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Allies and Identities

A few days ago, Dave Silverman asked on Twitter for people to define “ally”. The answer, of course, is very simple. An ally is someone who helps us get closer to our shared goals.

And, of course, as with any simple answer, that isn’t a very simple matter at all. Every small part of it is complex. Perhaps the best way to break it apart is to look at what doesn’t constitute an ally.

Starting with the simple: Someone who shares our goals and makes every effort to move toward them can still be incompetent. To use an example that Silverman himself has used, someone who combats religion by burning down a church is not, as a practical matter, an ally. Rather than making a dent in religion, they contribute to the Christian persecution narrative and associate anti-theism with crime in the minds of the public. Though someone who does this might share goals with Silverman, he repudiates them. They are not his allies.

Even this, however, is not a simple thing in the secular movement. There are plenty of people who think that American Atheists and other organizations that aggressively pursue church-state separation lawsuits are not their allies in the fight to advance atheism and secularism in society because (I simplify and generalize somewhat throughout this post) of the negative feelings those lawsuits can engender in the general population. They feel that atheism and secularism are better advanced by showing people they have nothing to fear from atheists, and that Dave and others like him hurt the cause through continual antagonism.

I happen to disagree with that assessment. I have no love for political strategies that reinforce the idea that we have to be like each other or largely in agreement in order to be tolerable to each other. I think they’re doomed to leave most of us out in the cold, so I see a direct virtue in making people uncomfortable as one part of a larger plan. But if I only saw that such confrontation makes the job of “nice atheists” harder, I might agree that these organizations are not my allies.

Moving beyond basic competence, sometimes people who appear to share our goals at first glance don’t really share our goals when we take a longer or broader view. This, I think, is at the root of all the gnashing and wailing about racism and multiculturalism that currently interrupts online atheist discourse whenever we talk about Islamism. Despite the accusations that fly, we do all truly want to decouple Islam from government. We do not want this religion to have the power of the state behind it.

Photo of three action figures--Gold, Iron Man, and the Tin Man--arm in arm.

Sometimes the differences are important.

However, when we step back, the two general camps in this argument oppose Islamism for very different reasons. One camp opposes Islamism as they would oppose Christian Dominionism. Both infringe on the religious freedoms of the people ruled by that government. The other camp finds something particularly pernicious in Islam that they don’t find in Christianity and is specifically interested in keeping Muslim influence out of government.

These two groups are likely right that they are not allies on this topic, even though they’re wrong when one accuses the other of being “soft” on Islam. While they do both want to keep Islam from shaping government policy, this is a negative goal. When we look at the positive goals of each group, they’re very different.

There are some very obvious extremes of difference in dealing with Islamism through foreign policy, but serious differences exist within countries as well. Take the question of Sharia law. Those who specifically oppose Islam as a particularly dangerous religion frequently wish to ban Sharia law. At that point, they come into opposition with those whose concern with Islamism is religious freedom. Banning a religious practice decreases religious freedom (though it will sometimes be considered worthwhile for other reasons). When it comes time to take action, these two groups of people turn out not to be the allies they appeared when only considering the shared goal of opposing Islamism.

Many people stop their analysis of what it means to be allies at that point, after examining “getting closer” and “shared goals”. You can generally tell who’s done this by the sneers at “distractions” and “personality politics”. But “help us” is as important a part as any of the definition of an ally. It’s also a lot more complicated.

This part of the definition of an ally means that our allies don’t stop us from making progress. They might validly ask us to take steps that slow us down or to make certain considerations in our planning that limit our options, but they don’t tell us to get out of the fight. Nor do they push us out of the fight. Neither the person who swoops in and claims they’re going to save everyone nor the person who says there’s no room for “our kind”–whatever that kind may be–in pushing toward our shared goals is our ally.

This doesn’t mean that all allies have to work arm in arm, singing “Kumbaya” and smiling at each other. Just as sometimes fences do make good neighbors, sometimes separation makes better allies. We can tolerate the quirks of people who don’t thrust those quirks in our faces–or whose quirks are not thrust in our faces by the media in a very few cases–much better than those we have to face day in and day out. As long as they don’t make the spaces in which we work bad places for us to be (or worse places than we can find to otherwise spend our time making a difference), we can still be allies.

However, in addition to allowing us to work toward those common goals, allies must also allow us to share in the progress we make. The fight for our rights to be free from religious strictures in our political lives encompasses far more than the right to simply exist as an atheist free of persecution. To all of us, that means no religious test to participate fully as citizens. To someone serving secular functions often filled by clergy, that means access to the same privileges that make their job easier, To a parent, it means public school curricula free of superstition. To a child in a classroom, it means not having to recite a pledge with the phrase “under God” in it. To a medical patient, it means access to a full range of therapies and research into possible therapies unrestricted by arbitrary religious dictates on the allowed uses of human tissue or on the sanctity of the human body “as God made it”. To all of us, it means the ability to create our own roles in society (within moral bounds), to walk away from those dictated and codified by religion.

If someone argues that “those people” are just more religious by nature, so nothing can or should be done to help them, they are not advancing a common cause of religious freedom. If they argue that some group should stay in their formerly god-given role, citing research or interpretations of research generated to uphold traditions that came out of religion, citing tradition as a simple good or change as just too hard, they are not advancing a common cause of religious freedom. If they’re not helping us reap the rewards of changing the world just as we’re helping them, they are not our allies. Our identities are already present in those politics, by virtue of the religion we’re supposed to be fighting together, whether we point that out or not. And those whose lives have been more affected by religion require more work to fully be free of it.

Like a lot of words, “ally” is very simple to define. However, when it comes to functioning in the real world that faces us, that definition gets complicated very quickly.

Photo credit: “Ternary Allies” by JD Hancock. Some rights reserved.

Comments

  1. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Good post. I agree with a lot of it.

    I do think that just as there is a spectrum and continuum of stellar classes (e.g. O-B-A-F-G-K-M or blue, white, yellow, orange, red with extra classes T, L & Y added at the end for brown dwarfs which are intermediate betwixt stars and planets in nature) and just as insects, for instance, range from the relatively harmless and even helpful varieties such as ladybirds to more harmful ones with particularly nasty stings and other negative traits e.g. killer bees,bull ants, malaria carrying mosquitoes so it is with religion.

    There are some religions that don’t seem to cause a great deal of harm and make the lives of their followers better at least in their views and without harming others. Examples : Buddhism is a common usually peaceful religious philosophy that does hardly any actual demonstrable harm and is rarely if ever involved in terrorism and calls for murder of its critics; Jainism is incredibly pacifistic and shows special reverence for all living things, Judaism is another tolerant and generally benevolent belief system and is often more a cultural practice and identity than a religious one. That’s at the good end of the spectrum but then at the bad end, we find exceptionally harmful religious ideologies such as Christianity in its more extreme homophobic, misogynist and creationist variants and beyond that Islam especially in its fundamentalist Jihadist extreme Salafi and Shiite variants which incites terrorism and virtually enslaves women and murders people for “crimes’ such as blasphemy, apostasy and being a white person or non-Muslim in a Kenyan shopping mall at the wrong time .

    If religions were stars then Jainism would be like a yellow dwarf capable of nuturing living planets whilst Islam would be a neutron star blasting nearby space with beams of deadly radiation and the very least likely host for habitable worlds. If religions were insects then Jainism would be butterfly fluttering past harmlessly sipping nectar from flowers whereas Islam would be an attacking swarm of killer bees. Clearly we would and ought to respond to having those insects approach us in totally different ways!

    Stephanie Zvan, I think you come too close here to saying that all religions are the same and equally bad / good / worthy of focusing on when this is demonstrably not the case in reality where there is a spectrum of religion and the impacts a religion has and gradations of and between groups within various religions.

    Sikhs kill and incites the deaths of, well, pretty much nobody – but they are often falsely confused with Islamists who do kill and seek the deaths of people just for making films, writing books or drawing cartoons or for no good reasons at all just their own fury that the rest of the world doesn’t worship exactly like them complete with intolerant downright evil Jihads, Fatwahs and Sharia laws.

    Do you really think we should treat these groups the same and not make key distinctions between religions that are less harmful and those that are extremely harmful?

    Don’t you think (as I do) instead that its better to focus on stopping and fighting the religions and sects and cults that are especially harmful and singling them out for tougher handling and harsher (& fairer) criticism than religions that are not?

    This is where I disagree with you, Stephanie Zvan, respectfully – as, I think and hope, a good ally who strongly agrees with almost everything else.

    Banning a religious practice decreases religious freedom (though it will sometimes be considered worthwhile for other reasons).

    If a religious practice is actively harmful such as human sacrifice (eg. ancient Aztecs among others) or allowing child rape and domestic violence and genital mutilation of women (Islam) or severely restricting women’s freedoms to travel, dress and live as they choose (Islam) then I think it is a good thing to ban that religious practice and I’d also go further and suggest that a religion with such awful practices should be strongly discouraged and criticised and we should encourage more people to leave and criticise such a religion.

    Is there a problem with that statement and, if so, where?

  2. says

    Steve… you ask if we should treat Sikhism the same as Islamism.

    The answer to that question is complicated because it depends entirely upon what you mean.

    Do you mean in terms of relative threat level? Then obviously not, because Sikhism doesn’t have the violent fanatics that Islam has. But if you mean in terms of them being religion, then yes. For me, religion is ultimately a public nuisance, and although I don’t actually expect it, I would very much love to see a day when religion is no more… and that includes both Islam and Sikhism.

    Again… I don’t ever actually expect that to happen. I rather expect that faith and religious tendencies will plague us humans for as long as we exist. But that doesn’t make me happy.

    I would say that a better comparison in terms of threat-level is the one Stephanie used: Islamism and Christian Dominionism. Although fanatic Christians are not as directly violent, they scare me more than Islamists do right now because they have much greater access to our government, making them a much clearer and present threat, especially while they can use the threat of Islamism to their advantage.

  3. says

    Nate, I’d suggest that in the U.S. fanatical Christians and fanatical Muslims are about equally violent. Of course, in both cases, you have to remember that the vast majority of the violence is aimed at their own people.

    StevoR, are you talking about this Buddhism? This Jainism? This Judaism? This Sikhism?

    There isn’t a religion out there that I want trying to claim or wield governmental power. Now scurry off and dream your little dreams of bombing brown people.

  4. Great American Satan says

    Stevo is a huge piece of crap, but skimming that sikh article, the worst atrocity I came across was committed by Mughal moslems: “His son was also executed and his sons’s body parts were forced down Banda Singh Bahadur’s throat.”

    That description of lamaistic Tibet was some shit tho. Theocrats suck.

  5. jesse says

    I think there’s a bit of a false choice here. The problem with StevoR’s formulation is that it plays the “who is worse” game, and that’s a loser’s proposition. And it lets a lot of atheists play right into the really racist memes that Islam is particularly bad, or even Buddhism. Take a look at some of the older anti-Japanese propaganda, which did not take on a particularly religious cast, but certainly got into the idea that the culture was uniquely mysterious in a way that the Germans were not.

    As to being “nice” — well, let me put it this way. If you go into a black church and tell everyone in there they are a bunch of superstitious fools, and back-pat yourself on how smart you are, then I won’t have the slightest sympathy when you get the crap kicked out of you. Because it will be richly deserved.

    Yet there’s a lot of atheists I meet who fit precisely that mold. I used to see them a lot on PZ’s space, and even PZ has, I am told, changed things a bit when talking about Islam so as not to fall into some very ugly racist traps. Certainly for me when I talk about non-belief and the importance of keeping religion out of the public sphere I try to be careful that I don’t end up just calling people ignorant savages. (Though in some cases it is tempting, I am looking at you Ken Cuccinelli). I’ve been in a lot of spaces where religion was important as a tool of maintaining identity and resisting some pretty awful things.

    I don’t think it’s about being “nice” or not. I think it’s about the old concept of “punching up” or “punching down.”

    And, to StevoR, he mentions, for instance, the practice of human sacrifice among the Aztecs (and other Mesoamericans). Well, yes, ritualized human sacrifice is a bad thing, right? But these are also the same people who were defeated by the Spanish in no small part because they didn’t embrace the concept of genocidal warfare. That is, wiping out your enemies was a silly idea, (to them) because dead people don’t pay tribute. And the violence was highly ritualized itself; warfare had rules, and the Spanish didn’t follow them — the whole premise of Spanish (European) warfare by that point was different.

    So who is the worse group ? The one that burned people at the stake, engaged in forced conversions, baptized people by drowning them, raped everyone they saw, and thought nothing of murdering entire villages, or the one that said they would sacrifice a certain number of people for the sake of social and cosmic order? (The old chestnut that thousands were sacrificed daily is simply wrong, and it’s easy to see why with a little math).

    Would you take the sacrifice of 10 people at a temple once every couple of months over killing 1,000 people to make the point that you’re boss?

    Before anyone throws out the “moral relativist” thing at me, the whole point here is that these aren’t easy questions. And more important, we tend to take the side of the culture that is less alien to us; we accept a lot in terms of “collateral damage” in warfare that would have horrified Moctezuma. I think it fascinating as well that so many in the atheist-o-sphere find it easy to ascribe all manner of things to cultures in the Middle East and talk about how ignorant it is, or how they aren’t modern, or whatever, and that makes Islam uniquely bad. Such folks have a cartoonish understanding of other cultures. The key word being “other.”

    And not to go Godwin here, but it wasn’t the Muslims who cooked up the Holocaust or Stalin. That was us. Western culture, full stop. The heritage of Rousseau and the Enlightenment. Us.

    To say nothing of the terror we’ve visited on the rest of the world pretty routinely. From the perspective of any sane person in the global south the secular governments of Europe and the US are not exactly forces for good. While we decry giving religious zealots power (and should) it’s worth remembering that the Yemenis haven’t been lobbing cruise missiles at Tampa, and the Iranians have never threatened to invade the US (they really haven’t invaded anyone for more than a century), and the Afghans weren’t in a position to occupy Louisiana. Yes, yes, 9/11. But stack that up against a continuing pattern of occupation and imposed governments that dates back to 1918 or even earlier and the equation looks a bit different. (Think of the maxim “a man is judged by his friends,” and look at who our BFFs ave been for the last century).

    You can’t talk about the origins of governments like Saudi Arabia without acknowledging that they wouldn’t exist without explicit support of the US and Britain; in fact, every time secular democracy has threatened to take hold somewhere, the US has stood firmly against it. Every single time. That’s us, via our elected officials. We voted for this stuff.

    (Even during the Arab Spring, our government made it clear that it would support the dictators — almost every one of those countries that experienced unrest was a US ally, the notable exceptions being Libya and Syria. But we stood with Mubarak to the end, and Yemen’s Saleh was our creature. We’re still sending the Egyptian generals and the Bahraini emirs $billions each year, and selling the Saudis advanced weapons. The only reason Tunisia was “let go” was that it simply isn’t important enough).

    Politics is a complicated business. Islam and Christianity both have histories; but if we ignore that we fall into the same kind of thinking that religious zealots do.

  6. Emptyell says

    I don’t understand why the issue of who is or is not an ally gets so complicated. It seems rather simple to me.

    As I see it allies are persons or organizations with mutually agreed common interests and goals who coordinate their activities and resources in furtherance of said interests and goals. One can independently decide to be a supporter or fashion oneself as an activist, but to be an ally requires the explicit agreement of the other parties to the alliance. One can no more unilaterally declare oneself to be an ally than one can declare oneself to be someone else’s boyfriend or business partner without the other person’s consent.

  7. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @2. Stephanie Zvan :

    There isn’t a religion out there that I want trying to claim or wield governmental power. Now scurry off and dream your little dreams of bombing brown people.

    I don’t dream about or desire for that to happen.

    StevoR, are you talking about this Buddhism? This Jainism? This Judaism? This Sikhism?M

    Not really no, more the usual modern varieties of those religions. Plus a lot of other things.

    @4. Great American Satan : Aside from the the first seven words we’re in agreement. Why do you call me hurtful and false names and abuse me when I’ve never done that to you? What does that make you do you think?

  8. smhll says

    I think it can be really limiting if we can only see shortcomings in ‘alien’ cultures and not in our own familiar one. We can’t overcome xenophobia with smug, gut feelings.

  9. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ 6. jesse :

    I think there’s a bit of a false choice here. The problem with StevoR’s formulation is that it plays the “who is worse” game, and that’s a loser’s proposition.

    Um, no. I think you’ve missed the point. It acknowledges the continuum of various types of religions and their differing impacts on the world at large.

    to StevoR, he mentions, for instance, the practice of human sacrifice among the Aztecs (and other Mesoamericans). Well, yes, ritualized human sacrifice is a bad thing, right? But these are also the same people who were defeated by the Spanish in no small part because they didn’t embrace the concept of genocidal warfare. That is, wiping out your enemies was a silly idea, (to them) because dead people don’t pay tribute. And the violence was highly ritualized itself; warfare had rules, and the Spanish didn’t follow them — the whole premise of Spanish (European) warfare by that point was different.

    So who is the worse group ? The one that burned people at the stake, engaged in forced conversions, baptized people by drowning them, raped everyone they saw, and thought nothing of murdering entire villages, or the one that said they would sacrifice a certain number of people for the sake of social and cosmic order? (The old chestnut that thousands were sacrificed daily is simply wrong, and it’s easy to see why with a little math).

    So, wait on a second, you are seriously going to defend the custom of human sacrifice on the grounds that the conquistadors were worse! Really? What the?!

    Yes okay the conquistadors and what they did were horrible. Evil even. But that doesn’t make human sacrifice okay surely does it?

    Would you take the sacrifice of 10 people at a temple once every couple of months over killing 1,000 people to make the point that you’re boss?

    I’d reject both those on the grounds that they are unethical and far better means of attaining the same or better effects exist.

    I think it fascinating as well that so many in the atheist-o-sphere find it easy to ascribe all manner of things to cultures in the Middle East and talk about how ignorant it is, or how they aren’t modern, or whatever, and that makes Islam uniquely bad. Such folks have a cartoonish understanding of other cultures. The key word being “other.”

    Well for me the key word is evidence.

    It isn’t a question of whats being “ascribed” by X or Y about Z but rather what do we know its factually correct for instance :

    1) Do many Muslims idolise and justify the practice of homicide-suicde bombings of inocent civilains?

    2) Are there some awful customs of FGM, burka wearing, rules that oppress women and rob them of what other women take as basic freedoms in Islamic culture and laws?

    3) Do Muslims worship as a “prophet” a man who among other things they proudly think “married” a nine (or just maybe ten) year old child – or three?

    From these and a great many other such facts you then build up a picture and an understanding of what Islam is, how its followers think and what they seek, ho w they frequently behave in various situations, et cetera..

    Is this not a reasonable and fair approach? If not in your view then why?

    To say nothing of the terror we’ve visited on the rest of the world pretty routinely. From the perspective of any sane person in the global south the secular governments of Europe and the US are not exactly forces for good. … (snip) .. every time secular democracy has threatened to take hold somewhere, the US has stood firmly against it. Every single time. That’s us, via our elected officials. We voted for this stuff.

    Three counter examples for you – Kuwait, Kosovo and East Timor all liberated with Western aid out of tyranny and all encouraged to become secular democratic states. So I’d say that’s your claim there busted.

    Plus the USA pressured Mubarak to stand down and helped the Libyans free themselves from Gaddafi’s dictatorship. Plus even Iraq, they have real elections there now albeit blighted by the sectarian violence which the Western coalition definitely discouraged.

    hink of the maxim “a man is judged by his friends,” and look at who our BFFs ave been for the last century).

    Australia’s BFF’s are the USA, China and Japan. (I’m Aussie btw.) The USA’s are Japan, Britain, China, Canada, and others. Not sure really what that says or why its relevant here.

    But we stood with Mubarak to the end, and Yemen’s Saleh was our creature. We’re still sending the Egyptian generals and the Bahraini emirs $billions each year, ..

    The Egyptian generals acted on behalf of and in support of the majority of the Egyptian people who were protesting against the increasingly tyrannical Muslim Brotherhood regime. Morsi could’ve and should’ve resolved the situation by resigning and /or calling fresh elections. As I recall, The USA also demanded Mubarack resign before he was forced out.

    Politics is a complicated business. Islam and Christianity both have histories; but if we ignore that we fall into the same kind of thinking that religious zealots do.

    I completely agree and am arguing for acknowledging this. I’m not sure how you could have thought differently.

  10. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @3. Stephanie Zvan : “There isn’t a religion out there that I want trying to claim or wield governmental power.”

    I wasn’t talking about or advocating that any religion do that. Just that we note the spectrum of religions exists and the differences between the various religions and what sorts of threats (if any) they actually pose to ourselves and others.

  11. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    .. and maybe act and prioritise and focus accordingly.

    Is that really unreasonable in your view?

  12. freemage says

    SteveR: What you’re ignoring is that there are Muslims who are no more offensive than liberal Christians are. They’re especially common in Western nations; I’ve met many of them. When we declare Islam as somehow different in forbidding such a thing, we’re actually shooting ourselves in the foot–we’re telling the moderates and liberals, “We don’t believe you exist, so you may as well go full-on fundie, anyway.”

    We’re much better off approaching moderate and liberal Muslims and saying, “Hey, you guys are alright. How’s about we work together on [insert issue of common import]?” Years, even decades before I became an atheist, I called myself a ‘political atheist’, because I recognized the value of a strong church/state separation. One way to deal with potential encroachments of Sharia law would be to get those moderates and liberals to support C/S separation, as something in their own interest.

  13. Great American Satan says

    I had typed out a less flip response, but my cat refreshed the page and I lost it, so you just get the flip.

  14. Rational Feminist says

    One of the problems is that DS insists on announcing/pronouncing himself as an ally to feminists within the atheist movement. It is quite clear that he is clueless about how that word is used within social justice and what it means. He wants to be an ally, he wants to be able to say he is an ally…without having a clue what feminists think an ally is. Therefore, it just feels like he is forcing himself on people who may or may not think much of his point of view as it related to his “ally-ness.”.

  15. Great American Satan says

    Ugh. I tried to read one of Stevo’s posts and my rage spiked in ten words. What a shitheel.

    From these … facts you then build up a picture and an understanding of what Islam is, how its followers think and what they seek, … et cetera.. Is this not a reasonable and fair approach?

    FUCK YES it isn’t reasonable, because it assumes auto-fucking-magically that all followers of Islam are all doing it the same (which they fucking aren’t), or that the particulars of their blood-drenched Abrahamic fairy tale books are qualitatively worse than xtianity or Judaism, which they demonstrably fucking aren’t. What’s worse? Burning your daughter alive for Yahweh so he’ll give you magickal genocide powers, or fucking a nine year old? Why would you even want to play that game? You’re disgusting.

    What would I gain by singling out Islam as worse in my discourse? The EDL, UKIP, US Dominionists, and a dozen right wing think tanks for allies. If you wanna party with those scumbags, please do, and leave the rest of us alone.

  16. jesse says

    @SteveoR – you are aware that the US has given pretty much unqualified support to a wide variety of not merely odious, but sometimes genocidal dictators in many nations? And that the people in said nations might have a wee problem with that?
    Let’s go through some greatest hits, shall we? Rios Montt, (who thought that it would be a fine idea to send death squads to Mayan communities and kill everyone in the local villages. He was a born-again Christian, by the way).

    Shah Reza Pahlavi, who didn’t like such newfangled ideas as democracy and could be bought.

    The House of Saud. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. The emirs in the Gulf States. Mobutu Sese Seko. The Apartheid government of South Africa. Augusto Pinochet. Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay. Francisco Franco. The Estado Novo regime in Portugal. The Greek fascists. General Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf as well. Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. Baby Doc and Papa Doc in Haiti. King Mohammed IV of Morocco. Even Manuel Noriega, before he did the unthinkable and defied his former masters.

    Every one of these people I listed was a close ally of the US government, and in many cases supported with troops.

    I could go on. But your ignorance — willful and otherwise — is pretty staggering.

  17. jesse says

    Oh, and SteveoR, the US only asked (rather politely) that Mubarak resign when it became absolutely clear that the political cost of having him stay was unacceptable. And the the political missteps of the Morsi government — and the increasing problems many secular Egyptians had with it — doesn’t mean that a coup has the overwhelming support of the Egyptian people, and you might want to see what some of the very people who led the revolution there have said about it. To turn around one of your earlier rejoinders, the failure of one democratically elected government makes military dictatorship OK? You do understand the difference between “wholehearted support” and “we’ll take the lesser of two evils, maybe” and “we want anybody but this guy.”

    And I might add that the State Department also made it patently clear that they weren’t interested in seeing the Egyptian Left — which by the way was the catalyst for the overthrow of Mubarak — form a government of any sort.

    You should be aware that while US news organizations focused on Tahrir Square in the capital, much of the uprising began in the textile mills up the Nile. We missed a lot of that here (or more broadly, in the West) because those folks don’t Tweet or get on Facebook. Most don’t have much in the way of Internet connections. The trade unions started this thing, and you can bet that a government involving them was something our government was keen to avoid.

    If the US really wanted elections, by the way, the answer is simple: stop sending the Egyptian military money. It’s not hard.

    And again I point to who our friends in the region have been.

    Have you ever been to a Muslim country? Spoken to anyone there? Asked around? Taken a look at what daily life involves? It varies a lot, even within countries.

    I’m not saying there are no problems there. The point is that it’s easy to call other people primitives. But you have to be able to turn the view around a bit to understand it at all. Take religious fundamentalism. Christian or Muslim, it’s a very modern phenomenon. In the US the kind of Christian fundamentalism we see today only arose in the 1920s, and didn’t really spread until decades later. Islamic fundamentalism dates to about the same period.

    Your idea that Islam is uniquely pernicious, by the way, would sound awfully strange to a Tamil in Sri Lanka.

    And let’s throw out another factoid: how many real theocracies are there in the Islamic world? If you stretch the definition you could include both Iran and Saudi Arabia. But that’s about it.

    And again I will throw this back at you: imagine yourself talking to a Yemeni who just watched his village get hit by a cruise missile. Or a Pakistani who saw the same thing. Now please explain to them why your form of government that just wiped out their families is so great, and why their religion is uniquely bad for people. Again I ask, how many cruise missiles have come from Yemen to land on Melbourne? Are there Saudi/ Iraqi / Iranian troops occupying Sydney? Was Australia forced to sell every mine to a non-Australian interest, handing over huge swathes of the outback to say, Indonesia in perpetuity?

  18. Argle Bargle says

    Have you ever been to a Muslim country? Spoken to anyone there? Asked around? Taken a look at what daily life involves?

    Has SteveoR been to a Muslim country? Are you kidding? They’re full of Muslims, a group that SteveoR hates with the burning hate that Fred Phelps has for gays. Sure, SteveoR says there might be one or two Muslims who might not be deserving of being nuked from orbit, but these mythical Muslims live in Patagonia or Easter Island or somewhere else where they can’t be contaminated by the Islamist hordes SteveoR wants to exterminate.

  19. smhll says

    One of the problems is that DS insists on announcing/pronouncing himself as an ally to feminists within the atheist movement. It is quite clear that he is clueless about how that word is used within social justice and what it means. He wants to be an ally, he wants to be able to say he is an ally…without having a clue what feminists think an ally is.

    Maybe what’s he’s trying to say is something like “I will fight with you (or cheerlead for you) in your battles, but not all of your enemies are my enemies.” (Which is rather tricky to live with and make work, even on a virtual ‘battlefield’.)

  20. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @20. Argle Bargle : What a total straw-monster you’ve created of me. It is a false grotesque caricature of course. Totally wrong. Even you must know that.

    @18. jesse :

    Remember the line in comment #6 that you wrote :

    Politics is a complicated business. Islam and Christianity both have histories; but if we ignore that we fall into the same kind of thinking that religious zealots do.

    Well exactly. There’s a messy pragmatic real world historical context here that you are totally overlooking despite making the very point yourself.

    Recall the little thing they called the Cold War?

    Recall that the USA was fighting Communism then just as it is fighting Jihadist Islam now?

    Think about that and what it means and what the possible alternatives and choices were.

    @17.Great American Satan

    Ugh. I tried to read one of Stevo’s posts and my rage spiked in ten words. What a shitheel.

    Why? Really what about me disagreeing with you and reasonably putting an opposing point of view – without, I may add, resorting to personal abuse or thinking you are an especially horrible person because you disagree with me – gets you so flippin’ wound up and upset?

    I have used evidence and logic to defend my views critical of religion and pointing out merely that some religions are much worse than others on an atheist and feminist blog.

    Umm, this is a pro-atheist and pro-feminist blog not a Muslim support club blog right?

    People here do realise how awful Islam is when it comes to treating atheists, yes? If not, (or even if anyway) read some Taslima Nasreen’s posts for instance , a ex-Muslim blogger here who they’ve threatened with death for ,well being an ex-Muslim and speaking out against their death cult. Read what the Muslim fundamentalists want to do to what they call heretics and apostates.

    Yet you’re upset with *me*?

    Why?

    I don’t want to kill you or see you hurt, whereas Muslims do want you dead – unless you’re actually one of them. ( In which case, well seems deceptive of you to not have stated that clearly already)</i

    How do I know this? Well, did you somehow miss the news the other week about the Kenyan shopping mall massacre and the part where the Jihadists asked shopping mall civilians whether or not they could name their “prophets” mother’s name. Wrong answer = death. Muslims allowed to live, non-Muslims murdered. That’s how the Jihadists think and act and you can like it or not, its simply fact.

    Heck I don’t even want to kill Muslims, just want them to see sense and stop trying to kill us. That makes me the bad guy here? Eh?

    Then there’s feminism versus Islam and the non-compatibility thereof. Islamic culture and customs include honour killings, Koran sanctioned wife beatings, acid attacks on women, Female Genital Mutilation, child “marriages” i.e. rape of young girls by old men just like the “prophet ” practiced, the burqua , the whole thing in Saudi Arabia where women can’t even drive, ad nauseam.

    So a feminist blog, commenters and bloggers supporting women’s rights and fair and equal treatment, people supposedly opposed to misogyny being so soft and accommodating and appeasing of Islam and its followers. Really just .. What The ..?!

    PS. I have actually met Muslims and they were okay people, my university lecturers and a couple of others there – but then I';m not talking about all Muslims here just mainly the Jihadists and you know it.. I don’t mind Muslims and consider all people as human individuals – but I do think Islam is a truly messed up and, yes, downright evil politico-religious ideology.

    PPS. Just FYI. Must get some sleep now and busy work day tomorrow so will catch up here in a day or so’s time.

  21. Martha says

    This is a really good post that deserves so much better than it got from that first comment (and subsequent ones by the same person)

  22. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ Al Dente : Apparently you’re so unobservant and ignorant you can’t even spell my name right. Also, if you think “Argle Bargle” is cvorrect aboutme well, yiouare completely wrongand also lacking anysupporting evidence.

    I see that neither you nor Martha are able or willing to tackle the actual substance of my arguments here or deal with with I’ve actually said as opposed to the straw you’ve imagined is there but really isn’t.

  23. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Arrgh. Typos – 2nd sentence is :

    Also, if you think “Argle Bargle” is correct about me well, you are completely wrong and also lacking any supporting evidence.

    @14. Great American Satan : Seems like you can’t spell “explosion” and also don’t know what the word means.

    I haven’t exploded, merely expressed my views reasonably and without abusing others or using juvenile non-sequiteurs or nonsense.

  24. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @17. Great American Satan:

    FUCK YES it isn’t reasonable, because it assumes auto-fucking-magically that all followers of Islam are all doing it the same (which they fucking aren’t), ..

    If you actually read what i’ve writetn youd already have realised that I’m not claiming all Muslims are the same or follow the same religion exactly. Hence my references to the intra-Muslim sectarian violence. hence my use of terms like “Islamist” and “Jihadist” in place of ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islamic’. I know there are divisions such as Shia and Sunni and Alawite and Salafist within Islam. Islam overall is a particularly nasty ideology but within that there are sects that are less extremist and aggressive (eg. Sufi) and those that are comparitively much more extremist and aggressive. (Eg. Wahhabist, Salafi, Shiite.)

    So you’re suffering from amajor comprehension or reading failure right there.

    ..or that the particulars of their blood-drenched Abrahamic fairy tale books are qualitatively worse than xtianity or Judaism, which they demonstrably fucking aren’t.

    You really haven’t watched the news lately or are only getting it from very pro-Muslim sources indeed clearly.

    Name the last three major terrorist attacks by Christians and Jewish followers and tell me their dates and numbers of victims versus say, this year alone seeing the Kenyan shopping mall massacre, the Boston marathon bombings, the bombings of Churche sin Nigeria etc ..

    Yes, evidence is very clear and all around that Islam is much more violent and involved in far more terrorism than any other religion. Claiming otherwise is just ludicrous really and denies reality.

    What’s worse? Burning your daughter alive for Yahweh so he’ll give you magickal genocide powers, or fucking a nine year old? Why would you even want to play that game? You’re disgusting.

    I’m disgusting – again, why? I’m not advocating either of these and opposing both. I think both things are sick, wrong and criminal.

    I’m not sure what the first example is from and if any modern Jewish or Christian speaker or culture has supported or claimed that as a good thing its news to me. Citations badly needed from you.

    OTOH, Many Muslim cultures support brutal child rape ie child “marriage” so the latter is pretty common and happening today supposedly “justified” by Islam and the example of their child raping truly disgusting “prophet.” When did Jesus or Moses ever marry a nine year old or three I wonder? Oh wait, that’s right, they didn’t but Mohammad did. That would be why Islam is worse than pretty much every other major religion.

    .. What would I gain by singling out Islam as worse in my discourse? ..

    Passing aquaintence with reality maybe? Accuracy and a sense of proportion and perspective that enables us to single out things that are seriously wrong and evil from those which aren’t so much?

    The EDL, UKIP, US Dominionists, and a dozen right wing think tanks for allies. If you wanna party with those scumbags, please do, and leave the rest of us alone.

    No. I disagree with using thuggery and violence and I disagree with what those groups do to bully others. I reject the idea of using violence where it can be avoided and isn’t necessary.

    But just because a group is right-wing and wrong about a lot of things does NOT means it is completely wrong about everything.

    For instance, just because a right wing group supports Israel and opposes Jihadist terrorism doesn’t mean anti-Semitic attacks on Israel are okay or Jihadist terrorism should be considered excusable.

  25. says

  26. shari says

    Jesse @ #6 – thoughtful comment.

    In general, I enjoy Steph’s blog on it’s own merit.

    Sometimes, I get to enjoy the comments even more.

    Thanks for that.

    You’re turning ‘Muslims’ into “people”.

    Good call :-)

  27. Silentbob says

    @ 25 StevoR

    Apparently you’re so unobservant and ignorant you can’t even spell my name right.

    Next sentence…

    Also, if you think “Argle Bargle” is cvorrect [sic] aboutme [sic] well, yiouare [sic] completely wrongand [sic] also lacking anysupporting [sic] evidence.

    At least StevoR leavens the naked bigotry with a bit of comic relief.

  28. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ SilentBob : There’s a difference between being a lousy typer – mea culpa there – and getting someone’s’ nymn wrong repeatedly.

    Also stop lying and abusing me by wrongly calling me something I’m not. I’m not doing that to anyone else here. Nothing I’ve said is “bigotry” merely factually accurate which some here clearly find objectionable.

    @28. NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS… apparently… :

    Would you count Israeli attacks on Gaza and Palestinians in general?

    No. I’d count that as evidence that *you* cannot seem to tell “attacks” apart from “self-defence” – the Israelis are defending themselves against Palestinian terrorism which is something very different to launching terrorist attacks against innocent people.

    @29. Stephanie Zvan : A lot of links there but still not really an answer to the actual question which was :

    Name the last three major terrorist attacks by Christians and Jewish followers and tell me their dates and numbers of victims versus say, this year alone, seeing the Kenyan shopping mall massacre, the Boston marathon bombings, the bombings of Churches in Nigeria, etc ..

    None of the links is for this year or specify most recent terrorist attacks.

    But let’s go through them and see how they compare with Jihadist terrorism shall we?

    The first link to USA domestic terrorism – most recent attack listed there* was the 2012 attack by Page that killed 6 Sikhs. Page was not specifically Christian or Jewish and his motivations are unclear but involved racism and perhaps personal issues and mental illness. IOW, he wasn’t motivated by Christianity or Judaism so that one doesn’t really count. He was also an individual murderer not a member of an active terrorist group.

    The other, really relatively few, listed cases there are also many decades old and mostly not motivated by religion. Not very clear or convincing and not providing the actual answer.

    Second link : The IRA up to 1997, well over a decade ago and a lot more than a simple Jihad involved in motivation. Think we class that as history. Not really an answer there – unless you’re supporting my case by showing how out of date the opposing debater has to reach to for examples?

    Third link : Anders Breivik’s attack was fairly recent and horrific but he was basically a far right extremist of extremely dubious sanity, motivated by his racist political beliefs. Wikipedia notes that Breivik’s :

    .. manifesto states “I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person, as that would be a lie”, calls religion a crutch and a source for drawing mental strength, and says “I’ve always been very pragmatic and influenced by my secular surroundings and environment.”

    Well, that sort of rules out counting him as motivated by Christianity indeed religion at all doesn’t it? I’d say so.

    Fourth link : Lord’s Resistance Army, okay here we do have a Christian cult fighting an awful war using child soldiers among other things. However, they are very much not mainstream Christians or exactly “terrorists” as such and are restricted to a limited area within a third world nation engaged in fighting a particularly brutal and ugly war more than acts of terrorism. Again, no specific terrorist attacks listed and latest info noted is from 2012 so, reasonably current but not overly relevant.

    Fifth link : National Liberation Front of Tripura (or NLFT), wow that *is* an obscure one I hadn’t heard of before and suspect precious few others outside that one Indian state have either. Another very minor group that is geographically limited to one state in India and whose most recent activities seem to be around 2003 i.e. about ten years ago with many of their militants surrendering to Indian authorities since. Hardly a global threat and, yet again, not an actual answer to the question as asked.

    Sixth link : The KKK , yes another horrible historical group – hardly described as mainline Christians – whose last vaguely terrorist attack (a brutal but single murder more properly classed as a hate crime homicide) took place in, wait for it, 1981. Over thirty years ago. With the individual murderer responsible being executed in 1997. Again, very dubious to classify this as motivated by either Christianity or especially Judaism. Again way out of date and again, not really answering my question and, if anything, evidence in support of my case here. Thanks I guess.

    Seventh link : The Hebron massacre – a single individual Israeli man who committed an appalling crime and was shot dead by his own people at the scene. Back in 1994. Not a terrorist group or arguably even terrorism, just another berserk lone gunman who Wikipedia notes :

    .. was denounced by mainstream Orthodox Judaism[5] and was widely described as insane by Israelis.

    So essentially a link that is really irrelevant to the question one has to conclude.

    (Funny, I could’ve sworn I’d specifically asked about incidences of *terrorism* not the separate topic of lone criminal gunmen committing acts of mass murder.)

    Eighth link – and still not really an actual answer to the question I’d asked – The history of violence against LGBT people in the United States. A horrific list of well, just that. Also, y’know, a whole other topic that isn’t actually terrorism as such. It’s unrelated to terrorism per se although I certainly think the atrocities and bigotry against LGBTQ is terrible. Just not what we’re discussing here or anything much to do with it.

    Ninth and final link : Anti-abortion violence in the USA. Another brief listing of criminal incidents some of which, I think, yes actually do constitute terrorism. Most recent such featured there was the 2009 murder of Dr Tiller by a Christian extremist and a bombing on April Fool’s Day 2012 that caused minor damage and no injuries at all.

    So, my question kind of hasn’t been answered and a lot of those links are simply irrelevant and talking about very different and separate though still important issues but useful perspective is provided on how relatively rare and exceptional non-Muslim terrorism is. You can’t name any non-Muslim terrorist atrocities conducted this year, most of the linked examples were of lone individuals whose motivations were often not religious but rather political or personal and the most recent incident you can name of an actual Christian claiming any lives in what was really more a hate crime than an act of terrorism (Dr Tiller’s murder) was from four years ago and the most recent Jewish “terrorist” (arguably so described) was Goldstein well over twenty – indeed a year off thirty – years in the past.

    I’d say that shows that my arguments here are very well supported by the actual evidence - which is how I assess things and reach rational conclusions, don’t you?

    Note also please, that I accept non-Islamist terrorism also exists but is far rarer and far less significant of a global issue. I have never claimed that *only* Muslims are terrorists simply that as the facts reveal the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks these days are conducted by Islamists.

    No, not all Muslims are terrorists, I didn’t say that either and, in fact, have already stated the exact opposite many times for the hard of reading here.

    However, reality is that most terrorists these days are motivated by Islam and that is one reason – among others – why Islam is far worse than almost all other religions. Claiming otherwise is quote simply denying reality every bit as much as the anti-vaxxers, creationists and Global Overheating deniers deny it.

    * That list incidentally omits many salient things such the actual most recent major domestic terrorist attack in the United States of America which was the Boston marathon bombings conduced by Chechen Islamist terrorists on the 15th April this year which murdered three people and injured an estimated two hundred and sixty four other individuals.

  29. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ 30. Shari :

    You’re turning ‘Muslims’ into “people”. Good call :-)

    I don’t think anyone disputes that Muslims are people. Icertainly don’t and am fine with considering themas unique individuals.

    Its their really nasty ideology and destructive – to them as well as so many others – that I detest NOT them.

    Even “prophet” Mohammad was a person too – just a particularly evil and slimeball war criminal person.

  30. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    D’oh. That’s meant to read :

    I don’t think anyone disputes that Muslims are people.

    I certainly don’t and am fine with considering them as unique individuals and people.

    Its the Muslims really nasty and destructive – to them as well as so many others – ideology (or set of Islamic ideologies if you prefer) that I detest NOT them as human individuals.

  31. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    One correction to my comment #32. I was wrong to write that :

    .. (mass murderer Baruch Goldstein) was shot dead by his own people at the scene.

    That was going from memory and turns out on checking the facts are instead that :

    ..After someone in the crowd hurled a fire extinguisher, which struck him (Goldstein) on the head, he was overcome and then beaten to death.[3]

    (Source : Wikipedia /Cave_of_the_Patriarchs_massacre#Massacre section. Link truncated to avoid this going into moderation.)

    So Goldstein was overpowered and fatally bashed by Muslim Arabs not shot by Israeli troops for whatever slight difference that minor detail makes.

    As for Goldstein’s motivation it seems to be revenge for an earlier act of Palestinian terrorism – from a Time magazine article linked via the earlier wikipage cited :

    (Goldstein apparently said in a synagogue) that “there will come a day when a Jew will get up and kill many Arabs for killing Meir Kahane” — the Jewish zealot slain in New York City in 1990.

    Source : “When Fury Rules” By George J. Church Monday, Mar. 07, 1994. There’s apaywall preventing further reading /citing of that, alas.

  32. Silentbob says

    @ StevoR

    I reckon you should’ve stuck to talking to yourself. That’s your best bet for finding an appreciative audience.

    (Seriously, check the link – it’s hilarious. Like sockpuppetry sans sockpuppets.)

  33. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ SilentBob : Really? I write this :

    Should Netanyahu do nothing and allow a theocratic dictatorship which has made it clear it wants his people -all six million of them – exterminated, pushed into the sea and his country wiped off the map or should he take action and stop this genocide from happening do you think?

    Should Netanyahu meekly roll over and just let his people all be murdered en masse in your view – yes or no?

    One word answer please.

    Do you think all Israelis should be butchered by Iranian nukes – yes or no? Same question actually.

    And this :

    Never again.

    Never again another Shoah.

    A genocide against the innocent Jewish humans.

    NO more delegitimisation, no BDS anti-Semitism, no intifadas, no Arab -Israeli wars, no Jihads, no Arab or Persian WMDs allowed ever.

    Stop the terrorism.

    Stop the killing.

    Accept Israel’s right to exist.

    And live in peace.

    Is that so flippin’ much to ask?!?

    And you think that’s hilarious? One weird sense of humour you’ve got there. Also not talking to myself but to everyone reading that on FTB including you.

    Since that’s the case maybe you could actually answer the questions I’ve asked in bold there?

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