Tag Archives: Islam

The Chapel Hill Murders: “New Atheism” or American Gun Culture?

craig hicks

The online Atheist community around the world were in a state of shock and disbelief this week at the news coverage of a treble homicide coming from Chapel Hill North Carolina. The 46 year old gunman was identified as Craig Stephen Hicks. The victims, who were all members of the Muslim community were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. The killer immediately turned himself into police custody and was subsequently charged with three counts of first degree murder.  All three victims had received fatal gunshot wounds to the head.

Initial police reports suggested that the incident was due to a long standing parking dispute that got progressively out of hand following a number of altercations between Hicks and his neighbours. However controversy arose when the father of the two slain girls, Dr Mohammed Abu-Salha, who runs a psychiatry practice in Clayton, told the police that he believed the killings amounted to a hate crime.  Public revulsion toward the murders was exacerbated due to the fact that Deah Shaddy Barakat was heavily involved in charity work with refugees. By all accounts he was a peace loving Muslim who had recently posted on twitter about his frustration at all violence in the name of religion.

The killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, was an outspoken Atheist who regularly posted on facebook about his dislike of religion. While his posts often referred to Islam, he nonetheless on numerous occasions stated that he believed that the Christian right-wing agenda was very similar to that of Islamism. While his posts were very direct, he argued for the separation of Church and State and was an outspoken supporter of gay rights and reproductive rights for women.  His online persona was in many ways no different to that of the countless other American Atheists who I myself have befriended on facebook. Occasionally there are some nasty comments about religious people but more often than not, the issues raised by American Atheists are commendable. As a group they are largely universally supportive of the separation of Church and State and the protection of the US first amendment that guarantees religious freedom and equality for all.  The 1st amendment prevents the State from promoting any one religion. This amendment has been used by organisations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation to successfully litigate against religious institutions and theocrats that use the State as a vehicle for the promotion of religion. While unapologetically enforcing Church/State separation through legal means, American Atheists have often stood up for religious minorities who they perceived were discriminated against.

American Atheists have been at the forefront in the promotion of marriage equality. Throughout the last few years American Atheists have become active in LGBT rights and have punched well above their weight in tackling problems associated with homophobia. They have challenged damaging attitudes about rape and sexual violence towards women that seem all too common among the Christian right dominated Republican party. They are pro-science and technology. This group includes such progressive academics as cosmologist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss and comedian and educator Bill Nye and anthropologist Eugenie Scott.  These people and many more Atheist scientists have been the public face in the American war against religiously inspired scientific illiteracy. The latter was a former director of the organisation the National Center for Science Education. This has been the main organisation in the US that has prevented the teaching of so called creationism alongside evolution in American high school biology class through successive ongoing court battles against a heavily funded opponent. Neil Degrasse Tyson has continually expressed concerns about scientific literacy in American schools. American Atheists have been persistent campaigners against the widening social divide within American society as a result of a creed that is all too commonly advanced by US conservatives under the misnomer of wealth redistribution concerns aka socialism. American Atheists have long campaigned against the inherent racial injustice within the American prison system which sees much higher conviction rates and longer sentences for Afro-Americans who are tried for the same crimes as white people. American Atheists are more likely to be better educated, have less teen pregnancies, less likely to serve time in prison and up to five times more likely to be members of the prestigious National Academy of Science than religious believers.  Yet this group of people is seen as the most mistrusted group within American society as illustrated in the article from Scientific American below.


American gun culture is yet again behind more senseless killings.

craig hicks gun

If Craig Stephen Hicks’ facebook posts were so progressive then what could motivate him to commit such a horrific crime? Could his Atheism have been a factor in becoming so enwrapped in religious and cultural bigotry as to have driven him to commit such an unthinkable hate crime? It is certainly a possibility that Hicks completely misinterpreted legitimate arguments from public Atheist figures such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris on the subject of Islam. However if this is the case it is a product of a moral failing on the part of the killer and not on either two celebrity Atheists.  The societal problems posed by religion should rightfully be scrutinised and it is right to acknowledge that in the 21st century Islam appears to be causing the most problems globally. It has long been acknowledged by both Dawkins and Harris that this was not always the case and that Islam was a beacon of light during the Christian dark ages. Dawkins or Harris never argued for discrimination against Muslims let alone advocating violence toward them. It was reasonable to believe that both authors would react with disgust and outrage that their writings should be used in any way to advocate violence. Their reactions to this effect were entirely predictable to all sane right minded people. There is nothing in Richard Dawkins best seller “The God Delusion” or Sam Harris “End of Faith” that could be used as a justification for violence against religious people. This is in stark contrast to the content of the Torah, Bible and Koran whose pages implore violence and hatred as well as god’s wrath not only upon Atheists but those who worship a different god.

There is one glaringly disturbing feature of Hicks philosophy that sets him apart from the vast majority of American Atheists; it was his obsession with guns as illustrated by the picture above that was taken from his facebook page. While most American Atheists are champions of the 1st amendment of the US constitution, Hicks had an unhealthy obsession with the 2nd amendment which grants American citizens the right to bear arms. Neighbours described Hicks as a man who was likely to “fly off the handle” at any given moment.  His former wife described how he continually watched the 1993 movie “Falling down”, a violent movie starring Michael Douglas. Both tragically and ironically in one of his facebook posts he argued that guns don’t do harm people do. Whether it was anti-Muslim bigotry or pent up aggression over what should have been a trivial car parking dispute that was responsible for his fatal outburst may never be known. What is without doubt is that Hicks was a psychologically imbalanced man with a heavy chip on his shoulder. He had threatened violence on his neighbours before and the residents of the gated community in which he lived in reported being scared of him. Today the investigating police stated they had no evidence to suggest that the crime was other than a parking dispute. However if his Atheism were to have played a part, the resulting deaths could more appropriately be blamed on a shamelessly unregulated gun culture and lack of police oversight. Atheist activists are no different to other activists in many other humanitarian roles. We often feel pent up anger when dealing with some intellectually hopeless situations in which we feel we have no power to change. However for the most part we manage that frustration and put it to good use. However what are normal emotions in a healthy individual may potentially have a fatal and tragic outcome when psychologically troubled individuals have access to lethal weapons or if they harbour prejudices not based on the very evidence that Atheists seek to promote respect for. Most American Atheists take the opposite position to Hicks in the gun control debate arguing for tighter regulation on gun sales thus yet again showing their moral and intellectual superiority over pro-gun lobbyists that more often have a conservative and religious leaning.

Atheists need to continue their work despite the inevitable consequences arising from this tragedy


Sam Harris once said that he could see no society that experienced harm from having a healthy regard for empirical evidence. The corollary of this is that societies that are based on non-evidence based propaganda or on superstition (be it religious or secular) always end up paying a heavy price. Some have argued that the so called “New Atheists” focus too much on Islam. Again this is turning a blind eye to the fact that if Atheists don’t have what amounts to a healthy conversation about Islamism, that conversation will be had by the far right and other racist groups. Atheist intellectuals, unlike the far right, are able to distinguish between Islamism as a political idea and the right of law abiding Muslims who respect western norms to be afforded equality under the law. Religious ideas of all persuasions that are not based on evidence need to be challenged and when they are forced upon non-believers by political theocrats then good people who value evidence need to stand up and be counted. While undoubtedly some will use a tragedy like this as a reason to mistrust Atheists all the more; I firmly believe that with the passage of time, history will judge the Atheist movement as a collective force for good.

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 deah barakat

The Death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia & the Crocodile Tears Of Western Leaders.

king abdullah

I attended a demonstration outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Dublin earlier this week to protest against the barbaric flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. His alleged crime was having “insulted Islam” for writing a blog campaigning for liberal reform within the kingdom and for arguing for the separation of Church and State.  He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes, to be administered over 20 weeks. The brutality was such that after the first public beating, medical doctors advised that the next instalment of 50 lashes could not take place when they were due, as the wounds from the first round of savage beatings had not yet healed. I carried a placard with the message “King Abdullah freedom will outlive Saudi Arabian oil – The Stone Age awaits you”. In an ironic twist of fate, the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was announced on Saudi State television on the following morning of Friday January 23rd 2015.

abdullah funeral

The death of this maniacal despot and fanatical theocrat unleashed a wave of political and western State hypocrisy that had echoed that on display by world leaders at the Je suis Charlie march in Paris following the murder of the French cartoonists at the office of Charlie Hebdo earlier this month. Saudi Arabia sent an ambassador to the protest march of world leaders in France’s capital city as State thugs planned for the public beating of one of their own bloggers that would be overseen by religious fanatics every bit as delusional, callous and psychopathic as the Kouachi brothers who carried out the deranged killings in Paris.

irish flag

State flags in Ireland, UK, America and elsewhere were placed at half-mast and crocodile tears were shed for an ignorant buffoon and warped minded tyrant who signed off on countless crimes against humanity. King Abdullah’s death should be welcomed as much as Sadam Hussein, Colonel Gadaffi or any other brutal dictator were it not for the fact that his successor is believed to be even more extreme in his religious conservativism, a term when taken in Saudi Arabian context is a byword for supporters of a theocracy so extreme, violent and ignorant that it would not be out of place in 14th century Europe.

The savage barbarity of King Abdullah’s regime is on naked display in this video of mass public beheadings carried out in front of blood thirsty hoards crying chants of Allahu Akbar.


 Several western governments have praised King Abdullah as a social reformer despite the fact that public beheadings in the kingdom are on the increase. The organisation Human Rights Watch reported that 19 public beheadings were authorised by this brutal dictator during the period 4th – 20th August 2014. Among the victims were Mohammed bin Bakr al-Alawi who was charged with practicing black magic and sorcery.

Among the most perverse accolades afforded to this imbecilic former State leader was from the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde. She described King Abdullah as “a strong advocate of women” This comes despite the fact that he starved his own daughters while keeping them under house arrest for advocating for greater equality for women.  He divorced one of his wives without her knowledge (which is fully legal in Saudi Arabia) for failing to produce a son. At an estimated worth of $15 billion, King Abdullah had 30 wives. He was violent and abusive to his former wife and denied her access to her daughters.


Sharia law under the Saudi Wahhabi version dictates that a woman’s evidence in court is worth only half that of a man.   This makes it near to impossible to prosecute crimes such as rape and sexual violence. This legal difficulty is compounded by the male chaperone law. Unaccompanied women are not allowed out in public. Breaches of this law are often ruthlessly punished by the infamous special branch of religious police known as the committee for the prevention of vice and promotion of virtue. Up until very recently women were rarely afforded the right to work and even women’s clothes shops were staffed by men. It is forbidden for women to try on clothes in shops as the mere thought of a naked woman behind a curtain was deemed too much of a threat to Saudi sexual moral sentiment.


Saudi Arabia and Global Terrorism


Despite the US continually declaring its regard for Saudi Arabia as a partner in the war on terror and despite the Kings occasional rhetoric against and punishment of violent religious clerics who openly promote organisations like Al Qaeda, the refusal of King Abdullah to confront religious conservatives and force modernity on its citizens in the same manner that Ataturk did in Turkey has resulted in the exportation of fanatical ideas around the world through the internet and through Muslims visiting Mecca during the Hajj.

15 of the 19 terrorists that hijacked the planes leading to the September 11th 2001 attacks were Saudi Arabian citizens. The two post 9/11 US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq had very little effect in reducing the incidences of global Islamic terror. Terrorism is about money and the dissemination of poisonous ideas. A former British chief of defence General Jonathan Shaw highlighted the futile nature of military engagement when he declared that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding the growth of Islamic extremism around the world. Saudi Arabia is the biggest exporter of malignant Islamism and it has invested literally billions of dollars globally in the radicalisation of Muslims. The fruit of the US invasion of Iraq and the proliferation of Wahhabi propaganda is the birth of ISIS. Sadam Hussein, while being a tyrant, was nonetheless able to crush Islamic extremists. The investment of States like Saudi Arabia in Islamic propaganda is now coming back to haunt them as the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al Bagdadi has vowed to destroy Saudi Arabia for ironically not being  sufficiently Islamic enough to their liking.

Leaked cables from wikileaks showed that in 2009 Hillary Clinton was frustrated at the apparent funding of Sunni militants from Saudi Arabian donors. She declared it was an ongoing challenge to persuade the Saudi administration to tackle terrorist funding as a priority. Terrorist organisations raise millions of dollars annually during the Hajj and Ramadan. Another Islamic terrorist organisation Lashkar –e-Taiba used a Saudi based company as a front to finance its activities. This Pakistani based terrorist organisation was responsible for the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament and a coordinated series of shootings and bombings in Mumbai in 2008.

Western Dependence on Cheap Oil not Prevention of Terrorism is at the Heart of US/Saudi Relations

saudi oil

Successive US presidents have failed to question the Saudi ruler on his commitment to human rights. This is driven by the dependence of the west on cheap oil. Amnesty international have cited several human rights violations from the ban on women driving to crushing all forms of political or religious dissent. Religious persecution of Shia Muslims and other religious minorities is commonplace and a new law that equates Atheism with terrorism shows just how despotic the Saudi regime governed by King Abdullah actually is.  While the Obama administration has reduced the country’s dependence on foreign oil up to 50%, imports of Saudi Arabian crude oil have only dropped by 13% since he took office.  The US administration is definitely moving in the right direction of becoming less oil dependent but until the country becomes much less dependent on Saudi oil, the US or the west will have little hope of persuading Saudi Arabia to improve their record on human rights.

I have often stated my belief that military intervention is not and never will be an antidote to Islamic or any other form of religious extremism. The hope of a better future for Saudi Arabia and the Middle East will involve less violence and more challenging of malignant ideas and the edicts of despotic leaders. It will only be bought about when Muslims and non-Muslims alike accept that there is a problem within Islam and that the problem will only be resolved through shared values that have absolute regard for free speech, whether it be through debate, humour or satire. It will involve a rush to renewable energy and a move away from dependence on oil from terrorist producing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE. At the moment the US administration is heavily dependent on oil from all these 3 countries that amount to the largest financiers of Islamist terrorism around the world. The life of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and his legacy to his people and the rest of the world is unfortunately a glaring reminder of the failure of western society to embrace or achieve any of these objectives.

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The Quest To Find The Real Islam: In defence of Bill Maher and Sam Harris against the criticism of Ben Affleck (Irish Perspective)

sam harris

An Irish perspective on the now infamous debate featuring Sam Harris and Ben Affleck on last Fridays episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.

A self-declared army of god marches through the harsh desert of what one day would become Iraq and Syria. The scorching sun and imminent risk of death through disease, exhaustion, starvation or by falling at the end of a sword is no deterrent for this rag tag militia of relatively inexperienced fighters. Their confidence is more than justified. A belief in martyrdom and new founded religious zeal will work in their favour. Within the space of a year this band of fighters will swell in numbers from about 13,000 to over 100,000 and bring the most powerful armies in the world to their knees. The year is 632 and Abu Bkr has become successor to the founder of one of the world’s newest religions. The Islamic Caliphate (spiritual & political homeland) would largely survive the next 1300 years in various forms before being quashed by the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic would be born in 1923.

In the remaining 1382 years the world would change beyond anything recognisable to the inhabitants of Mesopotamia and Syria in the year 632. We would begin to discover the modern science of human anatomy in 1543 when Andreas Vesalius published his ground breaking book “The great anatomical treatise”. In the 17th century William Harvey would create a new science of physiology by showing that the heart pumps blood around the body through the circulatory system. In that same century we would discover that the body was made up of units that would be called cells. Ground breaking treatments would be pioneered when Louis Pasteur discovered that bacteria could cause diseases and the science of bacteriology would be established. The advent of the antibiotic penicillin would be noted as one of the greatest medical advances of all time. Queen Elizabeth 1st could not have imagined that one day the antibiotic streptomycin would virtually eradicate the causative agent of the great plague of London. She would have to endure the fact that despite the belief in her appointment by god her saviour, she would be in no position to fight the stench of death that had invaded her city and country. For now at least all she and her countrymen could do is offer prayers in a despairing attempt to appease god’s anger. For centuries this would remain an unsuccessful and futile strategy as the bubonic plague would make its mark across Britain and Europe for several years more.

The advent of modern day antiseptic surgical procedures would spring from Pasteur’s germ theory of disease and in 1867 Joseph Lister would discover that operations carried out under sterile conditions by the use of carbolic acid resulted in significantly less post-surgical mortality due to infection. The notion of demonic possession would be largely confined to history as a new understanding of neurology and psychiatric medicine emerged. Exorcisms and the burning of witches would firstly be replaced by the lunatic asylums of the Victorian era before evolving into modern day psychiatry. In the 20th century we would decipher the genetic code of life and begin the process of using this knowledge to map the human genome. We would carry out the first organ transplants and begin the process of stem cell research that will ultimately grant us the ability to grow organs on demand. We would eliminate one of the world’s biggest killer diseases small pox through routine vaccination and greatly reduce the mortality rates of cancer and heart disease. The cumulative medical advances of the last 200 years would have doubled life expectancy and greatly reduced human suffering beyond anything imaginable to the soldiers of Rashidun army.

A further 860 years would pass before the Native Americans would witness the arrival of the Spanish to their shores. The new devotees of the prophet Muhammad would have marvelled at the technology that gave us the first bicycle. Almost 1200 years would pass before the first train journey would be hailed as the cutting edge of 19th century transport technology. The inhabitants of 7th century Mesopotamia could only have looked on in bemusement were they to witness the first powered flight by the Wright brothers some 13 centuries later. They could not have imagined that less than a century later mankind would have set foot on the moon and sent rovers to land on Mars. Empires would come and go and the two great wars of the 20th century would change the face of warfare beyond anything imaginable to the desert cavalries of the 7th century. The first phones would send messages in real time connecting the farthest reaches of the globe. The invention of the radio and later the television would change cultures and introduce new ideas on a scale not seen in the history of the human species. This progression would be turbo-charged by the advent of the internet and the rise of the social media age. It is true to say that human cultures and ideas that had survived for scores of millennia would be destined to be confined to antiquity. The scientific and cultural progression of the intervening 1400 years would render even the most astute student of history almost unable to converse with the soldiers of the armies that gave rise to the first Islamic Caliphate in 632.

The expression history repeating itself has often been used. What is happening in Iraq and Syria in the last two months under the latest Jihadi group ISIS could aptly be described as a wiping of the slate. The only evidence of the passage of almost one and a half millennia since the Rashidun conquest is the battle cries of war are delivered not only from the mosques and villages but beamed across the world by social media. The weaponing of social media and the appliance of the latest technological advances of the 21st century to achieve aims that could fit snugly within 7th century norms should not go unnoticed. It is the ultimate yin and yang of human intellectual achievement. Young Muslims from countries that had not even been discovered when the idea of the first Caliphate was conceived, fervently tweet and facebook message the call to jihad on their latest branded smartphones. Military propaganda that has for centuries been an essential component of warfare has turned youtube into a mass propaganda machine of the most macabre nature. The Geneva Convention governing the rules of war would have no place in ISIS war ethic. After all they were rest assured in their belief that the Koran and various hadiths had all the rules and ethical standards necessary to wage war against the infidel while still keeping in gods favour.

Cognitive dissonance & liberal western values


As Iraq and Syria fall to ISIS and several beheadings of westerners are broadcast around the world, governments ponder over the virtues of military intervention in the region. President Obama and David Cameron reassure their people that this has nothing to do with Islam and the tired worn out expression that Islam is a religion of peace is regurgitated yet again. Their assertion that the vast majority of Muslims across the world are not Jihadists is a lesson in truth economics that society can ill afford. While this assertion, when taken at face value, is patently obvious to all but the most right wing and uneducated, it masks a growing malignancy within Islam. The problems of Islam run much greater than the relatively small numbers of Muslims who would embrace violent Jihad.

Cognitive dissonance is a term that most Atheists and secular activists will be relatively familiar with. It refers to the tendency of the mind to reconcile diametrically opposing beliefs when both are of emotional importance to the believer. Belief evolved not only as a method of understanding the world but also as a way of uniting tribes of people. This is why Atheists and those of religions other than the religion under scrutiny will immediately notice the absurdity of many tenets of that particular belief system.

Cognitive dissonance is the answer to the question of why some otherwise extremely intelligent people believe in doctrines that are demonstrably false and lacking in even the most basic of intellectual rigour. Anyone who has debated and argued with religious people will undoubtedly have numerous examples of cognitive dissonance at work. I have two most memorable anecdotes of this phenomenon. The first notable example was on Lorna Byrne’s facebook page. Most readers here will be familiar with her claims of being able to speak to and see angels. Many of her supporters would observe a handful of grammatical errors or the occasional spelling mistake on my part. As my arsenal of argument was apparently blemished by these literary imperfections, it could surely be presumed on the part of the believer that my entire argument could safely be discredited. Once again despite much evidence to the contrary Lorna Byrne was the loving caring lady who was gifted special powers from god and the angels that would take away all the problems of her numerous devotees. To be more precise their beliefs had not been altered by any of my arguments in the first place. My second example was yet again with a highly articulate and intelligent individual. It was another slight variant on the literary theme. Their observation that I wasn’t especially versed on the historical origins of the word “Atheist” could in their mind invalidate everything I had to say on the subject. The fact that intelligent people can believe dogma that is not alone patently false but equally socially destructive should concern us. Nowhere is this more prevalent on a global scale than in Islamic societies.

However it is not only religious conservatives who display such mental gymnastics in their approach to evidence. Western liberal dogma of tolerance and diversity as well as fears of being perceived as racist are imposing a sort of self-censorship when it comes to criticising the nonsensical and dangerously deluded beliefs of what are perceived to be other cultures. I am a liberal who believes in the rights of women, homosexuals, racial minorities and those of any religious persuasion to seek contentment and have equal protection under the law. However life is much more nuanced than that of the mind-set displayed by the proponents of either conservative or liberal dogma. Liberal Atheists often have a misplaced belief in belief. Such arguments are often put forward as “I know an old lady who never did any harm and her faith means so much to her as it gives her hope”. While this may be true and indeed the majority of religious do not harbour dangerous forms of religious delusion. However it is this promotion of delusional belief en masse that forms the scaffolding for religious extremism. Religious extremism, while only attributable to a minority of devotees in the west is nonetheless an inextricable part of religion itself. Furthermore if religion is good then why is religious fundamentalism bad? As Sam Harris eloquently put it “The problem with Islamic fundamentalism are the fundamentals of Islam.

Getting back to the harmless old lady whose faith gives her hope. If we really want to see how potentially harmful the public belief of bad ideas actually is, we need only look at the societies of Irish parents of the 30, 40 and 50 something generation. Who could have said that they were in any way bad or lacking in principle? Our generation will all have heard anecdotes of our parents walking miles to school often barefooted. They were materially much worse off than us and yet worked hard and sacrificed what little they had to rare us in the best possible way for their time. Yet this is the same generation and generations before that coexisted peacefully with and often supportive of the Catholic industrial warehouses of torture of women and children. The vast majority of their religious beliefs while being delusional in the extreme could in no way be described as particularly harmful. The belief that the creator of the universe commanded believers to attend public worship every Sunday, while being exceptionally peculiar, would not of itself give rise to wars and genocide. Neither would the belief that they can somehow commune with a 2000 year old departed Israelite or that god demanded the telling of sins to a specifically appointed human being. The belief that it was intrinsically bad to eat meat on a Friday could in no way be directly blamed for cold and callous actions. However when liberal Atheists use these examples as an excuse not to publically criticise religion for fear of offending people, it is yet another exercise in truth economics, that for the sake of human progress must be challenged. The above beliefs, while harmless when taken individually, promoted and encouraged a society so delusional that it produced the proverbial train that would eventually be derailed. No human society can maintain this level of delusion without eventually running into harm’s way.

Unlike ISIS, the Catholic Church never had a military coup to establish the theocratic State that was Ireland up until the 1990s. No tanks or guns were necessary for this institution to establish its hold over the Irish people. Yet this organisation wielded an amount of money and power that would be the envy of mafia godfathers and military dictators alike. This is the power of ideas. It is the reason why an understanding of nuances means everything when debating either liberals or conservatives. Neither liberal nor conservative sound bites alone can dictate how we should behave when dealing with controversial issues.

Liberal cognitive dissonance is even greater when it comes to Islam

Ben Affleck

Just as in the above argument there are equally important nuances to be learned when it comes to western liberal dogmas of tolerance and respect for what is perceived to be the beliefs of other cultures. Liberal westerners intuitively find it easier to criticise irrational and dangerous religious and cultural dogmas within their own culture but appear highly reluctant to do so when it comes from other cultures. Perhaps this can be attributed to post-colonial guilt or that possibly others may wrongly perceive such commentary as being of a racist nature. This may be fuelled by the fact that the groups most likely to publically show a dislike of Islam often tend to be far right groups. It is understandable that there would be deep rooted concerns about activists being in anyway associated with such bigotry. Far from achieving their objectives these groups cause further damage to society by making it even more difficult to have a rational discussion about Islam. The British National Party and its US equivalent Neo-Nazi and tea party movement use both legitimate and illegitimate arguments about Islam as part of a wider agenda of hate not just against Muslims but anyone they consider to be foreign or not in line with their narrow minded political agenda. This is entirely in contrast to the activities of people like Maryam Namazie, Ayan Hirsi Ali and other former Muslims who are now secular campaigners who rightly highlight why being concerned about the growth of Islam and its implications for the world is not only rational but is a conversation that we cannot have soon enough.

Liberals defending the objectives of political Islamists is the ultimate display of cognitive dissonance as it is a self-defeating contradiction of loyalties. Unfettered and uncritical loyalty to the principles of respect for ideas when it comes to Islam only serve to undermine the ability of communities to be truly liberal in their outlook. One such example is the acceptance of Sharia law in the family courts of the UK. While the proponents of this idea tell us that British law will still take priority over Sharia and Muslims are free to seek a settlement in the traditional British court service, this nonetheless marks a retrograde step in the promotion of liberal ideals. It gives religious fanatical theocratic ideas a place of recognition at the level of State. Even worse is the idea that fanatical religious ideas are put before the human rights of Muslim women who may feel religiously and culturally compelled to accept the judgements of these religious courts or possibly even under threat of violence. Even worse again such acceptance of even a watered down version of Sharia law shows tacit support for a legal system that gets people sentenced to life imprisonment or death for non-violent crimes including such imaginary crimes as sorcery. Sharia law in Pakistan would hand me down a death sentence for writing this blog on grounds of blasphemy and offending Islam.

Would the real Islam please stand up


When President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron loudly declare that ISIS do not represent Islam just what form of truly Islamic country do they believe in? If International relations were to be taken as an answer to this question then Barack Obama’s idea of a truly Islamic country might very well be Saudi Arabia. The US and Saudi Arabia are such bed partners that in 2010 the US administration made the biggest ever arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom purchased in excess of $60 billion worth of arms and munitions from the US government. This is the country that produced 15 out of the 19 hijackers on September 11th 2001. If beheadings have nothing to do with Islamic Sharia then perhaps President Obama could make his views known when he next meets the Saudi royal family. In August alone 19 people were beheaded at the behest of the Kingdoms Sharia based legal system. One of the executions was for the crime of sorcery and another for the practice of adultery. Thankfully this observation did not go unnoticed by the editor of the Washington Post.



Surely the concept of true Islam could be found where the very idea was originally conceived in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. If this is indeed the true Islam then it would appear much closer to the ISIS version when it comes to the treatment of women and non-believers. As the article from the Washington Post below illustrates, the closer one gets to the epicentre of the Islamic world, the greater the percentage of adherents that would seek the death penalty for apostates. The majority of Muslims in the Middle Eastern territories support such a punishment for non-believers. (78% Afghanistan, 64% for Egypt and Pakistan and still a majority in the Palestinian territories). As one would suspect support for the death penalty decreases as the Muslim world becomes less homogenous and is diluted by the influence of other religions and cultures such as Muslims living in the former Soviet territories. David Cameron’s idea of a true Muslim might well be a British citizen from Croydon who supports liberal secular values and treats women and people of other religious and sexual persuasions as their equal. However when put to a vote across the entire Muslim world (especially in the Middle East), rather than be voted as the truest Muslim such a vote might well call for this persons beheading or at the very least a lengthy prison sentence were such a moderate individual to vocally express their views. Indeed this is the fate of many would be reformers and bloggers within the borders of Middle Eastern Muslim countries.


 Why do Islamic extremists embrace violence to a much greater extent than any other branch of the Judeo-Christian based faith?


This is a difficult question to answer but it is an important exercise in reason that both moderate Muslims and everyone else should agree upon. While there is much effort on the part of the Irish Atheist and secular community devoted to challenging the retrograde views of the Iona Institute and other religious campaigners on such things as gay marriage, access to abortion, secular schooling or any other of their theocratic ambitions, it must be acknowledged that neither David Quinn, John Waters or even Dana Rosemary Scallon pose a threat to life and limb of the non-believer. Even the most noxious American Christian bigot will be unlikely to launch an orchestrated campaign of violence. While the Westboro Baptist Church may be one of the most hated groups of Christian fanatics in the US they are still not Al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban or Boko Haram. Neither is It that the Koran is anymore intrinsically violent than the Christian Bible or Jewish Torah. I believe that it is not that Christianity is any less predisposed to violence than Islam. After all there is truth to the claims made by Islamists that the religion was a beacon of light during the Christian dark ages. Scientific progress in the Islamic world far exceed that of Christendom during the period. I believe the protestant reformation of 1517 would pave the way for modern secular free thought to take root in Europe.

Bibles were printed in the vernacular for the first time and people were encouraged to read it. Various reformations took root across Europe. Critical thought was first tolerated within a religious context. Later a much greater emphasis would be placed on evidence and out of this the enlightenment movement was born. More recent Christians deviated from literal interpretation of the Bible and would later cease to read it at all. This freed them to create their own less violent and more humane version of the religion. From this point on autocratic forms of Christianity would lose influence. As regard for evidence based values increased in the west religion would go into decline. This may also have been due in part to centuries of war and conflict. The Islamic world has not had this cultural revolution and those that try to bring it about risk their lives as much of the Islamic world still cling to a 16th century Christian mind-set.

Secondly it may be in part due to the fact that mainstream Islamic leaders incentivise religious outrage. This is not a product of fundamentalist extremists. It is demonstrably visible in the rhetoric of the vast majority of Islamic leaders across Europe. The Christians of the post enlightenment world tolerate criticism of their religion. A society that is capable of doing this is much less likely to resort to violent extremism. This point would become increasingly clear in recent months as the Irish government announced its intention to hold a referendum to remove the crime of blasphemy from the constitution. Dr. Ali Selim is one of the most senior public figures promoting Islam in Ireland. This is what he had to say about the upcoming referendum.

“According to Islam, God, angels, holy scriptures, prophets, disciples or companions and places of worship are to be protected by the state against any publication or utterance of blasphemous matter”.

Islamic groups appear to be the only parties actively campaigning to keep this outdated law. Furthermore Ali Selim is on the record as stating that Muslims will not tolerate insults against Islam. It would be important that he clarify this position in the likely event that the law is repealed. The fervent regard among the Irish Muslim population for maintaining the Irish anti-blasphemy law was shown again this week during a radio debate on 4fm between Atheist Ireland chairman Michael Nugent and Imam Ibrahim Noonan. Even when Nugent put it to him that the Irish blasphemy law was being hailed by Pakistan while they use the same law to sentence Ahmedi Muslims (Ibrahim Noonans own sect) to prison it was still not a sufficient argument for him to change his position on the blasphemy law.

Why focus on Islam even if all the above is correct?

Bill Maher

Islamic extremism is likely to be a much greater impediment to secular values going into the future than those dangers posed by Catholicism or any other form of Christianity. The position of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the number of adherents of religions other than Islam across the developed world will likely go into decline. At some stage this will probably happen in the Islamic world too, however this cannot be expected anytime in the short to medium future. The Islamic community in Ireland will continue to grow as we have both legal and moral obligations under the Geneva Convention to assist those in genuine need of asylum. It is likely that the Muslim world in the Middle East and Africa will be at war for the foreseeable future and thousands of Muslim refugees will continue to seek refuge in western countries.

Unlike the confident rhetoric of President Obama I believe we will never crush militant Islam by the use of force. Just as I believe secularism is best achieved in countries that are irreligious likewise this is the case in the Islamic world. We need to acknowledge the bravery of both secular Muslims and ex-Muslims who try to change public opinion in these regions. We need to recognise that criticising Islam is not racist. It is simply criticising a stock of really dangerous concepts many of which have no place in civilised democratic societies. It is important to recognise the risk of radicalisation of young Muslims in our schools and colleges. When I introduced this as a reason for petitioning for a secular education system it gave rise to a degree of unease among some of those who supported my petition. There are those who will not be convinced by the human rights argument when it comes to the secularising of the Irish education system. It is important that conservatives who wish to keep the status quo intact realise that an education system that is based on an un-regulated school ethos will inevitably result in some Islamic schools becoming breeding grounds for radical Islamists. This is a threat we must take seriously. If one thinks this is alarmist then heed these words. They are not from a far right activist but from an Imam at the Dublin Islamic Cultural Centre in an article in the Sunday Tribune in May 2010.

“Al-Saleh said many of the extremists came to Ireland as asylum seekers and now their children are becoming adults, taking over university societies, brainwashing other students. These “indigenous” extremists are being bolstered by students from the Middle East”. The same Imam called Ireland a safe haven for Al-Qaeda.

A version of Islam that is more open to criticism will be more open to ideas of equality. While this is unlikely to happen in the near future it will only come about when both Muslims and non-Muslims alike feel free to criticise and satirise every aspect of the religion in the same manner as we do to Christianity. In short if we want to see reform in the Islamic world we need a war of words not weapons.

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