Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens: New Atheists flirt with Islamophobia

Nathan Lean
March 30, 2013.
Until 9/11, Islam didn’t figure in the New Atheists’ attacks in a prominent way. As a phenomenon with its roots in Europe, atheism has traditionally been the archenemy of Christianity, though Jews and Judaism have also slipped into the mix. But emboldened by their newfound fervor in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the New Atheists joined a growing chorus of Muslim-haters, mixing their abhorrence of religion in general with a specific distaste for Islam (In 2009, Hitchens published a book called “God Is Not Great,” a direct smack at Muslims who commonly recite the Arabic refrain Allah Akbar, meaning “God is great”). Conversations about the practical impossibility of God’s existence and the science-based irrationality of an afterlife slid seamlessly into xenophobia over Muslim immigration or the practice of veiling. The New Atheists became the new Islamophobes, their invectives against Muslims resembling the rowdy, uneducated ramblings of backwoods racists rather than appraisals based on intellect, rationality and reason. “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death,” writes Harris, whose nonprofit foundation Project Reason ironically aims to “erode the influence of bigotry in our world.”
For Harris, the ankle-biter version of the Rottweiler Dawkins, suicide bombers and terrorists are not aberrations. They are the norm. They have not distorted their faith by interpreting it wrongly. They have lived out their faith by understanding it rightly. “The idea that Islam is a ‘peaceful religion hijacked by extremists’ is a fantasy, and is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge,” he writes in “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

That may sound like the psychobabble of Pamela Geller. But Harris’s crude departure from scholarly decorum is at least peppered with references to the Quran, a book he cites time and again, before suggesting it be “flushed down the toilet without fear of violent reprisal.”

Dawkins, in a recent rant on Twitter, admitted that he had not ever read the Quran, but was sufficiently expert in the topic to denounce Islam as the main culprit of all the world’s evil: “Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter and verse like I can for Bible. But [I] often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today.” How’s that for a scientific dose of proof that God does not exist?

A few days later, on March 25, there was this: “Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read the Qur’an. You don’t have to read “Mein Kampf” to have an opinion about Nazism.”

It’s an extraordinary feat for an Oxford scholar to admit that he hasn’t done the research to substantiate his belief, but what’s more extraordinary is that he continues to believe the unsupported claim. That backwards equation — insisting on a conclusion before even launching an initial investigation — defines the New Atheists’ approach to Islam. It’s a pompousness that only someone who believes they have proven, scientifically, the nonexistence of God can possess.

Some of Dawkins’ detractors say that he’s a fundamentalist. Noam Chomsky is one such critic. Chomsky has said that Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens are “religious fanatics” and that in their quest to bludgeon society with their beliefs about secularism, they have actually adopted the state religion — one that, though void of prayers and rituals, demands that its followers blindly support the whims of politicians. Dawkins rejects such characterizations. “The true scientist,” he writes, “however passionately he may ‘believe’, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.”

That’s topsy-turvy logic for a man who says he’s never read the Quran but seconds later hocks up gems like this from his Twitter account:

“Islam is comforting? Tell that to a woman, dressed in a bin bag [trash bag], her testimony worth half a man’s and needing 4 male witnesses to prove rape.”

Then there was this: “Next gem from BBC Idiot Zoo: ‘Some women feel protected by the niqab.’”

Dawkins’ quest to “liberate” Muslim women and smack them with a big ol’ heaping dose of George W. Bush freedom caused him to go berzerk over news that a University College of London debate, hosted by an Islamic group, offered a separate seating option for conservative, practicing Muslims. Without researching the facts, Dawkins assumed that gendered seating was compulsory, not voluntary, and quickly fired off this about the “gender apartheid” of the supposedly suppressed Muslims: “At UC London debate between a Muslim and Lawrence Krauss, males and females had to sit separately. Krauss threatened to leave.” And then this: “Sexual apartheid. Maybe these odious religious thugs will get their come-uppance?”

Of course, the fact that the Barclays Center in New York recently offered gender-separate seating options for Orthodox Jews during a recent concert by Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman didn’t compute in Dawkins’ reasoning. Neither did the case of El Al Airlines, the flag carrier of Israel, when, in August of 2012, a stewardess forced a Florida woman to swap seats to accommodate the religious practice of a haredi Orthodox man. Even if Dawkins were aware of these episodes, he likely wouldn’t have made a fuss about them. They undermine the conclusion he has already reached, that is, that only Muslims are freedom-haters, gender-separating “thugs.”
Read the entire article here.

Comment: It is oh so fashionable to be an Islamophobe in the post-911 world.  You can rant quite safely about the excesses of Muslims and Islam and not have to worry too much that someone will call you racist or just plain stupid.

Muslims are the new enemy Other.  Perhaps I should say the reconfigured enemy Other.

It is not as if all of this is new.  What is new is the mainstream manner in which vehement hate towards Muslims and all things Islam has become common and common sense.

A few weeks ago I read an article on a local news site that described a South African family that has lost a court bid to be given political asylum in the US.  The family is white and spuriously claimed that they faced discrimination in South Africa because their relatives were racist toward black people.

I started to read the comments below the article in much the same way that you would turn your head to see the carnage at a roadside accident.

First up was perhaps the most complete display of the manner that racism and presupposed privilege come together in this the era after 911.   A self identified white woman wrote: "How do Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Muslims get into the US but whites cannot."

I memorized this racist gem and searched for it the other day but it has been removed.  It may have been removed because a fellow commentator pointed out that Muslims are not a nationality.  An immediate follow-up comment by someone with the username "open_honest_guy" then replied saying: "I know they're more like a disease."

Read article and remaining comments here.

Nothing was, however, said about the fact that Puerto Ricans are US citizens or that large parts of what is the Southwest now was in fact stolen from the Mexicans and the rest from the indigenous Indians.

In too many comments Muslims were called all the usual racist names associated with people who want to fly planes into buildings, put women behind veils, and lurk everywhere to deny whites their natural supremacy over all things known and unknown.

It was quite sickening to read these comments viciously aimed at me and mine but it is hardly unique.

A few comments called into question the need to bash Muslims over a story about a dubious attempt to gain residency in the US but to no avail; the irrational white victim pathology was rolling ahead with full steam.

I am reluctant to call Muslims the new black for reasons that being black alone is not a 'safer' position in the world of whiteness but I will say that for the moment at least, being Muslim is enough to be first on the racist firing line of whiteness.

That white atheists like Dawkins and Harris are joining Islamophobe fascists like Pam Gellar is hardly surprising; it is after all quite the fashionable trend in whiteness nowadays.

And we are not free.


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