I have for example on this site noted that racism is rare in Islam. You are doing exactly what you accuse me of. You damn all sorts of people because of one position.
Of course, fascism isn’t acceptable to NAs and to say it is, is to misrepresent their views.
Hirsi Ali is very anti-Islamic, and with her life experiences I’m not surprised. However, she is not anti-Muslim, which is what you’re implying. Most of her work is in support of Muslim women who suffer because of the tenets of Islam.
You are the one who constantly conflates NAs with neocons. NAs themselves do not have anti-Muslim views you accuse us of.
Personally I find it offensive that the feminist and LGBTQ+ groups at Goldsmith U sided with the Muslim brothers against Maryam Namazie. They don’t like her because she’s an atheist former Muslim who speaks up for Muslim women, LGBT Muslims and former Muslims (among other people and things). The Muslim brothers at Goldsmith U do not support equal rights for those same groups.
I can tell you that Maajid Nawaz has been a contributor on Fox for some time – it is not a new thing. Sometimes he agrees with the person interviewing him, sometimes he doesn’t, but he’s always consistent. Whether he’s popular or not is another question – I have no idea. I think Fox have scored a bit of a coup there – he’s certainly far better than CNN’s tame Muslim Reza Aslan, who is prepared to lie for Islam. Personally I have a deep respect for Nawaz, but even if you haven’t, you can at least admit he’s honest.
It is 2016 in NZ, so let me start off by saying HNY!
Unfortunately, the rest of this message will be pretty harsh!
You are not answering my question. You are evading. Why?
I did not ask will you support their position on race equality – I asked if you would support them as a person?
Would you like to see them be given an honourary degree? Would you be happy if they were made a Prime Minister of New Zealand?
The answer is – no, I doubt you would. You would not want a misogynist who says we are at war with Feminism and that Feminism must be defeated, and even violence can be used to defeat it, to be given an honourary degree at a university where you are a student. You would probably not want this person to be given a platform at your university to speak about women.
This is no different to how those on the Left feel about Ayaan. Yes, if Ayaan does some work to help Muslim women, then that is great. If Ayaan starts a charity to help Muslim women, then that is great. She will get praised for it.
So why is it that when the Left do not like someone because of their views, they are regressive, but when New Atheists don’t, it’s ok.
Here is Richard Dawkins and his letter to Ben Fogle about the decision to invite Ben Stein to give the commencement speech and an honourary degree.
So Dawkins believes that if someone is an “odious liar” then they should not be given an honourary degree. Well, we on the Left think someone who is a neo-con who is advocating war against a whole religion shouldn’t be given an honourary degree either – especially as they have a record of lying too.
So if you’re going to call the Left “regressive” for disliking Ayaan, then be consistent, and call Pope Dawkins (as Glenn Greenwald like to say) regressive too.
Your argument makes no sense. So say I am the Prime Minister of New Zealand. I bring equal rights for gays. I get rid of poverty. I provide free health care for everyone. I set up foundations to help women who are victims of domestic violence. And then I say “black people are bad for this country, we need to deport them all, and if I am re-elected as Prime Minister, I will take whatever measures necessary, including militarily, to achieve this”.
Now would you vote for me or would you not? Of course you wouldn’t – because that one position is so evil, that it is simply unacceptable.
Wait – you keep telling me that NAs are not all the same (and I actually agree with you), and yet here you are telling me that fascism isn’t acceptable to NAs! But I thought they were not all the same! Therefore, just because it isn’t acceptable to some, it doesn’t mean it isn’t acceptable to all! Make your mind up.
Of course, the reality is, NAs aren’t all the same, but there exist, judging from what one reads on social media, significant numbers of NAs who are happy to resort to violence against religious people and whose view is very fascist-like.
You mean life experiences which she made up?
I have implied nothing of the sort.
Oh – and again!
This is why New Atheism is like a cult – only in a cult could someone make statements like the above where the whole group is presented in a “good”, homogeneous-like manner.
LOL@Speaks up for Muslim women – apart from the Muslim women who are Islamists.
You probably got all your information on that Goldsmith incident from GDSpellchecker – who seems to be crying that his comment got deleted from a Facebook page, yet this is the same guy who wouldn’t allow my comments on his blog! Got to love New Atheists, so many of them seem to love freedom of expression – but only when it comes to expressing their views! They’re more than happy to stifle freedom of expression when you expose their incorrect logic and outright lies 😀
BTW, I find the whole episode disgraceful, and Namazie should be allowed to speak on campus. But let’s be clear, those groups were not against her because of all that nonsense you claim, it is because she is inflammatory and has used language such as Islam is a cult of death.
I don’t know him, so how can I admit he is honest. I actually think he isn’t a Muslim, that he is now an atheist, so that makes him dishonest, and not honest. However, I am willing to accept that he might be pretending to be Muslim because of fear of his own safety.
I don’t know the guy, to me he seems to be an opportunist who knows there is a huge market for the role he is playing, but then again, he might well be a genuine individual who genuinely wants Muslims to take on less fundamentalist opinions.
Anyway, one of my resolutions for 2016 is to make the most of my time, as time is precious, and I think there are much more enjoyable and meaningful things in life to do than debate with NAs (even though there are some nice ones like you), so I will probably only visit your blog once a month or so, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a great 2016.
Thanks for the New Year wishes. 🙂 Happy New Year to you too. I hope you have a good one, and keep visiting the blog.
I think there is a big difference between the cases you highlight. It’s not Dawkins’ opinion that Stein is a liar – it’s fact. Hirsi Ali is expressing her opinion.
Being a racist and acting on your racist beliefs using violence are both bad, but it’s worse to kill someone because they are black than to call them names. However, being racist is an irrational position. People with different coloured skins are in no way better or worse because of it, and it’s something they are born with and cannot change. It’s the same with gender (mostly) and sexuality.
Religion is different. Religion is a set of beliefs. Although people are usually identified with the religion of their parents, as a child you can’t really make that choice, and it should be a choice that you make freely as an adult. Islam forbids even the choice in some countries where apostasy is a death penalty offence, which you know as well as I do. To kill someone for failing to believe is indefensible imo.
Speaking out against those who practise an extreme form of Islam is no different to speaking out against those who practise extreme forms of Christianity. I have a right to express my opinion about those things. For example, I don’t have a problem with all Christians – just the anti-LGBT ones ones. Same with Muslims.
Saying she’s not speaking up for women who are Islamists is exactly the same crap I hear on Fox News every other day about Democrats not speaking up for women who are conservatives because they criticize Sarah Palin. To me that’s a ridiculous argument. At the extremes, it’s like being expected to support Jeffrey Dahmer because he’s gay.
I have a set of principles. I stick to those.
Thanks! I will pop in from time to time, but this may be the final year before I decide to settle down, and so I think I will spend as much of my spare time from the computer as possible, I do after all spend a LOT of time on it doing work.
Ok, so you agree that people should be denied honourary degrees if they lie. Well, Ayaan is a liar – it’s a FACT!
Here is her lie: “If you look at 70 percent of the violence in the world today, Muslims are responsible”. When it was pointed out to her that it is wrong, she did not retract the statement. She did not issue a correction. She did in future change it to: “at least 70% of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims”.
Now people can make mistakes, and she isn’t very intelligent, so I am willing to accept she got confused and said the wrong thing. However, if you are an honest individual, when your factual error is pointed out to you, you apologise and correct. She did no such thing. Therefore, she is disingenuous.
Furthermore, she LIED that she fled war-torn Somalia, when in fact she was living in Kenya. In fact, she has NEVER lived through a war.
She LIED about the year she was born in and admitted she lied when confronted.
She LIED about her real name and admitted she lied when confronted.
Did you actually even bother to read the article I cited? Watch the documentary linked in that article, there are very serious doubts as to Ayaan’s story that she was “forced” to marry and that she would have been killed and have you what.
You however believe her story hook, line, and sinker. Any rational person would say “hey, hang on a second, this woman has a record of lying, she has been caught out lying many times, therefore, I must take the rest of what she says with caution unless she can provide evidence for her claims”. But most New Atheists aren’t rational, most NAs are fundamentalists, and fundamentalists will believe anything that fits their agenda.
Anyway, even if you pretend for the sake of argument that she isn’t a LIAR – it still doesn’t mean that people cannot have legitimate claims of not wanting her to be awarded an honourary degree.
So to answer your question:
The answer is really very simple and I have no idea why NAs have difficulty understanding it (well, actually, I do, it’s because NAs are fundamentalists and fundamentalism breeds irrationality). The “regressive left” don’t have a problem with her campaigning against FGM, or forced marriages, or domestic violence, or honour killings – no, we actually ALSO campaign against these things. We also don’t have a problem with some of her criticism of Islam because Islam, like every other religion, can be criticised. We have a problem because some of her views on Islam are extremely bigoted (we need to defeat Islam militarily, and not just radical Islam), and she is very closely aligned with neocons and Islamophobes like Pamela Geller. So, please, stop this nonsense that Ayaan is a great woman who hasn’t said anything bad and you have no idea why anyone could possibly not like her.
Actually, no. Many Islamist women were murdered by Sisi – yet Ayaan hasn’t spoken out against that, and instead she PRAISES Sisi. So, I am sorry, your analogy simple doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Words are not said in a vacuum, and Ayaan’s words promote violence and war against Islamists, and that includes Islamist women.
I’ve never said Hirsi hasn’t done anything bad. I think I’ve even said in this thread I find some of her comments extreme. I’ve acknowledged previously in comments in a much earlier post that there are some difficulties with Hirsi Ali’s back story. I haven’t fallen for her story – I am quite aware of all the things you mention. Some of them, in the situation she was in, I understand why she lied. The 70% one – she fu*ked up completely there, and I think I remember her admitting somewhere that she got it wrong when she first talked about it, although it’s possible of course that I’m not remembering correctly – I might even be remembering someone else saying what she should have said! I’m not here to be an apologist for her, I just think she’s entitled to her opinion, and again it’s the hypocrisy I had a problem with in the issues surrounding her and Brandeis, which I explained several times at the time.
When it comes to Sisi, it’s more that he’s the best of two bad options, which I happen to agree with. He is not a good leader, and there is much about what he’s done that is appalling. I in no way condone any killing. As far as I know, Hirsi Ali hasn’t praised his killing of Islamist women, and if she did, I would definitely criticize her for that. I think my analogy stands.
As far as I am aware, she has never advocated violence, and in fact has spoken against it. She’s entitled to her opinion, and to voice it, just like anyone else. There is a double standard – when it’s Islam that’s being criticized, people try and shut the criticism down. She is not responsible if others become violent as long as she has not encouraged it. There are Muslim groups trying to make criticism of Islam illegal worldwide. They are constantly trying to get a resolution passed in the UN. It’s simply not on. No idea should be immune from criticism. People can’t go around blaming others when they can’t control themselves, or are incapable of making an argument for their own point of view, so they get violent instead. It’s on them, not Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or anyone else who hasn’t actually advocated violence.
The problem with NAs is that they have been brainwashed to such an extent that their cognitive dissonance kicks in and they are unable to think rationally. What NAs hate more than anything else is rational arguments by liberals (and I mean true liberals, and not neocons like many NAs are), and so NAs start spreading lies that the Left doesn’t want Islam criticised and want to shut down any criticism about it.
Do you know that CJ Werleman even as recently as last year said on Twitter that Islam is sh*t? And last month he said religion is bad?
Of course, if NAs knew anything about the Left and liberalism, they they would be aware that the overwhelming of people on the Left have serious problems with religious fundamentalism and have spoken out against it for years.
So this is how it goes:
NAs: Make legitimate criticisms of religion, including Islam.
Left: Don’t say anything.
NAs: Make incorrect criticism of Islam.
Left: Speak out against it.
NAs: “REGRESSIVE LEFT!!!!!!”
Of course, NAs have been brainwashed so much that they are so irrational and cannot see the difference between speaking out against legitimate criticism of a religion and speaking out against incorrect criticism.
If someone says “The position of many schools of Sunni Islam that advocate FGM is appalling”, no one on the Left would say anything against it, in fact, they would AGREE.
If someone says “Islam is bad because it allows FGM”, people on the Left will speak out against it, because there are many schools of thought within Islam based on the Quran and Hadith that say FGM should be avoided. The Left’s response would be “actually, that isn’t actually correct, some interpretations of Islam have allowed FGM but some speak out against it.”
So the position of the Left here is very rational. However, many NAs hate this, because NAs are fundamentalists. They don’t want people to look at the complexities and nuances, no, fundamentalists have a very simple view of the world, and therefore, to the NA mind, if someone criticises a bigoted or incorrect view of Islam, they must be dismissed as trying to shut down criticism of Islam.
Are you serious? She has said we are at war with Islam. All of Islam. And she has said we must defeat it. And she said we must use military means too to defeat it. War is violence. She is saying we need to declare war on all of Islam. This is a very inflammatory statement, and no one on the Left would actually tolerate such an inflammatory statement.
She is advocating violence – you do not need to say something explicitly to advocate it.
This is amazing.
Under Morsi, a handful of people were imprisoned for insulting the President, but even these were released. Under Sisi, it is estimated that at least 10,000 people have been imprisoned.
Under Morsi, no political opposition party was banned. Under Sisi, a whole party has been banned.
Under Morsi, less than 100 people were killed. Even then, the majority of them were not the fault of Morsi – the “deep-state of Egypt (of which Sisi is a member) were still in control of security, and they were actually to blame for most of these deaths. Under Sisi, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed.
Under Morsi, people were allowed to demonstrate. Under Sisi, demonstrations have been banned.
And yet, somehow, you still think Sisi is better?!
And before you say “oh, 23 million people demonstrated against Morsi and so the coup was justified”, that is nonsense. I know these ridiculous figures were repeated ad nauseam in the West, from Tony Blair to the State Department to the media in the West and to NAs, but crowd analysts estimated the figure to be at around 2 million. Isn’t it funny how we are willing to believe figures made on the fly when it suits our agenda?
So here’s the difference between NAs and the Left.
NAs believe that even if A is committing many more abuses of human rights than B, than A is still better than B if A is secular and B believes in theocracy. The Left meanwhile believe that if B is committing much less abuses of human rights, then A is worse.
NAs will rather work with someone who commits mass violence against a theocrat. The Left meanwhile would rather work with the theocrat who isn’t committing mass violence, and will hope to bring change from within the society.
So that’s the difference – NAs want to “impose” their values onto others, whereas the Left believe that if someone’s values are intolerant, we shouldn’t impose our values on them but rather work with them to bring about change.
This is why most NAs are like neocons. I think most people do not understand what the term neocon actually means – they think neocons are Conservative Christians – actually, no, most neocons are actually quite liberal, they believe in things like gay marriage and abortion, they just think that the secular, democratic, free market system of the West is the best, and if anyone doesn’t believe in these values, then they are inferior and violence can be justified against them.
Anyway, I am done, 50 years from now I can bet that 99.9% of young people would not have heard of any of the NAs, these guys are not intellectual giants, and they will be forgotten, and NA as we know it today will be confined to the bin and the overwhelming majority of atheists would be arguing for a better society based on rationality, tolerance and pluralism, and not on lies, fear and irrationality, so I don’t really want to waste my time debating NAs. I will however pop in here from time to time because I do think you are a good person, and I am sure you will one day leave NA and move onto Atheist Left such as PZ Myers.
All the best.
1. I’m sick of the constant accusation that I’ve been brainwashed.
2. Your criticism of NAs is almost exactly the one I would have against the regressive left, although I don’t accuse them of being brainwashed. On the whole, their approach to religion is pretty much the same as NAs, except Islam. When it comes to Islam, any criticism tends to be shut down as either racism or Islamophobia. That is how we get the situation such as the one at Goldsmith U.
NAs aren’t some amorphous blob who all think the same thing, and you are the one who is stereotyping if you think that. We disagree with each other, and say so. Several people who comment here who are NAs disagree with each other, me, and with senior NAs like Harris, Coyne, Dawkins and Hitchens.
And, have you see the latest expose of CJ Werleman by Stephen Knight? http://www.gspellchecker.com/2016/01/cj-werleman-jokes-about-his-indonesian-servants-tries-to-smear-dawkins-for-colonialism/
> Yes, God is a delusion, but that is ABSOLUTELY NOT saying believers are “feeble saps in need of enlightenment from their intellectual superiors.” That is a complete misrepresentation of what most New Atheists think about believers.
Actually it’s the opposite. We wonder how people we respect and admire, and whom we know are smart, can believe such obviously childish delusions
Exactly! Well stated.