Lately, the New Atheist movement has come under fire in the news, as is inevitable with movements such as this. Consisting of popular figures like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, New Atheism advocates actively opposing religion through rational argument whenever possible. This movement, as well as atheism in general (New Atheism does not represent all atheists, only a few), has been a hot topic recently because of critics saying it specifically promotes hatred against Muslims and their beliefs — in other words, Islamophobia.
Now is as good a time as any to state the obvious: not all atheists hold the exact same beliefs. With all the fiery debates and deceitful name-calling going on, it is easy to forget that most groups aren’t monolithic hive-minds. It is true that some atheists might be Islamophobic, just as some Christians, some Jews, and some Buddhists are probably Islamophobic as well. Look at any group and you will be sure to find a few members who, for whatever reason, firmly dislike members of another group.
However, in my experience the atheists that I know do not hate Muslims. Atheists generally tend to be wary of the religion itself, not the actual followers. True, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism being in the media spotlight in recent years, some of these atheists might focus on Islam, but even so I have yet to meet an atheist who stated that they honestly despise someone solely based on the religion that person follows. These atheists do exist, but they make up a very small minority of the population.
Religious interpretations and practices vary so heavily sect to sect and person to person, it’s almost impossible to create a giant blanketed statement that accurately captures all followers of a faith. Generalizations are a simple way for us to attribute qualities to a group of people. Even when these qualities (whether negative or positive) are for the most part true, we have to remember that there are always exceptions. When emotions run high, it can be too easy to criticize an entire group of people without rationally thinking it through. I believe that it is important for atheism, which finds its very roots in rationalism, to remember this.
Jay Grafft is a 3rd year communication major.
The question of whether or not atheists are Islamophobic is an interesting one because it requires us to use the same defense as those whom we scrutinize. Several of the so-called New Atheism’s major figures, namely Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, have come under fire in recent weeks. Their critics argue that they have abandoned the traditionally scientific approach of atheism for a more populist hatred of Islam born out of fear.
Those critics are essentially right, which is why it is now atheists who have to demonstrate that the extremists in our own community do not represent us as a whole.
Richard Dawkins decided to celebrate my birthday, March 1, with some inflammatory tweets about Muslims. Immediately after claiming he had never actually read the Quran, he then has the audacity to ‘cite’ Islam as the greatest force for evil today. Skepticism and willful ignorance make strange bedfellows, my one-time friend.
Harris, on the other hand, is a couple kinds of fucked-up these days. In his book, Letter to a Christian Nation, he posits that there truly is no such thing as Islamophobia on the grounds that the controversial aspects of that religion are fundamental to its teachings. Meanwhile, it only took him a few weeks to publish “In Defense of Profiling,” where he claims that the western world should openly profile anyone who even appears Muslim. I’m not going to touch what ‘looking Muslim’ even means when it’s actually a religion spanning continents, but it’s first-order foolishness to treat Muslims as a monolithic empire of evil.
Nothing is ever all good or all bad. I disagree with the numerous anti-gay messages that have been credited to Muslim leaders, but I won’t write off people like Mustafa Abdullah, a Muslim campaigning against North Carolina’s anti-gay Amendment One. It’s easy to say that the way Muslim countries monitor their women is wrong, but what is our moral high-ground when we would readily profile an entire religion? We can condemn their violent methodology of responding to criticism, but then again we have armed service members in this country who are willing to kill them for a college education.
When you become self-satisfied in your pursuit of a problem, as certain prominent atheists have, you can be just as wrong as any of your enemies. Conflict-centric portrayals in the media have driven us to choose sides, and these polemic debates are bringing out the worst in everyone. If theists can see past the xenophobic extremism of our own quasi-leadership, then it’s our duty to do the same.
Travis Vail is a fourth-year communication major.
This article appeared online only at dailynexus.com pm Friday, April 19, 2013.