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Stedman: Right and Wrong on Islamophobia

Chris Stedman of the Harvard Humanists has a column at Religion Dispatches about atheism and Islamophobia that, in my view, gets some things right and some things wrong on the subject. The main problem, I think, is that he doesn’t make a distinction between criticism, even if it might be inaccurate, and hatred or bigotry. For instance, he quotes Dave Silverman and JT Eberhard:

In December of last year, the president of American Atheists posted a status update to his public Facebook profile that read: “Never give up a right without a fight. I will defame Islam if I want to. It doesn’t mean I hate Muslims. It means Islam is a shitty religion that worships a pedophile as morally perfect.” When I expressed my concern about those comments, atheist blogger JT Eberhard wrote the following:

“Islam is a shitty religion (more shitty than most, and try me if you don’t think we can defend that statement) and Muhammad was a pedophile, which has resulted in several Muslims continuing the practice. If Chris doesn’t like the word “shitty”, I wonder what adjective he would suggest. Horrible? Morally repugnant? Should we greet the anti-science, morally fucked up religion of Islam with an, “Oh shucks, that is pretty anti-humanity and doesn’t make much sense now does it?” How softly would be enough to get Stedman to relinquish his iron-clad grip on his pearls? Frankly, to call Islam shitty is like calling the surface of the sun warm.”

Later in the post he claimed to just be “factually criticizing” Islam and Muslims, but even if that were his aim, several of the claims he put forth about Islam and Muslims were not only false, but were framed in a way that is likely to inflame anti-Muslim sentiment. Another example is Ernest Perce V, the Pennsylvania State Director for American Atheists, notorious for a lawsuit resulting from his depiction of “zombie Muhammad” (the judge, who called Perce “a doofus” and ruled against him, was forced to relocate shortly after the ruling due to safety concerns over threats made against him). Perce has also made several statements that have inflamed anti-Muslim attitudes in Pennsylvania—his latest being that he plans to publicly flog a Koran on the Pennsylvania state capitol steps next month in protest of a state resolution to name 2012 the “Year of Religious Diversity.”

I’m certainly not going to defend Perce, who annoys the hell out of me. But while he may be simpleminded and juvenile, the judge in his case was still completely out of line and absolutely wrong about the law in his ruling. In fact, Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Board sent Judge Martin a “letter of caution” reprimanding him for his behavior in the case. That he was forced to relocate is equally reprehensible, but given that his ruling in the case was in favor of allowing violent reprisals in response to offensive speech, one might be excused for noting the irony in the situation.

Now, on to Dave and JT. The problem here, as I said, is that Stedman doesn’t make a distinction between criticism and hatred. Criticizing Islam for containing a great many ideas that are barbaric and horrifying, or pointing out that Muhammad was, in fact, a child molester (he did, after all, marry and have sex with a 9 year old), is not Islamophobia. Inaccurate criticism should be corrected, of course, but it should not be dismissed or called hateful merely because it is harsh or offensive to Muslims.

But here’s where I think he’s right:

But while this silence is deeply troubling, I don’t want to suggest that, like some of those mentioned earlier, the atheist community at large necessarily has an Islamophobia problem—or that legitimate criticisms of Islam (or any other religions) constitutes Islamophobia. The problem, I think, lies in a lack of sensitivity to or awareness of the rampant Islamophobia sweeping our society. A key offender in this respect is bestselling atheist author Sam Harris.

The day after the shooting in Wisconsin, Harris published a lengthy blog post decrying Internet trolls; bizarrely, though, he included yet another defense of his position that Muslims should face extra scrutiny at airports. He and I engaged in a back-and-forth about this issue earlier this year after he wrote a post where he first argued that “we should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.” In my response, I challenged his claims that talk of Islamophobia is “deluded” and that “there is no such thing as Islamophobia.”

Harris is absolutely wrong. Yes, there is Islamophobia in this country. A lot of it. We see it not only in the many violent attacks on mosques around the country but in the delusions of far right fantasists like Robert Spencer, Frank Gaffney and Pam Geller. We see it in the passage of laws that prohibit the non-existent problem of “creeping Sharia” in this country. We see it in the many lawsuits filed to prevent Muslims from exercising their First Amendment rights, most of them by Christian supremacist groups like the Thomas More Law Center and the American Center for Law and Justice. We see it in fraudulent reports that falsely claim that American courts are enforcing Sharia law when, in reality, every case they cite reaches the exact opposite conclusion.

Where we also might see it in the use of overly broad stereotypes about Muslims themselves. As I have said for years, we need to recognize that there is not one Islam but many, as is true of any sizable religion. The Islam of Osama Bin Laden is not the same as the Islam of Muqtedar Khan or of my many progressive Muslim friends (just as the Christianity of Pat Robertson is not the same as the Christianity of Bishop Tutu or Gene Robinson). And when we criticize the many barbaric ideas in Islam we need to recognize that, just as in Christianity, there are more modernist and liberal versions of Islam that read those things out of the religion. Muslims, as individuals, should be judged on their actual beliefs and behavior, not on the label we apply to them.

This is not an either/or — you don’t have to stop criticizing the barbaric practices of many Muslims in order to treat those Muslims who do not believe or behave in that manner as individuals rather than as members of some uniformly evil group. You don’t have to pretend that Islam is one big happy “religion of peace” in order to defend the equal rights of Muslims to practice their religion as long as they don’t violate anyone else’s rights in the process.

We can, and should, be critical both of Islamic barbarism and of Islamophobia. We can speak out strongly against defamation of religion laws in Islamic countries at the same time that we speak out against anti-Sharia laws in this country. We can, and should, condemn both Muslim violence and anti-Muslim violence. We can, and I do, condemn honor killings and murderous fatwas and jihads at the same time that we condemn attempts to violate the religious freedom of Muslims in this country.

I don’t think this is really that difficult. What we need to do is take a stand in favor of freedom and equality for all people, period. That’s why I have slammed the Christian supremacy of the missionary groups that protest at the Dearborn International Arab Festival every year and slammed the city of Dearborn for their dubious legal attempts to silence them. It’s why I have condemned the disgusting use of blasphemy laws around the world and condemned the attempts to prevent the building of mosques in Manhattan and Tennessee.

I doubt that Stedman would disagree with any of that, actually. And I would no doubt join him in condemning ignorant beliefs and behavior among atheists aimed at Muslims, or anyone else for that matter. But I think he makes far too much of the fact that few atheist bloggers wrote about the attack at a mosque in Missouri or the attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. There are lots of aspects of those situations that are worthy of being written about, but there isn’t much that is interesting to say about the attacks themselves. They are horrifying and appalling, of course, but merely repeating that obvious statement one more time doesn’t do a lot of good.

I do like what Stedman and others have done to reach out to the victims, which I think is important. I’m actually a fan of interfaith efforts of that type. After 9/11, I gathered with a large number of people of all faiths and none at a local Islamic center to mourn the victims, to condemn the attackers and to speak out against potential reprisals against Muslims living in our communities that had nothing to do with it. I think that’s an important thing to do and I believe our major atheist and humanist organizations should participate in defending our common humanity. But I think we also need to be very careful not to condemn even harsh criticism in the process.

Comments

  1. says

    I’d profile every religio-tard at airports and everywhere else. They’re dangerous, and, given state power, yon nice Methodist would shoot me down like a dog for unbelief.

  2. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    Now, on to Dave and JT. The problem here, as I said, is that Stedman doesn’t make a distinction between criticism and hatred. Criticizing Islam for containing a great many ideas that are barbaric and horrifying, or pointing out that Muhammad was, in fact, a child molester (he did, after all, marry and have sex with a 9 year old), is not Islamophobia. Inaccurate criticism should be corrected, of course, but it should not be dismissed or called hateful merely because it is harsh or offensive to Muslims.

    Dave Silverman is employing Islamaphobia based on the fact he claims he will defame Muslims and then as Chris Stedman points out, Silverman also lies about Muslims. Defamation of another is a form of hatred different from legitimate criticism. Mr. Silverman wrote:

    I will defame Islam if I want to. It doesn’t mean I hate Muslims. It means Islam is a shitty religion that worships a pedophile as morally perfect.

    If Silverman’s going to defame Islam, he’s demonstrating hatred to Muslims. The definition of defame after all means you are slandering or libeling another.

    Ed, on this very day you blog about how hypocritical it is of Republicans claiming to respect gays in their 2012 national platform while simultaneously advocating the denial of gays’ rights. That’s a very similar argument to Chris Stedman’s, buttressed by his pointing out, which you blockquote, that Stedman finds that Silverman does go on to lie about Muslims which validates its hatred that Silverman uses to promote his demonstrated Islamaphobia towards Muslims, and not just mere criticism.

    And as a side-note, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with how some liberals are attempting to use the atheist label alone to promote a liberal political theology, the biggest false conflation I’ve encountered coming out of some organized atheists. I’ve seen three examples recently:
    1) the women secularist group that is for atheist females only, in spite of the fact the secularist movement was started and still supported by millions of liberal Christian women,
    2) Atheist+, which is the worst example yet of blatantly attempting to exploit the atheist label to promote liberal theology, and
    3) the president of American Atheists leveraging his position to promote Islamaphobia; to the point he brags about his lying because he finds Islam evil – the very equivalent of what Liars for Jesus do which we also justifiably ridicule.

  3. says

    Great post Ed! However, the following, if taken seriously, would undermine most of what was “new” about New Atheism:

    Where we also might see it in the use of overly broad stereotypes about Muslims themselves. As I have said for years, we need to recognize that there is not one Islam but many, as is true of any sizable religion. The Islam of Osama Bin Laden is not the same as the Islam of Muqtedar Khan or of my many progressive Muslim friends (just as the Christianity of Pat Robertson is not the same as the Christianity of Bishop Tutu or Gene Robinson). And when we criticize the many barbaric ideas in Islam we need to recognize that, just as in Christianity, there are more modernist and liberal versions of Islam that read those things out of the religion. Muslims, as individuals, should be judged on their actual beliefs and behavior, not on the label we apply to them.

    What? People should make careful distinctions about the complexity and diversity within major religious traditions, rather than scapegoat and lambaste them all for the sins of the most ridiculous/extreme/evil? Say it ain’t so!

  4. says

    Michael-

    I think you’re misreading the statement from Silverman. When he says he will defame them if he wants to, he isn’t saying he’s going to engage in some form of illegal defamation (making false factual claims about their behavior to bring them into a false light); he’s making a reference to the passage of “defamation of religion” laws, which make any criticism at all into “defamation.” He’s saying that he’s going to criticize and offend Muslims and there shouldn’t be any legal structure that stops him from doing so. It’s very much the equivalent of my statement that no one has any right not to be offended by the expressed views of others.

  5. Chiroptera says

    nicholasmatzke, #3: People should make careful distinctions about the complexity and diversity within major religious traditions, rather than scapegoat and lambaste them all for the sins of the most ridiculous/extreme/evil?

    Are you adding to this conversation an overgeneralized statement about all “New Atheists”? ‘Cause if you are, that’d be funny.

  6. Michael Heath says

    Ed Brayton writes:

    I think you’re misreading the statement from Silverman. When he says he will defame them if he wants to, he isn’t saying he’s going to engage in some form of illegal defamation (making false factual claims about their behavior to bring them into a false light); he’s making a reference to the passage of “defamation of religion” laws, which make any criticism at all into “defamation.”

    You’re correct, I missed that. It doesn’t help that Silverman buttresses his defamation advocacy by then going on to defame (lie) about Muslims (according to Chris Stedman), which I do find repugnant.

    I never thought carefully enough about these laws using the term ‘defamation’, that the theocrats are misappropriating this word to help their cause. That misappropriation helps confuse the issue just like what happened with me here.

  7. Michael Heath says

    Ed Brayton writes:

    I don’t see Dave Silverman lying about anything here. What specific quote are you referring to?

    I was referencing Chris Stedman’s claim that “he” was lying, where I thought Stedman was referring to Dave Silverman but was instead referring to JT Eberhard. Here’s Chris Stedman from the article you linked to you in your blog post:

    In December of last year, the president of American Atheists posted a status update to his public Facebook profile that read:
    “Never give up a right without a fight. I will defame Islam if I want to. It doesn’t mean I hate Muslims. It means Islam is a shitty religion that worships a pedophile as morally perfect.”

    When I [Chris Stedman] expressed my concern about those comments, atheist blogger JT Eberhard wrote the following:

    Islam is a shitty religion (more shitty than most, and try me if you don’t think we can defend that statement) and Muhammad was a pedophile, which has resulted in several Muslims continuing the practice. If Chris doesn’t like the word “shitty”, I wonder what adjective he would suggest. Horrible? Morally repugnant? Should we greet the anti-science, morally fucked up religion of Islam with an, “Oh shucks, that is pretty anti-humanity and doesn’t make much sense now does it?” How softly would be enough to get Stedman to relinquish his iron-clad grip on his pearls? Frankly, to call Islam shitty is like calling the surface of the sun warm.

    Later in the post he [JT Eberhard though I previously thought “he” was Dave Silverman] claimed to just be “factually criticizing” Islam and Muslims, but even if that were his aim, several of the claims he put forth about Islam and Muslims were not only false, but were framed in a way that is likely to inflame anti-Muslim sentiment.
    [emphasis mine – MH]

    I messed-up on mixing up Dave Silverman and JT Eberhard. Perhaps I should have also verified a lie was actually told rather than merely noting Stedman found “him” to be lying. The reason I didn’t was that Mr. Silverman promised to defame Muslims, where I took him at his word, i.e., that he would lie about them. So when I thought Chris Stedman had found Dave Silverman lying, that was what I expected; instead I now realize Stedman’s claiming JT Eberhard was lying.

    A nice case study on the value of reading comprehension.

  8. typecaster says

    I’m asking this simply out of a desire for clarity – I got a little lost in trying to follow the chain of de-referenced pointers up above about which “he” was who.

    Did JT lie about something? And if so, what? Stedman didn’t make it clear in the quoted material, and nothing else has shed any light on that matter. Someone’s fibbing here, and if Stedman can’t substantiate the charge,it’s him.

  9. Michael Heath says

    typecaster writes:

    Did JT lie about something? And if so, what? Stedman didn’t make it clear in the quoted material, and nothing else has shed any light on that matter.

    Chris Stedman didn’t fisk the lies he claimed JT Eberhard told about Muslims, he just made the assertion. Here’s the blog post by JT Eberhard that Stedman is referencing.

    I think the below JT Eberhard statements are obvious falsehoods told by him which I quote below in italics, with my comments bolded and in brackets:

    Should we greet the anti-science, morally fucked up religion of Islam . . . [As Ed notes, there is no monolithic Islamic theology, many devout Muslims are neither ‘anti-science’ or ‘morally fucked-up'; both in theory or in practice.]

    […]

    Or maybe Chris would prefer that we remain silent, making nice with the Muslims who are closer to being functional atheists while letting the monsters slide unopposed? [This is a lie regarding what Stedman is arguing. I don’t recall ever reading anything from JT Eberhard, at best he seems like he has a lot of growing up to do. Strawmen and the below argument from outrage is what Rush Limbaugh depends upon.]

    […]

    You want to know what’s dehumanizing? Marrying a pre-pubescent woman or treating that like it’s ok. Aisha was 6 or 7 when she became engaged to Muhammad. He consummated the marriage when she was nine. Nine! That’s pretty damn sick.
    [It’s a lie to assign the supposed immorality of the founders of a religion in ancient times to the distinctly different promoted and actual behavior of hundreds of millions of modern-day Muslims.]

    JT Eberhard also takes it on fact that the Mohammed had sex with Aisha when she was nine, but there is no empirical evidence this is true; plus there was a motivation by the Sunni sect within Islam to subsequently claim she had sex with him prior to menstruating in regards to which sect is the rightful heir of Mohammed, Shites or Sunnis. I’m not categorizing this as a lie by him in spite of the lack of evidence where he claims it as fact, but I do think his lack of context is problematic, especially since he uses this supposed event where we don’t know what took place to condemn all modern-day Muslims. That’s really bad form and a failure of character.

  10. iangould says

    “(he did, after all, marry and have sex with a 9 year old)”

    In as much as we can speak with certainty about events that happened in 7th century Arabia, he almost definitely did not.

    I forget the exact details but the internal chronology of events makes it next to impossible.

  11. Chiroptera says

    Do most contemporary Muslims believe that Muhammed consummated his marriage with a 9 year old child? Because if they do, then it is kind of beside the point whether the actual historical Muhammed did so. The point would be that contemporary Muslims would be condoning as good an action that most people today find horrendous.

    Just like bringing up the genocides in the Pentateuch — whether or not the historical Hebrews actually did engage in such a thing isn’t the point. The points is that contemporary evangelicals become apologists for genocide. I think it’s the same principle here.

  12. Michael Heath says

    Chiroptera writes:

    Do most contemporary Muslims believe that Muhammed consummated his marriage with a 9 year old child? Because if they do, then it is kind of beside the point whether the actual historical Muhammed did so. The point would be that contemporary Muslims would be condoning as good an action that most people today find horrendous.

    That’s a non sequitur, their belief such a thing occurred doesn’t necessarily equate to their condoning such behavior, especially in 2012.

  13. says

    @14: It doesn’t necessarily mean they condone it now, but they are required to condone it in context. This is a problem for much the same reason as the knots Christians have to twist themselves into to excuse slavery and genocide in the Bible.

  14. iangould says

    “Do most contemporary Muslims believe that Muhammed consummated his marriage with a 9 year old child?”

    Simple answer: no.

  15. laurentweppe says

    pointing out that Muhammad was, in fact, a child molester (he did, after all, marry and have sex with a 9 year old)

    The idea that Muhammad was a child molester is build upon tales told by the grandson of a cousin of Muhammad who was by contemporary accounts suffering from senile dementia when he told them. That’s… hardly a convincing evidence.
    Now the fact that this tale has been accepted as face value by many sects and religious leaders up to this day: This is worthy of the most unapologetic denunciation, but the whole “Muhammad is a child rapist because a senile relative of him said so and that’s more than enough evidence for me and don’t you dare accuse me of having the standards of a slanderer you child-rapist lover” schtick needs to die.

  16. Michael Heath says

    Ace of Sevens writes:

    It [Muhammed’s supposed sex with a nine-year old] doesn’t necessarily mean they condone it now, but they are required to condone it in context. This is a problem for much the same reason as the knots Christians have to twist themselves into to excuse slavery and genocide in the Bible.

    Condoning the slavery and genocide in the Bible is not a defining attribute of Christianity. Biblical inerrantists are the ones with this conundrum where biblical inerrantists do not make up the full set of Christians. The same with Muslims, there is no reason Muslims must condone such behavior in the past, where you also wrongly assume this story must be accepted as true to be a Muslim. But that’s as wrong-headed as Christians believing in a literal understanding of the Genesis creation myths or other dogmatic beliefs which aren’t shared by all Christians. As Ed has repeatedly noted in previous posts and here:

    Where we also might see [Islmaphopbia] in the use of overly broad stereotypes about Muslims themselves. As I have said for years, we need to recognize that there is not one Islam but many, as is true of any sizable religion. The Islam of Osama Bin Laden is not the same as the Islam of Muqtedar Khan or of my many progressive Muslim friends (just as the Christianity of Pat Robertson is not the same as the Christianity of Bishop Tutu or Gene Robinson). And when we criticize the many barbaric ideas in Islam we need to recognize that, just as in Christianity, there are more modernist and liberal versions of Islam that read those things out of the religion. Muslims, as individuals, should be judged on their actual beliefs and behavior, not on the label we apply to them.

  17. jesse says

    I think there’s another issue here viz. criticizing Islam vs. Islamaphobia. It’s something that a lot of “New” atheists — god knows I’m not going to get into a terminology battle here — but the ones that I read who are a more libertarian-ish bent seem to fall into this trap a lot.

    Saying things like “Islam is a shitty religion” is just straight up bigotry. And it is said by someone who is in a position of privilege. That is, it is no trick at all for a white male to criticize Islam. It’s the easiest thing in the world in the US, because Islam is the religion of the “other.”

    Criticizing Christianity is a different thing. Jessica Ahlquist found that out, right? Ed has posted any number of incidents in which critics — even the mildest — of Christian dominance run into all kinds of problems.

    The simple fact is that white, culturally Christian people face few consequences, really, for criticizing Islam. (I refer to cultural Christians meaning people who are raised in mainstream American culture, which is largely Christian in the same way that Algeria’s is largely Muslim). I mean, it isn’t like I am likely to lose my job or anything. The force of authority on the part of the government or social pressure aren’t arrayed against me if I say “Islam is a shitty religion” on a billboard. If anything I can even get rewarded. (See: Pam Gellar).

    Why does this matter? This kind of stuff means that privileged people have to tread carefully. Because you can end up dipping into some pretty racist waters if you aren’t careful. And too often I have run into atheists who seem to think that “criticism” means saying stuff that’s just insulting and that provides cover. And it’s one reason why there’s been a kerfuffle over issues of sexism among the atheist blogosphere as well — it’s yet another example of people just not caring to think a bit about other people.

    I’ll use an example that I brought up some time ago:

    “Hey, those black churches, with people carrying on, they’re just a bunch of superstitious idiots whose members are willing to apologize for all kinds of bad behavior on the part of pastors.”

    That’s pretty mild. But I don’t think it takes a scholar of race relations to see why that’s pretty freaking racist, even if I say “I am not criticizing the people but their religion” in the next breath.

    Whether Mohammed was a pedophile or not is besides the point.

    Dan Fincke also brings this up. I think he is quite right when he says that the best way to shut down dialogue with any other human being is to say “your beliefs are stupid.” Because when you hear that as a normal person you don’t say “oh, this person is criticizing my beliefs” you hear that he criticizes you. Sure, when I was in college telling Christians I met they were believing stupid things made me feel great and superior. But all it did really was alienate people and prove I was a dick. This doesn’t mean they are right. But if you ignore where people are coming from and make no effort to understand people than what makes you different from a violent fundie?

    Getting to criticizing Islam — or he religious practices of any minority group that runs into problems — you have to think very, very carefully about what it is you are criticizing and how it sounds on the other end. You have to think about the way that group relates to the society around it. Yes, it impinges on your freedom of speech a bit. It means you don’t get to dress up racist dog whistles in “rational” clothing. Sorry about that.

    This doesn’t mean “Don’t criticize at all.” But there is a vast, big, gigantic, elephant-sized difference between “Islam is a shitty religion” and “Here are a few problematic issues within orthodox Islam that need to be addressed in the following manner and context.”

    I’m not immune to venting. But as I get older I find I can justify “offending” people less and less. And I don’t mean “offending” in the oh-you-hurt-my-feelings-a-little connotation. I mean saying shit that is just plain hurtful and marks me as a bully. It’s easy as anything to say “well, words don’t hurt me, so I won’t care about anyone else” when you are privileged.

  18. iangould says

    Historically, many Muslim scholars accepted that Aisha was nine when her marriage to Mohammed was consummated.

    (Historically this claim seems mostly to have arisen to emphasize that Aisha was was a virgin when she married Mohammed and that consequently her children were indisputably his – as opposed to Mohammed’s other wives who had been married to other men previously. This was important when the Abassids (Aisha’s descendants) were fightinf for control of the Muslim world with the Fatimids (descendants of his daughter Fatima).)

    Nowadays, most Muslims just don’t know about this or refuse to think about it.

    Just like the average modern Christian likes to overlook or reinterpret the verse where Paul commands slaves to obey their masters.

  19. satanaugustine says

    Jesse @ 19 said:

    Saying things like “Islam is a shitty religion” is just straight up bigotry.

    No. This is absolutely wrong. If Silverman had stated “Muslims are shitty people” that would be bigotry. Criticizing a religion, even with words like “shitty” does not, and cannot constitute bigotry. Bigotry applies to people, not ideologies. It doesn’t matter if Muslims are offended by Silverman’s statement. It’s still not bigotry. Religious people are welcome to criticize atheism (and they do so often, though in the past they simply killed nonbelievers), but more often than not they attack atheists, not atheism, with their ignorant claims of atheists’ alleged moral inferiority, amongst other defaming falsehoods about atheist people, not merely atheism as an ideology. If religionists call atheism shitty they are not engaging in bigotry. If they call atheists shitty, then they are.

    Your explanation that Silverman can get away with calling Islam a “shitty religion” due to white privilege and the minority status of Islam in the US is wrong on so many levels. It implies that a former Muslim of middle Eastern descent (like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who because of her criticisms of Islam requires round the clock bodyguards for the rest of her life) could call Islam a shitty religion and it wouldn’t be bigotry.(?) Silverman has made similar statements about Christianity (far from a minority religion). Does that mean that this does not constitute bigotry because privilege doesn’t come into play? And do you seriously believe that Silverman is taking no risk in stating his opinions about Islam? Islam-inspired mass murder has occurred within the US. There are radical Muslims (perhaps a minority – I really don’t know) in the US who would take Silverman’s statements as more than ample reason to kill him.

    You also state:

    It means you don’t get to dress up racist dog whistles in “rational” clothing.

    You do realize that Islam is not a race, right? You do realize that there are plenty of white Muslims, right? Criticizing Muslims, much less Islam, is not racism.

    If you choose to curtail your freedom of speech due to a desire to not offend, that’s perfectly OK. But suggesting that others need to do as you do, and incorrectly categorizing those who don’t as bigots and racists, is absurd.

    I understand your desire to not offend. I’ve never said to a religious person “I think your beliefs are stupid” for that reason. But there’s a huge difference between posting a general facebook message to that effect and saying it to a religious person in person as you said you did in college. I think you’re taking your experiences and attempting to project them on all atheists who criticize religion, but the reality is that most atheists aren’t “dicks” (your word) like you were in college. You were literally in-your-face confrontational. Silverman and JT were not.

  20. says

    “You do realize that Islam is not a race, right? You do realize that there are plenty of white Muslims, right?”

    I think that if Islam was embraced by white, blonde, blue-eyed europeans that much of the current islamophobia would be muted or absent from public discourse. Just a guess, but a guess informed by over fifty years of listening to people complain about popular culture and using the word, “nigger”, re: music, clothing, dance and art to disparage what they do not like in those areas.

    People hatin’ on people are dicks. People thinking people are morons for embracing hateful ideas are, people.

  21. StevoR says

    @21. satanaugustine : That. Seconded by me.

    As for Mohammad’s paedophilia and child rape – see :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad%27s_wives

    Aisha was six or seven years old when betrothed to Muhammad.[11][15][16] Traditional sources state that she stayed in her parents’ home until the age of nine when the marriage was consummated with Muhammad, then 53, in Medina,[16][17][18][19] with the single exception of al-Tabari, who records that she was ten.

    Plus :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aisha#Age_at_marriage

    .. the sources do not offer much more information about Aisha’s childhood years, but mention that after the wedding, she continued to play with her toys, and that Muhammad entered into the spirit of these games.[14]
    The issue of Aisha’s age at the time she was married to Muhammad has been of interest since the earliest days of Islam, and references to her age by early historians are frequent. Early Muslims regarded Aisha’s youth as demonstrating her virginity and therefore her suitability as a bride of Muhammad. According to Spellberg, historians who supported Aisha’s position in the debate of the succession to Muhammad against Shi’a claims considered her youth, and therefore her purity, to be of paramount importance. They thus specifically emphasized it, implying that as Muhammad’s only virgin wife, Aisha was divinely intended for him, .. “

    (Btw. Meaning, what, Mohammad’s *other*, eleven or perhaps thirteeen wives weren’t “divinely” intended for him then?)

    So almost everyone says Aisha was a nine year old girl when the “prophet” and founder of Islam, a fifty three year old man with at least ten other wives at the time, raped her.

    Almost everyone except for one source that says she was raped when she was ten instead of nine. Whoop-de-flippin’-do.

    Does it matter all that much if it was a year later and Aisha was a ten year old child instead of a nine year old one when Mohammad raped her?

    No, I don’t give a shit if child “betrothal” and child marriage and child rape were common cultural practice(s) back then. So was slavery. Neither child “marriages” nor slavery nor for that matter animal cruelty such as Elizabethan era bear baiting become “right” just because they are culturally normalised. Wrong is wrong. Some cultures practices such as child rape and slavery and animal cruelty are wrong. (BTW. Mohammad also had slaves as well.)

    Muslims believe Mohammad was a praiseworthy role model, that his life and conduct towards other humans was an example to be admired, respected and followed.

    Well. Yuck. And NO! To that. That is a shit belief.

  22. satanaugustine says

    democommie@22, you said:

    People hatin’ on people are dicks.

    I’m not sure if you’re referring to my comment that Jesse was “a dick” in college, but if you were, I’ll point out that I was merely repeating Jesse’s own self assessment of himself in college. From his post:

    Sure, when I was in college telling Christians I met they were believing stupid things made me feel great and superior. But all it did really was alienate people and prove I was a dick.

    I happen to agree that this was indeed dickish behavior. I certainly wasn’t hatin’ on him.

    If I misunderstood your post, then you can disregard this comment.

  23. Michael Heath says

    StevoR writes:

    So almost everyone [cited in Wikipedia] says Aisha was a nine year old girl when the “prophet” and founder of Islam, a fifty three year old man with at least ten other wives at the time, raped her.

    Argument by assertion and popularity, as opposed to arguments based on empirically validated premises do not do well in this venue. Using your argument Jesus is God, born of a virgin, and was resurrected three days after dying and Mohammed didn’t die but instead rode a horse to heaven.

  24. StevoR says

    @ 25. Michael Heath

    So you’re saying wikipedia is wrong about Aisha’s age then?
    Basing that on what? Go edit it then or provide sources and arguments showing that its false.

    Some things we get from multiple sources and are common knowledge. Captain Cook’s first ship on his epic voyage that saw the transit of Venus and discovered Australia was the Endeavour. The Sun has flares and and is a yellow dwarf star. Mohammad is a paedophile who raped a young girl when she was nine or ten. These are commonly known facts – albeit that last one clearly not well known enough. Or maybe toomany peopel just don’t care.

    Also take at look at this :

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/taslima/2012/09/01/religion-sucks/

    Via Taslima Nasreen’s blog. Watch it, think about it then tell me again that Islam isn’t a shit belief system.

  25. Michael Heath says

    StevoR,

    Take a deep breath and ask yourself how you’re punching yourself in the face in public.

  26. satanaugustine says

    Michael Heath – you seem pretty entrenched in your position. Would anything make you reconsider your opinion? (yes, it’s just your opinion or preferred belief since you’ve offered no contrary data) I suggest Googling: Muhammad Aisha.

  27. says

    Umm, Michael, I think the point is that Muhammad is commonly acknowledged by Muslims to have consummated a marriage with Aisha when she was nine (or ten) years old.

  28. dingojack says

    StevoR – It was a commonly held belief (from multiple sources) that slavery was divinely inspired, so it must be correct, right? *
    The source of the myth that Aisha was only 9 or 10 when she had sex with Mohammad**, as explained before, comes from only one source and not a very reliable one at that, according to contemporaneous sources. The story gained cache and spread some 300 yrs after the event. That many sources use this myth doesn’t necessarily make it the truth.
    It would be kind of similar to a inmate some Elizabethan Bedlam writing that Phillip’s ships were eaten by a dragon, and it being popularised by anti-papist Low Anglicans in the 19th century.

    Dingo
    —–
    *(Wikipedia is not a reliable or authoritative source).
    ** we don’t know if Mohammad was a pedophile, that would require both a divine and a physic, or more accurately, some kind of necromancer and a psychiatrist.

  29. Michael Heath says

    Gretchen writes to me:

    I think the point is that Muhammad is commonly acknowledged by Muslims to have consummated a marriage with Aisha when she was nine (or ten) years old.

    No one has presented any compelling empirical evidence that contemporaneous Muslims predominately agree on the age of Aisha when she first had intercourse with Muhammed. The popularity of this conclusion seems relevant to Islmaphobes looking to criticize modern-day Muslims. However even if it’s true that most modern-day Muslims believe Muhammed and Aisha had intercourse when she was 9, that remains a non sequitur as I noted @ 14 when it comes to building credible premises on why Muslims in general deserve to be defamed or even criticized. That’s for the very reason Ed argued in his blog post and I quoted @ 18. Muslims can believe this happened and still believe such an act(s) to also be morally repugnant by at least today’s standards if not even in the context of the times within which both lived. Or as noted by others, some Muslims note the total lack of empirical evidence intercourse even ocurrred at so young an age.

    The fact I previously and directly confronted ‘arguments from popularity’ from both:
    a) the perspective of the veracity of the claim and,
    b) the illegitimate ammunition it provides to criticize contemporaneous Muslims;
    contra your framing your point to me as if I don’t know this – argues strongly you didn’t read my comment posts on this topic carefully enough to understand my arguments.

  30. says

    “The problem here, as I said, is that Stedman doesn’t make a distinction between criticism and hatred.”

    I think the relevant distinction, what makes Islamophobia different from mere disapproval of the Islamic religion, is attacking people vs. attacking beliefs. Sometimes there is a grey area where it’s not entirely clear what someone intends, but even when Islamophobes criticize Islam itself, it’s almost never to say, “This is a religion we shouldn’t follow”, but rather to say, “These are people we shouldn’t trust, or allow in the country, or allow to hold public offices or positions of responsibility”. From there you have protests against mosques, racial profiling, evidence-free accusations of disloyalty, etc., all of which have the primary effect of causing real harm to individuals. However, you can go after a belief system, even with very harsh words, and not actually cause anyone harm beyond whatever offense they may take.

  31. iangould says

    “No, I don’t give a shit if child “betrothal” and child marriage and child rape were common cultural practice(s) back then. So was slavery. ”

    Do you regularly use the fact that Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders to attack contemporary Americans?

  32. jesse says

    satanaugustine—

    If Islam (in the US, specifically) was completely unrelated to the ethnicity of the people who profess it, you’d sort of be right. But you’re just ignoring that while Islam is not a racial or ethnic group, the reality is that it is deeply associated with darker-skinned people who aren’t white. It has become racialized, even though — as you state — it bears no relation to physical reality.

    Without getting into racism 101, here, Jews aren’t a race either, but to pretend Anti-Semitism wasn’t a form of racism is simply stupid. (Jews got to be honorary white people later on, but that’s a whole other discussion of a complicated process).

    In Bosnia, there are lots of blond Muslims, so in that country what you say makes sense. But this is the US.

    A good parallel is SPanish. When you think of someone who speaks Spanish something tells me the picture isn’t a blond guy, and when people complain about having to press 1 to get English it isn’t the inconvenience of listening to a second message they are complaining about. English as an official language is, in that sense, a racist dog-whistle, because the real problem people have is not that people don’t speak ENgish, but that all these brown people suddenly moved to the neighborhood and don’t “know their place.” (You know, the same people who say ENglish should be the “official language” don’t ever seem to have a good grasp of what that means, nor do they say we should paint over all the German phrases at UW Madison’s Rathskeller).

    As to Hirsan Ali, I don’t deny that she has plenty of reason to criticize Islam, but her romanticizing the West is deeply problematic, and her associated position that people of differing religions who deviate from those norms essentially shouldn’t be allowed in the country. There’s a reason that her BFFs right now tend to be the real heavy right-wing parties, and it isn’t their committment to religious pluralism.

    See the example I gave about black churches. “I’m not criticizing you, just your beliefs” is a cop-out. I don’t use it anymore for that reason.

    And none of Ali’s travails, by the way, don’t alter the relative positions of Islam in the US, any more than the fact of black people committing homicides alters the fundamental power dynamics between black folks and white folks. As a white man, it’s pretty easy to create all kinds of problems in a black neighborhood. (See: Charles Stuart). White people aren’t getting stopped and frisked or rounded up when a black guy gets murdered.

    Yes, there have been cases of Islamic terrorism in the US, 9/11 most famously. But a) it isn’t like there are bombings left and right and b) the power they have to change our society is minimal. If a third of the population of the US were Muslim, maybe with their own state like the Mormons have, and fielding militias, setting off weekly bombings in state capitals and mounting attacks on military bases, you might have a point. But that simply isn’t the case. (For a terrorist movement to be able to pose an existential threat to any government you need a lot of local support. Even if every Muslim in the US was 100% behind OBL the numbers just don’t work).

    You seem to be viewing racism is the narrow, “It’s about your feelings” mode, and not willing to think in terms of institutionalized forms that don’t depend on formal laws. But here’s an exercise: ask a Muslim friend who doesn’t dress in an obvious way how often he has to deal with bullshit at the airport. I bet he isn’t blond.

  33. laurentweppe says

    In Bosnia, there are lots of blond Muslims, so in that country what you say makes sense.

    And between the attempt at ethnically cleanse the muslim Bosnians and the systematic rape of tens of thousands of muslim women and girls done by christian Serbs to “produce little Chetniks”, it’s clear that Muslims were treated by their tormentors as a completely distinct breed of humanity there too even if it made no fucking sense.

    ***

    As to Hirsan Ali […] position that people of differing religions who deviate from those norms essentially shouldn’t be allowed in the country […] her BFFs right now tend to be the real heavy right-wing parties

    I wonder if it’s not the other way around: Ayaan Hirsi Ali went from openly stating that she was not duped by the modern far-right attempts to whitewash their intent with insincere pro-enlightenment posturing to remorselessly repeating biggots talking points when she started receiving paychecks from the neoconservatives.

  34. joachim says

    Brianwood, no. 1, it is clear that if atheists had the power believers would be silenced, by force if necessary, and even imprisoned. Possibly even killed.

    After all, it has happened before.

    At to Eberhard, he is just a bullied little kid who grew up to be a Bully With A Blog.

  35. Michael Heath says

    joachim writes:

    it is clear that if atheists had the power believers would be silenced, by force if necessary, and even imprisoned. Possibly even killed.

    After all, it has happened before.

    The nature of American atheists is predominately anti-authoritarian. And given that the world currently enjoys several developed countries predominately populated with non-believers, e.g., Japan, Norway, Sweden, Denmark; your claim here is as idiotic as your previous claim I challenged you where you had nothing.

    That was your false claim that you could determine the position of Kansas City atheists in general on a particular person merely by citing a handful of anonymous comment posts in one Internet page. That earned you my ridicule on future assertions you make, so I don’t even ask for a cite here given you’ve demonstrated a complete inability to present evidence validating the attributes of a particular population.

    I will give you a hint, correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, especially when we can readily find different factors, like authoritarianism, that does correlate with all populations which seize control and kill, ‘the other’.

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