Resources for Ex-Muslim Atheists?

More and more, we receive comments, questions or requests for help or advice from ex-Muslim atheists who are living in Muslim nations, or within Muslim communities/families abroad. As someone with no experience in the Muslim community, I feel inept, and sometimes even worried, trying to offer help or support in situations that are well beyond what I might normally hear from ex-Christian atheists in letters to TAE. The following is an example, but we have received much worse.

I am wondering if TAE might have viewers who are aware of resources or familiar with Muslim situations, sufficiently to provide better advice or help than the folks at TAE might be able to supply? While this thread uses this request specifically, I would ask that anyone who knows of a resource that could be helpful to any ex-Muslim atheists, please post it here. I would like to potentially build a thread that serves this section of our community, due to the, often dangerous, situations described. Thank you, in advance for your help with this. And here is the latest letter:

I am an Iraqi Atheist. I have witness loss of friends due to suicide bombing in Iraq, and have been displaced and forced to leave Iraq for a year due to my previous beliefs.

After becoming an atheist, one of the things I decided to do is exposing religion. My main goal is that if someone saw a criticism of Islam he would spend time defending it, rather than blowing himself up and killing innocent people.

I would like to know what would be the best way to achieve such a goal? Right now I am converting articles criticizing Islam to videos and posting them to youtube. However, some of these get mass flagged.

I don’t feel I am doing enough, and don’t know what should be done next. I was thinking of creating videos like you guys where I appear talking about religion, but I will have to go back to Iraq in the next few months, which places me in danger. In addition I fear for my family.

What is your recommendation?

In which the question “Is there a stupider and more embarrassing atheist than Patrick Greene?” is definitively answered

Via Hemant, I am made aware of this brilliant little nugget of joy. See if you can parse the logic in all this. Perhaps I can’t because I spent my valuable college years drawing talking animals for the school paper rather than boning up on things like the Löwenheim–Skolem theorem. But the sense of it all eludes the humble powers of my primitive brain meat.

The director of the state chapter of American Atheists plans to desecrate the Koran when the state House of Representatives reconvenes in September if the House doesn’t drop its “Year of Religious Diversity” resolution under consideration in its State Government Committee.

Ernest Perce V, who recently was under fire for a controversial Harrisburg billboard he designed and paid for protesting the “Year of the Bible” resolution the House adopted this year, said he plans to whip, or flog, the Koran in the Capitiol rotunda at noon on Sept. 24 should the House not agree to nullify the resolution before it reconvenes from summer recess that day.

…Perce said he plans to thrash the Koran witha nine-tail whip 85 times and a single whip six times to protest the resolution’s number.

“I am a nonbeliever and for (the House) to assume we respect these books is [asinine],” Perce, a Harrisburg resident, said. “I will let other atheists come with me (to protest). I want Christians to lash the Koran, too.”

Allow me to express the depth of my bewilderment through the always-useful internet proxy of an adorable animal photo.

How, exactly, this will accomplish anything is beyond me. Well, I don’t mean “anything” anything. Because it has accomplished at least one thing, which is to put Perce’s name smack at the top of the shit list of every dude on Earth with a kufi and an AK. I mean anything positive and favorable toward what I presume is the hoped-for outcome: to wit, getting across the message that church/state separation is really for the best, and by the way, all those stereotypes you have about atheists being raging assholes are just unfair and wrong.

Yep. Yep. Well played, Mr. Perce.

Hemant reports that he has been talking to Dave Silverman, and Silverman is most assuredly not down with this, and is not lending Perce his or AA’s support. No, we don’t respect “holy” books or the often abominable belief systems they inspire. But there’s such a thing as productive ways to express your disapproval of public policy. And choosing one that does nothing but alienate not only Muslims but pretty much anybody not named Geert Wilders or Ann Coulter, which also stands to drown the whole atheist community in the backwash into the bargain, probably isn’t what a rational person would call “productive.”

Let’s leave the public displays of histrionic hate to the Terry Joneses and Shirley Phelpses of the world, shall we? And Dave? Looks like AA needs to do a little house-cleaning.

Burning Korans, drawing Mohammed, avoiding hypocrisy, creative vs. destructive protests — religion just makes the whole frickin’ world crazy!

There’s a truth about the upcoming Koran cookout planned by Dove World Church and its grandstanding (and light-fingered) pastor Terry Jones: they have every right under the Constitution to do this thing. Are they a bunch of dicks who don’t care about the potential devastating backlash of their actions as long as they get the publicity they crave? Yeah, I suppose they are.

Recently, atheists proudly participated in an online event called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, which was as deliberate a middle finger to Islam as we could have thought up. Before that, PZ Myers famously threw a cracker in the trash, making him the bête noire of Catholics worldwide. (Though they conveniently forget that he also trashed a copy of The God Delusion at the same time.) As people who are not above acts of deliberate provocation ourselves — indeed, as people who are currently arguing amongst ourselves about the merits of “being a dick” in our encounters with religionists — it would hardly be honest of us to join the chorus of chest-beating outrage against Jones’ church for the horrible offense of burning somebody’s holy book. While most of us, I’m sure, take Fahrenheit 451 to heart and deplore book-burning on general principles as a disgraceful act of intellectual cowardice and the suppression of ideas, we should also acknowledge the legitimacy of the act as a form of protest speech. After all, I can’t very well defend the rights of flag-burners while condemning a Koran-burner. Don’t work dat way!

I suppose where the conversation ought to go from here for atheists is in whether or not Jones is motivated by a desire to conduct a legitimate form of protest, or if he’s simply a crass political opportunist, playing into a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in order to increase his profile from “obscure pastor of an outcast hick church” to “internationally famous martyr and warrior for Christ”. Well, what is legitimate protest in this context? Yes, radical Islamists brought down the World Trade Center. But all Muslims are not radical Islamists, and all Muslims did not partake in, let alone condone, the 9/11 attacks. So if Jones’s idea is that he’s protesting Islam for 9/11, he’s clearly throwing his net way too wide. The thing is, I suppose he knows it, but doesn’t care. He’s getting the publicity he wants.

The potential for hypocrisy in criticizing the upcoming burning has been much on my mind, and I’ve been forced to think about the similarities and differences between what Jones is about to do, and, say, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. And then I’ve been forced to question whether or not any of my ideas are simply bullshit justifications I’ve been making up to feel better. I don’t think they are. But I do think it’s a positive thing, overall, that I’m willing to be self-critical. This is an advantage the godless life offers, I think, over the brazen certainties of God-botherers like Jones, who confidently assert that God (i.e., their projection of themselves upon the universe) truly wants them to do what they’re planning.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for one thing, was on the whole a creative rather than destructive act of protest. It was a response, not only to the real Islamist violence and threats of violence that erupted in the wake of the publication of a few innocuous (and not especially good, when you think about it) cartoons, but to the arrogant assumption on the part of Islamists that non-Muslims were somehow obligated to follow Islam’s rules. Also, at the end of the day, what you had were a bunch of silly cartoons. While there was a little huffing and puffing about EDMD, in the end, the message I think got across (to the general public, if not to radicals) that taking someone’s life over a lame doodle was both insane and pitiful in equal measure. Lame doodles themselves can’t possibly hurt a fly. EDMD might have offended some Muslims. But in the end, no one killed anyone.

Now, piling up a couple hundred copies of the Koran and torching them — that would be a destructive form of protest. Furthermore, it’s hypocritical of Jones to justify it by condemning Islam as a hateful, intolerant religion, when he has a history of hate speech (against gays, the usual suspects) and intolerance. While I think Jones has the right to go through with his speech, I don’t think his motives are honest. He’s exactly what he condemns, except that his religious radicalism wears a cross rather than a crescent moon and star. (The atheists who took part in EDMD might condemn Islam and Islamist violence, but we’d never want to deprive Muslims of their right to worship, as many right-wingers do right now.)

Could this event trigger more terrorist attacks and counter-strikes against our troops overseas? Yeah, I suppose it could, though it isn’t as if they needed more reasons to do that. But if Jones ends up giving them one, the first such attack will be all the vindication he needs. “See, we were right about how violent Islam is!” Not caring that, in this instance, he threw the first punch. Yeah, it’s entirely valid to condemn radical Islamists for doing what they actually do, which is kill people who aren’t sufficiently “respectful” to their beliefs. But you limit your condemnation to those individuals and groups who do the violence. As has been pointed out to an indifferent Jones, it’s absurd and dishonest as hell for him to suggest that he’s only protesting the violent Islamists, and that “moderate Muslims” ought to support him, when it’s their holy book he’s burning too.

In the end, I think what we as atheists should take away from all this insanity is a sobering realization that this is the kind of world you get when religion runs the show. Belief pits us against our fellow man for the most absurd of reasons: failure to worship the correct invisible magic man in the correct way. And for all that defenders bleat about the alleged benefits of religion — that sense of charity, well-being, love and community we are told believers enjoy better than any of the rest of us — they always leave out the part about religion’s innate tribalism. Whatever benefits religious beliefs confer are only enjoyed by those within that particular belief community. If you’re an outsider…run.

We rationalists can only hope humanity outgrows its penchant for religious tribalism one day, and that all these vile superstitions are eradicated from our cultural landscape completely. (Not through violence, of course, but through intellectual and moral awakening.) There really ought to only be one tribe — humanity.

But until then…yeah, go ahead, burn that Koran. Whatever. I’ll be at home that day. Let me know when the smoke clears and it’s safe to breathe free again.

An unsolicited chat about Pascal’s Wager.

Out of nowhere just now, I received a message on Gmail:

12:40 PM some guy [screen name withheld]: So you’re an atheist?

Naturally I thought, “So who the heck is this guy and why is he pestering me?” Searching through my email , I found a long exchange with a Muslim, which I eventually got sick of. I even posted about it here, here and here.

12:41 PM me: We had a ten email long exchange about this already.
12:42 PM I posted it on the Atheist Experience blog and linked you to it.
12:44 PM Muslim apologist: ah thats right
12:45 PM Why don’t you take advantage of Pascal’s wager?

Now I had to think real hard about whether to just hit the “block” button, because I don’t really want to be hassled at work by some random Muslim apologist. But then I thought about things I might say, and I was inspired. Here is the rest of that exchange.

me: Ah, you mean become a Christian.
12:46 PM apologist: Christian Muslim, Jewish, same god
so ya sure
me: Really? Because a lot of Christians believe that Muslims will go to hell.
So why don’t you take advantage of Pascal’s wager? Aren’t you afraid of Christian hell?
apologist: So do we, I believe alot of muslims are going to hell too
12:47 PM me: So you’re not afraid of Christian hell then.
apologist: of course not. Christians believe those that did wrong will go to hell
me: No.
Christians believe those that don’t accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior will go to hell.
Do you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?
12:48 PM apologist: You mean Jesus Christ as in God?
We believe in Jesus Christ
me: Yes, but do you accept that he died for your sins, and have you pledged to let him into your heart specifically?
12:49 PM apologist: We believe he never died…
me: You don’t believe that he died for your sins and then rose from the dead?
Bad news, man. According to the Christian religion, you are doomed to hellfire.
12:50 PM It doesn’t matter if you’re a good person or not. All people who die without accepting salvation go to Christian hell.
Why don’t you accept Pascal’s wager?
apologist: No we believe Jesus is going to come back to earth
12:51 PM me: Then you are a heretic in the eyes of the Christian god, and you deserve eternal torment.
12:52 PM apologist: Accept christian religion was changed over years so you don’t know exactly if thats true or not.
me: I certainly do not know that, but it MIGHT be true.
And even if there is a small chance, then can you afford to take the risk?
I don’t understand why you would risk hellfire over the possibility that you are wrong.
12:53 PM apologist: Well no you see, if the Christian religion was not changed and remained in tact from when Jesus first revealed it then it would be exact similiar to the quran
me: That’s your belief. It’s your business if you want to risk your eternal soul over something when you might be wrong.
12:54 PM Hey, I’m just doing what you asked and taking Pascal’s Wager seriously, you know?
Pascal was a Catholic. You’re not Catholic. Do you think Pascal thought Muslims would go to heaven?
apologist: Why would I take pascal’s theory. Whether I believe in Christianity, Judaism or Islam I am believing that god exists
12:55 PM Christianity and Judaism is just like Islam except for the change documents
only difference is Islam is unchanged
12:57 PM Its just obsurd to think that something came out of nothing
me: Oh I see. So you think there is evidence to support your religion.
So actually Pascal’s Wager means nothing to you at all.
If it did, you’d accept Jesus as your savior.
12:58 PM Why did you bring it up then?
apologist: Jesus himself never died he was replaced by someone else on the cross which latter Christians failed to believe
Islam address this in the quran
me: So you don’t believe Pascal’s wager?
A simple yes or no will do.
apologist: Why would I?
12:59 PM I am in the right religion already
me: then now you know why I don’t believe it, and I have answered your question ;)

Then I blocked him.

Still more on being a dick

This started as a comment on Matt’s post about being a dick, but when it got to a certain length, I decided to barge to the front of the line and write my own post. That is, no doubt, a dick move on my part. :)

The problem with Phil’s approach isn’t that there are no dicks in the atheist community. Obviously there are, as highlighted by the “all Christians are retarded” post linked in that thread. All Christians aren’t retarded, and that’s a dick thing to say. One point for Phil.

The real problem is that by focusing on it in a speech this way, Phil gives the clearly false impression that this is systemic to the “leaders” of the “new atheist” “movement” (to the extent that there are leaders and it is a movement that is new, although I join many in despising the “new” designation).

There’s a bait-and-switch which always seems to go on in these discussions. PZ Myers, Dawkins, and we on TAE, do what we can to attack ideas and not people at every opportunity. Some people are dumb, but none of us wants to paint with a broad brush everyone who holds a belief as universally dumb. We say that up front, and we don’t hesitate to call specific ideas dumb, if it’s warranted. By focusing on the ideas we can pay attention to WHY they’re dumb, rather than calling names of people who, after all, are complex individuals with many different ideas and motivations.

We do attack ideas, but we attack them in a way that sometimes offends people. The point, though, is that the people who are taking offense are often doing so due to unreasonable beliefs. Like PZ Myers and his “frackin’ cracker.” It’s less about the offensive language and more about the fact that certain people believe the cracker is the body of Jesus — which it clearly isn’t — and they are willing to terrorize and intimidate people who don’t treat it with the respect due to a magical cracker — which it isn’t. It’s about the fact that people should be allowed to draw cartoons with Mohammed as a character — clearly an activity that harms no one except by annoying them — without receiving death threats.

In a nutshell, this is about drawing attention to an activity which shouldn’t be offensive but is. It is taking a stand to say that religious devotees cannot draw arbitrary battle lines and say “We hereby intend to be offended by activity X, and unless you cease and desist from doing X at all times, you are a dick.” I actually see a lot of parallel between this issue and the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”, which is neither a Mosque nor at ground zero. On that subject, an opinion seems to be coalescing, even among people who are trying to appear reasonable, that “those Muslims have the right to build a cultural center there, but good taste dictates that they should not do it.”

I reject that. I think if anything, this whole crapstorm has made it more apparent that those Muslims should build their cultural center right where they damn well said they would, because if they give up ground on this issue then there won’t be a spot in America where they are allowed to build anything, ever. Free speech and free assembly aren’t just symbolic. If those rights aren’t exercised then we can still lose them.

I’m willing to have a reasonable discussion about what are the best methods for exercising our free speech to deal with unreasonable taboos. Sure , Phil, in a few situations it may be preferable to be polite and observe the taboos that you disagree with, depending on how important the fight is. I reject, however, the categorical statement that you shouldn’t do things that might make some group think you’re a dick. That way lies capitulation to every unrealistic demand of a new Taliban.

But Phil Plait would also like to strengthen his case by sneakily conflating two things. On one hand, we have posts that say “All Christians are Retards,” a statement which is both dickish and false. On the other hand, we have PZ Myers throwing his cracker in the trash. By conflating the two, we can be left with the impression that PZ Myers calls all Christians retards, when in reality the two acts are not equivalent.

It just seems to me that way too often, saying “Don’t be a dick” is actually code for “Shut up and accept it when other people are dicks to you.”

The Quran and the speed of light

I think I should make a policy, that if I received a similar very specific question by email twice, I should turn the first exchange into a blog post and link it as a reply to the same question in the future. I probably won’t be able to stick to this policy, but I’m doing it now for this message.

The claim: The Quran computes the value of the speed of light with unbelievable accuracy.

Sources: “Speed of Light“; “Quran and The Speed of Light?” (video)

Best rebuttal online: At Islam Watch.

My two cents:

This is a clear case of cherry picking numbers to sound plausible. They had to use some incredibly tortured logic to drag the number “12,000 lunar orbits” out of a fairly generic verse which, after all, makes no reference whatsoever to moons or distances or even the number 12. They are taking something vague and trying to make it specific, which after all is what all apologists do when they want to make a prophecy out of something that isn’t. If it hadn’t been the moon, they could have tried “1000 centuries of walking” or “1000 rotations of the earth” or “1000 earth orbits” — ANYTHING which gets them within the right order of magnitude to something specific.

Then that’s not enough to get them all that close, so they screw around with the numbers more. For instance, you’ll notice they use some extremely fuzzy math to claim that there are 86170 seconds in a day. There aren’t 86,170 seconds in a day, there are 86,400. If there were as much as 230 seconds difference every day, then we’d have a leap year every year.

They do all kinds of stupid math tricks just to line up some number with a lunar cycle to match a verse that doesn’t even say anything about lunar orbits, and then they claim that the Quran predicts the speed of light. Okay. If that’s the case, then why didn’t the ancient Muslims know what the speed of light was? Why is it never referenced anywhere? Why isn’t it calculated? Why, in fact, did no one think to calculate the speed of light from the Quran until long after Einstein Ole Rømer came along? [Edited -- thanks Curt!]

I’ll tell you why, because it’s nonsense. It’s applying known scientific facts, discovered by westerners, and giving credit to their holy book by retrofitting nonsensical numerology with cherry picked frames of reference.

How did the authors of the Quran have such fantastic futuristic knowledge, Muslims ask? It’s really simple when you recognize a few facts. The Quran is an ancient book written by people who had no knowledge of modern science, and in fact reads this way. A contemporary person who knows some science can make passages of the Quran superficially resemble scientific insights by manipulating verses that have nothing to do with science and trying to pigeonhole them into something resembling contemporary knowledge.

You could, if you were so inclined, do exactly the same thing with “The Canterbury Tales,” “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” or Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky.”

An Islamic response to drawing Mohammed

Via Rationalists: Some Muslims decided that the best response to everybody drawing Mohammed was to start an “everyone draw the holocaust” day.

Which is dumb. It’s not even that offensive (says the token Jew on the blogging team). I mean sure, it’s in poor taste, but considering that it’s an attempt to shock and horrify, I think it falls far short. The thing is, there is no specific religious injunction against drawing murdered Jews.

In fact, here’s how stupid it is: Jews themselves have certainly done more to draw attention to the holocaust than Muslims are doing now. There’s a holocaust museum founded by Jews in the United States. There’s another one in Israel. There has been great literature based on the holocaust, and many excellent movies, even comedies even comedies*. Yes, really! Tons of famous photographs, and several Choose Your Own Adventure books for crying out loud.

The point is, Jews aren’t trying to stop you from showing scenes from the Holocaust. As an attempt to respond in kind, it’s an utter flop. It isn’t breaking a religious taboo. At worst, it’s just being kind of a dick.

Now arguably, you could say that those of us who chose to draw Mohammed were also dicks. But so what? Isn’t that kind of the point? We don’t contest anyone’s right to be a dick. We support their free speech. We just think they’re wrong.

* The struck out link is a clip from “The Great Dictator” starring Charlie Chaplin. Since it was correctly pointed out that Chaplin was making fun of Nazis before the holocaust occurred, I’ve added an alternate (and equally hilarious) clip from the original “Producers” by Mel Brooks. This link is more appropriate anyway — Chaplin, while attacked with rumors that he was Jewish, was baptised and probably agnostic. Mel Brooks, on the other hand, was and is a big old loud and proud Jew.

Draw Muhammad Day…

I support the efforts of Draw Muhammad Day. I took a few minutes and made a quick drawing and posted it to Facebook…and that was going to be the extent of my participation.

Fortunately, our local religion reporter made a blog post and she couldn’t have managed to misrepresent the subject more, if she’d tried.

I took the opportunity to correct her…and I was sufficiently irritated that I thought I’d copy that correction here. As next Sunday’s show is cancelled, consider it a replacement rant.

“Again, I thought this would fizzle out, but apparently it’s become all the rage to make a spectacle out of demeaning Muslims.”

How does this demean Muslims? Be careful you don’t break your back while trying to twist this issue to portray the Muslims as the victims…

The fact is that some Muslims have repeatedly demonstrated remarkable and violent hypocrisy when it comes to free speech. They demand that their views be respected by everyone else in society – and anyone who offends them may well suffer a violent response.

“If it’s true that the Prophet Muhammad is not drawn or depicted by Muslim artists based on Islamic beliefs, why revel in ignorance? In other words, if it were considered heathen-like behavior to draw Jesus, would that be tolerated with the same level of revelry – or is there something else at work?”

Of course it would be tolerated. What sort of journalist doesn’t grasp the basics of free speech and expression?

There is no right to not be offended. There is no right to impose your ignorance, fears and superstitions on the rest of society.

Why do you think this is happening? If there had never been a gross over-reaction to cartoons, do you think anyone would have organized people to draw Muhammad?

Do you really suspect that the individuals drawing and encouraging others to draw Muhammad are simply cruel-minded bigots poking a stick at the poor Muslims?

This is not only about free speech, it’s valid social commentary and a serious issue. There are people who travel with bodyguards and live under constant threat of violence or death for exercising basic freedoms that we should all support. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie and Lars Vilks.

What a staggeringly myopic perspective one must have to shrug this off as someone else demeaning Muslims.

Muslims, on this subject, have demeaned themselves.

Because it’s SCIENCE!

Today is Boobquake, the day when freethinking ladies everywhere prove to the world that science isn’t boring and show misogynist Iranian clerics a thing or two. I mean, I’d be the last to doubt the power of breasts in the course of human events. But actually causing tectonic activity? I’d say that’s due for some myth-busting. So in the spirit of research, I reiterate my support for this endeavor, and the dawning of a new age of global enlightenment it portends. I’m sure the day will rack up some revealing results.

Now, as in all worthy scientific efforts, the results of your research should be made publicly available for peer review. Over at Skepchick, some worthwhile boobular myths are examined, none actually having to do with geological activity, but still. And so far, among our fine AXP family of readers, Jennifer Juniper has documented her data points. I’m sure we’ll enjoy more results as the day goes on, which, even if we don’t have an actual quake, will completely rock the world! So I’ll just let Mike and the Bots from MST3K lead us out in song…and enjoy your experimenting. I certainly will!

Addendum, later in the afternoon: Holy cow, it worked! Well done, ladies!

Boobquake is Coming!

An Iranian cleric has discovered the cause of catastrophic earthquakes, and it’s not plate tectonics after all. Nope, it’s women’s immodesty. According to Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi,

“Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes,” he explained.

Huh. Who knew my girls were so dangerous. I have to admit that when I first heard about this, my initial response was to keep them under wraps. I just didn’t want to be responsible for all that human suffering. Since then, Jen McCreight over at Blag Hag has convinced me that an experiment is necessary to test this new theory. The experiment must, of course, be photographed.

Boobquake 2010 will take place on April 26th. On that date, you are encouraged to show as much or as little cleavage as you have. If you prefer not to show cleavage, Mr. Sediqi warns that tight-fitting clothing will piss off Allah as well. He issues the following admonishment:

“What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes,” he said.

Let’s give this a fair test, shall we? I say we all get out there and rock the planet on April 26th. I should also point out that women going shirtless is technically not illegal in Austin – but feel free to engage in your preferred brand of immodesty and unrepentant degeneracy that day.

Oh, one last thing – science requires that observations be repeatable, so we might have to do this again next year. Just sayin’.