Atheist in trouble for renouncing Islam

A couple of weeks ago, we at the Atheist Experience were contacted by several people about a story that many of you are probably familiar with by now, the story of Mubarak Bala. According to news reports, Mubarak is 29 years old, and has been active on Twitter under the handle @MubarakBala for quite a while. He came out publicly as an atheist on social media a while back, and his father — a Muslim public figure named Bala Mohammed — is a prominent newspaper columnist. Mubarak let several of his Twitter contacts know that his father had committed him to a mental ward at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, characterizing his atheism as a mental disease.

We chose not to spread the story for a while, because several details aroused our suspicion. We weren’t familiar with the individuals involved, we got contacted by relative strangers, and the story originated in Nigeria. Many of you are familiar with the rampant 419 scams that come out of Nigeria. Most of us have been trained, by long experience with the internet, to assume that any time that we hear about a mysterious prince seeking asylum, or an international lottery we don’t remember entering, to watch out for advance fee fraud. People have been known to chase a greedy dream and throw away thousands of dollars of their own money to recover imaginary millions that they think they stand to gain. This crime is so rampant in Nigeria that by some accounts it may constitute a significant portion of their economy, and in 2009 was estimated to take in $9.3 billion.

Before I go on, I should clarify that I have been fully convinced at this point that Mubarak Bala is a real person, and that he is, or was recently, in Aminu Kano. I’m bringing up these points only to anticipate the same suspicions I originally had while looking into the story. I’ll outline the reasons I changed my mind shortly, but I wanted to make this clear up front.

Initially several activists contacted us with what sounded like wild rumors. We were all fairly dismissive towards them in the beginning. A few days later, we began hearing that the International Humanist and Ethical Union had decided to get involved in the case. They put out a press release, saying they were getting reports of Mubarak’s condition through a lawyer specifically recommended by one of the Nigerian Twitter users who had brought the case to our attention in the first place. We remained skeptical. At that point, I was still suspicious that all three of them — Mubarak, the activist, and the lawyer — might be working together to build confidence. I got in touch with Bob Churchill, communications director of IHEU, and told him about my concerns. Bob informed me that the Twitter user, Bamidele Adeneye, was an activist known to him by another source he trusts.

I still wasn’t willing to accept the story at this point. It struck me as suspicious that after more than a week, no one pushing the story had been able to get a clarifying statement from either the hospital — which, despite being in a fairly poor city under heavy Muslim influence, is considered to be a fairly reputable organization — or the father, who is a known public figure. I even thought it possible we would eventually hear something from Mohammed Bala along the lines of “I never heard of this guy, he’s not my son.” Even when the BBC picked up the story, it seemed to me as if they were only reporting information given directly by IHEU, whom I presumed to be taking direction from rumormongers and their recommended lawyer.

During this time, I was also in contact with a fellow blogger at Freethought Blogs, Yemisi Ilesanmi, who writes over at YEMMYnisting. Yemisi is a Nigerian human rights activist and trade unionist who is currently based in London. Like me, she had heard the story from multiple sources and, being familiar with 419 scams, felt like this was an obvious candidate for such a trick. Unlike me, Yemisi had reputable contacts living in Nigeria who were able to seek out independent confirmation of the story. However, I didn’t hear any updates for several days. Yemisi tells me now that she had some initial difficulty getting people to send her contact information for the lawyer, as some of those involved might have resented her skepticism. During this time I continued to exchange emails with Yemisi, Bob Churchill, and several other members of The Atheist Experience and Freethought Blogs.

On Sunday several new pieces of information came to light which finally cleared up any doubts I previously had.

  1. Leo Igwe, a noted humanitarian, wrote his own article confirming that he has a working relationship with Bamidele, the Twitter activist.
  2. Yemisi’s contacts finally got back to her. As she detailed in a post written yesterday, Yemisi was greatly surprised to learn that Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital does indeed acknowledge they were treating a patient named Mubarak Bala there. In addition, sources at the Daily Trust newspaper, where the father works, confirmed that Mubarak was his son, and there were many prior indications that he was treating Mubarak badly due to his public atheism.
  3. This press release from Aminu Kano surfaced to corroborate the story. Although they acknowledge that they have him, they do contradict Mubarak’s story by asserting that they are not holding him prisoner.
  4. The family put out a press release as well. They acknowledge they had their son committed for treatment. They dispute that it is due to his atheism, and say that Mubarak is experiencing a “challenging psychiatric condition which needed close treatment and supervision.”

At this point I think the evidence confirms the following facts to be true beyond reasonable doubt: Mubarak Bala is a real person. Mubarak is an atheist. His father is Bala Mohammed, a newspaper columnist at Daily Trust. Mubarak is, or was recently, in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. By his own statements, he is there against his will.

I suppose it remains to be seen whether the family and the hospital are telling the truth, that Mubarak has a mental illness. However, currently I’m strongly inclined to side with Mubarak. He is 29 years old, long past being a dependent child, and unless he is a serious danger to those around him, treatment at this hospital should be voluntary. IHEU’s lawyer claims he has been beaten, although no pictures have surfaced to back up that claim, but if true then that’s pretty scary. Nigeria in general, and Kano in particular, does indeed have a history of Sharia Law. As such, it is plausible to me that an atheist can expect to receive worse treatment than someone “properly” following Muslim traditions. That isn’t generic Islamophobia speaking; these are the hardcore groups we’re dealing with.

Now I’m hearing that Yemisi may be working to bring other groups in on this case, and hopefully Mubarak will wind up with a dedicated human rights lawyer who can promote his interests. I will be very interested to hear more developments as they arise.

In summary, I would like to acknowledge the people who have worked hard to bring this to light:

  • Godless Mom, a blogger who first publicized this story.
  • Bamidele Adeneye, a citizen of the Nigerian city of Lagos, also known as @deezer234 on Twitter. We know now that he was genuinely concerned about this case and worked hard to bring it to light. Although I hope our initial skepticism about him was understandable under the circumstances, he didn’t deserve the personal invective he got early on.
  • IHEU, for bringing more people into this, and investing their time and resources into getting more answers about the case. They are doing good work and deserve your support. Bob Churchill in particular, who devoted a remarkable amount of time to personally explaining the case to me despite what must have come across as relentless criticism. Thanks very much for giving me your ear.
  • Yemisi Ilesanmi, who was added to our group as a Freethought Blogger just last year. She has been a tireless skeptic in the best way, not just looking for inconsistencies but gathering real evidence to satisfy those doubts. Thank you Yemisi.

In conclusion I’d like to say that it is good to be skeptical, but it is also vital to be willing to change your mind as new information comes in. Here’s hoping Mubarak’s situation will improve soon.

(Correction: Previously I identified Bala Mohammed as a former Senator and current columnist. I think I mixed up two different people of the same name, and the columnist was not a senator. A mini bio of the columnist can be found here.)

Why are so many MRA’s among the religious “nones”?

fedorad

“Because evolutionary psychology, that’s why!”

If you’ve been listening to The Non-Prophets in the past year (and if not, why not??) then you already know that we are no fans of the so called “Men’s Rights” movement.  Occasionally the MRA movement might support a worthwhile principle purely by accident, but in practice it is primarily a movement which is to gender as White Pride groups are to race. The civil rights activist organization Southern Poverty Law Center classifies several MRA sites as hate groups.

My wife and I were chatting last night about some statistics I saw recently. As this post on Stephanie Zvan’s blog notes, MRA’s [edit: surveyed on Reddit, so a heavily self-selected sample] are approximately:

  • 92% male
  • 87% white
  • 35% aged 17-20 (estimated overall median age 20)
  • 70% no religion

The fact that so many MRA’s are with us in the non-religion crowd should be, in my view, hugely embarrassing to atheists. Numbers higher on the page imply that the “no religion” number may be as high as 94%, but I’ll go with the reduced 70% number, which is still pretty disproportionate to the number of non-religious people overall. 16% of the general United States population consider themselves religiously unaffiliated.

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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?

World History Text Mentions Islam—Florida’s Christian Right Shits Itself

So, I see the headline, “Brevard School Board wants 10-member panel to compile textbook supplement,” and as I read just a little further, I believe I smell a religious rat. I want to be objective going in, but the accusation (including the level of response) that Prentice Hall would be selling a textbook with “pro-Islamic bias,” makes me suspect. It isn’t as though they hire Imam’s as their history subject matter experts (SME) or authors. Their authors and SMEs (usually pronounced “smeez”) are qualified, educated, reputable, and generally experienced suppliers of educational content in their areas of expertise. So, I was very interested in what sort of “pro-Muslim bias” they were being accused of selling.

Of course, the entire time, I’m thinking of the Texas School Board’s push for Christian bias, and how they might react to anything about Islam in a history text that isn’t entirely negative. I read further, trying to keep an open mind, but just waiting to hear these “concerns” (which spurred a review panel, a need to produce supplementary material, and legislator complaints) in more detail—because part of me just already knows this has “Christian Right having a tantrum over something idiotic” slathered all over it. And finally, here it is. Here is more detail about one of their “big concerns”:

“One of the big concerns that we’ve heard is that it talks about the five tenants of Islam, and it doesn’t talk about the 10 Commandments, because that was something that was covered in sixth grade,” Brevard schools spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said. “So they may have a copy online of the 10 Commandments.”

So, the world history textbook, for use in U.S. schools, apparently gives a very basic description of the fundamental foundations of Islam. It tells, not sells, the students about the five tenets of Islam. And that’s a “big concern” about “pro-Islamic bias.” Here, let me paraphrase author Katherine Stewart, who once said of the Christian Right, in a lecture I attended, “If they can’t own it, they’ll break it.” In essence, if you mention Islam, Christianity must have equal time. It doesn’t matter that Christianity was already covered in an earlier grade.

The problem here is that Christianity, from a historic perspective, is relevant. But that does not mean it’s relevant all the time just as much as other inputs in every historic situation. If the U.S. becomes involved in trade or military action with, or against, nations that are theocratic, that may make understanding those nations’ perspectives more historically relevant during the study of particular times and events. If the nations covered in the content are theocratic, then there is absolutely nothing problematic about describing their political and religious principles or leanings to students. That’s what education is all about: Informing people about the inputs that impact the situations, about which they are learning. So, in some cases, the founding principles of Islam can be highly relevant, where the founding principles of Christianity, may be not as much.

But the Christian Right will not have it! You cannot talk about Islam, unless Jesus is right there, too, just as prominently, regardless of the point to be made. If information about Islam is clearly more relevant to the lesson, and information about Christianity clearly less so, that makes no difference. They must own the floor, every time, in all things, or else they have a “big concern.”

From a historic perspective, there are reasons Islamic nations have featured more prominently on the world stage in the last century, even the last few decades. Since we’re a culture saturated by Christianity—it’s far more necessary to teach U.S. children about Islam—this other religious-political environment we have been interacting with more aggressively the last few decades—than it is to teach them about the religion they’re soaked with in their day-to-day lives. Despite the fears of the Christian Right, U.S. children actually have heard quite a lot about Jesus, even without trying. They have, on the other hand, heard much less about Mohammed. Kids in the U.S. have actually heard of the 10 Commandments. There’s a movie on every Easter that tells us all about it, and monuments at some of our courthouses, and a Bible in most homes, and a church on nearly every corner with a sign telling us about Our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. And if those get past them somehow, there are the always the cross jewelry, the bumper-stickers, and the t-shirts letting us all know The Good News. And let’s not forget the block of television networks and radio stations devoted to proclaiming god’s Christian love for us all. So, the 10 Commandments—they get. Explaining five points to the students about Islam—the basic founding concepts at the very least—in a modern world history class—is not “bias” toward Islam.

Seriously—the Christian Persecution Complex is pure ridiculousness. It’s absolutely, unfathomably absurd.

Anti-Muslim hysteria in Australia

In Sunday’s show, Matt and Tracie answered some questions about Islam. Afterwards, we got this email from Australia:

Hi All
A very good show up until the subject of Islam and whether or not it is a threat to the USA constitution.
I just don’t know what it will take to wake you guys up on the subject of Islam.  It is a direct threat to secularism, the constitution and freedoms everywhere. That you think just because their small numbers means they are no threat to you  – well that’s very scary and sad to hear. That is the very same thinking that has allowed them to further infiltrate societies in most nations.
From little things big things grow. Islam is highly adept at propogating power right under the noses of the public – yet out of sight.
Example?..ok, check this site out, I can personally attest to the accuracy of the info therin:
I strongly urge you all to sign up for her newsletter.

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Racial Profiling – a data mining perspective (WARNING: WONKY)

Sam Harris posted a piece called “In Defense of Profiling.”  PZ Myers posted a response explaining why that’s a terrible idea.

In general it should go without saying that I agree with PZ, unless stated otherwise.  I just want to add a little something from the perspective of a computer science nerd whose been around a bit with the notion of data mining.  I also want to prove that I didn’t go to grad school for nothing.  (It cost me thousands!  <drum fill>)

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Assault is not free speech

I have to say, I was initially kind of skeptical of this story about the judge who threw out a lawsuit against a Muslim for assaulting an atheist.  Several people have emailed us looking for a comment on it, and I hesitated to jump on it until I knew the whole story.

It’s not that I thought a Muslim wouldn’t attack an atheist, it’s just that people have cried wolf on exaggerated versions of imaginary creeping Islam in the United States — with several southern states going so far as to pass essentially useless and redundant legislation banning Sharia law, as if that were a serious threat.

In this case, though, having read the details of the case and listening to much of the court’s audio, a judge did, in fact, come out with something that sounds very, very dumb.

(Continued…)

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New Heights Middle School (SC) still doesn’t get it

So, we moved the blog and I’m sheepish about how to work this new-fangled thang. And Martin sends me a wrist-slap to say (basically), “Hey, you need to get over to the new blog and try it out, you lump!” So, now I’m at the point where I’m thinking “What do I talk about?” And three things immediately spring to mind that merit mention:

1. Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffers’ endorsement of Rick Perry that was just an open promotion to vote on purely religious grounds, completely disregarding or demonstrating unawareness of what “no religious test for office” means, and also no comprehension of the problems that arise from the unholy union of church and state. History alone should be sufficient, but if not, look at the many nations where they are under an active theocracy to get an idea of how well that works.

http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/10/pastor-calling-mormonism-a-cult-says-perry-welcomed-his-endorsement.php

2. A Muslim Advice website I came across that has both depressed and shocked me. I very strongly suggest everyone go and spend some time there and poke around to see how your life would change if you had to live a Muslim life. Consider what it might be like for people born into Islam (and Muslims believe you are born into it, just like Jews) for whom the indoctrination doesn’t sink in, or who come to a conclusion later that it’s not correct. What would it be like to know this is bullshit and still have to live this life? If I started listing all the letters and answers that disturbed me, this would become the Islamic Critique blog for the next 10 years.

http://www.zawaj.com/askbilqis/forced-to-get-married/

But I’m going with the last one, number 3, because it’s the easiest one to analyze, and as someone who is verbose in the best of cases, this is probably best. It simply doesn’t take a lot of words to describe what is wrong with this: A public school in South Carolina has stepped up to demonstrate, one more time, that Christians in the U.S. South just can’t get certain things to sink into their heads. No matter how many times you trot out their own Golden Rule to them, they seem to have a marked inability to actually understand it. They fully get the first bit, “Do unto others.” It’s the second part that gives them trouble, “as you would have done to you.”

http://atheism.about.com/b/2011/10/09/south-carolina-school-held-prayer-worship-rally.htm

New Heights Middle School in South Carolina brought in a Christian rapper and had the kids rap along about Jesus. Don’t get me wrong. I get that religious bands don’t have to do a show that would be considered religious, but in this case the reports are that it was clearly religious in nature. Is this even rare, though? How many times do we hear about public school sponsored prayers or rallies in the Bible Belt? The two most common criticisms are the illegality of it and the pure lack of understanding by the families that this is even a problem on a basic good will level. Those most likely to comment on these stories with stupidity such as “Good for the school!,” would be the first ones to have a total melt down if the rapper had been promoting some other religious view. So, they appear to “get it” when you put them in the shoes of people outside their religion; but, the moment you put them back in the majority Christian seat, the lesson dissipates like so much smoke into thin air—a sort of religious amnesia?

OK, so let’s try this again, Muslim rapper OK? No, that would be an outrage. Then the Christian rapper is an outrage, get it? No. OK, so let’s try this again, Hindu rapper OK? No, that would be an outrage. Then the Christian rapper is an outrage, get it? No. And so on, and so on, and so on.

This is the danger of “I’m right and they’re wrong” when it comes to religion. It completely destroys perspective and the capacity to judge one’s own behaviors as problematic for others. When something would completely outrage and piss you off if someone else did it, there is no reason it should be a mystery or shock to you when others are outraged or pissed off when you do it to them. It’s just not hard enough to cause this sort of cognitive difficulty. “How would that make YOU feel?” is a tool used to teach toddlers how to think before they act. There is just no explanation for so many adults being unable to grasp such a simple concept. Beyond “it’s not legal,” their own basic human decency should kick in and help them understand what is wrong with what they’re doing. Even their own religion commands them to consider this. They label it their “Golden Rule,” but they still can’t seem to actually understand it. They “get” that the non-Christian thinks, as they do, that the other guy is incorrect (or even just that they could be incorrect), but in their heads, THEY’RE right. And, so, if “I” was wrong, and “you” were right about what god wanted, then I’d want “you” to promote “the truth” to “me.” And so, when it comes to Christian perspectives over those of others, in a nation where a majority is Christian, in a very sick way, they ARE following the Golden Rule—shoving “the truth” down the throats of everyone else who is “wrong” and who needs “the truth.” I think, in a twisted way, they think they’re helping and not being offensive assholes.

Of course, I could be wrong, as someone else suggested on another strand, and they could just be passive-aggressive people who want to piss people off. That certainly wouldn’t be anything new on the religious scene, either.

Non-Prophets 9.9!

Well, here it is at last, gang. Probably the last of the guerilla episodes, as the regular series is set to resume, I do believe, this coming weekend!

Gia Grillo, Chris Conner and I reteam, and end up spending a lot of this episode wagging our fingers at some of our fellow heathens, expressing our dismay at the way some people in the atheist camp got caught up in the wave of Muslim-bashing that arose around the Park51 controversy. While none of us likes Islam, naturally, most of the rhetoric was simple hate speech from the Fox News wingnut camp that grossly generalized all Muslims, even those who are peaceful and loyal U.S. citizens, under the “terrorist” banner. That some atheists actually fell into that trap of emotion-clouded unreason is something we hate to see.

Then we smack around Phil Plait a bit for his “Don’t Be a Dick” speech, and talk about accommodationism vs. confrontationalism.

Not to be a whiner, but holy hell balls this one was tough to edit. But I think the mix is superior to 9.6, even though our different mics and the fact we were basically recording a three-way Skype call means it still isn’t audiophile material by any means. (I apologize for my harsh S’s.) I hope you all enjoy it, and I’m off for a nap. If you’d rather wait for the iTunes feed, Matt tells me he’ll do the necessary admin stuff to get it up on the feed either tonight or tomorrow, so you won’t have to wait days and days like last time. And if you want art for your iPod, download the above graphic and stick it in yourself. With 9.6 Russell told me I inadvertently changed the art for the whole feed by embedding it in the episode beforehand. Durp.

Consider the comments to be an open thread on the episode.