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Jerry Coyne criticizes The Guardian

Jerry Coyne criticizes The Guardian for its “faitheism and mush-headed religious apologetics” and finds a piece by Nancy Graham Holm titled “Prejudiced Danes provoke fanaticism” to be particularly despicable.

In the article, Holm refers to the now infamous Danish cartoons, one of which portrayed Muhammad wearing a bomb as a turban (Holm incorrectly states it was a turban with a stick of dynamite). Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist, created a political cartoon that was a satirical criticism of Muslim extremists and the violence they lavish on society… violence seemingly swathed in a robe of self-righteous indignation. The extremists’ indignation comes from any disagreement about their unjustified assertion that Islam should be held in gloriously high esteem and revered by all… hence their outrage over Westergaard’s cartoon.

Holm says of the cartoon, the paper who published it, and the Danes in general…

Why did the editors of Jyllands-Posten want to mock Islam in this way? Some of us believed it was in bad taste and also cruel. Intentional humiliation is an aggressive act.


Danes fail to perceive the fact that they have developed a society deeply suspicious of religion. This is the real issue between Denmark and Muslim extremists, not freedom of speech. The free society precept is merely an attempt to give the perpetrators the moral high ground when actually it is a smokescreen for a deeply rooted prejudice, not against Muslims, but against religion per se. Muslims are in love with their faith. And many Danes are suspicious of anyone who loves religion.

As Coyne says, “Rightly so!”

Holm seems to be blaming the cartoonists and the Danish newspaper for the violent reaction of Muslim extremists. While the cartoons, perhaps, spurred on the actions of the extremists, I don’t think the blame can be placed, even in small part, on the cartoonists. That is akin to blaming the rape victim for looking sexy.

Coyne says…

What the cartoons expressed was not “intentional humiliation,” but criticism of a sexist, oppressive, and lethal form of Islam.  And by blaming Islamic reaction on the Danes themselves, Holm allies herself with those religious loons who find “offense” everywhere, and with the benighted Irish who passed the blasphemy law.

Finding offense seems to be a religious pastime in which not only Muslims participate. From the manufactured “War on Christmas” controversy to Christian outrage over atheist bus ads and billboards, religious fundamentalists seem to be on the lookout for anything onto which they can hitch their pious indignation. Any criticism of cherished beliefs is treated as a grave personal insult.

I commented on Coyne’s post, saying that all religion is (and should be) fair game for criticism and analysis… just as politics, art, literature, and science are. If the adherents to a particular religion don’t like it and become violent, the fault is not of the critic or analyst… much as the rape victim is not at fault for being attacked.

Holm doesn’t seem to get that.

Traditional Islamic Values

An Iraqi immigrant, 48-year-old Faleh Almaleki,  has been arrested for punishing his daughter for becoming “too Westernized” according to this MSNBC article.

Okay, maybe “punishing” wasn’t the most accurate word for me to use. Here’s what the article says.

An Iraqi immigrant has been arrested in Georgia for allegedly running down his daughter because she was becoming “too Westernized,” police in a Phoenix suburb say.

“Running down?” Like… with a car? Yep.

The father was upset that his daughter had become too “Westernized” and he aimed his car at her Oct. 20 in a Peoria parking lot.

His twenty year old daughter, Noor Faleh Almaleki, is hospitalized in serious condition. Her father had reportedly threatened her because of her lifestyle, saying she was not living up to “traditional Islamic values.” Another woman, purportedly her roommate, suffered “non life-threatening injuries.”

I haven’t read the Qur’an yet, but I’m starting to wonder if “traditional Islamic values” include running down your daughter (and her roommate) in a automobile? This is barely a step away from “honor killing,” a horrid practice not uncommon in some Islamic societies and almost always perpetrated against women.

I don’t know what kind of punishment, if he’s convicted, would be appropriate for Mr. Almaleki. I suspect he feels that he was being true to Islamic teachings as he smashed his car into his increasingly “Westernized” daughter, and that alone should put him in the category of “dangerous psychopaths,” in my opinion, and he should be treated accordingly. Any parent, regardless of religious affiliation, should be considered despicable for brutally beating a child, regardless of the reason… including (perhaps especially?) in the name of their religious beliefs.

Religiously-inspired violence is particularly heinous because it has all the indications of pre-meditation. It’s not violence in a blind fit of rage, but violence that has been considered, calculated, and deemed righteous in the eyes of the perpetrator… because of his interpretation of his chosen religious dogma.

In Almaleki’s case, he seemed to have felt that his daughter’s acts were an insult to Allah or Muhammad (or whatever “traditional Islamic values” are) to such a degree that she should be intentionally struck by a speeding vehicle and hospitalized (or killed… don’t know what his intended conclusion was). If his parenting skills are based in “traditional Islamic values,” then I think we need far, far fewer of those kinds of values.

I’m guessing his daughter might feel the same way.

Mogahed says Sharia Law is misunderstood

Dalia Mogahed, President Obama’s adviser on Muslim affairs, seems to think that the West misunderstands Sharia law… and the reason that so many women do support Sharia is because…

The majority of women around the world associate gender justice, or justice for women, with sharia compliance.

The portrayal of Sharia has been oversimplified in many cases.

Okay… I know this woman’s job is to be a sort of arbiter between the Muslim world and the United States, so she can’t just come out and say (to their faces) that Sharia law is a horribly primitive, misogynous, brutal, absurd, and unethical legal framework. But to simply say that its been oversimplified and misunderstood and imply that it has anything even remotely like “justice for women” is patently absurd.

I do understand that perhaps there’s an underlying strategy here. Making peace with Muslims isn’t going to come from telling them that their rules for living are barbarous. Some “calming down” will, perhaps, be helpful in beginning the process of enlightenment. In addition, the London show was hosted by a group called Ibtihal Bsis, a member of the extremist Hizb ut Tahrir party, according to this article from the Telegraph. According to the article…

The group believes in the non-violent destruction of Western democracy and the creation of an Islamic state under Sharia Law across the world.

That’s a tough position for Mogahed. She was placed in the middle of the group which promotes horrid, horrid things, yet she’s supposed to be leading the charge for harmony between religions.

Again from the article…

During the 45-minute discussion, on the Islam Channel programme Muslimah Dilemma earlier this week, the two members of the group made repeated attacks on secular “man-made law” and the West’s “lethal cocktail of liberty and capitalism”.

They called for Sharia Law to be “the source of legislation” and said that women should not be “permitted to hold a position of leadership in government”.

This is not an acceptable position in a civilized world. Whether it’s a common view among moderate Muslims, I can’t say, but the fact that it’s proposed by any faction of Muslims is abhorrent.

Miss Mogahed made no challenge to these demands and said that “promiscuity” and the “breakdown of traditional values” were what Muslims admired least about the West.

Though I can somewhat sympathize with Mogahed not taking them to task for their primitive views, I don’t sympathize with the ignorance of using the phrase “breakdown of traditional values” in reference to shortcomings of the United States. It’s notoriously vague and can bet twisted to mean just about anything, but frequently is seized upon by the somewhat similarly archaic religious right to mean same-sex marriage and abortion. Perhaps Mogahed wanted to be vague, however, in order to leave herself some wiggle room in future discussions. I’m giving her a huge benefit of the doubt by saying that.

Christians really have no room to complain in this scenario, in my opinion, without giving equal time to criticizing their own religion. Both Christianity and Islam promote some savage, inhuman ideas and actions. I would agree that Islam generally takes a harder line against women and is less tolerant of opposing views, but that’s not any kind of exoneration of Christianity. It’s not okay to do bad things just because someone else does worse things. The recent defense of Catholic sexual scandals by the Vatican saying that Protestents do it, too, is a perfect example.

Islam needs to be illuminated by the bright light of skepticism and reason… and a secular sense of ethics and morality. The positions it takes on women alone are enough to condemn it to the ideological junk heap, but of course that won’t happen because it’s “protected” under the grand umbrella of “religious tolerance” that protects so many abhorrent religious ideas. I fully support religious freedom, but there’s a line that needs to be drawn when it comes to the poor treatment of fellow human beings and the promotion of superstitious nonsense.

Islam crosses that line by leaps and bounds.

Religion as a Weapon

The Holy Qur'an There have been a rash of deaths recently in Pakistan due to accusations that the victims desecrated the Qur’an. You can read about some of them here and here.

The population in general, and Christians in particular, is dealing with cases of intimidation because of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The laws, one of which carries the death penalty for "defiling the Koran and images of the Prophet Muhammad" are suspected of being used "to settle personal scores."

The second article (the BBC one) says that the blasphemy laws were introduced in the mid 1980’s and "hundreds of people have been lynched" because of them. Blasphemy laws are absurd to begin with (do you hear that, Ireland?) and in this case, seem to fuel the fire of religiously-inspired righteous indignation. They practically invite abuse.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says there is recurring evidence that people have sought to settle personal scores with victims by inflaming religious feelings.

From the first article:

Hundreds of armed supporters of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed Islamic militant group, set alight dozens of Christian homes in Gojra town at the weekend after allegations that a copy of the Koran had been defiled.


Tension started mounting last week after Muslims accused three Christian youths of burning a copy of the Koran. They denied the allegations, but clerics called for their death. On Saturday hundreds of supporters of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed Sunni sectarian group, poured into the town from surrounding districts.

A mere accusation of destroying a book, made without proof, was sufficient to rouse a mob of hundreds of Muslim people angry enough to burn down houses and fire their weapons indiscriminately. In another case, a woman was almost attacked because a shopkeeper accused her of throwing the Qur’an. In yet another, a factory owner and a co-worker were killed because he removed an old calendar from the wall that had verses from the Qur’an (though was accused of desecrating the Qur’an).

Whatever the motives behind these actions (in the case of the factory owner, it’s suspected it was spurred on by wage disputes), the fact remains that unsupported accusations of Qur’an desecration are all that’s needed to whip people into a blind rage of pious, violent, fury. Because someone possibly "disrespected" a book… a mere copy of a book… Muslim religious fundamentalists will kill… and feel vindicated. That’s horrific, repugnant, and morally reprehensible.

Christians vary in degree only. Witness the recent outrage over the destruction of bibles in Afghanistan by the United States military this past May. There was no rioting in the streets… no throwing of molotov cocktails… no firing of guns… no violence. But the religious indignation was there. The sense of pious outrage, the outcry of revulsion at the act, the self-righteous bible thumping, the gathering of like-minded protestors, the wailing about persecution… it was all there. It simply didn’t progress to the same level of violent action as the Muslim outrage did.

And that feature of religion, that ability to easily create a wild frenzy of devout, sanctimonious outrage, is one of its more dangerous aspects. It’s a feature that is easily abused, as shown by the recent activities in Muslim Pakistan. In the United States, it’s abused for political and monetary gain, among other things. It’s used by religious leaders all around the world… that exploitation of blind faith.

It’s the foundation of religion.

Unlocking the Mysteries of Islam

Qur'anA few weekends ago, a friend of mine and I went to a free workshop titled “Unlocking the Mysteries of Islam.” We went not to criticize or confront anyone’s beliefs, but to find out more about Islam from actual Muslims who were willing to put together a workshop open to the public.

There were two presenters who each spoke about 15 minutes at the beginning, giving basic introductory information about Islam, after which they opened the floor to questions. My friend and I were sitting in the front row along with his mother and two other people who, based on their questions, were not Muslims, either. Most of the people sitting behind us seemed to be members of the Muslim community and, on occasion, helped to answer questions.

The whole experience was very educational, but just as importantly, very friendly and open. The two speakers were very personable and answered all our questions, letting us know up front that they didn’t have all the answers, but would tell us what they knew. Most of the questions came from the front row and it was almost as if we were simply having a conversation with the presenters, since they could see if we had puzzled expressions and would stop and let us ask for clarification on certain points.

Our questions ranged through topics such as interpretation of scripture, evolution, Heaven and Hell, sin, comparisons to Christianity, and redemption. We were never confrontational and we learned a lot about Islam that we hadn’t known before. We were there for two and a half hours and could have easily continued if we hadn’t had to leave the community center due to scheduling. My friend and I both agreed that it was a great educational experience.

There were a few points that really struck me as being notably different than Christianity (other than what might seem obvious to the casual observer).

The Nature of God or Allah

Muslims are very, very specific about the nature of Allah. By specific, I mean that they are very clear that the only things you can know about Allah are the things that are expressly spelled out in the Qur’an. They give no human attributes to Allah. If the Qur’an says that Allah has a face or that he created Adam with his hands, it means only that he has a face and hands… but not what they look like. They do not assume that the face of Allah looks like a human face nor that his hands look like human hands. One analogy given was a comparison between our hands and the hands of a clock. They’re both “hands” but don’t look anything alike.

There was no seventh day of rest in their creation story because the need for rest is a human attribute, one that Allah does not have, since it would imply that he was not perfect and all-powerful.

The Authority of the Qur’an

A question arose as to how they know that the Qur’an is the true word of Allah and, related to that, how the scripture was interpreted.

I don’t remember all the reasons, but one that struck me as interesting was that the Qur’an is in Arabic and has been in Arabic from the beginning. There are no multiple versions of it and the original Arabic text has been preserved since its beginning, so there’s no issue, as with the bible, of incorrect translations, lost chapters, or political interference. There are translations, but always from the original Arabic, which is the only true Qur’an.

One of the other reasons was the lyrical, poetic nature of the Qur’an in Arabic. Since Muhammad was an illiterate man, there’s no possible way he could have created it with such eloquence. Therefore, it must have been a divine revelation.

As for interpreting the Qur’an, they were very clear that it is never “interpreted.” It is taken completely literally (hence the “Nature of Allah” section above) and there is no need for any kind of interpretation. If the Qur’an says something, it’s true (literally). End of story.

Heaven and Hell

I believe they referred to Paradise and “The Fire” as what Christians would think of as Heaven and Hell. They were basically the same except for one point that I feel is a huge difference. When someone goes to “The Fire,” it’s not forever as it is with the Christian Hell. The Fire is a cleansing fire that will eventually cleanse someone of sin, after which he can go to Paradise. I found that to be infinitely more humane than Christian doctrine.

They also make no claims about whether someone goes to Paradise or the Fire when they die. In Islam, the final decision is up to Allah and Allah alone. There’s no “magic pill” for Muslims. They do what they can to follow the Qur’an and the laws laid down by Muhammad in hopes of reaching Paradise, but in the end, it’s Allah’s decision.

I found that a somewhat striking difference from Christianity (some versions) where “accepting Jesus” or “repenting your sins” or some other set of dutiful tasks is the sure way to Heaven. With Islam, there is no sure way, but there are things you must do to even qualify from the get-go.

Of course, a lot more information was covered than those three topics, but those three things stand out in my head as things that very clearly distinguish Islam from Christianity.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a lot of what we talked about that had my friend and I shaking our heads in disbelief (pun intended). The theory of evolution isn’t valid (contradicts the Qur’an). Muhammad was a prophet. Muhammad spoke to Allah. Allah exists. The usual stuff.

One item that caught the attention of both my friend and me was something one presenter said about trees in the winter. He seemed to think that trees die in winter and are resurrected in spring. He cited that as one of the bits of evidence for the existence and greatness of Allah. I thought he was speaking metaphorically at first, but had my doubts. A brief conversation at the end which leads me to believe he was being literal.

The presenter was speaking to my friend when I joined the conversation.

“What do you think happens when you die?” he asked.

My friend said, “That’s it. I’m done. I’ll rot in the ground.”

The presenter replied, “What about the trees?” He pointed outside. “A few months ago they were dead. Now they are full of life.”

“They weren’t dead. They were just in hibernation.”

“Well, people refer to them as dead.”

My friend replied, “I’ve never heard anyone say that before.”

The presenter looked at me and asked, “How about you?”

I just smiled and shook my head. My friend said, “He’s an atheist, too.”

The presenter smiled at me and, with a small chuckle, asked “Are you the devil?”

I laughed and said I was not. We then exchanged very pleasent goodbyes and went our separate ways.

So he sort of backpedaled with the “dead tree” idea, but not so much as to make me think that he was being metaphorical when he said the trees died in winter. Whether that was just his belief or a tenant of Islam, I do not know.

We all got free copies of the Qur’an and some other informative literature about Islam which I have yet to read. The Qur’an is on my reading list, though, so I hope to learn a bit more before the end of the summer.

I’ll try to finish it before the trees die again.

Improving the Muslim Image… One Beheading at a Time!

Mr. and Mrs. HassanI remember the good old days when insane, medieval Muslim violence was something that only happened, “over there.”  It doesn’t seem that long ago. Now radical Islam has quickly been making its barbaric global rounds.

A Muslim T.V. mogul named Muzzammil Hassan has allegedly beheaded his wife, Aasiya Hassan. You see, Aasiya Hassan had begun divorce proceedings and filed a protection from abuse order against Muzzammil Hassan due to previous instances of domestic violence.  Apparently, Muzzammil didn’t appreciate that  very much so he “allegedly” did what any self respecting husband would do given the circumstances and beheaded his soon-to-be-ex wife.

Ostensibly, this is the radical Islamic version of an “out of court” settlement.

I haven’t even mentioned the crazy part yet. Mr. and Mrs. Hassan were in the television business together. They started a television station in 2004 to change the way in which Muslims were being violently depicted in the media. What the @#$%! This story broke the same day as the plane crash in Buffalo, so it has received little, if any, attention (which should certainly help Muzzammil find an unbiased jury).

Good old fashioned sharia violence is here to stay folks. Our open society has welcomed these sharia-law-abiding #$@holes with open arms. In their sporadic reporting, these “honor killings” seem rare and insignificant. The United Nations estimates that over 5,000 of these killings are committed every year. That number is not huge, as a percentage of world population, but just one arbitrary and religiously endorsed brutal slaying is one too many in this day and age.

I would be willing to wager that without the threat of eternal damnation, few of these fathers and husbands would consider such horrifically atrocious acts. These honor killings are just another glorious example of what ignorant mammals are capable of when religion is used as a justification.

So the next time you are speaking with a Christian fundamentalist and they ask, “How  could you lead a moral life without religion?”  you tell them,  “I don’t get my morality from a guy who sent his only begotten son on a suicide mission.”

Freedom of Speech… for Everyone

Freedom of Speech SquelchedI just read this piece by Ebomuse over at Daylight Atheism and was moved. Free speech needs to apply equally to everyone, regardless of religious, political, or ideological persuasion, and it seems that Islam, even more than Christianity, tries to curtail that freedom of expression when it comes to their religious views.

Ebonmuse cites Johann Hari’s courage to speak out against tyrannical Islamists in multiple articles. When a respected Indian newspaper dared to agree with and support Hari’s articles, the editor and publisher were arrested.

Says Ebonmuse:

Once again, religious lunatics and terrorists have hijacked the marketplace of ideas and twisted the universal right of free speech into a right, possessed exclusively by themselves, to never be offended. They demand legal protection from ever having to see or hear anything they disagree with, and because they’re always willing to resort to violence if their demands aren’t met, even supposedly liberal, democratic governments give in to them with depressing frequency. The de facto result is the censorship and suppression of freethinkers. Meanwhile, we who are outraged by their vicious and savage creeds seemingly have no right to call upon the government to imprison them.

And in the concluding paragraph:

If free speech is circumscribed by the “right” of religious groups to be protected from offense, then it is an empty and meaningless freedom.

Here. Here. Check out the article at Daylight Atheism for links to Hari’s pieces and Ebonmuse’s complete commentary. It’ll be worth your visit.

Saudi Judge Sentences Rape Victim

The Saudi Gazette reported that a District Court in Jeddah sentenced a gang-rape victim to 100 lashes and a year in prison… for committing adultery, becoming pregnant, and attempting to get an abortion.

The District Court in Jeddah pronounced the verdict on Saturday after the girl confessed that she had a forced sexual intercourse with a man who had offered her a ride. The man, the girl confessed, took her to a rest house, east of Jeddah, where he and four of friends assaulted her all night long.

CONFESSED?! She CONFESSED that she had forced sexual intercourse? Just the phrasing insinuates that this woman is the guilty party in this case… that she is the one who should be looked upon with disgust and disdain.

This woman was evidently raped repeatedly by five men and she is the one who receives the punishment? What kind of sick, twisted legal system allows that kind of thing to happen? Is this the kind of law that is derived from Islam? I have yet to read the Koran, so I don’t know the exact teachings and shouldn’t make accusations, but this kind of thing seems to be happening in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations on a relatively regular basis. One can come to the reasonable conclusion that this atrocity is spawned by faith in Islam. I don’t see this happening in Switzerland or Italy or the United States.

This type of action is sick and disgusting and should generate a scorching outcry from the rest of the world.

Thanks to Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for the heads up.