Friday, July 27, 2012

Atheism and Islam… It’s Complicated

That’s what I imagine the Facebook relationship status of those two groups would be. Bear in mind, it’s not as though they are in a monogamous relationship with each other… remember, Islam supports plural marriage and atheists are all whores…

It’s a tough situation, for a few simple reasons. The English-speaking online atheist community is primarily focused on Christianity. Most “atheist” blogs are actually “anti-Christianity” blogs, with the occasional Jew going off the derech and then opposing Judaism.

It’s pretty simple, really. Atheists tend to focus on those they feel are a direct threat to them. It’s a natural, selfish drive to focus on those religions which directly affect you. It’s tough to muster the outrage to oppose a religion that doesn’t victimize you or anyone you know, and it’s impossible to complain about something you don’t even understand.

What’s more, anyone can see that there are influential Christian forces in the West which actively victimize Muslims. Just as most atheists don’t rail against Judaism (perhaps to avoid being labeled an anti-Semite), it doesn’t seem to make sense to keep piling more shit on Muslims on behalf of non-believers. This isn’t to say that atheists won’t denounce a Muslim (or a Jew) who does something they disagree with, but Christianity is commonly the default religion when criticizing theism in general.

It sort of reminds me of how we Americans write like everyone on the internet is American and cares about our American bullshit, even though they don’t and shouldn’t have to. How I envy them…

Most atheists are aware of this, even if they aren’t constantly conscious of it. It has caused me to try to be inclusive in my criticism and terminology when addressing issues pertaining to theism as a whole. However, I will still inevitably focus on those issues that affect me personally, and that means targeting the Christian Right and their seemingly constant theocratic assault on our secular government. [Sorry, non-Americans…]

This tendency sure pisses off Christians, but it also upsets atheists who are former Muslims, or worse, living in a Muslim country (which is like a hen in the fox house). The Christo-centric atheist community isn’t fair. The common institutional practice of Muslim is far more restrictive, far more imposing, and far more violent than any but the most extreme Christians.

There is sometimes pushback for those atheists who try to expose the atrocities being openly practiced in many Muslims communities. Many liberals (both religious and not) will demonize anyone who criticizes Muslims, labeling such “bigots” as “Islamophobic.” You may also find yourself agreeing with people on Fox News, which should be enough to cause any intelligent person to at least pause and rethink their position.

You also have Muslims who genuinely are good people who just see any criticism as an attempt to defame Islam as a whole. Honestly, these are the only people I feel bad about when I criticize Islam, but I just remind myself that I’m not criticizing good people, I’m criticizing a religion and the bad people who use it as an excuse to commit atrocities.

Then, there’s the death threats. I’m nobody, I’ve done maybe a dozen posts focusing on Islam, and I’ve gotten a few vague threats over them. Meh, no big whoop. It’s not like I was getting people e-mailing me Google Earth pictures of my home…

To some people, this sort of thing can be disconcerting. Muslims are so violent in their opposition at times that they have actually succeeded in censoring an American treasure like South Park. I have seen bloggers take down posts. An organizer for “Draw Mohammed Day” sought police protection a few years back. It’s gotten very ugly at times, just ask Theo van Gogh… though you might need a Ouija board.

Writing in opposition to Islam is a high risk for a small audience that is liable to make you unpopular with those you identify with in other areas. But ultimately, I’d like to think I criticize Islam because I am treating it equally.

Ultimately, it’s not because I want to be or appear brave, it’s not because I want to offend Muslims, and it’s not even because it’s so easy (and it is). No, the reason to criticize Islam is because we shouldn’t be ready to give up hope on almost a billion people.

I want to give all Muslims the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think I’ll ever convince a Muslim to become an atheist (I still think I will get a Scientologist, though…). However, I think it’s important to give Muslims the opportunity to accept criticism with grace.

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