Morning reading: Jeff Tayler on Islam; Godless Spellchecker on Dawkins

July 25, 2017 • 9:00 am

While I’m busy downtown, why don’t you have a look at the following two articles? The first is at Quillette by Jeff Tayler : “Leftist hypocrisy about Islam: setting the stage for violence“. For the first time (I think) Tayler takes apart a piece in Huffington Post, a tree whose fruit all hangs low.

The piece in question made me grind my teeth when I saw it: “This former MTV icon found inner peace through Islam.” It’s part of HuffPo’s campaign to make everything about Islam seem peaceful, warm and fuzzy.

The “icon” is Kristiane Backer (below):

Tayler is not impressed by Backer’s conversion, described by Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University. A few excerpts:

I’ll stop here to note that nothing in Backer’s account is remarkable; being “lost,” “found,” troubled and then at peace, and so on are banalities uttered by almost all the faith-deranged in such confessions, starting with Saint Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century.  Furthermore, a Westerner visits a faraway land and encounters superficial kindness, but has little time to fathom the deeper, grimmer realities of the place—this is nothing more than a commonplace experience indulged in by third-rate travel writers. But what demands our attention here is that a major liberal web site saw fit to publish such clichéd musings.

How can an informed reader plod through these pleasant platitudes without thinking, wait, what about Pakistan’s murderous waves of faith-fueled sectarian strife, its Islamist terrorist attacks, its sheltering of Bin Laden?  For that matter, what to make of Islam-related honor killings, the Hadith-sanctioned stoning of adulterers, and 9/11?  How do they square with the “peace” Backer has so ostentatiously discovered for herself in Islam?  It is not “Islamophobic” to wonder about such things.

Tayler also responds to all the “See? Most Muslims are good people.” trope that we hear so often. Of course that’s true, but, as Tayler notes, that’s not a decisive refutation of those who criticize the faith:

Ahmed plods on, giving us more of Backer’s thoughts about Islam and terrorism, and spooning us more pablum about Islam being friendship, and so on. I’ll forgo further explication and finish my critique with Ahmed’s summary of one point: “Backer aspires to show Europeans that outside of the terror and suppression they see on the news, the majority of Muslims are in fact normal, wholesome and productive members of their society.”

Which is precisely beside the point. Muslims practicing their faith peacefully are not the problem; those willing to kill and die for it are. Relentlessly excluding honest analysis of their motivation from accounts of this sort shields the troublesome aspects of Islamic ideology from the conversations we need to have about it. This is specially true regarding Europe, as it suffers a seemingly endless wave of Muslim immigration and repeated acts of Islamist terrorism. Freedom of religion is a pillar of Western society; but Islam’s most provocative doctrines (specifically, those of jihad and martyrdom) demand scrutiny because vast majorities, Pew polling data tell us of Muslims profess them, from Morocco to Indonesia. If you you refuse to acknowledge that, you are stifling debate and setting the stage in the West for a violent, anti-Muslim backlash.

No doubt, cheery-minded simpletons will find consolation in Ahmed’s insipid piffle about Backer’s conversion to Islam. Adopt a faith as though you were donning a headscarf, and all will be fine! Just pronounce Islam wonderful and terrorism will cease! Decry as the real problem not the doctrines of jihad and martyrdom, but “Islamophobes”—those asking serious, fact-based questions! In short, close your eyes and wish upon a star—or a crescent moon. As the body toll rises in Europe, it is becoming increasingly clear that none of this works.

Tayler also “unpacks” the odious video sown below by radio journalist Mariam Sobh, “Muslims making money,” which accuses ex-Muslims of cashing in on their apostasy (you’ll have to click through to YouTube). I’m sure Sobh has in mind people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz. Tayler pricks her balloon:

Sobh’s premise is nonsensical—given the risks, who would fake apostasy, and do so publicly?  Sobh insults all those who have wised up, courageously quit their faith, and paid for it with their lives, or who are enduring prison sentences and floggings, or who find themselves cast out of their family or ostracized by their community. By ginning up hostility toward former Muslims, Sobh places them in even greater jeopardy.  She says nothing of the shockingly high percentages of Muslims who agree with the Sharia’s declaration of the death penalty for apostates.  Intentionally or not, she is planting herself on the side of assassins.

Sobh’s video deserves nothing but scorn and the digital equivalent of damnatio memoriae—the ancient Roman punishment, pronounced by the senate, of the shameful consignment of traitors to oblivion.

Note that comments on this video are closed:

By the way, Quillette has a Patreon page, and could use some dosh to further its True Liberal agenda. Have a look at its front page (the lead article is an explanation of how students and faculty at Evergreen State College could behave so bizarrely) and see if you can throw a few bucks their way.


And also have a look at Stephen Knight’s new post at his Godless Spellchecker site, “The Richard Dawkins KPFA radio ban is pure hypocrisy.” One excerpt from:

I’d like to ask KPFA why they think the ‘hurt feelings’ of Muslims weigh more than those of Christians? Also, do they consider the religion of Islam to be perfect? If not, could they name a critic of Islam they deem suitable to talk about it on their airwaves?

We all know these questions will never receive an answer. The mainstream left and so-called liberals have now become enforcers of Islamic blasphemy law, except they use the term ‘Islamophobia’ instead of blasphemy. And they use bans and character assassinations instead of lynching.

This blind spot from my fellow leftists in an otherwise sensible outlook may be forgivable were Islamism not the gigantic threat it is.

Let’s do some accounting. Islamism poses a specific threat to: women, gays, trans folk, liberal Muslims, atheists, apostates and every other faith you can think of. Precisely the sort of minorities the left claims to care about.

I’m currently reporting from the Secular Conference in London. It is filled with the types of people I have just mentioned. Brave apostates, atheists and secular Muslims who are speaking up for liberal values in the face of threats and hostility from all fronts.

Guests and speakers are prohibited from sharing the location of the event to non attendees due to security concerns.

Think about that. A group of people who may speak negatively about Islam cannot meet in England’s capital in 2017 without justified concerns for their safety. I’m at a loss to think of any other topic or ideology that reliably produces these sort of conditions. This fact alone should have self-professed liberals screaming from the rooftops.

But, of course, they don’t. In fact, venues like HuffPo deliberately avoid these hard questions, rounding off the hard edges of Islamic doctrine by covering it with a kind of soft, liberal snow.

h/t: Gregory

42 thoughts on “Morning reading: Jeff Tayler on Islam; Godless Spellchecker on Dawkins

  1. The following is my two cents contributed to the Richard Dawkins KPFA controversy, sent to the GM and KPFA staff this morning:

    Dear Quincy McCoy, KPFA General Manager, and the entire staff at KPFA:

    Hearing today that KPFA decided to dis-invite Richard Dawkins from speaking on your station has hurt me tremendously. But more importantly it has damaged your own credibility as a progressive media outlet. It is my understanding that the reasons given for your actions are because of Mr. Dawkins’ outspoken criticism of Islam. I read recently that you have said, “We believe that it is our free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful or hurtful language against a community that is already under attack.” But to my knowledge Richard Dawkins has never said anything hateful, for his insights have always been presented in a thoughtful and articulate manner using reason and arguments based on facts. You might as well have said that it is your free speech right not to invite smart people to speak, because smart people say things that make dumb people feel dumb. In the quote above you also cite Dawkins’ use of “hurtful language” which I assume you mean simply reasoned criticisms of Islam, which some people might find upsetting but should never be equated with an “attack” against Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank. Well Mr. McCoy, we atheists are constantly under attack too– in the media, from the pulpit, from our elected officials, and even from within our own families who harbor secret angst and suspicions against us simply for holding the eminently sensible conviction that no god exists. And for this conviction, what does most of the Islam world say I deserve? Death! And if a Muslim de-converts to another faith, or to no faith at all, what does most of the Islam world say he/she deserves? Death! Islam is perhaps the world’s greatest offender of the right to freedom of conscience and the freedom of religion.

    And what exactly has Richard Dawkins said that is so “hurtful” to Muslims? Has he not merely pointed out the fact that most of the Islam world is obsessed with death, with retribution, with punishment for perceived sins? If pointing out the truth can be so “hurtful” then we certainly are living in a world that has been turned upside down. Can you please provide examples and quotations from Richard Dawkins’ materials that you would call “abusive” or “hateful”? So far I am unaware of any such language used by Mr. Dawkins.

    Mr. McCoy, you should ask yourself, and your audience at KPFA, a very simple question: Can anything we say or do really hurt a god? The late Col. Robert G. Ingersoll asks, “Suppose that an infinite God exists, what can we do for him? Being infinite, he is conditionless; being conditionless, he cannot be benefitted or injured. He cannot want. He has. Imagine the egotism of a man who believes that an infinite being wants his praise.”

    Let’s take Ingersoll’s point one step further, shall we? Imagine the nerve of someone who believes that an infinite being can be hurt by our words, and then feigns injury on god’s behalf! How absurd it is for one to claim belief in a god then pretend to be injured on his behalf, to pretend to feel god’s pain! But as Ingersoll points out, rightly, no being who holds the title of “God” can be injured, for that would contradict the very definition of God. Mr. McCoy, by appeasing the wishes of religious persons who claim injury on god’s behalf at hearing Richard Dawkins criticism of Islam, you encourage and exacerbate their own schizophrenia, you facilitate their hateful belief that I deserve death for not believing their nonsense. We all know where the path you are on leads to: first they claim to be injured by our criticism of Islam, then they claim to be injured by our criticism of sharia law, then they claim to be injured by our criticism of genital mutilation, public beheadings, and honor killings; then it’s “game over,” because by then there’s not even a library remaining to tell us what democracy and free speech was like.

    You seem to be very confused about what free speech means. You claim to be a strong supporter of free speech and democracy, but your recent actions contradict those great enduring American ideals and values. In fact, you are aiding and abetting those who hope to demolish those ideals and values.

    I hope that you will reconsider your views in light of the points made here, and I hope that you will bring on Richard Dawkins to speak at your station again soon. It would be a real blow to your credibility as a progressive media venue not to do so. Please don’t cower to those who feign injury at hearing challenges to beliefs that have no basis in evidence. When I was young my older brother protected me from bullies on several occasions. And that is how it is: the older, stronger, bigger sibling always protects the younger, weaker one; it is never the weak one who protects the strong. Remind your audience that if god is so big then he needs no mortal to protect his honor or to defend his interests. They need not feel pain when critics expose the flaws and contradictions of magical, religious thinking. If God exists, then he can defend his own honor. God can take care of himself; he does not need our help.

    Thank you, sincerely,

    Jeff B
    Sacramento, CA

  2. Reminds me of Cat Stevens:

    “…music for God? I’d never heard that before – I’d heard of music for money, music for fame, music for personal power, but music for God!”

    Go to the desert, find music of God? It’s not as if a third of the canon of western music probably wasn’t written with some God in mind. What an uninformed, lackadaisical conclusion to draw.

    I do like Cat Stevens music, and Middle Eastern music even more, but when children walk into the desert without growing up they tend to build illusions.

    1. Whenever I hear of a convert to Islam I think of Cat Stevens, and how he he supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

  3. Based on her own experiences, Backer can really only say that the majority of Muslims whom she has met are nice people. Her conversion gives her no special knowledge about, or insight into, what other people believe. I wonder if any Muslim friend cautioned her beforehand, Just so you know, if you change your mind, we’ll be justified in killing you.

  4. Maybe our parents were right 50 years ago when they said – this rock and roll will rot your brain. The conversion of Backer would be a case study. Very nice job by Tayer to bring reality into focus.

  5. This is great from Knight–

    “The mainstream left and so-called liberals have now become enforcers of Islamic blasphemy law, except they use the term ‘Islamophobia’ instead of blasphemy.”

    Best definition of Islamophobia yet.

      1. This observation is absolutely correct, not hyperbole or exaggeration of any kind. Just imagine if in the UK or in the United States, for example, an author of a novel who has been singled out and a jihadist carries out the fatwa, or if a critic of Islam on the Southern Poverty Law Center hit-list meets a similar fate. What will be the commentary among the apologists of Islamic fundamentalism on the so-called “left”? In effect, the charge of “Islamophobia” is the version in the UK and the US of blasphemy accusation.

        1. No imagining needed – it would be exactly the same response they gave after Charlie Hebdo was shot up or Theo Van Gogh was killed: “we are against violence, but the victim was racist/intolerant/insensitive/etc.”

          To borrow a line from Game of Thrones: “Nothing someone says before the word ‘but’ really counts.”

  6. “Guests and speakers are prohibited from sharing the location of the event to non attendees due to security concerns.”

    This fact should be getting wider coverage (after the conference is over of course….don’t want any nail bombs) as it gets to the heart of the dissonance of leftist thought on Islam.

    It is absolutely true that most Muslims wouldn’t dream of actually harming people at the conference. But some would. I submit many who wouldn’t would privately approve, but no matter. If any other group -anywhere- was thought to be similarly disposed, they would be hounded by (almost) all, right and left.

    1. How have Western Governments allowed our hard won values to be undermined so much that this this secrecy is necessary?

  7. Four years ago in Woolwich, London, Fusilier Lee Rigby was murdered by two Muslim converts. They knocked him down with a car at 40mph as he crossed the street, they climbed out & as he lay on the ground they butchered him with knives & a cleaver – attempting to behead him..

    Kristiane Backer has a video on her own YouTube channel – [thus she must be proud of it] in which she appears on British TV re the murder. It’s only three minutes. Key quote: “…of course these attacks hurt us more than anybody else…”

    1. “… of course these attacks hurt us more than anybody else …”

      Like to hear her say that to the victim’s survivors.

    1. Comments are almost all extremely negative. They will be shut down soon and the page deleted. That’s what people like those at KPFA do.

    2. Some of the comments appended to the above link are quite interesting. Most excoriate KPFA. I thought there’d be legions coming to its defense. Some respondents say they’re no longer going to be supporting KPFA. Right now, the station just started a fund drive. It’ll be interesting to see how they do.

      A Google News search yields scads of commentary from across the world. Just a day ago, there wasn’t much. I find it aparticularly delightful irony that not just atheists but devout Christians are now vocally indignant that KPFA singles out Islam for special protected treatment.

      1. A priceless comment on the KPFA site from “Oystercatcher.” Wish I’d come up with it.

        “I see that KPFA has decided to submit to Islam and become dhimmi. What is next; Will KPFA use member contributions to pay the jiyza tax?”

  8. “Backer aspires to show Europeans that outside of the terror and suppression they see on the news, the majority of Muslims are in fact normal, wholesome and productive members of their society.”

    Tayler: “Which is precisely beside the point. Muslims practicing their faith peacefully are not the problem; those willing to kill and die for it are.”

    I don’t agree with that part of Tayler’s piece. It’s only “beside the point” because Tayler wants to make a different point. Ahmed is making a salient point to begin with.

    If you are part of a larger group in which a violent minority is increasing fear of the majority, then it makes all the sense in the world to say “Hey, look, the majority of us are peaceful and I’m an example of that.”

    Do I think even moderate Muslims should have to answer the hard problems of adhering to their religious texts? Of course, just as I do with all Christians. But, because people interpret the texts differently, the texts themselves don’t tell me what to expect of my neighbor. I could read the bible and infer that anyone organizing their life around that book would be a moral monster. Turns out, no, Christians often interpret the bible in ways that – even though I hold to be cherry-picking and question-begging – result in good neighbors. So in that respect I first care more about what their interpretation is, and thus what type of person I can expect them to be.

    Whatever the Koran says, if my Muslim neighbor takes their holy book as admonishing them to be peaceful and good neighbors…that’s important for me to know!
    Especially when others are citing the Koran as reason to create terror.

    There’s more than one effect to deal with when it comes to terrorism and Islam, and prejudice against peaceful Muslims is one of them. It doesn’t do to say “that’s not the point” and just concentrate on the dangerous Muslims. There’s more than one problem, here.

    Contra Tayler, if it IS the case that as Ahmed wrote “the majority of Muslims are in fact normal, wholesome and productive members of their society” then that is not “beside the point” it is a very important point to make!

    1. All the rabid, mindless movements in history were described as “only a minority” firstly, before being recognised for what they truly were and again after their eventual defeat.
      Like it or not Islam is a movement and all those that subscribe to its tenets are involved.

      1. “All the rabid, mindless movements in history were described as “only a minority” firstly, before being recognised for what they truly were and again after their eventual defeat.”

        Many of the “rabid, mindless movements” remain with us today as key players in the world: Christianity, Islam and a large selection of other religions. May I live long enough to witness “their eventual defeat”, but there’s not much time left for that, if I am to see it.

        It is the nature of religions to grow and change, to be interpreted and re-interpreted in ways that make sense to groups of the time.
        I think a Christian from the earliest days of Christianity would hardly recognize what Christianity has become. (Especially since it was originally Jewish, not Christian.) Radicals have ever been part of religion. Think Jewish Sicariis. Think Catholicism of most eras. Think the numerous branches of Islamic militants.

        The best of the oddball bunch are the ones who dance spinning around until they’re dizzy, or those who go out into the desert alone to remove themselves from the contamination of society. There’s a lot of desert available to use as retreats for violent, religious nuts. Unfortunately, they prefer to be on the Temple Mount, on public transportation, at rock concerts, etc.

        1. Pretty dismal scenario. But, undoubtedly the way it has always been. Maybe it will be over with the fulfillment of the promise of the enlightenment. Whenever that is.

    2. All well and good but Tayler also refers to the surveys. The ones that Professor Coyne reminds us of all the time. These surveys tell what Muslims in many countries think and what they believe regarding their religion. This is why, to just say the majority are peaceful and good and that is important, just does not cut it.

      1. Indeed, one can live a peaceful and good-neighbourly life and still support obnoxious ideas at the same time.
        The Pew surveys actually prove that: a majority actually are peaceful and good neighbours, while a very substantial minority to a substantial majority espouses ideas incompatible with the values of enlightenment, such as free speech, and modern democracy.

    3. Given the results of every single opinion poll (frequently cited here) and the dire and deteriorating situation with freedoms and human rights in every single Muslim-majority country, I do not share the optimism about the “majority of Muslims”.

  9. So, Kristiane Backer found her “inner peace?”

    She’s found “inner peace” with the idea that
    those who have examined her newly adopted religion and been unable to believe it’s claims, will be tortured for eternity?

    This seems a rather selfish version of “inner peace” if you ask me. I’m not impressed.

    1. “Thoughtless,” in a very literal sense, is what first came to my mind. Though “selfish” seems very applicable as well.

  10. When the news of the deplatforming broke, I quickly wrote to all of the email addresses available on KPFA’s contact page ( I got reply the next day from a member of their station board:

    From: Carol G Wolfley
    Subject: a response about Richard Dawkins event
    Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2017 13:20:48 -0700

    Dear KPFA Community Member,

    Thank you for contacting the KPFA LSB about the cancellation of the Richard Dawkins event. It is helpful to have community input and I see that this is an issue where there is variance in opinions.

    Speaking for myself, I appreciate that KPFA management works to choose speakers for KPFA events, who are bringing depth of insight and inspiration to community audiences at this urgent time. Right now both women and Muslims are under attack by mainstream media and the Trump administration and it is helpful to hear alternative viewpoints to that narrative.

    I read this from a KPFA community member.

    “Just last year Dawkins tweeted out a link to a YouTube video called “Feminists Love Islamists,” which manages to be both misogynist and Islamophobic. It features an apparently Western woman and a Middle Eastern man whining about how disempowered they are, and then it ends with the man asking, “So do you mind if I rape you now?” The woman replies, “Don’t be silly; it’s not rape when a Muslim does it!” In response to Dawkins promoting that video, a major conference on “science and skepticism” withdrew its invitation to him to speak there.
    If someone had made comparable public comments about, for example, gay and lesbian people, or Jews, would KPFA invite that person to speak.”

    I believe that many people like myself find this video offensive and/or traumatizing. It is not in alignment with KPFA’s mission. To contribute to a lasting understanding between individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors I appreciate the many contributions of the community to KPFA and hope that we can find our way through this challenging time.

    In Community,
    Carol Wolfley
    Member of the KPFA Local Station Board

    My response to her, copying all of those same contacts, was:

    Ms Wolfley,

    Thank you for your response. It’s one of the few I’ve seen from anyone affiliated with KPFA related to this gross error in judgement by the station management.

    The video that Richard Dawkins tweeted is indeed sophomoric and crude. That being said, the professional response to a complaint about it would have been to raise the issue with Professor Dawkins and have a discussion. If after that the station management still felt the need to cancel his talk, the detailed reasons for doing so should have been clearly articulated to ticket holders, including a link to the video and tweet. That this was not done suggests that this is not the real reason for deplatforming one of the best science popularizers alive.

    The real issue appears to be the increasingly regressive left’s refusal to address the conflict between feminism and conservative Islam. However vulgarly done, the video you referenced at least raises that important point. The dogma of Islam is inherently misogynistic, homophobic, and in conflict with Enlightenment ideals of freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, individual rights, and equality. Richard Dawkins rightly rails against those appalling ideas, while never denigrating the believers who hold them. There is a vital difference between criticizing ideas and insulting people. Islam, particularly the conservative and radical variants, richly deserves criticism.

    The fact that KPFA has been willing to host Professor Dawkins when he was commenting on Christianity and creationism but deplatforms him when he applies the same standards of reason and morality to Islam demonstrates a complete lack of integrity on the part of the station management. Criticizing Islam is not racist, no matter how many so called progressives stamp their feet and insist it is.

    I strongly encourage KPFA to seize this opportunity to open a discussion about the left’s refusal to address the real abuses of women, homosexuals, apostates, and atheists justified by the tenets of conservative Islam. Berkeley is the birthplace of the free speech movement. KPFA is not living up to that standard. Demonstrate the courage of your convictions by re-inviting Richard Dawkins.



    I encourage everyone to keep the pressure on this organization.

  11. I’m always fascinated by people like Backer who, based on some level of celebrity in another field, become experts in their religion or beliefs. No doubt she now speaks for the ‘real Islam’ by explaining that those folks running around wanting to cut heads off aren’t real Muslims.

    In all, though, if we must have religion, I’m all for populating the ranks with anyone who wants to be nice, pleasant, and worry about the banalities of modern life. At some point they supplant the medieval mindset of the true believers.

  12. Meanwhile, in Spain

    Karen Armstrong, Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences

    British thinker and researcher Karen Armstrong has been bestowed with the 2017 Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences, as made public today in Oviedo by the Jury responsible for conferring said Award.

    [What a shame for the Spaniards who, like me, regard Karen Armstrog as an ignorant apologist for Islam and a true intellectual impostor!]

Leave a Reply