I Object! The False Equivalences of Ijeoma Oluo

The headline of this Guardian article written by Ijeoma Oluo certainly sets the tone. The agreeable content therein seems to have been inserted to lend credence to a slew of non-sequiturs. Yes, I agree my atheism does not make me superior to believers. But is atheism really a leap of faith? Hardly. Even the late Christopher Hitchens (drinks be upon him), Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, readily concede, an atheist cannot disprove the existence of god. But rather nature as far as we can comprehend her, and truth as far we can discern it, using science and the humanities – which are yet to produce evidence that comes close to satisfying the adage “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” – renders the sustained belief in deism untenable, to say nothing of theism. To compare belief in a disinterested prime mover, let alone an omniscient and omnipotent deity that interferes in terrestrial affairs, to non-belief resulting from a lack of evidence or indeed, even contrary evidence, is a stupefying leap of reasoning. This argument is straight out of the apologists’ handbook. To investigate the above and still come away with the notion that the claims, and too often murderous convictions of believers, is on equal footing with non-belief is deeply confused. There’s nothing cocky about non-belief, it’s a humble position to adopt in light of the above and it needn’t require debating believers. Debates between atheists and believers, whether online or at events, are (or should be) geared towards combating obfuscation. For example, the bastardization of science by apologists attempting to legitimize their belief (who when defeated invariably abandon ship plunging headfirst into the murky waters of faith), or to highlight the consequences of such beliefs in wider society and challenge religious denialism. The headline is just my first objection.

But atheism as a faith is quickly catching up in its embrace of divisive and oppressive attitudes. We have websites dedicated to insulting Islam and Christianity. We have famous atheist thought-leaders spouting misogyny and calling for the profiling of Muslims. As a black atheist, I encounter just as much racism amongst other atheists as anywhere else. We have hundreds of thousands of atheists blindly following atheist leaders like Richard Dawkins, hurling insults and even threats at those who dare question them.

Look through new atheist websites and twitter feeds. You’ll see the same hatred and bigotry that theists have been spouting against other theists for millennia. But when confronted about this bigotry, we say “But I feel this way about all religion,” as if that somehow makes it better. But our belief that we are right while everyone else is wrong; our belief that our atheism is more moral; our belief that others are lost: none of it is original.

Where are the links for the websites referred to? I don’t deny they exist but examples should be provided if Ijeoma wants to use them to argue atheists are catching up to the faithful in divisive and oppressive attitudes. Quite frankly, she should be ashamed for saying so. Why? In the 21st century (keep that in mind), in Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawai was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and one-thousand lashes, cartoonists have been targeted and/or murdered in democratic societies like Denmark and France, and Bangladeshi bloggers have been hacked to death by machete wielding religious thugs – all for insulting Islam. Atheists have much ground to cover to justify such a charge. One could (as many have) write a book on the divisive nature of religious belief and the way it anchors people to those divisions due to the potential – albeit false – cost of non-belief, namely consequences in the hereafter. Of course I concede atheists are not immune to discriminatory attitudes. As Ijeoma points out, such attitudes stem from human nature. Indeed they must because religion is “man-made”. Prominent atheists, from which Ijeoma claims others take their discriminatory cues, are also humans and therefore not immune to those attitudes either. However the attitudes in question can not be extracted from non-belief. Religion on the other hand – depending on the doctrine – can legitimize or indeed mandate discrimination, and because of what’s at stake – salvation vs. damnation – shedding these attitudes is significantly harder for believers than non-believers. Moreover, the differences between certain religions is an additional – and ridiculous – kind of divisiveness the world could do without. In other words, misogyny, racism, homophobia etc. stem from human nature, religious doctrines contain those attitudes because they’re created by humans, said doctrines are then touted as the work of a powerful creator thereby legitimizing those attitudes, and any resulting doctrines which appear diametrically opposed, adds religion itself to that list.

In addition, any atheist that believes non-belief is more moral than belief is confused about what atheism means. There is no morality attached to atheism. The confusion comes from the following argument: if a believer does good in order to curry favor with the lord and gain a seat in the kingdom of heaven, and an atheist does good for goods sake then the latter is more moral. This is true but it’s not solely applicable to believers and atheists. It’s true wherever motivation matters. Imagine a man has befriended a woman who is going through sincere heartache after another failed emotionally abusive relationship. He provides the woman a shoulder to cry on, he takes her out of her gloomy one bedroom apartment and takes her to the carnival, he buys her dinner and offers her constant reinforcement through support, advice and endless compliments. As a result the woman believes her new friend to be the loveliest man she’s ever met. She even considers making a match for him with a girlfriend who would be perfect! Now imagine he is doing all this to manipulate the vulnerable woman into bed. Is he now less moral than a person who would do all of the above out of pure kindness? Of course he is. This scenario is very plausible and may sound familiar to female readers. How many times have you had a “best friend” that is like your “little brother” comfort you after a bad breakup and then as soon as he feels it’s time, much to your surprise, he puts the moves on?

Faith is not the enemy, and words in a book are not responsible for the atrocities we commit as human beings. We need to constantly examine and expose our nature as pack animals who are constantly trying to define the other in order to feel safe through all of the systems we build in society. Only then will we be as free from dogma as we atheists claim to be.

I am sorry this may be dogmatic on my part but faith is absolutely the enemy. It is by definition irrational. To believe something without evidence. Deciding to oppose gay-marriage, to tell children if they’re born gay they’ll burn in hell, to mutilate the genitals of children, to murder blasphemers and apostates, to deny woman reproductive rights, or indeed basic human rights, or to wage war because your interpretation of faith places the almighty on your side, are all actions done off the back of claims without evidence but which are asserted with the greatest conviction nonetheless. Is there anything more grotesque than that? It’s not exclusive to the religious either. Psychics, guru’s, conspiracy theorists etc. all operate on faith. Although they offer evidence to support their position, faith is their real refuge and it can’t be said enough. Atheists and/or skeptics are not congregating under the same shelter.

I Object! The False Equivalences of Ijeoma Oluo

Ahmed Mohamed and that fucking clock!

Caveat:

If anyone has evidence of the video being wrong or evidence of the media asking Ahmed how he made the clock, or an article/footage of him explaining/showing how he made clock. Please correct me and I will update this post. I will leave it intact as an example of my stupidity and willingness to confess it. I just haven’t seen any of the above myself.

Let me first point out, I’m not a right-wing conspiracy nut (I don’t think). Last I checked I was a liberal, although lately I feel, either I have misunderstood liberalism in the first place, or it’s morphed into something I no longer recognise. These days I drift towards being – as far as it is possible – post-ideological. Let me further say, this is not an attempt to identify the motive behind Ahmed’s infamous clock. I’m interested from an ethical point of view, whether it matters if he didn’t “invent” it. When I saw this story I immediately stood next to Ahmed on social media. Then someone shared this youtube video that suggested Ahmed did not invent the clock with further allegations from the video maker that can be easily ignored (and that includes this tweet from Richard Dawkins). Nonetheless, I still stood with Ahmed because whether he did or did not invent the clock. He still didn’t deserve the treatment he received. Some have argued the treatment was justified as the device looked suspicious, schools in the United States have seen a lot of violence. Is it absurd to believe a teenager that wants to massacre other students – and with the information available on the internet today – would forego firearms for a homemade explosive device in order to maximize carnage? Perhaps not so absurd. However, they had the device, Ahmed was wearing a thin shirt (no place to conceal a suicide vest clearly), he’s a very small individual, he professed his innocence, and he’s only 14 years old, yet the Police still felt it necessary to handcuff him. I still stand with Ahmed because of this although it’s a few paces to the left considering the company I now find myself in.

This article via IDigitalTimes written by Andrew Whalen made an interesting point about the language teenagers use to describe things stating “at my elementary school we had the Book Center, where I “published” all of my short stories about my pet newts. In middle school we had a Future Tech competition where I “invented” a watch that sucks up pollution and spits out clean drinking water. And in high school I “filmed” a whole lot of camcorder movies”. He goes on to say the allegations against Ahmed has fueled right-wing conspiracy theorists on the internet (hence my little disclaimer). I understand his reasoning, however, I don’t think Ahmed used “invent” for any other purpose than to say “I built the clock”. No one, from what I can tell, has actually asked him exactly how he built it either, so to deduce that he must be using words incorrectly, is itself a conclusion that lacks evidence. Whalen also writes “the idea that some kid was intentionally fraudulent or producing a hoax by tinkering with alarm clock parts and rebuilding them into a crappier alarm clock”. The allegation is actually much worse than that. They don’t claim he took the clock apart and then re-build it, they claim he simply removed it from the casing. Quite a different thing I am sure you’d agree. The former shows a level of curiosity and desire to understand how things work, the latter is indeed just a fraudulent claim.

So why does it matter? Well Whalen has figured it out “Yes, this is racism. But while it’s easy to point it out when people presume Ahmed Mohamed is a terrorist simply because of his appearance, this new line of arguing would hide it all behind a layer of purported truth-seeking.” But what does that mean for those of us that continue to condemn the actions of the school and the Police? And don’t draw conclusions by believing they can read the mind of a 14 year old boy? What about those of us that just think the truth matters? I am one of those people, and I can say – hand on heart – if Ahmed shouts allahu akbar and detonates a suicide vest tomorrow, I won’t be the one jumping up and down shouting “I KNEW IT!” With that out of the way back to why it matters (at least to me).

If it’s true that Ahmed deconstructed then reconstructed the clock, and has misunderstood the meaning of “invention” then it’s not really a problem. Maybe somone should just point out the difference to him. But because no one is like to question him about the process, we’re never going to know. On the other hand, if it turns out Ahmed simply removed the guts of a device from the shell of a clock, chucked it into a case and called it his invention, it matters for the following reasons: Ahmed shot to celebrity status overnight and I am sure (never certain) he at the least googled himself to see what the internet was saying about him. When rumors began to circulate that he actually didn’t invent the clock as he claimed, he would have seen it. And if I were him, I would be pissed, not only was I falsely arrested, now people are calling me a liar too, or rather again! I would have posted a youtube video of my own quick smart, and served a bit of humble pie to these people, by demonstrating exactly how I built the clock in 20 minutes. Nothing so far. You may say “why the hell should he?” True. But because he hasn’t, those allegations stand unchallenged, and I am yet to see a rebuttal of the video – from an expert or otherwise – except for the fact people disliked the inference the clock was intended to be suspicious. So if it is true these allegations are correct and he did tell a fib, that mistake is being compounded by the fact he continues telling it, whilst reaping a lot of rewards and attention, that recently took him all the way to the White House. To counter Whalen’s accusation “they’ll say they just care about other, smarter kids getting their due instead of Ahmed Mohamed, who didn’t even build his own circuit board or build his own LED assembly line.” Actually no, but I would say there are many people in the United States falsely arrested for how they appear, that receive no such recompense. The truth matters to some, and I don’t know if the allegations are true, but the truth is, even if the allegations are true it has been too big a story to walk back now.

Yours Truly and Truthfully #Blogidarity #IstillstandwithAhmed #getsomebettermates

Ahmed Mohamed and that fucking clock!

The Inevitable and Spectacular Explosion of Sam Harris

It’s finally happened! I woke up this morning (NZ time) and saw Sam Harris’ tweet linking to his conversation with Kyle Kulinski. Attached was a remark from Sam, “was I too angry here…you be the judge”. I actually responded before I listened to the exchange. I was comfortable doing so, because I felt I could re-create the exchange verbatim before I even clicked the link. The reason being, I have become accustomed to Sam spending an inordinate amount of time clarifying his views – that needn’t have been clarified – and defending his character against unscrupulous Regessive’s and their lackeys. In fact, the effort to combat these unethical, morally deranged – and sadly, widely read – assholes (hey if Sam can say it I can say it) now takes up the majority of his time and attention. Sam has endured this circus with a Zen like patience. But, alas, like the supermarket checkout boy that politely suffers repeated insult at the hands of people queuing at his register, Sam has finally snapped and gone ape shit.

I like to imagine Sam sitting in a quiet room practicing his mindfulness. In the next room his wife Annaka Harris sits listening to Kyle Kulinski’s interview with Glen Greenwald, to see what the Regressive’s were accusing her husband of this week. As the noise of that conversation wafts into Sam’s consciousness, an eyebrow begins to twitch and a lip begins to quiver. Then “tens of millions” echoes in Sam’s mind. His eyes open wide, bloodshot, bulging and swollen, at which point he hulks the fuck out, storming into the next room with pistol in hand, shooting the shit out of the monitor.

Of course, it wasn’t as dramatic as all that. But because Sam is usually so measured, to hear him curse so frequently with sharpness in his tone, coupled with the personal attacks. Well it was quite a shock. He referred to Greenwald et al. as “total assholes” and “cyber bullies”. He even claimed Greenwald “doesn’t have a journalistic bone in his body”, and compared him to serial plagiarist CJ Werleman, adding, the only difference between the two, was that Greenwald “won the lottery” after Edward Snowden chose him to expose his mass surveillance scandal. Once I got over being gobsmacked, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride, this has been a long time coming. And if you think Sam unfairly labelled Greenwald et al. – well tough shit – none of it comes close to the attacks aimed at him in recent years. Sam, like Greenwald is of Jewish descent, but wasn’t raised within Judaism. However he must feel as if he’s been repeatedly banging his head against a wailing wall of moral morons for the past few years and coming away with nothing but a splitting headache.

Comrades on Twitter and Facebook have alluded to the fact that Hitch would have reacted similarly. Except, Hitch wouldn’t have let things get this far. Hitch never suffered a fool, even for a second, especially in his presence. He would rebuke the person with a stinging wit that made even his critics burst into laughter. But that’s Hitch, there was no one like him, and never will be again. Sam’s strategy has been to discuss the issues openly and honestly hoping these people will see reason, or at the least play fair. Unfortunately, this strategy has failed him, because the Regressive Left isn’t interested in reason or fairness. It’s time to push back hard, and now is not a time to lose heart. The most concerning thing for me were the following comments “I’m at the end of my patience with this stuff”, and “someone like me will get out of the game because it’s too much of a fucking hassle”. Sam cannot give up this fight. If you take a look around, its easy to see the Regressive’s are winning, and have been for sometime. They’ve set back the war of ideas decades. Before we can even begin to challenge Islamism, we have to dehypnotise much of the world on this issue, and in all honesty I don’t know what’s harder to combat, Islamists or Regressive Leftists.

Now Kyle Kulinski wasn’t too bad. But here are some issues I had with the conversation bullet pointed below:

  • Greenwald’s harsh interpretation of Sam’s work?

That’s not what Greenwald et al. are doing. They’re purposefully and gleefully distorting his views in an attempt to assassinate his character, thereby delegitimizing his voice, and the voices of the people he is attempting to champion. They’ve been doing this to Sam for a long time, and it is no mistake that they’re now doing this to Maajid Nawaz.

  • Retweets don’t equal endorsements?

Retweets alone may not, but 140 characters are available to demonstrate your intention. As an atheist and critic of Islam, if I retweet an article from an atheist promoting the massacre of Muslim’s in his native country in order to purge the land of Islamic terrorists, am I endorsing that article? Of course not. But I would say “this article is disgusting & an example of real anti-Muslim bigotry that should be opposed”. What did Greenwald do, did he retweet the article with no qualifiers? No. What was his qualifier? “Read @MazMHussain on the bigotry of “New Atheists”, with a very revealing quote by Sam Harris”.

  • [Sam Harris] No one clicks through to read the original source.

Actually Sam it’s worse than that. Click bait headlines are often the only thing people read. Plenty of people don’t read the article at all, let alone clicking on a link therein that contains your actual argument.

  • Do you really think Greenwald is setting these tricks up beforehand?

That much is obvious and he’s not the only one who does it. Dean Obeidallah randomly threw the profiling distortion at Sam, and insinuated he was a racist likening him to Paula Deen, on live Television. Dean later tweeted “it was so much fun watching Sam get mad -Reza told me it would be and he was right!” Yes these people know exactly what they’re doing.

  • People believe your original articles are suggestive of bigotry. Your follow ups are much clearer.

As Sam already pointed out, how many follow ups do they require before they retract or even apologise for labelling him a moral monster. In reality they haven’t done this, and no matter how many follow ups Sam writes, they never will.

  • Your writings on torture don’t come across as thought-experiments.

This one is particularly annoying. In the end of faith, the 2005 article, and Sam’s many follow ups he invariably uses words like IMAGINE. In other words, here’s the topic, now let’s imagine X Y Z. SIMPLE.

  • We should devote equal time and criticism to all religions.

Ok, can we get a division of labour on this? Forget security theatre that’s intellectual theatre. People seem to forget the issue of Islamism has real people behind it. People that are suffering. Yes Christianity is bullshit, and harmful things come from it. Should I really waste my time continuously pointing that out whilst people are dying under the yoke of Islamism on a much larger scale, just to appear fair. Give me a break! Also I suspect Greenwald doesn’t want us to critique ALL religions, just those he associates with the Imperialist West i.e. Christianity and Judaism (because he is obsessed with Imperialism). Is he really losing sleep over Sam not critiquing paganism, or the Sikhs?

  • We should critique our government [United States] because we’re more responsible for our own government.

Ah you do! And they do, all the time, ALL THE TIME. So do most liberals. And frankly (as an outsider) that’s all the world does also. I can put on Facebook the inhumanity of Saudi Arabias regime, and Id barely get a like from Facebook friends. One post on a drone strike against a terrorist target going awry and Facebook lights up with like after like, comment after comment bashing the United States. I don’t know if American’s know this, but in the rest of the “West”, the United States is one of, if not the, most reviled nations on earth.

  • Greenwald said context matters.

Yeah except in the case of Sam’s views. Got it.

  • There is anti-Muslim bigotry in America, exhibit A B and C.

Granted, but why are we laying this at Sam’s or any atheists feet? As much as Sam would appreciate the cash, he’s not so widely read as to influence every bad actor against Muslims or that all those that read his material buy into his arguments. Its often the case they oppose his arguments. He has 333k followers on Twitter, even if you grant a million more from Facebook and another few million that aren’t on social media, this is a drop in the ocean. And I’m yet to see an argument laid out by him that has been streamlined by any administration.

I could go one, but I don’t have the – albeit waning – patience of Sam Harris

The Inevitable and Spectacular Explosion of Sam Harris

The Delegitimization of Maajid Nawaz by Islamists, Regressive Left, and Atheists?

Caveats: Islamism = Islamist’s, Jihadists, conservatives. Atheists = anti-theists and atheists for brevity. I am aware of the nuances and Maajid’s definitions. I recognize the kinds of atheists herein are the minority. This is not about agreeing with liberal interpretations of Islamic scripture, it’s about delegitimizing those that do and taking focus away from reform.

The terror attacks in the US during 2001 has muddied the waters – of an age old problem – referred to herein as Islamism. From this slimy swamp the wretched dregs of liberalism emerged to form a maleficent subsection, newly and aptly labelled the Regressive Left. While others attempt honest dialogue, they aim to undermine and distort. Years on, the victors in the court of public opinion are the Regressives, who invariably view the world via the narrow lenses of colonialism and modern Western imperialism, and deny non-whites their human agency. Their patronizing logic boils down to this “Behavior of brown people is dependent on the behaviors of white people”, which is itself racist. When a member of the “hapless browns” challenge their uncritical support for the victim-hood narrative – and refuse to fit their brown angry profile – they short-circuit, and ironically fling bigoted pejoratives like “House Muslim”, to quash dissent.

The fact is – despite stubborn denial – beliefs matter, and Islamic scripture (historically and presently) enables beliefs that wreak havoc across the globe. Commentators who point out what should be an uncontroversial connection, are often shouted down, defamed and denounced as bigots. This month the former Islamist turned liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz and reason advocate and atheist Sam Harris, released their collaborative effort titled “Islam and the Future of Tolerance”. The easily predicted attacks on Maajid’s character were personal and vitriolic from both Islamist’s and Regressives seeking to delegitimize him. Sadly, another group is now delegitimizing Maajid’s voice – albeit not in that fashion – my fellow atheists! We’ve long bemoaned the fact that not enough Muslims acknowledge the link between scripture and harmful behaviors. Well Maajid is one of our most important allies in this respect. I’m dismayed by the tone of atheists who argue Maajid isn’t sufficiently Muslim because his liberalism doesn’t conform to their perception of Islamic scripture. This should be music to our ears. Instead, in recent times it’s been met with harsh criticisms of his intellectual integrity.

However, as an atheist I understand the impulse. Surely, if one truly believes the creator of the universe revealed the one true faith to the prophet Muhammad, then all of the edicts in the quran and hadith are valid – to the letter. The prospect of gods’ wrath and awaiting hell-fire makes scriptural literalism a reasonable strategy to avoid damnation. Unfortunately for us, Islamic scripture has much to say about infidels, which is set out in alarming detail – ad nauseam. Additionally, an omniscient and omnipotent deity could have provided clarification in ensuing centuries when it became clear his followers had misunderstood jihad, or at the very least, inform them that murdering infidels only applied to a specific period – alas, clarification hasn’t been offered us. Moreover, an omniscient deity should have anticipated these issues! Therefore, atheists, including Sam Harris (and myself), view ISIS, not as perverters of Islamic doctrine, but rather – given what is prescribed in the text(s) – a very logical and inevitable manifestation among those that truly believe Muhammed was privy to, and tasked with the dissemination of, the perfect word of god. And because Maajid’s interpretation is light years away from scriptural literalism, well he might as well not be Muslim at all, right?

Amusingly this is what Islamist’s believe, “he is non-Muslim, a kafir”. It appears Maajid is not just a “native Informant” as Regressives would have us believe, he’s an undercover agent as well. Of course he isn’t the only believer to be accused of this. Bill Maher – far from an Islamist – uses similar tones when he claims the seemingly liberal positions held by Pope Francis indicate covert atheism (a clandestine atheist Pope is unlikely given the failures of the Vatican’s PR campaign to date). Regardless, such claims fuel the idea that believers who unshackle themselves from scriptural literalism – and are best placed to reform the faith – cease being legitimate. This method is often applied by Islamist’s to silence calls for reform, and on the other hand, pernicious Regressives deny the agency of reformers by branding them the puppets of privileged white men (talking monkey anyone?). We needn’t compound this kind of delegitimization just because we find moderate interpretations of Islamic scripture (or any other) logically incoherent.

Some atheists do applaud reform efforts, but would much rather debate Maajid on the existence of god. Whilst an interesting conversation to have. In the current climate, our priority should be reform. After all, belief in god when detached from harmful doctrines, is significantly less detrimental than the current state of affairs. Further, I’ll preemptively parry likely counters about creationists bastardising science, by noting that creationism, also stems from scriptural literalism, and I’d include this in my definition of harmful doctrines. Therefore, on this score I can only appeal to the infinite wisdom of our savior. The late Christopher Hitchens (drinks be upon him). During the rewarding conversation between the famed Four Horsemen, Hitchens stunned Richard Dawkins when he remarked “would I want this argument [god/religion] to end? …no I want the argument to go on”. In other words, given the chance to eradicate belief, he wouldn’t do it. In keeping with this sentiment, if there is one person’s faith I’d be happy to leave intact, it would be Maajid’s.

Lastly, the term “new atheism” is a misnomer. Modern atheists belong to a long tradition of critical and secular thinkers. It’s our patience and willingness to keep silent that is at record lows, and – thanks to freedom of speech (don’t get me started), and social media – outspoken atheists are at record highs. We’re also more attuned to the plight of atheists abroad who are risking their lives just to be heard, this is an inspiring time. But what can we do to help those living under the yoke of Islamism? Is it even possible to reason religion from the world? Probably not, and even if possible, many would have perished in the interim. It’s more practical, at this time, to form alliances with religious moderates that are honest about the problems with their faith, and it is important not to continuously undermine them to the glee of our basest opposition. In order for atheists worldwide to challenge Islam in a safe environment, let alone debate the existence of god, reformation needs to occur. We won’t get there by delegitimizing our most valuable allies. ~ Blogidarity!

The Delegitimization of Maajid Nawaz by Islamists, Regressive Left, and Atheists?