“Why do you care about hell? You’re an atheist!”

April 21, 2016

“Those that deny Our revelations We will burn in fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than We shall give them other skins, so that they may truly taste the scourge. God is mighty and wise.” – Quran 4:56

Imagine for a second if the above passage was written by a World leader, and instead of “those that deny our revelations“, it was “Muslims…“. Quite rightly we would call it out for the violent bigotry, the dehumanising nature of its narrative. And yet, strangely, some seem to argue that as long as it’s religious, it isn’t bigoted, and thus isn’t a problem at all.

An early task in my university days was to explain to the group how we identify ourselves made up of our beliefs, our gender, our ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, or any other form of identification we may assume for ourselves. I included ‘atheist‘ in my identification. A weird identifier given that it relies solely on denying something that isn’t there. For that, I’m also a-unicornist. But the latter has no real-world affects, whilst the former absolutely does – an important distinction as we shall see. A religious guy in our group told me he’d like to hear my perspective on the World – a welcome discussion and one that continued for the next three years – but that he “couldn’t endorse your lifestyle“.

Around the same time that a man who had never met me told me he “couldn’t endorse my lifestyle“, Mehdi Hasan was giving a talk to the Al Khoei Islamic Centre, in which he states of others he’s never met:

“The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God.”

– And this is the problem of religious doctrines. It influences mentalities and behaviour. It casts non-believers as inferior, with believers the superior. It influences moderates & Islamists alike. Whilst Mehdi dehumanises us, a member of Malay Islamist group ISMA told me:

“I am better than you because I believe in Allah. You simply do not believe in Him. Need another reason?”

Around three years after Mehdi expressed some shockingly dehumanising views – based solely on religious dogma – about non-believers, Alexander Aan in Indonesia was being stripped of his job, beaten by religious thugs, and imprisoned for expressing his atheism online.

The point is, religious bigotry is the bedrock for a supremacist narrative that feeds policy. Once you dehumanise a section of the population, withdrawing their basic rights becomes easy. According to a report on the treatment of non-believers across the World, by The International Humanist & Ethical Union:

“12 countries in Africa, 9 in Asia, and 10 in the Middle East, were given the worst rating for committing “Grave Violations”. Some of these governments were found to openly incite hatred against atheists, or authorities which systematically fail to prosecute violent crimes against atheists.

Furthermore, in 12 of the worst-offending states, religious authorities can put atheists to death for the crime of “apostasy” (i.e. leaving religion; in all cases the religion was Islam).”

– It kills to be a non-believer in a society dominated by religion. And yet, if you highlight the real-world affects of bigotry inherent to religious texts, your concerns are dismissed:

belief

– So what if billions of people believe a doctrine that includes you having no intelligence, and deserving of nothing but setting on fire for eternity. So what if that religion has control over the lives of others. So what if it the divisive, supremacist nature of it is taught to children? It is as if beginning a dangerously discriminatory sentence with “God says….” negates whatever follows.

The fact is, person A not believing a religion to be true, does not suddenly mean the religion is not promoting bigoted ideas to those who do believe it to be true.

So “why do you care about hell if you’re an atheist?”
– Because whether hell exists or not is irrelevant, the behaviour of those who believe it does is exceptionally cruel.

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Labour’s anti-Semitism problem.

April 2, 2016

Khadim Hussain is a local councillor for Keighley Central Ward. This week Mr Hussain sensationally announced his resignation from the Labour Party following claims of anti-Semitism. Here is Hussain’s resignation post on Facebook:

Khadim

Khadim is clear that the allegations of anti-semitism against him are ‘unfounded’. Indeed, his supporters echo this. One of his supporters on Facebook expressed his anger:

Nazim
– Not only is he convinced this is a vast injustice, a witch hunt against Khadim the social justice warrior, he’s also convinced that any allegations of anti-Semitism against Khadim, are simply a conspiratorial attempt to silence criticism of Israeli policy.

So, with all of those denials, and the victim-playing, let’s take a quick look at what Khadim has posted on his social media recently. Firstly, who is responsible for ISIS, in the Councillor’s mind:

israel

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– The Jews! Of course! This is blatant anti-Semitism. It is disheartening that Labour Party supporters (of which until very recently, I’d count myself as one) attempt to twist this sort of bigotry into something that is simply framed as criticism of a random state. But it is, as I said, blatant anti-Semitism in that instead of any meaningful analysis of the past few decades of Middle Eastern politics, of the role of romanticising the Caliphate, of the massive civil war in Syria, of the role played by both Saudi Arabia and Iran in competing for influence, of the US and Russia in a power play, or how restrictions of individual rights of expression and belief might contribute to animosity, or Saddam’s successful attempts to further the rift between Sunni and Shia (an absurd and pathetic religious squabble) it instead jumps straight to reviving centuries of false blood-libel and simply blames Jewish folk, through the tried-and-tested means inventing conspiracy used to dehumanise & provoke suspicion (based on nothing…… the article that Hussain posted is full of “you’d have to be mad to believe that it’s not Israel!” conjecture). When confronted with a clear problem, if not civil war, in his own religion, Khadim would rather just blame Jews.

Now, you may think I’m using the term ‘Jews’ when Khadim clearly means Israel (though focus on this one state, this Jewish state, rather than a much wider contextual analysis that the situation requires, choosing to ignore all the states that surround Israel implies either a very simple mind, or bigotry at its heart). Well, Khadim answers that himself, by reposting an image that refers to all those Jewish people murdered in the holocaust as “Zionists”:

Hitler
– A shocking image for a Labour politician to be posting and propagating. If not just for the child-like “shut up about the dead Jews already!” mentality of the entire piece, nor just for the fact that Khadim has no problem referring to millions of Jews as ‘Zionists’ (something he doesn’t like), nor for just the grotesque use of murdered Africans to take a dig at Jews, but also that Khadim seems to again ignore the problems his own religion caused in Africa. In 1866 – two years after the Egyptian cotton boom – Dr David Livingston writing from Africa noted the horrifying treatment of slaves by their Arab ‘owners’:

“We passed a woman tied by the neck to a tree and dead, the people of the country explained that she had been unable to keep up with the other slaves in a gang, and her master had determined that she should not become the property of anyone else if she recovered after resting a time. . . . we saw others tied up in a similar manner . . . the Arab who owned these victims was enraged at losing his money by the slaves becoming unable to march, and vented his spleen by murdering them.”

– The point of this picture was not to highlight the brutality that Africa faced during the colonial period. Indeed, those victims were simply used to highlight the actual point. The point was to re-emphasise at every possible moment how European colonialism was a grave evil (true), that Jewish folk – dehumanised here as 6 million ‘Zionists’ – always get all the attention (ironically exactly what the anti-Israel lobby do by focusing little to none of their energy on the abuses of the states that surround Israel). If the abuse of Africa were at all the point of the image, Khadim might have spent – or ever spent – some time explaining that his own religion and its supremacists were also culpable for the mistreatment of Africa. He might further accept that if we are to talk about World War II in the school classroom in the United Kingdom, we may extend the sphere of discourse to include both the Grand Mufti’s, and Hassan al-Banna’s flirtations with Nazism, that in turn lead to groups like Hamas using Nazi propaganda from time to time. It might take us up to the present day, when a publication – Al-Hayat al-Jadida, Official daily newspaper of the Palestinian National Authority – published right next to the only Jewish state in the World published an article in March 2013 that praises the man who committed a mass genocide against those neighbours:

“Had Hitler won, Nazism would be an honor that people would be competing to belong to, and not a disgrace punishable by law. Churchill and Roosevelt were alcoholics, and in their youth were questioned more than once about brawls they started in bars, while Hitler hated alcohol and was not addicted to it. He used to go to sleep early and wake up early, and was very organized. These facts have been turned upside down as well, and Satan has been dressed with angels’ wings.”

– Khadim’s narrative can be found all too often recently in the Labour Party. It takes three steps. Step 1) Find a way to blame Jews for something, usually conspiratorial, attempts to dominate the Globe, a flashback to Catholic Church-inspired blood-libel, if it requires ignoring the influence and history of your own ideological position, that’s fine. Step 2) Plead ignorance when your anti-Semitism is highlighted, and try to claim you’re just anti-occupation. Step 3) Whether it be your religion or your political ideology, play the victim for it. The media is against you, the Zionists are out to get you (or steal your shoe), you are probably being oppressed. Khadim followed this formula to the letter, and Labour’s current leadership – a man who referred to Hamas as ‘dedicated to social justice’ – cannot possibly understand why this is unacceptable.