There have been a long string of articles recently that have accused atheists, particularly the big names in atheism, of being Islamophobic:
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.
There are too many articles and too many angles of attack for me to read them all and respond here, however I’d point you to this post on Why Evolution is True which has rebuttals for 7 of the complaints raised in the articles. The complaints are…
1. It’s racism
2. Islamic violence is motivated not by religion but by politics, particularly hatred of Western oppression
3. New Atheists single out Islam for special criticism
4. Islam is no worse than any other religion
5. There are many moderate Muslims who deplore the violence of extremists
6. The U.S. and other Western nations brought the violence on themselves
7. New Atheists who criticize Islam know nothing about either Islam or religion
In fact this isn’t about singling out Islam or people of any race. It’s about criticising certain actions and beliefs which are harmful to society and that people need to speak out against. This is done regardless of the person’s religion. Islam comes up often in these criticisms because it is currently the most visible and active in these respects. While there are certainly Christians that dislike atheism that has not translated into violent protests due to atheist criticisms or death threats for those that are seen to have mocked god or Jesus. With Islam the situation has been different and it has been the motivation in a number of notable instances.
Late last month, in Bangladesh, a group of Islamic scholars handed a list of 84 bloggers to the government and called for them to apologise for “spreading propagandas” against Islam and for them to be punished. I’m not aware of a similar incident with any other religion but it does seem to mirror the case of Alexander Aan who was arrested and fined for writing “God does not exist” on Facebook. There were certain Islamic groups that called for his execution.
The government subsequently arrested three bloggers and censored a number of their posts. This is just the latest in a conflict between Islamists and atheists in Bangladesh. Earlier there was a riot when Islamic groups called for the death of bloggers accused of blasphemy. This led to four deaths and 200 injured!
There is a problem with laws that are meant to prevent offence of religious groups, most notably that religious beliefs can be offensive to other religions in the same way that atheistic beliefs can offend the religious. These laws then tend to protect the dominant ideology at the expense of minorities, a situation that secularism is meant to avoid. By not favouring or protecting any religion you give all people the greatest freedom to believe what they will.
This a very serious situation which needs to be discussed. The International Humanist and Ethical Union is doing it’s part and various bloggers are expressing solidarity with the Bangladeshi bloggers but it isn’t enough. Rather than reacting to these sort of events as they happen we need to be able to have the conversations that mean that such situations do not arise in the first place.
It is never acceptable to use violence to try get a point across but this is what we are seeing with regards to Islam. It happened in Indonesia, it’s happening in Bangladesh, the Boston bombing appears to have been to defend Islam and a recently-foiled train attack in Canada appears to be linked to radical Islamic group Al Qaeda. When the links are there and people are explicitly saying that they are doing what they did for Islam then we need to be able to talk about that without being accused of Islamophobia. We can only hope that this violence really is just a radical fringe group. If it is, and if the average Muslim detests the violence too, then we can work together. If we share a common goal we should be able to work together and say that this sort of violence is unacceptable but that to say so is not a hate crime.