The Atheist Movement Needs to Disown Richard Dawkins
Atheist author, biologist, pioneer of the term “meme,” and noted sexist curmudgeon Richard Dawkins let fly a firestorm of tweets about rape this past Friday. Those, along with his statements from the past couple of years about this and other issues, make for pretty strong evidence that Dawkins is no longer the figuredhead the atheist movement needs or deserves.
A woman was alleging that a man raped her when she was too drunk to give consent, and Dawkins’ immediate response was the mainstay of all conservatives: what if she’s lying? Plenty of Dawkins’ Twitter followers agreed with him. It’s her word against his, they cried. Rape accusations are serious business, they cried.
Yes, rape accusations are serious business. Actually, accusing anyone of a crime, especially a violent crime, is serious business. That’s why we have court systems in place that determine, to the best of their abilities, whether a given accusation is most likely true or false. We have this for virtually every crime. So why are Dawkins and his ilk so preoccupied about false accusations of rape in a world full of false accusations?
Above: A soldier poses with “Vengeance” written on his chest
In Israel, racism and extremism are exploding. It began shortly after the kidnapping of three Israeli boys—Naftali, Gilad and Eyal—in Gush Etzion, that led to the assault in Gaza which has seen over 1,000 killed. A Facebook page calling for the murder of Palestinians went viral. In one photo, a soldier posed broodingly with his gun, the word “vengeance” written on his chest. In another two teenage girls smiled happily with a banner that read: “Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values.”
A few days later, at the boys’ funeral in Modiin, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu fanned the flames. “May God avenge their blood,” he said to the gathered mourners. “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created,” he tweeted later.
Bibi got his wish. Over the weeks that followed, videos began to emerge almost daily of right-wing mobs roving across cities from Jerusalem to Beer Sheva, waving Israeli flags and screaming “Death to Arabs!”
Two girls with a sign that reads “Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values.” (Photo from The People of Israel Demand Vengeance/Facebook via)
Many ended in physical assaults. Last Thursday two Palestinian men were attacked on Jaffer Street in West Jerusalem as they delivered food to a grocery market. The following day two more Palestinians, Amir Shwiki and Samer Mahfouz, were beaten unconscious in the Eastern part of the city by a gang of 30 young Israelis wielding sticks and metal bars.
For a few years, a young radical group of Israeli settlers in the West Bank have committed random acts of violence and vandalization against Palestinians and their property to make them pay the price for affronting their way of life. They call themselves “Pricetaggers,” and they’ve largely avoided prosecution by Israeli authorities.
VICE News gets rare access to the young members of the Price Tag movement—at the homecoming of Moriah Goldberg, 20, who just finished a three-month sentence for throwing stones at Palestinians. She and her family remain proud of the act, even as the current conflict in Gaza was sparked after an all-too-familiar round of retributive violence.
Following Catholic uproar, a proposed Satanic mass at Harvard has been canceled. The mass was going to be put on by the Satanic Temple, the group who also has plans to plant a Baphomet figure on the front lawn of the Oklahoma Statehouse. Despite the fact that the Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club dropped its sponsorship, the group still managed to have an unsanctioned “black mass” at Harvard Square’s Hong Kong restaurant and lounge. What bothers me the most about the official quashing of the Satanic Temple’s mass by Harvard is that it is being hailed as a victory for religious tolerance—it’s not. Instead, it’s a case of a small group getting bullied into submission because it offended a big religion.
In December, the University of Michigan released the results of a survey that, among other things, asked Middle Easterners what style of dress was appropriate for women to wear in public. Participants were invited to choose between various styles of Muslim head coverings, like burqas, chadors, and niqabs. The results showed that people from conservative nations like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan generally favored the face-concealing niqab, while most Egyptians, Tunisians, Turks, and Iraqis preferred traditional hijabs, which cover the hair and leave the face exposed.
These results aren’t particularly surprising, and neither is the fact that Middle Eastern women and men largely shared the same preferences. Though some Westerners associate Muslim religious head coverings with the oppression of women, many Muslim women view the hijab—a blanket term used to denote any form of traditional head covering—as a source of empowerment. During the Arab Spring–inspired protests against Hosni Mubarak, some Egyptian women wore hijabs to protest a ban against headscarves on state television.
According to Shereen El Feki, a researcher and the author of Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, many young Muslim women cover themselves to gain more independence from their parents. “They feel that their parents think these girls are good Muslim girls, therefore they don’t exercise as much vigilance and the girls get more latitude in their lives,” she told me. “They may get to travel, they may get to move around, and they have more mobility.”
Another common misconception about head coverings is that it is always worn as a statement of extreme religious modesty. “The women wearing hijab who I spoke to for my book have just as much sexual desire,” said Shereen. “Women put on hijab for a variety of reasons, not just to desexualize themselves.”
Denmark’s Controversial Teenage Muslim Superstar Poet
Yahya Hassan is an 18-year-old Muslim Palestinian immigrant to Denmark who has become a social critic, celebrity writer, and general shit-stirrer—all thanks to a slim volume of poetry. Since the release of his self-titled debut collection in October, he’s been all over the Danish media, at least in part due to his subject matter. His poetry, written in all caps in Danish, is full of rage directed at his parents’ generation, a group of Muslims he accuses of hypocrisy and abandoning their children. He’s penned lines like:
YOU YOU’RE A MUSLIM? / YOU YOU DON’T KNOW/ IF YOU WANT HALAL OR HARAM / YOU YOU KNOW YOU WANT HARAM / BUT YOU YOU PRETEND YOU WANT HALAL / YOU YOU DON’T WANT PIG / MAY ALLAH REWARD YOU FOR YOUR FOOD HABITS.
Some of his poetry documents an abusive childhood; Yahya grew up in a poor neighborhood of Aarhus, and flirted with crime from an early age. He blames much of that on his mother and father. “As soon as our parents landed in Copenhagen airport it felt as if their role as parents was coming to an end,” Yahya told the Danish newspaper Politiken in the interview, published on October 5, that turned him into a teenage social commentator.
What Do Women Who Wear the Niqab Think of the Niqab Debate?
While Muslim women wearing niqabs in Britain might be a constant bugbear for EDL types, it’s generally not something the rest of the population are particularly concerned about. But once every couple of years, a “niqabi” demands the right to keep wearing the veil in a situation where other people think it shouldn’t be worn, so it becomes a Big Deal for a while and the media kick up a grand, preachy fuss until it all blows over.
The past week-and-a-bit has been one of those periods, thanks to two incidents. First, Birmingham Metropolitan College told a prospective student that it didn’t allow the wearing of niqabs on campus for security reasons, only to perform a hasty U-turn following a storm of national controversy. Then a judge at Blackfriars Crown Court ruled that Muslim women giving evidence must remove their veil. Before long, Nick Clegg was hinting at a ban on niqabs in the classroom and columnists were going into op-ed overdrive.
It’s a contentious debate, but whether it’s non-Muslims telling everyone that it’s fine to wear a niqab, Muslims telling everyone that it’s not fine to wear a niqab or non-Muslimscastigating their fellow non-Muslims for not castigating the niqab enough, it’s a debate that hasn’t had a lot of input from the women who actually wear the veil. With that in mind, we thought we’d talk to some of those women and find out their thoughts on the whole niqab debate.
Siama Ahmed, 35, a teacher and blogger from Oxfordshire.
VICE: What do make of the recent controversy surrounding the wearing of niqabs in Britain? Siama Ahmed: My personal opinion about the recent [Blackfriars] court case is that it shouldn’t have been an issue. In Islamic law, if a judge asks you to remove your veil, you should remove it. And the judge correctly asked her to remove it. I can only assume that she is ignorant of the fact that she should have taken it off.
Do you wear you niqab all the time? No. I have two small children and I don’t want them to feel the hostility of me wearing it from others. But if I’m in the Middle East I will wear it, or if I’m in a gathering where the majority of people present are Muslims – but only if people aren’t uncomfortable with me wearing it. So the main thing is I’m not making people feel uncomfortable. I think the bad of wearing it outweighs the good of wearing it [in everyday public life]. In the Middle East, it’s not normal for men and women to have eye contact. But in this culture, eye contact is important.
Why do you personally wear it? In an ideal world, if we didn’t have any Islamophobia, I would consider wearing it all the, time because it’s really special to me. Part of the problem is that this country is deprived of spirituality, so it’s hard to explain why wearing the niqab is important.
Na’ima Robert, 36, is a British convert to Islam, author and magazine editor.
How does the niqab affect your day-to-day life? Na’ima Robert: As an author and magazine publisher, I haven’t found that the niqab has held me back. As an individual, I am outgoing, adventurous and ambitious – the niqab hasn’t changed that.
So people not being able to see your face hasn’t changed anything? It changes the way some people respond to me, as they’re initially disconcerted by my face covering. But I just work extra hard on those ones and grin like mad so that they can see my eyes smiling. But it’s more one’s demeanour that puts people at ease, isn’t it? After all, there are people who are “normally” dressed whose body language or attitudes are intimidating. A person wearing a niqab doesn’t have the same advantage as someone whose face is visible, I admit that, but you could say that someone with tattoos or piercings or an unconventional haircut is similarly disadvantaged, couldn’t you?
I guess so. What do you think of the idea that it’s inappropriate to wear the niqab in some situations, like in court or if you’re teaching children? As a teacher and as a Muslim, I would like to know that I am not disadvantaging my students in any way. If my covering my face is clearly doing that, I will do one of two things: reconsider my decision to cover, or reconsider my position. That being said, I have conducted workshops in schools with my face covered, but I made sure to let my personality shine through so that I could engage the kids. And I would find a way to “flash” the girls, if possible. But seriously, the question is this: who gets to decide when wearing the niqab is appropriate or not?
What do you think of Muslim women who don’t wear it? I think they’re missing out! No, really, I don’t think anything of them—they are free to choose their path to God, you know? One thing I have learned over the years is to cultivate humility.
What do you think of those who are freaked out by not being able to see your face? As a writer, it’s my job to empathise, so of course I get it. Look at the image of masks in our culture: Darth Vader, ninjas, robbers, those with something to hide—it’s all overwhelmingly negative. Add that to the fact that images of veiled Muslim women have been used to illustrate the alleged oppression of women in the Muslim world from the time of the Orientalists to today’s front pages. It’s hard, I tell you, for a niqabi out there.
On a recent trip to London, my partner and I went to the Whitechapel district in East London to buy the component parts of the Muslim world’s most controversial hijab, the khaleeji. After settling on a shop next to the East London Mosque—a shop whose website proudly displays a model wearing her hijab in the bulbous Khaleeji style—we asked the sales girl for some general headscarf advice. She walked to the back of the store and opened a box full of flower-clips—puffy, flower-shaped pom-poms designed to add volume to the back of your hijab.
"And which of those clips would work best for the Khaleeji?" I asked.
"That’s un-Islamic," the girl said, shaking her head in disgust. "Haram. We do not wear it.”
They were, however, happy enough to sell what you need to wear it, hastily making out the bill for the two largest clips in the box. After we’d grabbed some thin black crepe for the headscarf, we were ready to go—but not before a pamphlet had been thrust into my partner’s hand. The gist: how to be a better Muslim.
Meaning “from the Gulf,” the khaleeji hijab isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Also known as the shambassa pouf, the camel hump, the big bun, the beehive hijab, and, in Arabic, “bu tafkha,” the style emerged from the shopping malls of Kuwait and is characterized by a rounded bulge emerging from the back of the head, which is supposed to give the impression of a cascading mane of hair that’s been neatly coiled up into a bun. Early adherents used milk cartons and yogurt cups to achieve the desired volume. Now, it’s all about “bumpit” gadgets and hair donuts.