I was Muslim: The reason I became an active atheist is now why I’m not one

Disclaimer: I didn’t want to write this. I am no one. An insignificant blogger, with no hard financial security, no listing on a best-seller list. I am about as much a threat to rich, older, white men as a mosquito is to a rock. I don’t do this for “hits” (the small amount I make from Freethought Blogs goes to charity. I don’t tell people that since that’s no one’s business, really, but feel it necessary to convey exactly what I’m setting up). There’s so little to be gained from doing this. But perhaps I should. (People who claim I’m doing this for clickbait are to be taken as seriously as those claiming men supporting gender equality do so solely for sexual favours.)

For the few who have followed my writing (hi, mom), you know how much I hate being biographical. When I do write biographical material, it is to add to the largely low volume of ex-Muslim people willing to speak out. They don’t speak out because of legitimate fears, because the culture of Islam, even in Western societies, still carries heavy burdens hard to convey, because unlike a white atheist, a brown one with a “Muslim” name is uncommon. To this day, I’m still being told I “look” Muslim, when I’m wearing jeans and a normal jacket. I can’t escape the weird identity I have and it’s this identity which makes me so angry at the leading figures – i.e. white men – of a movement that changed my life. But I’m more fucking angry at the sycophantic nature of a movement that was supposed to have abandoned sanctity for reason and evidence. [Read more…]

Watch the video of talks from Free Society Institute’s conference “Thinking Things Through”

Some time back, some of the most thoughtful, eloquent people from South Africa joined forces, in some kind of Avengers move, to discuss and combat “[o]bstacles to a free society [such as] oppressive or irrational legislation, moral confusions, bigotry and prejudice, and misconceptions about science and secularism.” This was the Free Society Institute‘s conference titled Thinking Things Through, which got support from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).

You can witness all their smarts on full and delightful display now in a single YouTube channel. Here’s the first, with FSI Chair Jacques Rousseau.

I hope to be watching and writing on each one.

For now, I hope you’ll give them all a watch (and witness that South Africa is not comprised solely of lions, grasslands and combat, but critical thinkers and eloquent speakers of international standing).

Criticism of Islam and Islamophobia

My super smart frenemy Kenan Malik has a new post up, examining the blurry, grey landscape that is the no man’s land between the criticism of Islam and Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is a problematic term. This is not because hatred of, or discrimination against, Muslims does not exist. Clearly it does. Islamophobia is a problematic term because it can be used by both sides to blur the distinction between criticism and hatred. On the one hand, it enables many to attack criticism of Islam as illegitimate because it is judged to be ‘Islamophobic’.  On the other, it permits those who promote hatred to dismiss condemnation of that hatred as stemming from an illegitimate desire to avoid criticism of Islam. In conflating criticism and bigotry, the very concept of Islamophobia, in other words, makes it more difficult to engage in a rational discussion about where and how to draw the line between the two.

I tried tackling this in relation to Sam Harris – who I like but Kenan isn’t such a fan of – some time back, myself.

I find, for example, Murtaza Hussain’s criticisms of Harris misguided, though I’ve not yet formulated a good enough response. Anyway, Kenan’s articles are always incredibly nuanced and thoughtful (compare that to anything Hussain writes about Harris).

I hope you’ll read Kenan since he’s one of the smartest people you’re likely to encounter, whose topics are broad yet consistently insightful. Even The New York Times recognised this recently.