New Atheists Are Not Islamophobes

An article by Nathan Lean is making the rounds on the internet and it seems like everybody is jumping on the atheist-bashing bandwagon. Lean recently wrote an article for Salon – the title: Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens: New Atheists flirt with Islamophobia. Many anti-Islamophobia crusaders quickly shared it with comments like “Dawkins’ idiot brigade”. To be fair, many liberals, atheists and Christians shared it too. But Lean’s article is currently a hot favourite in circles that dislike atheists in general because of their atheist views.

If you’ve read Lean’s article, you probably already know who he is. But if you haven’t, let me fill you in.  Nathan Lean is the editor-in-chief of the non-profit organisation Aslan Media, an aggressive pro-Islamic, self-proclaimed opponent of Israel of which some members – including Lean himself – hold a reputation for making anti-Israel comments on Twitter. Aslan Media is supposedly an anti-Islamophobia crusader, taking cheap shots at Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller in the past, and been called out by Jihad Watch on more than one occasion. It is also ‘supported’ by Loonwatch, a group of anonymous people who smear almost every critic of Islam while also outing anti-Muslim bigots.  Lean is also the author of the book The Islamophobia Industry, which received a critical review by Jonathan Schanzer for the Wall Street Journal, and elicited a petulant and defensive response piece viciously attacking Schanzer by Loonwatch. As well as writing books, Lean also endorses cyber terrorism:    

A criticism of 'new atheism' is that this type of non-believer is the 'mean' and ‘in-your-face’.  Lean puts new atheists like Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens in the ranks of Pamela Geller and anti-Muslim bigots, calling new atheists ‘the new Islamophobes’. This is a little disturbing and so over the top that it sounds almost absurd.  Anyone who has read the works of 'new atheists' such as Dawkins and Harris knows that their ‘invectives’ are directed against Islam as a religion, and not Muslims. If Lean should be criticising anyone, it should be those who engage in destructive acts of terror, those who make the lives of people hell on earth by giving fatwas, those Muslims who kill Muslims and then go on to whine about Islamophobia.

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Dangers posed to atheists in Pakistan

Imagine living with the constant fear that an angry mob would torture you to death if they found out you are a free thinking person.

That’s how many agnostics and atheists live in Pakistan. Being Pakistani and an atheist is undoubtedly a dangerous combination. This does not even begin to make sense until you bring the context into the picture, which is a religious verdict about apostates being punishable by death.  So much for 'thinking freely or differently’. This religious ruling is the prime factor that puts the life of Pakistani atheists in danger. In fact ‘thinking’ is just as big of a sin in Pakistan as thinking differently. You are doomed if you decide to use your so-called god-given mental faculties and engage in critical thinking because thinking in matters of faith is a sin in itself.

Despite the fact that revealing yourself as an atheist in Pakistan is like having a death wish, some are brave enough to publicise their atheism. Yet most atheists living in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan have no choice but to live in disguise as Muslims. They are often called ‘in-closet atheists’ which is not far from reality. The constant dread, dismay and the pressures have taken a significant mental toll on atheists in Pakistan as religion takes hold on the majority of Muslims in the country.

Another significant factor jeopardising the life of atheists living in Pakistan is the Penal code of Pakistan, which has laws decreeing the death penalty for various religious offences. This may or may not come as a surprise to free thinking people all over the world, but the famous ‘Blasphemy Law’ proposes death penalty for merely defiling the ‘sacred’ name of Holy Prophet Muhammad. So far many innocent people have fallen prey to the draconian law of blasphemy:

”An estimated number of 1,274 people have been charged under the stringent blasphemy laws of Pakistan between 1986, from when they were included in the Constitution by General Zia ul Haq, until 2010.” (Source: Dawn News)

The exhaustive list of people accused, jailed and even killed by radical Islamists ‘in the name of Allah’ can be accessed here.

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Suspension of Responsible Parenthood in the Philippines

Image: Protesters rally at the Philippines’ Supreme Court in Manila to protest the four-month suspension.  Source: Kalatas

On Tuesday 19 March, the Philippines’ Supreme Court issued a four-month suspension of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act. The new law would have required government health centres to provide free contraceptives and schools to teach sex education.

The suspension, which is intended to allow opponents until 18 June to present their arguments, was issued after petitions were received from religious and pro-life groups seeking to overturn the law, who are now claiming the move as a ‘partial victory’

The law came as a result of disturbing statistics in the Philippines, which revealed increased rates of teenage pregnancies and the maternal and child death rate. The maternal death rate alone has increased by almost 40% since 2006. These statistics have been linked to poor knowledge of sexual health and little or no available family planning advice. The President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino, has thrown his support behind the law: ‘Items like sex education for instance, how can anyone argue that there is such a need, it shouldn't be deriving your knowledge from your peer group who are actually as ignorant as you.’ The President’s office reported that despite the suspension, there is confidence that the law will be retained.

Even if it is retained, opposition to the law will likely remain. 80% of the Philippines’ population of 100 million identify as Catholic and as yet the Catholic Church in the Philippines and elsewhere has vociferously opposed any reproductive health law. There is hope, however. On the day the suspension was announced, protesters gathered at the Philippines’ Supreme Court in Manila, claiming that the Supreme Court should be held “accountable to the 15 women and children who will die each day” until the law is reinstated. 

Thoughts of an ex-Catholic on Pope Frankie and his Church

On the night of 13 March, white smoke and chiming bells alerted the world that we had a new Pope. I waited, somewhat impatiently, to see who the new leader of the world’s largest religious institution was going to be. Part of me wished I could have been in the Vatican to witness the revelation for myself. Strange as it may seem for an atheist to express such a desire, it is true. As a Catholic I had once listened to Pope John Paul II speak in the Vatican and I wondered what it would be like to once again listen to a pope speak in the same location but as a non-believer. Furthermore, the revelation of the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics was a significant moment in history. One moment that happened to be going on just twenty minutes from my old home.

Once Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, stepped out onto the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, it quickly became clear that he would have more mass appeal than his predecessor. News contributors have talked at length of the significance of the name Francis but I realised its significance as soon as I heard the name. For eight years I attended a Catholic school named after St Francis of Assisi and I was well aware of his legacy. He was a man who was born into a wealthy family but chose to live a life of poverty. 

In his hometown of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio famously rejected the perks that came with his high rank in the Argentine church. However, it seems that religious leaders are held to a low standard when people determine whether or not they are good people. A church official taking public transport or rejecting a palatial home should not make international headlines. After all, when priests begin their ‘careers’ they take a vow of poverty. All too often though, once a priest climbs a few notches up the church hierarchy those vows are forgotten. I recall when the news broke that Pope Benedict’s butler had leaked private Vatican documents; my first thought was, ‘Why on earth does a man who took a vow of poverty have a butler anyway?’

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Racist preacher elected president of Brazil's Human Rights Commission

Tweets from Marcos Feliciano in 2011: "Africans are descendants of an ancestor cursed by Noah. This is fact. The reason for the curse is polemic." and "The rottenness of homosexual feelings brings hate, crime and rejection.

7 March 2013 was not a day to be remembered by minorities in Brazil as Marcos Feliciano, a known racist and homophobic preacher, was elected president of the Human Rights Commission by Brazil’s House of Representatives. Originally planned to take place on the 6th, the voting process had to be transferred to the 7th due to protests and rows among the voting deputies.

The Social Christian Party minister is currently being investigated for accusations of homophobia and embezzlement. He became famous in 2011 for his offensive Twitter posts, which he insists are simply biblical quotations and are just being misinterpreted.

Public demonstrations against Feliciano took place in various cities, among them 10 state capitals: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Florianópolis, Porto Alegre, Maceió, Curitiba, Vitória, Fortaleza and Salvador. But since little attention was given by politicians to demonstrations against the election of Renan Calheiros to President of the Senate despite reports of corruption – including 1.6 million signatures collected via the web platform Avaaz and 250 people gathering in São Paulo – Brazilians have little hope for any immediate result. 

However, after a recent demonstration in the city of Franca where the preacher was attending a meeting, Feliciano’s official website no longer posts his daily agenda. This is a small impact, but shows to all activists that maybe he is starting to doubt God is on his side.