Call to action: What is Islamic State’s motivation, in their own words?

Update: I think this question has been answered. See end of the post.

Yesterday on “The Non-Prophets”, we spent some time discussing the fact that we don’t entirely know or understand what the “Islamic State” terrorists claim as their motivation. The group has claimed credit for the recent attacks in Paris, but the news articles we reviewed had a hard time clearly representing why they do things like this. What is their game plan? What specific beliefs do they have about God, and how do they say committing terrorist acts will further these religious goals?

I do a regular segment on this show called “Shit Internet Apologists Say.” In it, we read and discuss/ridicule the unfiltered rants that religious extremists have written online. I would like to find material that was written by or transcribed from somebody who claims affiliation with IS or al-Qaeda, and who appears to sincerely believe that violence is an effective and justified way to achieve goals that further their specific Muslim sect’s beliefs. The reasons don’t need to make sense, obviously, but they need to be genuinely presented. I’m not looking for the intelligence community’s explanation of what IS thinks, and I definitely don’t want a satirical or sarcastic representation of their beliefs. I want a legitimate link to their real beliefs, in their own words.

If you can find something like that, please post it here, private message me, or pass it along on Twitter while mentioning me (@RussellGlasser) or using hashtag #NonProphetsNews, so that I will notice it. I will read the most useful link on the next show and credit the person who sent it to me. Thanks for your help.

Updated: James Billingham on Facebook has provided a link with the full text of a letter from the Islamic State. Unless something better comes along, I will probably use it. But I think I am definitely going to need to edit it in order to get the good bits.

Freedom of Speech: A Christian, Jewish, Atheist, and Muslim Perspective

I’ll be speaking on behalf of atheism this Thursday evening. If you’re in Austin, feel free to come by. If not, I’m told it will be live streamed and will try to put up the link when I can.

Freedom of Speech panel at UT

Facebook event page

April 16, 6:30PM, Welch Hall Room 2.122

Tiff’s treats and samosas will be served as refreshment.

Update: Here’s the video.

The video starts while people are still arriving. To skip the small talk, an invocation begins at about 6:00, and the actual talk starts at 9:40.

Statement on the Chapel Hill shootings

On February 10 a man named Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in to the police after fatally shooting three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, NC. According to news reports, Hicks was a fan of The Atheist Experience, and had been critical of religion on his Facebook page. The precise motivations of Hicks are not currently known.

The Atheist Community of Austin strongly opposes violence in all forms, whether it is motivated by hatred of someone else’s religious convictions, or a parking dispute. Acts of unprovoked violence may be inspired by a complex combination of factors that include ideology, mental disposition, and the social acceptability of various attitudes. It is overly simplistic to reduce the cause to any one factor. It is vital for believers and non-believers alike to draw a sharp distinction between criticism of someone’s philosophical positions, and the use or threat of deadly force.

We condemn this senseless act of murder, and extend our condolences to the families of the victims.

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”?


“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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