Thursday, October 15, 2015

Is Liberal (Canadian) Media Silencing non-orthodox/ex-Muslim voices?


Photo from: lemoutongris.liberty.me


As the Canadian federal election date draws closer, I can't get my mind off the niqab debate. I can't stop thinking about the fact that this one issue demonstrates how voices like mine - from within the Muslim community are routinely ignored, cast aside, betrayed by the illiberal 'liberal' West ...simply for the crime of not fitting the simplistic tribalist narratives.

Zunera Ishaq - a Pakistani immigrant to Canada just like myself ....took on the government regarding the issue of niqabs during the citizenship oath and won the right to wear a mask in court when no one else is allowed to. She won the privilege to flaunt her alliance with an inflexible, misogynistic, hardline, right-wing, extremist interpretation of Islam in the face of already marginalized, threatened, liberal minorities from within the Muslim community.

Widespread liberal support for her is as distasteful as support for 'White nationalism' or 'Straight Pride'. Except not many liberals can see past the 'minority' aspect. Well, the KKK would be a minority in Pakistan, but it wouldn't mean that we start treating them as liberal heroes if they challenged 'the majority'.

This issue showcases how utterly alone people in my position are. We don't align with the position of the western 'right' on so many things, we are orphaned liberals - abandoned by the left which usually champions 'equality' and free speech, stands against the religious right....unless....'Islam', we are thus pushed into a corner where the only people willing to listen to us are associated with the right...which is not necessarily a compromise everyone is willing to make. But if they do, you can't fully blame them for wanting to be heard.

***

After centuries of burning witches, imprisoning freethinkers, certain parts of the world have finally reached a place where science and rationality prevail - where in the interest of protecting equality, the religious aren't favoured over the questioning or the godless. For once. But again, regarding Islam even in the 'human-rights championing West', our voices are silenced, left out of the conversation, misrepresented. We continue to be marginalized, targeted with unbelievable bigotry from the left and the right. If we speak out against our own oppression, we are labelled 'native informant' or 'house arab' by the illiberal liberals.

We are seen as being from the same stock of foreign 'savages' by the far-right, and the conversation is hijacked by these two extremes; the xenophobes who wish to cast suspicion and doubt on all Muslims, or the 'liberals' who ally with our bigoted Muslim far-right, our oppressors.

I am left with an ache in my gut, and a sinking feeling when I see the hypocritical left, fight against victim blaming, slut-shaming but celebrate it in the form of niqab simply because it is not 'their culture', it is not their fight. Their fight is with fox news, Stephen Harper, and that's it. Their fight for equality ends there. Misogyny is acceptable if packaged as part of a foreign culture.

With their caricature representations of orthodox Muslims as 'authentic', they create a wider gap, they fuel the Us. Vs Them, they fuel anti-Muslim bigotry. It is not just the Conservatives (who perhaps oppose niqab for their own opportunistic purposes) that feed this fire, it is these hypocritical illiberal liberals too.

Crushed... are the voices who want progress within our Muslim communities.

How 'Regressive Progressives' and 'Illiberal liberals' promote intolerance towards Muslims
(click to enlarge)


This inversion of left and right is truly a bizarre phenomenon...

(click to enlarge) 


This debate in Canada has been going on for a while, and sure some cautious articles have spoken mildly about what the niqab may symbolize, and what a person who *chooses* to fight for it may be like, they have failed to include the voices of the oppressed in this dialogue. Mostly religious supremacists, who already buy into the misogyny are interviewed, or people from outside the culture making false equivalences to nuns, lip gloss and high heels are given platforms to speak.

On the other side angry anti-immigrant conspiracy theorists, or anti-muslim bigots are heard shrieking about how niqabs should be done away with. People from within the community who've personally been affected by forced modesty concepts in the religion are disturbingly excluded from this debate. Everyone talks over those who have suffered through this. And even women like myself who grew up in Saudi Arabia, who have seen morality police caning women's ankles for their hair showing - we are labelled 'bigots' for opposing our own oppression. It's sickeningly twisted.

I hear people on the radio say, "Prime Minister Stephen Harper must *STOP THIS NOW*, this is not our Canada, this is divisive", I hear people implying that he's responsible for the bigoted attacks on Muslim women. Its so intellectually dishonest to hold him responsible for the attacks (and no, I'm not a fan of his), because all he did was state fact, that this is a misogynistic practice. And it is - he did not condone violence or aggression or hate towards Muslim women. In fact, not addressing the obvious elephant in the room, that this regressive practice is harmful and disrespectful towards women, and the fact that it gives extremists anonymity privileges in situations no one else gets them, is what fuels bigotry. The longer these blatant issues go unaddressed the more the frustration grows.

No one is helped through denial and accommodating religious supremacy.

The idea that all opposition to the niqab is 'misguided' because people assume women are always coerced doesn't address those grievances that acknowledge some women choose this. It doesn't address the question, "what *kind* of person fights to perpetuate this?"

In this way, political extremist Islam, non-violent as it may be in this case, is given a pass...its given a foothold to establish itself, to grow and flourish. This is not just about the niqab, this is about the disturbing brand of Islam that is rapidly expanding across Muslim communities.

Naively I think, that perhaps these liberal (Canadian) media outlets are just not aware that a perspective like mine exists. So I reach out, time and time again, I am ignored. At times, others reach out on my behalf, with an interest in hearing the other side. Sometimes media outlets have contacted me for my views on the niqab, but as soon as they hear what I have to say the interview gets called off or 'bumped' or 'restructured' for some mysterious reason.

Ex-Muslims, we are treated like untouchables. Especially when its Hardline Muslims vs Liberal Muslims, the hardliners always, always get platforms, support....we do not fit the box of what the media wants to show as 'Muslim'.

*silence*

*silence*

*silence*

After multiple requests from tweeters - the media sometimes approaches me
with an inquiry about my views.  (Btw the story being referenced is one where they spoke to niqabis and a hijabi about their thoughts on niqab.....surprise, surprise....they were *all* very supportive)

Once I speak to them though, that's the end of it. Its becoming quite predictable.
So I figured I'd save people the trouble of doing this dance and remove the personal details from these emails
and share, to demonstrate the clear patterns. When it comes to issues important to fundamentalists,
like the niqab, it is incredibly taboo to oppose.
Or incredibly inconvenient that I oppose from within.
A 'white' opposer can easily be cast as a xenophobe.

Sometimes the inquiries are even ALL CAPS URGENT. And then we get a chance to speak to each other...

Once we communicate, and its clarified that I am indeed
not easily portrayed as ignorant, or aiding bigotry, my shock value role isn't
useful any more. 

This is the narrative Al Jazeera prefers. Poor minority Muslim woman,
opposed by 'the other', 'the westerner'.  Without this Us v. Them distraction,
people may actually be forced to think about the issue of
treatment of women re:niqab
These are the views of the Al Jazeera panelist on niqab. This is the kind of person they would rather
hear from and provide a platform to. Someone who isn't shy about their support for
barbaric Sharia....unsurprising if one would stop to consider the type of person
who would fight for niqabs to continue.
More disturbing views from the Al Jazeera niqab panelist, comparing female 'circumcision', aka
Female Genital Mutilation, (done for the sole purpose of controlling a woman's sex drive)...to elective, consensual
surgeries women choose as adults, to enhance sexual pleasure or body image like clitoral hoodectomies

*silence*


*silence*

There was once a time right after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, where I read
a particularly nauseating, apologist article in the Toronto Star...
I was so appalled, that I reached out to them, saying I'd love to offer a different,
though controversial perspective in their publication. I mentioned that
I am anonymous because I receive countless death threats, I was told "to apply formally" - despite
my mentioning, the fact that I....um, can't because I am anonymous and cannot use my real name. It's like they are just not
reading or hearing the words I'm putting out there, or understanding the gravity of them. They would rather
continue to hear from Muslims who fit the profile.

Canada is not alone in this skewed regressive representation of 'Islam' or 'Muslim'. Even someone I admire like Jon Stewart - previously from the Daily Show, someone like him who made a career out of mocking the far right, the religious right....even he became guarded and uncomfortable when hosting a 'notorious' critic of Islam like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. On the other hand, he welcomed with great warmth a blatant apologist and spouter of idiocy like Reza Aslan. Jon hates being called a self-hating Jew, yet the suspicion he regards an ex-Muslim like Ayaan with is similar to that.

The situation in the UK is worse than North America, perhaps as a reaction to their far-right extremist nationalist groups...publications like the Guardian often misrepresent, censor or just exclude *true* liberal or ex-Muslim voices like those of Maryam Namazie and Maajid Nawaz. Ex-Muslims like Maryam Namazie are banned (then re-invited after public pressure) from speaking at Universities, when Islamists are welcomed without a thought. This is the attitude the niqab debate in Canada is representative of, not just 'a piece of cloth'.

Maryam puts it well in her piece recently censored published by the Guardian (emphasis mine), "Through Islamist Eyes":

"In their ‘anti-colonialist’ worldview, which unsurprisingly coincides with that of the ruling classes in the ‘Islamic world’ or ‘Muslim community,’ dissenters are either ‘native informants‘ or contributing to the ‘demonisation of Muslims.’
For those who have bought into the Islamist narrative, there are no social and political movements, class politics, dissenters, women’s rights campaigners, socialists… – just homogenised ‘Muslims’ [read Islamists] who face ‘intimidation’ and ‘discrimination’ if an ex-Muslim woman speaks on an university campus."
****
The level of intellectual dishonesty around this niqab debate has to be the single most frustrating thing I've experienced in a long time. This is not a 'non-issue', it is not a 'piece of cloth', it is about how real, living, breathing, women are treated in some branches of Islam. The least that can be done here is to *not* minimize the harm these practices cause, the least that can be done is to not applaud mockery of women's suffering. Someone, not even Muslim...has created an ignorant, dishonest tumblr called the 'Niqabs of Canada' comparing it with surgical masks, hockey masks, winter hoods and scarves. Things that have an actual purpose other than 'controlling women' or 'blaming them for men's lust', you know...the least we could do as Canadians is recognize that these comparisons are offensive. There are theocracies that whip and cane women for not being  dressed modestly enough. Surgical masks are not comparable. 
It's beyond distasteful. I discussed this in my open letter to niqab supporting media, and here we are again, applauding insensitivity. 



considering how many little girls are forced into hijabs without their consent...
this one is particularly upsetting.
You are on the wrong side of history, and supporting gender segregation, you're going to look as stupid as those who supported racial segregation one day. I hope that day comes in my lifetime. 

click to enlarge

click to enlarge - shocking that even someone smart enough to teach at Harvard,
cannot grasp the offensiveness of equating niqabs with surgical masks. It may be a non issue
for him because hey, he's never been forced into modesty by Islam. But it is certainly an issue for me,
and for the multitude of women who continue to be oppressed by this misogynistic practice.

So great, isn't it? 

Really no big deal at all, just that most women wearing them are
threatened or beaten for not doing so! YAY. 

So please, continue dear illiberals, continue supporting our right-wing hardline bigots. We'll be over here waiting...for you to come around to your senses. Perhaps some day the progress and freedom of our communities will matter more to you than your political narcissism, where you simply must oppose 'the conservative', no matter what.

----

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Correspondence with CJ Werleman Pt. 3

(Catch up on Parts one and two)

So here's the final segment of our email conversation. I asked CJ one important question that he never did answer:

"I'm hoping at this point you don't really think I'm evil or a threat to the world...right?"

But oh well. The entire thing was very civil, and friendly-ish, he was nice and polite while disregarding most things I said. And he did answer some of my tougher questions, after I asked him twice. I appreciate that CJ was willing to respond to things that flat out called him on some double standards, and slurs.

Many have written to me saying that it was a very frustrating task I undertook, and asked why. Well, I wanted it to be on record that 'New Atheists' are not what we are described as being. We are knowledgable, nuanced, and too often misrepresented as being unreasonable. We are often speaking from lived experience, and disregarding our voices is a terrible injustice.

CJ brought up his friend Mubin Shaikh, an ex-jihadist....How truly wonderful that he is not a jihadist any longer. However, in my interactions with Mubin, he has been quite unreasonable and unwilling to admit any fault with Islam. A particular conversation about a troubling prayer in mosques, was carried out in the most disingenuous way by him, where he refused to admit it's 'problematicness', and downplayed the risks to apostates like myself. If people who think 'disbelievers are hostile' are supposed to help with deradicalization, I'm not sure how comforted we should feel.

One can 'contextualize' this prayer in terms of 'war' all they like, but they should also take note of how such prayers and verses are used to justify violence. Groups like ISIS are at war with everyone who doesn't believe they are right. Extremists are perpetually at war, these verses then... provide great justification for barbaric acts carried out in the name of religion. Why utter them in mosques? Why let them influence young children?


There was also the time Mubin decided to focus on how drawing offensive Mo cartoons, was not the 'smartest' way to do things - The day the Charlie Hebdo massacre happened. This was his focus, that its not 'smart' ....because Muslims will react violently if offended. Apart from having really low expectations of Muslims, it's appalling that the actual shooting was not his main focus. Like how could people be killed for drawing? When instead of straight up condemning this horrible act, he said "The rules of Islam don't apply to non-muslim countries" So it's ok to do this in a Muslim country? These are the people helping us against Islamists? Well then.

(weirdly his previous twitter account and tweets are gone, replaced by a random egg account that hasn't tweeted yet)




CJ ends our conversation speaking about 'secular wars', and claiming that when the religious are dehumanized slaughter has followed. As if there is some link between secularism and slaughter of the religious? This line of thinking is just...twisted...for the lack of a better word. The religious constantly leave theocracies and jump at the chance to move to secular countries, where their own rights are better protected, as is demonstrated by the current refugee crisis. Secularism doesn't dehumanize the religious, it in fact values everyone equally. States may dehumanize the religious, for various reasons of control. How is this 'motivated' by a lack of belief in gods?

Hitler was a Christian btw, often invoking god and claiming inspiration from Christianity




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You too can support here
 
-----

Hi CJ,

And now we get to the good stuff. I think you think I disagree with you on things that I don't actually disagree on. 

I don't think mild forms of religion are a problem, if they are not imposed on others. I too think extremism is a major problem....but where does extremism come from? It comes from religion. If scriptures are adhered to closely, it becomes extreme and intolerable. This is not unique to Islam, though Islam is at the forefront of religious violence today. I acknowledge there are many factors to this, and not *just* religion. But I think denying the link it has to religion is counterproductive. 

If extremism is the problem, and I agree...what provides the raw material for extremism? 

You don't have to try hard to convince me of the link between socio-economic factors and religiosity. I fully agree. This is apparent everywhere, education, money, etc. Make a big difference as far as religiosity goes. Could this be that in poverty and without education you are prime target for easily being manipulated by myths that give you answers to things you can't understand otherwise? That you cling to a hope of a god who will some how balance things in the afterlife, or reward you for your acts? 

"In other words, the best vaccine we have against religious extremism is stability/peace/security coupled with economic liberalism i.e. where the size of the state is greater, and the level of poverty is reduced."

Is a vaccine against religious extremism also not a vaccine against religiosity? The myths and harmful practices surrounding religion are dispelled with more education...less value placed on religion = less religious extremism. 

This is generally the case, happy, prosperous, well educated, well looked after people will not turn to religion as much. However it doesn't account for the cases of well-educated, prosperous, people who do turn to religious extremism. There is something to be said for blind faith in a doctrine as a contributing factor as well. Surely you can't deny a link between Islam and Islamic extremism? 

"You can then apply this same rule for Islam in the Muslim world. Where do you find more extremism? Turkey (stable/democratic) or Afghanistan? Indonesia (stable/democratic) or Yemen? Malaysia (stable/democratic) or Pakistan?"

Turkey is an officially secular country, which places less value on religion than other countries in the Muslim world. And even though about 90% of Indonesians are Muslim, it is officially a secular country, placing value on equality in religion. According to the New York Times : 

"When Indonesian leaders were drafting the nation’s first constitution after declaring independence from Dutch colonial rule in August 1945, Islamists demanded that the country be declared a Muslim state. But nationalists, indigenous ethnic groups and the country’s small but influential Christian and Hindu minorities fought back. Indonesia became a secular nation that recognized six official religions and had a state motto of “unity in diversity.”

Same goes for Malaysia, while the official religion is Islam, I do believe it's constitution makes it secular. These are all countries that have chosen to place less importance on Islamic doctrine and not let themselves be governed by something like the shariah. Which may also have a hand in making them more stable, more democratic. As opposed to the Islamic republic of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia...However...these countries are not the beacons of freedom and democracy one might think either, because of connections to...Islam. 

"All ethnic Malays are Muslim (100%) as defined by Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia.[5][6] As required by Malaysian law and defined in the Constitution of Malaysia, a Malay would surrender his ethnic status if he were not Muslim."

Your Indonesian friends must have been lovely I'm sure, like I said...I have no doubts about people who practice to varying degrees. My experience with ppl who regularly pray 5x hasn't been one of high minded humanism or secularism though, but let's chalk that up to different experiences. 

How do you explain attitudes around 'morality' and female modesty, two finger virginity tests that do exist in Indonesia though...they link back to religion not socio-economic status.

I just don't think that denying the link is productive, and neither is denying the fact that there are other factors that govern a person's level of religiosity like education, wealth, etc. When Reza Aslan says fgm is an 'African problem', do you think thats an honest claim or productive to the debate around Islam? 

"In conclusion, New Atheists have a flawed strategy for tackling religious extremism, because they're yet to identify the problem is extremism."

Every prominent 'New Atheist' as you call them, certainly identifies extremism as the problem, they just go to the root of extremism though...I think no one will disagree with you that defeating extremism through things like education is important. 

"It's for this reason no one outside of the New Atheist echo chamber takes the New Atheists seriously."

I'd say 1.5 million followers between Dawkins and Harris alone is proof that many do take them seriously... and Dawkins is interviewed on places like the BBC, I never saw them as a 'new atheist echo chamber' 

"the New Atheist approach/thinking is clearly a waste of time."

I have to ask, do you really think me opposing my own oppression is a waste of  time? 

Some questions didn't get answered last time, and if you get a chance I'd love to get a response on those specifically:

-What are your thoughts on the term Islamophobia
-Do you think using terms like porch monkey, native informant, paid brown face are ok to use on people speaking about their own culture, their own lived experience? And do they not come across as bigoted? 
- what are you thoughts about the verse in the Quran that allows for 'striking' your wife? How can this be explained away by context, and as a woman...how is it that you're opposed to me objecting to this? 

"Their books/blogs/speeches will never resonate with extremists or highly uneducated Muslims who reside in broken/failed states." 

If one is uneducated to the point that they cannot read, and poverty stricken to the point they have no access to the internet...then certainly. But neither will yours or neither will mine, because of obvious reasons. 

I don't consider myself part of any echo chamber, I oppose things I disagree with on both ends of the conversation. Which is why i receive hate and harassment from both types of people too Muslims and non-Muslims. I do hope you'll acknowledge that. 

——

Hi Eiynah,

"And now we get to the good stuff."  LOL! :)

Where you write, "I don't think mild forms of religion are a problem, if they are not imposed on others." AMEN! This is my overarching point - that Religion isn't 'the' problem. Extremism is the problem, and extremism can be both secular or religious.

Where we now differ is to the degree to which religion or socio-economic-political realities play in fostering extremism.

In the under-developed world, extremism is nearly always expressed in religious forms. In the highly-developed world extremism is nearly always expressed in secular forms i.e. hyper-nationalism. Which is worse? Well, religious extremism will never come close to matching the body count left in the wake of hyper-nationalism. But that's not the point here.

Where you find cases of "well-educated, prosperous, people who do turn to religious extremism," you find a political/personal grievance at the root. In turn, the political/personal grievance is then expressed in religious terms. Over the course of the past year or so, I have developed a good friendship with Mubin Shaikh - who was a former jihadist. No one knows the mindset of a jihadist more than Mubin, and I mean nobody. Not only was Mubin a jihadist, but he also infiltrated a jihadist cell on behalf of the Canadian Intelligence Service. He says that in nearly every instance of violent extremism, you find a person who internalizes the following: "It isn't right. It isn't fair. It's your fault."

That individual THEN turns to scripture to justify the action they're about to take, often taking the Quranic verse out of context, too. Interestingly!

As for my claim that "no one outside the New Atheist echo chamber takes the New Atheists seriously," I mean in terms of their commentary on religion or violent extremism. Yes, Dawkins is on television, but it's for his contributions to science, and rightfully so. I am a fan of Dawkins where it comes to his field of expertise: science. But his commentary, like Harris, is completely whack where it comes to providing commentary on Islamic culture, terrorism, geo-politics, the Middle East, etc - and both are routinely lampooned by those who are considered experts in the aforementioned fields.

To answer your specific list of questions:

Q: "what are your thoughts on the term Islamophobia?":

A: It's real. It's happening. It's escalating. Is it Islamophobic to criticize the tenets of Islam? No! But New Atheists go beyond that. Harris regurgitates the Islamophobia industry talking points i.e. the Eurabia/Sharia conspiracy theories. These conspiracies are by design generated to whip up fear of Muslims. THAT'S Islamophobic! Dawkins paints Muslims as inherently violent when he says stuff like, "Well, I don't need to tell you the religion of the terrorist." He's so ignorant on the topic of terrorism that he forgets the word is arbitrary and thus meaningless. (There's so many other examples to add here, but my point is made.)

Q: "Do you think using terms like porch monkey, native informant, paid brown face are ok to use on people speaking about their own culture, their own lived experience? And do they not come across as bigoted? -

A: Ayaan is paid by a hate group: ACT4America. A hate group that's sole aim is to instill Americans with a fear of Muslims for this plays well for pro-Israel politics. Thus "native informant" is appropriate. As for Maajid, I did call him a "House Muslim." I called him this after he had joined the anti-Muslim bigoted attacks on Ahmed. He joined Dawkins/Maher in stripping away a fellow Muslim's humanity. A kid at that! 

Q: "what are you thoughts about the verse in the Quran that allows for 'striking' your wife? How can this be explained away by context, and as a woman...how is it that you're opposed to me objecting to this?"

A: Criticize it. You're not taking that verse out of its context. New Atheists, like ISIS, like al-Qaeda, etc, de-contextualize the verses related to jihad, war, infidels, and apostasy.


I've really enjoyed this dialogue. I hope you found it productive. I know I did, and I thank you for it. However, I might have to call this the end. I have multiple projects on my desk, and will be traveling for a bit. 

I wish you all the best.

Kind regards
CJ
———

Thanks for your time CJ. Appreciate you making the effort to engage with an evil threat like my New atheist self in civil conversation ;) I kid - I'm hoping at this point you don't really think I'm evil or a threat to the world...right? I'm not intolerant of religious people, just bad ideas that perpetuate intolerance. I hope I've proven that my motivations are based on freeing myself, my community from oppressive beliefs, and not based on spouting some colonial narrative (I don't really earn anything from holding these views apart from a *tiny* patreon account, hardly worth receiving threats over) Is it possible that I may have demonstrated good intention to you?

Just a couple of things before you sign off completely, if you would be so kind: 

I'm not sure how you compare secular 'extremism' to religious 'extremism' - and what you mean exactly. Are you referring to 'wars' when you speak about hyper-nationalism? Because how can we separate the geo-politics from war, and call it secular extremism? The motivation isn't 'secularism' for these things. Much like in the same way you argue for more context when holding religion accountable. Other hyper nationalism, like xenophobic far right groups in the west can often be traced to having a belief in 'Christian values'.

And when I say Islamophobia is a nonsense word, its not because i don't acknowledge anti-muslim bigotry... its because it places focus on the ideology and not on Muslims. Thus confusing the 'ideas vs ppl', which is an important distinction to make imo. Muslimophobia would make more sense to me. Just wanted to make that clear. In the same way, many 'New Atheists' do not deny the existence or problematicness of bigotry...its an issue with the term itself.

I have found our chat productive, it helps (I hope both ways) to humanize the opposing perspective. I hope you will reconsider using terms like 'house Arab' in the future, they are hurtful. Even if you disagree with someone, you can oppose their ideas. But removing their agency by implying they are hired for an agenda and can't possibly have these thoughts on their own ...it just sounds a little 'colonial'.

Cheers,
Eiynah 

—————

Glad you enjoyed the discussion, too.

regarding your question: hyper-nationalism leads to secular wars - where men go willing to die/kill not for a god but for the power and glory of the State. The world's greatest slaughters and genocides were carried out in the name of the secular state - not long after the hyper-nationalism within each of the respective states had exalted their citizens while dehumanizing the other. 

In the name of the German state, Jews were dehumanized. In the name of the Serbian state, Muslims were dehumanized. In the name of the anti-theistic Soviet/Albanian/Chinese/Cambodian states, the religious were dehumanized. Slaughter followed.

All the best
CJ

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Correspondence with CJ Werleman Pt. 2

So here's part 2 of our email exchange...I must admit, I chuckled a bit at the "I will now explain why I think I'm right" part :)

If you missed part one, you can read it here

This exchange ends on a particularly frustrating note, but worry not, there is more coming soon. 

The idea that atheism is a unifying factor in any way moreso than a disbelief in mermaids is a unifying factor, is incorrect and evident simply through this exchange between two atheists. 

The idea that New Atheists don't understand the impact of geo political influences, is also a complete falsehood. I haven't come across anyone who thinks there are no other problems apart from religion that contribute to religious violence, of course education, socio economic status all play a role. But so does belief in a violent ideology. It's the attempt to shift blame away from such a large contributing factor, that many object to,

How can one not see the links between Islam and Radical Islam? Radical Islam is just Islam followed literally, Islamism is just a fundamentalist, very plausible interpretation of *Islam* being politically imposed on others. All things point to the fact that yes, Islam itself is full of terrible ideas. I stress that using a distinction between Islam and radical Islam is important in terms of strategic communication at *some* times, because it's easier for the message to be absorbed by a larger amount of people if these distinctions are made. It's not to say Islam is lovely and separate from Islamism, or Islamic extremism.

The reference to 'war' as secular extremism is mind-boggling to me, a complete misrepresentation since war isn't actually motivated by 'secularism' in any way...and this lopsided idea that Islamic terrorism must be looked at in terms of geopolitical factors alone, while 'war' must be directly, inaccurately linked to secularism, without considering the geopolitical factors that may have lead to war - is a truly baffling idea to me. What is the end game here? Equating secularism with religious violence? What? Are we trying to say secularism is bad? Despite the evidence that secular countries do far better than non secular ones, especially in terms of human rights for their citizens? What is the purpose of this? I just don't get it...other than trying to comfort those who favour theocracy...

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-----

Hi CJ, 

Thank you for your prompt response. I do think posting it on the blog will be helpful, so thanks for agreeing. A civil discussion will be far more informative than the usual angry words exchanged on twitter. 

The whole New Atheist thing you mention, definitely includes me as well (but doesn't describe me accurately or fairly).... I do think religion is a a major problem (not the *only* problem, of course, and none of the group you mention, think religion is the *only problem* either, as far as I know). In this century, Islam specifically is a problem, in the past ...Christianity has been a major one too. Despite feeling this way about Islam, I think Muslims are diverse, and practice their religion to different degrees - painting them all as extremists ignores the already marginalized, too few truly liberal Muslim voices. 

I grew up in a very liberal muslim family, they are wonderful people who have embraced my difference of opinion, my disbelief...and always encouraged critical thought (to a degree). However, that's not to say that the problematic parts of Islam are not visible even in the way liberal moderates practice. My aunts and mother wouldn't touch the holy books or pray when on their menstrual cycle, because its deemed 'impure'. Something that is mild perhaps but definitely used to make women feel lesser, impure and dirty. Something Islam is good at doing, but not alone in doing...most religions are guilty of this.

I personally fight against demonization and bigotry towards muslims, and I do it regularly...but I'm a vocal critic of the ideology simultaneously because I would like the bad ideas in Islam to be dispelled, discredited ...so the people I love can live a freer, happier life. It's a fight towards human rights and equality. Not a fight to cast suspicion on 'all muslims'. 

What kind of 'secular violent extremism' are you referring to? And is it honestly comparable in quantity, frequency and severity, to religious violent extremism? 

When you say Dawkins/Ayaan/Harris criticize Islam and not radical Islam - I'd say it's hard to separate the role 'Islam' plays in 'radical Islam'. Islam itself provides a blueprint and framework for radical Islam, denying a link is counterproductive, just as much as holding every muslim under suspicion for radical islam is. I will say though, that perhaps being so blunt, is not strategically the most efficient way forward (I too am guilty of bluntly criticizing Islam at times). It's not inaccurate, but It may alienate people that would otherwise be allies...so a softening of terms in some situations and a distinction between Islam and Islamism, or Islam and radical Islam is important . Only because this is a conversation best done through baby steps imo. Would I like a religion free world? Sure. Would I like disbelief to be imposed upon anyone? Absolutely not. Imposition of ideas is far too religion-like for my taste. 

I personally do criticize flawed forms of secularism too, like there are some things I find problematic in French secularism. Bans on prayer in public, sending a girl home for a skirt thats too long, because it shows an affiliation with religion? Banning hijabs, crosses, kippas - these things are unfair to me and anti-secular. My opinions change on the niqab though, because that demands anonymity, which affects others. Its important to remember though that this is not comparable to the lack of equality in non-secular societies.

"None of the New Atheists are religious scholars; none have studied Islam in an academic sense" 

Does this really matter though? There are countless numbers of hate-peddling, extremist imams, even the leader of ISIS if i'm not mistaken who *are* religious scholars - does that make them more qualified to discuss religion? Even Zakir Naik, someone often hailed as a 'sensible', moderate islamic preacher said he supported Bin Laden in terrorizing the US, he said every Muslim should be a terrorist...is that ok because it comes from someone who is a scholar and has studied islam in an academic sense?


If there are so many interpretations of Islam anyway, and i agree with you that its inaccurate to define 'one true islam' when everything from wahhabism to sufiism exists, why would we discredit anyone's interpretation? As for Ayaan, she has lived experience with Islam, that cannot be discounted. 

"There are literally tens of thousands of pro-liberal, pro-reform Muslim activists, who have an actual Muslim audience, but these reformers are routinely ignored by New Atheists because it's not reform that New Atheists actually want. What they want is Islam gone. By any means necessary, including "militarily." (Ayaan)

Muslims largely, are not receptive to anyone who criticizes the faith, whether they are muslim or not. I have seen some 'pro-reform' muslim activists who claim to have more 'feminist' interpretations of scripture, etc. But the way I see it, it's just blatant denial of the horrors contained within scripture. Muslims (or theists generally), especially liberal muslims will be more receptive to anyone who legitimizes their cognitive dissonance. Rather than acknowledging the misogynistic verses in the Quran, they will pretend they have just been 'misunderstood'...by scholars throughout time. Its the claim of infallibility that I have serious issues with, if its so wonderful and perfect anyway...you're not really 'reforming it'. 

"But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. " (4:34) Quran

Denying that this verse is misogynistic helps no one, its one thing to say all muslims are wife beaters (which is inaccurate obviously) but its another to say that scripture doesn't provide the raw material for someone who wishes to justify such an act. What 'context' is this ok in? 

"Their lack of expertise in these areas reduces their criticisms of Islam to slogans, cliches, generalizations, and yes, bigotry."

I feel, again, this is a misrepresentation. Harris and Dawkins are usually good at separating ideas from people. However, there is definitely more room for nuance, I agree. And isn't that what the Maajid and Harris co-authoring and co-speaking achieves? In my opinion, since being in touch with Nawaz, Harris has learned to soften his approach and speak about Islamism, islamists, etc. Nawaz has taught him some valuable things and still as the person of colour in that duo he is called a 'lapdog' or 'porch monkey' ? How is that ok? 

"Their hatred of religion also prevents them from establishing bridges with all kinds of pro-secular religious groups. Thus when New Atheists "build" bridges with Muslims, or ex-Muslims, it is to those who are tied to either the Islamophobic network, or the neo-con think tank industry. For example, Ayaan is paid by both the American Enterprise Institute, and ACT4America. Maajid has received funding from both the US & UK government for supporting counter-terrorism programs that are dependent on the surveillance of Muslim communities."

Quick question, what are your thoughts on the term Islamophobia? 

Ayaan explained how she ended up with AEI, and thats because the left abandons people like her, people like me. I personally would like to think I'd never make an alliance with the right wing, but if I had her security concerns, perhaps I might. Like I said, I don't agree with everything she says or does, and feel there are some valid criticisms to make...but those are not the ones i've seen you make. Her earlier ideas about convincing Muslims to convert to Christianity were bizarre and not at all something I'd agree with, but I haven't heard her talk about that in a while. Just like you changed your opinion on Muslims and Islam, it's possible that she is also now softening her stance on Islam, because that is the productive way forward. Her new book is about reform, not battling Islam, this is a change in attitude and a welcome one. Because religion isn't going anywhere for a while. Whatever her alliances, and her thoughts on islam, based on her own lived experiences are - i don't think she deserved to be called a 'paid brown face'. I don't mean to put you on the spot, and I'd like to thank you for listening, and engaging with this type of conversation. It's important that we talk about both our grievances in a civil manner, imo. 

Maajid has received funding from the govt before perhaps, but from what I know I don't think Quilliam is govt funded anymore. And how many things are government funded? That doesn't mean they are bad or have ill will towards Muslims. It's a leap to make that judgement about Quilliam, especially considering half the time Maajid is battling anti-muslim bigots. Do you genuinely think he has an ulterior motive? I'm not sure if you heard Cameron's recent speech that Maajid helped on, I thought it was brilliant, because it included muslims as part of the solution, rather than alienate them in an 'Us Vs. Them' narrative. I firmly believe Maajid is an excellent voice on this and many groups can learn things from him, how to separate people from ideas and how not to be discriminatory towards Muslims. 

Those atheist bigots you speak of, do exist somewhere...and they need to be outed, I just don't believe that Dawkins et al are coming from a place of bigotry. There are valid critiques to be made for all of them too, no one is perfect...ever. But I don't think calling them bigots for criticizing 'Islam' the idea is valid. Dawkins says some weird stuff on twitter that I would never defend. But the word bigotry is important, and i don't wish to water it down by using it lightly. 

I've also spoken with and interviewed several young people from Pakistan who have been deradicalized through watching Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins videos. So thats why I think they are important, valuable voices. They are not going to reform Islam, nor do they set out to do that themselves.... but they are useful in getting the conversation started on a larger scale. 


"their utopian mission of cleansing the world of religion." 

I feel that education, information and even mockery are what they'd like to use to dispel the harmful ideas around religion, it's not a mission to forcefully  'cleanse' the world as you imply. 

Anyway, my apologies...this email has become far longer than intended, so I shall end it here. Look forward to your response.

-Eiynah

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Hi Eiynah,

I think we've now illuminated the difference between our respective positions: you believe religion (Islam) is the problem, which is also the view of the celebrity New Atheists I had mentioned earlier. Whereas I believe extremism is the problem, and that extremism has identifiable roots.

More specifically, you believe Islam is the root of extremism, whereas I believe socio-economic-political realities are the root of extremism.

I will now explain why I think I'm right:

If I wanted to show you religious extremism in America, I'd take you directly to the Old South. Why? There you will not only find 9 out of the 10 poorest states in the country, but you will also find the most hyper-religious.

Further, each of these poorest states are Red states (Republican). Why is that relevant? Republicans favor lower tax revenues and reduced spending on education, welfare, and healthcare. On the flip side, the least religious states in America are reliably Blue states - where governments favor higher taxes, an increased spending on education, welfare, and healthcare.

When you examine America alongside other modern Western countries, it becomes even more interesting. If you removed America's Old South and scarcely populated interior states from the equation, America looks equally as irreligious as the most irreligious nation states in the Western hemisphere. 

The least religious nations on the planet include Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, and Canada.

Now what do each of these countries share in common? Social/political/economic stability, high rates of taxation, universal healthcare/education, robust welfare; and each of these countries are ranked in the top 10 most livable - as measured by access to employment/education/healthcare, affordable housing, security, crime, and so on.

In other words, the best vaccine we have against religious extremism is stability/peace/security coupled with economic liberalism i.e. where the size of the state is greater, and the level of poverty is reduced.

You can then apply this same rule for Islam in the Muslim world. Where do you find more extremism? Turkey (stable/democratic) or Afghanistan? Indonesia (stable/democratic) or Yemen? Malaysia (stable/democratic) or Pakistan? 

You can see this trend within each respective country, too. I lived in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, for more than a decade. Do you find Islamic extremism in the capital Jakarta or out in the boon docks of Banda Aceh? Bandung or Sulawesi? And so on.

I worked in Jakarta for a number of years. Most of my friends are educated, and middle-upper class. While they all still pray 5 times per day, and fast for Ramadan, all live a life that is consistent with high-minded humanistic/secular standards. 

In conclusion, New Atheists have a flawed strategy for tackling religious extremism, because they're yet to identify the problem is extremism. You will never convert extremists to a moderate form of religion via New Atheist youtube videos, speeches, and blogs, no matter how good the content's intentions. You can only defeat extremism by tackling the socio-economic-political factors that foster the conditions for extremism to thrive.

Yes, a New Atheist book might convert a moderately religious person, who was already highly/reasonably educated, and most likely from a stable-democratic Muslim majority country, but that's it. That's the end of their game. Their books/blogs/speeches will never resonate with extremists or highly uneducated Muslims who reside in broken/failed states.

It's for this reason no one outside of the New Atheist echo chamber takes the New Atheists seriously. Most who see the world as it is, which is just about everyone outside of the echo chamber, can see that the New Atheist approach/thinking is clearly a waste of time.

Kind regards

CJ Werleman

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

My Correspondence with CJ Werleman Pt. 1


Often, I find CJ's views hard to believe. I find myself scratching my head, wondering whether he really believes this stuff himself or not. I've heard him speak to other evil 'New Atheists' like me, and in direct conversation he sounds a bit more reasonable, perhaps...something, somewhere along the line is being miscommunicated or misunderstood? Surely he can't *seriously* believe "atheists" are a threat in any way comparable to the religious fundamentalists of various times....

And to be honest, I'm kind of sick of the highschool atmosphere on twitter where everyone calls each other names, and nothing much is accomplished except for more tribalism. So I decided, to ask him directly in hopes that civil conversation would somewhat make him understand the plight of ex-muslims, oppressed by the ideology he so loves to defend.

And the thing is, I've seen the crazy atheists he speaks of, they attack me on twitter every day, because I won't agree with them that Muslims are inherently an inferior, savage people that need to either be wiped out or mass-deported back to Islamistan. These people are lunatics and not the least bit rational, and responsible for marginalizing already marginalized liberal Muslims. But how many of these crazy non believers exist in the world? On mine, Maryam Namazie's, CEMB forum's or Maajid Nawaz's twitter feed, it'd seem like a fuckload. Because we do spend half our time battling these intolerant irrational 'atheists'. But in the real world, who are we kidding, what is the percentage of atheist lunatics vs. theist lunatics. However, despite our battling bigoted atheists we are still put into the 'House Arab' or 'New Atheist threat' camp by CJ - this just doesn't seem remotely rational. So instead of finger-point, or accuse, or insult...I wanted to actually try and understand his veiws on this. I disagree with him vehemently, and think he's missing the mark here. If he pointed out these crazy Jihadist Joe type far right atheist bigots I'd be on board, but he points to those discussing ideas. It boggles the mind.

Anyhoo, credit where it's due. Good on him for welcoming civil discussion and for answering some of my questions. He was always nice and respectful to me during our email exchange. Though just when we were getting to the good stuff he did have to stop our conversation. Its a long shot, but I hope that this discussion and having someone take a step toward him may lead him to think twice before casually using slurs like 'house Arab' again, against people who are genuinely challenging the extremism their own community is engulfed by.

Below is our first exchange. Do let me know what you think in the comments, please try to keep it nice and respectful.

Part 2 coming soon.

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Hello CJ,

We spoke on twitter briefly on Friday, and I said I'd email. Thanks for agreeing to have a chat. Firstly, let me introduce myself, I'm Eiynah (a pseudonym - for safety reasons) - I'm a Pakistani-Canadian blogger illustrator and author of children's books. You may have heard of my letter to Ben Affleck: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/10/25/comment/an-open-letter-to-ben-affleck/

So I guess you can tell that our views on religion, especially Islam differ greatly. As an Ex Muslim Atheist I feel very strongly about 'disempowering' the religion I grew up in. I was raised in Saudi Arabia, and spent some years in Pakistan as well.

I hope you will agree that Christianity is at a much better place now that it's had it's wings clipped and holds less power over people, than it was back in the time of witch burnings. I only want the same kind of liberation and progress for my community.
While I am a very vocal critic of Islam, I am also a very vocal critic of anti-muslim bigotry. A position that leaves me with few allies. As someone who agrees with a lot of (not all) the critique of Harris, Dawkins, Ayaan, etc ... I am what I guess you'd call a 'New Atheist', I'm not a fan of the term to be honest. And I feel it unjustly generalizes all vocal atheists as coming from a place of bigotry. I am as opposed to that generalization as I would be to generalizing all Muslims as extremists.

I don't disagree that there are bigots who hitch their wagons to vocal critics of Islam, it's happened to me a few times where my voice has been hijacked by someone who doesn't come from a place of compassion. My letter to Ben was published in "Jihadwatch" without my permission, and it made me cringe to see that. But, this does not (and should not) stop me from voicing my strong opinions against ideas that have been used to oppress me and people like me. I do my best to weed out the actual bigots who tag along, by calling them out, by sharing my views on anti muslim bigotry often. As a result I get called an 'islam apologist' and an 'islamophobe' for the very same piece of writing. In the same way my vocal criticism of dubious atheists who come from a place of bigotry can be used against me, to fuel anti-atheist bigotry. Which is also a very real problem.

I wrote an anti-homophobia children's book last year set in Pakistan, promoting love and diversity for all. And I received death threats for it, I was called an anti muslim bigot and an 'enemy of god' for it, it was unbelievable considering it didn't mention religion, and only spoke about equality and love. You can see it here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/imaansheikh/pakistans-first-childrens-book-on-lgbtq

So if even such a gentle nudge towards 21st century values, and towards equality will result in me receiving threats from people of my country, my religion of birth... I ask you... how am I supposed to counter this kind of attitude without being a combative, vocal atheist? I have had a lifetime of staying silent, while people tried to impose their religiosity on me. Not everyone's opposition to Islam comes from bad intent or 'colonial narrative', people like myself should surely be testament to that? Bad, harmful ideas must be discredited imo. It is that distinction between critiquing ideas and generalizing people that not everyone gets.

My biggest issue with your stance is the fact that it seems you delegitimize even voices within our community who speak against Islam (not against Muslims) , and I consider ex-muslims part of the muslim community. You've said things like we are being 'co-opted by those who peddle pro-colonialist narrative', you use terms like native informant or 'paid brown face'. I would genuinely like to understand how, if you are anti racism you think its ok to use something like 'paid brown face'? Why is it ok to remove our agency, and assume we cannot think for ourselves? I assure you I'm just as combative with anyone peddling any sort of supremacy. Be it religious supremacy, racial supremacy or colonial supremacy...all are offensive to me. And I feel that not allowing us agency to speak against our own oppression, a freedom afforded to western liberals all the time (criticism of christianity is perfectly acceptable) is a type of colonial narrative in itself. Can you see how it might be perceived that way?

My other issue with your stance is that I feel you often misrepresent the views of those who oppose you. If I am mistaken, then please do clarify. I will agree with you that there is a toxic group in atheism that comes from a place that is irrational and bigoted, it's a small group from what I can tell, it would be ludicrous to compare it to the large group of islamists that exists in any way whatsoever...but it needs to be exposed and we all need to make an effort to weed these people out. However, I think you are pointing at the wrong people. I'll be happy to share some examples of this type of atheist, and how i think they are easy to recognize and distinguish from legitimate critics of Islam, if you are interested in hearing my perspective.

My intention is not to argue, but to have a (hopefully) productive discussion - where we can begin to understand each other's perspective's better. I don't know how you'd like to do it, or if you'd like to continue at all...but if you would...maybe we could email back and forth, and I can share our correspondence on my blog (with your permission) ? I thought it was great that you agreed to go on Lalo's podcast and debate him. It's always nice to hear civil conversation between people who hold opposing views.

-Eiynah

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Dear Eiynah,

Thanks so much for your email, and your invitation to engage in a civil dialogue.
You touch on a number of issues, of which would be impossible for me to address each of them in a single email reply, so I'll do my best to articulate from where I am coming from on the whole atheism v New Atheism thingy - in hope we can move forward constructively from there.

Firstly, it's important to define what and who the New Atheists are. In my book, The New Atheist Threat, I define New Atheists as those who align themselves with the anti-theistic views expressed by Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Ayaan.

My overarching criticism of New Atheists is they miss the forrest for the trees. They believe religion is 'the' problem - when, in fact, extremism is the problem. For example, they don't say, "Radical Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today." Instead, they say, "Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today." (Dawkins). They don't say, "Radical Islam is a nihilistic cult of death." They say, "Islam is a nihilistic cult of death." (Ayaan.) They don't say, "Radical Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas." They say, "Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas." (Harris)

Violent extremism takes all kinds of forms, both religious and secular. New Atheists miss this. They miss this because their anti-theistic worldview blinds them to this reality. To admit extremism is the problem runs counter to their utopian mission of cleansing the world of religion.

Moreover, their hatred of Islam whole, rather than extremist Islam, prevents them from establishing bridges with genuine moderate reformers of Islam. Their hatred of religion also prevents them from establishing bridges with all kinds of pro-secular religious groups. Thus when New Atheists "build" bridges with Muslims, or ex-Muslims, it is to those who are tied to either the Islamophobic network, or the neo-con think tank industry. For example, Ayaan is paid by both the American Enterprise Institute, and ACT4America. Maajid has received funding from both the US & UK government for supporting counter-terrorism programs that are dependent on the surveillance of Muslim communities.

There are literally tens of thousands of pro-liberal, pro-reform Muslim activists, who have an actual Muslim audience, but these reformers are routinely ignored by New Atheists because it's not reform that New Atheists actually want. What they want is Islam gone. By any means necessary, including "militarily." (Ayaan)

Insofar as criticism of Islam is concerned, I am all for criticism of religion. I am all for criticism of anything, so long it's done in an intellectually robust and constructive manner. On this score, New Atheists fall short.

None of the New Atheists are religious scholars; none have studied Islam in an academic sense; none are experts in anthropology, geopolitics, and history. None can read or speak Arabic. None are at all familiar with the Middle East or Central Asia. Their lack of expertise in these areas reduces their criticisms of Islam to slogans, cliches, generalizations, and yes, bigotry. Their ignorance is trumpeted loudly in each of their respective books. (and I include my earlier books). They provide superficial interpretations of Islamic scripture rather than contextualized criticism.

Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism by Karima Bennoune is an example of the kind of genuine intellectual criticism of Islam I'm talking about. Note again the sub-title: fight against Muslim Fundamentalism.

Her book outlines dozens of stories of those who have risked their lives battling Islamic extremism, but she is clear throughout that extremism is the problem, not Islam. You see, once you acknowledge the problem is extremism and not religion itself, you can then identify what socio-economic-political conditions cause extremism to thrive, and once you identify those conditions, you can work on fixing them, and once you fix them, you end extremism.

New Atheists wholly overlook these drivers of religious extremism, for in their minds, the problems starts and ends with religion.

Dangerously and ignorantly they, in fact, praise extremists as the "most pious." How does this help efforts to combat extremism - when you're telling extremists they're following Islam "perfectly"? How does this help the efforts of the world's top 120 leading Islamic authorities who have each issued statements that ISIS' interpretation of scripture is not only de-contextualized but is actually "anti-Islamic"?

Dawkins/Harris/Ayaan/Hitchens are myopic, and unhelpful. Thus why the field of counter-violent-extremism (CVE) ignores their critiques of religion/Islam. Thus why all who are serious about CVE should ignore them, too.

Best regards

CJ

P.S: If you think it's helpful to post our exchange to your blog, I am ok with that.

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Read part 2 here