New Atheists, Old Tricks

Following the Boston bombings, many Muslims felt obliged (though it's a shame that they felt this way) to explain that they do not support terrorism and the actions of some others who claim to share their faith. The pressure for Muslims to apologize for, or distance themselves from, other Muslims, came from the Western media and public, racist law enforcement agencies, as well as New Atheists. In response, I'd like to say that as an atheist, I do not support the actions of New Atheists, and do not consider them worthy to represent the banner of atheism.

In the simplest and correct definition of the term, atheism is simply a lack of belief in any deity, or the possibility of a deity. I am an atheist, and this just means that I do not believe in god. It means almost literally nothing else at this point in my life. New Atheists, who make up an ideological movement owing its existence to such figures as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, begin at the same point as me, but take their lack of belief in a far different direction.

I do not consider myself to be superior to theists because we differ on the issue of god. New Atheists often implicitly or explicitly do. In fact, New Atheists frequently uphold a hierarchy of faith, which enforces how they regard others. To a New Atheist, the best stranger is the stranger who is also an atheist while a stranger who keeps their belief in deities to themselves is the ideal sort of theist. Yet a stranger who allows their belief in a deity to dictate components of their life, in accordance with previously existing communities and institutions (i.e., a stranger involved with religion) is something the New Atheist mocks and condemns.

Dawkins claims journalist Mehdi Hasan cannot be taken seriously because he is Muslim

The second difference between myself and New Atheists comes in the way we regard such things as science and rational thought. New Atheists and I both claim to appreciate these things, though we show it in varying ways. For instance, I tend not to believe things I can't prove (like talking snakes, objective morality or heaven) while New Atheists take pride in attacking theists for their supposed lack of logic, because, well, science! For proof of this point, spend five minutes on any given day browsing the Atheist sub-section on Reddit.

Beyond the way we regard analytical skills, New Atheists and myself apply our analytical skills in different ways as well. I try to properly analyze everything, while the analytical prowess of New Atheism is selective. New Atheists love to poke holes in theistic beliefs by using science to show that these beliefs are false. New Atheists get giddy from the idea that what religion once had to create fables to explain, science can now provide empirical answers for. Yet when it comes to the behaviour of religious peoples, New Atheists logical skills go out the window.

This behaviour is especially evident in regards to Islam, as New Atheism has a nasty history of Islamophobia, which Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, as well as Murtaza Hussain for Al Jazeera, have pointed out. There is little defense major New Atheists can give to charges of Islamophobia, and in fact, the defenses they have given further outline their inability to calmly analyze events involving religion.

In a reply to Hussain's critiques of New Atheism, Samuel Harris, a leader in New Atheism, claims that he is not Islamophobic. He says that instead he spends disproportionate amounts of time viciously attacking Islam and Muslims because Islam is a more dangerous religion than the rest of the major ones. Harris backs this claim up by pointing to the Middle East, notorious figures like Osama bin Laden and numerous terrorist groups, and supports (just as Hitchens did) torture and racial profiling to combat this perceived menace. In fact, Harris has even claimed that "Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies."

Yet, belief in Allah is not the cause of the problems which plague the Middle East. Hundreds of years of imperialism, numerous American invasions, continued Israeli aggression, corruption, proxy wars and Western support for brutal dictators have all played a major role in shaping the Middle East. You can't attribute the current standing of the Middle East to Islam.

An example can be found in Lebanon with regards to Islamic fundamentalists Hezbollah. Years of conflict with Israel have left many in the country angry, desperate and poor. Hezbollah has, in the eyes of its supporters, managed to provide the community with much needed amenities, while offering a military response to Israeli aggression. If Muslim Lebanese civilians are attracted to Hezbollah, it is not because Islam is a violent religion, but because they perceive Hezbollah as a liberating force against the aggression which has destroyed their lives. It would be absurd to claim that minorities in the United States are disproportionately charged of crime because of their religious views, race or ethnicity. Relevant explanations include racial profiling, poverty, and unjust laws. The same holds true for claiming Muslims support alleged terrorist groups because of Islam.

And this is where my major difference with New Atheists come into play. I am an atheist because I tend to not believe in things I have no evidence for. Yet New Atheists believe scores of myths, with no evidence, about Muslims and Islam. While they enjoy poking fun at people who believe in flying horses, the sort of beliefs they carry, which justify imperialism, racial profiling, and torture as a means of combating theism, are far more dangerous. These beliefs are also disingenuous. To defend racism or imperialism with atheism is a cop-out; these views cannot be attributed as stemming from atheism. As an atheist, I apologize to Muslims for the vile my so called 'peers' spew. They do not represent me.