Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cenk Uygur on militant atheism and Islamophobia

There has been some attention lately in the progressive media to the Islamophobia promoted by outspoken atheists like Bill Maher and Sam Harris.

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks has a half-hour interview here with Muslim religious scholar Reza Aslan on the topic, Reza Aslan - Bigotry, Fundamentalism and Neo-Atheism in the Media 10/13/2014:

Digby in QOTD: Reza Aslan Hullabaloo 10/14/2014 links to an interview by Jesse Singal with Aslan, Reza Aslan on What the New Atheists Get Wrong About Islam New York Magazine 10/14/2014. Aslan says there:

This is going to sound odd to say, but probably nothing, because when you are dealing with that kind of level of certainty, whether you are talking about a religious fundamentalist, or an atheist fundamentalist, which is precisely what someone like Sam Harris is, it’s really a waste of time to try to argue either data points or logical reasoning, because they have already made up their mind and it becomes kind of useless to have that kind of conversation.
Digby is somewhat surprised by the Islamophobia coming from atheists.

I'm tempted to attribute the Harris/Maher kind of Islamophobia to the kind of testosterone poisoning that women have sometimes encountered in the "skeptical" movement that debunks pseudo-science and attracts science-minded atheists. Skeptic star Michael Sherman, the Founding Director of Skeptic magazine and a longtime monthly columnist for Scientific American, has been accused of being a nasty twit (and worse!) in his behavior toward women. He also has a fondness for Friedrich Hayek/Ayn Rand type "Utopian-free-market economics (which isn't exactly reality-based).

Rand herself was also very much an atheist, to the embarrassment of her fans like Paul Ryan. But that didn't stop her from being on the bandwagon of Cold War opposition to Communism, which was routinely and prominently condemned for its "godlessness" - which Rand presumably shared.

I can't help but think that some of the atheist Islamophobia is based on ideological affinity. If you're an atheist who loves the Republicans for being free-market, damning Islam is a way to identify with them on something religious without claiming to be Christian. There's also some ideological piggy-backing on the politics: Christians are likely to dismiss atheist arguments directed against the *Christian* God. But if you show religion is evil by criticizing the barbarian Moon God Allah and his fanatical brainwashed polygamous beheading followers, you might get a hearing among conservative Christians.

Juan Cole writes about Maher and Harris in Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s Muslim Problem Informed Comment 10/07/2014:

Maher’s and Harris’s charges against Muslims in general are ridiculous. Neither one has ever lived in a Muslim-majority society or knows the languages or cultures. They just retail invidious calumnies second-hand. Almost anything polemicists like Sam Harris say of Muslims can be said of others; i.e. they are just describing the human condition, unfortunate as it often is. In the 1990s an ABC poll showed that 10% of Americans sympathized with far right wing white supremacist groups like the Michigan Militia. My recollection is that polling showed that a significant proportion of Chinese sympathized with the 9/11 attacks and to this day only a third think al-Qaeda committed them (i.e. it wasn’t viewed as a fundamentalist act but as an anti-imperialist one [this point of view is execrable; I'm just reporting it]). Note that in this last instance, the attitudes have nothing to do with religion but rather with nationalism/ imperialism, a binary pair that explains the world much better than religion/atheism. The same statistics, if glibly given by Maher or Harris for Muslims, would damn the latter and their tradition; but what about the Chinese? Is Communist-Capitalism or the Confucianist heritage to blame here?

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