Atheists shouldn’t be singing from the same song sheet as the Christian Right.
By CJ Werleman / Alternet
Politics is a funny game, for wedge issues often make for strange bedfellows. NSA overreach unites the far left with the far right. Libertarianism unites neo-confederates with black evangelicals. If you’re looking for an even stranger ideological matrimony, try this one on for size: mention the Middle East peace talks, and voila, you have atheists singing from the same song sheet as the Christian Right.
Despite the Palestinians making a sudden about turn to the United Nations, who can blame them, Secretary of State John Kerry is to be applauded for his efforts to bring the peace process back into focus. Not only has he dragged both sides to the negotiating table, he has also attained crucial concessions from both the Palestinians and the Israelis. But any further progress is made difficult while Americans remain in the dark about what is really taking place in the Occupied Territories. The most ignorant include the corporate-owned media, the Christian Right and movement atheism. This ignorance results in a lack of political pressure on the White House, Republican or Democrat, to seek a much-needed two-state solution.
Despite claims by David Silverman, president of the 501(c4) political lobby group American Atheists, atheism does not earn an atheist the title of freethinker. With very few exceptions, movement atheists are not. They’re parrots. Don’t believe me? Ask an atheist to opine on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and he or she will invariably wax lyrical about religious motivated violence, Islamic extremism and suicide bombers. In other words, expect a recital from atheist luminaries Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens.
“Islam is an unmitigated evil,” said Dawkins in response to whether or not atheists should support faith-based NGOs in Africa, while simultaneously ignoring the despotic warlords Western secular governments have financed in recent times. On his blog, Sam Harris asks why “nineteen well-educated, middle-class men trade their lives in this world for the privilege of killing thousands of our neighbors?” With total disregard for geopolitical history, what troubles Muslims living in the Middle East, and studies into global terrorism, Harris answers, “Because they believed that they would go straight to Paradise for doing so.”
Atheists, myself included, enjoy mocking religious fundamentalists for their inability to question authority or dogma. But very few atheists sound dissimilar to the aforementioned atheist heavyweights when it comes to assessing the roots of Islamic terrorism. In the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, American Atheists president Silverman tweeted, “Dear Peaceful Muslims: Sorry, but yet, that IS your Islam and your Prophet’s followers.” Silverman included the hashtag #IslamIsBarbaric. If you were told neo-con firebrand Ann Coulter had posted this careless tweet, you would have believed it.
No doubt, Harris (neuroscience) and Dawkins (evolutionary biology) are leaders in their respective fields. What they’re not is experts on terrorism and the Middle East. So movement atheism needs to stop pretending like they are, because the words of Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens serve only to make movement atheists sound like neo-conservatives, Zionists and the Christian Right, which ultimately makes seeking peace even harder to attain.
A dangerous and toxic belief found within movement atheism is utopian idealism—the belief that the eradication of religious human beings will cleanse the world. If history has taught us anything, it’s that bad things inevitably follow when large segments of the population share that belief. On that point, Harris and Dawkins are every bit as dangerous as the thugs of Israel’s conservative Likud Party. “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them,” writes Harris in reference to Islam. He suggests that Islamic nations may be politically un-reformable because Muslims are “utterly deranged by their religious faith,” and that all Muslims are effectively suicide bombers in waiting.
Chris Hedges, who not only spent a decade as a New York Times correspondent in the Middle East, but was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of global terrorism, writes, “The dehumanization of Muslims in U.S. social culture and the willful ignorance of the traditions and culture of the Islamic world reflect our nation’s disdain for self-reflection and self-examination. They allow us to exult in the illusion of our moral and cultural superiority.”
Demonization of Muslims writ large ensures that we see the Middle East crises only through the propaganda of the Israeli government and its U.S. political lobby arm AIPAC, which all but guarantees the further elusiveness of peace.
Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, found that almost without exception, suicide bombers are members of communities that feel humiliated by an occupying force. In fact, of all suicide bombing campaigns, 95 percent were carried out with the objective of driving out an occupying power. This was true in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Kashmir, as well as Israel and the Palestinian territories. That 17 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis seems to underscore Pape’s findings.
U.S. military bases in the Holy Land and our unwillingness to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in an even-handed manner has fueled most (all) of the Islamic world’s hatred toward the West. At best, we ascribe moral blame equally to both sides. At worst, we completely ignore Israel’s continual and repugnant violation of international laws and atrocities committed against the Palestinian people. Israel is the oppressor in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel’s escalating oppression has become the most potent recruiting tool for Palestinian suicide bombers. Israel likes to pretend it’s engaged in a “war to the bitter end,” but a war is a contest between competing military rivals. The Palestinians do not have a military. They have no army, navy, air defenses, or heavy weapons, while Israel has the best military U.S. money can buy.
Former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, who is Jewish, recently condemned the collective punishment of Palestinians as a “crime against humanity,” and a “flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
What the Nazis were to the Jewish population of Warsaw is what the Israeli government is to the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. “It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that each day poses the entire 1.5 million Gazans to an unspeakable ordeal, to a struggle to survive in terms of their health,” says Falk. Of the ongoing Israeli blockade, he writes:
“This is an increasingly precarious condition. A recent study reports that forty-six percent of all Gazan children suffer from acute anemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with Israeli overflights have caused widespread deafness, especially among children. Gazan children need thousands of hearing aids. Malnutrition is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75 percent of Gazans. There are widespread mental disorders, especially among young people without the will to live. Over 50 percent of Gazan children under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live.”
Israel punishes Gaza with daily 12-hour power outages, blocks medical equipment and medications from entering the territory, forcibly removes Palestinian farmers from their land without compensation, and has now erected a barrier that has annexed at least 40,000 acres of Palestinian land. Life in Gaza is so grim that “families are piled in boxy, concrete rooms capped with corrugated tin roofs weighed down by rocks. Water and electricity service work only sporadically…donkey carts crowd the streets, and orange garbage bins, donated by the European Union, overflow with putrid heaps of refuse,” observes Hedges.
Faced with occupation, humiliation, starvation, misery, and death, is it any wonder that 71 percent of children interviewed at a school in Gaza said they wanted to be martyrs?
Harris, Dawkins and many of their atheist sycophants, contend, however, that these children are “utterly deranged by their religious faith.” Movement atheists can choose either to adopt this ill-informed and breathtakingly ignorant narrative of the Middle East, in turn continuing to be an obstacle for the attainment of peace, or they can question the authority of their ideological heroes, and in turn, adopt the narrative of those who truly know what they’re talking about.
“The use of terror and hunger to break a hostile population is one of the oldest forms of warfare. I watched the Bosnian Serbs employ the same tactic in Sarajevo. Those who orchestrate such sieges do not grasp the terrible rage born of long humiliation, indiscriminate violence and abuse. A father or a mother whose child dies because of a lack of vaccines or proper medical care does not forget. A boy whose ill grandmother dies while detained at an Israel checkpoint does not forget. A family that loses a child in an airstrike does not forget. All who endure humiliation, abuse and the murder of family members do not forget,” Hedges writes.
To date, State Secretary Kerry has shown he is willing to stand up to those who adopt the unhelpful and false neo-con language used by the likes of Senator John McCain and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It’s time for movement atheists to reject this language and false narrative, too.
Frank Gormlie says
Pretty much disagree with the basic premise here, that atheists on the whole fall into this trap. It’s a dangerous assertion without much substantiation.
Dana Levy says
This guy runs on and on and takes no notice to the relentless violence, non acceptance for others who claim religious virtue, the endless oppression of women, gays, and free thought by all religions of this world. Atheism is the one breath of fresh air that seeks to eliminate the supernatural fear espoused by all religions. I don’t buy it for a minute that Atheists are in bed with Christians or any other group in either 1) denying that violence is prevalent or oppression non existent or 2) that religion is not the fundamental cause and blame for both conditions. His premise is wrong and his conclusions are misplaced. Atheism and Atheists are the only group that imparts the natural attributes of good and bad to all based not on any delusional irrational fear of some imagined super being but bases the conclusions on facts of observed patterns of natural laws and effects to the forces of nature only and not some or any man made deity in any form either here on Earth or some far distant Valhalla.
you are the only good people and all people who believe in religion are bad….and that is not an oversimplified view that is exactly like overly literalist interpretations of many religions (like the Christian right)????
christians are no different than islamists
Thank you. This article was so good, I had to stop. This is something I will need an hour to go through and re-read. Prejudice is the problem and treating people as individuals, while recognizing the historical factors that bring each of us to where we are is the simple answer. I am an African American Sunni Muslim. So my Islam is heavily influence by Malcolm X and the history of oppression blacks have suffered in America and that makes my Islam not quite the same as the princes in Saudi Arabia or someone living in a village in Pakistan. I love smart writing. Thanks!
Joe Q. Cats says
“Islam is an unmitigated evil,” said Richard Dawkins.
That almost underplays it. Bible-based religions all claim to have the absolute truth, and consign unbelievers to Hell, but Islam alone wants to take it to the next level of total conquest of the world no matter how many it has to kill. Yet as any atheist knows, they’re all based on fiction. Yes, Christendom has a long history of suppression of unbelievers, but Islam makes it look like a walk in the park to pick peaches, and because of the stupidity of Western nations in permitting what was once thought to be a dead religion to begin reviving, we’re in for unimaginable horrors if we don’t get on the case.
It’s not hatred of Islam, but Islam’s hatred of us that started it, and brave people like Dawkins just want to finish it.
Frank Gormlie says
Joe Q Cats – Your comment is so much Bullcrap. So, “Islam alone wants to take it to the next level of total conquest”. You don’t know your history, dude. How much of the world did Christians want to conquer, taking the word of god to all those heathens? It’s not just “unbelievers” who found the wrath from Christians, but it was other Christians. Have you heard of the slaughter during the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics?
Muslims are NOT trying to turn the world into Islam followers, if you know anything about Islam, or read and fully understood the message in the Quran, you will read over and over again, NO ONE will be a follower of Islam or a believer in God by force, it will never happen… Saying you are Muslim, even praying as Muslims do does not make you a Muslim as repeatedly said in the Quran. It is what the heart believes and follows… You have to walk the walk and not just talk it… it is what is in ones heart…
Also Richard Dawkins criticized Islam forever until one day he accidently admitted by tweeting that he never read the Quran which outraged his followers… February 28, 2013 “Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam greatest force for evil today.”
So is that the scientific method he uses for all aspects of study he undertakes. Criticize before research? Hope to God, no one believes the research he does as a scientist… I’d say intolerance and ignorance are the greatest source of ‘evil’ today. He has blithely demonstrated both!
While I am not an atheist, I do think the two “leaders” of the atheist movement you wrote about are free thinkers.
They think from emotion and are free from fact-checking with the other’s on the context of their controversial passages and are free from looking at the situation of the actions as you clearly demonstrated.
Is there an evolutionary explanation for such extreme extraversion which avoids serious and time consuming reflection but can lead to the repetition of the inquisition/holocaust cycle? Just reading other well respected Westerner’s researchers as the ones you mentioned can help stop this cycle. I would hope people would read the opposing views to become better informed.
Well I can’t evaluate the whole of this piece but I can recognize character assassination when I see it. Neither Dawkins nor Harris has ever used violence against others or incited anybody else to do so. While they do think the world would be better off without religion they are intelligent enough to realise that that wont change human nature. Some people will still be inclined to follow irrational philosophies. Moreover they are both extremely strong supporters of freedom of conscience. They would both be more likely to fight and die for someone’s right to hold a belief of which they strongly disapprove than they are to advocate that person’s death.