Archive for the ‘ Atheism ’ Category

As a Gay Atheist, I’m Done Waiting for You to Decide What Your Religion Says About Me

When straight Muslims and gay Muslims debate on the acceptability of homosexuality in religious terms, imagine what it might sound like to a disbeliever – particularly an atheist.

Team A:
“Being a homosexual is not a sin in Potterism! Not only was Lord Harry Potter’s wand powered by the feather of a phoenix – indeed the gayest of all birds in All Mighty’s kingdom – but his mentor, Dumbledore, was a closeted gay man!”

Team B:
“No, no, no, no, no! In Book 4, Chapter 6, page 189, the Blessed Companion, Ron Weasley, makes uncomfortable homophobic jokes about Cedric Diggory – to no objection from Lord Potter himself – clearly indicating that Potterism considers homosexuality offensive!”

As a gay Pakistani atheist, I’d like to ask, “What does it matter? What do I care what 7th century desert-folk , some of them probably fictional, might have said about me? Why do I, as a non-believer, need their validation?”

But I can’t.

In Pakistan, a theological debate isn’t just that. What Islam commands or forbids determines the kind of laws that will be made. ‘Progressive Muslims’ will go down swearing that Islam has nothing to do with it, yet whenever you ask a Muslim person the reason for his disdain towards gay people, the very first thing he’s likely to say is, “Because Islam forbids it!”

“No, it doesn’t!” the gay Muslim vociferously responds. And he presents his own counter-argument, the likes of what ‘Team A’ in my satirical analogy offered.

The gay Muslim does not say, “It doesn’t matter”. You see, in the 7th century, a circle of infallible men crafted a moral code both flawless and timeless. Over the next 1400 years, all progress made in the fields of biology, sociology, reproductive medicine, psychiatry, and political sciences, turned out to be an utter waste of caffeine and human endeavor. After all, the truth about homosexuality, was discovered all the way back in the middle-ages when wise men used camel urine as a reasonable substitute for shampoo.

The gay Muslim does not ask, “Why does it matter?”. He plays the game by the rules set by his own oppressor. The opinion of 7th century men determines your dignity as a homosexual today, so your task is to convince the world that these men did not have a problem with you.

It’s a tall order, and the oppressor knows it. Who really knows what happened 1400 years ago, and what precisely folk back then believed? The debate boils down to what you personally believe in; in which case, you’ve successfully abandoned logic and said, “Being gay is okay, because I believe being gay is okay!”. And you’ve permitted your oppressor to effortlessly counter your facile argument by claiming, “Being gay is sinful, because I believe being gay is sinful!”.

As a gay atheist, I have no say in this matter.

In a place where you cannot discuss gay affairs without ‘Islam’ invariably appearing on the discussion table, I’m a passive listener waiting for Muslims to quantify my dignity in terms of a religion I don’t believe in.

I want to contribute something to the discussion. I cannot. I do not speak your language, so I would simply have to sit outside your mosque until you’ve sorted this out. And in the meantime, I simply hope not to get killed by one of your people, chanting – what appears to my heretical ears – the senseless equivalent of “In the name of Holy Potter, I condemn you to an eternity in Azkaban!!”

You may be offended by that comparison, until you consider something you don’t believe in and how ridiculous it might have sounded to you. Think of a friend who expressed his firm belief in Illuminati’s existence, to which you condescendingly rolled your eyes instead of emphatically nodding to his delusion.

And think of what it might have felt like if his kind, his unproven ideas, and his magical thinking – designed the sociopolitical universe in which you reside as a minority.

Yeah. Life’s like that when you’re a gay atheist in Pakistan.

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What Goldsmiths Feminists and LGBTQ+ Society Don’t Get

Many years ago, as a medical student in Lahore, I wrote a  blog challenging non-medical use of circumcision, namely for religious reasons. The blog went viral on campus. One evening, my anxious roommate informed me of an angry discussion going on about my blog in the hostel common room among some 100 Muslim students, and that I must escape.

I didn’t need to be told twice. I’d sensed the hostility long before that. I’d already been receiving threats of bodily harm on Facebook and on the blog’s comment section.

A small protest broke out on campus, and the Muslim students demanded the Dean to expel me from college, or let them ‘handle’ the matter themselves.

I secretly met with the Dean. I lied to her about the blog being mine. There wasn’t much else I could say. I was human, and I didn’t want to be expelled, or worse. Although a Muslim myself, I was ostracized by the Muslim community. I didn’t complain. That was the better of the possible outcomes, and to some extent, I thought I deserved it. My parents certainly did, and oh, there’s an interesting story there too.

Eventually, I discovered that I had options. I thought about it, did my research, and gradually became an atheist. Before coming out of the closet, I brought up the subject of atheism with my mum and dad in the car, on our way to Islamabad. He told me it’s acceptable to be one from the beginning, but one cannot leave Islam. Why, I asked. Because it’s not a joke, he said, and murtids (apostates) are to be put to death.

You might accuse me of exaggerating, but I’m not. This is also the law in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan: Blasphemy and apostasy are punishable by death.

Needless to say, I did not come out of the closet that evening.

Please note that I used the general term ‘Muslim’ here instead of ‘Islamist’, as in my country, these are not well distinguished. No Musalman identifies himself as an ‘Islamist’ – it’s a label we unilaterally slap onto them to separate them from those whom we describe as the good Muslims. But Islamism is a culture existing within the Muslim community. Consider how you would feel if I argued, “Not all Men are Misogynists!”. I’ll use the same language that you use for white men.

I realize that this idea upsets you, but please bear with me.

Muslims exist simultaneously in two different worlds. One is yours, the Western world, in which Muslims are a marginalized group, and often subjected to gross anti-Muslim bigotry.
Muslims2Worlds
The other world is where I live. In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where Muslims are the ruling class. Islam is not a counter-cultural phenomenon here. It is the established order. It is the law. It is the man. It is the bane of all the minorities within the Muslim states, and even Muslim communities abroad.

And this is a world you are NOT acquainted with. Islamists have convinced you that all the stories about blasphemers being lynched, and atheists being hacked to death, and Iranian women being stoned to death for adultery, or forced to wear burqas, are “way overblown” and mostly just a way to make Muslims look savage.

While that may be the motive for white Islamophobes, the problem is not a myth. Just as an MRA might argue that all the stories about the high prevalence of rape in the United Kingdom or the United States are “way overblown”.

But I know I’m not overreacting.

Maryam Namazie comes from a world where Muslims aren’t a “minority”, but the privileged class, and her tone is suited to that paradigm.

She embodies the agony of all ex-Muslims, including me, who live in constant fear in Islamic countries.

She embodies the frustration of gay brown people, like me, who Muslims attempt to suppress by quoting scripture and telling religious stories to their children about ‘Qaum-e-Lut’.

She embodies the defeat of feminists, like me, who fight for political reforms to end domestic violence, only to have the bill shot down in the Pakistani parliament because it goes against Quranic injunctions.

Those ISOC boys who interrupted the talk by an ex-Muslim Iranian woman, telling her to shut the fuck up, are a marginalized minority to you, but an oppressor to us.

They say that if we insult Islam and call it out as an archaic, barbaric system, then we’re being Islamophobes. The question is, how can we NOT talk about Islam, when Islam is what gets thrown in our face every time we ask for the freedom to love whom we want, and believe what we want?

As a person from a Muslim background, I empathize with your need to clamp down on rhetoric that could be used to incite anti-Muslim bigotry. But stop demanding me to put the welfare of my own atheist ex-Muslim community aside, and go out of my way to aid the empowerment of those who enable my oppression.

Give us a chance to fight the ideological demons that are internal to our Islamic world, the same way you’ve fought with your Christian right.

Help Wanted: Ex-Muslim Seeking White Liberal Allies

Hi, are you liberal?

Do you stand by the minorities?

Are you a friend of the underdog, an ally of the marginalized?

There is a minority of the minority in town that just won’t trend on Twitter.

Hello, I’m a brown, gay, bi-gender, ex-Muslim atheist. Please notice me.

Like a lot of things, ‘privilege’ is a spectrum. Muslims are a marginalized community in Europe and America, often subjected to dangerous stereotypes. I supported Tahira Ahmed, the Muslim woman refused an unopened can of diet coke aboard a flight for “security reasons”. I yelled at Richard Dawkins – a person who I usually admire – on Twitter, for his paranoid rants against a Muslim child arrested for making a clock.

I stand up for Muslims wherever they face persecution, but they don’t stand up for me. Oh, and if you object to my use of the word “they”, notice that I’m making use of the same language you’d use for white people. You must recognize the context in which I speak.

In my part of the world – the Islamic Republic of Pakistan – Muslims are not an oppressed minority. They are the ruling class. If they find out who I am, I would be legally executed, if not lynched – not even because I’ve said anything blasphemous, but because I’m an ex-Muslim, an “apostate”.

Islam here is not a counter-cultural phenomenon. It is the writ of the establishment. It is the bane of the minorities, dissidents, freethinkers and liberals such as yourself who refuse to abide by the “official” customs. Things like hijab, niqab, dupatta or any form of pardah are not an “identity” here; they are garments either imposed by law, or enforced by sanctioning the social harassment of women who refuse to wear them.

People like myself, dear friends of mine, have fled to countries like UK, Canada and the United States. These ‘blasphemers’ and ‘apostates’ of the East, the first-hand witnesses of the effects of unmitigated Islamic power, often become ‘Islamophobes’ in the West. Why wouldn’t they be fearful of a religion that has been used to justify all forms of cruelty against them?

‘Good’ Atheists like CJ Werlerman, wouldn’t know the difference. We have often been accused of being “native informants”. We are guilty of not putting the full weight of our support behind a community that treats us with derision, not just in Pakistan, but abroad as well.  It is more than just ‘possible’ for a group to be oppressed in some way, and be an oppressor in another.

Who’s defending us? Werlerman? Lean? Greenwald? Ben Affleck?

Many of my people are locked in accidental alliances with the neo-cons, the anti-Muslim bigots – the likes of Pamela Gellar and Pat Condell – both of whom I intensely dislike. Again, what choice do we have? You defend, and even celebrate Islam as a courtesy to its marginalized adherents in your countries, but that ideology is poison to us; and our only consolation is that not all Muslims follow it uniformly.

Why would you ask us to make peace with a scripture that refers to my kind as the “worst of all beasts”? Why would you want me to get along with a religion that throws Sodom and Gomorrah in my face when I try to speak up for LGBTQ rights? Why would you expect me, as a feminist, to not condemn a book that justifies domestic abuse of women, denial of their equal inheritance rights, and the practice of having a woman’s testimony being valued as only half that of a man’s.

Would you like us, the “native informants”, to pretend that there is no culture of shunning and mistreating ex-Muslims in the Muslim community, so not to intensify anti-Muslim prejudice that is abundant in Europe and America? Do you want us all to go down quietly, because the needs of the many (Muslims) outweigh the needs of the few (ex-Muslims)?

What about my friend, Irtaza, who committed suicide because his Muslim family and community wouldn’t accept him as an atheist?

You expect us to join you in the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry, and I want to. I get you. But in the struggle against anti ex-Muslim bigotry, we stand alone. We remain unacknowledged.

People deserve advocacy. People deserve not to be reduced to their religious, racial or gender identities. But bad ideas and cultures deserve no sympathy. Neither must the baby be thrown out with the bathwater, nor should the bathwater be rescued along with the baby.

An Open Letter to “Good” Atheists who Respect Religion

Dear Conformists,

Hi. Are you rolling your eyes at me for calling you a conformist? I know I shouldn’t insinuate that your admiration for religion and its beauty is a way of appeasing roughly 89% of the world population which you know is religious; that it is just a way of getting a cheap nod, because let’s face it, even if you sweep every atheist reading your book, essay, column or blog off her/his feet, the world’s applause-o-meter barely registers a sound. Make the theists happy, and that is what gets you likes on Facebook.

It could just be that you genuinely believe in religion as, not an absurdity or a pernicious force, but something benign; something we can easily coexist with. That’s your opinion, and it’s fine.

Then there are those who believe that it’s okay to be an anti-theist who criticizes religion, but we should be still be respectful towards other people’s beliefs. No argument there. That is ideally how it should be done.

Unfortunately, anti-theists cannot be expected to act more “ideally” than any other group indulging in activism, online or otherwise. What’s more unfortunate is that most theists, with their inordinately thin skin, are more likely to find the idea of anti-theism itself pretty provocative. You’re just very likely to be labelled “smug”, “arrogant” and a “troll” if you’re not diplomatically starting off every sentence of your criticism with, “Yes, religion is great and I deeply admire some of your religious personalities, but….”

Brendan O’Neil, in a recent article on The Telegraph, wonders how atheists have become “the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet”. History is not his strong suit, because atheists have always been regarded as the “most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet”. Islam calls them, “the worst of all beasts” and the bible refers to them as “corrupt fools”. And that’s how its followers have treated the godless for the past…I don’t know…about 2000 years.

That is why it is necessary to salute the valor and courage of our theists and “good-guy” atheists, defending us all against the rise of smug atheists who make disrespectful internet memes. Actually, no. You are an embarrassing redundancy, right up there with the white activists fighting for men’s rights.

In any kind of activism, there will always be a minority that resorts to tactics that may be considered distasteful. Like vegans calling you “murderers”. Socialists calling you “thieves”. Feminists calling you “misogynistic assholes”. Anti-theist atheists – those claiming (not unreasonably) that religion is a malignant force – are expected to act far more diplomatic and civilized than all other kinds of activism. It is because the subject they deal in is still considered so sensitive, the slightest pinch induces massive butt-hurt.

Atheist debaters are expected to work with teaspoons where all other activists are allowed to work with spades. And it is because of this, that atheists come off as more acerbic and abrasive than than those who criticize any other ideology or system they find harmful.

I don’t need to apologize for atheist trolls any more than feminists, Occupy folk, Democrats, liberals, LGBT and human rights activists have to apologize for the dicks they contribute to the internet.

And as for respecting religion, I don’t need to respect any religion claiming that I, as an atheist, am so vile that I deserve eternal torture. That’s like you calling me a “prick”, and demanding that I respect your belief. Sorry, can’t do; especially when you’re passing on their hateful ideas to your kids, and then scratching your heads when they grow up to be bigots.

A Western Liberal’s Guide to Islamic Realities

If you’re an American liberal, or a liberal from any one of the other ‘Western’ nations, there’s a chance that you’ve worn out the word ‘Islamophobia’ through repetitive use.

One such liberal is Nathan Lean, who wrote an almost-horeshit article for Salon recently. “Almost” because it raises some valid points, “horseshit” because, well, it’s horseshit.

For too long, many Western liberals have acted as apologists for the Islamic ideology as a special courtesy to the Muslim minorities who, since 9/11, have suffered much discrimination. Please stop that. Recognize the difference between attacking Muslims and attacking  their beliefs, these are not the same.

Nathan Lean makes the following objections about the activities of prominent atheists, which I will respond to individually.

1) Dawkins cannot assert that Islam’s a dangerous ideology if he hasn’t read the Quran.

I liked Dawkins’ example that you can conclude that Nazism is dangerous without actually reading the Mein Kampf (this is not a correlation between the two books).

It’s evident from Dawkins’ works that he is very well aware of Islamic concepts and beliefs, even if he has not read the exact text from which these beliefs are derived.  That, and the statistical fact that religious terrorism is almost entirely a fief of Islam in today’s world, imbues some credibility to Dawkins’ claims.

2) Chomsky has criticized Dawkins and Hitchens as “religious fanatics” who demand that their followers blindly support the whims of politicians.

Chomsky’s a dick. Take it from a citizen of Pakistan, whose army Chomsky has publicly praised as highly efficient – the same organization that is accused of providing protection to Osama bin Laden (whose hideout was only a short drive away from a military academy) as well as other Islamist groups, consistently interfering in the country’s political processes, and committing unspeakable human rights violations in Balochistan.

Besides, the crux of Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ entire narrative is evidence, evidence and evidence. Speaking of which, Chomsky cannot offer any proof that these two have ever led their followers to blindly support anything.

3) Dawkins’ tweets about women in Islam

Dawkins tweeted: “Islam is comforting? Tell that to a woman, dressed in a bin bag [trash bag], her testimony worth half a man’s and needing 4 male witnesses to prove rape.”

Assuming that Nathan Lean has read the Quran, unlike Dawkins who allegedly just pulls stuff out of his behind, he should be aware of the following verse:

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And let two men from among you bear witness to all such documents [contracts of loans without interest]. But if two men be not available, there should be one man and two women to bear witness so that if one of the women forgets (anything), the other may remind her. (2:282)
—————————————————————— – – – –

And unlike Christians, most Muslims today take the Quran literally.

The four-witnesses rule has been followed by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan until 2006 (and still followed in certain Islamic countries). And full body covering is a common religious rule which, though not strictly found in the Quran, is followed by countless Muslims around the world in the name of Islam. These are not just actions of a “few bad Muslims”, these are hard Islamic principles.

And then there’s the objection to this tweet by Dawkins: “Next gem from BBC Idiot Zoo: ‘Some women feel “protected” by the niqab.'”. It’s an objection that makes no sense, unless you think covering your face is a harmless thing, and not a social barrier. Clearly, you’re not a feminist.

Dawkins and other prominent atheists have been just as sardonic and acerbic with unreasonable Christian dicta.

4) Dawkins lambasted UCL and the Islamic group for allowing segregation.

They didn’t allow the segregation, they enforced it. Lawrence Krauss reported that he was outraged to see some nice young people being split up and told where to sit by the organizers, which was apparently the trigger for him almost storming out.

Lean makes a fair point that Dawkins should have criticized the gender-separate seating options for orthodox Jews at the Barclays Center, New York. But it’s highly likely that it simply did not fall on Dawkins’ radar (the UCL gender-segregation incident was made famous in the atheist community because it was hosting a God debate. Also, unless you’re advocating the two-wrongs-make-a-right-rule, I think we’re done.

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Dear Western Liberals,

I’m an ex-Muslim, born and raised among the Muslims in an Islamic country. I’ve studied Islam in much detail. And unlike you, who might have done the same probably just to appear more open-minded to your liberal friends, I did it because I had very little choice in the matter.

Your apologia for Islam offends us; a personal slap to my face, and to the face of just about every ex-Muslim, every woman, homosexual, non-Muslim, freethinker and free-spirit, who has been discriminated against, if not overtly oppressed, under Islamic law.

Your fervor for defending Muslims from discrimination and wicked stereotypes is admirable, and I share this fervor as well. But I must insist that you recognize the distinction between protecting Muslims’ from bigots, and acknowledging the dangers posed by the Islamic ideology.

No, all Muslims are not misogynists or terrorists. But that is usually because they have made a conscious or subconscious decision to ignore many of the rougher, archaic tenets, or re-interpret them to become more compatible with the modern era. Otherwise, you cannot be a spokesperson for gender equality, the LGBT community, free speech, AND Islam at the same time.

Again, please stop cozying up to an obviously harmful ideology as a courtesy to the mistreated Muslim minorities in your countries.

United We Stand

Coexist

Secular Groups and Intra-House Politics

It’s bad enough that the free-thinkers are among the most widely persecuted groups in the world; that many of us are forced to keep our identities secret just so we can avoid being yelled at, discriminated against, or shot for apostasy. Evidently, I need to guard my ass from factions within the secular groups too.

Pakistan Atheists and Agnostics (PAA), and countless other secular groups around the world, are not just social clubs. Our cohesiveness is a defense mechanism. This group supported me when I had to climb out of my dorm window as a mob at my university tried to attack me for being an atheist. They were there to ward off the feeling of crippling isolation I felt in the year following my de-conversion. They were there to assist me through the daily frustration of hiding my identity from everybody, including my parents.

Naturally, I feel that people who allow unpleasant experiences with group members to generate rifts within the group itself, can go fuck a jagged keyhole.

We’re not a cult, but we are a support group. And we stick together for more reasons than just religion-bashing. Atheists and agnostics who deny this persecution are invited to step out of whatever sorry Defense, Bahria or F-sector bubble they live in and smell the air of real Pakistan.

It is becoming increasingly painful for me to introduce myself as a feminist, knowing what self-proclaimed feminists they have done locally and internationally to secular groups. I sympathize with women who have faced sexism within these circles, but I have nil respect for the ass-lords who treat misogynism as a uniquely “secular” phenomenon, instead of a general phenomenon which is present among all groups including, yes, the atheist ones.

I’m talking, of course, about people like Rebecca “Elevatorgate” Watson and the Atheism+ crowd. They are the ones who have almost completely dedicated their lives to sabotaging the secular movement by portraying sexism as an “atheist problem” rather than a pandemic that’s pervading the secular community just as it’s pervading others.

While providing additional ammunition to a world that is already starkly anti-atheist, they tend to ignore the fact that atheists and agnostics are far better aligned with the cause of feminism than the general population. Without religion, we have one less excuse to support the anti-abortion, hetero-normative, “cover-yourself-in-a-trashbag-so-I-feel-less-tempted” attitude.

PAA, and I’m certain this is true for other groups too, is hounded by people who have allowed bystanding members to become collateral damage in their personal relationship battles; who have downed group websites, and threatened to rat out their fellow atheists possibly putting their lives at risk; who are engaged in a perpetual vendetta, an endless bitch-fit against an atheist group(s).

Get…a…grip!

I’m not advocating tribal mentality. Perhaps secularists in the developed world are in a better state, but we in the developing countries, particularly the Muslim world, have enough extrinsic shit to deal with without the unending intra-house politics.