In Defence of The Rubin Report: Long Live the Circle Jerk!

The Rubin Report’s first episode on Larry Kings Ora TV network, featured author and controversial public figure: Sam Harris. The shows namesake Dave Rubin, sat down with Harris for over an hour to hash out his views, and talk about the unfair attacks on him by what is now referred to as the Regressive Left. Rubin had previously worked on The Young Turks network, which was co-founded by Cenk Uygur. Uygur also hosts the show: The Young Turks, a show which has provided a platform for Harris’ attackers and is now actively involved in the campaign against him. Rubin admits that the unfair treatment of Harris by Uygur and other Regressives, played a role in his decision to leave, which led him to embark on his mission of opening up discussions around difficult issues. The Rubin Show has certainly delivered. Harris’ fans – like myself – were extremely pleased with Rubin’s approach to the interview and the topics being discussed, and there was a real sense of change coming, a momentum we all wanted to keep going through retweets, blogs posts; any support that would help spread word of this brilliant new show that was doing what it preaches, namely combating Regressives, promoting free speech and actually listening to the views of others.

Indeed, Rubin reported that the response to Harris’ interview was largely positive. However, the Regressives wasted little time dismissing the interview and the show. The Rubin Report went on in subsequent episodes to feature other atheists and advocates such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Gad Saad, Douglas Murray, Sarah Haider and Ali A. Rizvi. It was thusly labelled a new atheist circle jerk, where neo-con atheists got together to bash Muslims. Fine. This was expected. But less expected was the change in tone of the shows supporters, after a number of guests featured on the show, did not align with their views. Never mind how soft Rubin was on Harris – someone we agree with – but did you see how he let Larry Elder and Tommy Robinson rattle off their bigoted views unchallenged? What is this a right-wing circle jerk? Sounds to me like an orgy of epic proportions if nothing else. I understand the criticism to a certain extent. I’ve previously argued that it’s possible that Rubin hesitates to push back, because in many cases it’s the first time he’s really hearing the other side’s arguments, and he’s unsure of his own views. If this is the case it is also a good thing, because he will learn to sharpen his ideas on the whetstone of the opposition, and it also means he’s open to changing his mind, a rare quality in this world of identity politics. However, I think more likely; Rubin is bringing us a show like we’ve never seen before. We’re used to shows like Real Time, The Young Turks, Bill O’Reilly etc. The hosts and the panel challenge each other, sometimes belligerently, and poke fun at one another, which is all well and good. Their followers cheer their hero’s and boo the opposition from the side-lines, and the net result is, no one has really heard anyone. To me this is not what The Rubin Report is about.

The Rubin Report isn’t about scoring points for the left, or the democrats, or for atheists, or any other group. It’s about fleshing out people’s views – especially unpopular and marginalized views – on important topics. Rubin does a brilliant job at this and as far as I’m concerned he should expose himself and his audience to as many different views as possible. He should ask probing questions to flesh out the ideas of those people, so they can be assessed fairly and on their own merits. Its then up to us, as the audience, to grapple with those views. We can agree, be neutral, or disagree, in whole or in part, or we can challenge those views in whatever forum we wish, as I have done with my blog piece on Rubin’s exchange with conservative Larry Elder. But the whimpering disappointment being voiced from some viewers suggests to me that they were never serious about the premise in the first place. It sounds like they’re scared for others to hear controversial views they don’t like. “Tommy Robinson is an actual bigot, and Rubin just let him espouse his bigotry unchallenged”. Well I hate to break it to my fellow viewers, but Regressives draw little distinction between the views of Harris and Robinson, and they bemoaned the fact that “Rubin gave the bigot Sam Harris a free ride on his new show”. That’s something you should keep in mind.

And for all the objections that The Rubin Report is providing a platform to these right-wing crazies – Harris or Robinson depending on your perspective – he also provides a platform for liberals, intellectuals, scientists, dissenters, and most recently an Iraqi female atheist named Lubna whose identity has to be hidden for her safety and for the safety of her family. Lubna is not a celebrity or public figure, she is being given a platform purely so people can be aware of the plight of secular people’s in the Middle East, a worthy cause I’m sure you’d agree. I had the pleasure of speaking with Lubna briefly on twitter a few weeks ago. A truly courageous person, facing some impossible decisions going forward. I assume not many will be whining about the fact that Rubin let her speak with impunity about her situation or her views. Of course, some Islamists would do this and much more, because her views are deeply offensive to them. And with that I hope you take my point.

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In Defence of The Rubin Report: Long Live the Circle Jerk!

Is Larry Elder right? Racism isn’t a MAJOR problem, get over it and vote Republican!

Last month Dave Rubin sat down to interview lawyer, author, and radio host: Larry Elder. Elder is a conservative, and the fact that he’s a “black conservative”, really doesn’t matter (that doesn’t mean black lives don’t matter! – phew, that was close). The question is whether or not he’s right – which if you picked up on the pun – the answer is obviously: Yes.

Rubin’s show is doing valuable work in the market place of ideas. And I benefited greatly from their exchange. Some have criticized Rubin for not pressing Elder on certain points, but Rubin is exposing himself, and his audience, to ideas that are unfamiliar and often unwelcome. One problem with that is; it’s harder to come up with counter-points on the spot. I think some of us have spent so long in the echo chamber, that we aren’t used to defending our own views. How do I know what I know? Of course the United States is racist…isn’t it? “Tell me how”, Elder would reply. There are answers to Elder’s questions that Rubin, for whatever reasons, didn’t or couldn’t, articulate at the time. Upon reflection, I would assert that racism does exist, and to the extent it does exist, it’s a problem to be addressed. But the key to Elder’s argument, and why it often stumps his opponents, has to do with how he frames it. “Racism is not a MAJOR problem”, “this isn’t your GRANDFATHERS America”, “black on black crime is a MUCH BIGGER problem” and so on. However, just because something is not the central problem in a country, does not mean it’s not ‘A Problem’. It doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t address it, or that we should try to deflect from it by bringing up other problems, under the guise of gaining perspective. People are free to take up any issue they choose, big or small, major or minor.

Thus, to begin with, Elder claims that liberals pander to the victimhood narrative of African American activists, in order to sell themselves as social justice warriors, to secure black votes for the Democratic party. If not for this Elder argues, there would be more black voters, voting Republican. Although it’s certainly cynical and I wouldn’t couch it in those terms, there does appear to be something to his argument. This article from the Washington Post shows that the increase in blacks who identify as Democrats began in 1948, when Democratic President Harry Truman “made an explicit appeal for new civil rights measures from Congress, including voter protections, a federal ban on lynching and bolstering existing civil rights laws.” The second and largest increase came after the signing of the Civil Rights Act by another Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Since then the distance between blacks who vote for Democratic and Republican Presidents, has grown exponentially (between 80 to 90 percent in the Democrats favor). Elder argues that however valid the shift towards the Democrats was in the 1960’s; it is no longer valid today – and perhaps hasn’t been valid for the last thirty years – because racism proper no longer exists outside the minds of black people and their liberal enablers, who have been force-fed narratives of victimhood and white guilt by the liberal media – Hollywood in particular – and the liberal intelligentsia.

So Elder’s claim is not that racism doesn’t exist, but rather that it is not a MAJOR problem, as black activists and liberals would have us believe. So is Elder right? Well 49 percent of Americans believe that racism is still a big problem in the United States, but what is the reality?

Professor Steven Pinker’s New York Times Best Seller The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has declined, shows that racism is not the problem it once was in much of the world, including the United States, writing:

“In 1950, 44 percent of governments had invidious discriminatory policies; by 2003 only 19 percent did, and they were outnumbered by the governments that had remedial [i.e. affirmative action] policies…minority groups are doing particularly well in the America’s and Europe, where little discrimination remains.”

And to show that legislative and institutional racism is not solely a white man’s game, Pinker further notes:

“Minority groups still experience legal discrimination in Asia, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, though in each case there have been improvements since the end of the cold war”.

Lastly Pinker seems to validate Elders contention:

“Not only has official discrimination by governments been in decline, but so has the dehumanizing and demonizing mindset in individual people. This claim may seem incredible to the many intellectuals who insist that the United States is racist to the bone. But as we have seen throughout this book, for every moral advance in human history there have been social commentators who insist that we’ve never had it so bad….the sociologist Lawrence Bobo and his colleagues decided to see for themselves by examining the history of white Americans’ attitudes toward African Americans. They found that far from being indestructible, overt racism [italics mine] has been steadily disintegrating.”

Pinker is a member of the liberal intelligentsia, but his opus on the decline of violence and his preceding work The Blank Slate (2002), have brought charges of racism against him.

It appears that Elder is right and not just because he’s a conservative. The denial and shouting down of those that follow the evidence is a real problem. While we can agree to acknowledge the history of racism against black people in the United States. We can also admit that constantly looking to the past means that the future may just pass us by, and a binary world-view can be unhelpful. For example, if a black person doesn’t get offered a job from a series of white employers, it doesn’t logically follow that those white employers have discriminated against that individual based on the color of his/her skin. In fact, it can disadvantage a person to think in this way. If your failure to obtain employment is never your fault, then you’re never going to improve. Equally, as a black male, if every time a Police Officer stops you, you believe it’s because of the color of your skin and the Police are just out to get you, it increases the chances that things are going to go wrong during your exchange. The longer people deny that real substantive progress has been made, and the more people who promote the narrative that the United States is irredeemably racist, and that black people are destined to be her victims. The stronger the impediments to improving race relations will become. But is there any kind of racism that is a problem?

Unconscious Bias

In his Scientific American article: Why do cops kill? Skeptic and Public Intellectual Michael Shermer argued that the ‘Rage Circuit’ – a neural network in the brain – could be the culprit in disastrous exchanges between black males and Police:

“An answer may be found deep inside the brain, where a neural network stitches together three structures into what neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp calls the rage circuit….In certain conditions that call for strong emotions, such as when you feel threatened with bodily injury or death, it is prudent for the rage circuit to override the cortex….a charitable explanation for why cops kill is that certain actions by suspects (running away, or resisting arrest, or reaching into the squad car to grab a gun) may trigger the rage circuit to fire with such intensity as to override all cortical self-control. This may be especially the case if the officer is modified by training and experience to look for danger or biased by racial profiling leading to negative expectations of certain citizens’ behavior”.

It’s the latter part of this statement that’s interesting to me; how certain biases can lead others to perceive even innocuous behavior as threatening, thereby triggering the rage circuit unnecessarily. It seems uncontroversial to suggest that biases, implicit or explicit – and in both directions – is putting both parties on the wrong footing before the interaction even begins. Indeed, Pinker seems to have been talking about the decline of overt racism, a conscious kind of racism. Professor of Psychology Paul Bloom suggests that the branch of Cognitive Psychology that deals with how humans view the world can offer some insight into racism. Bloom posits that humans naturally make categories and generalize about the objects in those categories, and that it’s very important for human survival. But when we categorize people – even on very minimal indicators such as sports jerseys – it can lead to an ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality, whereby we denigrate the ‘Other’. Negative stereotypes form and are perpetuated in the public sphere, and we end up treating individuals of the assigned category based on negative stereotypes. Professor Bloom further submits that, try as we might to be “consciously egalitarian”, people are unconsciously bias in one form or another. Elder of course rejects unconscious racism, but the simple fact is that humans have a tendency toward tribalism. Racism need not be legislated into existence to be a problem worth addressing, no more than it can be legislated out of existence and cease to be one. Unconscious biases exist in the human brain as social psychological ‘Implicit Association Tests’ (IATs) consistently bear out. Incidentally, I’m not nearly as sexist as I am racist – take the IAT here. Luckily for me though in his book Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, Professor Bloom writes that humans have a “natural propensity to favor our own group over others” and he also writes that media depictions of IAT results are misleading:

““I’m not a racist,” he [a firefighter that did poorly on an IAT] later protests. His interrogator snaps back: “You don’t think you are.” This is the sort of media depiction that makes social psychologists wince. Even if the firefighters were tested on the actual IAT, it wouldn’t help ferret out the racist. These methods were developed to gather aggregate data about people’s unconscious biases. They are not racist-detectors.”

However, if an unconscious racial bias is present in the minds of enough individuals, or even a handful of individuals that hold positions of power, then racist-like-outcomes can indeed be systemic – that is to say widespread without being a matter of law, protocol or policy. It’s in this way that I think most “racism” occurs today. So if our white employers consistently fail to hire black people – despite a wealth of black applicants – then there could well be an unconscious bias in operation; just as our Police Officer may not be consciously aware he/she is engaging in racial, age or gender profiling – or a combination of all three – when he/she stops you in the street. Criminologists have long mused whether it would be beneficial to pre-emptively imprison males between ages 15 and 25 as a crime prevention method. Therefore, although it is undeniably true that racism has declined, to say racism – as a by-product of categorization and/or unconscious bias – is no longer a problem worth addressing in the United States, may not hold up to scrutiny, especially by its victims.

The legacy of Racism

Lastly, one could argue that centuries of slavery, widespread racist attitudes, and legislative and institutional racism, have caused long lasting disadvantages psychologically, educationally, economically, politically and sociologically. Take poverty for instance. Poverty can ruin families for generations. Living under impoverished conditions can adversely affect brain development, which can create disadvantages in education, which creates economic disadvantage, which effects social mobility, which can feedback into further poverty and lack of opportunities for subsequent generations. Pour into this mix biological propensities for violence, vices such as alcohol and drugs, and outside violence from hostile groups; things can get very bad very quickly, and can be extremely difficult to reverse. Can the feedback loop be broken? Of course. Humans love nothing better than a good rags to riches story, but we should realize that we love them precisely because they are so exceptional.

Furthermore, Psychologist and Criminologist, Professor Adrian Raine’s book The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime, posits that trauma, either witnessed or experienced, can have disastrous results on the human brain, and therefore the behavior of individuals. Citing the case of Serial Killer Henry Lee Lucas, Professor Raine takes readers through a horror show of experiences in Lucas’ childhood. Upon reading Professor Raines book, I would defy anyone not to feel a level of sincere empathy, if not for the man Lucas became, then for the boy he was. A boy with an alcoholic, absentee father, and a merciless prostitute for a mother, and her pimp as a male role model. A boy who was subjected to serious poverty, neglect, humiliation, and physical and psychological abuse. Professor Raine writes:

“On the biological side there are three very important risk factors for violence that have been highlighted in previous chapters––head injury, poor nutrition, and genetic heritage from his [Lucas’] antisocial parents. These are abetted by a host of social risks, including abuse, neglect, humiliation, maternal rejection, abject poverty, overcrowding, being in a bad neighborhood, alcohol and drugs, and complete absence of care and sense of belonging”.

I asked Professor Raine whether such conditions in black communities can be linked to the legacy of slavery and/or legislative and institutional racism due to inter-generational transmission. In his succinct reply, he did not go into how this may relate to black communities but he did agree that:

“In response, there is no question that the environment affects biology and brain – and even gene expression that can be passed down from one generation. So yes, in the case of Henry Lee Lucas, there can well be inter-generational transmission of antisocial behavior at environmental and biological levels.”

If this is correct, it seems to me fair to infer that the legacy of slavery and institutional racism may be echoing into the present day. There has been much progress along the way, which with the exception of slavery, has been largely led by the Democrats. Whether or not Lyndon B. Johnson really did remark “we have lost the South for a generation”, after signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964, it is certainly true that the Democrats have secured the black vote since then, and whether you view that cynically or not is up to you, but given the Republican alternatives today, it may be a good thing either way, a very good thing.

Is Larry Elder right? Racism isn’t a MAJOR problem, get over it and vote Republican!

Islamism, Mental Illness & Inbreeding

Introduction

I wrote this after following a series of tweets between Dean Obeidallah and the Co-Founder of Ex-Muslims of North America Sarah Haider, where the below tweets came from. I had my own conversation with someone about the topic, which caused me to research inbreeding in the Muslim world.

 

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Notice the trap Obeidallah is lumbering mindlessly towards. If I had of compared the mind of God and the prophet Muhammad to the mentally ill; I dare say, I might find myself in a wee-bit-o-trouble. Of course, Obeidallah won’t willingly fall into this trap, but alas the trapping pit is not nearly as thinly veiled to him, as his attempt at apologetics is to me. Obeidallah claims that he just “can’t trust people who at one time advocated woman have no rights, and gays and apostates should be killed”, and said of Maajid Nawaz, “once an Islamist always an Islamist”, because in his unapologetic view, “Islamism is a mental disorder”, an “incurable” one. The trap should be, becoming clearer now, albeit too late for Obeidallah to prevent his fall. Although it would be comical–which is apparently his forte–to see the attempt.

Obeidallah suggests we shouldn’t trust former Islamists–who according to him, are mentally ill–because of their grotesque beliefs about homosexuality and apostasy. Well, it’s not difficult to find Hadith or Quranic verses advocating these ideas. One hadith narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas, Muhammad’s cousin and early quranic scholar wrote, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.” So what were Lot’s people doing? “do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you?…for ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women, ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds…and we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): Then see, what was the end of those who indulged in sin and crime!” verses 7:80-84. Also on apostasy, a hadith from one of the three most trusted sources in Sunni Islam: “Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn ‘Abbas, who said, “Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, ‘don’t punish (anybody) with Allah’s Punishment.’ No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.” Need I continue with Muhammad’s record on women’s rights? Thus, it appears that these grotesque beliefs come from God, and were believed and promoted by Muhammad. Therefore, in Obeidallah’s view, Muhammad must be mentally ill and irredeemable. After all Muhammad is said to have received the revelation from the angel Gabriel, over some twenty-three years. Talk about schizophrenia!

Also notice, because the ideas Obeidallah finds so disgusting are available in the quran and hadiths; claiming one is mentally ill for taking them seriously, does not at all exonerate Islamic scripture. Rather it suggests, that access to the texts, is akin to leaving a pair of sharp scissors on a table in a mental health ward, someone’s bound to get hurt! Besides, it seems to me, if Islamists do indeed suffer from mental illness, they’re worthy of more of our compassion, not less. Mental illness reduces culpability for ones actions. Is a paranoid schizophrenic, who killed his wife because voices in his head told him she had been taken over by demonic forces, as culpable as a man who murdered his wife to collect the life insurance policy? Of course not. Moreover, we know that Islamism is “curable”, due to the people who have renounced the Islamist ideology (despite Obeidallah’s idiotic skepticism of Maajid Nawaz). The fact is, Islamism, or any ideology that promotes barbaric ideas, and the horrific acts that follow–however unconscionable–need not, have anything to do with mental illness, even when grounded in superstitious beliefs. Humans evolved a propensity for violence and a credulous mind, which lends itself to believing all kinds of nonsense, making normal people capable of all kinds of evil deeds.

If Obeidallah would like to play his faith card by claiming that Muhammad did in fact get the revelation, and therefore wasn’t hearing voices–a claim for which he has no evidence–then I would evoke the philosopher David Hume, and ask him, what is more likely, that Muhammad was a charismatic schizophrenic or liar, or that he really did receive the final revelation from a perfect deity, who didn’t get it right on the preceding two occasions, with the Jews and Christians? I would also point out what a cheap move invoking faith would be for a man in his position; and that it doesn’t explain the quran and hadiths promotion of the very ideas he finds so abhorrent; and he should be quiet, and it rubs the lotion on its skin!

Inbreeding insufficient to explain Islamism

It was suggested to me that mental illness could indeed, explain Islamism, due to the prevalence of consanguineous relationships in the Muslim world, going back to the time of Muhammad. In other words, the adverse effects on the offspring of blood relatives–first cousins being the usual focus. I don’t know if Obeidallah subscribes to this view, so I’ll leave him to wallow in his trap. But if he thinks he’s using consanguinity as a rope to climb out, he’s mistaken. Muhammad married his first cousin and the quran lists relatives one cannot marry, but luckily for Muhammad, no such prohibition on cousin fuckin’ exists; given there seems to be a few issues with the offspring of consanguineous relations, you’d think the creator of the universe might have prohibited it, another opportunity lost, it appears. Most experts in this area don’t call for a ban on the practice either. Instead, they call for education about the risks, and advocate genetic screening for consanguineous couples. It’s true that the potential health risks are double that of the general population, but the overall risk remains small. In a nutshell, relatives have more genes in common than people that are unrelated. If both parents carry the same recessive gene, then their offspring have a higher risk of getting the genetic disorder associated with that gene. The overall risk for non-consanguineous couples is around 2.5% compared to approximately 5% among consanguineous couples (first cousins). However, if there is consanguinity going back generations–which will be the case for many Muslims–the risk can be higher, how much higher is unclear.

In 2011, a veritable who’s who of geneticists and researches working in this area met in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss “Consanguineous marriages, pearls and perils” and went on to produce the “Geneva International Consanguinity Workshop Report.” They concluded that the adverse effects of consanguinity on offspring, predominately relates to autosomal recessive genetic disorders. The authors suggest that although there is some evidence of the effects of consanguinity on IQ–possibly a result of most consanguineous couples coming from rural, poor, uneducated areas–Down Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, Autism and Alzheimer’s, the evidence is often “vague and inconsistent”. Moreover, the authors’ of the report suggest–in relation to autosomal recessive genetic disorders–approximately “92% of first cousin couples will not be at increased risk of the birth of an affected child”. Of course, we would have to increase the percentage of risk among Muslims due to the history of consanguinity. Regardless, if evidence for mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar or low IQ are better controlled for, and their results are more consistent, I have no reason to suspect that similar approximations like the above, wouldn’t be true in that case, namely the majority of offspring being born without problems.

Some believe we just have to look at the Muslim world and conclude Islamists are mentally ill, or suffer from poor education or low IQ, “just look at the case of Farkhunda, tell me that’s not insane”. According to this article, one of her most “fervent” attackers, a young man named Mohammad Yaqoub heard people shouting “if someone doesn’t hit her, he is an infidel.’ That was when I got emotional and hit her twice…my third punch hit the road, and my hand got injured.” Maybe the dim-witted boy felt intimidated and feared the mob might turn on him, if he didn’t participate. Except, when he went back to his shop and wrapped up his injured hand, he could still hear the commotion outside, and decided to go back for more. When he returned, he picked up a stone to pulverize Farkhunda’s lifeless body, it was so large, “he could barely lift it.” Without knowing if Mohammed Yaqoub is schizophrenic–the voices he heard that day were certainly real, including the screams of his victim–whatever affliction he may suffer, as the article puts it “Mr. Yaqoub was hardly an illiterate day laborer. He had completed 11th grade and, when interviewed in prison, said he was 18. He explained his fury by saying, “The Quran is like our honor: It is our personal honor and the honor of the prophet.”

Ghazi O. Tadmouri et al. interestingly point out that consanguinity is also practiced among Lebanese, Jordanian, and Palestinian Christians, albeit to a lesser degree than their Muslim neighbors. However, they do often suffer the same injustices as their neighbors, and one wonders if they’re driven to a Christian form of Islamism that causes them to fight the West by turning to the Old Testament (or even the New Testament) to express their mental corruption. Such Christians appear rare, which again suggests that it’s not the illness that’s the problem, it’s the texts, but I digress. Tadmouri et al. point out other limitations; most researchers break their studies into two groups: consanguineous verses non-consanguineous, even when the type of consanguinity is unknown or undisclosed. For example, stating that 30.3% to 39.8% of Syrians are in a consanguineous relationship doesn’t indicate whether they’re all first, second or third cousins, which is important, as the less gene’s in common the lower the risk. However, they do concede that “the risk of birth defects in first-cousin marriages may be estimated to be 2-2.5 times the general population rate, mainly due to the expression of autosomal recessive disorders”. But again they conclude; “studies on the association of consanguinity with chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome and association with non-communicable disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, and psychiatric disorders [Italics mine] among Arabs are presently non conclusive…likewise, studies on the association of consanguinity with traits such as intelligence quotient and stature are scanty among Arabs and results of studies performed in Western countries cannot be applied directly to societies with high consanguinity rates such as the Arab society.”

Therefore, it seems to me that mental illness, whether caused by consanguineous relationships or otherwise, is insufficient to explain Islamism.

Islamism, Mental Illness & Inbreeding

The Hijab Solidarity Farce

World Hijab Day–symbolically adopting the struggle of others–is not an original concept, there are many forms of it. In New Zealand we have the National Bandana Day to show solidarity with sufferers of cancer, who lose their hair due to chemotherapy treatment. In the case of World Hijab Day, non-Muslims are asked to show solidarity with Muslim women who face bigotry (not excluding physical assault) from ignoramuses and thugs, by adopting the Hijab for a day. Seems rather innocuous doesn’t it? However, when you think about what the Hijab represents; not so much. The mastermind behind World Hijab Day, Nazma Khan, is the owner of a headscarf company in Brooklyn New York. Aki Muthali humorously suggests this is more than mere coincidence, but perhaps that’s a bit cynical, after all it is possible to believe in a cause, and make a profit from the cause itself. I don’t see anything wrong with that in principle. Muslim reformers themselves are undoubtedly paid for public appearances and the books they write. The real issue for me, is the cause itself. I don’t begrudge any woman that chooses to exercise her freedom of religion to wear the Hijab, and I will defend her right to do so. However, I do take issue when she attempts to minimize or distort, what the Hijab stands for, and I take issue with her lack of solidarity with her Muslim sisters from conservative families or communities in their own [Western] countries, and their sisters in Muslim majority countries like Iran, who are unambiguously forced, often violently, to wear the Hijab or the Burqa.

In fact, many non-Muslim women already wear the Hijab, when they travel to countries like Iran, Kuwait, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Yemen etc. These sites give some useful tips for women who want to travel to the Middle East: “you are still perfectly safe, simply follow the rules you would anywhere – don’t go off alone with a man, or group of men, and if you do feel awkward, there are plenty of women-only areas in many parks”. First of all, how offensive is that to men, I recommend reading this site, talk about sexism, it reads as if every man is a potential rapist who froths at the mouth at the sight of a blonde. “Clothes – What you are expected to wear varies a lot from place to place. In a Red Sea resort, and more Westernized places, you can relax a bit [italics mine], but otherwise, you’ll need to cover your body”, “In general, it is better to be dressed too conservatively than to offend the locals. Do your research for each country before you travel to check what women wear.” The fact a woman has to “do their research” before traversing OUR planet is a moral scandal, and yet it is wholly acceptable to people. Make no mistake the “clothes” often involve wearing a Hijab in these places, and the rationale is scarily like the Islamists. Moreover, for a non-Muslim actually living in these places, where is the solidarity? Imagine being a woman in the Middle East attempting to exercise your human right not to wear the Hijab or cover your body. The Justice system is just as likely to condemn you, as the public for their bigotry.

Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa point out in their excellent article that Ahlul Bayt is a major contributor to World Hijab Day, their website Global Hijab Awareness provides a revealing resource on the topic. Firstly, “”You are not like any other women”: Muslim women are not like no-Muslim women. So, they should maintain their distinction and dignity”. Brilliant, no need for a World Hijab Day then is there? “If one asks why Hijab or Purdah is necessary, the only proper reply would be, ‘because Allah and His Messenger have so decided”. Yes, the freedom to choose flows so easily, when one choice goes against the creator of the universe. This resource from 1977, even has a Q and A section, and it’s priceless:

Q: Is it allowed for a veiled girl to attend co-education schools?

A: If she observes all the rules of Hijab and is sure that no one would look at her with lust.

Q: She would not be able to answer the questions put forward to her by the teacher, she would have to whisper?

A: Talking to Ghair Mahram becomes haram (forbidden) when there is a danger that [he] may get lustful ideas by hearing the voices of the women.

Q: Some ladies, without veil have kept their dignity. So why all this?

A: Purdah of Eyes and Purdah of dress, both are compulsory for all Muslim women. The dignity of a Muslim woman in the eyes of Allah depends on Purdah.

Q: Should parents abstain from recommending purdah to their daughters lest she is forced after marriage by her in-laws to take it down?

A: As far as she is with you, you are to perform your duties and responsibilities [enforcing the purdah].

Q: Is it respectable for a girl to have her veil removed by her in-laws?

A: No. It is haram. She has to refuse.

Any organization that includes this sexist garbage in its reading material cannot, and should not be taken seriously on moral questions. In all seriousness, it’s fantastic if your family had the human decency not to enforce the Hijab on you, but make no mistake that in Islam, by many interpretations, this is not only a privilege many of your Muslim sisters are denied, but it’s an outright defiance of Allah himself (or herself – oh no he didn’t, well yes I did).

Lastly Maajid Nawaz created a bit of a storm on twitter by asking Muslim women to take off their Hijab’s in solidarity with the victims of acid attacks, who are often targeted for their lack of modesty or their audacity, essentially their bravery. Why not? It would be almost impossible to get reliable statistics on this, but I can confidently assert that more Muslim women around the world, are persecuted, beaten, raped (only for their rapers to escape justice) or killed, for NOT wearing the Hijab or the Burqa, than those that face bigotry and assault for wearing the Hijab in the West. So again I ask, why not? Could it be, that the Muslim women who are “not forced” to wear the Hijab are afraid of the repercussions for such a brazen display of solidarity? Will their parents look on them with shame, will they be berated by members of their communities, or do they ridiculously think they will be raped on the spot? Or perhaps they believe that Allah himself will be displeased? If any of these concerns are stopping any Muslim woman from showing solidarity with her Muslim sisters, suffering under the yoke of Islamic conservatism around the world, then clearly their “choice” to wear the Hijab is not really a choice at all, it’s a display of cowardice and submission. If on the other hand they choose not to because they don’t believe in such a cause, then at best their morally abhorrent.

The Hijab Solidarity Farce

Support the Muslim Reform Movement I Implore Thee

If you haven’t signed the Muslim Reform Movement’s petition yet, you simply must. Muslim reformers are becoming more vocal, or perhaps more accurately, are gaining more traction in the media, and are starting to organize themselves very well, as the MRM demonstrates. The reforming voices are acting like a beacon for others, and as that beacon shines brighter, the shadowy figure of Islamism and Islamic Conservatism is being pushed out to the fringes. Alas, we will never be rid of them completely, with scripture like the Quran or the Bible anchored to a concept of an omniscient and omnipotent God, extremism will never truly disappear. But as it was with Christianity, Islamism whether jihadist or conservative, is more mainstream than many Muslim’s care to admit.

As an atheist I love debating the existence of God and the truth claims of religion. It’s an important conversation to have. It improves ones reasoning skills and sharpens ones character by mere participation. Atheists and Christians have been having this conversation for some time now. We take for granted the fact, that this was not always the case, and it’s certainly not the case for too many Muslim’s in the 21st Century. Whether you’re a Muslim living in Saudi Arabia or Britain, or just attempting to have the conversation in the family home–where you should feel the safest–in all these cases, too often, Muslim’s are gambling with their lives and their freedom, and risking social isolation and desertion by family members and peers. Reformers have the unenviable task of not only legitimizing an interpretation of Islam that allows for their groups declaration, that they’ve collectively and so beautifully constructed; but they must also render such conversations about truth and God, benign and mainstream. Now this isn’t to say I want reformers to break down these barriers so I can pull out Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists in order to convert more Muslim’s to atheism. That would be a cynical mission indeed, and some Muslim’s fear that allowing such conversations to take place, will water down the faith, and therefore won’t give an inch. They can relax, this isn’t an atheist conspiracy.

The Regressive Left often fuel this fear. It’s fairly easy to dismiss atheists, and among the Regressive Left, it appears even easier to dismiss ex-Muslim and reforming voices by labeling them native informants or house Muslim’s–a reprehensible and slanderous smear against the brave men and women that have taken up this challenge–in any case the more Muslim voices out there, like the members of the MRM; the less hysteria and frustration there will be from people whose only experience of Islam, are either shouts of Allahu Akbar moments before explosions and gunfire fill the air, or Islamist bully tactics, or the evasive apologism and denial of moderate Muslim’s, who are adamant there is no problem with Islam, while the former’s continue to dominate the news and the debate (if one could call it that).

So ubiquitous is the idea of an angry, aggrieved, apologist Muslim, that reading or watching a Muslim that doesn’t fit the image can be quite startling to some. I noticed this recently when Asra Q. Nomani–herself a member of the newly formed MRM–surprised her CNN host, by agreeing with mothers in Virginia, who were upset about the Shahada (the Muslim declaration naming Allah as the one true God and the prophet Mohammed as his messenger) being incorporated into a lesson on Arabic calligraphy at Riverheads High School. “When you hear a story like that, what do you think?” the host asked. “Well I am a mother in Virginia, and I wouldn’t have wanted this assignment in my son’s school”. The reaction is quite amusing, the hosts bemused “Hmmm”, and the shifting in her seat was priceless. She was clearly taken aback. If Asra had of said, “you know, as a Muslim I think it’s disgusting how these mothers can be so islamophobic, the Shahada is beautiful, this is a racist school and as a mother in Virginia I would have taken my son out of that school to keep him from such vicious bigotry”, dollars to donuts, the CNN host wouldn’t have batted an eye, and neither would most viewers. Instead, Asra, a Muslim, stood up for secularism, shocking! They’re out there folks and we need to support the reformers and give them the biggest platform possible. SOLIDARITY!

Support the Muslim Reform Movement I Implore Thee

The role of the Regressive Left in the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry

I am angry, in fact that’s an understatement, I am furious! I’ve just watched Donald Trump call for the wholesale ban of Muslim immigration to the United States. I viewed this video last week, which shows the ignorance of some Americans on the issue of Islamic extremism/terrorism. Both instances, and other examples of anti-Muslim bigotry are reprehensible and makes the blood boil. In the wake of the Paris attacks in November, Marine Le Pen’s party, the far-right National Front is gaining traction in France’s regional elections. Anti-Muslim bigotry has always existed, no new atheist thinker or critic of Islam has ever denied that fact. The issue was the term Islamophobia, and the conflation of Islam–a set of doctrines that inform beliefs and therefore the behavior of individuals–with race, in order to quell criticism of a religion, which desperately needs to be subjected to contrarian views. Honest attempts at dialogue, and indeed the critique of Islam as a set of doctrines were shouted down. Advocates for that conversation were branded as irredeemably racist or were considered suspect and many were chased out of the market place of ideas with burning torches and pitchforks.

Sam Harris, Maajid Nawaz and others–both victims of this regressive backlash–warned that obfuscation and denial will indeed lead to a rise in real anti-Muslim bigotry. Harris warned of this in his 2006 piece the end of liberalism. Harris writes, “increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West.” And so, it has come to pass, the Regressive Left would have had it no other way, and likely think their shrieks, distortions and facile arguments have been validated by the current climate around this issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. Harris is the one who has been validated here. The language being used by these religious right-wing nutters, have shot past well defined terms like Islamism or Islamic extremism–terms which, attack after attack, President Obama could not, and still cannot bring himself to say–to rhetoric befitting their ignorance, ALL MUSLIMS ARE TERRORISTS. This is a very clear validation of Nawaz’ term the Voldemort effect, “What happens if you don’t name the Islamist ideology and distinguish it from Islam? You’re sending out the message to the vast majority of Americans: there’s an ideology you must challenge…what are they going to assume? The average American is going to think, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to challenge an ideology — it’s called Islam.” This too has come to pass.

Needless to say a lot of finger pointing will occur before this storm dissipates, mostly at the far-right, Christians, reformers, and definitely new atheists. However, those of us who saw this coming, should not let the left slip out the back door. Their role in this mess should be illuminated for all to see, so they may be held to account. The far-right are doing what they always do, we expect it from them. The left should show some shame for what it has become.

The role of the Regressive Left in the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry