Are ‘New Atheists’ undermining the atheist cause?

 

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How should we live in a diverse society?

Kenan Malik writes: Debates about immigration are… rarely about numbers as such. They are much more about who the migrants are, and about underlying anxieties of nation, community, identity and values. ‘We should not forget’, claimed Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, as Hungary put up new border fences, and introduced draconian new anti-immigration laws, ‘that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture. Most are not Christian, but Muslim.’ ‘Is it not worrying’, he asked, ‘that Europe’s Christian culture is already barely able to maintain its own set of Christian values?’

Many thinkers, Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, echo this fear of Muslim immigration undermining the cultural and moral foundation of Western civilization. The late Oriana Fallaci, the Italian writer who perhaps more than most promoted the notion of Eurabia – the belief that Europe is being Islamicised – described herself as a ‘Christian atheist’, insisting that only Christianity provided Europe with a cultural and intellectual bulwark against Islam. The British historian Niall Ferguson calls himself ‘an incurable atheist’ and yet is alarmed by the decline of Christianity which undermines ‘any religious resistance’ to radical Islam. Melanie Phillips, a non-believing Jew, argues in her book The World Turned Upside Down that ‘Christianity is under direct and unremitting cultural assault from those who want to destroy the bedrock values of Western civilization.’

To look upon migration in this fashion is, I want to suggest, a misunderstanding of both Europe’s past and Europe’s present. To understand why, I want first to explore two fundamental questions, the answers to which must frame any discussion on inclusion and morality. What we mean by a diverse society? And why should we value it, or indeed, fear it?

When we think about diversity today in Europe, the picture we see is that of societies that in the past were homogenous, but have now become plural because of immigration. But in what way were European societies homogenous in the past? And in what ways are they diverse today?

Certainly, if you had asked a Frenchman or an Englishman or a Spaniard in the nineteenth or the fifteenth or the twelfth centuries, they would certainly not have described their societies as homogenous. And were they to be transported to contemporary Europe, it is likely that they would see it as far less diverse than we do.

Our view of the Europe of the past is distorted by historical amnesia; and our view of the Europe of the present is distorted by a highly restricted notion of diversity. When we talk of European societies as historically homogenous, what we mean is that they used to be ethnically, or perhaps culturally, homogenous. But the world is diverse in many ways. Societies are cut through by differences, not only of ethnicity, but also of class, gender, faith, politics, and much else. [Continue reading…]

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A lesson for Newt Gingrich: What Shariah is (and isn’t)

Noah Feldman writes: Fortunately, no one is going to follow Newt Gingrich’s unconstitutional and un-American plan for an inquisition to “test every person here who is of a Muslim background” and deport the ones who “believe in Shariah.” Even Mr. Gingrich himself, a day after suggesting this policy in the wake of the terrorist attack in Nice, France, conceded that such a plan was impossible. But his proposal is a reminder of a persistent and inexcusable misunderstanding of what Shariah is, both in theory and in practice.

Put simply, for believing Muslims, Shariah is the ideal realization of divine justice — a higher law reflecting God’s will.

Muslims have a wide range of different beliefs about what Shariah requires in practice. And all agree that humans are imperfect interpreters of God’s will. But to ask a faithful Muslim if he or she “believes in” Shariah is essentially to ask if he or she accepts God’s word. In effect, Mr. Gingrich was proposing to deport all Muslims who consider themselves religious believers.

Start with a crucial distinction. Shariah doesn’t simply or exactly mean Islamic law. Properly speaking, Shariah refers to God’s blueprint for human life. It is divine and unchanging, reflecting God’s unity and perfection. It can be found in God’s revealed word in the Quran and in the divinely guided actions of the Prophet Muhammad.

In contrast, another Arabic word, “fiqh,” refers to the interpretation and application of Shariah in the real world. Fiqh is Islamic law as practiced by people. Because it’s a product of human reasoning used to understand God’s word, Islamic law is subject to debate and imperfection. [Continue reading…]

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Measuring the backlash against the Muslim backlash

Shibley Telhami writes: Something remarkable has happened in the middle of an American presidential campaign noted for its inflammatory rhetoric about Islam and Muslims, and marred by horrific mass violence perpetrated on American soil in the name of Islam: American public attitudes toward the Muslim people and the Muslim religion have not worsened — in fact they have become progressively more favorable, even after the Orlando shooting. That’s what two new polls show, one taken two weeks before Orlando, the other two weeks after, to be released at the Brookings Institution on Monday.

Comparing the results of three University of Maryland national polls — all fielded by Neilson Scarborough — taken in November 2015, in May 2016 and in June 2016 (after the June 12th Orlando shooting), the trends are surprising. Asked about their views of the Muslim people, respondents who expressed favorable views went from 53 percent in November 2015, to 58 percent in May 2016, to 62 percent in June 2016. At the same time, favorable views of Islam went from 37 percent, to 42 percent, to 44 percent over the same period — still under half, but with marked improvement over a period of seven months. [Continue reading…]

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Racism and xenophobia are resurgent in the UK, and the centre-left is partly to blame

David Wearing writes: “I’m not a racist, but…..”; “I haven’t got a racist bone in my body”; “it’s not racist to have concerns about immigration”. We’re all familiar with Britain’s broad repertoire of phrases for denying or downplaying prejudice. But with a fivefold increase in reported hate crimes since the Brexit vote, it is no longer tenable to sweep this issue under the carpet. We have to be honest. This country has a problem.

It is frequently said that, because a majority voted for Brexit, racism and xenophobia cannot be a significant part of the picture. This is consistent with the popular misconception that these forms of prejudice are restricted to the margins: a few far-right boot-boys, 1950s throwbacks and a handful of the socially maladjusted. It is a profoundly naïve assumption.

The proportion of people admitting racist views to pollsters is 29%, and given the social taboo around racism, the true number is likely to be higher (recall, for example, the UKIP councillor who said she had a problem with “negroes” because there was “something about their faces”, while simultaneously insisting that she was “not a racist”). A quarter of Britons say immigrants, including any British-born children, should be “encouraged” to leave the country – echoing the standard ‘send them back’ demand of the far right. A further 30% of those polled could not say that they definitely disagreed with that position. These figures are dismaying, but will only shock those who have never experienced racism, and the widespread complacency about it, for themselves. [Continue reading…]

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Will young reformers of Islam please stand up?

Tania Rashid writes: I recently completed a short documentary about Islamophobia in America’s heartland, Texas. I got to know members of a gun-toting anti-Muslim group called the Bureau on American-Islamic Relations, or B.A.I.R.

I recall standing in the middle of them preparing for an “Arab rising.” Each practice shot they let out had me thinking that I could be an apparent target. One of them yelled “don’t mess with white people,” and proceeded to show me how he would complete a mass killing if he saw a group of Muslims.

 

I thought of my father, the most secular Muslim I know, who was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and interrogated for hours before a flight to Arizona. Could these men shoot me or other innocent people in my family?

But as much as I was repulsed by the group and their violent response to Muslims, it made me wonder: Were they all that wrong to feel so scared? [Continue reading…]

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Srebrenica: Why every life matters

In the West, the top three watershed geopolitical events of the modern era are commonly seen as the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the al Qaeda attacks in the U.S. in 2001, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, has largely been forgotten and outside the Muslim world its significance never widely grasped.

Yet as Brendan Simms noted in Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present:

In the Muslim world, the slaughter of their co-religionists in Bosnia contributed substantially to the emergence of a common consciousness on foreign policy. According to this global discourse, Muslims were now on the defensive across the world: in Palestine, Bosnia, Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. A large number of Arab, Turkish, Caucasian, central Asian and other Mujahedin – in search of a new jihad after Afghanistan – went to Bosnia to fight. It was among European Muslims, however, that the Bosnian experience resonated most forcefully. ‘It doesn’t really matter whether we perish or survive,’ the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina [Dr. Mustafa Cerić] remarked in May 1994, ‘the lesson will always be there. And it is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue.’ This ‘Zionist’ message echoed across the immigrant communities in western Europe, especially Britain. ‘Bosnia Today – Brick Lane tomorrow’ warned the banners in one East London demonstration. Some of the most prominent subsequent British jihadists such as Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnapping and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl, and the Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg – were radicalized by Bosnia. In other words, the new Muslim geopolitics of the mid-1990s was a reaction not to western meddling but to nonintervention in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing [my emphasis].

A decade later, when Nadeem Azam interviewed Cerić (who in 2003 in recognition of his contributions to inter-faith dialogue, tolerance and peace, was awarded UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny peace prize) he reiterated his message on the necessity of Muslim self-reliance.

What are your feelings about the future of Islam in Europe?

Not very good. The rise of fascism combined with an officially-sanctioned tendency to be unreasonable when it comes to discussion about Islam are bad omens. I am not a soothsayer but I can see the reality of a day when the treatment of a Muslim in Europe will be worse than that of serial killer: we are, I am afraid, on the verge of seeing a situation develops whereby it would be a crime to be a Muslim in Europe. The events of 11 September, 2001, have made things worse. May Allah protect us.

But having such feelings does not depress me. It actually should motivate us and make us even more resolute in our efforts. More importantly it should make us think of planning and organising. If the day comes – like it did in Bosnia – you might be unable to control events around you but you should at least be ready to do what is needed to be done by a Muslim at such an hour.
[…]
The message of the four year-long war we fought is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue; they must always rely on God and the faith, goodness and compassion within their communities. This is very important. Our strength will always be reflective of the strength of our communities.

Today, Cerić’s fears are clearly all the more well-founded as across Europe xenophobia and Islamophobia relentlessly grow and in the United States a presidential candidate gains the strongest boost to his campaign by promising a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims.

The lesson that Srebrenica taught many Muslims in the West was that even when they are in no sense foreign or culturally set apart, they are still at risk of exclusion and elimination.

Last month after the EU referendum in the UK, a resident of Barnsley, South Yorkshire (five miles from where I grew up), when asked to explain why he had voted for Brexit said: “It’s to stop the Muslims coming into this country. Simple as that.”

Among opponents of the war in Iraq, a widely accepted narrative has long been that the antidote to the unintended consequences of so much ill-conceived Western meddling in the Greater Middle East over the last 15 years is to simply step back and disengage. This sentiment, in large part, is what got Barack Obama elected in 2008. Let the region sort out its own problems or let closer neighbors such as the Russians intervene, so the thinking goes. The U.S. has much more capacity to harm than to help.

Yet as the killing fields of Syria have grown larger year after year, the message from Srebrenica merely seems to have been underlined: the magnitude of the death toll in any conflict will be of little concern across most of the West so long as the victims are Muslim.

After Donald Trump called for Muslims to be shut out of America, Michael Moore declared: We are all Muslim. And he promoted the hashtag #WeAreAllMuslim.

Expressions of solidarity through social media are easy to promote and of debatable value, yet the isolation of Muslims in this instance, rather than being overcome, merely seemed to get reinforced. #WeAreAllMuslim was mostly deployed as a sarcastic slur shared by Islamophobes.

The global trends are strong and clear, pointing to a future marked by more and more social fragmentation as people withdraw into their respective enclaves where they believe they can “take care of their own.”

We live in a world in which we are getting thrown closer together while simultaneously trying to stand further apart. It can’t work.

At some point we either embrace the fact that we are all human and have the capacity to advance our mutual interests, or we will continue down the current path of self-destruction.

* * *

Last year, Myriam François-Cerrah, a British journalist who is also a Muslim, took a group of young people from the UK — all of whom were born in the year of the genocide — to Srebrenica where they learned lessons that arguably have more relevance now than they have had at any time since 1995.

 

The events immediately leading up to the genocide are recounted in this segment from the BBC documentary, The Death of Yugoslavia:

 

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After a campaign scarred by bigotry, it’s become OK to be racist in Britain

Aditya Chakrabortty writes: On chaos of the kind Britain now faces, history is clear: some people always get hurt more than others. Just which groups stand to suffer most this time round is already becoming worryingly clear. Take a look at the hate reports that have come pouring in over the past few days.

In Huntingdon, Polish-origin schoolkids get cards calling them “vermin”, who must “leave the EU”. They come with a Polish translation, thoughtfully enough. From Barnsley, a TV correspondent notes that within five minutes three different people shout, “Send them home.” On Facebook, a friend in east London tells how, while trying to sleep on a hot night, he hears a man bellowing outside his open window: “We’ve got our country back and next I’ll blow that fucking mosque up.”

None of this is coincidental. It’s what happens when cabinet ministers, party leaders and prime-ministerial wannabes sprinkle arguments with racist poison. When intolerance is not only tolerated, but indulged and encouraged. For months leading up to last week’s vote, politicians poured a British blend of Donald Trumpism into Westminster china. They told 350m little lies. They made cast-iron promises that, Iain Duncan Smith now admits, were only ever “possibilities”. And the Brexit brigade flirted over and over again with racism. [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump makes me scared for my family

Aziz Ansari writes: “Don’t go anywhere near a mosque,” I told my mother. “Do all your prayer at home. O.K.?”

“We’re not going,” she replied.

I am the son of Muslim immigrants. As I sent that text, in the aftermath of the horrible attack in Orlando, Fla., I realized how awful it was to tell an American citizen to be careful about how she worshiped.

Being Muslim American already carries a decent amount of baggage. In our culture, when people think “Muslim,” the picture in their heads is not usually of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the kid who left the boy band One Direction. It’s of a scary terrorist character from “Homeland” or some monster from the news.

Today, with the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and others like him spewing hate speech, prejudice is reaching new levels. It’s visceral, and scary, and it affects how people live, work and pray. It makes me afraid for my family. It also makes no sense. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Donald Trump’s strategic decision to target Muslims

Jenna Johnson reports: Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has ranged widely: He has long stoked the idea that Obama might be a secret follower of Islam. Two months before proposing the Muslim ban, Trump announced he would kick all Syrian refugees out of the country and bar any others from coming in because they could be a “Trojan horse.” Trump also suggested killing the innocent relatives of terrorists.

“I’ve had good instincts in life, and a lot of this is instinct,” Trump said, adding that three of his Republican primary rivals “confidentially” told him that they agreed with the ban but could not publicly endorse it.

By February — after losing the Iowa caucuses and winning the New Hampshire primary — Trump focused on the next contest in South Carolina. The night before the primary, he told an apocryphal tale that he would return to again and again about U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing fighting Muslim insurgents in the Philippines in the early 1900s.

“He took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pigs’ blood,” Trump said. “And he had his men load his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said: ‘You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.”

Lewandowski said in an interview before his firing that the telling of the story was planned ahead of time. He said it doesn’t matter that it isn’t true. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is wrong that Muslims don’t do our part — I reported Omar Mateen to the FBI

Mohammed A. Malik writes: Since Sept. 11, I’ve thought the only way to answer Islamophobia was to be polite and kind; the best way to counter all the negativity people were seeing on TV about Islam was by showing them the opposite. I urged Omar to volunteer and help people in need – Muslim or otherwise (charity is a pillar of Islam). He agreed, but was always very worked up about this injustice.

Then, during the summer of 2014, something traumatic happened for our community. A boy from our local mosque, Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, was 22 when he became the first American-born suicide bomber, driving a truck full of explosives into a government office in Syria. He’d traveled there and joined a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, the previous year. We had all known Moner; he was jovial and easygoing, the opposite of Omar. According to a posthumous video released that summer, he had clearly self-radicalized – and had also done so by listening to the lectures of Anwar al-Awlaki, the charismatic Yemen-based imam who helped radicalize several Muslims, including the Fort Hood shooter. Everyone in the area was shocked and upset. We hate violence and were horrified that one of our number could have killed so many. (After an earlier training mission to Syria, he’d tried to recruit a few Florida friends to the cause. They told the FBI about him.)

Immediately after Moner’s attack, news reports said that American officials didn’t know anything about him; I read that they were looking for people to give them some background. So I called the FBI and offered to tell investigators a bit about the young man. It wasn’t much – we hadn’t been close – but I’m an American Muslim, and I wanted to do my part. I didn’t want another act like that to happen. I didn’t want more innocent people to die. Agents asked me if there were any other local kids who might resort to violence in the name of Islam. No names sprang to mind.

After my talk with the FBI, I spoke to people in the Islamic community, including Omar, about Moner’s attack. I wondered how he could have radicalized. Both Omar and I attended the same mosque as Moner, and the imam never taught hate or radicalism. That’s when Omar told me he had been watching videos of Awlaki, too, which immediately raised red flags for me. He told me the videos were very powerful.

After speaking with Omar, I contacted the FBI again to let them know that Omar had been watching Awlaki’s tapes. He hadn’t committed any acts of violence and wasn’t planning any, as far as I knew. And I thought he probably wouldn’t, because he didn’t fit the profile: He already had a second wife and a son. But it was something agents should keep their eyes on. I never heard from them about Omar again, but apparently they did their job: They looked into him and, finding nothing to go on, they closed the file. [Continue reading…]

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Jo Cox was working on report on anti-Muslim attacks before her death

The Guardian reports: Jo Cox, the MP who was killed outside her constituency office on Thursday, was going to warn of an increase in anti-Muslim attacks – particularly against women – it has emerged.

She was planning to address parliament later this month to introduce a report she had been working on with the Islamophobia watchdog Tell Mama (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), the group’s director said. The study is expected to conclude that there were about 80% more attacks on Muslims in Britain in 2015 than the year before.

“She met us to talk about how people could report attacks; particularly women in her constituency,” said the founder and director of Tell Mama, Fiyaz Mughal, on Sunday.

The report is the latest in an annual series on the prevalence of Islamophobic attacks. “We were hoping she would highlight the impact on Muslim women; particularly given the targeting [that exists],” Mughal said. “The majority [of incidents] at street level were [on] women and she was going to raise that.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Sayeeda Warsi, the former chair of the Conservative party, has said she will no longer support the campaign to leave the European Union just days before the referendum, accusing it of “hate and xenophobia”.

Warsi said the positive case for leaving the EU had been neglected by the official campaign, though leading leave campaigners have denied she was ever an active participant in the campaign.

“Why is it people like me, instinctively Eurosceptic who feel the EU needs reform … feel they now have to leave leave?” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday. “Because day after day what are we hearing? The refugees are coming, the rapists are coming, the Turks are coming.”

Warsi’s intervention came amid a slew of news around the referendum campaign, with car manufacturers, Richard Branson and premier league football clubs urging a vote for remain. [Continue reading…]

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