Someone at the invaluable Facebook group British Muslims for Secular Democracy posted an article in the Huffington Post last May by Ali Rizvi, An Atheist Muslim’s Perspective on the ‘Root Causes’ of Islamist Jihadism and the Politics of Islamophobia.

It begins by quoting.

The ambassador answered us that [their right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.

The above passage is not a reference to a declaration by al Qaeda or some Iranian fatwa. They are the words of Thomas Jefferson, then the U.S. ambassador to France, reporting to Secretary of State John Jay a conversation he’d had with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, Tripoli’s envoy to London, in 1786 — more than two and a quarter centuries ago.

The envoy was explaining why the pirate raids off the coast of North Africa would continue; because jihad, that’s why.

Adja’s position wasn’t a random one-off. This conflict continued for years, seminally resulting in the Treaty of Tripoli, signed into law by President John Adams in 1797. Article 11 of the document, a direct product of the United States’ first-ever overseas conflict, contained these famous words, cementing America’s fundamental commitment to secularism:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext, arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Yes, the establishment of secularism in America back in the 18th century was largely related to a conflict with Islamist jihadism.

How can that be? The same way it can be now: many people really are motivated by religious beliefs and dogma, and not by something “deeper” or more occult or more political or more attractive.

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and the foiled al Qaeda-backed plot in Toronto, the “anything but jihad” brigade is out in full force again. If the perpetrators of such attacks say they were influenced by politics, nationalism, money, video games or hip-hop, we take their answers at face value. But when they repeatedly and consistently cite their religious beliefs as their central motivation, we back off, stroke our chins and suspect that there has to be something deeper at play, a “root cause.”

The taboo against criticizing religion is still so astonishingly pervasive that centuries of hard lessons haven’t yet opened our eyes to what has been apparent all along: It is often religion itself, not the “distortion,” “hijacking,” “misrepresentation” or “politicization” of religion, that is the root cause.

And the same applies to religiously-based sexism, homophobia, violence against heretics and apostates, forced marriage, and so on. It’s not the case that religion is always a screen for something else; often religion is what there is. It’s not “Islamophobia” to say that.

 Typically, resorting to ad hominem attacks and/or labeling the opposing side “bigoted” is a last resort, when the opponent is unable to generate a substantive counterargument.

This phenomenon can be wholly represented by loaded terms like “Islamophobia.” As an atheist Muslim (I’m not a believer, but I love Eid, the feasts of Ramadan and my Muslim family and friends), I could be jailed or executed in my country of birththe country I grew up in and a host of other Muslim countries around the world for writing this very piece. Obviously, this is an unsettling, scary feeling for me. You may describe that fear as a very literal form of “Islamophobia.” But is that the same thing as anti-Muslim bigotry? No.

No; but by god there are a lot of people who rush to claim that it is.

Jews frequently profess their faith without justifying or defending passages in the Old Testament calling for the stoning to death of homosexuals, non-virginal brides or blasphemers. In fact, most of them condemnthese ideas. Religious Catholics still identify with their faith in large numbers without agreeing with the pope on birth control, abortion or premarital sex. Like them, almost all Muslims cherry-pick the contents of their faith as well. Why not be honest about the parts you don’t like? If you’re being discriminated against, why not protect your people first instead of jumping to protect your beliefs, books or religion every time someone driven by them commits mass murder?

This is a key difference for “new atheists.” To us, the fight against religious ideology isn’t a struggle against human rights but a struggle for them. Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Books and beliefs don’t and aren’t.

Also hijabs and niqabs. They also don’t and aren’t. Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Books and beliefs and religious garments don’t and aren’t.


  1. says

    Did you write about this HuffPo piece back in May? Somebody did, because at the time I pulled two other really quotes from it for my scrapbook:

    I also understand that extremism in any ideology isn’t a distortion of that ideology. It is an informed, steadfast adherence to its fundamentals, hence the term “fundamentalism.” … But the number-one reason that terrorism is linked with Islam is not the media or “Islamophobes.” It is that jihadi terrorists link themselves with Islam.


    For the fast-growing secularist/humanist movement, criticism of religion isn’t a demonstration of bigotry but a struggle against it. To us, bigotry against bigotry isn’t bigotry, and intolerance of intolerance isn’t intolerance.

    Good stuff.

  2. says

    I don’t think I did. I did a search on the name first, in case, and got nothing…But who knows, I could have skipped the name, and I do forget what I’ve posted.

  3. RJW says

    Curiously, when the subject of slavery is raised the fact that Europeans were, for 1200 years, the victims of Moslem North African pirates, seems never to be mentioned by Islamic apologists, about 1 million Europeans were taken as slaves by the Barbary corsairs. Many millions more Eastern Europeans were enslaved by the Ottomans.

    Moslems still, in the 21st century, regard the enslavement of Kuffars, particularly women, as sanctioned by the Quoran.

  4. Al says

    Ha. You’re endorsing Ali Rizvi, now? Wow.

    Rizvi’s arguments are stolen from Hitchens. The whole article you link is incredibly funny because Rizvi did not even read the Jefferson letter which he quoted from in which the ambassador of Tripoli allegedly said that piracy was motivated by Islam. The letter says the ambassador wanted money and that piracy would continue until his country, like many others of the time, exacted tribute from the countries whose ships they had taken. It was motivated by economics. Even Hitchens admitted that historians attribute the Barbary Wars to economics in his review of two books on the subject.

    Also, it is not true as Hitch claimed that it marked the first interaction between Islam and America. The first interaction was when American abducted Muslim slaves from West Africa to work on the plantation for good old Christian folk. By the many thousands. So it was America which attacked Muslims first. Just as Napoleon was rampaging through Egypt. There were famous Muslim slaves like Omar Said who wrote a memoir about his captivity. What is true is that Islam attacked Europe first, but not America.

    But of course all this kind of stuff, like Rizvi’s scribblings, serves a common purpose: depicting those Muslims as savages who just want to murder any old infidel, whether peaceful not not, and that our actions toward them have nothing to do with it.

    By the same logic, Americans were not motivated to invade Afghanistan by 9/11 because they were killing millions of Buddhists in Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos long before bin Laden was born, so given that peaceful Vietnamese and Cambodian Buddhists never attacked America in the same way that peaceful apostates never attacked Muslims, how Americans were treated by Muslims on 9/11 has nothing to do with its response.

    And look, when Americans are not killing peaceful infidels, they are engaged in sectarian wars wit their Christian brothers in WW1 and 2 and in Yugoslavia and the American Civil War and the Revolutionary War.

    Americans are not motivated by politics. They are just crusaders who bomb everyone for their genocidal God.

  5. Silentbob says

    @ 3 RJW

    Moslems still, in the 21st century, regard the enslavement of Kuffars, particularly women, as sanctioned by the Quoran.

    All of them? Most of them? Some of them? At least two of them?

    (I caution you against generalising about groups to which you do not belong. It makes you sound like a bigot.)

  6. RJW says

    @5 Silentbob,

    The usual interpretation of the phrase would be, “definitely some”

    So, it wasn’t a generalisation, some Moslems have been recorded as making statements to that effect, therefore whether or not I’m a co-religionist is irrelevant isn’t it? I’d caution you against scrambling for the moral high ground and attempting to score PC points. It makes you sound rather pretentious.

    Consider the statement– “The Nazis, the Communists and the Japanese militarists slaughtered millions of people.” All of them, most, some?

  7. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Consider the statement– “The Jews control Hollywood and the international banking industry.” All of them, most, some?

  8. RJW says


    Nice try, however,

    The onus of proof is on anyone who asserts that the “The Jews control Hollywood and the international banking industry”, or that he saw Elvis yesterday afternoon, or that the Palestinians don’t exist as a people.


    (1) Moslems are exhorted in the Quoran and the Hadiths to enslave unbelievers captured by conquest, it’s in black and white, and since the Quoran is the word of Allah, Moslems believe in enslaving Kuffars–it’s part of the ideology, Mohammed was a bandit and slave trader. The claim is not that all Moslems support slavery but that the religion does.

    (2) Moslem clerics and politicians have made statements supporting slavery, in this century.

    (1) and (2) are well established facts.

    There are dozens of anti-Islamisation sites that will provide chapter and verse.

    In general, I’ll express deep scepticism in regard to the mantra, “the majority of Moslems are moderate”, if so, why are majority Moslem countries such as they are? Perhaps someone could explain that.

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