The “Islamophobia” canard revisited

April 21, 2013 • 5:14 am

Smelling blood, the media has spent the past two weeks attacking New Atheism, going so far as, in the case of Theo Hobson of The Spectator, to label Richard Dawkins as a “joke figure“, which he most certainly is not.  Just two days ago, one Freddy Gray, Hobson’s colleague at the Spectator, piled on with a piece called “Dear Richard Dawkins, can you hear me?” The tenor of Gray’s piece can be summarized in a brief excerpt:

There’s no doubt, though, that Theo’s piece touched a nerve among the godless trolls of the web — just look at the comments section.

Doesn’t that remind you of Chris Mooney of The Intersection days? Whenever he said something incredibly stupid, and his readers responded with outrage and correctives, he blithely claimed victory, saying that he “must have touched a nerve.” It amuses me when the mere existence of pushback from your opponents is seen as evidence that what you said must have been right. Anyway, Gray goes on with an argument that’s familiar.

Theo must be on to something. The new atheist spring of the 2000s is wilting. Dawkins suddenly seems like a strange anachronism. In his place, a humbler and more honest atheism is emerging, led by brilliant minds like our very own Douglas Murray on one hand and Alain de Botton on the other. The new gentler atheism, also espoused by clever journalists such as Tanya Gold and Zoe Williams, admits the philosophical shortcomings of unbelief and recognises that religion has its merits. Amen.

I await breathlessly the asceent of de Botton, Murray, Gold, and Williams to the stature of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.  Here, for instance, are the latest Amazon U.S. statistics on de Botton’s and Dawkins’s books:

de Botton, Religion for Atheists (paperback released Jan. 2013): Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,829 in Books

Dawkins, The God Delusion (paperback reprint released Jan. 2008): Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #612 in Books

Whoa! But I guess it’s only the “godless trolls” reading Dawkins, so these statistics cannot reflect his influence.  I couldn’t find any books by Douglas Murray, Tanya Gold, or Zoe Williams about religion or atheism.

A lot of the recent atheist-bashing has involved Islamophobia.  Critics of the invidious tenets of Islam are labeled as “racists,” which is, of course, just a way to make them shut up about Islam as its adherents continue to pillage, kill, and push their women into sacks and subservience.  Fortunately, a few cooler heads have prevailed in the media, so that it’s not left just to people like Harris and me to dispel the “Islamophobia” canard.

One of these is Andrew Zak Williams of The New Statesman, who’s just written a nice piece called “New atheism should be able to criticize Islam without being accused of Islamophobia.” (subtitle: “The atheist community is right to pursue rational, civilised debate, and should be able to do so without being tarred as bigots.”

That subtitle says pretty much all, since the true “Islamophobes”—those who simply hate adherents of Muslims as people, and wish to deny them rights or discriminate against them legally—don’t include the New Atheists. But a few excerpts from Williams’s piece for your delectation, foremost of which is the fact that those who cry “Islamophobia” refuse to engage the atheist arguments against the perfidy of that faith:

Surely, rational discourse should be permitted to tiptoe cautiously along the hallowed corridors of the house of Islam without the guards frogmarching it out, bellowing allegations of racism and bigotry. Cannot we not agree that the real issue is whether the critiques of Islam proffered by today’s prominent atheists are correct? For instance, does Islam fall short when it comes to women’s rights? Does it trample free speech while enforcing its own precepts, by the sword if necessary? By all means, apologists may disagree with the likes of Harris and biologist Jerry Coyne. But what signal is sent by a refusal to permit the issues to be even debated?

One can dream up allegations about any religion that are so obscene that no beliver should be expected to respond. But take the suggestion that Islam has some way to go before it promotes gay rights beyond the level of a misnomer. Or that its holy book, taken literally, demands an embrace of violence and reprisals that wouldn’t be tolerated by any humanist ethos. [JAC: and let’s not forget about the subjugation of women].

These allegations, on their face, are wholly consistent with observation. What’s more, its tenets and precepts have real consequences and repercussions for all of us. What is it that leads apologists and liberal writers to nevertheless consider that Islam shouldn’t have to answer these charges, and that those who bring them are merely dressing their bigotry in a cloak of intellectualism? Biologist Jerry Coyne puts it this way:

“Critics of the New Atheists are free to take issue with their tone, but to dismiss them without addressing the substance of their arguments constitutes an implicit admission that they just might have a point.” [JAC note: Sadly, this quote isn’t from me, but from Michael Luciano, who said it a month ago in PolicyMic, where’s he’s the politics editor.] You can see his point. Plenty of Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Anglicans surely feel aggrieved when their god is put under the microscope and found to be the product of unintelligent design. They challenge both what is said and, increasingly these days, the way it’s said. But they hardly consider that their faith is immune from suitable criticism. For Islam to claim special treatment is to imply that it’s unable to withstand such analysis.

. . . We are under no compunction to pretend that the terrorist doesn’t exist any more than to deny the abundance of moderate Muslims. But the atheist community will not be bullied by lazy allegations of bigotry leveled against those who point that a religion that harbours such extremes has some explaining to do.

And it’s not just a handful of extremists, either: it’s the legions of “moderate” enablers who, through either intimidation or cowardice, refuse to decry their co-religionists.  No surprise given that the penalty for apostasy is death, and you can be threatened for something as innocuous as publishing a cartoon or giving the wrong name to a teddy bear.

Williams finishes with a flourish:

And to resort to the tag “Islamophobia” is justified only if you adapt a bizarre definition of the word that is satisfied merely if the religion is held up to scrutiny, rather than its people being held up to prejudice.

But perhaps there’s another word for what today’s New Atheists have been saying. Maybe they’re just plain wrong.


But until civilised debate is permitted, perhaps we’ll never know.

I doubt that we’re wrong, since the evils committed in the name of Islam are palpable and numerous.  And Williams isn’t wrong, either.


UPDATE: Be sure to read the comment of Meg Shenitch, an administrator for The Thinking Atheist Facebook page, below the fold.  It’s the page’s standard response to those who play the Islamophobia card.

74 thoughts on “The “Islamophobia” canard revisited

  1. I know a number of Moslems who are perfectly decent people, but their religion is evil. Don’t stop beating up on it.

    1. What I often miss in the religion debate is the notion of people being involuntarily “trapped” in a religion, and staying only to prevent (social) consequences of being branded a traitor.

      I think that many Muslims are more like involuntary military conscripts who might even be pacifists and would never ever enlist if they ever had a choice, but now as they ended up in the conflict machinery, they do not dare to even speak against the conflict, since the punishment for disobedience is far more certain than being killed by the enemy.

      Islam is in its military like structure being far more rigid to its own members than to outsiders. So it could be possible that the best way for the human psyche to cope with that inescapeable pressure is an “forward escape” (bad translation of the German “Flucht nach vorne”): A brilliant feedback loop that makes people think that becoming more extreme themselves will make them avoid being oppressed by the system. Instead of trying to desert from military conscription, you fight harder to become a war hero. But exactly that line of thinking makes you less forgiving when you find out that an fellow conscript is trying to desert, so conscripts end up punishing each other for desertion.

      IMHO the key for breaking this vicious self-enforcing circle is to make the conscription harder. Education systems, at least in the west, have to start speaking out against religious pressures, directly to kids to neutralize what their parents, imams and pastors are indoctrinnating them with at home. As religions have showed time and time again, getting them while they’re young is the key. Organized atheism should invest more effort into reaching kids. I always thought that the atheist campaigns towards adulds were a waste of money. A simple message like “Your parents are lying to you. God doesnt exist.” put in front of schools would likely have a far stronger effect and damage the early-conscription scheme.

      1. Oh, that wouldn’t be controversial.

        “Your parents once taught you to believe in Santa Claus. But now you know the truth.

        “Your parents also taught you to believe in God…”

        Insightful re “Flucht nach vorne”; that fits rather too well.


  2. I’m an admin for The Thinking Atheist Facebook page, and every time we post anything even remotely related to Islam, some little racist windbag shows up to either attempt to defend Islam or who attempts to deflect to Christianity. And the recent wave of articles by such trolls probably isn’t helping any.

    What follows is my standard response to those people:

    Of course, these same people so quick to deflect from Islam never show up on posts that take aim at Christianity, which constitute the overwhelming majority of posts we write aimed at a specific faith, and wail, “yeah, but Islam…!”

    Islam is no more a race of people than Christianity is. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are not Arabs. There are more Muslims in the Southeast Asian country of Indonesia than in all of the Arab countries combined.

    Islam is only a set of ideas, not a race of people. Just a set of really rotten ideas (which I’m unfortunately all too familiar with as I took courses in Islam and Islamic History at University, and I really wish I didn’t know what the faith was about — it makes me ill).

    So is it that you think so little of brown people and their capacity to grasp basic morals like “don’t pour acid on your daughter” or “don’t shoot children in the head” or “don’t kill people” that you have to defend them?

    If men did that and they were white Westerners, you wouldn’t even consider trying to downplay such actions, would you?

    Do expect more from white people? Because if yes, that is seriously racist. Skin color has absolutely nothing to do with a human being’s capacity to observe basic ideas like “hurting and killing other people is bad and wrong.” Which should go without saying.

    And yes, the Bible says horrible crap too. Pointing that out to deflect from Islam is like whining that bee swarms can be deadly while ignoring the lion that’s eyeing you for lunch from the bush. Everybody here already knows bee swarms can be deadly. That’s not new information. And you can whine all you want about bee swarms; it’s not going to stop the hungry lion from naturally selecting your ass out of the gene pool.

    Islam commands and condones wife beating in Sura 4:34 of the Qur’an and child rape, just to name a couple of “highlights.”

    Women’s shelters here in Germany are overflowing with a hugely disproportionate number of Muslim women beaten by their husbands with belts and electrical cords, despite the fact that Muslims are a tiny minority in this country. All across the globe in Muslim majority countries, little girls are married off to old men to be raped, just like their repugnant “prophet” did it to a little girl named Aisha.

    That’s what you’re defending when you defend Islam and its adherents — a dogma of wife beating and child rape that runs contrary to every, single basic human right.

    What sort of human being defends a dogma that condones the rape of little kids when you’re not a Muslim and don’t even have a dog in the fight?

    If you didn’t know, you do now. And if you did know and you still wanted to defend and enable this shit, there is something seriously wrong with you.

    1. Women’s shelters here in Germany are overflowing with a hugely disproportionate number of Muslim women beaten by their husbands with belts and electrical cords, despite the fact that Muslims are a tiny minority in this country.

      Just two days ago I read an article in the online edition of the German newspaper “Die Welt” on domestic violence in Turkey. It mentioned that many men see corporeal punishment of their spouses as being mandated by religion, i.e. Islam. And this is only Turkey, the most westernized Muslim country. I can imagine that elsewhere in the Islamic world it is even worse.

      But of course this isn’t the fault of religion. It’s never the fault of religion – they just follow the wrong interpretation.

    2. I love those posts Meg. I remember you also once posted a detailed description that made me think differently. It was to do with the doctrine of Islam and how it advocated violence and this made it very different from Christianity.

      1. Stonyground:
        Modern Christians may have outgrown Christanity’s tendency toward violence. However, both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible are filled with violence that the Christian God certainly approves of. The history of the last two thousand years is filled with violence advocated by Christianity.

        1. Agreed but there is a fundamental distinction. Christianity does and had done terrible things in its name, but its doctrines do not direct its followers to convert people to it through violent means.

          1. So, 19 million hanged or burnt alive as coercion to keep folks in line is somehow different than Islam? The Inquisition takes moral high ground over jihad?
            Don’t kid yourself.
            It’s most certainly time civilization quit putting up with Islams bad behavior, especially when they want out tech (medicine, guns, Internet, air conditioning) to behave badly. But that’s about enough from Christians who behave like animals too. My father used Thomas Moore, a mysogynistic atrocity of a man, to rationalize his awful behavior. Last week.
            Yep. Religion is a bad thing.

    3. Excellent comment, Meg. Thank you. You’d think that at some point these people would realize that we are opposing all religious beliefs, probably especially those of the western sky-god religions (because they are doing the most harm in today’s world), as opposed to disliking or practicing prejudice against people just because they happen to hold a particular religious belief.

      Those attempting to play the islamophobia card without addressing the substantive criticisms of the religion itself might want to read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book “Infidel,” or mull over the fact that the most famous part of Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” is the first page of chapter two, opening with the words “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”

    4. “What follows is my standard response to those people:”

      Way too long. If you try to say too much, people walk away with nothing.

        1. You’re already reading an article on a blog titled “Why Evolution is True”. It’s probably safe to say your tendencies aren’t applicable to those who shout “Islamophobe! racist!” in Facebook comments.

    5. Much of this is true – and the point that there’s a racist assumption at work – ‘brown people’ can’t be expected to have morality and intelligent political agendas like clever white Western people – is well-made.

      But I think the question is more problematic. In the UK, for instance, it is an argument of the far right that ‘Islam’ threatens our culture, and however true it may be that Muslims aren’t a race, what they mean is *immigrants*, mainly Asian immigrants. The result is that many Asian Muslims experience criticism of their religion as an attack on them.

      And most of those Muslims – the vast majority of them – whatever you may say about what their religion as a religion stands for etc, are perfectly decent people who wouldn’t dream of raping little kids and what have you.

      I think there is a big danger in treating Islam as if it is an ideology outside of time, space, social context, etc. The Muslims in my street are not the same, and do not believe the same things, as Muslim jihadists in Mali, say; and it is perverse to treat them as if they all fall into a single category. I think it is worse than perverse to suggest, as Sam Harris has, that the fascists in Europe have got something ‘right’ about the threat from Muslims. They have not. Most Muslims, like the ones in my street, are no threat to me at all.

      1. “most of those Muslims – the vast majority of them (…) are perfectly decent people”

        Are they really though? Where do we draw the line? Let’s examine:

        * I would hazard a guess that the majority of muslims still require women – not men – to be virgins at the wedding night.
        * I would also hazard along the same lines that a divorced woman will have difficulty re-marrying due to shame/dishonour issues.
        * Even amongst Turks – from the most secular of islamic countries – honour kllings are considered fairly normal
        * And even among moderate muslims the attitude to what should be done to apostates is, let’s say, questionable. For instance the self-profiled moderate scholar Tariq Ramadan was once pushed on the issue in a public debate and flat out refused to decry the death penalty for apostacy (this may have to do with his sucking up to the Iranian regime).

        I would say that any of these attitudes pretty much disqualifies you from at least my personal definition of ‘perfectly decent’.

      2. I don’t think Sam Harris says the fascists in Europe have it “right” exactly. He says they are the only people to speak honestly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe and then he follows with a statement that this does not bode well for civilization. Perhaps he could have expanded on that last sentence a bit more to make it clear that he does not agree or identify with fascists. The point he was making was that people as repugnant as fascists are willing to observe this truth (that Islam is dangerous) where liberals do not out of political correctness. Yes, it s undesireable to think that fascists and those seeing Islam as dangerous agree but it doesn’t mean that fascists get it right and this was Sam’s point (as he has argued in his defence to being called and Islamophobe).

        I take your greater point though – yes it is important to make sure to criticize the belief and feel comfortable to do so. It is wrong to attack the people. Sam has made this clear as well as I think have all the “new atheists”.

      3. Oh Clive, to live in such splendid isolation. I would say that the people you refer to in your street are culturally a million miles away, it IS a different world. Try immersing yourself in it for a while, you will see that it is an ideology outside of time and space. When worlds collide, survival of the fittest becomes the dominant force. At the extreme end of that let me tell you there are some pretty ferocious protectors of that ideolgy. They are the combatants, the foot soldiers that everyone fears. The masses of Muslims behind them may not be so vocal, indeed they are not, some are even critical, but the vast majority do support them up and down the country in their little, quiet homes tucked away in surburbia, just like the ones in your street. Do you think they would come out and admit that to you? Oh but it’s perverse to treat them as if in a single category. Normally, yes, but Muslims are a brotherhood, they are all joined, do to one and you do to all. Hence the idea of Jihadists from all over the world. I don’t think you have to be right wing to be concerned.

  3. Definition slippage is a problem.

    The racism and discrimination that was attacked back in the 60s was not simple disapproval, it was socially and physically harmful, even violent.

    The word discrimination has now, however, acquired the power a mystical, discussion ending, invocation. You see people rapidly scrambling to apology or denial the moment the ‘d’ word is thrown at them.

    We need to unapologetically be able be willing to separate ourselves (yes, discriminate in it’s real sense) from behaviors, beliefs, even social groups, religions, cultures (yes some very destructive behaviors have become culturally embedded among some subgroups) for any good reason. And not attempt sweet-talk our way out.

    We don’t need to step gently
    in the name of ‘open mindedness’

    1. When I was first learning about these things in the seventies, racism was defined as the belief that some ‘races’ of people are genetically inferior to others and because their inferiority is genetic they can expect to remain at the bottom of the scale and there’s nothing to be done about it except make sure they don’t intermarry and dilute the superiority of white folks. Nowadays just suggesting that some cultures or religions have worse ways of doing things gets you labelled “racist”. This makes rational discussion impossible and lets actual racists off the hook.

  4. Akin to “touched a nerve” are the authors’ condescending accusations of zealotry flung at the commenters defending Harris and Dawkins.

    It’s yet another way of silencing as you’re either a racist or a zealot.

  5. Lessee…97% (or some such) of all terrorist attacks indiscriminately aimed at maiming and killing random noncombatant men, women and children over the last 30 years have been committed by Islamics, but to critically point that out is to be an Islamophobe?

    Yeah, right…understandably I suppose the same way that alerting folks that there is a rabid dog loose in the neighborhood is to [sloppily misspeaking] be a rabid-dogophobe, which even Islamics would [sloppily misspeaking] understandably be rabid-dogophobes if a rabid dog was loose in the neighborhood; I would understandably [sloppily misspeaking] be one too, but that is a misapplication of the term “phobia” (which is defined as an IRRATIONAL fear).

    Rational fear of things and beings that are in fact ready, willing, able, and champing at the bit to harm one is not a phobia, it is wisdom! I fear radical Islamofascist terrorists and it sure seems to me that even NON-radical Islamic NON-terrorists would wisely fear radical Islamofascist terrorists too — what am I overlooking???

    1. The topic here is rejecting accusations of ‘islamophobia’ against the likes of Profs Coyne and Dawkins, or the late Hitch. It doesn’t call for such rhetoric as

      97% (or some such) of all terrorist attacks indiscriminately aimed at maiming and killing random noncombatant men, women and children over the last 30 years

      Too many qualifications, and a blatantly made-up statistic, does not make much of an argument. Probably should have thought again before hitting ‘Post’, IMO. I hope your phobia responds to treatment before fear makes you act more unwisely.

  6. Every time I read or hear some more Islamic Apologia, I’m reminded of the Twilight Zone Episode: “To Serve Man”.

    1. I haven’t seen this episode but I do recall reading a sci-fi short story with a premise that aliens were following a code book entitled “To Serve Man” that was actually a cookbook. I wonder if the two are linked.

  7. Glen Greenwald and the like are conflating criticism of religious belief with bigotry. Harris and Dawkins are not bigots. As far as I can tell, they criticize all religions. I personally think it’s okay to ridicule beliefs, because, let’s face it, all religions have some really bizarre things in it. And all major religions have gone through a phase in which believers have murdered others who didn’t believe as they did (Crusades, Inquisition, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the entire Middle East). Many still do.

    True “Islamophobia” is not telling someone their beliefs are ridiculous; it’s denying the holder basic civil rights. It’s telling them to “go back to Iraq, you raghead.” It’s calling them by some derogatory name instead of their own. It’s being afraid of a mosque being built on the block. It’s wanting to treat a suspect like an “enemy combatant” for the sole reason that they happen to be Muslim.It’s passing laws prohibiting “Sharia law” when no such thing is even occurring in this country. It’s treating everyone in a turban or odd headgear as a suspect.

    Beliefs (any and all) and the intersection of those beliefs with politics are certainly open to question and ridicule.

    1. Hear hear. That Greenwald dustup was frankly embarrassing. No matter what evidence was put in front of Greenwald showing that Sam Harris was intelligently criticizing a belief, he refused to see it….and he had the audacity to call those defending Harris “zealots”. Irony much?

    2. I agree. I think that those who see “Islam” as primarily a matter of race and culture are mistakenly buying into one of the basic strategies used to keep religion immune from honest criticism: miscategorization. This is done by blithely insisting that religion isn’t part of a debate about the existence of God and how reality is set up — it’s an expression of someone’s basic identity. It’s like race, sex, ethnicity, or harmless personal preference. Attack “who” and “what” someone is … and you’re a bigot.

      Sure. But it works the other way too. Turn a rational debate into some sort of nonjudgmental Diversity Smorgabord in order to shut up an unwelcome argument … and now YOU’RE the bigot.

  8. Theologically, there’s nothing significant to distinguish Islam from Christianity. Both have calls to mass murder of all non-believers coming from their most revered icons. Both sing the praises of rape and torture and death and destruction in all forms most hideous. Arguing that one huge pile of steaming shit is more or less shitty than another huge pile of steaming shit is pretty pointless.

    That writ, as social institutions, there’s a good amount to distinguish the two.

    In particular, Christianity has mostly evolved to a moral level consistent with early post-Enlightenment secular society, while much of the Islamic world is still debating the merits and detriments of Hammurabic “justice.”

    That is, Christianity is only a couple centuries behind the times, whist Islam is a couple millennia out of date. That’s a pretty significant and substantial difference.

    And, of course — these are large populations of people, so there’s going to be lots of variation. Some Muslims are much more Enlightened than the overwhelming majority of Christians, and some Christians think Hammurabi was too liberal.

    TL/DR: Most Christians are partying like it’s 1750. Similarly, most Muslims are partying like it’s 1750…BCE.



    1. “while much of the Islamic world is still debating the merits and detriments of Hammurabic “justice.”

      Perhaps you would like to remember that the country with the largest Muslim population in the world is the mostly secular Indonesia, and the country third on that list (by a small margin) is India. Last I recall, though both countries have faced problems from imported Islamic fundamentalism, a majority of Muslims there were not “debating the merits and detriments of Hammurabic “justice.”

      1. As I recall, Indonesia is one of the few places in the world that still practices judicial corporal punishment. If that’s not Hammurabic, I don’t know what is.


        1. Also, contrary to what you might recall, judicial corporal punishment is a recent phenomenon in Indonesia, and that too in exactly one province.

          On the other hand, the clearly Islamic principalities of Singapore has had it for while.

          Let me make my objections clear. You seemed to be suggesting that “much of the Islamic world is still debating the merits and detriments of Hammurabic “justice.”” To me, states like Indonesia and India (which have some of the world’s highest Muslim populations) appear to be no more Hammurabic than several states in the US (compare the rate of executions in India, Indonesia and the US if you don’ believe me).

      2. “Mostly secular” are not words I’d use to describe Indonesia. Any country where they can send you to jail for becoming an atheist is hardly secular. Indonesia is highly Islamic and will prosecute you for blasphemy as well as atheism, 2 1/2 years for writing “God does not exist” on a Facebook page seems pretty religious to me.

        1. “Any country where they can send you to jail for becoming an atheist is hardly secular. ”

          I presume you are referring to an incident from 2012 mentioned here. You will notice that the court did *not* sentence the accused for blasphemy but for that other bugbear: disturbing public harmony. You might also like to have a look at the Indonesian constitution, which guarantees religious freedoms irrespective of religion.

          “Indonesia is highly Islamic and will prosecute you for blasphemy as well as atheism”

          The Islamic part is borne out by neither the Indonesian constitution nor the incident you referred to. As for blasphemy, Germany will prosecute you for it to. Nothing to do with Islam there.

          1. Interesting that the link you posted has this:

            “Technically, if we go by the letter of the Constitution, there is no room for atheists in Indonesia.”

            Indonesia is not “mostly secular” by any definition. If you want mostly secular, look at Azerbaijan.

            1. “Technically, if we go by the letter of the Constitution, there is no room for atheists in Indonesia.”

              Actually that’s not so clear. The relevant part of the Indonesian constitution states, according to Wikipedia, “The first principle of Indonesia’s philosophical foundation, Pancasila*, is: “belief in the one and only God”. I don’t see how that is any different from references to the “Creator” in the US constitution.

              But it gets more interesting. Indonesia guarantees religious freedom, but also recognizes six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Now this is where the claim of atheism not being allowed begins to truly fall apart. Confucianism and Buddhism are mostly atheistic from the point of view of the other religions on the list (as in, they don’t believe in “the one and only God”, while Hinduism has several atheistic branches.

              * Notice also that Pancasila is derived from Sanskrit (it literally means “Five principles”) and does not come from the Quran.

  9. Well, to be fair, in the United States, there was an outcry when Muslims wanted to build Mosques, community centers and the like. Also, you had the Sikh Temple shooting where some idiot mistook Sikhs for Muslims.

    THAT is what many mean by “Islamophobia”.

    Decrying the human rights abuses in Islamic Republics, Sharia law which calls for execution for blasphemy and apostasy, abuse of women, homophobia, Muslims rioting because they don’t like a book or a cartoon is perfectly ok and warranted; that isn’t “Islamophobia”.

    1. the Sikh Temple shooting where some idiot mistook Sikhs for Muslims

      I never actually read anything about that apart from mentions in blog comments, so I’m only guessing… whoever did that, did they by any chance habitually listen to talk radio?

  10. It seems to me that the people who cry “Islamophobia!” at the New Atheists are alienating the very people who’d be most likely to defend them when their civil rights are violated by *truly* bigoted people.

  11. I’m sure it’s been said before but I just think it’s so funny.

    When we talk about the ills of Christianity, it’s: “Why are you picking on Christians? You wouldn’t dare say that about Muslims.”

    When we talk about the ills of Islam, it’s: “Why do you guys gotta be such Islamophobic racists?”

    1. No kidding indeed.

      When lots of atheists (including the high-profile ones like Dawkins and Grayling) were having a go at Christianity recently in the UK because of things like bishops in the house of lords and the surge in religious state-sponsored schools, the argument against them was “you would never dare to criticise Islam this way because they are too violent for you!”.

      Heads, they win, tails, you lose.

  12. I think a lot of those who want to criticize the gnu atheists for “Islamophobia” are actually making the same sort of argument they make against gnu atheism in general.

    To wit: what about moderate and liberal religion? What about people who manage to make their supernatural, sacred, holy beliefs comport with the secular humanist view of science, human rights, and the value of peace, compassion, and harmony well enough to cause no harm? To not interfere? We need to grant them credit! We need to hold them up as role models! We need to come forth and acknowledge that HERE is the real religion, the true understanding of God, and the model version of genuine Islam, genuine Christianity, genuine Hinduism and so forth and so on.

    It’s an argument based not just on a particular view of ‘fairness’ but on strategy. Critics believe gnu atheists harp on too much about what is true about reality and what is wrong with religion — and ignore the powerful tool available to show how and where religion is right! It’s as if they can’t tell the difference between the extremists and the moderates because they WANT the confusion to exist. Unlike the Good Atheists, you see, who want to join up with allies on political and social grounds alone.

    So sure, charges of “Islamophobia” against us do indeed have a particular urgency and anger to them — but it seems to me that they’re rooted in the same place as all the charges. Ignore the methods and justification. Religion = identity. Focus then on results and follow the strategy of praising the good and condemning only the evil.

    And by doing so we get the religious to WANT to measure “good” and “evil” by the standards of atheists! We humanize religion! Right?

    No. We don’t. Avoid the root of the problem and it’s just an endless game of wack-a-mole. These good Muslims are REAL Muslims. Those bad Muslims are NOT real Muslims. We non-muslims get to decide this because “faith” and “God” are trivial little additions to religion and not at all what religion is about. And Muslims are cool with this as long as we don’t say it out loud. Riiiight.

    Sam Harris has said a lot of things about how Islam has specific characteristics which make it much harder for its adherents to decide that God is a secular humanist. But his main focus has always been the same: the ultimate problem is faith. The belief that the secular world is insignificant, evil, lower, impure, or temporary combined with the belief that reason is a snare and mystical ways of Knowing trump all the wisdom of the world is the main PROBLEM. We can’t use it as a tool for coming to a solution. It will always bite us back.

    Method, method, method.

  13. I’m one of the gentler post-New Atheists. Like the wilting New Atheists, I think belief in gods is silly, but unlike New Atheists I think female genital mutilation, arranged marriages, cock-sucking-herpes-infected rabbis and good old-fashioned pederasts are cultural delights on a par with anything the civilised world has to offer.

  14. Is it just me or did Theo Hobson simply draw a circle around a few not-so-outspoken-critics and then, with no evidential basis whatsoever, claim they form a new movement. And now Freddy Gray has patted him on the back for it. The fact that none of these people seem particularly highly regarded within the community it’s claimed they represent seems to have been ignored.

  15. “But they hardly consider that their faith is immune to suitable criticism”?

    This is not my experience. I have learned to be careful what I say around certain Christians unless I’m ready to deal with their anger and outrage at my blasphemy.

  16. led by brilliant minds like our very own Douglas Murray on one hand and Alain de Botton on the other.

    I don’t know about Murray (so how brilliant can he be). But as for Botton, how brilliant is a “me too” mirroring of a social movement those texts support war, torture, bigotry and racism, and has been responsible for war, torture, bigotry and racism?

    I think we can find Botton at the bottom of a pile of minds.

  17. I somehow missed all this time that Botton’s book was called Religion for Atheists. I can’t think of a title less likely to attract readers: Atheists aren’t looking for religion, and nothing for atheists is going to attract the religious. It’s like a book called Butchering for Vegans.

  18. They probably think that by destroying the queen ants – Dawkins, Harris,etc they will get rid of the entire colony but they couldn’t be more wrong.New Atheism won’t just go away. I can’t see how Soft Atheism will ever be as effective as New Atheism.

    Bill Maher’s little debate…ok, monologue…on this subject Friday night was spot on, powerful.Good to see this debated on TV as well. And I couldn’t agree more, liberals are part of the problem too.

    1. It was good to see Maher call the guest on his “liberal shit”. Also, I think this is the first time I’ve heard Harris and Dawkins referred to as queen ants. I like it because is also visually amusing. 🙂

  19. Just coming to call BS here:
    “That subtitle says pretty much all, since the true “Islamophobes”—those who simply hate adherents of Muslims as people, and wish to deny them rights or discriminate against them legally—don’t include the New Atheists.”

    This is total bullshit. Plenty of those identifying with the New Atheist movement are islamophobes, or express hatred, bigotry and stereotyping against muslims (Thunderf00t), or wish to discriminate against them legally (Sam Harris).
    All of us have our biases and predjudices, just as all of us atheists have inherited the culturally prevalent attitudes of racism, ableism, ageism, sizeism, homophobia or misogyny. The proper response is not to say “we atheists aren’t bigots!”, but to use self-reflection to identify our own internal biases and reject individual instances of bigotry in ourselves as well as within the movement.

    A wonderful example of islamophobia in the OP is: “make them shut up about Islam as its adherents continue to pillage, kill, and push their women into sacks and subservience.” Because of course all muslims take that view of things.. NOT. Although there are also significant problems with misogyny, sexism and bigotry even among modern western muslims in the US and Europe, I have yet to see evidence that this is any greater a problem than in the christian/semi-religious groups here, or even among us hallowed New Atheists. Perhaps I’m wrong and there is absolutely no evidence of any lack of acceptance of equality and gender issues by atheists… (perhaps if I’d been blind or dead for the past few years).

    The proper approach when criticising Islam the religion as an atheist is to 1) not make blanket statements about all muslims. 2) make sure minority Islamic viewpoints aren’t described as representative of all different subsets of the religion, 3) don’t pretend muslims themselves are being silent about these things, just because their voice isn’t heard as much in the English-speaking media and 4) don’t forget that many of the problems with Islam are to do with the socio-economic or political situation in a given country and aren’t really specific to Islam (i.e. Christianity is just as bad in its more primitive or totalitarian forms)

    Moderate muslims can and do speak out against the excesses of their religion – often in the very countries where the worst human-rights violations are happening. They just don’t happen to express themselves in English. Furthermore each muslim country and each brand of Islam has a different history.

    Remembering Christopher Hitchens approach: although he did criticize Islam as a religion, he often referenced specific clerics, specific ideas, specific regimes, political ideas within the muslim world and accepted that many muslims were in fact victims of the injustice of their religion.

  20. Could someone explain what JAC at the end of the paragraph below means, and what it’s used for? I’ve seen it in other pieces of writing before and always wondered what it meant. Is it an acronym for something? Sorry if this is off-topic but I feel like it’s something I should know.

    One can dream up allegations about any religion that are so obscene that no beliver should be expected to respond. But take the suggestion that Islam has some way to go before it promotes gay rights beyond the level of a misnomer. Or that its holy book, taken literally, demands an embrace of violence and reprisals that wouldn’t be tolerated by any humanist ethos. [JAC: and let’s not forget about the subjugation of women].

  21. Dear Jerry,

    I am at the point of wanting to weep over the ignorance, the generalizations, the bigotry of your words. I really like the subtitle of the New Statesman piece that you discuss: “The atheist community is right to pursue rational, civilised debate, and should be able to do so without being tarred as bigots.” I agree. I would love nothing more than a rational, civilized discussion with you on this issue but you have already suggested that anyone who disagrees with your view can follow Chris Hitchens’ directive and kiss your ass . . . .

    My reply to you addresses the issues. I welcome rational, civilized debate. You can see it at

    1. <I welcome rational, civilized debate

      Well I welcome discussions based on logical argument from objective evidence, rather than ideology and free-floating rhetoric. I guess we won’t be having a conversation.

  22. I think you gave quite a bit too much credence to what is essentially a one-pager of non-arguments, poorly written by what could have been a junior-sub-editor.

    Still, good smackdown, but a bit like taking on a midge with a houwitzer.

  23. I think some of this mess happened because of an unclarity in what *some* of the people playing the Islamophobia card were claiming. That is, the claim was something like this:

    (a) You’re singling out a religion as being particularly bad that happens to be one which is more popular elsewhere
    (b) It is easy and may be perceived as lazy to focus on the violence and criminality of others, when there is so much of that sort fo thing one has more connection to (for example, if one lives in a country which invaded or has troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.)

    So then why are you doing it?
    * – * – *
    This argument is a bit weak; one can and must condemn it all, though I think there is some merit on focusing on the “near and dear” first as the suggestion is.

    All that said, not all of it was even like this.

  24. I would be honored to be recognized as a Godless Troll. Steven Weinberg said it best:

    “Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion, should be done and may,
    in fact, in the end, be our greatest contribution to civilization.”

Leave a Reply