The NYT finally writes about the Hamline University/Muhammad story, and Kenan Malik offers his take

January 9, 2023 • 10:45 am

“Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superceded academic freedom.”

—Fayneese Miller, President, Hamline University

And so Hamline University joins the Big Two of other liberal-arts schools that have embarrassed themselves via the administration’s defense of the indefensible: The Evergreen State College and Oberlin College. Evergreen defended thuggish students who were out to hunt down Bret Weinstein for saying he wouldn’t leave campus on the “Day of Absence,” while Oberlin defended three students who shoplifted wine and then beat up the store’s proprietor (Oberlin paid over $39 million for that unwise defense). Now, as I’ve written about twice, Hamline has gained the spotlight by firing an instructor who showed two pictures of Muhammed in an art class, one showing his face and the other his body with a veiled face. And the instructor, whom the NYT names below as Erika López Prater, warned the students before class about this so they didn’t have to come if they didn’t want to. But trigger warnings apparently don’t eliminate offense.

Further, as I mentioned before and as Kenan Malik notes below, it’s only a recent and more conservative strain of Islam that considers it blasphemous to show the Prophet or his face, so there’s a whole panoply of Islamic art showing Muhammad’s visage, something that art history professor Christiane Gruber, who specializes in Islamic art, pointed out while defending López Prater in New Lines Magazine. That didn’t matter, either.

Nevertheless, and even though the teacher apologized, the college President, quoted above, didn’t renew the instructor’s contract. Hamline and its administration are holding firm, even though FIRE has now reported the school to its accreditation agency and the school has been condemned by PEN America. Can a lawsuit be far behind?

Remember, you read it here first, and only now does the New York Times cover the story. Be aware, though, that the NYT’s coverage may be a good sign that it’s losing its wokeness, for it took ages for the paper to get interested in the Evergreen and Oberlin cases n. You can read the NYT story below by clicking on the screenshot:

Besides naming the victim as Erika López Prater, a name now all over the Internet, the paper gives a few facts I didn’t know (don’t expect a small website to have the investigating capacity of a huge newspaper!). Here are a few tidbits:

Officials told Dr. López Prater that her services next semester were no longer needed. In emails to students and faculty, they said that the incident was clearly Islamophobic. Hamline’s president, Fayneese S. Miller, co-signed an email that said respect for the Muslim students “should have superseded academic freedom.” At a town hall, an invited Muslim speaker compared showing the images to teaching that Hitler was good.

Remember: an invited speaker, clearly brought in to support the accusation of blasphemy. The President’s statement is beyond the pale.

This I’ve said before:

The painting shown in Dr. López Prater’s class is in one of the earliest Islamic illustrated histories of the world, “A Compendium of Chronicles,” written during the 14th century by Rashid-al-Din (1247-1318).

Shown regularly in art history classes, the painting shows a winged and crowned Angel Gabriel pointing at the Prophet Muhammad and delivering to him the first Quranic revelation. Muslims believe that the Quran comprises the words of Allah dictated to the Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel.

Note: earlier I said that the NYT didn’t show the picture at issue. I see now that it does, though you have to click on a dot to see it. (I missed that.) I’ve put the one that caused all the trouble below.

Here it is: the face that launched a thousand kvetches. You can see the picture and its painter here as well. It’s from the fourteenth century:

More from the NYT:

Omid Safi, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, said he regularly shows images of the Prophet Muhammad in class and without Dr. López Prater’s opt-out mechanisms. He explains to his students that these images were works of devotion created by pious artists at the behest of devout rulers.

“That’s the part I want my students to grapple with,” Dr. Safi said. “How does something that comes from the very middle of the tradition end up being received later on as something marginal or forbidden?”

I wonder if Safi is now in someone’s gunsights. More from the paper:

Dr. López Prater, who had only begun teaching at Hamline in the fall, said she felt like a bucket of ice water had been dumped over her head, but the shock soon gave way to “blistering anger at being characterized in those terms by somebody who I have never even met or spoken with.” She reached out to Dr. Gruber, who ended up writing the essay and starting the petition.

And get a load of this forum set up by the University to justify their heinous actions. (Aram Wedatalla, a student, complained about the picture-showing in the student paper and also filed a complaint with Hamline’s admnistration.)

At the Dec. 8 forum, which was attended by several dozen students, faculty and administrators, Ms. Wedatalla described, often through tears, how she felt seeing the image.

“Who do I call at 8 a.m.,” she asked, when “you see someone disrespecting and offending your religion?”

Other Muslim students on the panel, all Black women, also spoke tearfully about struggling to fit in at Hamline. Students of color in recent years had protested what they called racist incidents; the university, they said, paid lip service to diversity and did not support students with institutional resources.

The main speaker was Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.

The instructor’s actions, he said, hurt Muslim students and students of color and had “absolutely no benefit.”

“If this institution wants to value those students,” he added, “it cannot have incidents like this happen. If somebody wants to teach some controversial stuff about Islam, go teach it at the local library.”

The man is a peabrain who has no notion of academic freedom, nor does he recognize that it’s only fundamentalist Muslims who have the see-no-face policy.

Here’s one more bit describing how at least one Hamline professor spoke up against the lunacy, but was shusshed by the administration:

Mark Berkson, a religion professor at Hamline, raised his hand.

“When you say ‘trust Muslims on Islamophobia,’” Dr. Berkson asked, “what does one do when the Islamic community itself is divided on an issue? Because there are many Muslim scholars and experts and art historians who do not believe that this was Islamophobic.”

Mr. Hussein responded that there were marginal and extremist voices on any issue. “You can teach a whole class about why Hitler was good,” Mr. Hussein said.

During the exchange, Ms. Baker, the department head, and Dr. Everett, the administrator, separately walked up to the religion professor, put their hands on his shoulders and said this was not the time to raise these concerns, Dr. Berkson said in an interview.

But Dr. Berkson, who said he strongly supported campus diversity, said that he felt compelled to speak up.

“We were being asked to accept, without questioning, that what our colleague did — teaching an Islamic art masterpiece in a class on art history after having given multiple warnings — was somehow equivalent to mosque vandalism and violence against Muslims and hate speech,” Dr. Berkson said. “That is what I could not stand.”

Good for Berkson, a voice of sanity in the miasma of cowardice that is Hamline University. The bolding above is mine, showing again that Hamline’s administration DOES NOT WANT A DEBATE. They want others to confirm that they did the right thing by firing López Prater. (The good news is that she says she has other job offers.)

The journalist Kenan Malik, trained in biology as well as the history of science, and now a writer who’s devoted to free speech, has an eloquent piece in the Guardian defending López-Prater’s right to show Muhammad’s face. (He doesn’t name her.) You can read it for free by clicking the headline.

It’s full of nice pull quotes; I’ll give just three. Professor Berkson shows up again (note that the student paper removed his published letter, though you can see the link below):

David Everett, Hamline’s associate vice-president of inclusive excellence, condemned the classroom exercise as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic”. A letter written by Mark Berkson, chair of the department of religion, defending the instructor and providing historical and religious context for her actions, was published on the website of The Oracle, the university’s student newspaper, and then taken down because it “caused harm”. The instructor was “released” from further teaching duties.

What is striking about the Hamline incident, though, is that the image at the heart of the row cannot even in the most elastic of definitions be described as Islamophobic. It is an artistic treasure that exalts Islam and has long been cherished by Muslims.

. . . Yet, to show it is now condemned as Islamophobic because… a student says so. Even to question that claim is to cause “harm”. As Berkson asked in another (unpublished) letter he sent to The Oracle, after his first had been removed: “Are you saying that disagreement with an argument is a form of ‘harm’?”

That is precisely what the university is saying. “Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom,” wrote Fayneese Miller, the university’s president, and Everett in a letter to staff and students. In what way was showing the painting “disrespecting” Muslims? Those who did not wish to view it did not have to. But others, including Muslims who desired to view the image, had every right to engage with a discussion of Islamic history.

Universities should defend all students’ right to practise their faith. They should not allow that faith to dictate the curriculum. That is to introduce blasphemy taboos into the classroom.

I think the mantra “disagreement with an argument is a form of ‘harm'” should become the official slogan of the woke. It’s the most concise characterization of the illiberal Left that I’ve seen.

And Malik’s take on the diversity angle of this issue (bolding is mine):

Too many people today demand that we respect the diversity of society, but fail to see the diversity of minority communities in those societies. As a result, progressive voices often get dismissed as not being authentic, while the most conservative figures become celebrated as the true embodiment of their communities.

Here, liberal “anti-racism” meets rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry. For bigots, all Muslims are reactionary and their values incompatible with those of liberal societies. For too many liberals, opposing bigotry means accepting reactionary ideas as authentically Muslim; that to be Muslim is to find the Danish cartoons offensive and the depiction of Muhammed “harmful”. Both bigots and liberals erase the richness and variety of Muslim communities.

The Hamline controversy shows how the concepts of diversity and tolerance have become turned on their head. Diversity used to mean the creation of a space for dissent and disagreement and tolerance the willingness to live with things that one might find offensive or distasteful. Now, diversity too often describes a space in which dissent and disagreement have to be expunged in the name of “respect” and tolerance requires one to refrain from saying or doing things that might be deemed offensive. It is time we re-grasped both diversity and tolerance in their original sense.

I fear it’s too late, as we’re educating students to be both politically correct and authoritarian, and they will grow up to run America (and perhaps England). It will be decades, I fear, before society comes back to its senses. But by that time I’ll be one with the clay.

Hamline University assailed for firing professor who showed images of Muhammad’s face in class (with a trigger warning)

January 5, 2023 • 9:15 am

As I’ve reported, Hamline University, a small liberal-arts school in Minnesota, recently fired an unidentified professor who showed two images of the body and face of Muhammad to one of his/her classes. The prof even warned the students in advance that the images would be shown, giving them a chance to opt out. And despite that, and despite the fact that some sects of Islam don’t see it as blasphemy (or didn’t used to see it as such) to show the Prophet’s face, some students complained to the administration, and the instructor was summarily fired. The professor had even apologized, but of course that was not enough. It’s never enough in the face of the mob who wants punishment, not expressions of contrition.

On December 27, FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), wrote to the President of Hamline urging the school to reinstate the instructor, saying that the firing was a violation of academic freedom and an indefensible act of retaliation. Hamline, however, didn’t back down. As AlphaNews reported on January 3, the University is sticking to its guns.

Hamline University President Fayneese Miller responded to the backlash in a campus-wide email Saturday. In her email, Miller suggested that no instructor is allowed to do anything in class if it goes against any student’s faith.

“As has been reported, this past semester an adjunct instructor displayed images of the prophet Muhammad. Students do not relinquish their faith in the classroom. To look upon an image of the prophet Muhammad, for many Muslims, is against their faith,” she said in a prepared statement included in the email.

“Questions about how best to discuss Islamic art have been raised by many academics and is certainly an issue worthy of debate and discussion. For those of us who have been entrusted with the responsibility of educating the next generation of leaders and engaged citizens, it was important that our Muslim students, as well as all other students, feel safe, supported, and respected both in and out of our classrooms. As we have stated, in the immediate aftermath of students’ expressed concerns, the University’s initial response and actions were to address our students’ concerns. And, contrary to what has been reported and become the story, it is important that this aspect be reported. It is also important that we clarify that the adjunct instructor was teaching for the first time at Hamline, received an appointment letter for the fall semester, and taught the course until the end of the term,” her statement continued.

Miller concluded the email by acknowledging that the incident has been “painful for our community.”

This is absurd—even more so given that the students were warned and the works of art displayed were of considerable historic interest. What the university is doing is getting rid of instructors for blasphemy, but blasphemy against only one religion.  Further, I reject the argument that students must feel “safe, supported, and respected” at all times. Were that they case, they could never be subjected to arguments that made them uncomfortable; and then what’s the point of a liberal education? The upshot is that Hamline looks bad, as there have been other complaints, like from PEN America and The Academic Freedom Alliance.

Since Hamline refused to back down, FIRE has escalated its response, reporting the school to the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits Hamline, for violating academic freedom. Click below to read the press release, and here to see the letter to the HLC:

As the letter reports, Hamline has a contractual agreement to protect the academic freedom of its faculty:

Hamline University has made a contractual commitment to its faculty to respect and protect their academic freedom. The Hamline University Faculty Handbook as approved by the Board of Trustees in 2021 is clear. Hamline adopted without reservation the 1940 statement on academic freedom endorsed by the American Association of University Professors and the American Association of Colleges. Section 3.1.2 of the Handbook guarantees that “all faculty members are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” The guarantee extends to every individual at Hamline who is working in an instructional capacity regardless of whether they enjoy the protections of tenure. There is simply no question that introducing students to an important piece of Islamic art in a global art history class is covered by this principle of academic freedom. Hamline’s own stated commitment to academic freedom is unqualified. There is no exception for students who feel offended or disrespected by materials they encounter in the course of their college education.

This is one step short of a lawsuit, but could have even more severe consequences if the school loses its accreditation. I wrote to FIRE asking them if reporting a violation to an accreditation group was new for them, and Sabrina Conza, FIRE’s program officer for Campus Rights advocacy, responded:

Thanks for your questions. FIRE has alerted institutions’ accreditors of their violations of accreditation standards before, including Emerson College and Saint Vincent College. Both colleges’ accreditors chose to investigate our claims. As of now, FIRE’s focusing on our accreditor complaint as well as our faculty letter and take action campaign.
Hamline University violated faculty academic freedom and made clear that it won’t keep its promises. As an organization dedicated to defending free expression and academic freedom, FIRE felt compelled to alert the university’s accreditor. The Higher Learning Commission requires universities it accredits, like Hamline, to be “committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression in the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning.” Because Hamline has shown it is not committed to academic freedom, we urge its accreditor to hold Hamline accountable for violating its accreditation standards.

If you want to send a quick note to Hamline’s President, the screenshot above has, at the bottom of its article, a boilerplate letter that you can sign (or modify), and click to send it automatically. I’ve done so and would urge others who feel likewise to fill in your name and click the link.

There’s another public objection to Hamline’s egregious behavior: a passionate critique in the Chronicle of Higher Education of the University’s behavior—by a Muslim.  Amna Khalid, the author, is an associate professor of history at Carleton College and host of the podcast Banished.

A couple of excerpts from Dr. Khalid’s letter:

As a professor, I am appalled by the senior administration’s decision to dismiss the instructor and pander to the students who claim to have been “harmed.” This kind of “inclusive excellence” permits DEI administrators to ride roughshod over faculty knowledge. The administration’s blatant disregard for and active suppression of the very thing an institution of higher learning is valued for — the specialized knowledge of its faculty — makes this “one of the most egregious violations of academic freedom in recent memory,” in the words of PEN America.

With leadership like Hamline’s, who needs content-banning legislation to limit the scope of inquiry and teaching? It is the ultimate betrayal of the promise of education when institutions of higher learning begin endorsing ignorance. In the end, it is the students who pay the highest price for such limits on academic freedom.

. . . But most of all, I am offended as a Muslim. In choosing to label this image of Muhammad as Islamophobic, in endorsing the view that figurative representations of the Prophet are prohibited in Islam, Hamline has privileged a most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view. The administrators have flattened the rich history and diversity of Islamic thought. Their insistence that figurative representations of Muhammad are “forbidden for Muslims to look upon” runs counter to historical and contemporary evidence.

And the two sentences below have to sting most of all. At the very least, it shows the hypocrisy of Hamline and other Universities whose DEI committees act as promoters of censorship, not diversity:

To add insult to injury: The push to silence and exclude alternative Muslim views at Hamline is driven by the office of inclusive excellence. So much for the role of the DEI apparatus in advancing real diversity on campus.

Somehow I think Hamline is going to lose this one. . .

h/t: Greg, Brian Leiter

Professor fired for showing art class image of Muhammad with his face visible (something not unusual in the history of Islamic art). Students and university go wild with crazy allegations of “Islamophobia”

December 24, 2022 • 11:00 am

This story is unbelievable but is true. The summary piece in New Lines Magazine describes how a professor at Hamline University, a private liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minnesota, was fired for showing an image of Muhammad’s face to their [the prof apparently uses plural pronouns) class. The professor and class are unnamed. This all makes sense only when you read in the Wikipedia article that “Hamline is known for its emphasis on experiential learning, service, and social justice.”

So here’s what they mean by “social justice” at Hamline.

You’ll get angry when you read the piece, not only because depictions of Muhammad with a face were common in the Islamic world, but because the professor warned the students in advance what they were going to show them and let them opt out if they wanted to. Nevertheless, Muslim students watched, saw the images, and then complained to the Hamline administration, which deemed the incident Islamophobic and summarily fired the professor without giving him a chance to defend himself.

The article below is written by Christiane Gruber, professor of Islamic Art in the Department of History of Art at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and she, unlike the reprehensible and faux-offended students, knows something about the history of depictions of Muhammad:

Her primary field of research is Islamic book arts, paintings of the Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic ascension texts and images, about which she has written three books and edited several volumes of articles. She also pursues research in Islamic book arts and codicology, having authored the online catalogue of Islamic calligraphies in the Library of Congress as well as edited the volume of articles entitled The Islamic Manuscript Tradition. Her third field of specialization is modern Islamic visual and material culture, about which she has written half a dozen articles. She also has co-edited two volumes on Islamic and cross-cultural visual cultures. Her most recent publications include her book The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images and her edited volume The Image Debate: Figural Representation in Islam and Across the World, both published in 2019.

She takes the University and its administration to task, and also gives us a good lesson on depicting Muhammad, which is not, contrary to some Muslims’ assertions, invariably an act of blasphemy. Click below to read and be enlightened:


From her piece. The “Oracle” is the Hamline student newspaper, and I’ve put below two articles from it about the incident (also click to read). From Gruber (bolding is mine):

On Nov. 18, Hamline University’s student newspaper, The Oracle, published an article notifying its community members of two recent incidents on its campus in Saint Paul, Minnesota, one indubitably homophobic and the other supposedly Islamophobic. Both occurrences were placed under the same rubric as “incidents of hate and discrimination.”

Islamophobia — which involves hate speech against Islam and Muslims and/or physical violence or discrimination against Muslims — has indeed proven a blight in the United States, especially after 9/11, the rise of the militant far right and the recent political empowerment of white supremacy.

The “Islamophobic incident” catalyzed plenty of administrative commentary and media coverage at the university. Among others, it formed the subject of a second Oracle article, which noted that a faculty member had included in their global survey of art history a session on Islamic art, which offered an optional visual analysis and discussion of a famous medieval Islamic painting of the Prophet Muhammad. A student complained about the image’s inclusion in the course and led efforts to press administrators for a response. After that, the university’s associate vice president of inclusive excellence (AVPIE) declared the classroom exercise “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.”

Neither before nor after these declarations was the faculty member given a public platform or forum to explain the classroom lecture and activity. To fill in the gap, on Dec. 6, an essay written by a Hamline professor of religion who teaches Islam explaining the incident along with the historical context and aesthetic value of Islamic images of Muhammad was published on The Oracle’s website. The essay was taken down two days later. One day after that, Hamline’s president and AVPIE sent a message to all employees stating that “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.” The essay’s censorship and the subsequent email by two top university administrators raise serious concerns about freedom of speech and academic freedom at the university.

The instructor was released from their spring term teaching at Hamline, and its AVPIE went on the record as stating: “It was decided it was best that this faculty member was no longer part of the Hamline community.” In other words, an instructor who showed an Islamic painting during a visual analysis — a basic exercise for art history training — was publicly impugned for hate speech and dismissed thereafter, without access to due process.

These incidents, statements and actions at Hamline will be for others to investigate further. As a scholar specializing in Islamic representations of Muhammad, however, it is my duty to share accurate information about the painting at the heart of the controversy. I will provide a visual analysis and historical explanation of the image in question, in essence reconstituting the Hamline instructor’s classroom activity. I will then explore these types of depictions over the course of six centuries, with the aim to answer one basic question: Is the Islamic painting at the heart of the Hamline controversy truly Islamophobic?

This is absolutely unbelievable, and I’m going to write to Hamline’s Dean objecting to the firing. It’s not though the pictures, innocuous though they were, were sprung on unprepared students. Gruber goes on to discuss the history of depiction of images of Muhammad, and it’s a good and edifying read.  She concludes that the students, given the history of Islamic art, had absolutely no reason to consider showing the paintings in class as an “Islamophobic” incident. That is, she says, an “ultraconservative Muslim view on the subject.”

Nevertheless, the student newspaper The Oracle, in its article below, and also in the op-ed below that, sees showing the paintings as a direct attack on Islam. The administration, of course, launched a six-alarm attack, damning the incident, deeming it as a hate incident, and even calling for education in “Islamophobia.” All I can say is that everyone involved in this sorry incident, save the professor himself, is a blithering idiot.

Click to read the student newspaper report.

An excerpt from the article (my bolding):

Hamline undergraduate students received an email from the Dean of Students on Nov. 7, condemning an unnamed classroom incident as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” In the month since, the email and the event it references have reignited discussions about the persistence of such incidents at Hamline.

The email, signed by Dr. David Everett, Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence at Hamline, did not identify the nature or date of the incident.

The Oracle has since learned that the event in question occurred on Oct. 6, when a professor shared two depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in class, while discussing Islamic art. One was a 14th century depiction of the Prophet and the other was a 16th century depiction of the Prophet with veil and halo.

Within Islam, there are varying beliefs regarding whether the representation of the Prophet Muhammad is acceptable. The majority of those practicing Islam today believe it is forbidden to see and create representations of Prophet Muhammad.

Aram Wedatalla, a Hamline senior and the president of Muslim Student Association (MSA), was in the class at the time the photos were shared.

“I’m like, ‘this can’t be real,’” Wedatalla told the Oracle. “As a Muslim, and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them.” 

Deangela Huddleston, a Hamline senior and MSA member, also shared her thoughts with the Oracle.

“Hamline teaches us it doesn’t matter the intent, the impact is what matters,” Huddleston said.

“Hamline teaches us”, she parrots. Why doesn’t Huddleston think for herself? Of course intent matters, and it did in this situation.  Then the punishment occurred:

After class, Wedatalla spoke to the professor but did not feel that the conversation was productive.

Wedatalla emailed MSA’s leadership team and members of the Hamline administration on Oct. 7, the day after the incident. On this same day, she met with President Fayneese Miller. Dean of Students Patti Kersten also called Wedatalla and apologized for her experience.

And yes, the professor apologized, though they shouldn’t have (after all, they gave a “trigger warning”):

The professor of the class emailed Wedatalla that Saturday, Oct. 8.

“I would like to apologize that the image I showed in class on [Oct. 6] made you uncomfortable and caused you emotional agitation. It is never my intention to upset or disrespect students in my classroom,” the professor wrote in the email to Wedatalla, who shared it with the Oracle.

. . .In the Oct. 8 email to Wedatalla, the professor stated that they “[let] the class know ahead of time” what would be shown and to give students time to turn off their video.

“I did not try to surprise students with this image, and I did my best to provide students with an ‘out,’” the professor wrote in the email.

“I also described every subsequent slide I showed with language to indicate when I was no longer showing an image of the Prophet Muhammad. I am sorry that despite my attempt to prevent a negative reaction, you still viewed and were troubled by this image.”

So what were the offensive works of art? You want to see them, right? Here’s how the paper identifies them:

The Oracle was able to identify these two images using video of the lecture. The first was a 14th century depiction of the Prophet receiving his first revelation from the archangel Gabriel, created by Rashīd al-Dīn, a Persian Muslim scholar and historian.

The other depicts the Prophet with a veil and halo. It was created by Mustafa ibn Vali in the 16th century as part of an illustration of the Siyer-i Nebi (the Life of the Prophet), an earlier, Ottomon Turkish epic work on the life of Muhammad.

I am very sure that this is the first one, from Wikimedia Commons (see also here):

And here’s what I think is the second one, also from Wikipedia commons. Here Muhammad is veiled.

Wow, those would certainly harm you as a Muslim, wouldn’t they?  I refuse to believe that this outrage is genuine: it is a manufactured sentiment ginned up by those taught (wrongly) that it’s an insult to Islam to depict the Prophet’s face.

But the Staff of the Oracle, like Hamline’s administration, also sees it as hate speech:

An excerpt:

Staff Editorial, Staff

In the past year, members of our community have experienced hate speech incidents and microaggressions that have resulted in much-needed conversation.

Recently this year, The Oracle has been made aware of two such incidents. One of which included an Islamophobic incident that happened a few weeks ago and the Dean of Students office informed Hamline about via email on Nov. 14.

. . .Already these two incidents have occurred and communities have been harmed and traumatized. While historically The Oracle’s coverage of hate speech and incidents of discrimination have not always been present, we hope that any and all coverage we do now and moving forward can be a means of platforming voices and experiences and informing readers of steps to move forward and ways of supporting their peers.

We hope that our coverage and our means of communication and publishing can be a resource to our community at all times and in no way do we want to further the impacts and harm of these situations.

This is, to put it mildly, a crock. What a horrible, oppressive, and joyless place Hamline University must be! I wish somebody would snap up the fired professor.

In the meantime, I’ll write an email to Dr. David Everett, Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence at Hamline.  This incident is neither inclusive not demonstrative of excellence. It’s divisive, shows the students and administration to be hateful as well as ignorant, and is as far from “excellent” as you can get.

h/t: Stephen

Iranian schoolgirl reportedly killed by regime for refusing to sing the national anthem

October 19, 2022 • 12:30 pm

We already know about Masah Amini, a 22-year-old woman beaten to death by Iranian authorities after the “morality police” arrested her for an improperly worn hijab. That itself has ignited protests throughout Iran— protests not just against the mandatory headscarf, but against oppression and Iranian theocracy in general. Women and girls, risking arrest (and even physical injury), openly walk with their hair free, and demonstrations against the regime, sparked largely by women and young people, have spread throughout the country.

The government knows the danger of popular rebellion, and some people, like journalist Masih Alinejad, think that the line has already been crossed—that the regime is doomed. But the mullahs will not go gentle, and are cracking down hard on demonstrators, shooting at unarmed protestors. According to the Iran Human Rights group, at least 215 people have been killed, including 27 children.

Here I, or rather the Guardian, reports on an especially odious act: a schoolgirl beaten to death (and her classmates injured) for refusing to sing the Iranian national anthem. Click on the headline to read the article.

Another schoolgirl has reportedly been killed by the Iranian security services after she was beaten in her classroom for refusing to sing a pro-regime song when her school was raided last week, sparking further protests across the country this weekend.

According to the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations, 16-year-old Asra Panahi died after security forces raided the Shahed girls high school in Ardabil on 13 October and demanded a group of girls sing an anthem that praises Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

When they refused, security forces beat the pupils, leading to a number of girls being taken to hospital and others arrested. On Friday, Panahi reportedly died in hospital of injuries sustained at the school.

Iranian officials denied that its security forces were responsible and, after her death sparked outrage across the country, a man identified as her uncle appeared on state TV channels claiming she had died from a congenital heart condition.

That’s what they said about Amini, too: she had a “heart condition”, and that, not the beating, killed her. This seems to be the boilerplate language used to save relatives or authorities from having to face up to the fact that a woman was murdered. I don’t believe the “congenital heart condition” explanation for a second.

It’s a revolution led largely by women. How deliciously ironic in a country that barely sees women as humans, but rather as temptresses (ergo the mandatory veiling) and, when married, as breeders. The article goes on:

Schoolgirls have emerged as a powerful force after videos went viral of classrooms of pupils waving their hijabs in the air, taking down pictures of Iran’s supreme leaders and shouting anti-regime slogans in support of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman who died after being detained by Iran’s morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly in August.

The Iranian authorities responded by launching a series of raids on schools across the country last week, with reports of officers forcing their way into classrooms, violently arresting schoolgirls and pushing them into waiting cars, and firing teargas into school buildings.

In a statement posted on Sunday, Iran’s teachers’ union condemned the “brutal and inhumane” raids and called for the resignation of the education minister, Yousef Nouri.

This again confirms Alinejad’s predictions. When the teachers’ union of Iran condemns a government official publicly, you know that the whole government is in trouble.

The rest of the article quotes schoolgirls who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more. Here’s one:

News of Panahi’s death has further mobilised schoolgirls across the country to organise and join protests over the weekend.

mong them was 16-year-old Naznin*, whose parents had kept her at home for fear that she would be arrested for protesting at her school.

“I haven’t been allowed to go to the school because my parents fear for my life. But what has it changed? The regime continues to kill and arrest schoolgirls,” says Naznin.

“What good am I if I simply sit outraged at home? Myself and fellow students across Iran have decided to stand in protest on the streets this week. I’ll do it even if I have to now hide it from my parents.”

Other teens are quoted as well.

And yet, as this brutal oppression is going on, and has been going on since 1979, the U.S. still wants to cozy up to Iran, hoping to strike some kind of deal in which Iran, in return for perks, will give up its ambition to build a nuclear weapon. Anybody with two neurons to rub together knows that Iran cannot be trusted to keep its promises, but apparently some American officials lack that second neuron.

If you want to protest the actions of the Iranian government, the email address of its embassy in Washington is here.  I have done so, which of course means I can’t go to Iran until the government topples.

Look at these photos:

Mahsa Amini, beaten to death for a headscarf that was askew:

Asra Panahi,beaten to death for refusing to sing Iran’s national anthem:

And here’s a video about 33-year-old Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi, who competed officially for Iran in an international climbing competition in Seoul, Korea, and not wearing a hijab (Iranian women athletes are required to cover their heads when competing internationally).  They confiscated Rekabi’s phone and passport, and her friends and family have been unable to contact her now that she’s back in the country.  One can guess what has happened. Rekabi claimed that she “forgot” to put on her hijab, but I don’t believe that for a minute, either. I think she was protesting and made an excuse to save her skin. I will report if we find out she’s okay.

Finally, here’s a news video showing women protesting the hijab; one variant is cutting off one’s hair in protest:

Masih Alinejad discusses her women’s and human rights campaigns on Bill Maher (watch before they remove the video).

October 1, 2022 • 12:30 pm

By now, thank goodness, people are growing aware of what is going on in Iran, particularly how the Islamic theocracy oppresses its women; and we are learning how anti-government protests, by both men and women, are spreading across Iran. The original cause of these protests, now being covered by Western news, was the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, apparently killed by Iran’s “morality police” after being arrested for not wearing her hijab properly. The incident now has its own Wikipedia page.

One of the biggest critics of Iran’s treatment of its women has been exiled Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, whose tweets and writings I’ve featured for a long time on this site. She launched the Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom and instituted the custom of “White Wednesdays,” when women in Iran wear white to protest oppression and misogyny. If you follow people on Twitter, do follow Masih, as she posts daily updates on Iran and often features videos and photos conveyed to her from Iranian women. The Iranian government considers her so dangerous that they confected a plot to kidnap her, but this was foiled by the U.S. government.

Reader Enrico called my attention to the fact that Alinejad appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher this week.  The full interview (about ten minutes long) is below, and Enrico says that this video will probably disappear within two days, so watch it now. If you click on the video, it begins when Alinejad appears, but the video contains the full show, which is why it will soon be taken down.

At 12:05 Maher asks her, “why are liberals so moronic about the problem?” Why does he ask this? Because Alinejad has been quite vocal and critical about Western feminists ignoring the oppression of women in Iran (discussing the issue is considered “Islamophobic”, as she says below). Further, the Biden administration is cozying up to to a regime that spits on human rights and regularly kills its citizens. (In my view, the “nuclear deal” that Biden is trying to make with Iran is ludicrous and will be ineffectual—except in enriching Iran as Iran enriches uranium).

He also sent the link below, a 6-minute extract from the interview which, Enrico says, probably won’t disappear within two days.

Why Rushdie was stabbed: an absorbing video by the Ex-Muslims of North America

August 26, 2022 • 1:00 pm

This note and a video link came in a mass email from Muhammad Syed, the co-founder, executive director, and president of the Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA); Sarah Haider was the other co-founder.

Now that Salman Rushdie has finally been attacked, it’s time to think about the act, ponder the history behind it, and and examine the larger issues it raises. Who better to analyze it than the EXMNA group? The video is short, 29 minutes long, and I recommend it highly.

Syed’s email:

On August 12, the heinous stabbing of celebrated author Salman Rushdie left the literary world reeling. Despite “life-changing” injuries, he survived the attack, carried out by a 24-year-old man with reported “Shi’ite extremist” sympathies.

Rushdie, long an outspoken supporter of liberal values and free expression, has had a target on his back for more than three decades—ever since the release of his “blasphemous” novel, The Satanic Verses, and the subsequent “death sentence” issued him by the Supreme Leader of Iran.

It’s now more important than ever to understand why this happened. What was the “blasphemy” of The Satanic Verses? Why did it provoke such an intense reaction? And, especially in light of this latest attempt to carry out Iran’s fatwa, what can this ordeal reveal to us today, as we live with its consequences?

EXMNA has a new documentary-style video out exploring these questions in depth. Watch it below.

The video is below, and here are the YouTube notes:

The attempted murder of acclaimed author Salman Rushdie on August 12, 2022 sent an earthquake through civil society and the literary world—but it was more than three decades in the making, originating with accusations of blasphemy against Islam in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. In the 34 years since, a conflict between fundamentalism and secularism has roiled liberal societies, culminating in this gruesome attempt on Rushdie’s life. The “Rushdie affair” is not over—and it won’t be over for a long time to come.

The video starts with the publication of The Satanic Verses, and if you haven’t read it, there’s a precis. Then we see the worldwide reaction to what was seen as a form of blasphemy so heinous that it was deemed a capital crime by many Muslims. (It’s certain that the vast majority of those who objected and rioted never read the book.)

Rushdie was taken by surprise at the vehemence of the reaction. The book was burned, banned in India, and then, in 1989, came the fatwa from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Do read the fatwa, which is shown in the video. It was not just Rushdie who was condemned to death, but all the editors and publishers “aware of its contents.” Some of them, and the book’s translators, were murdered.

We also hear from the “free-speech butters” who, in some sense, defended Rushdie’s critics (one of them was Jimmy Carter).  Also from Cat Stevens, who, converted to Islam, is shown wishing for Rushdie’s death.  There’s an interesting bit on British blasphemy law (still on the books back then but never used), and the attempts of Muslims to expand it to religions other than Christianity. (The law protected only Anglicanism.)

The fatwa was lifted by Iran for a while, but then was reinstated. It remains in effect, and young Muslims are identifying even more strongly with Islam than their forebears.

Do watch this excellent video, part of the great work that EXMNA does.

Iran will build a bomb no matter what

December 2, 2021 • 9:15 am

If you think that Iran, under its present theocracy, is willing to halt the production of nuclear warheads and missiles, then you are deluded. In fact, even Tom Friedman in the NYT is deluded in his column asserting that “Trump’s Iran policy has become a disaster for the U.S. and Israel.”  Why? Because, according to Friedman:

Up until Trump walked out of the Iran deal negotiated by President Barack Obama — even though international inspectors said Iran was still adhering to it — Iran’s breakout time to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon was one year, and Iran had agreed to maintain that buffer for 15 years. Now it’s a matter of weeks. It would still take Iran a year and half or two years to manufacture a deliverable warhead, U.S. officials believe. But that is cold comfort.

Yes, of course Iran has promised to slow down its production of nuclear material for warheads, but has it really done that? What about those UN inspections?

They are a joke. The agreement forged by Obama stipulates that inspectors are forbidden to inspect military sites. Well, where do you think production of Iran’s warheads and missiles is taking place? And when you read about how the inspections are conducted: very lax, with required advance warning (this should not be given) and soil samples provided by Iran, you wonder how the inspectors can be duped so easily.

And don’t forget that according to the so called “sunset clause” in Obama’s deal, after 2035 Iran would have been absolutely free to develop whatever bomb it wants. 2035 is not as far away as we imagine. But of course Iran has no intention of waiting even that long.

The aims of Iran have been declared explicitly. Here’s one from the spokesperson for Iran’s armed forces (click on screenshot):

A quote:
The spokesman for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces, Brig.-Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, on Saturday urged the total elimination of the Jewish state during an interview with an Iranian regime-controlled media outlet.
“We will not back off from the annihilation of Israel, even one millimeter. We want to destroy Zionism in the world,” Shekarchi told the Iranian Students News Agency.
Shekarchi’s genocidal antisemitic remarks come just days before the nuclear talks are set to restart in Vienna Monday on curbing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s illicit nuclear program. The United States and other world powers are seeking to provide Tehran with economic sanctions relief in exchange for temporary restrictions on its atomic program. Israel and other countries believe Iran’s regime seeks to build a nuclear weapons device.

The Iranian general also blasted Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates for normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel, terming the diplomacy “intolerable” for Iran’s clerical regime. “Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and other countries considered as Muslims, for us they part of the Zionist regime and this is very important,” said Shekarchi.

But wait! There’s more:

Anybody with a lick of sense knows that the theocracy and its mullahs have an overweening aim: to destroy “Zionism,” by which they mean Israel.  And if you think that Iran will agree to stop cold in its production of fissile material, warheads, and missiles, I would question your credulity. Perhaps Trump had speeded up that process a bit when he withdrew from the nuclear agreement, but I think the withdrawal might have been justified. It reduced the contributions of the mullahs to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, and the economic pressure made the Iranian public even more dissatisifed with the mullahs. That’s why Iran is so desperate to get back to the negotiating table and get the sanctions lifted, as well as trying to exact a patronizing promise from the U.S. and EU that they will never again impose sanctions. Read about the demonstrations against the government of Iran, in which soldiers just shoot the demonstrators.


And insofar as Biden and the EU renegotiate a deal with Iran in which it promises to slow down (but not stop) production of nuclear weapons, they are also dupes. Everyone knows that the production of those weapons is inevitable. At best we can buy some time, but not very much.

So what can be done? Israel can be destroyed by one or two nuclear missiles fired from Iran, and there will be no warning and little possibility of retaliating against such a large country.

Israel has two choices, neither of them palatable. It can bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, but that is very likely to start a war—a war that nobody wants, including Israel itself, the U.S. and the EU. Or Israel can do nothing, or do smaller acts of sabotage like assassinating Iranian nuclear experts, which it has done. That will have little effect, and eventually Iran will aim its missiles at Israel.

The only viable solution I can see is the overthrow of the Iranian theocracy and institution of a secular government in there. We cannot do that, of course: it is up to the Iranian people. But those people are getting increasingly fed up with the theocracy and the economic degeneration of the country. And many are sick of the constant intrusion of fundamentalist Islam into their lives. You may have read about anti-regime demonstrations all over Iran, especially in Isfahan. Read Masih Alinejad’s Twitter feed for daily documentation. Persistent sanctions, with U.S. support of the demonstrators and denunciation of Iran’s human-rights violations (something the Iranians also want to negotiate away), will hearten them.

Alternatively, we can just let Iran develop its armed missiles and accept it into the community of the Nuclear Abled along with the U.S., UK, Russia, and China (with North Korea on the way). But Iran is not like North Korea, and I have no confidence that they won’t use their missiles. Israel is not the EU or the US, and has limited power to defend itself against a nuclear attack.

We can’t get rid of the mullahs, but the only way forward is to keep up with the sanctions to leverage a change of regime.  In this sense I have to say that Trump’s actions made more sense than Obama’s and now Biden’s (Need I say that I despise Trump and am elated that he’s gone? But I cannot claim that every single thing his administration did was injurious. The revision of Title IX under DeVos was another example.)

Bari Weiss in conversation with Masih Alinejad

July 21, 2021 • 10:45 am

For a long time I’ve been admiring and touting the work of Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American women’s rights activist (and general political activist) as well as a journalist. She’s absolutely fearless, even though she was arrested in Iran for agitating against the government.  She’s particularly opposed to head and body coverings, and here’s a video she made 2016 after the “feminist government of Sweden” all wore hijabs when they visited Iran (see my post here). She calls them out for their hypocrisy.

Alinejad is passionate and eloquent. She also founded the My Stealthy Freedom movement and Facebook page, in which Iranian women take off their hijabs (a criminal offense) to show their opposition to the misogyny of Iran’s theocratic government. She also founded the “White Wednesdays” movement, in which Iranian women wear white on that day to protest repression by the government. Remember, before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, many Iranian women dressed as they pleased (see my post from 2016), and when the theocracy began and imposed a dress code, there were huge protests by the women of Iran.

To no avail, alas. Iran now has morality police who enforce the dress code, and women showing more hair than the government likes are liable to be arrested, beaten, or called out by the more religious citizens of the country.  In forty years, Iran has backtracked from a modern state to a medieval theocracy, and Alinejad is one of those few people whose life is devoted to pointing that out. She fled Iran in 2009, lived in Britain for a while, and is now a US citizen broadcasting for the Voice of America’s Persian network.

I bring this up because recently a plot was unveiled, involving four Iranian citizens and one American, to lure her out of the country (à la Jamal Khashoggi), kidnap her, and then smuggle her back into Iran. You know what would have happened to her then: certain death. Fortunately, the plot was discovered in advance by the FBI, the American was arrested, and the four Iranians were indicted. But in the eight months since she was informed of the plot, she and her family have had to live in a series of safe houses, moving from time to time so Iran doesn’t discover where she is. This is all, of course, meant to silence critics of the government.

Here’s her thank-you to the FBI:

Since then, Alinejad and her cause have received increasing attention (the “progressive” Western Left tends to ignore the oppression of women by Islamic countries of the Middle East). Here’s a tweet by Biden’s Secretary of State, who just met with her.

And all this is by way of informing you that this evening, at 5 p.m. Pacific time, Alinejad will be having a conversation with Bari Weiss. It’s for subscribers to Weiss’s site only, and I’m one, but of course I can’t reveal the Zoom link for the conversation. But I’m sure it’s going to be a great exchange. Here’s Bari’s announcement (click on screenshot; I think this note is free):

Weiss’s words (her emphases):

Feminists don’t fare well in the Islamic Republic. About a decade ago, Masih fled the country, but she continued to lead the movement against Iran’s gender apartheid from exile. In 2014 she started the online movement My Stealthy Freedom, which has inspired countless Iranian women defy the regime by talking off their hijabs in public. These days, the journalist has more than five million followers on Instagram, a show on Voice of America, and a Twitter account devoted to elevating Iran’s pro-democracy movement.

It’s no wonder that the Ayatollahs are terrified of her.

In 2018, Masih’s sister was forced to denounce her on state television. In 2019, her brother Ali was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison for the crimes of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “insulting the Supreme Leader.” In a video recorded and released just before his arrest Ali told his sister: “The moment I’m arrested, speak out.” He insisted: “Be strong and do your work. You are doing the right thing.”

. . . .I am thrilled to announce that on Wednesday evening at 5 PM PST I will be hosting a subscriber-only event with this courageous woman.

We’ll discuss the plot against her, the Biden administration’s policy toward Iran, where she summons the strength to risk her life for what is right, and any other questions you’d like to ask. Please join us.

All subscribers will receive an email with the link to the event on Wednesday morning. So if you haven’t already subscribed, click here.

It’s $50 a year, and it’s interviews like this that make it worth it. You can even ask Masih questions.

Fatah: London’s Big Ben was stolen from Palestine!

January 25, 2021 • 9:00 am

How about a little levity to start the week? Inadvertent levity, that is, for the perpetrator of this “fake news”, Fatah, is the ruling party in the West Bank, and the levity is meant to be propaganda. Fatah is the biggest of the organizations/political parties under the aegis of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Mahmoud Abbas is the head of both Fatah, the PLO and, of course, president of Palestinian Authority.

If you pay attention to the “news” put out by various Palestinian state media, of which Fatah is one, you’ll find all kinds of amusement amidst the lies. For example, Fatah regularly asserts that Mossad, the main organ of Israeli intelligence, trains animals to attack Palestinians and others. These include rats trained to bite Arabs in Jerusalem, wild pigs trained to destroy Palestinian fields, and sharks trained to attack European tourists in Egypt to damage the Egyptian tourist industry. There’s even a Wikipedia page on this issue called “Israel-related animal conspiracy theories.” It’s hilarious (check out the references).

Fatah also argued that Jews poison their wells, used the disaster in Haiti to harvest human organs for transplantation into rich Jews, and that Jewish archaeologists plant fake “proof” of ancient Jewish presence in the Holy Land.

The thing is (is) that many Palestinians and Arabs believe this stuff. The latest and perhaps biggest whopper is the one below, again promulgated by Fatah: the British stole Big Ben from the British Mandate of Palestine (the area where Jews and Arabs lived after the Ottoman Empire collapsed), and took Big Ben to London, where it now chimes daily.

If you ask how people can believe this guff, well, ask yourself why so many Americans believe in QAnon.? The power of confirmation bias is strong.

Here’s a Palestinian woman who firmly believes the Purloined Big Ben Theory. If you speak Arabic, feel free to translate some of it.


And here’s the article from the official Fatah news showing the supposedly stolen clock in situ in the 1920s (click on the screenshots to go to the site):

And the entirety of their article. Note the claim that Big Ben was taken to the British Museum!

Well, it takes about ten seconds of Googling to dispel this fiction. According to Wikipedia, the clock tower in England (it’s the bell itself that’s formally known as “Big Ben,” not the whole clock or the tower) was completed in 1859, well before the supposed theft.  And the clock’s movement was finished in 1854, five years before it was put into the tower.

Of course, I suppose you could always claim that Wikipedia was a Jewish conspiracy. . .

We can be thankful that the New York Times hasn’t gone this far—yet.


h/t: Malgorzata

Another critic writes in touting the scientific rationality of Islam and decrying the moral failures of atheism

December 15, 2020 • 9:00 am

Since Yahoo! News reprinted my essay from The Conversation arguing that science and religion are incompatible, I’ve been getting lots of emails, nearly all from people who disagree with me. The accommodationists are, of course, religionists, and don’t like to hear that their faith puts them at odds with science. Many of them, like the reader below, also takes atheism to task. I’ve redacted this writer’s name because, unlike the Vatican Vice Astronomer, I don’t think the name is relevant.

This correspondent tries to make two points. First, Islam is not nearly as strongly at odds with science as is Christianity. Second, that religion gives us a moral framework but atheism doesn’t.  Both points are wrong, and I’ll respond to each separately.  The quotes the writer gives within his/her email are put in italics and quotation marks, for the “extra indent” feature isn’t working right now.

Read and weep:


Thank you for the article Yes, there is a war between science and religion. There are two reasons why I would argue that the article reflects atheism in denial of its own shortcomings. You write

“In the end, it’s irrational to decide what’s true in your daily life using empirical evidence, but then rely on wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions to judge the ‘truths’ undergirding your faith. This leads to a mind (no matter how scientifically renowned) at war with itself, producing the cognitive dissonance that prompts accommodationism. If you decide to have good reasons for holding any beliefs, then you must choose between faith and reason. And as facts become increasingly important for the welfare of our species and our planet, people should see faith for what it is: not a virtue but a defect.”

Here you are clearly extrapolating your own experiences with Christian apologists to followers of other religions: in particular Islam. I’d argue that Muslims have no need for “wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions” when forming a judgement about the reliability of their religion. It is common for atheists to  assume that the conflicts between the Bible and scientific evidence (e.g. the descriptions of the Flood, the Exodus or age of the earth) applies equally to the Quran. However, to my knowledge there has been no serious scholarly effort to support this assumption or more generally to show that the Quranic accounts and claims are in conflict with what we have learned through science.

For example, a reading of the Quranic account of the Flood would reveal that it occurred over a short period (a couple of days), the animals preserved were only those required to support a small human settlement and there is no mention of the whole earth being flooded. In regard to the Exodus, the Moses leads a small group of people into the desert, much less in number than the Pharaoh’s pursuing army, so one would not expect to find evidence of over 1 million people roaming the desert for 40 years. In addition, the Quran predicts the preservation of the Pharaoh’s body for future generations. Finally while there is no mention of the Earth’s age, there is a description of the creation of the universe which appears consistent with what we’ve been able to learn through science.

So I think its fair to say that atheists have a lot more work to do to make their case than many are prepared to acknowledge.

The email went on, but let me stop and respond:

As I pointed out in an email to this person, there is a growing literature on the incompatibility of science and Islam.  Here’s how I responded when the person asked for even one piece of literature pointing out an Islamic incompatibility between science and faith.

First, there’s Taner Edis’s book (click on screenshot):

Another book by Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy on the stifling of scientific thought and rationality by modern Islam (and how that contrasts with the faith’s more open attitude centuries ago). 


An article from Discover Magazine (click on screenshot:


A quote from the article:

“This tendency [of Muslim accommodationists] to use their knowledge of science to ‘prove’ that the religious interpretations of life are correct is really corrupting,” he tells me. Soltan, who got his doctorate at the University of Northern Illinois, works in a small office that’s pungent with tobacco smoke; journals and newspapers lie stacked on his desk and floor. “Their methodology is bad,” he says. Soltan explains that Islamic scientists start with a conclusion (the Koran says the body has 360 joints) and then work toward proving that conclusion. To reach the necessary answer they will, in this instance, count things that some orthopedists might not call a joint. “They’re sure about everything, about how the universe was created, who created it, and they just need to control nature rather than interpret it,” Soltan adds. “But the driving force behind any scientific pursuit is that the truth is still out there.”

“Researchers who don’t agree with Islamic thinking ‘avoid questions or research agendas’ that could put them in opposition to authorities — thus steering clear of intellectual debate. In other words, if you are a scientist who is not an Islamic extremist, you simply direct your work toward what is useful. Scientists who contradict the Koran ‘would have to keep a low profile.”’When pressed for examples, Soltan does not elaborate.”

I talk about this kind of Islamic confirmation bias in Faith Versus Fact. It’s pervasive and at once annoying and amusing.

I’ve personally encountered Qur’anic opposition to science—and especially evolution—many times, as has Richard Dawkins. It often comes in the form, as Pitock notes, of saying that the Qur’an is remarkably prescient about science, with its human creation myth coincident with the evolutionary scenario. If you think that’s true, just read about the Qur’anic account itself.  Page 105 of Faith versus Fact shows the desperate lengths that some Muslim scientists go to comport science with the Qur’an.

The resistance of Islam to evolution is not, of course, universal, even within Muslim countries. Surprisingly, Iran doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with evolution being taught in its schools, while Iraq, on the other hand, has always had problems teaching evolution, and has dropped it from secondary-school curricula. Turkey, increasingly becoming a theocracy, did the same thing a few years ago.

The problem comes because many Muslims are Qur’anic literalists. Here are two plots from a 2012 Pew Poll: the first on the proportion of people in (mostly African) Muslim-majority countries who think the Qur’an should be read literally, and then the proportion of people in different Muslim-majority countries who accept evolution. Note that countries like Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia were not surveyed.

Then my correspondent goes on about morality:

The second way in which the article highlights atheist denialism an shortcomings, is in failing to tackling the issue of morality. What are the consequences of a world where ‘moral judgements’ are mere ‘value judgements’ to be decided by each individual. Magnas Bradshaw’s From Humanism to Nihilism: The Eclipse of Secular Ethics (CMC Papers, No. 6) addresses this question. One the one hand we have the teachings of New Atheism, such as Richard Dawkins who writes “‘the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pointless indifference’.” and Francis Crick who is even more explicit, “you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules… ‘‘you’re nothing but a pack of neurons’’.”

On the other hand we have its practitioners, the rationalists, those who take this stuff seriously, such as Ted Bundy, trained lawyer and serial killer, who reasons thus

Then I learned that all moral judgments are ‘value judgments’, that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured out for myself – what apparently the Chief Justice couldn’t figure out for himself – that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any ‘reason’ to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring – the strength of character – to throw off its shackles…I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable ‘value judgment’ that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others’? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’? That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me – after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self

Bundy’s reasoning is impeccable and based on the teachings of atheists. “Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than  any other animal?” or, “Why shouldn’t Trump tear down the institutions supporting U.S. democracy if he wants?”. Care to answer?

Yes, of course I could answer, but would this person listen? Not a snowball’s chance in hell! But wait! There’s more!

Atheism is leaving people with no guidance on how they should conduct themselves, and what they should expect from others. That’s the reality. And logically, that is what one would expect when people do not believe in a soul capable of oppressing itself through its oppression of others or even simply contemplating words of repentance and aspiration such as : “You that turn stones to gold.. change me.”(Rumi). If you want to claim that such notions are the result of “wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions” then first offer the scholarly work that demonstrates that the Quran is indeed incompatible with what we have learned through science, and hence unreliable.

Name redacted

Where to start here? First of all, neither Dawkins nor Crick would deny that there is a morality that can be derived from humanism; Dawkins, as well as his colleagues Dan Dennett and Anthony Grayling, have been quite explicit on this point.  Indeed, unless you’re one of the few “moral objectivists”, even religious morality must come from “value judgements.”  This is the crux of the Euthyphro argument: if you say that God is good, and wouldn’t give us bad moral guidance, you are assuming there are criteria for “good” and “bad” that are independent of God. (Theologians such as William Craig, who adhere to “divine command theory which stipulates that God is the sole determinant of good, are exceptions, and their morality isn’t so hot anyway. Craig doesn’t oppose the many genocides in the Old Testament, since God ordered them.) Even religious moral judgments, then, are almost always based on “value judgments”. But so what? Different judgments have different consequences for society. You can, for example, be a utilitarian, and base your morality on what acts will do the most good or cause the least harm. Other criteria lead to other moralities, but all of them are superior to the “morality” of the Catholic Church or Islam.

Further, there is a long history of writing and philosophy on secular ethics and morality, beginning with the Greeks, extending through Kant and Hume down to Rawls, Russell, and Grayling in modern times. It is not at all true that atheists haven’t grappled with the problem or morality. To use Ted Bundy as a secular arbiter of morality is simply ridiculous!

And, of course, humanistic morality is far superior to religious morality. The latter has given us things like dictates about genital cutting, the oppression of women and gays, the diktat to kill apostates and infidels, the terrorizing of children with thoughts of hell, the abnegation of modern medicine (Christian science and other faith-healing sects), the prohibition of divorce and regulations about how to have sex and when, and the propagandizing of innocent children, who get turned into little Amish people or Orthodox Jews, deprived of opportunity and education—all because of religious morality.

When I reread the email above, I realized that the writer hadn’t really investigated the rich tradition of secular ethics, and was also woefully—and perhaps willfully—ignorant of what many Muslims think about science. I’m not sure why, but I did write him/her a summary of what I’ve said above.

You should feel free yourself to address the writer’s remarks, and I’ll call that person’s attention to this thread tomorrow.

Lagniappe (h/t Peter N.):