How to Make Atheism Less Awful in 2014
Atheism never meant much to me growing up. The first time I ever used the word was while filling out some school form, wondering whether I should put “Church of England” when I didn’t actually believe in God. My mom, without trying to push me in any particular direction, explained that “atheist” was the option that meant not believing in a god, and so at the flick of a biro I became one of those, and didn’t think much more of it for at least another decade or so.
Then 9/11 happened, at the start of my second year in college. The horror triggered a wave of condemnation of religion, leading to the rise of “New Atheism.” As much publishing phenomenon as political movement, the next few years would see high-profile bestsellers by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett among others (though it was these four men who became popularly known as the Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse). With the long-term demographic shift away from religion, and public revulsion over the sort of faith-based extremism that led to terrorism, it felt like we’d reached a turning point in the never-ending battle for sanity.
Inevitably, though, things began to fray at the seams. Harris blundered into controversy over his apparent support for racial profiling; Hitchens passed away; and Dawkins joined Twitter, beginning an infuriating, endless cycle of controversy and bewilderment. Hordes of New Atheist fans began popping up on the internet and it turned out that a lot of them were angry pricks. Different fronts and factions emerged, each with their own ideas about what capital-A Atheism should mean and stand for. New Atheism has matured, and for some that means learning to hate each other in imaginative new ways.
At the start of 2014 there are four broad—and overlapping—schisms in atheism, which can be summed up as: Dicks vs. Cowards, Islamophobes vs. More Cowards, Misogynists vs. Feminists, and Americans vs. Europeans. We could also count Richard Dawkins’ Twitter Account vs. the Collective Sanity of the Internet, but that sort of falls under “all of the above.”
Islamophobes, Go to Sleep
When I agreed to write a column for VICE, I was granted this space, and I am responsible for what happens in this space. Today, I’m going to use this space to rub your racist and bigoted shit in your own faces.
By many scorecards, I’m not a legitimate Muslim. I have repeatedly violated the boundaries of appropriate behavior and belief. What’s worse, I have published accounts of these transgressions, and therefore risk misleading my sisters and brothers. I proudly associate with communities that are condemned as “heretical.” I write about contextualizing drugs within my practice of Islam. I attempted a William S. Burroughs-inspired cut-up project using the Qur’an. I’ve been called the godfather of Muslim punk rock, whatever that means. And ten years ago, I wrote about stink-palming Cat Stevens. I’m not trying to play the good Muslim/bad Muslim game here, but some of you might appreciate a pro-queer, pro-drug, stink-palming Muslim heretic. If you’re one of those people who squint when you look, and you have this uninformed view of “Islam” as universally, fundamentally rigid and oppressive, there’s a chance that I can challenge the uncompromising monolith that you imagine Islam to be. At the very least, I complicate the picture and make it harder for you to say that all Muslims think and act alike, right?
But it doesn’t really matter. Some of you see that my middle name’s Muhammad and automatically decide that I’m out to circumcise your daughters. The comments on my VICE columns have illustrated the same reality that I experienced while being detained and molested at the US/Canada border because of Shi’a literature in my trunk: Muslims are Muslims. Regardless of my own positions, every column draws comments like, “At least we don’t cut people’s heads off in a cave.” I’ve learned not to read the comments, because this is what you come up with:
“Islam is the armpit of the world. They treat women like dogs and cattle. They believe in honor killings of their own family and hate their enemies more than they love their kin – Fuck Islam and the camel it rode in on.”
“The notion that such an apocryphal and hateful cult such as Islam could solve anything much less racism is ludicrous.”
“Islam is a very destructive and backwards ideology. Just read their scriptures.”
“This book [the Qur’an] is dangerous to our survival and to human cooperation in general. This is why there are Muslim martyrs. This is why martyrs are ‘true Muslims.’ To say they are not is foolish.”
“How old was that kid that Muhammad slept with again?”
“Islam doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for a long time.”
“What kind of insane person (I’m guessing from America) converts to Islam?”
“Islam is not compatible with freedom…it is not a religion but is a political agenda with religious undertones.”
“What do you call an abortion clinic in Mecca? Crime fighters.”