The Mosque in Oadby’s worrying narrative.

July 1, 2015

The area that I grew up in is relatively quiet and peaceful. The smell of the countryside lets you know that spring has arrived every year. There isn’t too much in the way of problems. It is a wonderfully mixed community of people from all different backgrounds and lifestyles. Two churches dominate the skyline, and a Mosque sits not too far from the town’s supermarkets. The faith communities have long enjoyed good relations and interfaith dialogue, and so it was surprising news to hear this morning that two students from the area have reportedly fled to join the Islamic State.

The BBC & Leicester Mercury reported this morning that two brothers; Ibrahim and Mohamed Ageed had fled from their studies in Northern Africa, to join IS militants in Iraq & Syria. The Mosque in Oadby told Radio Leicester that the brothers had absolutely not been radicalised at the Mosque, and must have been targeted for radicalisation whilst studying in Africa. Whilst I’m sure this is the case, given the interfaith dialogue promoted by the Oadby Mosque in recent times, I’m a little bit concerned about the language used on the Oadby Mosque website and what it is they’re actually promoting and romanticising.

Firstly, it’s important to note the direction of the narrative. On its ‘history’ page, the Mosque states:

“Despite tabloid press reports, Islam is a peaceful and harmonious religion. It strives for community cohesion, and peaceful coexistence.”

– As with everything in life, we must not take the assertion at face value, and we must seek to understand the specific interpretation of Islam perpetuated by this particular Mosque before we can either agree or disagree that their interpretation of their religion is indeed ‘harmonious‘ and ‘peaceful‘.

Whenever the media is entirely blamed for presenting a negative view of a belief – be it political or religious – it almost always becomes apparent that defensiveness over illiberal views are at the heart of the complaint. In this case, the Mosque’s website has a section entitled Learning About Islam. They have specifically chosen an introduction by Ahmad H. Sakr PhD to explain the fundamentals of Islam. There are several sections to this that worry me somewhat. For example:

“Allah is the name of the One and Only God. Allah has ninety-nine beautiful names, such as: The Gracious, The Merciful, The Beneficent, The Creator, The All-Knowing, The All-Wise, The Lord of the Universe, The First, The Last, and others.

He is the Creator of all human beings. He is the God for the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the atheists, and others. Muslims worship God whose name is Allah. They put their trust in Him and they seek His help and His guidance.”

– If we note that beyond the impersonal deist conception of a God, the theist conception of a God is simply the name we give to a group of – often obscure – ideas and laws derived from the moral context of the time period in which it was conceived, we imply by this that all of those listed in the above paragraph – including atheists – are to be considered subject to those ideas and laws, without actually checking with us first. They’ve already presumed a right to chain me to their beliefs, from birth. Liberty is thus extinguished before it has even begun. The idea of the God of one religion, being the God of all of us – including me, as an atheist – necessarily leads to the idea that justice is for me to be subjected to the rules of that religion. The Mosque in Oadby believe that Islam is to be considered inherently, and unquestioningly privileged. They do not first prove to those of us they wish to see subjected to those rules, that their God exists, they simply take it as a given. It is the building block of religious supremacism and oppression. And on that note, they continue:

“Muslims believe that Islam is a total and a complete way of life. It encompasses all aspects of life. As such, the teachings of Islam do not separate religion from politics. As a matter of fact, state and religion are under the obedience of Allah through the teachings of Islam. Hence, economic and social transactions, as well as educational and political systems are also part of the teachings of Islam.”

– The first two sentences of this paragraph are perfectly compatible with a modern, secular, liberal, democratic framework under the rule of law. The right to believe according to one’s conscience, is a fundamental right. But the next sentences build horribly on the previous paragraph that set up the idea that we are all to be considered the creation of the God of Islam. I certainly wont be told that it is the media presenting the faith in a negative light, at the same time as reading that Islam is not to be separated from the state. And so let us be clear; when put together, the two paragraphs are vastly anti-secular, and driven entirely by religious supremacy. For the state to be ‘under the obedience of Allah‘ implies that all who live in the state – whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, apostates, atheist, heterosexual, homosexual, male, female – must be subject to the rules of one religious belief rather than secular, democratic law under which we are all to be treated as equal citizens.

The Mosque in Oadby is actively promoting religious supremacism. They do not consider Islam to be a personal system of religious belief and spirituality alone, but a political ideology in which we are all encompassed within its jurisdiction, whether we believe or not. Far from discouraging the idea of a Caliphate – by definition, illiberal, and anti-secular – they do not distinguish between Islam as a faith, and Islam as a political system of control, they actively promote the latter. They could have focused entirely on the spiritual, individual element, the right to free interpretation and inner peace and mindfulness, instead they romanticise and promote the joining of religion to every institution of state, and presume ownership of the lives of the rest of us.

Community outreach is a great achievement by the Oadby Mosque. They are not withdrawing into a segregated community, as Mosques elsewhere have done previously. They should be praised and respected for that. They are active in Diwali and Christmas celebrations, they promote community cohesion, they became a polling station in 2014, and they have regular community days. But their outward display of community, is contradicted by their promotion of a religious-supremacist state.

The pro-Caliphate narrative – neither ‘peaceful‘ nor ‘harmonious‘ – must be challenged (note; this does not mean banned). Not just by we secular liberals who must point out its inherent oppressive character at every opportunity, but also by leading institutions of Islamic learning if Islam is to come out of this soul-searching period as compatible with the forward march of liberty across the World. It is not simply negative press reports that give Islam a negative connotation, but also the promotion of a romanticised Caliphate. This is the basis of the extreme narrative clung to by Islamists like Ibrahim and Mohamed Ageed. Illiberal ideas are illiberal ideas whether cloaked in a Qur’an, a Confederate flag, an EDL chant, or any other form. For leading institutions to be promoting the idea of a religious-supremacist state that controls the lives of everyone, by the dictates of their single faith, is a very dangerous premise upon which to base a religious place of learning in the 21st Century, and should not go unchallenged or unquestioningly respected, especially as they reach out to children.

It should be no shock that if you perpetuate the myth of the heavenly Caliphate, some impressionable minds seek it out.


A word on Charleston.

June 19, 2015

confederacy

Back in April, South Carolina’s Governor defended the fact that South Carolina’s State Capitol flies the Confederate flag. Think about that for a second. A State Capitol, whose representatives are there to represent all citizens regardless of ethnicity, flies a flag that specifically represented the right of rich white men to own, to sell, to trade, to beat, to split families, of African Americans. A system of segregation that persisted for a century after the end of slavery, in which white supremacists flew that same flag in support of a system of racial segregation and supremacy that included hanging kids from trees because of the colour of their skin.

You might drive past that State Capitol that flies that hideous flag, as you make your way into Charleston, where a monument dedicated to the “Confederate defenders of South Carolina” (you know, those who fought to uphold a system of slavery) stands proudly in a park, which happens to be just a little further down the road from the AME Church which stands on a road in which a white supremacist is celebrated. Not the terrorist who shot dead 9 people because he dreams of a return to the Confederate days, no, the church sits on Calhoun Street, dedicated to John C. Calhoun who, in the 1850s, argued strongly in favour of the Fugitive Slave Act, requiring free states to capture runaway slaves and return them to their owners. On slavery itself, Calhoun said:

“Many in the South once believed that it was a moral and political evil; that folly and delusion are gone; we see it now in its true light, and regard it as the most safe and stable basis for free institutions in the world.”

– Calhoun was sure; For the basis of ‘free institutions’, African Americans must be enslaved. And South Carolina, in 2015 has just witnessed a mass shooting by a white supremacist in a church on a street named in Calhourn’s honour, whilst its State Capitol flies a Confederate flag. How is that not the biggest wake up call that America has to its quite obvious race problem.

How was it glossed over so effortlessly, that Rep. Steve Stockman (R) proudly invited Ted Nugent to the State of the Union a couple of years back, despite Nugent saying:

“I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”

How was it glossed over so easily, when certain media outlets tried to justify the shooting to death of an unarmed Trayvon Martin, because of how he was dressed.

How did it take a Federal lawsuit in Georgia in 2012 – not 1865 – requiring Georgia strike down its ‘Stand your Ground’ law, because it didn’t specify what circumstances justified ‘standing your ground’. According to the lawsuit, courts in Georgia had:

“…accepted the race of a victim as evidence to establish the reasonableness of an individual’s fear in cases of justifiable homicide.”

– What this essentially means is, “I shot him, because I was scared, because he was black“. How, in a developed country that has one of the biggest economies on the planet, that enshrined Enlightenment values, are the Federal courts having to tell ex-Confederate States that it shooting someone because they’re not white, is not a ‘justifiable homicide‘?

How was it so under-reported, when On January 22nd 2013, whilst Sen. Henry Marsh (D) – a veteran of the Civil Rights era – was attending President Obama’s inauguration, Senate Republicans in the 20-20 split Virginia Senate sneaked through a redistricting bill essentially ensuring a Republican Senate in 2015. Republicans in the Senate went even further that day. Not only did they manipulate the absence of a civil rights veteran to ensure a majority in 2015… they called a halt to the day’s proceedings with the following announcement in the minutes of the day:

“On motion of Senator Stosch, the Senate adjourned in memory or [sic] General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson at 4:10 p.m. to convene Tuesday, January 22, 2013″

– They called a halt to proceedings not because the President had just been re-inaugurated a day before, but instead to honour a Confederate general. Furthermore, Senator Henry Marsh was a lawyer during the Civil Rights days. His law practice focused on civil rights cases. At the same time, Virginia’s Republican Senators were organising resistance to desegregation. That was the 1960s. In 2013, the children of those Republicans use his absence to advance their cause, and pay their respects to a Confederate general.

It is simply unfathomable to me that the media response has been so desensitised to the romanticising of the Confederacy in 2015, that instead we focus on whether or not to label it ‘terrorism'; instead Fox spends an extraordinary amount of time attempting to imply an attack ‘Christianity; instead conservative commentators spend their time on social media more concerned that access to guns might be restricted given that it was so damn easy for a 21 year old white supremacist, wishing to start a race war to get his hands on one and commit a terrorist attack, than they do that nostalgia for the Confederacy that inspires such vicious racial hatred, is everywhere you turn your head.

The unimaginable horror that those people in that Church must have felt, the loss that the families have suffered and will now have to deal with through no fault of their own, did not come from nowhere, it isn’t just the mind of one angry kid who got hold of a gun, his motives were clear and they reflect the not-so-subtle romanticising of the Confederacy, its leaders, and its legacy. If racism in the United States is going to be taken seriously and addressed now that nine people were massacred, it is perhaps best not to continue flying the flag of the slave States above government buildings. As of today, the flag of the Confederacy still, despite the terrorist attack, flies at the South Carolina State Capitol.


Nathan Lean, the New Illiberals, & the desperate protection of a failed narrative.

June 16, 2015

There’s an oddly consistent pattern emerging from those so vehemently opposed to all things Sam Harris recently – let’s call them the “New Illiberals” – and who have a particular narrative that they simply cannot admit is wrong. A couple of weeks ago, I commented on how CJ Werleman’s endless obsession with Harris, has blinded him to the creeping racial bigotry in his own rhetoric. Werleman’s narrative relies on “new atheism” and Western countries being exclusively white skinned categories, thus dismissing all those atheists who are not white, and all those who have shaped the framework of Western countries, who happen to have a darker shade of skin. It’s primary objective is to demonise “New Atheists”, but its more insidious product is bigotry in itself. Last night, Aslan Media’s Nathan Lean – author of ‘The Islamophobia Industry‘ – commented on the release of a book by Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris:

lean
– There is so much wrong with this, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps a good place to begin, is the hypocrisy in a white man who writes on Islam, angry that a white man wrote on Islam. Or that Lean sees no hypocrisy in the fact that he is not Middle Eastern, and yet writes on the Middle East, whilst complaining that non-Muslims are writing about Islam. Or perhaps the grotesque idea that speaking on political or religious structures and dogma, is not to be measured on the strength of the argument, rather the ethnicity of the speaker. Which – in the interests of consistency – of course further implies, that white Muslims are not to be considered ‘real‘ Muslims. Or the bizarre inclusion of Sam Harris’ profession. But most tellingly, is how Lean consciously ignored Maajid Nawaz’ contribution to the book. I suspect the deliberate omission is down to the fact that Maajid simply doesn’t fit Lean’s nice little boxed-in narrative, that permits only white folk the ability to argue that Islamism is not entirely the direct result of Western imperialism, & that maybe there’s a dogma issue too. Thus, it is simply easier to ignore (or just dismiss) the contributions and debate points of non-white critics, or non-Western critics, rather than acknowledge that criticism of ideas – religious or political – and interpretations is universal, transcending ethnic, cultural, national, and gender boundaries, and that the narrative of white supremacy, is simply wrong.

Reading Irshad Manji’s book ‘Allah, Liberty, & Love‘, we are introduced to Muslims across the World who do not fit into groupthink conservative category that both conservative Muslims and their western apologists wish they did. They have their own minds, they are open to debate and criticism, but they are far too often silenced by fear of upsetting the prevailing conservative & tribal ideas within the religion. These people must be supported and defended by anyone worthy of title ‘liberal’. By boxing people in, and taking away their agency as Lean does, he simply gives support to power structures that rely on controlling the thoughts and words, instead of giving support to those who challenge orthodoxy.

When Lean was questioned on his comments, he dug himself an even deeper racist-sized hole:

lean2
– Whilst the rest of us see a collaboration between Nawaz and Harris as two people having a conversation and sharing thoughts, Lean sees the book as a white supremacist, and his non-white ‘validator‘. Note the set-up is that the white man, is the one leading, thus denying the brown-skinned Muslim man an independent thought. Why not argue that Sam Harris is the ‘validator‘ to Maajid Nawaz? This is the racism inherent to trying to silence criticism of one idea, by falsely linking criticism to ethnicity, and then desperately clinging to it when it’s quite clearly false. You end up boxing thoughts and ideas into very specific groups by skin tone, and then you have to try to justify it when it’s clear that it isn’t true. Which of course, makes your case even worse.

For example, here Lean was forced into a decision; either accept the narrative is wrong, or try to save-face by working around it. He chose the latter option, and dismissed Nawaz as simply a pawn, a victim, that the white guy used to ‘facilitate‘ his agenda, thus protecting the failed narrative. The implication is that non-White Muslims just aren’t capable of thinking or speaking outside of a framework set by people like Lean. It isn’t even subtle in its racist overtones, it is blatant racism. The implication is that Nawaz couldn’t possibly think outside of the neat little box that Lean assumes all Muslims must fit into; all angry victims of Western aggression, and in need of Western apologists to defend their honour. This way of dismissing non-white critics of Islamism, was a tool similarly utilised a few weeks back by CJ Werleman, when he dismissed Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

“Case in point: Somali-born, anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali is feted by the New Atheist movement. Her most staunch supporters include celebrity New Atheists Harris, Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins.”

– Ayaan Hirsi Ali isn’t considered part of the “New Atheist movement“, she’s simply “feted” by them. Werleman refers to “New Atheists” as “anti-Theist“, and by that standard, Ali – alongwith plenty of other atheists Worldwide – fit into his “New Atheist” standard. The only way they don’t, is the colour of their skin. Werleman has put a “white’s only” sign above the “New Atheist” door, and then accused those same “New Atheists” of being white supremacists. It’s a nasty little hypocritical game of bigotry in an attempt to silence, that Lean followed to the letter, in a desperate attempt to uphold their failed narrative, and that will always backfire.

Lean began by simply not acknowledging that Maajid Nawaz was a joint part of the book with Sam Harris. When faced with questioning, Lean then dismissed Nawaz as someone unable to think for himself given that he doesn’t fit Lean’s narrative, and is simply an unsuspecting conduit for the white guy’s neo-con agenda. The wrong type of Muslim. Contrary to this failed narrative; those who seek to explain and defeat Islamism using a wider context than simply presenting it as a response to Western aggression, are not just white, they are not just Western, they are not just male, nor are they just blue eyed, or just tall, or any other neat little box that the ‘New Illiberals‘ try to box us all into. We are all people with our own thoughts, and for all illiberals, that very fundamentally recognised and promoted liberty is dangerous.


Michigan’s Gov. Snyder signs anti-gay adoption law, after threats from Christian groups.

June 12, 2015

Gov. Rick Snyder's inauguration, Michigan Capitol, Lansing, 2011.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s inauguration, Michigan Capitol, Lansing, 2011.

It’s impossible to travel through Michigan without the constant reminder of how beautiful the landscape is. The wineries and hills roll into the sand dunes, that in turn roll into the lakes. There is a peacefulness to the lakes that remind you that regardless of how fast paced and stressful humanity can be, nature goes on regardless. It is a shame that the political landscape of Michigan does not reflect the unmatched beauty of its natural landscape.

Yesterday Gov. Rick Snyder quickly signed laws that allow religious adoption agencies – that receive public funds – to discriminate against same-sex couples, when looking for suitable parents. Snyder signed it after both the Michigan Senate and House passed the Bill, with all Republicans – with the exception of Sen.Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights – voting for it, whilst all Democrats voted against. Amendments that required faith-based agencies to comply with civil rights laws were voted down by Republicans. The wording of the law – carefully crafted to appear to be based on concepts of liberty, rather than the opposite – is here:

bill
– This seems to have come after threats from Christian groups, like Michigan’s Catholic Conference, who wrote to the Governor with:

“If House bills 4188-4190 are not signed into law, and if statewide policy changes in a way that would force Catholic agencies to choose between violating strongly held religious beliefs or ceasing cooperation with the state, the agencies will cease to cooperate.”
– Paul Long, President of the Michigan Catholic Conference

– Let’s be clear on how serious this threat is from the adoption agencies and the Michigan Catholic Conference. According to the state Department of Human Services, around $10mn in state and federal funding went to faith-based adoption agencies in Michigan. Further, around 40-45% of adoption services in the state are performed by faith-based agencies. So here we see the significance of the threat; Christian groups with power over the lives of children, using that power to threaten the welfare of those children, if they’re not exempt from essentially, the US Constitution. The threat is clear; either you provide us with institutional privileges, or we put children at risk. Hideous, and abusive.

Paul Long of the Michigan Catholic Conference is fully aware that children in Michigan rely heavily on faith-based agencies to protect and help them, and he’s happy to use that power to demand the imposition of religious privileges, and institutional recognition of religious bigotry. To Paul Long, the welfare of those children, is to be intrinsically linked to maintaining & perpetuating the religious prejudices of those who run adoption services. Contrary to his tantrum, no one is asking Paul Long to ‘violate‘ his strongly held beliefs. He’s entitled to believe same-sex couples should have rights restricted, and that heterosexual couples should be granted institutional privileges. He’s perfectly entitled to ‘strongly hold‘ that belief. He isn’t entitled to use vulnerable children to perpetuate that belief, nor restrict the rights of others based on his belief. His right to believe, is not his right to impose.

The Michigan Catholic Conference websites implies that the threat to cease operations, is as an outside threat rather than their own, by suggesting that by passing the Bill, Snyder has heroically saved the adoption agencies:

“Michigan Catholic Conference applauds Governor Snyder and the Legislature for their support of these bills, which will maintain the State’s long-standing partnership with faith-based child placement agencies that has been successful in serving Michigan’s vulnerable children.”

– Deeply disingenuous language given that no one is actually threatening to shut down those agencies, other than the agencies themselves. It will only “maintain” the partnership, because the agencies themselves threaten – as Paul Long points out – to cease cooperation, if they’re not exempt from the very basic principle of church and state separation, continuing to pocket millions in tax payer dollars (including those contributed by the LGBT community) to uphold their bigotry.

We know from countless studies – including this study by the ‘British Association for Adoption and Fostering‘ – that adoption by same-sex couples is absolutely not harmful to the child’s development, that children thrive in a loving environment. And it’s not surprising that this is the case, given that personal prejudices based on outdated religious morality is not a reliable indicator of social cohesion. For example, a report coauthored by Benjamin Siegel for the ‘American Academy of Pediatrics‘ notes:

“Many studies have demonstrated that children’s well-being is affected much more by their relationships with their parents, their parents’ sense of competence and security, and the presence of social and economic support for the family than by the gender or the sexual orientation of their parents.”

– Thousands of children waiting for a loving family, can join a loving same-sex couple family to no one’s detriment, and to both the benefit of the child and the parents. To restrict that by ignoring the evidence in favour of religious prejudices, is to impose and enshrine those religious prejudices onto those children who are given no choice, whilst also restricting the right of those couples to adopt – a right that heterosexual couples enjoy without question. Therefore, we must conclude that Gov. Synder based his decision to sign the law not on evidence based reasoning or what is best for children (a stable loving family), but instead caved into pressure from – among others – adoption agencies’ threats based solely on bigotry – to abuse their position as the state’s key provider of adoption services for the most vulnerable people in the country, if they’re not allowed to impose their own unsubstantiated prejudices onto those children.

We must further conclude that for The Michigan Catholic Conference and the religious adoption agencies it worked to protect, child welfare is of secondary importance to the ‘freedom‘ to treat children as conduits for religious supremacy & privilege. That unless the state agrees to restrict rights for the LGBT community based solely on the religious beliefs of someone else, those agencies will refuse to help the children they’re supposed to be protecting. There are few less appropriate people that I would trust with the welfare of children, than people who are willing to use those children to advance a religious dream of state power and coercion.

Same-sex adoption is not harmful to children. Refusing those children the right to a loving family, based on the religious beliefs of those who are supposed to protect them, is what is harmful to children. If adoption agencies aren’t willing to serve same-sex couples, they should not be trusted with the welfare of children.


‘Allah, Liberty, & Love’ – Irshad Manji. A brief critique.

June 9, 2015

Allah, Liberty, and Love; By Irshad Manji. Buy here

Allah, Liberty, and Love; By Irshad Manji. Buy here

There comes a point after reading the first few lines of Abdel Haleem’s ‘Understanding The Qur’an‘ in which you become very aware that you’re simply reading one man’s interpretation of Islamic scripture, as if it’s definitive. He takes a line of scripture, and builds a narrative around it. It isn’t ‘Understanding the Qur’an‘, it is ‘Understanding how the Qur’an as applied to the prejudices and experiences of Abdel Haleem‘. I was hoping for a contextual approach; what exactly do we know was happening in the life of Muhammad at the point of each ‘revelation‘ (as an atheist, this helps us construct a history that doesn’t rely on the supernatural) but instead found one man’s interpretation presented as if unquestionable. In her book ‘Allah, Liberty, and Love‘ Irshad Manji presents a 21st century Islam that suffers from such a way of presenting the faith; interpretative dogma of very few people, accompanied by dangerously repressive cultural norms that masquerades as definitive truth. She argues for reform that aims toward individual interpretations of faith free from coercion of others, beginning with the family unit, wrestling faith from the firm grip of the conservatives who dominate its discourse. She argues that individual integrity and liberty to think for oneself, to question, and to express, is far more in keeping with Islam’s principles, than acquiescing to cultural pressures. She presents Islam as an individual’s quest for personal truth, and makes the distinction between this form of faith, and institutional religious demands that come from other human beings.

I found ‘Allah, Liberty, and Love‘ to be an eye-opener for myself. Whilst Mustafa Akyol’s ‘Islam Without Extremes‘ was a good attempt, it left me feeling less inclined to accept that Islam and liberty are fundamentally compatible, and I was left with the impression that Akyol’s Islam is less illiberal than the impression given by groups like Hizb, but still illiberal nonetheless. With ‘Allah, Liberty, & Love‘, I came away with the opposite feeling, a sense that individual faith could be separated from organised religion (though not entirely convinced it can be separated from cultural dogmas and demands). I did however find several issues & implications with some of what Irshad presents, one of which I wanted to touch upon in this article. Admittedly, you might agree that I may be nit-picking an otherwise excellent book, but when I notice something – however small – that I question, it tends to stick until I write it down, hence, this article.

When states enshrine religious privileges and values, those in positions of power tend to dictate what is to be considered the correct interpretation of that religion, which in turn tends to give the false impression that the religion is whatever those in positions of power insist that it must be. Only when power is far more dispersed, do we notice that the religion isn’t at all what one or two of those who shout the loudest claim that it is. But whilst it is true that Islam suffers from a very limited number of out-in-the-open culturally-based interpretations (usually patriarchal, homophobic, and supremacist in nature) that does not mean that we can completely separate Islam from the problem of moral dogma anchored to the cultural and historical backdrop from which it first sprang. In chapter 3 of her book, Manji highlights Chapter 3 Verse 7 of the Qur’an and its significance for individual interpretations rather than static dogma:

“Educate them about what this passage transparently says – that some verses are precise and others are ambiguous, but it’s men and women with disbelief in their hearts who prey on the ambiguities so they can decree particular interpretations. The verse ends by cautioning us that God alone knows the meaning of His words.”

– Indeed, Chapter 3 Verse 7 of the Qur’an appears to suggest that some verses are precise, whilst the ambiguous verses are to be interpreted by God alone, and that no human being gets to play God:

“It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that are] precise – they are the foundation of the Book – and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah . But those firm in knowledge say, “We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord.” And no one will be reminded except those of understanding.”

– But this has implications, not just about how to interpret scripture, but also about the nature of God. Far from being a positive verse on liberty, I find this verse to show either the limitations on God’s presumed power, his vindictiveness, his tacit approval of the way the religion has been used, or his unwillingness to correct his own incompetent mistakes. It also seems to suggest that those in ‘deviation’ are the ones who misinterpret for their own ends. But what then is to be considered a misinterpretation, and what is to be considered the correct interpretation? Who are those who have ‘deviated’, who gets to judge who those people are? It seems to me a case of “they’re not true Muslims!” which is used by liberals to condemn fundamentalists, and fundamentalists to condemn liberals. Indeed, Qur’an 3:7 itself is discussed differently, by different commentators. For example:

“… And no one knows its true interpretation except Allah.”

– I interpret this line as no human being could possibly know the actual meaning of specific verses. They can’t even guess right. It is simply beyond human capability. All the possible explanations we have for specific verses, are in fact wrong. But this is not how quran-islam.org interprets the above:

“For the human being, there will always be an element of doubt in all matters but for God there is zero doubt and 100% certainty (yaqeen).”

– This suggests that you might guess correctly the true interpretation, but there will be an element of doubt. But that in itself is also problematic. To begin with, in the absence of a clear and definitive list of which precise verses God considers to be ambiguous, and which he considers clear, it is left to either ‘scholars‘ (someone else; usually in positions of power), or individuals to decide (preferable, though still problematic), which means ambiguous passages can be considered clear according to the conscience of the individual believer.

I thought I’d highlight this by pointing to Manji’s example of the story of Sodom. Here she suggests that its ambiguity means that only God has the true meaning. Given that there is no ‘objective‘ disclaimer from God that this story is to be considered ambiguous, we simply rely on Manji insisting that it is from her own perspective. But if faith is a search for truth, then by implication, those whose search led them to their truth that the story of Sodom is a clear call to oppress homosexuality (which, when I read the Qur’an & Hadith, I come away with the clear sense that it condemns homosexuality in several places), necessarily believe the passage to be clear rather than ambiguous. Those who insist that certain passages are clear, have their own truth. This is the problem of religious dogma anchored to the historical context (the context of chapter 3 involves Muhammad debating with Yemeni Christians). The one claiming a particular verse is an ambiguous verse will have to convince the one claiming it is a clear verse that they are wrong. But the one claiming it gives free reign to oppress LGBT folk need convince no-one, since they’ve been given their green light to oppress from what they presume is the divine creator. They have no basis in individual liberty. Indeed, If one reads the story and decides for themselves that God is condemning homosexuality, that it isn’t at all ambiguous, they would surely feel they are betraying God’s moral structure by tacitly accepting equal rights for people who God has decided aren’t equal.

Secondly, it would seem self evident to me, that a God whose attributes include complete knowledge, must have complete and perfect awareness of the future implications of his guidelines, before he’s even created the Earth. Before he’s even thought about creating humankind. He therefore knew long before the universe existed, that his story of Sodom would be used to harm the gay community for centuries, and he did not bother to correct this before passing down the passages to a largely illiterate global community who had no understanding of human sexuality. If though he did not have perfect awareness of the implications of his guidelines, then he is limited. If he is limited, he is subject to laws of nature that he didn’t create. Which suggests he isn’t God.

Perhaps it’s humanity’s fault for not understanding correctly the passages passed down, I hear you say! I find this to be an over-used cop out. Since the argument rests of the premise that God created us in the first place, we’re now asked to take full responsibility for the flaws that make us human when we struggle to comprehend his purposely confusing messages. It again means that God created us so flawed as to easily misinterpret his commands, watched as we used them to kill each other, and then sat back and blamed us for it. To blame humanity would require stripping God of his ability to foresee the consequences of all actions, words, and deeds including his own.

If he in fact can see the future and the past set out like a tapestry in front of him, he was fully aware that sending ambiguous passages to a flawed species, without mentioning which are and aren’t to be considered ambiguous, and threatening hell for disbelief, was going to lead to oppression. It’s like placing a biscuit in front of a dog that hasn’t been taught restraint, and then blaming the dog when it eats the biscuit, rather than taking responsibility for irrelevantly placing the biscuit there in the first place. Far from being off the hook, God is placed directly on the hook for having complete knowledge of how his words would be taken, and not working to put it right. This is either pure vindictiveness, in proceeding with a policy knowing exactly where it leads, or – given the infinite set of outcomes he had available prior to sending down his final message – this is exactly what he wanted, in which case, a lot of people have suffered and continue to suffer for this game he appears to be playing. Why include passages that can only possibly be understood by God himself, knowing it will cause violence and oppression on earth? For doing so, he is at the very least complicit in the oppression that follows, but I would go further and insist that he is entirely responsible for it. Some say it’s a “test” for the believer, which is no consolation to those who suffer at the hands of those undergoing the “test“. I suspect the answer to this clear contradiction lies not with an all powerful God (whom I’m convinced doesn’t exist), but with Muhammad’s desire to win an argument with the Christian delegation of Najran, over their belief in the divinity of Jesus. But that’s another story.

Chapter 3 verse 7 does not solve the problem of oppressive interpretations. That requires God to definitively set out the passages that are to be taken as clear and unambiguous. Chapter 3 verse 7 also highlights the problem of foresight in that God’s ability to view the consequences of his words in full perfection, and his nature must be taken into consideration when reading his words. Had he disapproved of the misery that would be inflicted for centuries by the interpretations of stories like Sodom, we might expect verses – of the unlimited verses he had the ability to give – to be less ambiguous, and more specifically based in liberty, to ensure that innocent people were not harmed. At the very least, we might expect the grand overlord to take note of human flaws, and limitations when carefully crafting his final message to all mankind.

Whilst it is true that cultural demands and repression might be to some degree the responsibility of the conservative wing of Islam at the moment, making inside critique difficult through fear of the consequences of offending group honour, and whilst it is true that geo-politics also plays its role in perpetuating extreme narratives, we must not be so quick to dismiss the doctrines themselves – anchored as they are to a very specific cultural context – as not problematic in themselves. Irshad Manji opens up the debate surrounding reform in Islam (at a time when so many Muslims and non-Muslims insist that it is unnecessary, colonial, racist, bigoted to suggest reform is needed). But I think a wider discussion on the problem of religious doctrine – the rooting of morality to a single time and place – needs to be had also. Like I said, I may be nit-picking, but I find it incredibly important to be clear in our criticisms of illiberal passages that we find in Holy texts, and their implications, rather than simply dismissing those passages as ‘misinterpreted’.


The creeping racial bigotry in CJ Werleman’s rhetoric.

May 26, 2015

Over the years of writing articles, of changing my views on certain subjects, softening on some, or hardening on others, the timeless responses to those articles tend always to be very angry because I’ve offended religious or political sensibilities, or supportive for the very same reason. Very rarely does anyone – whether angry or supportive – misrepresent what I’d written. It takes a special kind of dishonesty to do that, someone who cares little for truthful representation of the views and thoughts of others. Enter CJ Werleman:

werleman
– It’s important to note from the start, that I’ve never accused, or implied that CJ Werleman is ‘anti-white‘. On the contrary, I think Werleman presents a wholly white privilege narrative. And so with this in mind, I thought I’d clarify – and in much of the article, simply repeat from my previous article – what I took exception to in Werleman’s article for Middle East Eye. Here are the two paragraphs in question:

“Moreover, New Atheists enthusiastically, and often unintentionally, promote western imperialism, and any individual who supports an erroneous narrative (“clash of civilisations” is the theme of New Atheism) that, by design, attempts to justify western intervention in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia is, ergo ipso facto, a white supremacist.

Case in point: Somali-born, anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali is feted by the New Atheist movement. Her most staunch supporters include celebrity New Atheists Harris, Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins. Last weekend, Hirsi Ali was the keynote speaker at the largest annual gathering of atheists – the American Atheists convention, despite the fact both her fictitious biography and anti-Muslim bigotry are well documented.”

– It’s worth remembering that with such a provocatively absurd title like “Is New Atheism an anti-Muslim, white supremacy movement?”, the point of the article is not to present an intellectually stimulating piece of journalism with integrity, quite the opposite, the point is to be purposely hyperbolic and personally attack opponents. It’s the ‘Your mum is fat!‘ before the schoolyard fight. We find throughout the article, all the emotive buzzwords that possess little thought, do not engage with actual arguments, and are simply designed to poke at the emotions of the reader; “neoconservative”, “neo-Nazi“, “genocidal“, “colonialism” “fascist“, “racist“, “white supremacist“, with a quick dose of “Anders Breivik” and “ethnic cleansing” thrown in, just to make sure the reader knows for certain that Bill Maher is actually Josef Goebbels. The whole piece is reminiscent of Fox News unable to go three minutes without having to refer to the President as a communist, socialist, Marxist, anti-Christian, Muslim born in Kenya and probably gay. It isn’t a respectable form of journalism, it is throwing shit in the hope that some of it sticks. It is also so narrowly focused on attacking the targets (in this case – as in most of Werleman’s recent tantrums – Sam Harris & Ayaan Hirsi Ali, through hideous distortions) that it’s easy for Werleman to not recognise the creeping bigotry in his own rhetoric.

For example, Werleman implies with “Western intervention” & “Western imperialism” being “white supremacist” that Western countries are to be considered white. Far from being “anti-white“, I’m convinced this paragraph represents Werleman’s white privilege narrative. He’ll use that racially-charged narrative, if it helps him in his endless attempts to smear Sam Harris or Ayaan Hirsi Ali. To imply that Western nations are white, disregards human beings who are not white, who daily shape the nation, and the struggles for equality that have influenced the social, philosophical, scientific, & economic framework of Western countries over the years to get to where we are today.

Further, Werleman has created an organised enemy – ‘New Atheists‘ – given it the ‘white supremacist‘ attribute as its core purpose, and now has to explain away the logical inconsistencies that arise. For example, along with the ‘white’ West, why does he dismiss ‘New Atheism‘ as ‘white supremacist’? Does that mean that only atheists with white skin are included in that title? Doesn’t that imply that rhetoric is actually second in importance to skin tone, in Werleman’s definition of a ‘New Atheist‘, because if you’re not white, and argue in tone much like Sam Harris, you don’t fit the definition? Need we a completely separate phrase for those who are as critical of Islam as Sam Harris, but who aren’t white? Why must a phrase for such people be based on ethnicity? The problem as you can see, with the attribute that Werleman gives to ‘New Atheists‘ is that the inconsistencies in this completely false narrative, ultimately betray his own bigotry with the questions that they raise. To claim ‘New Atheists‘ are ‘white supremacists‘ makes that club racially exclusive, according to the criteria of Werleman’s own definition of ‘New Atheists’. In reality, critics of Islam are spread across the World, across cultures, and certainly not anchored to one tone of skin.

The framework upon which I was born in 1986, is one in which white privilege still illegitimately influences everything, though over the years chipped away by the bravest of human beings who put their lives on the line – often resulting in death, as was the case with Dr King jr – to level the playing field, and reshape the framework. The nation that I was born into still has institutionally racist elements, but is far less so than when my great-grandfather was born. In fact, only two decades before I was born, my dad was in his early years when Paul Stephenson, following the example of Rosa Parks, lead a protest against Bristol Omnibus Company for their refusal to employ black and Asian drivers. Even more unbelievable, Eric Holder – the US’s first African American Attorney General – was born 11 months before the death of the Confederacy’s last remaining veteran – Pleasant Crump – who fought to uphold slavery as the great Frederick Douglass was laying the intellectual foundations of a civil rights movement that would grow fearlessly for the next century. The progress in one man’s lifetime to reshape the country away from its white supremacist foundings (and at that time the hypocritical notion that ‘all Men are created equal‘) & human slavery, and the battles that had to be fought by extraordinary human rights campaigners, is exceptional (though still, quite hideously, not even close to being fully remedied). The framework that we today live on, owes everything to those reformers (not just racial reformers, but gender, sexuality, and secular reformers). Western nations benefit from a melting pot of ideas and challenges to authority from those people traditionally oppressed by the illegitimate power of supremacists, so that future generations are less likely to be held back by those same illegitimate restrictions based on ethnicity. The nation belongs to all who live here, not a single ethnicity, or a single gender, or a single sexuality, or eye colour or any other pointless distinction. It may suit the overall narrative that Werleman is dedicated to – ceaselessly trying to cast Sam Harris as the reincarnation of Hitler – but the narrative is loaded with racism itself, in that it disregards anyone who isn’t white.

That leads us to the “clash of civilisations” phrase. Far from new atheists claiming that narrative, Werleman does exactly that when he refers to the West as white, and implies the Middle East, Africa, and Asia is the opposite. I guess President Obama would be banned from leading the “Western imperialist” white-supremacist crusade. Further – as I noted in my previous article – Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s criticisms are included as part of a “case in point” white supremacism. A bizarre form of silencing. One wonders if this also applies to other non-white ex-Muslims across the World, if Werleman absorbs them into a “white supremacist” narrative also. I wonder if they realise that by speaking out, they’ll never get to be “New Atheists” (a solely “white” club, obviously), and that they’re only supporting white supremacy!

Indeed, to push criticism of an idea – political or religious – into a category that is considered solely ‘white‘, despite criticism of that idea, as with practically every idea coming from all different sections of the global community, is to disenfranchise and silence people like Hirsi Ali and others like her, as well as non-white atheists and secularists, before they’ve even told their story or argued their point. Leo Igwe from Nigeria is not a white supremacist, Walid Shoebat is not a white supremacist. Walid Husayin is not a white supremacist. People, again, dismissed by Werleman for not fitting the racially-driven narrative he clings to.

There is nothing liberal, or respectable in trying to smear whom you perceive as opponents, to do so dishonestly and manipulatively, and to do so using racist rhetoric. If you create an undefined organised enemy – like “new Atheists” – that you attribute white supremacism as key to its being, you’ll find it incredibly difficult to dig yourself out of that hole when it’s quite clear that criticism (harsh or otherwise) of that religion you seek to protect, is across seas, ethnicities, and cultures. Your own bigotry will shine through, as it did in Werleman’s article. In short, everything Werleman accuses his opponents of…. he is guilty of himself, to a far greater degree, in these two short paragraphs.


The CJ Werleman & Max Blumenthal Privilege.

May 22, 2015

Joining hands with Islamists and attempting to silence her, CJ Werleman in his latest article mentions Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In a speech in which she refers to Anders Breivik as an abhorrent neo-fascist – Werleman paints quite a different picture, purposely editing what she actually said, and insisting that she:

“…expressed sympathy for Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.”

– On this often repeated manipulation by the illiberal liberals, Ali had to defend herself, and explain why those illiberals – like the Islamists that came before them – are wrong in attacking her:

Well, on the topic of Breivik, it goes without saying that I was horrified by his actions. He is one of the worst mass murderers in history, and there’s no question about that. Like most people, I had never heard of him before he went on his killing spree. However, he did write a thousand-page manifesto in which he quoted John Stuart Mill and other thinkers, and even me. Trying to use other people to justify your own actions is not unusual in mass murderers. Osama bin Laden quoted Noam Chomsky with approval. Does that make Chomsky in any way culpable for the behavior of bin Laden? Of course not. Just as no one quoted by Breivik is responsible for him.

In any case, I gave a speech at an award ceremony in Berlin, in the spring of 2012, on the shortcomings of policies based on the theory of “multiculturalism,” and I said that Breivik was one deeply unfortunate product of these policies, as are the rising number of European jihadis. They are unintended products, to be sure, because multiculturalism is all about good intentions.

– Ali echoes my thoughts exactly. When you protect one idea from criticism, from satire, from mocking, when you imply that those who do, are simply bigoted, when you offer that single idea a level of privileged protection that no other idea on the planet is afforded, you make a taboo out of it, and that is incredibly dangerous. This is not to be interpreted as “expressing sympathy” for far-right mass murdering terrorists. To distort the argument in such an emotive way, is so incredibly wrong. It is a dishonest attempt to silence the criticism. We blame the policy of the illiberals in trying to silence criticism, for the rise in far-right violence…. much like the illiberals blame the policy of Western governments for the rise in Islamist violence. I wont be so absurd as to claim Werleman has sympathy for al-Zaqawi though.

The equally as illiberal Max Blumenthal is not happy that his similar article on Ayaan Hirsi Ali was picked apart for its vast manipulations – like the one above – so easy to discredit (I wrote on the manipulations in his article). He has a theory! He isn’t quite willing to apologise for the gross distortions he presented – because then we might have to look at other reasons that he might have chosen to be so dishonest, like bigotry – so instead he’s chosen to insist that any complaints about his article, could only possibly be the result of neoconservatives unable to bring themselves to accept that colonialism happened. In an article by the equally illiberal Chris Werleman – provocatively entitled “Is New Atheism an anti-Muslim, white supremacy movement?” (no, no it isn’t) – we’re told:

“On last week’s episode of my podcast Foreign Object, I asked journalist Max Blumenthal why our recent respective criticisms of Hirsi Ali have generated so much blowback hate, particularly from New Atheists and neoconservatives. “The narrative Hirsi Ali tells is … very comforting to Americans. It tells them that they’re good. That they’re inherently good. That they’re peaceful. That all these wars they’ve been involved in have been forced upon them. That their hands are clean. That they’re in a religious conflict with no political roots that requires a nuanced discussion or historical context. That colonialism never happened. That lies about WMDs never happened. That all of these are just left-wing lies, and it is they who speak in a clear, comforting language. [The reason we are hated] is we are interrupting that narrative.”

– We’ve been busted by Blumenthal! Quite obviously the reason that I thoroughly disliked the article that Blumenthal wrote isn’t because it was full of distortions presented as fact, or the victim-blaming mentality of the entire piece, or the bigotry it takes to completely misrepresent the facts in order to smear her, or the misrepresentations of comments, not that he’s utterly obsessed with trying to discredit an ex-Muslim (a female, African ex-Muslim at that; the bigotry is pretty clear) rather than the ideological system that abused her in the first place, and willing to manipulate in order to do so…. no… it’s because I must believe that colonialism never happened. That must be it.

To reiterate, Blumenthal says that to highlight Hirsi Ali’s story, tells us:

“That they’re in a religious conflict with no political roots that requires a nuanced discussion or historical context”

– This is of course, not the case. We accept there’s always a political root, and that it is simply dishonest to imply that religion doesn’t inform the political and social context. It is those who refuse to accept a religious element to conflict, who seek to explain away a web of variables by ceaselessly parroting how much they dislike George Bush, who refuse to accept that perhaps anchoring right and wrong to a specific set of doctrines codified centuries ago might be problematic regardless of the political element, who insist that the narrative be limited to a ‘historical’ discussion, split for religion, that begins in March 2003.

The article then takes a bizarre turn that in my opinion, highlights Werleman’s own bigotry. I think this is the key to understanding the pathology of the illiberal liberals. Here, he says:

“Moreover, New Atheists enthusiastically, and often unintentionally, promote western imperialism, and any individual who supports an erroneous narrative (“clash of civilisations” is the theme of New Atheism) that, by design, attempts to justify western intervention in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia is, ergo ipso facto, a white supremacist.

Case in point: Somali-born, anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali is feted by the New Atheist movement. Her most staunch supporters include celebrity New Atheists Harris, Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins. Last weekend, Hirsi Ali was the keynote speaker at the largest annual gathering of atheists – the American Atheists convention, despite the fact both her fictitious biography and anti-Muslim bigotry are well documented.

– It’s odd to me that Werleman equates Western nations, with being white. Instantly vast swathes of the population of Europe and the US are dismissed. Instantly those – who are not ‘white’ – who shaped the cultural and social framework upon which we were born, are dismissed. It’s also important to note that it absolutely is not a “fact” that Hirsi Ali’s biography is “fictitious“. The subtle implication – by linking both paragraphs with a “case in point:” – is that the story that Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells about her life, is a wholly owned white supremacist narrative – because Western nations are ‘white’ nations – designed to justify what he calls “Western imperialism” (the irony being that most of the Middle East is under constitutional frameworks that enshrine and privilege one religion; the epitome of imperialism & supremacism), that only white people think like this, that those who aren’t white couldn’t possibly come to similar conclusions, under conditions outside of a Western colonial attitude, even if they directly suffered under the system that so viciously harmed Hirsi Ali. Further, to push criticism of an idea into a category that is considered solely ‘white‘, is to disenfranchise and silence people like Hirsi Ali and others like her, before they’ve even told their story. The fear being, if they tell their story, they’ll be dismissed as liars whilst those who support her considered ‘white supremacists‘. It’s a victim-blaming, white privilege; to assign a particular colourless narrative and criticism, to a single skin tone in order to try to discredit it.

When you become so obsessed with trying to discredit people you dislike so much, to the point that you’re willing to distort so badly, you neglect to notice the creeping bigotry that becomes a product of those distortions. There is an unnerving tone throughout Werleman’s piece. Instead of owning up to the falsehoods, and their quick leap to call everyone a nazi, they instead choose to incorporate the dissent into the overall – subtly bigoted – narrative; if you think Blumenthal vastly distorted the facts, it’s because you’re a white supremacist (forgot about those who aren’t white, they’re just influenced by white supremacists, the poor, unthinking souls) wanting to believe colonialism never happened, and you probably want to invade Iran. You’re basically Hitler.


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