As debate rages over the radicalisation of young British Muslims, are we overlooking a different crisis of faith? Ex-Muslims who dare to speak out are often cut off by their families and fear for their lives.
” He was perfectly happy to be a cultural Muslim, take part in celebrations and observe traditions, but he couldn’t pretend a faith he didn’t possess.”
Last week the hacking to death in Bangladesh of the blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was a brutal reminder of the risks atheists face in some Muslim-majority countries. And in an era in which British Islamic extremists travel thousands of miles to kill those they deem unbelievers, an apostate’s concern for his or her security at home is perhaps understandable.
“I’ve had bouts of clinical depression,” Nasreen says. “The thing is, Islam teaches you to grow up with low self-esteem and lack of self-identity. Without the collective, you’re lost. You’ve been taught to feel guilty and people-pleasing as a woman, and you do that from a very young age. I kept thinking, ‘Why do I want to wear short skirts? That’s so disgusting!’ No, it’s not disgusting. It took me a long time to appreciate my sexuality and my femininity. There was a lot of stress. I lost my friends. You’re very lonely and you’re ostracised.”
She blames the ghettoisation of multiculturalism and identity politics for this shift, the tendency to view individuals as members of separate cultural blocks. Or as Namazie puts it: “The problem with multiculturalism – not as a lived experience but as a social policy that divides and segregates communities – is that the “Muslim community” is seen to be homogenous. Therefore dissenters and freethinkers are deemed invisible because the ‘authentic’ Muslim is veiled, pro-sharia and pro-Islamist.”
One success of the Islamist movement in Britain has been to define the cultural identity primarily in terms of religion.
“We went from a Bengali to a Muslim community. It’s almost as if we’re suffering a second colonisation, the Arabisation of Asian cultures. Even my brother wears long Arab dresses.” As a consequence, she thinks Muslims have been encouraged to police other Muslims.
“I’ll give you a couple of examples,” she says. “The other day I ordered some food online – pork buns – and afterwards a guy called me up from the company and he said ‘Nasreen, do you know it’s not halal?’ I said yes, I’m not a Muslim, but afterwards I wish I’d said ‘Who are you to police what I’m eating? How dare you call me up to remind me.’ But that’s how people think: you’re a Muslim, you’ve got a Muslim name.”
Nasreen, Vali and Shams all agreed that it will only be by bringing greater attention to Muslim apostates in British society that their predicament will improve. It would also help, they say, if they could rely on the progressive support that was once the right of freethinkers in this country.
“Attitudes need to change,” says Cottee. “There has to be a greater openness around the whole issue. And the demonisation of apostates as ‘sell outs’ and ‘native informants’, which can be heard among both liberal-leftists and reactionary Muslims, needs to stop. People leave Islam. They have reasons for this, good, bad or whatever. It is a human right to change your mind. Deal with it.”
As one friend wrote online:
Islam destroys–dramatically with killings, and silently by destroying its adherents’ spirit. […] Islam is evil, most fundamentally because it requires its followers to abandon their reasoning mind in favor of blind obedience. Faith–instead of reason–rules the religious person, and it is this rejection of man’s unique tool of survival that ultimately destroys those who follow Islam (or any religion) consistently.
In this panel discussion with audience participation, philosophers Onkar Ghate and Robert Mayhew discuss the “New Atheists”—including Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins—contrasting their approach to moral values with that of Ayn Rand, describing their cultural significance, and probing their philosophies.
Onkar Ghate is a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, and Robert Mayhew is a professor of philosophy at Seton Hall University. This panel was recorded live at Objectivist Summer Conference 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It’s so commonly reported that Islam forbids Muhammad’s portraiture that it seems almost a waste of space to repeat it. After all, isn’t that why some Muslims were so outraged in 2006 when the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten depicted Muhammad in an unflattering light? Isn’t that why the Metropolitan Museum of Art pulled three paintings of the prophet? Isn’t that why the TV show South Park had to censor all mentions of Muhammad in a 2010 episode? “Islam forbids images of Muhammad,” CNN boomed in a headline last week.
But the reality is substantially more complicated. The Koran, in fact, does not directly forbid the portrayal of Muhammad. And the second most important Islamic text, the Hadith, “presents us with an ambiguous picture at best,” wrote Christine Gruber of the University of Michigan. “At turns we read of artists who dared to breathe life into their figures and, at others, of pillows ornamented with figural imagery.” The most explicit fatwa banning the portrayal of Muhammad, she notes, isn’t tucked into some ancient text. It arrived in 2001. And its creator was the Taliban. The ban is a very modern construct.
Q: I am concerned about the “global warming” movement, and think that it might be a worse threat than Islamic Fundamentalism. Do you agree?
A: The global-warming movement is one offshoot of today’s mysticism and statism. As many have observed, it represents in essence the onetime pro-industrial Reds changing—with the same purpose, but to be achieved this time by different means—into the anti-industrial Greens. The global-warming call to statism will have harmful effects but, I think, the movement is going to be short-lived; too many people remember how recently we were terrorized by the prospect of an imminent, man-caused ice age, and before that by the doom of over-population, DDT, etc.
The danger to the West is not this kaleidoscope of absurd concrete-bound threats, but the philosophy which makes their common denominator stick. This is the very philosophy (unreason and self-sacrifice) which is the essence of religion.
If and when people do become frightened by all these projections of the Apocalypse, it will not advance the secular or quasi-religious doomsayers, but merely push people more strongly into the arms of their basic teachers, who have taught them their intellectual and moral framework and who promise safety from everything, in the hands of God.
The Greens offer no solution to the disasters they predict but sacrifice for worms and forests, a big and permanent cut in man’s standard of living, and a big increase in government. This is not exactly a platform which will attract a mass base; its adherents will mainly be corrupted intellectuals, with not much national influence. The religionists, by contrast, offer as the solution to all problems a firm code of values, moral principles supposedly provided by God and proved through the ages—and claim to promote the dignity of man and his eternal joy. Which of these contenders do you think people will follow?
To compare ecology and religion in terms of the threat to our future is to fail to understand the power of abstract ideas. No political movement, however popular at the moment, can compete in the long run with a basic philosophy.
Dr. Ghate discusses the “new atheists” — men like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, who have lodged important, new criticisms of religion in the wake of the attacks on 9/11. Topics covered include: the connection between faith and force; The nihilistic streak of the “new atheists”; The need for a rational alternative to religion.
Does support for capitalism require belief in Christianity? Dr. Ghate explains why the contrary is true — until capitalism is severed from religion, he argues, a true moral defense of capitalism is impossible and unconvincing. Topics covered include: the authoritarian mentality of the secular left; the left as the secularization of religion; the wider meaning of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.