My friend Sadaf Ali has a post about the fact that far too many activist atheists talk over ex-Muslims and liberal Muslims instead of listening to them and/or helping them get a turn at the mic.

I was recently quote in Allie Conti’s article for VICE on this issue:

But Sadaf Ali, a Muslim turned atheist activist, says that many New Atheists are just grown-up version of the bullies who called her a “terrorist” as a kid.

“I’ve had to debate people often who make gross generalizations of Muslims and Muslim cultures,” she told me. “People hide their bigotry behind their promotion of atheism, and I think it’s disturbing.” She has a pretty easy solution to changing the movement’s alleged-racism rap: Giving people besides Dawkins and Harris a prominent platform.

That would help. It would help with a lot of things.

It’s a familiar problem with how the media operate, which is that once X gets called as an expert then X becomes that expert you always call when you want an expert. It’s a stupid & lazy shortcut which seems to be damn near impossible to overcome.

How could a major newspaper or tv news station possibly illustrate a piece on anything atheism-related without including a photo of Dawkins??! The world would tilt off its axis and plunge directly into Venus if they did that. There is only Dawkins, and maybe farther down the page one other atheist, so naturally that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for including ex-Muslims or women or unwhite people or anyone else who’s not Dawkins. It’s very sad and all but their hands are tied.

…bear in mind that I speak from experience and interactions that I’ve accumulated over several years as an activist. If you are unfamiliar with my work and who I am, I started a grassroots initiative that built the foundations for the community building organization known as Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA). I am EMNA’s co-founder and former Director of Community Development. I have been privy to the environments and attitudes in which ex-Muslim activists are exposed to and have to work with when it comes to the secular movement. There has been a consistent erasure of ex-Muslims and vocal secular Muslims this past decade.  .

Many of the other ex-Muslims I have worked with and contact on a regular basis have shared this sentiment with me. For starters, Kiran Opal, another co-founder of EXMNA, has written about something she coinedkuffarsplaining. It is the attitudes she captures in “A How-To Guide For Talking About Islam” that make it difficult for (ex-)Muslims to discuss Muslim issues. The first 7 deal specifically with the cultural relativist attitudes that many people hold that promote the erasure of ex-Muslims.

Number 8 on the guide is a special note for atheists:

  1. *Special Note: If you’re an ‘atheist’, instead of giving a platform to theEx-Muslim atheists that are risking their lives now to ‘come out’ and be visible… instead of tagging your Ex-Muslim atheist colleagues and acquaintances in conversations with other Western atheists… instead of promoting Ex-Muslim atheist voices… just do all the talking for them yourself.
    a. Talk about how well you understand Islam, being Muslim, and everything else about the issue so much better than the other white Westerners you’re talking to.
    b. Don’t be our ally, be our mouthpiece. We love it when you do that.

Please make note that the quoted text was written sarcastically!

She tells us something I don’t think I knew, and it makes me want to heave.

Would you like another example? In October of 2014, there was a two-day International Conference on the Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights with Maryam Namazie. Here is a photo gallery of the conference. Here is what Kiran wrote for Atheist Alliance:

“Among the Secular Conference’s speakers, organizers, volunteers & delegates, two thirds were women and 75% were people of colour. This diversity served to shatter the notion — often propagated by antisecularists and far-right fundamentalists — that secularism belongs exclusively to “white men”. Manyspeakers directly challenged the patronizing idea that women, people of colour, ethnic and sexual minorities, and citizens of non-Western countries cannot comprehend, handle, or fight for secularism, freedom of conscience, and universal human rights.”

The Guardian covered the two-day conference by using a picture of Richard Dawkins and as Kiran put it: “All the people of colour and women were erased or downplayed and instead Dawkins’ picture was posted when he was not a speaker or organizer of the event.”

Dawkins has actually done a lot to help ex-Muslims get a platform. The Guardian’s coverage isn’t his fault, it’s the Guardian’s. An damn but that’s a glaring example of the problem.

There are many ex-Muslim and progressive/liberal/secular Muslim voices out there, many of whom are doing fantastic work and outreach within their communities. I no longer buy the excuse that both ex-Muslims and others in the movement have given me – that there aren’t enough of us.  I just don’t buy it anymore because I know firsthand how organizations handle diversity and issues of representation. I know how people get picked for these conferences and conventions to speak and to be on panels. I know how this all works now.

Also? The claim that there aren’t enough is just ludicrous. There are many! Very very many!

Instead of telling me I’m brave, perhaps people should be telling me and other ex-Muslims the truth: we’re patient.


Let’s do this thing.


  1. says

    World Woman had female poets, activists, painters and so on and so on from all across the world: from Rio de Janeiro to Eithiopia. A collection of very inspiring, very secular women talking about issues that effect women internationally. And who did the Independent talk to, out of this selection? Who got the feature? A religious man who spoke on a small ‘men’s panel’ in an event which was over 80% female. There seems to be something about women: like we are transparent or something.

    I bet a lot of those people sharing and laughing at that picture of the Saudi all-men’s ‘women’s conference’ can’t see the problem with all these so called ‘experts’ on Islam being white guys whose expertise comes from reading a couple of books, if that.

  2. says

    Yup. This was the article from the Indy:

    This was the lineup:

    World Woman: a major event about international women activists and artists, most of whom were secular in approach. The least representative interview that could possibly be done would be with a British imam. And that’s what we got.

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