Is New Atheism an anti-Muslim, white supremacy movement?
Cenk Uygur is the lead anchor of one of the most watched online news broadcasts - The Young Turks Network. I’ve appeared on Uygur’s show twice. The purpose of that previous sentence is not an exercise in passive-aggressive bragging, but rather to state that I have met the man on two separate occasions.
As a journalist, I have appeared on many programmes - OK, that was bragging - because media outlets not only need content, but also analysis of what today’s headlines mean. They also need a wide variety of perspectives. Thus, I’ve met a great number of radio, television and online hosts. In related news, if I were forced to identify my one superpower, I would claim that it is my ability to make an accurate assessment of an individual’s humanity at the moment of face-to-face introduction.
At that moment where hands meet and pleasantries are exchanged, both narcissists and sociopaths look beyond you and talk past you in a way that makes you feel like you’re not even there. This is the polar opposite experience I have had on both occasions with Uygur. Every atomic particle projected from his being screams: “I care about you. I care about people. Now let’s communicate.”
Why am I telling you all this about Uygur?
On last week’s show, Uygur asked whether anti-Muslim bigotry has become the new McCarthyism - a metaphor to the 1950s anti-Communist “practice of making unfair allegations, or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism”. During these years, lives and careers were destroyed by even the mere suspicion one associated with or knew a Communist. “You’re friends with a Communist - you can’t be trusted,” became the refrain of “Red scare” accusers.
Uygur provided a number of examples of anti-Muslim McCarthyism in practice. He pointed to those who accuse President Obama of being “anti-Israel” because he “knows two Palestinian professors”. In other words: “Obama pals around with Muslims - ergo ipso facto - he can’t be trusted.”
Uygur, an avowed atheist of Turkish origin, mentioned how he is often accused of being a “Muslim sympathiser”, “Muslim apologist”, or “terrorist excuser”. Taunts that have equally followed me since my 2010 release of Koran Curious: A Guide for Infidels and Believers.
“Cenk, everyday you’re sticking up for the Muslims,” Uygur said, referring to himself in the third person, parroting those who accuse him of the aforementioned “liberal sympathies”.
“Yeah, I’m guilty. Guilty as fucking charged, man,” Uygur rebutted. “I am not for Islam. I have received death threats for what I have said about Islam. But yes, I stick up for Muslim-Americans. And if you want to get them, you’re going to have to come through me.”
This is the declaration of a man who cares for all humans, no matter their religious persuasion or tribal affiliation. This is the declaration of a man who sees humans as more than the sum parts of their personal relationship with a God.
Uygur especially singled out “the whole Sam Harris, Bill Maher wing” of atheism aka New Atheism, aka anti-theism. “They are rabid, man. Everyday they do it [attack Muslim-Americans and those who defend Muslim-Americans] online. Everyday. They’re relentless.”
Uygur rightfully asserted that many of these New Atheists wrongly contend they’re liberal, even though celebrity New Atheists support profiling and “want [authorities] to go into their mosques, universities, college groups, and if need be urge first [nuclear] strikes against them [a reference to Harris’s book].” Uygur added: “If you believe any of that, you are not remotely progressive. You are a foaming at the mouth neoconservative… so stop pretending you’re liberals. You’re not! You agree with the Dick Cheneys of the world. That’s what you are.”
I forwarded Uygur’s clip to my 19-year-old son. My son’s formative years were (ages seven to 18) spent with me in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. Most of his dearest friends are Muslim. He was moved by Uygur’s passionate plea. “Dad, that clip has now gone viral among my friends back home,” he told me.
As heartfelt and obviously unscripted as Uygur’s plea was, however, he fell short in identifying what the New Atheist movement really is, or rather, what it has really become. It’s become a pro-white supremacy movement. New Atheism is anti-Muslim, anti-Arab bigotry dressed up with a thin veneer of fancy sounding words.
A crude language
Individually, and on a personal level, however, New Atheists can be good people. Collectively and unwittingly, however, they not only espouse white supremacy but they also speak in a language that is every bit as crude and racist as fascist, neo-Nazi, movements. Although a little more discreetly.
Moreover, New Atheists enthusiastically, and often unintentionally, promote western imperialism, and any individual who supports an erroneous narrative (“clash of civilisations” is the theme of New Atheism) that, by design, attempts to justify western intervention in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia is, ergo ipso facto, a white supremacist.
Case in point: Somali-born, anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali is feted by the New Atheist movement. Her most staunch supporters include celebrity New Atheists Harris, Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins. Last weekend, Hirsi Ali was the keynote speaker at the largest annual gathering of atheists - the American Atheists convention, despite the fact both her fictitious biography and anti-Muslim bigotry are well documented.
On Wednesday, Harris launched a tirade on Twitter against liberals who have been vocal in their criticism of Hirsi Ali. “Seeing the attacks on Ayaan this week has been like watching a time-lapse of the left’s intellectual and moral decay. Ugly and indelible,” he tweeted. This is the same guy who praised Europe’s fascists for being the only ones saying “sensible” things about Muslims.
Consider this: Hirsi Ali called for a “military war” against Islam -“all Islam”; praised Netanyahu’s 2014 ethnic cleansing of Gaza, which left 2,200 Palestinians dead, including 800 women and children; expressed sympathy for Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik; and lauded Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is arguably Egypt’s most brutal military dictator ever, as a “reformer”.
But Sam Harris, who once said we should profile all Muslims and anyone who conceivably looks like a Muslim and defends the aforementioned heinous remarks of Hirsi Ail, thinks that it’s the left who are in “moral decay”?
Like their anti-theistic genocidal forefathers of the middle 20th century, New Atheists dabble in the dark arts of scientific racism. “The cult of science promises to eradicate or reform the tainted and morally inferior populations of the human race,” warns Chris Hedges. Today’s New Atheists proclaim science and reason will save humanity; bring an end to all wars; and bring about a more perfect civilisation. On the way to this imagined utopia, however, and again like their genocidal, anti-theistic forefathers of yore, they champion those who urge violence and discrimination.
Case in point: Bill Maher defended Netanyahu’s racism by suggesting America would attempt to block black people from the polls if America too were surrounded by “black nations”.
As for Hirsi Ali, no New Atheist alive in America today is unfamiliar with her story. But it’s not the retelling of her story they seek. They want to rehear again and again how “Islam is one of the world’s great evils”, or “the mother lode of bad ideas”, or the greatest threat to Western civilisation, a “nihilistic, cult of death” and so on. They want to be made afraid of Islam in order to justify their hate of Muslims.
The empire’s narrative
“Women of colour like Ayaan are celebrated by the mainstream only because they reinforce empire’s narrative about a backwards Muslim world,” tweeted Rania Khalek, a journalist for Electronic Intifada.
Sam Charles Hamad is a journalist with great expertise on the Middle East and US foreign policy. On the day Hirsi Ali spoke and received “a standing ovation” at the American Atheist’s convention, Hamad posted on Facebook:
“You’ll find that the vast majority of Ali’s fans are white males who hate Muslims and, in her, have found a perfect little brown-skinned conduit for their bigotry. I’m not a racist or prejudiced, they can say as they spout racism and bigotry. I’m a big fan of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The fact that she’s a complete fraud making a shitload of cash at the expense of these slobbering white bigots would be rather funny if she also didn’t appeal to genuine fascists and demonise Muslims in such a fascistic and potentially dangerous manner.”
On last week’s episode of my podcast Foreign Object, I asked journalist Max Blumenthal why our recent respective criticisms of Hirsi Ali have generated so much blowback hate, particularly from New Atheists and neoconservatives. “The narrative Hirsi Ali tells is … very comforting to Americans. It tells them that they’re good. That they’re inherently good. That they’re peaceful. That all these wars they’ve been involved in have been forced upon them. That their hands are clean. That they’re in a religious conflict with no political roots that requires a nuanced discussion or historical context. That colonialism never happened. That lies about WMDs never happened. That all of these are just left-wing lies, and it is they who speak in a clear, comforting language. [The reason we are hated] is we are interrupting that narrative.”
I’m glad Uygur is courageous enough to interrupt “that narrative” too. “If you want to say Islam is wrong, I’m a million percent with you,” Uygur declared. “If you want to say we should treat this group of people differently, you’re fucking wrong and I’ll fight you to the death on it.”
If there’s a lesson to be gained from the US state of Indiana “walking back” of its anti-LGBT laws last week due to widespread public outrage, it’s that hate can be conquered if those who peddle it are marginalised to the edges. New Atheists are the secular equivalent of the Christian Right. They too must be overcome. A civil, pluralistic, secular society depends on it.
- CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, God Hates You. Hate Him Back, Koran Curious, and is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Bill Maher arrives at the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on 2 March, 2014