Finally. It is about time.
Glenn Greenwald exposed the imperialist, proto-fascist “New Atheists” in a 3 April 2013 article in The Guardian.
Harris, Hitchens, and their fellow frothing-at-the-mouth imperialist friends give atheism a horrendously horrendous name. I often do not identify as an atheist because I do not want to be associated with these reactionaries.
It is thus safe to say that I am elated that a figure the likes of Greenwald took them up and, in contemporary lingo, “pwned” them in the process.
For those who haven’t read the article, Greenwald draws attention to the following positions of leading “new atheist” intellectual Sam Harris, who
1. says we need to listen to European fascists,
2. likens U.S. imperialist occupation and genocide in Iraq and Afghanistan to humanitarian efforts,
3. blatantly states we should profile anyone who “looks” Muslim, and,
4. advocates torture.
When I posted negative remarks about the infallible new atheists, a discursive storm ensued. Again, to clarify, I am an atheist. Many of my friends are atheists. Some of these friends (or at least acquaintances), however, are of the so-called “new atheist” variety. Me speaking out against the sanctimonious Sam Harris (or Hitchens et al.) amounts to sacrilege, irreligious heresy, in the eyes of these individuals. To them, I am a betrayer to atheism, a heretic; I am suddenly an “Islam apologist,” a “defender of extremism.”
That these supposedly “free-thinking” individuals retreat into hyper-defensive, mudslinging irrational mode when I insult their beloved Harris shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many, perhaps most, American new atheists equate Islam with “extremism” in a kind of kneejerk, Pavlovian reaction.
I will devote the present post to analyzing this particular discussion, not because it is exceptional in any way, but because, on the contrary, it stands as a kind of typical example of how new atheists think and function—because it can be seen, roughly, as a reflection of new atheist ideology. I will outline the most important points, and ultimately argue that many of the so-called new atheists are unmitigated racist, imperialist war criminal cheerleaders, just as dogmatic as the “extremists” they renounce (but, given the support of the almighty State, often even more violent).
I will begin with Harris defenders critiquing the four points above. (I am including actual statements by the individuals with whom I debated. I have left them all anonymous. This said, I might mention that, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the notorious homogeneity of the new atheists, all of the quote persons are cishetero white males with degrees in higher education.)
1. He [Harris] said its scary that these fascists are moving towards the truth in these area, that it is scary that that is the case. Not that facism is good or we should listen to them. Those are two very different things.
This is not true; this is a misreading of Harris’ unambiguously worded statement—a convenient misreading, one this new atheist individual could employ to keep someone who is effectively an apologist for fascism in a positive light in his mind.
Harris said that fascists are the only ones that are “making sense on the subject.” Here’s the after-the-fact email statement itself. Harris did not even change anything—same position, after revision.
I was referring to the terrifying fact (again, back in 2006), that when you heard someone making sense on the subject of radical Islam in Europe—e.g. simply admitting that it really is a problem—a little digging often revealed that they had some very unsavory connections to Anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, neo-Nazi, etc. hate groups. The point of my article was to worry that the defense of civil society was being outsourced to extremists.
He is saying the only ones “making sense on the subject,” the only people “defending civil society,” are fascists.
And, yes, he does not identify with fascism, but so what? Whether he identifies as a fascist is ultimately beside the point. Harris’ political ideas concerning Islam and Muslims are virtually the same as the fascists he does lip service to rebuking. He might not be an overt fascist, but we must ask ourselves what kind of “defense of civil society” he is referring to here, if he insists it is only fascists who are defending it. If Harris’ “liberalism” is indistinguishable from fascism, why identify it as such?
In response, I received the beautifully articulated
I don’t think you are understanding what he is saying.He said back in 2006, the only people who were talking about radical Islam were these crazy facists. And that is crappy. ? Don’t understand your point here.
No. Again, he is not saying the only people talking about the subject are fascists. He is saying the only people who are “making sense on the subject.” Those are his words.
Harris claims the other people talking about the subject—you know, the multiculturalists, the co-existers—are jeopardizing the “defense of civil society,” and that the only ones talking sensibly, the only ones “defending civil society,” are fascists.
Defending Genocidal Imperialist Wars
A new atheist commented
2. I don’t know much about that. I know him and many others (across many spectrum) were incorrect about iraq/afganistan. I haven’t seen him say that recently?
“we are attempting, at considerable cost to ourselves, to improve life for the Iraqi people.”
Excuse me, but this is utter balderdash. Complete, unmitigated nonsense. The US literally did, and has done (for decades), the exact opposite of this.
The US has destroyed Iraq. The US has destroyed Iraq’s national identity and fueled the Shi’ite-Sunni sectarian divide.
This may likely be the most important point here: One of the principle problems with the new atheists is not just their stance on Islam. This is not about Islam; it is about racism.
Critiques of Islam, in the West, are very often thinly disguised racist critiques, because they are based on a myopic, racialized conception of the religion that holds little basis in actual reality.
Feminist Muslim Fatemeh Fakhraie published article on this subject in 2008 titled “Casting Out: Exploring the Racialization of Muslims.” In it, she summarizes some of the primary arguments of scholar Sherene H. Razack in her 2008 book Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law & Politics:
She first argues that Muslims are racialized through “race thinking”, which “divides up the world between the deserving and the undeserving, according to descent.” …
Islam is represented in mainstream media as South/West Asian brown-skinned people who are bearded and turbaned or veiled and hidden: this racializes Islam.
Now, before you start typing a response that there are non-West Asian Muslims and that Muslim isn’t a race, re-read what I just wrote. There are Muslims in every country in the world, and they are all colors and sizes. But Western media representation of Islam and Muslims simplifies this world-wide group of people into one picture: that of a brown guy with a beard and a keffiyeh. His female counterpart is a brown woman with a veil. Reducing an entire group of people to these static images that have to context or history creates flat attributes (such as the incorrect assertion that West Asia = Muslim) that can be applied to anyone deemed in the “Muslim” category.
Razack argues “the eviction of Muslims from [the Western] political community is a racial process that begins with Muslims being marked as a different level of humanity and being assigned a separate and unequal place in the law.” (her emphasis) When Islam is racialized, the presentation of terrorism as Islamic thus racializes terrorism, especially when terrorism is illustrated by brown-skinned bearded South/West Asians. So, if terrorism is equated with Muslims, then we come to “widespread condemnation of bodies marked as ‘Muslim,’ and heightened support for punitive measures against them.”
insulting muslims is racist bc Islam has been racialized, no one ever means Indonesians (largest muslim pop.) when they say 'muslim world'
— Ayesha A. Siddiqi (@pushinghoops) August 10, 2012
the racialization of Islam is why an irrational fear of Muslims gets any brown person (hindu, sikh, etc.) attacked not just muslims
— Ayesha A. Siddiqi (@pushinghoops) August 10, 2012
As I have noted in a previous blog entry:
As of 2009, there were over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. That’s almost one quarter of the planet—and it has grown significantly in the past few years, and will continue to grow. Now, where do the majority of these individuals live? The Asia-Pacific region, not the Middle East-North African region—the former comprising (in 2009) 62%; the latter 20%. Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population; 13% of the world’s Muslims live there.
Once more. This is not about Islam, in spire of what much of the media and political estbalishment say. This is about racism, orientalism, and imperialism.
In response to this, someone wrote
Confused. You mention most most muslims are in Asia-Pacific yet this is about racism? You really think someone like Hitchens or Harris is “racist?” That’s kinda outrageous. Define racism. I think the reason there is alot of talk about the Arab regions is because that is where the extremists are no? That is where the state is religious. Harris isn’t as concerned with Muslims in less extreme goverment/society/cultures?
The sacrosanct new atheists’ admirers cannot possibly fathom their idols being racists.
Yes. They are full-fledged, unapologetic racists. Without a doubt. End of story. They continue in the tradition of white European oriental colonialists who think they can liberate the poor oppressed brown people from their silly “superstitions.”
I mention most Muslims are from the Asia-Pacific reason because, when the racist corporate mass media here, or these benevolent “New Atheists,” talk about the “Muslim world,” they mean the Arab world. To the corporate media, “Muslim” and “Arab” are synonymous (and yes, that includes MSNBC and the Huffington Post just as much as it includes Fox and The Daily Caller).
Part of this disbelief can be explained by the overtly simplistic definition of racism that dominates contemporary popular (and political) culture. Many (white) Americans—yes, including liberals—insist we live in a supposed “post-racial society,” where the only racists are the overt, card-carrying members of the KKK. Racism, however, is by no means dead; it still pervades every aspect of contemporary society. In the world of today, it is merely managed to express itself much more subtly, to disguise itself as critiques of religion (or critiques of welfare, or critiques of “hard work” and “meritocracy,” etc.).
Liberal disbelief continues, nonetheless. Next in the discussion the true Democrat nature comes out.
I don’t support Imperialism Ben. I don’t think Hitchens or Harris or any of those guys too. And MANY people supported the war who were wrong. There was a considerable amount of confusion and fear and lying and emotion from 9/11.
It’s not just a matter of opposing why we began the “war” (war is the wrong word: this is an invasion; the US invasion, occupied, colonized, Iraq and Afghanistan, in flagrant violation of human rights and international law). It’s not a matter of being “wrong” about supporting the war.
The problem is that the rhetoric is limited solely to anti-Iraq war, or anti-Afghanistan war; anti-war, with no modifier, is entirely absent from the debate. Articulated differently, the problem is the belief that the US (or any other capitalist country), by invading countries, is ever necessarily acting “benevolently.” Support of “humanitarian” imperialism is still supporting imperialism (and, as history shows, is hardly ever actually “humanitarian”).
How the U.S. Completely Destroyed Iraq
We did the exact opposite of “help” the Iraqi and Afghan people. This comes directly after we supported Saddam Hussein.
Reagan armed Saddam with chemical weapons. Hussein later used these weapons to wage genocide against the Kurds.
The US sold Saddam weapons and gave him billions of dollars.
As I wrote in a previous entry,
This comes as a surprise, given the U.S.’ wholehearted support for Iraqi president and violent dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War.
Or given the U.S. government’s and U.S. corporations’ assistance in Hussein’s al-Anfal Campaign, a genocide against the Kurdish people, in which 182,000 civilians were slaughtered—including ca. 5000 on “Black Friday,” the infamous Halabja poison gas massacre—many of whom with U.S.-provided weapons.
Or given President Reagan’s unflinching demand, even after hearing of the Halabja Massacre, that the military aid, and corporate exports, continue, because they “were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose.”
Or given the investment of over 100 U.S.-based corporations in Iraqi warfare against innocent civilians, with at least $1.5 billion in military exports approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Or given the exorbitant Department of Agriculture loans on which Hussein later defaulted, leaving American taxpayers to cover the billions in internationally-illegal support.
As New York Senator Charles Schumer said in 1991,
Saddam Hussein was “created in the White House laboratory with a collection of government programs, banks & private companies.”
Yet wait, there’s more!
Next in this enthralling tale of absolute inhumanity, the U.S. completely destroyed Iraq from U.S.-led U.N. sanctions during the ’90s (emphasis mine):
After over three decades of service with the United Nations, working across the world on development and humanitarian assistance projects, in 1998 the UN Chief Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Denis Halliday turned in his resignation to the organisation. Upon spending years in Iraq and bearing witness to the results of the draconian sanctions regime which had turned a modern society into one of the most impoverished on the planet, Halliday wrote that he could no longer continue administering a programme which he said “satisfied the legal definition of genocide”.
Between 1989 and 1996 per capita income in the country dropped from $3,510 to below $450, a drop caused primarily by the rapid currency depreciation of the Iraq dinar due to [U.S.-led] financial sanctions against the country’s central bank. Prices of basic commodities soared, with staples such as wheat, sugar and rice increasing several hundred-fold in a matter of months. From having a relatively modern economy fuelled primarily by oil income, by the year 2000 over 60 per cent of Iraqis were reliant on food rations for their daily sustenance.
Over the course of 10 years of financial sanctions the Iraqi dinar suffered catastrophic collapse, falling from four dinars to one US dollar in 1991 to over 2,100 dinars to the dollar by 2001. As the Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS) said at the time:
“In the 1980s, the dinar was strong, families were okay. Now, people live on ten USD per month salaries. People are selling jewelry, carpets, air conditioners. The middle class is in poverty now; they have had to sell their houses, apartments, etc.
So, point established, the U.S. never planned on “helping” Iraq. Ever. The U.S. is exactly the country that destroyed it.
And then Madeline “Mad” Albright (Secretary of State under Clinton—go Democrats!) defended the murder of over 500,000 Iraqi children.
The crimes the US has committed against the Iraqi people are absolutely unforgivable. It is one of the worst scars on all of human history. It is essentially at the level of a holocaust.
The case in Afghanistan, is a whole new story, but it is closely related, and shares the common themes (i.e., the U.S. destroying it for personal, capitalist, imperialist, gain).
That the proto-fascist new atheists support the U.S.’ imperialist occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan (again, calling it a “war” is problematic; this is not a war, this is an imperialist occupation) is, by itself, enough justification to write them off as sociopathic scum, mass-murder apologists.
Yet the reasons continue. As we go further down the rabbit hole, the hideous, fetid heart hidden behind their already horrific visage becomes clearer and clearer.
Influence on a New Generation of Secularists
Moving on, a liberal friend in the aforementioned discussion wrote
I think you read too much into Hitchens/Harris as political figures and not as primarily philosophers and thinkers. Have you read or seen much of either of them? Like in it’s entirety? Certainly the US has done horrible things, and will continue to. I don’t think anyone (including Harris) would argue that.
More typical vapid liberal ideology: The “New Atheists” aren’t political figures; they’re philosophical figures. There’s a difference, it is claimed. So apparently people who are not political scientists or politicians do not have any influence on politics?
You cannot separate discussions of “philosophy” from discussions of politics.
And, regardless, their political statements are vital because they influence what many atheists end up thinking here. People tend to coalesce into particular ideologies, whether or not they are “free-thinkers.”
When I was an impressionable high schooler, I fervently believed the racist, orientalist drivel these benevolent new atheists are spewing. I really did think religion was the “root of all evil.”
Then I opened a history textbook.
The point is what these public figures say has a huge impact on what secularists around the country believe.
In response to my “root of all evil” comment, someone wrote
I dont think the “new athesists” suggest religion is the root of all “evil.” I think they suggest it is one of many extremely harmful things humans have a habit for. (others including imperialism/slavery/xenophobia/racism/violence/ and more)
In that statement, I was playing off of the Dawkins-centered documentary The Root of All Evil?, a piece of trash film that I actually liked in high school—before my abilities of, you know, actual critical thinking had emerged.
To be intellectually honest, Dawkins “has said that the title ‘The Root of All Evil?’ [with the question mark] was not his preferred choice, but that Channel 4 had insisted on it to create controversy.” Still though, he obviously was not opposed to it enough to rebuke the title, which any rational person would have done. (This is a film he stars in, after all. It literally centers around him. If he was viscerally opposed to the title, he could have easily changed it.)
Also, here, in this statement, we see a tendency among the uncritical “left” in the U.S.: misanthropy. Oh, human beings are horrible creatures; look at the past monstrosities they have committed!
Human beings do not “have a habit for” this oppression, it is currently instilled. Humans are not born racists and xenophobes; these are irrational prejudices inculcated within individuals from the racist, xenophobic culture in which they were raised.
Violence is a learned behavior. And it goes without saying that people are not born slaves or imperialists.
The uncritical “left” in the U.S., however, does not like having to think about cultural influence, because that’s complicated and messy. Instead, just blame human beings. “Humans suck, right?!”
I digress. Once again, not only can you not separate discussions of “philosophy” from discussions of politics, you cannot separate discussions of religious extremism from discussions of imperialism.
Imperial occupation, and the destructive economic conditions and indiscriminate destruction of innocent human lives it brings with it, creates religious extremism.
As I explain in a previous post on racist, ignorant Islamophobia, Hedges, in his excellent book American Fascists discusses how, because of the Great Depression, Christian extremism had an enormous surge in the US in the early 20th century.
We combat religious extremism by combating poverty. Not by proclaiming that the backward “terrorists” must be exterminated by the world’s leading terrorist state.
The new atheist apologist mentioned above did concede
I dont think anyone would argue with that premise.
vis-à-vis the above link between poverty and religious extremism.
Here an important point emerges: Democrats, even Republicans et al., at least recognize particular root causes of terrorism. Yet they choose not to act on them. Yes, poverty might foment religious extremism, they concede, but they would rather just forget about that point and instead focus on the “Islamic World’s” supposed cultural “backwardness.” They do not care that it is poverty and oppression that indisputably cause terrorism throughout the world, and that they, as Americans, are implicit in their country’s past and continued impoverishment and oppression of Muslims (and others) throughout the planet; they just want fodder to justify their anti-Islamic (ultimately anti-Arab) prejudices.
Anti-Arab Racism Disguised as Critique of Islam
An individual wrote
But couldn’t disagree with you more about Hitchens and Harris. I’ve seen very little about them and “brown-skinned” religions, indeed much more about Christianity than anything.
(A quick aside here: We should realize that Christianity and “brown-skinned” religions are not separate. Jesus himself was a person of color, as is the vast majority of the world, and even very large amounts of Christians.)
The point is the new atheists are anti-Arab. When they say “Islam,” they mean “Arab culture.” They discuss “terrorism” as if it’s derived from religion, which is false.
Osama Bin Laden did not attack us because of religion. He attacked us because of imperialism.
Yet the new atheists do not care about that silly fact nonsense. They just want more support for their campaign to destroy “backward” Arab culture.
The are anti-arab extremism. As they are christian fundamentalism.
an apologist wrote.
Of course they are. But they are also anti-Arab.
And it is not just them. The entire discussion of Islam in this country is racist. That was my original point. It conflates Muslims with Arabs.
In a country where it is widely accepted that blatant racism is wrong, the media, these public intellectuals, etc., disguise racist rhetoric (often unknowingly—this is an important point; they are often not aware of this) as critiques of religion. If they are critiquing a religion, poof, presto-chango: it’s no longer racist!
In response to this point, someone wrote
I don’t hear “the media” critique Islam pretty much ever. I do hear talk of extremists across the globe.
This is part of the problem. The mainstream media conflates Islam with radicalism. Not only are the beliefs, lives, and cultural practices of the vast, vast preponderance of Muslims glossed over, their existence is never even recognized.
In the meantime, insidious garbage like this is regularly published in the so-called “news.”
This piece is from March 2013, not 1943.
And there are stories like this published every week. And not just by Fox.
Religion Can and Does Do Good, Even if It Is False
Fortunately, the aformentioned Democrat agreed with me.
That is a pukeworthy article..Ultimately religion is complicated and scary and doesn’t do anything to further the common good of men.
And, although I agree that it is complicated, I do not agree with this person’s latter statement. (Remember, this, my sentiment, is coming from an explicit atheist.)
When someone’s boot is on your neck, religion is sometimes helpful to encourage hope (and solidarity) in times of darkness, so you can finally get that boot off your neck.
Even if religion is based on falsities (which I believe every religion is), it can, and often does, genuinely help people. Period. This is a factual observation that history has demonstrated many times.
Usually, when we have atheists argue this, they are virtually always from privileged backgrounds: upper-class white males who argue that, because religion is false, it is bad, always and everywhere.
This is just privileged nonsense. The scientific veracity of something matters little if it actually helps people. (And, in fact, as much psychological research demonstrates, being involved in a religious community is healthy (although I’d personally be interested in seeing whether the positive health indicators were to stay the same were some other kind of close-knit community substituted for the religious community; I suspect it might).)
The point is religion can and does help people.
A melodious reprise: Period.
Not accepting this because religion is false is just as dogmatic as those who do what their priest or other religious authority figure tells them to do.
Islam Is Nowhere Close to the ‘Most Dangerous Religion’
Now, here comes my favorite part.
Someone wrote, in our discussion,
He [Harris] does think Islam is inherently the most dangerous mainstream religion on the planet. I think there is validity to that if you look at what has happened in the past 20 years.
Not at all.
If one looks “at what has happened in the past 20 years”—as in, if one looks at actual history—one will see that Christianity has, without a doubt, end of story, been “the most dangerous mainstream religion on the planet.” This is the religion of the (mainly US, but also European) imperialists who have slaughtered millions of innocent people. Millions upon millions.
Bush even said “God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq.”
The president also conveniently forgot to mention that his country was directly responsible for that tyranny in Iraq in the first place.
But, of course, you are not allowed to talk about that in the US—cuz islum iz evilz!
Now, it is true that these imperialists didn’t kill these myriad innocent people solely in the name of Christianity, but rather primarily because of another kind of religion: capitalism.
This established, virtually zero Islamic “terrorists” kill because of religion either. Like these State terrorists, Islamic terrorists are most often attacking in a reaction to, as a product of, imperial occupation, because of the US and its slaughter of millions and millions of innocent people.
All of the reasons bin Laden gave for attacking the U.S. were because of imperialism and the imperialist slaughter of innocent Muslims. Religion may appear to be the issue, at the surface level, but it is the product of material, political conflicts.
The point is that religion is incidental to both acts of terrorism.
The U.S.’ Long History of Supporting Islamic Extremism
By the way, in order to better frame all of this—and in order to better understand the grave problems with the new atheists’ conception of the world—we should remember that the US was—and is still, whether advertently or not—the world’s biggest supporter of Islamic extremism.
Do not forget, the Afghan Mujahideen were Reagan’s best pal!
And don’t forget, in the words of Chomsky: “The most fundamentalist Islamic state in the world is our biggest ally: Saudi Arabia.”
The “New Atheists” hardly mention this, of course. They are too busy with hard science to, you know, pretend to care about history.
The Futility of Quotes from Holy Books
The discussion continued. Someone posted a link to the website www.thereligionofpeace.com. I do not recommend reading the anti-Islam propaganda included within—you already know what it is going to tell you.
A friend (fellow atheist, but with a raised revolutionary consciousness) joined the discussion and offered a fantastic comment.
The scripture and historical practice of Islam has nothing that is any more oppressive or backwards than in any major monotheistic religion. Sharia was not a code to be strictly enforced, it was the compilation of legal commentaries which young judges in training were supposed to familiarize themselves with, but which they never had to refer to when reaching judgments in court. In fact, Islam is the only religion I know of that expressly demands tolerance for people of different faiths.
The strawmanning continued. An individual wrote
I’m sorry you have a friend who is Muslim and so that makes all religions equally neutral or beyond criticism I have friends who are Christian, Atheist, Muslim, Etc. etc…
Land aho. There be strawmen?
And finally, here it comes, wait for it—quotes from holy books.
I do not talk about holy book quotes. It is an absolutely ridiculous approach—futile, a dead end.
Anyone with an even rudimentary knowledge of history (although, again, this is the department most hard-for-hard-science “New Atheists” are greatly deficient in) knows that, for the entire history of human religion, holy books are only used to support existing ideologies and cultural practices.
I refuse to ever talk about religion in the abstract. Religion does not exist outside of the material—economic, political, social, cultural—context in which it is situated.
I could quote Bourdieu or some academic trope here, but, really, it is self-evident and unnecessary, after even the most cursory of looks at history.
The thing is, the crux of the matter is, when that material context consists of white capitalists bombing your children so they can control your country (and thus region) politically and economically and steal its natural resources, what you get is people willing to sacrifice their life fighting back.
This is often—not always, but often—what is referred to as “terrorism.”
The Root Causes of Terrorism Are Political
The discussion faltered. Said Democrat said
I feel we aren’t getting anywhere since you keep bringing up U.S imperialism and evils which I do not disagree with yet you act as if I do.
Such a point may not be clear to liberals, who conceive of the world in terms of intentions and ideas—the immaterial—but I wish to make it loud and clear:
We cannot talk about religion in the absence of political reality. Islamic extremism is not just about Islam. It is a particular kind of reaction to the political reality of the world’s hegemon destroying (bombing) your friends, family, children, country, culture, and life.
In the end, in conclusion, we must always keep in mind, once again:
We cannot separate acts of religious terrorism from the acts of capitalist, imperialist, and/or State terrorism that inspired them.
As for the wreched new atheist handmaidens of empire, we must too always keep in mind that, as Chomsky notes, Hitchens and Harris are indeed religious fundamentalists. They worship the State.
And this (along with mindless adoration for the so-called “Free” Market and the miraculous “Invisible Hand”—both just as imaginary as God and the tooth fairy) is the worst, most violent religion in all of human history.