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Ambassador's death result of political use of religion, not simple mob mentality

This isn't really a story about a trailer for a movie. It's a story about the use of religion as a violently divisive political tool.

The hate has a direction, and it has a political purpose, grander than a Youtube video.

Late at night on September 11, an apparent riot over a Youtube clip of a movie mocking the Islamic prophet Muhammad turned into a full-scale assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. By the time the night ended, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chrisopher Stevens, lay dead.

It's easy to draft the narrative, 'Dumb Muslims freak out over dumb movie.' But there's a more complex narrative in these protests and all of them. Really, we're seeing a dangerous and all-too-frequent tactic by government and paramilitary groups: using people's most prized cultural beliefs about life and death and good and evil as a control and manipulation tactic. In these cases, hate has been fomented by agitators with distinct political purposes. The tool they used is an old one: religious belief.

Ansar al-Sharia is a militia with ties to former Libyan ruler Muammar Ghadafi. Its goal is to establish a government based in the political application of religious law.

It may have been wishful thinking on the part of the Muslims with whom Chris Stephen of the Guardian spoke, but the people who were there don't remember anything like a typical protest. [1]  What they remember is a deliberate attack. Individuals carrying military-grade weaponry slipped through a mob creating chaos in order to assassinate an ambassador whose career ran parallel to the Libyan revolution to overthrow Ghadafi in 2011.

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The increasing role of religion in state schools in German-speaking countries endangers secularism

Image from Spiegel Online

With schools in more German-speaking countries moving to teach religion, as well as religious interest groups applying pressure for the increased importance of religion, especially Christianity, in public schools, there is an increased pressure on the separation of church and state.

In general Europe can be considered a fairly tolerant region regarding the freedom of religion and the freedom to have no religion. Most people in Europe are free to follow whatever religion they wish, or none.

However, it is not quite as simple as that, especially for atheists, as each religion takes advantage of its freedom, and seeks to ensure its own place in society, for example through a presence in public schools.

People’s rights to religious belief are taken seriously in Europe. In some cases, great lengths are taken to ensure religious freedom, and also that religion remains an important part of children’s lives.

A previous Atheist Alliance International story highlighted the influence of religion in German schools, how students are expected to study religion unless written permission is given to study ethics instead, and in particular how the Islamic faith may soon be expected to be taught in all schools in Hesse with at least eight Islamic children. [1]

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Egyptian atheist arrested for posting ‘Innocence of Muslims’ on Facebook

Originally published in the Examiner.

27-year-old atheist activist, Alber Saber was arrested in Cairo, Egypt after he posted the now infamous 14-minute trailer for the film “Innocence of Muslims” on the Facebook wall of his group, “Egyptians.Atheists.” Neighbors in his mostly Muslim community of el-Marg in eastern Cairo gathered in protest outside Saber’s home on Thursday and Friday with many calling for his death. According to his mother, one person shouted, “Why are we standing down here? Let’s go upstairs and get him.”

The 14-minute trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” has been blamed for protests and rioting against US embassies in Cairo and in other cities throughout the Middle-East. In Libya, the attacks have led to the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Alber Saber was arrested on Friday after his mother called the police out of fear of the crowd outside their home. Saber was arrested under the rarely used law that prohibits insulting religion. He was allegedly thrown in a crowded jail cell and the officer allegedly told those in the cell that Saber had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. There are reports that Saber has been attacked in the jail cell and according to one blog, his neck was slashed with a razorblade.

A Facebook page has been created to demand for Saber’s release. The “Free Alber Saber” Facebook page has over one thousand “likes” at the time of the publication of this article.

Islamic religious education in German State Hesse soon to be mandatory

Thanks to the group German Atheists [1] for translating this from the German media Welt Online [2].

WEISBADEN, GERMANY - The introduction of Islamic religious education is approaching the finishing line in the German state of Hesse. These faith-oriented classes could begin in the 2013-2014 school year, Nicole Beer, minister of education and cultural affairs in Wiesbaden, said in March.
In their 2009 coalition agreement, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) introduced faith-oriented religious education into state schools.  Students in many public schools already are required to attend classes about Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism, unless they receive permission to take a civics class instead. [3]
 
Beer said the religious education would take place in German; also, it would become a compulsory subject, determining whether students could move up grades. The CDU opposed adding the Islam classes.
 
According to an expert report, two Muslim regional associations, Ditib and Ahmadiyya, fulfill the necessary requirements.  Jörg Uwe Hahn, minister of integration and Hessian FDP chairman, said in March he has always compared the introduction of such a religious education with a marathon.  “Now Ditib and Ahmadiyya have reached the stadium again, but there are two or three more laps to run,” he said.  The final decision could be made towards the end of the summer holidays. 

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Global survey finds fewer religious people, more atheists

A recently released global survey on religion and atheism has found that atheism is on the rise and religiosity is declining.
 
Globally, the survey found that 13% of people identify as atheists and a further 23% as non-religious, while 59% of people identify as religious.  On a comparable basis, since the same question was asked in 2005, the number of people claiming to be religious has fallen by 9% while those specifically identifying as atheists rose by 3%.
 
The survey conducted by WIN-Gallup International, an established worldwide network of opinion pollsters, was based in interviews with more than 50,000 people across 57 countries, which collectively cover more than 73% of the world's population.  The survey captures people's self-identification on the topic of religion, specifically including their identification as atheists.  Key findings of the survey include:
  • Religiosity is higher among the poor: 66% of people in the lowest income group are religious compared to 49% in the highest income group,
  • A higher level of education is associated with lower religiosity:  68% of those with no or only a basic education identify as religious compared to 52% of those with higher than secondary school education,
  • Women are slightly more inclined to identify as atheists (14% globally) than men (12% globally)
  • The top 10 countries where people specifically identify as atheist are China (47%), Japan (31%), Czech Republic (30%), France (29%), South Korea (15%), Germany (15%), Netherlands (14%), Austria (10%), Iceland (10%) and Australia (10%).  Ireland, Canada and Spain followed (10%, 9%, 9%),
  • The countries which illustrated the largest increases in identified atheists were France (+15%), Czech Republic (+10%), Japan (+8%),  Ireland (+7%), Netherlands (+7%), Argentina (+5%), Germany (+5%) and the United States (+4%),
  • The largest declines in religiosity between 2005 and 2012 occurred in Vietnam (from 53% to 30%),  Ireland (from 69% to 47%), France (from 58% to 37%),  Switzerland (from 71% to 50%), South Africa (from 83% to 64%) and Ecuador (from 85% to 70%), 
  • The most religious region of the world is Africa, with 89% of people identifying as religious, followed by Latin America at 84%.  In the Arab World 77% identified as religious, although current volatile countries Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan were at 88%, 83% and 84% respectively,
  • The least religious regions of the world are North and East Asia, where only 17% and 39% of people, respectively, identified as religious.  In Western Europe the figure was 51%, it was 66% in Eastern Europe and 57% in North America, and
  • The top 10 most religious countries are: Ghana (96%), Nigeria (93%), Macedonia (90%), Romania (85%), Kenya (88%), Peru (86%), Pakistan (84%), Moldova (83%), Colombia (83%) and Cameroon (82%).

Kuwaiti man receives 10 years in prison for tweets while the Parliament of Kuwait mulls the death penalty for blasphemy

A Kuwaiti man is in prison for 10 years for blasphemy after a post on Twitter, and, if Kuwait's parliament has its way, the next person to do it could face the death penalty.

Hamad al Naqi, a Shi'a, allegedly insulted Muhammad, his wives and his friends via Twitter. Naqi denies the accusations, saying his Twitter account was compromised, but still received 10 years in prison for the Tweets. [1]

Kuwaiti newspapers have run editorials condemning Naqi, and Sunni activists called for his death. In reaction, members of the Parliament of Kuwait called for the death penalty in future cases. [2] Naqi was denied bail and, according to Amnesty International, Naqi's attorney was not allowed to be present during the investigation phase of the trial.

Codified laws against blasphemy in Kuwait go back to a 1961 publications law, and the length of the jail term is based on the severity of the comments.

Though Naqi plans to appeal his conviction, and still maintains he did not write the offending messages, Naqi Is one of a number of online activists who have recently been detained for criticising religion or the Emir, and he also supported pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, led mainly by the Shiites. Kuwait’s Shiites make up about 30% of Kuwait's one million native citizens.

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Pussy Riot women guilty of hooliganism, will serve two years

Despite an outcry from the international musical community -- and in the face of accusations that the Russian Orthodox Church has its hands deeply in the pockets of President Vladimir Putin’s administration -- Judge Marina Syrova found members of the band Pussy Riot guilty of hooliganism for a protest in February.

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Indian Missionaries Target Brazil's Amerindians

“In each people, a GENUINELY INDIGENOUS church” - image of the Conplei website[1] - missionaries have no limits for cynicism.       


Despite efforts from the Brazilian National Amerindian Foundation (known by its Portuguese acronym, FUNAI) prohibiting the presence of missionaries in areas populated by natives, the creeping influence of missionary groups has found new ways to infiltrate indigenous territory.

According to the 2010 Brazilian national census, the number of evangelical Amerindians grew 42% during the last 10 years, equivalent to 25% of the Amerindian population.  This follows the overall growth of the evangelical church in Brazil: between 2000 and 2010, the number of evangelical believers grew 61%, to 22% of the Brazilian population. [2]  The prohibition on the creation of new Missionary fronts in 1994 and the expulsion of all Missions from indigenous areas in 1991 stated by FUNAI did not convince evangelical churches to give up, instead they found a new way to accomplish their “holy” duty. [3] 

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Hands of Putin and Orthodox Church pulling strings in Pussy Riot arrests

Accused of a kind of psychological vandalism, three members of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot face up to seven years in prison after a protest at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. On Monday, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich all pleaded not guilty to charges of hooliganism stemming from the February protest.
 
Pussy Riot's song at the event described an institutionalized corruption in the Russian Orthodox Church, and savaged President Vladimir Putin. Lyrics included, "Virgin Mary, mother of god, drive Putin out.”  A video of the event shows nothing expressly violent in their actions. Mostly, they just danced the can-can. Nothing they did damaged the facade of the cathedral. They didn't even play loud music; they mimed a concert and later dubbed in the music. The cathedral, completed in 2000 as a glitzy recreation of the pre-revolutionary cathedral razed by the Soviets, represents, to many, the increased influence of the church in the nation's political hierarchy. Patriarch Kirill I, head of the church, once described Putin as "a miracle from God." 
 
Pussy Riot has previously been critical of Putin's links to the church and its influence on his political decisions. Their history of very public criticism could make the situation all the more difficult for the three imprisoned women, who claim not to have been involved in the February protest. Putin himself may have a direct impact in the course of the trial, according to the BBC News. 

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