Stephen Fry, Giles Fraser & the capricious God.

February 3, 2015

In what has become a sort of viral must-see recently, Stephen Fry took to RTE Ireland this week to express his views on the Christian concept of God, to ‘Meaning of Life’ presenter, Gay Byrne. When asked what he’d say to God, if he met him at the pearly gates, Fry replied:

“I will say bone cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you, how dare you create a world that has such misery that is not our fault. It is not right. It is utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is full of injustice and pain?”

– Naturally, this has caused a flurry of responses across media platforms. I thought I’d address a few of the points raised in a couple of those responses.

Over at ‘Christian Today’, author Krish Kandiah says:

“In a godless universe we lose any concept of ultimate justice, good or evil. The universe is ultimately impersonal and indifferent to any of these concerns. For Dawkins, atheism’s answer to the problem of suffering is basically “Tough luck. Bad things happen. Deal with it.” Why should anyone expect anything other than blind indifference from an impersonal, randomly generated universe?”

– Firstly, I’d be quick to note that ‘atheism’s answer to the problem of suffering’ is not “tough luck” at all. We atheists say that we as humans must keep searching, studying, inquiring, testing, and developing answers and cures to nature’s hideous diseases. The responsibility is ours. No matter how hard you try, you wont find a cure to illnesses (including psychological issues that have taken on the religious-like phrase ‘evil’) by praying, or searching through a book of ancient Palestinian myths. The choice is not ancient deities or “tough luck”. The dichotomy is entirely false.

Secondly, the key problem you’ll note with Kandiah’s position, is that Kandiah expects the universe owes something to humanity. He asks; why should we expect anything other than blind indifference from an impersonal universe? I’m not entirely sure why we’d expect help from outside anyway? It strikes me as a case of passing the buck. He delegates responsibility away from humanity, to a concept that he doesn’t actually prove exists first, and cannot seem to understand that we as humans can and should assume responsibility that we’d otherwise hope an invisible force might sort out for us in an afterlife. An indifferent universe is irrelevant. Humanity is not indifferent. The indifference is in a man expecting everything to be okay in an afterlife, and so passing responsibility on from himself.

Thirdly, it is simply wrong to imply that without a divine law giver, we ‘lose any concept of justice, good, or evil‘. He has simply rehashed an old argument for God, based on morality. But on the contrary, morality does not require God. In fact, any definition of morality that predates Darwin is entirely incomplete and can – and should – be dismissed as such. Kandiah ignores human evolution entirely in his idea of human morality, ignores our survival as a group species, the evolution of empathy and so forth, and instead implies it is entirely reliant on a supernatural force. Essentially, the God of the gaps. Incidentally, for my take on the evolution of morality, see here.

Over at the Guardian, Church of England Priest, and journalist Giles Fraser tried his hand at criticism of Fry’s comments. In it, Fraser bizarrely says:

“For if we are imagining a God whose only power, indeed whose only existence, is love itself – and yes, this means we will have to think metaphorically about a lot of the Bible – then God cannot stand accused as the cause of humanity’s suffering. Rather, by being human as well as divine, he fully shares in it. This is precisely the point of Christianity: that God is not some distant observer but suffers alongside all humanity.”

– It’s true… you really do have to “think metaphorically” (in other words, dismiss what it actually says) in order to believe the God of the Bible promotes “love“. It takes a real creative mind, to imagine that God’s request to Abraham that he sacrifice his son to prove his devotion, before stopping him at the last minute, or insisting Jephthah follow through on his promise to sacrifice his child in return for victory in battle, is anything but a show of cruel self indulgence, from a God whose idea of “love” is completely linked to just how willing others are to murder for His glory. It seems self evident to me that a finite human being, with such precious little time on this Earth, offering to spend that time loving you for just being you, is a far greater love than an infinite being, unrestricted by time, offering to love you or torture you depending on how well you adhere to His list of demands, and the hideous sacrifices you’re willing to make to show your devotion to Him. Therefore, the human capacity for love, is far greater and far more advanced than that of the God of Christianity.

Secondly, Fraser completely remodels the Christian God by taking away His implied omnipotence. Suddenly God is one with humanity, restricted by natural laws, and completely at the mercy of the forces of woe that he is unable to control. He ‘suffers’ with His creation. This strikes me as defeating the point of a universal creator in the first place. I’ve always been under the impression that the Christian concept of God begins at the premise that He created everything, that He can see everything – from the beginning of time until the very end, that He can intervene at any moment (and in fact, has done, several times) and by doing so, He can transcend natural laws, implying that He is not governed by those laws. He cannot possibly suffer, given that He is the grand designer of the chain of events that lead to that suffering in the first place, and – given that He can see all of time (because, again, He isn’t restricted by time) – He knew it was going to happen this way. And so, if Fraser is correct and if God cannot be accused of the cause of humanity’s suffering, we are left with three options;
1) God is the all knowing, all seeing creator, natural laws flow from Him, and as such, He is not restricted by those laws. Time itself, is His creation, meaning that Time is a tapestry that He has full control over (otherwise, He cannot be described as all-powerful). This further implies that He knew exactly how the course of human history would be affected by the onset of Christianity, including centuries of violent oppression, and – as Fry points out – cancer in children, all to take place for the sake of a grand scheme that He refuses to reveal until we’re dead. This is appealing because it allows for the all-knowing, all-powerful God, yet leaves a lot to be desired for the notion of an all-loving God, seeming as it does to imply that God is playing a cruel game with human beings who have no choice.
2) God is restricted by time, cannot see the long stretching consequences of His actions, suffered with humanity, and is not responsible for human suffering at all, which implies He is not all-knowing, nor all-powerful, is restricted by natural laws and time, and if we look back over the course of history of the religion, reads like a series of bad decisions by the divine. For this – the God of Giles Fraser – we need to completely dismiss the Christian concept of God right up until Giles Fraser re-imagined Him to suit a weak argument criticising Stephen Fry.
3) There is no God, and the flawed species of humanity is responsible for its own shortcomings.

The concept of the God of Christianity, as with Judaism & Islam is simply a personification of the moral & social fabric and upheaval of the time in which it was conceived. This naturally brings issues with it when humanity inevitably outgrows those moral ideals of that single time and place. Indeed, most – if not all – religious folk have outgrown the moral framework laid out by their Holy Books centuries ago, which is why we end up with very absurd arguments desperately re-imagining God, like Giles Fraser attempted to do in his article. Stephen Fry is right to suggest that a God – with the traditional attributes set out above – is nothing more than a capricious maniac.


King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: Mourning a monster.

January 26, 2015

King_Abdullah_bin_Abdul_al-Saud_January_2007

The planes carrying World leaders home from the unity march in Paris in support of free expression last week, barely had the chance to touch the tarmac before those same World leaders began queuing to offer their heartfelt sympathy and condolences to a man who ruled a country in which criticism of the King is illegal, and who spent his final days overseeing the hideous flogging of Raif Badawi for exercising his right to free expression.

On the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, The British Prime Minister, David Cameron (so overcome with grief was he, that he flew especially to Saudi Arabia), said:

“He will be remembered for his long years of service to the Kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.”

– Smilarly, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby praised Abdullah for his commitment to interfaith relations. This same – laughable, if it wasn’t so horribly tarred with the blood of many innocent people – sentiment was also echoed by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said:

“I am very sad indeed to hear of the passing of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
I am very sad indeed to hear of the passing of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.“I knew him well and admired him greatly. Despite the turmoil of events in the region around him, he remained a stable and sound ally, was a patient and skilful moderniser of his country leading it step by step into the future. He was a staunch advocate of inter faith relations.”

– President Obama added to this feeling of great anguish and woe, insisting that he:

“….valued King Abdullah’s perspective and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship.”

At first I thought I was reading condolences for someone else, perhaps someone with a record of human rights victories championing the plight of the most oppressed in society, but no, it is definitely King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia they are talking about. A man they are convinced was a wonderful ‘moderniser’ for intervening in one or two court cases that would otherwise have highlighted his regime as one of the most brutal in history (call it a PR stunt, given that he’s never indicated a preference for human rights instead of religious supremacy). Indeed, Saudi Arabia is a country that scored the lowest marks from Freedom House rankings in 2014 of civil freedoms. A country that, despite the Prime Minister’s comment that the dead King will long be remembered for his ‘commitment to peace‘ is about to continue its flogging of blogger Raif Badawi for blasphemy (having an opinion that differed from the ruling elite in Saudi), and on average beheads around 80 people a year.

It is simply madness that any human being should lose their life, due to the religious beliefs of someone else. Talking to BBC News back in 2003, Muhammad Saad al-Beshi – a Saudi executioner – worryingly said:

“It doesn’t matter to me: two, four, 10 – as long as I’m doing God’s will, it doesn’t matter how many people I execute”.

– The power structure of Saudi Arabia & those it privileges relies heavily on convincing otherwise decent human beings, that brutally murdering other human beings, is part of a plan designed by an invisible being. It is simply a horror story. We as humans are permitted such a brief time on this Earth as it is, it is so sad that others believe they have the express right to decide whether we live or die, according to religious beliefs. It seems to me that if you are going to claim ownership over the life of someone else, you must first offer irrefutable proof for the existence of your God, and then the rest of us must freely accept that we are to be ruled according to His principles. Otherwise, you are simply a murderer.

The Prime Minister’s insistence that King Abdullah would be remembered for ‘strengthening understanding between faiths‘ and Blair’s insistence that Abdullah was ‘a staunch advocate of inter faith relations‘, along with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s defense of the flags lowering to half mast, is entirely negated by the fact that Abdullah’s Theocratic Monarchy expressively forbade public practice of any religion but Islam, insists that children born to Muslim parents must be considered Muslim themselves, and has a legal system – for non-Muslims as well as Muslims – based entirely on Islam. From the moment you are born, until the moment you die in Saudi Arabia, you are a possession of the religion of state. You have no liberty. You are owned by one royal family, and their religious beliefs. You must not utter words they disapprove of, nor live according to your own beliefs. You are chained. If you happen to be gay, female, or you simply don’t believe in the faith that the state insists that you must, your life is not yours, your beliefs are not yours, and you are banned from falling in love with someone that the religion of someone else disapproves of. If you attempt to break free from such a hideously oppressive cage, you are likely to be flogged or beheaded. This was a system upheld and perpetuated by King Abdullah. Indeed, here are a few more examples of the innocent victims of the idea that human rights and civil liberty matters little, when it clashes with preserving religious privilege and supremacy.

Amina bint Abdel Halim Nassar was beheaded by the Saudi state in 2011 for:

“…the practice of witchcraft and sorcery.”

– In the 21st century, a life, filled with memories, loves, passions, childhood friends, family…. so violently cut short for the ridiculous offence of ‘sorcery‘. There was no outpouring of grief from massively disingenuous political elite of Western nations, for her.

Also in 2011, 45 year old Mansor Almaribe – an Australian man with back problems – was sentenced to 500 lashes on the back, for blasphemy. His crime? Praying with fellow Shi’ites in a country run by Sunni extremists. After intervention from the Australian government, the great Saudi ‘reformer’ managed to get the sentence down from 500 lashes, to 75 lashes and a year in jail.

In 2005, Muhammad Al-Harbi was sentenced to 750 lashes for teaching children about other religions. For daring to teach children to think for themselves, that they are entitled to believe something other than what the state demands, the state violently tortured Al-Harbi and threw him in prison.

In 2014, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Maysa al-Amoudi were leading a campaign to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia when authorities arrested them on ‘terror’ charges. In fact, terror charges are a new weapon of the religious supremacists in Saudi Arabia. So dedicated to ‘progress’ was the late Royal thug, that in 2014 a royal decree includes violent punishment for:

“… calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”

– Atheism is now classed as terrorism in Saudi Arabia. The leader of the family that believes it has the inherent right to chain every last citizen – and their short lives, with much promise and hope – to their sociopathic dictates based solely on their personal religious beliefs, is the same leader that both Blair & Welby insist did so much for inter-faith relations. Further reducing the comments of Western leaders to at best an insincere round of grovelling, is the knowledge that whilst they insist Abdullah did much for inter-faith relations, in Saudi Arabia all faiths other than the one he personally believed in are largely prohibited, and questioning the fundamentals of – a very insecure – faith, apparently gives the King the right to violently harm other human beings. Saudi Arabia’s Monarchy is not content with owning your sex life, you love life, your words, it also requires you submit your own mind to their religious cage.

In 2007, the General Court of Qatif sentenced a woman to 90 lashes, for “illegal mingling” with a man who – with his friends – then raped her. She had the courage to speak out about the attack, and so the court more than doubled her sentence to 200 lashes, for, and I quote:

“….her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.”

Similarly, In 2009, a 23 year old Saudi woman was hideously raped by a gang of rapists. She was then arrested and sentenced – yes, she was sentenced – to a year in prison and 100 lashes by more men, more abusers, for ‘committing adultery‘ and seeking an abortion. The White House issued no statement over this, instead, they sent their condolences upon the death of the King of a land that seeks to further harm victims of rape. The perpetuation of a religious settlement that is misogynistic by its very nature, requires the complete oppression of women for its survival.

As with misogyny, homophobia is never too far behind when it comes to religious power structures. The ironically named ‘Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice‘ sentenced a man to 450 lashes for Tweeting in the hope of meeting other gay men a couple of years ago. He was also sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 2007, two men were sentenced to 7000 lashes each, for being homosexual. We cannot imagine the fear that gay men and women must face every day in Saudi Arabia. Sexuality discrimination in Saudi Arabia is not surprising, given the utterly repulsive nature of just what Saudi Arabia teaches children about sexuality. One simple paragraph from the Saudi Ministry of Education Textbooks for Islamic Studies: 2007-2008 offers a prime example of just why politically religious folk should never be allowed power over the apparatus of a State, nor over the lives of its inhabitants especially its children, in an enlightened World. The barbaric nature of their law:

“Homosexuality is one of the most disgusting sins and greatest crimes…. It is a vile perversion that goes against sound nature, and is one of the most corrupting and hideous sins…. The punishment for homosexuality is death. Both the active and passive participants are to be killed whether or not they have previously had sexual intercourse in the context of a legal marriage…. Some of the companions of the Prophet stated that [the perpetrator] is to be burned with fire. It has also been said that he should be stoned, or thrown from a high place.”

– Last week, Downing Street, The White House, and other World leaders abandoned the lives of so many who have suffered, continue to suffer as you read this, and will suffer at the hands of religious thugs in Saudi Arabia in the future, and instead those leaders chose to send heartfelt condolences upon the death of the victims’ chief abuser; a misogynistic, homophobic, violent, abusive, religious supremacist who terrorised so many, and who worked hard to ensure civil liberties and human rights never got a foot in the door of Saudi Arabia. His reign should be viewed as a warning of the kind of hideous human rights abuses – that begin with the psychological abuse of children via religious indoctrination – that inevitably occurs when the religious are permitted power. The World should not mourn the death of such a monster.


Charlie Hebdo & the importance of free expression.

January 15, 2015

For the most part, the response to the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week, has been one of staunch solidarity with the values that separate the civilised from the barbaric. The freedom to express ones thoughts and ideas, the right to criticise and satirise ideas, the rule of law; values that were attacked that day in the centre of Paris. This includes the freedom for religious folk to believe and express ideas that I myself find incredibly offensive. But every so often, we hear voices referring to themselves as liberal, or as progressives, making excuses for the violence whilst trying desperately to insist that they’re not making excuses for the violence. As the new edition of Charlie Hebdo went on sale this week, with a picture of Muhammad on the front, Sky News apologised for showing it live on air, and several commentators referred to it as needlessly ‘provoking‘ Muslims. The excuses tend to start with a line like “There can be no excuse for murder, but….” followed by a tirade of victim blaming. For example, Mehdi Hasan’s obscene article for the Huff Post here in which he begins by suggesting it is those who pronounce “Je suis Charlie” who are playing an “us vs them” game, and then himself goes on to play that very game far better than anyone else, by manipulatively implying that Charlie Hebdo focused entirely on Islam, when in reality it mocks the Pope often, Judaism, and Christianity, along with political figures across the World… Here:

“And why have you been so silent on the glaring double standards? Did you not know that Charlie Hebdo sacked the veteran French cartoonist Maurice Sinet in 2008 for making an allegedly anti-Semitic remark? Were you not aware that Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published caricatures of the Prophet in 2005, reportedly rejected cartoons mocking Christ because they would “provoke an outcry” and proudly declared it would “in no circumstances… publish Holocaust cartoons”?
Muslims, I guess, are expected to have thicker skins than their Christian and Jewish brethren.”

– He must have been asleep (or, as he puts it “so silent”) when Charlie Hebdo printed this:

charliehebdo5
– He must also not be aware that Catholic organisations have attempted to sue Charlie Hebdo on countless occasions for ‘offending’ them. So you see, contrary to Mehdi’s false game of us VS them, Islam is one in a list of ideas that Charlie Hebdo satirised. After this manipulation, Mehdi then proceeds to inform us that he isn’t sure why we’d feel the need to mock religions, but not the Holocaust. One being a 7th Century idea, the other being 6 million people murdered less than a century ago.

There are then several issues I take with the response outlined above. Firstly, I think it is vastly counter-productive. It implies that Islam is in some way different, and must be treated differently to other ideas, and that a protected space must be carved out specifically for one ideological framework of power (in this case, Islam), that no other system of belief is granted. That sort of subtle demand, is then backed by false narratives, like Mehdi’s. There was no anger or claims of racism when Charlie Hebdo mocked Catholicism. If Have I Got News For You mock conservatism, it isn’t usually followed by the suggestion that the show has ‘taken free speech too far’, nor Mehdi Hasan suggesting that Have I Got News For You should consider satirising 9/11 just for some balance. These ideas – Catholicism, conservatism, liberalism, Hinduism, capitalism – are all rightly granted no implied protection. Thus, they are considered on a level playing field, open as they should be, to criticism, mocking, and satire (despite the Pope’s bizarre insistence today that we shouldn’t ‘offend’ religious beliefs). There is no legitimate reason to protect religion – or a single religion – from the forms of criticism that all others are open to. It is in fact vital, that all religions – and in fact, ideas in general, be open to that criticism and mocking. Contrary to what detractors may assume – anti-Muslim hate (that is, the abuse of Muslims, the denial of rights, the demand for denial of equal rights, dehumanising) is not in any way to be compared with mocking the religion. One is violence aimed at human beings, the other is dis-empowering an ideological narrative, & system of morality. To conflate the two, is deeply problematic for a whole host of reasons, and the complete antithesis of secular, liberal inquiry and free expression.

In other words, it is not those of us who openly criticise, or mock Islam that create a taboo around that particular faith. On the contrary, we treat it like any other ideological framework of power. We do not seek to deny Muslims equal rights, we believe those who commit anti-Muslim hate, those who attack Mosques, are grotesque human beings lacking any sense of decency, and we will always defend equal rights & dignity for all, including Muslims. People deserve that, not ideas. Ideas must be open to critique and satire. It is those who seek to protect Islam from mockery (whilst themselves defending the freedom for the religious to continue to believe and express a belief in offensive ideas to the rest of us), that not only create a taboo out of the faith – hence, counter-productive – but also give credit to the extreme idea that one must be a little less forthcoming with our expression on one particular idea, if it might ‘offend’ believers in that one particular idea.

I would also suggest that it is a betrayal of those Muslim voices fighting for secular, liberal values, & free expression against a poisonous narrative within their faith, for liberals who should be on their side of the fight, instead choosing to give credit to the narrative on the extremes.

Secondly, it is a reflection of the authoritarian nature of a religion, when its followers suggest we should either unquestioningly respect the faith, or else keep quiet. Which, in turn, means it is vital that it be open to criticism and satire. If satirising that religion is even a matter of debate, it already has far too much power.

Indeed, your freedom to believe that non-believers are destined an eternity of violent torture in the pits of hell – alongside our apostate and LGBT friends – is my freedom to openly mock that ridiculous (and frankly, offensive) belief. The freedom for Mehdi Hasan to refer to believers as keeping the moral high ground, whilst non-believers as those who “live their lives as animals“, is my freedom to express a distinct lack of respect for that particular moral anchor. Any less, implies that your belief that I am morally lacking, to be eternally tortured, is deserving of a level of unquestioning respect, that my objection (however I express that objection) simply isn’t. Further, if your religion – or political ideal – in any way, extends beyond the individual, to the lives of others (be it non-believers, apostates, the LGBT community) – not only in belief, and writing, but also in practice in many countries on this planet – then it is absolutely vital that that religion be open to the same criticism and satire as every other system of oppression. Indeed, the greatest indicator that a religion so desperately requires being opened up to free expression in all its forms, is if it can result in your murder for doing so.

Islam – like Christianity – is a system of power, regardless of how it is framed by those seeking to protect it. When it has any sort of political power, it is oppressive. This is why it is vital to stand up for the necessity of free expression. But on a purely individual basis; if your religion insists that I am to be burned for eternity in hell for non-belief, then I’m afraid you’re not going to get away with telling me that it is I who is the one being ‘offensive’ for mocking that belief. The freedom to express one, is the freedom to express the other.


France’s March for Unity: A who’s who of global oppression.

January 12, 2015

jesuischarlie, world leaders at french unity rally

It has always bewildered me the level of hypocrisy necessary to demand curbs on expression deemed ‘offensive’ to an Islamist ideological World-view that itself daily offends apostates, non-believers, women, Muslims that aren’t considered Muslim enough, and the entire LGBT community. Nevertheless, Paris was at the centre of the World last week when three gunman brutally murdered 17 human beings for publishing cartoons. France – including all sections of society – reacted in a show of unity, strength and respect for the fundamental right to free expression. But among the marchers were those who seem so entirely out of place. Indeed, Islamists were not the only ones to display hypocrisy this week in France.

The unity march – including 1.4 million people – through the streets of Paris included over 40 World leaders, some of whom, are not too keen on the fundamental human right to free expression:

Queen Rania of Jordan.
Linking arms with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Queen of Jordan presides over a country that is far from an advocate of free expression. In Jordan, if you happen to dislike the King, and you express that particular dislike, you can face up to three years in prison. Similarly, if you ‘insult’ Islam, you may face up to three years in prison (predictably, you may use the Qur’an to insult non-believers with threats of eternal torture). In 2006, two Jordanian journalists were imprisoned and fined for reprinting the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons. In 2003, the newspaper Al Hilal was closed for two months and three of its journalists arrested for publishing an article discussing Muhammad’s sex life. In February 2009, student Imad al-Ash was arrested for sharing “controversial religious opinions” online, and sentenced to two years in prison.

Prime Minister Davutoglu of Turkey.
Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code makes it an offence to insult ‘Turkishness’. In 2008, this was changed from “Turkishness” to “The Turkish Nation”. It brings with it a two year jail sentence. Internet regulation from 2014 allows the Telecommunication and Transmission Authority to ban websites it deems inappropriate. This includes websites that ‘insult’ the state. In 2007, Turkey banned YouTube, for a video that insulted Ataturk. They demanded YouTube remove the video. Rightfully, YouTube refused. In 2008, richarddawkins.net was blocked in Turkey. In 2014 Tayyip Erdogan insisted he’d “wipe out Twitter”, and subsequently, Twitter was blocked.

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban.
In 2013, the Hungarian Parliament passed a Bill that includes three years in prison for ‘harming another person’s dignity‘ in a video or voice recording. This includes political satire. The law further makes it an offence to harm “the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial or religious community.

Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra.
Algeria – that enshrines Islam as its state religion, and bans anyone from spreading any other religious idea, punishable with three years in prison – is run by its longest serving President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Under his rule, the newspaper ‘Le Matin’ was censored and closed down, and its journalist imprisoned for exposing corruption. Journalists can be fined for insulting foreign diplomats or politicians, under reforms the media law of 2012.
Article 144 ratified June, 2001:

“It is punishable by imprisonment from 3 to 5 years, and by a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Algerian Dinars — or, one of these two punishments only — whoever insults the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), any of the other Prophets, or denigrates the practices or rituals of Islam, regardless of whether it is through writing, drawing, declaration, or any other means.”

In 2006, 26-year-old Samia Smets was arrested and imprisoned (later overturned) for blasphemy for accidentally dropping a Qur’an into some water. At the 2008 Algiers Book Fair, the Ministry of Religious Affairs banned over 1000 books that they deemed to contain blasphemy. Al Jazeera was banned in 2004. Web services providers can be fined for granting access to sites that are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” It is bizarre to me that the Algerian government believes it has a monopoly on morality, and that ‘public opinion’ is a static concept free from challenge.

UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In 2008 three Filipino workers were imprisoned for ripping out a page of the Qur’an. Their right to work in UAE was revoked. Further, The Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information and Culture bans any books, leaflets, or in fact, any form of written literature, if it is deemed offensive to Islam. Access to websites supportive of democracy & secularism is prohibited.
Article 312:

“Shall be punishable by confinement and by fine or by one of these two penalties any individual who commitsany of the following offences:
1. Offence against any of the Islamic sacred things or rites.
2. To insult and revile any of the recognized divine religions.
3. To portray disobedience in a positive light, to incite thereto, to promote it or to procure any meanssusceptible of tempting people to disobey.
4. To knowingly eat porkmeat while being a Muslim.
Where any of the above offences is committed in public, the punishment shall be either confinement for aminimum period of one year or a fine.”

– Whilst UAE’s foreign minister marched in unity in France this weekend, back home it is illegal to dare to speak your mind, if your mind does not conform to the religious dogma of those who have taken it upon themselves to declare their beliefs supreme.

Prime Minister Jomaa of Tunisia.
The interim Prime Minister joined the march, and also signed the book of condolence at the French embassy in Tunisia on Saturday. This, despite the fact that Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari was tried for insulting state officials and sentenced to three years by the military, for criticising the military on Facebook. Article 91 of the Code of Military Justice makes it an offence to criticise the “dignity, reputation and morale” of the army. In 2012 Jabeur Mejri was jailed for posting ‘insulting’ pictures of Muhammad on Facebook… or, as the the courts in Tunisia call it; “transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order“. He was released in 2014 after two years in prison.

Whilst it was pleasing to see so many people stand together in defence of free expression during the Paris march for unity, it is equally worrying that so many World leaders linking arms that day operate incredibly oppressive restrictions including violence for criticism they can’t handle, perpetuating the notion that ‘blasphemy’ should be restricted & punishable, enshrining one religion into the framework of state, whilst so shamefully out in a show of unity for that same free expression they can’t themselves handle.


The nature of religious privilege…

December 29, 2014

On BBC local radio here in the UK after the Sydney cafe siege, the presenter had a conversation with a local Imam on the subject of religious extremism. The Imam reiterated that the attacker was a lone nut, who didn’t represent Muslims. The conversation was one of damage limitation and worry for Muslims who may be abused and attacked in the aftermath. The rise of anti-Muslim hate must be addressed – one would hope with the promotion of civil rights & protections for all – but I was unsure that the conversation on BBC local radio that day was particularly helpful, when at one point, the presenter insisted that ‘all religions promote peace and love‘. To begin from that uncritical premise – as if it is a matter of undeniable fact – is just as problematic as beginning from the premise that all religions are violent and oppressive. The problem of religious dogma – that is, the chaining of morality to a single time and place (usually very patriarchal, middle eastern tribal squabbles) – is suddenly dismissed, and other explanations for extremism take its place. The rise of ISIS was blamed on Blair, Bush, and the Iraq war, sometimes on Israel, but little attention payed to religious dogma. It is almost as if it is too uncomfortable to accept that such ingrained religious traditions & much loved religious ideas may present issues within themselves and autonomous of surrounding context. And so it is a distinct religious privilege, to free its problematic dogma from shouldering any blame for extremism, instead blaming everyone else for its problems. No other ideological framework of power has that privilege. But it isn’t the only privilege religions currently enjoy…

When the debate over same-sex marriage came up before Parliament last year, the only dissenting voices – and those who believed themselves to have the privileged right to tell others whom they can and can’t marry – were those of the religious. It is as if “it’s unnatural, because Leviticus says so” is a legitimate argument in a 21st century that has extensive knowledge of the natural spectrum of sexuality. It is therefore a religious privilege for Christians to believe that firstly they own the institution of marriage; Secondly, that they and they alone have the right to tell others whom they can and cannot marry based on discredited myths; and thirdly, that breaking the barriers to equal rights and freedoms regardless of sexuality, is an assault on Christianity.

It is breathtakingly delusional to believe that extending rights that you have always enjoyed, to those traditionally oppressed by your faith, is oppressing you. It is even more delusional to assume that the institution of marriage is a solely Christian, unchangeable institution. Hebrew society engaged in polygamy much of the time, it certainly wasn’t frowned upon. Monogamy in a marriage is a pretty new development. We know that the Mohammad married Aisha when she was 6 years old. In Ancient Rome, marriage was civil, it was not overtly religious. In India, if the bride was born when Mars and Saturn are “under the 7th house”, she is considered cursed and could end up murdering her husband. And so to break the curse, the bride must first marry a tree, the tree is then destroyed, and the bride is free from the curse forever. In the Tidong community in Northern Borneo, after marriage, the couple must not urinate for three days. Marriage is not official within the Neur tribe in Sudan, until the bride has had two children. It was only in 1967, that the US allowed interracial marriage. By 1910, Arizona, California, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah had all banned interracial marriage. And what was used to justify anti-miscegenation laws in the US? Of course it was the Bible. The destruction of all other concepts of marriage, to the benefit of just one concept – the Christian concept – and then attempting to ensure that single concept reigns supreme, is wildly oppressive to say the very least.

A couple of months ago on the Bill Maher show over in the United States, in a debate on extremism Sam Harris referred to Islam as the ‘mother lode of bad ideas‘. Consequently, actor Ben Affleck- also appearing on the show – referred to Harris’ statement as ‘racist‘. It is a curious criticism and one that had me considering the unique nature of religious privilege, the language that sustains it, and its lashing out – by among other things, demonising criticism – when challenged. It is a religious privilege to be able to claim racism at criticisms of an idea. As a secular liberal, I define racism as the institutional disenfranchising and denial of equal civil rights based on ethnicity. Language can & does of course further add to the perpetual dehumanising of an ethnicity. Also as a secular liberal, I believe all ideas must be up for inquiry, criticism, satire, and mockery. Religions are not immune to this, nor should they be. Racism is not criticism, or even complete contempt for a religion. Much like racism is not criticism, or even complete contempt for a political ideology. Further, and by implication, I would argue that if words that offend a religion are to be deemed racism, then equally words that offend non-believers must also be deemed racism. And so, left-leaning commentators like Mehdi Hasan would be deemed racist, for rants like:

“We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”

– I am quite certain that if Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris had referred to all Muslims as ‘living like animals’, Hasan would be the first to call racism. Further, the New Testament, Old Testament, and Qur’an would be deemed incredibly racist books. Most chapters of the Qur’an begin with God explaining how great he is (a little arrogant), followed by a lovely little description of the fate that awaits those of us who have not been convinced that a God exists:

“[10:4] To Him is your return. This is Allah’s promise that will certainly come true. Surely it is He Who brings about the creation of all and He will repeat it so that He may justly reward those who believe and do righteous deeds, and those who disbelieve may have a draught of boiling water and suffer a painful chastisement for their denying the Truth.”

– Whilst Sam Harris simply referred to a religion as a bad idea and was deemed racist for doing so, Holy Books go beyond criticism, and become threats of eternal torture for non-belief. This of course would also mean that the idea of a Caliphate – in which non-believers are barred from highest office – is institutionally racist. It would mean that South Carolina was institutionally racist when Herb Silverman ran for the post of Governor in 1992 but was discarded from the race for refusing to swear an oath to God. It took five whole years for the courts to rule in his favour. It is therefore a massive religious privilege to demand and expect respect for a book that threatens people like me, with religious institutions that disenfranchise anyone ‘outside’ of the religion, whilst yelling racism if I am to call that book the ‘mother lode of bad ideas’. If one is to be considered racism, so must the other.

Along with compulsory worship in schools, and a Monarch whom also happens to be head of the Church of England, it is a religious privilege in the UK, for over 25 Bishops to have a permanent position in the national legislature, as if they have some sort of natural right to consider legislation based solely on which invisible being it is they believe in. To be called ‘Lords Spiritual‘, as if spirituality is a supernatural phenomena consigned to the religious only. The perpetuation of privilege based on the bizarre belief that a deeper understanding of a very unproven deity somehow grants one a position to legislate above the rest of us. It is worth noting that no religious scholar has any more of an idea about what happens after we die, than the rest of us, and that filling in that gap in human knowledge with myths is a ‘science’ consigned to the history books in every other realm of human understanding, yet when it comes to this particular question, we put Bishops in the Lords for their adherence to 1st Century Palestinian myths. It is also worth noting that spirituality does not in any way require a belief in God, or an afterlife, and is a perfectly natural and human trait. Religious supremacy has no more place in a national legislature, than racial supremacy, sexuality supremacy or gender supremacy. The very fact that structures of religious supremacy are not treated with the same contempt as those of racial, or gender supremacy, is in itself, a vast privilege milked for every drop it is worth by those in positions of religious power.

Often, religious privilege is sustained by the powerful few, & the denial of many. Those who are so invested in their religion, refuse to accept that it might be flawed. Jumping back to the racism theme, not too long ago Twitter exploded in rage at Lady Gaga wearing a full face veil. The charge was that she – a white westerner – had ‘appropriated’ a cultural symbol of the Islamic east. It is a wildly hypocritical religious privilege to claim the veil for one religion, thus dismissing it from every other culture that has ever used the veil, whilst refusing to acknowledge that Islam has appropriated Christian & Pagan stories, Temple Mount, the Hagia Sofia, the Palestinian freedom cause (Palestinians are all who live there – not simply heterosexual Muslim men), every piece of land deemed to be “Muslim land” (no land belongs to a religion), and when Mo Ansar recently mentioned the French invading Muslim Tunisia in the 19th Century as an act of western imperialism, he neglected to mention that Tunisia was only “Muslim” by the 19th Century, because imperialist Arab Muslims had invaded it and established the Arab Aghlabids dynasty in the first place. It is a religious privilege to rewrite history by deflecting onto others, the often violent ‘appropriation’ of cultural symbols into its own black hole.

It is a religious privilege for Christianity to be so enshrined into state constitutions, that it requires a national constitution to protect everyone else:
Arkansas’ Constitution:

No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this
State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Maryland Constitution, Article 37:

That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Mississippi Constitution, Article 14, Section 265:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this State.

South Carolina Constitution, Article 17, Section 4:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee Constitution, Article 9, Section 2:

No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.

Texas Constitution, Article 1, Section 4:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

The list of religious privileges is endless. It includes Jehovah’s Witness families torn apart if a member decides they don’t believe any more. It includes apostates dehumanised and abused for leaving Islam & then referred to as ‘Islamophobic’ if they dare to speak out. It includes women covered from head to toe so as to not arouse the apparently uncontrollable lust of men. It includes Uganda’s Christian Minister for Ethics condemning homosexuals to a life of fear, whilst insisting that the rape of young girls in his country is, and I quote:

“… the right kind of child rape. It is men raping girls and that is natural.”

– It includes Pakistan’s grotesque blasphemy laws that punishes the ‘offending’ believers, whilst institutionalises the ‘offending’ of non-believers. It includes the Boy Scouts of America prohibiting the inclusions of atheists and whose charter states:

“The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.”

– It includes ‘In God we trust’ and ‘One nation under God’ placed on US institutions in blatant disregard of the secular founding. It includes Iran murdering gay people because an ancient, unenlightened, out-of-date myth condemns homosexuality and is taught to impressionable young minds as truth – despite the fact that many of those young minds, will be gay – whilst neglecting to teach the actual biology and genetic base for sexuality. It includes all of these things causing little uproar, whilst a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, or a “There is no God” billboard on the side of buses causes the religious to insist that their faith is under severe attack. It is the moment the religion of one, extends to control the liberty of another. In short, the nature of religious privilege.


The brilliance of humanity & the shackles of religion.

November 12, 2014

Rosetta's Philae touchdown.

Rosetta’s Philae touchdown.

Since the dawn of humanity, we have been a species addicted to discovery. Our ape-like ancestors braved the unknown as they left Africa and spread to every corner of the Earth. We tamed fire, and we built machines to carry us across oceans. We innovated with bronze tools and placed a flag on the Moon. Our natural curiosity is a wonderful trait that despite attempts throughout history, cannot be suppressed. Over ten years since its launch, the European Space Agency successfully landed a man-made machine – Rosetta – on the surface of comet 67P travelling at speeds of up to 135,000km/h. This wonderful ingenuity is a reminder of the greatness that humanity can achieve.

Our natural inclination toward discovery is a product of our desire to understand the World around us. Today, the civilised World has the scientific method – with a flawless track record – to keep that desire to understand on the right path, free from dogma and superstition, continuously re-evaluating itself, attempting to prove itself wrong, and open to all regardless of thoughts, words, beliefs, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality. It is at its core non-discriminatory and open to all who seek knowledge. This wonderful framework for applying Mankind’s continued search for knowledge is a freedom we may take for granted, whilst much of the World clings as they do to archaic and very much discriminatory methods of discerning knowledge, of which only a select few unjustifiable privilege themselves according to old myths, to the misery and detriment of everybody else. We know this as religion.

Whilst the scientific method this week landed a craft on the surface of a speeding comet, Pakistan arrested Tufail Haider on ‘suspicion’ of voicing his opinion about the companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, Haider’s opinion differed from those who bizarrely believe themselves to be granted the inherent privilege of violently punishing anyone who happens to think differently. It is the obscenity of considering the lives of others to be so chained and dependent on your beliefs only. Haider – who was Shiite – was then murdered by a policeman with an axe. This comes a few days after the young couple Sajjad Maseeh and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi were attacked by a mob, had their legs broken so they couldn’t escape, and were thrown to their deaths into a kiln after being wrapped in cotton wool (to catch fire quickly) by hundreds of people, for “blasphemy”. It was rumoured that they had burnt a page of the Qur’an. To that barbaric mob, burning human beings alive is far more acceptable, than accidentally burning a page of something the mob quite likes to think is divine (of which, they haven’t actually offered any evidence for). Similarly, in the case of Haider, the police referred to him as ‘mentally unsound’, rather than the policeman willing to kill a man with an axe for expressing negative thoughts about a group of people who lived 1400 years ago.

Humanity is capable of placing a man-made craft on a speeding comet, whilst murdering other human beings – including a pregnant woman – for saying unkind words about a magic invisible sky man who cannot do His own dirty work. It seems to me that if we are to base concepts of justice on how offended one may feel by the beliefs or words of others, it is non-believers – insulted and threatened on practically every page of most Holy books – who should be the main beneficiaries of such a policy.

Whilst my fellow atheists at times tell me that at its core, religion is the promotion of peace and love, I see nothing but what Sam Harris recently described as the mother lode of bad ideas. It would seem self evident to me that if religions are to be considered fundamentally peaceful, then the fundamentalists must be peaceful. The opposite is the case. Human suffering caused directly by religious dogma, is a clear result of anchoring human knowledge & moral ideals, and the human search for knowledge to a single time and place – often patriarchal – far removed from our own and that we as a species outgrew both intellectually and morally centuries ago. Indeed, a significant – if not the most significant – barrier to individual freedom, happiness and social and scientific progression, is the assumed privilege of religious supremacists. Over too vast a geographical spread, it plunges individuals whom tend not to fit its very narrow moral structure into fear and silence, which not only robs the individual of their right to a happy and dignified life, but also robs humanity of countless great minds. What if the cure for cancer is in the mind of a gay man in Uganda right now?

Humanity cannot be so great until it universally accepts that no single ideology or religion is inherently gifted the privilege to control the lives of others, to tell others that they are not to be included in society, or to withhold the talents of much of the population based solely on their skin tone, or gender, or belief, or sexuality. The minds and lips of all, free to believe and to utter according to the conscience of the individual alone, is the absolute prerequisite for a free and civilised society, and one in which the talents of all can be utilised. I see no greater flaw in our species than our ability to be so wonderful, to move with the times, to change based on the constant updating of human understanding, to free those traditionally oppressed by unjustifiable power structures, to create machines capable of landing on what is essentially a speck of sand in a cosmic ocean; yet at the same time be so willing to coerce and harm others in order to enforce – and make excuses for – the mother lode of bad ideas, regardless of the endless misery it so clearly causes.


‘Islam without extremes’ – by Mustafa Akyol. A Critique.

October 12, 2014

islamwithoutextremes

Perhaps you may think it an exaggeration, but I am quite convinced that the World will be shaped over the next several decades predominantly by how it responds to the threat from Islamist extremists. More than simply a war between those groups like Hizb or ISIS and the rest of the World, more than a war for the freedom of human beings from the oppressive structures imposed by supremacists, this is a civil war within Islam for its future. Whether Islam comes out of that war as a religion for the individual; an inner, spiritual system of guidance, or whether it is to be defined as a political structure that extends beyond the individual and chains others to dictates, can only be decided by Muslims. Attempts within the Islamic community to provide counter-narratives to extreme illiberal Islamist dogmas are vital. We do see this through the important work of think tanks like ‘Quilliam‘, or groups like ‘British Muslims for Secular Democracy‘. Writers can also have a lasting affect on how the war for Islam is shaped. I recently finished reading ‘Islam without extremes’ by Mustafa Akyol. I thought I’d share my thoughts on the book here.

I have several criticisms and I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. It is worth noting from the beginning that ‘Islam without extremes: A Muslim case for liberty‘ is an excellent attempt to dispel the myth that prevails in both Islamist quarters, and the Western far right, that groups like Hizb are in fact synonymous with Islam. They are not. Islam is a wide spectrum of belief that encompasses violent extremism, and secular liberalism. Akyol’s book presents a far more liberal, and secular strand of Islamic history that tends to get drowned out by Wahhabi interpretations in recent years. The book’s discussion of the back and forth fight for Islam over the centuries between traditionists and rationalists is compelling and fascinating reading. That being said, the book seems to present Islam less as a faith that promotes liberty, and more as a faith that is illiberal, and anti-secular, but a little bit less so than extremists suggest. And so as a ‘case for liberty’, it isn’t successful, and I’ll to give my reasons for that conclusion:

For example, after a brief discussion of pre-Islamic Arab society, in which women were not permitted the right to own property nor inheritance, Akyol says:

“… the Qur’an also decreed that females should receive a share of inheritance. It was only half of what their male siblings would get, but in a society in which men were considered to be responsible for the care of the whole household, this was a generous amount.”

– This seems to me to be a way to have it both ways. The very basis of Islamic belief, is that the Qur’an is the final message from God. It is the book of rules for all time. There will be no other message. It comes from a being that transcends time. He is able to give a new message, in more enlightened times if he wished, that ensures equal inheritance regardless of gender. But that isn’t the fundamental idea of Islam; that the Qur’an is the final message. ‘Rights’ are defined for eternity. And yet, more often than not, Muslims invoke the ‘context of the time’ excuse for illiberal Quranic rules. Akyol does that here. Whether the share of inheritance is nothing, or whether it is half that which men are to gain, it is illiberal. An improvement is irrelevant if it is to end at that improvement, and not be permitted further improvement toward equal treatment. In this case, the Quranic rule on inheritance is an institutional patriarchal structure, and worse than that, it is to be instituted for all time. Any further improvement would be an admission that the Islamic God was constrained by the time period, or that He was simply wrong. The ‘context’ excuse seems to me to be an attempt to placate in the mind of the believer, the suspicion that the Qur’an may not be all that liberal after all. A recognition that the individual believer has morally outgrown his/her God.

On page 67, Akyol says:

“The dhimma system was just one of the many implications of a basic idea that the Qur’an introduced: Humans have rights ordained by God, and no other human can violate those rights. This idea would allow Muslims to create a civilisation based on the rule of law”.

– I find these sentences to be self defeating. My rights have already been violated by other human beings, the moment those human beings decide for themselves that my life is to be chained to their faith and that the ‘rule of law’ is to be based on that one faith. Law is subsequently based less on evidence, if it contradicts the dogmatic beliefs of the privileged religion (more often than not, the privileged religion tends to be very patriarchal and very heterosexual, and so – surprisingly – heterosexual men seem to benefit the most from upholding that system). Institutional privilege for one faith is not a good example of the ‘case for liberty’. Quite the opposite. It insists that anchoring moral standards to one place and one time, is an excellent base for law, and that all must abide by it, whether Muslim or not, whilst those who aren’t Muslim must pay a tax to uphold this system.

In an attempt to promote Muhammad as a friend of Jews and Christians, Akyol tells us – on page 60-61 – that the Prophet spared the frescoes of Jesus and Mary when he stormed the Ka’ba, and that the Qur’an granted the right of Christians and Jews to live and practice their faith… under the rule of Islam. You will perhaps note several problems with trying to argue the case for liberty within a faith whose leader destroys the Gods of other faiths, saving only those that are depicted in the Qur’an, and then has the nerve to “grant the right” for others to live according to their own conscience… under the rule of Islam. This is not liberty. A man fighting for any concept of liberty would not have destroyed the Gods of others, nor have believed himself divinely ordained to decide upon the rights and the lives of others. I may dislike the Christian & Islamic God, I don’t then destroy Churches and Mosques. We rightly prosecute those who do.

Muhammad – by Akyol’s own admission – has now destroyed the Gods of other Pagan systems of belief. If I were to claim to have received a revelation from God, and proceeded to destroy shrines to other faiths proclaiming “truth has come! Falsehood has vanished!” – which, along with many other Quranic verses and traditions of the Prophet significantly negates the ‘no compulsion’ line – whilst telling Muslims that my new God has granted them certain rights, I would expect to be told that I do not get the privilege of handing out rights according to my own personal beliefs alone whilst destroying the right of others to believe according to their own conscience. The lives of others, are not mine to control or define. The same is true here. Muhammad was not promoting liberal values, he was assuming for himself a significant position of privilege to control the lives of others. Akyol then seems to accept that Muhammad instituted a sort of semi-theocracy with new liberties thrown in. He quotes Karen Armstrong who said:

“Muhammad could not produce a full-blown individualism to satisfy our present Western liberal ideas, but he had made a start.”

– The word ‘start’ should be replaced with the word ‘end’, because again, the Qur’an is the final message. She is right that Muhammad could not produce a full blown liberal, secular, democratic society protecting the civil liberties of all, at that moment and place in time. We as atheists must accept that he was just a man – impressive at times, flawed and disastrous at others – but believers who attempt to promote Islam as a faith that enshrines liberty – as Akyol attempted to do – have the uneasy burden of accepting that their God transcends time, and so the rules He sets out, and the man whom he chooses to empower with that message, must be the perfect form of liberty, and must not be rules that others over the centuries will try to mimic, causing misery across the globe. This is the problem of foresight – a subject I wrote on here – shared by the God of all the Abrahamic traditions. Indeed, those rules – if they are to extend beyond the individual in any way – must protect and empower men and women, muslims and atheists, homosexuals and heterosexuals, of all ethnicities, without prominence or privilege to any sect of any faith, otherwise it is simply a book of oppression and no amount of redefinition can fix that. And whilst Mustafa Akyol’s book certainly provides a narrative that takes the more extreme elements of recent years away from the faith, it fails to produce a narrative that its title – ‘A Muslim case for liberty‘ – suggests, and fails to tear Islam away from political ideology by entertaining the notion that it is perfectly reasonable for Muslims to define the rights of non-Muslims.

The conclusion I came to after reading Akyol’s book – and getting past the predictable religious tendency to blame everyone else except religious dogma for its deficiencies – was that Islam is by its nature illiberal, it is just a little less illiberal than the extremists believe, and was a little more liberating than previous Theocracies centuries ago. A leap forward once upon a time perhaps, but thoroughly archaic today.


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