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New Atheists Are Not Islamophobes

An article by Nathan Lean is making the rounds on the internet and it seems like everybody is jumping on the atheist-bashing bandwagon. Lean recently wrote an article for Salon – the title: Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens: New Atheists flirt with Islamophobia. Many anti-Islamophobia crusaders quickly shared it with comments like “Dawkins’ idiot brigade”. To be fair, many liberals, atheists and Christians shared it too. But Lean’s article is currently a hot favourite in circles that dislike atheists in general because of their atheist views.

If you’ve read Lean’s article, you probably already know who he is. But if you haven’t, let me fill you in.  Nathan Lean is the editor-in-chief of the non-profit organisation Aslan Media, an aggressive pro-Islamic, self-proclaimed opponent of Israel of which some members – including Lean himself – hold a reputation for making anti-Israel comments on Twitter. Aslan Media is supposedly an anti-Islamophobia crusader, taking cheap shots at Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller in the past, and been called out by Jihad Watch on more than one occasion. It is also ‘supported’ by Loonwatch, a group of anonymous people who smear almost every critic of Islam while also outing anti-Muslim bigots.  Lean is also the author of the book The Islamophobia Industry, which received a critical review by Jonathan Schanzer for the Wall Street Journal, and elicited a petulant and defensive response piece viciously attacking Schanzer by Loonwatch. As well as writing books, Lean also endorses cyber terrorism:    

A criticism of 'new atheism' is that this type of non-believer is the 'mean' and ‘in-your-face’.  Lean puts new atheists like Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens in the ranks of Pamela Geller and anti-Muslim bigots, calling new atheists ‘the new Islamophobes’. This is a little disturbing and so over the top that it sounds almost absurd.  Anyone who has read the works of 'new atheists' such as Dawkins and Harris knows that their ‘invectives’ are directed against Islam as a religion, and not Muslims. If Lean should be criticising anyone, it should be those who engage in destructive acts of terror, those who make the lives of people hell on earth by giving fatwas, those Muslims who kill Muslims and then go on to whine about Islamophobia.

Besides, as a response article on Harry's Place points out, Lean was either not aware of or completely ignored the fact that Dawkins by no means constrains himself to criticising Islam:

I compared the speaking style of a self-promoting rabbi to Hitlerian shrieks. Made it clear there was NO other similarity. But oh, the fuss!
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) March 25, 2013

Islam doesn't have monopoly on sexual apartheid. bit.ly/GPXjJb El Al sometimes connives at orthodox Jews' seat segregation efforts
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) March 30, 2013

Lean further asserts that new atheists are no better than Pamela Geller and her disciples because to him the criticism coming from new atheists at Islam is the “uneducated ramblings of backwoods racists rather than appraisals based on intellect, rationality and reason”.  Anyone who is familiar with the writings of Dawkins and Harris who has watched these men debate theist scholars knows that their arguments are based on rational thought and intellect. And while I don’t approve of the Spencer/Geller bigoted rhetoric because I think they are not being helpful in any way, it would be hypocritical of me to deny them freedom of speech or threaten to release their personal information just because I don’t approve of their message – something Lean fails to understand.

Lean also conveniently ignores Islam’s track record itself. What is most amusing is that while he and his types consider any criticism of Islam to equal Islamophobia, they conveniently ignore the acts of Islamofascists; as Jonathan Schanzer writes in his review of The Islamophobia Industry:

The author fails to grapple with the fact that, unlike average Muslims, Islamist terror groups like al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah do commit unspeakable acts of violence in the name of Islam—actions that surely help account for why many Americans (49%, according to a 2010 poll) hold an unfavourable view of Islam, even when they view favourably Muslims that they personally know.

He also seems to be unaware of Muslims who oppose women’s rights and gay rights or all the oppressive laws that Muslim majority countries practice.  

Say, is Christianity better than Islam? No. For years the followers of Christ ruled Europe, a  time that is recorded in the history books as the Dark Ages. What happened? Things changed, not because Christianity improved, but because its power and influence significantly decreased. If Muslims living in Muslim-majority countries want their respective countries to become progressive and secular, their religion will have to become less powerful and influential. This can happen through debate, open criticism and conversations.

But many of us who criticise Islam for its oppressive laws are very well familiar with the label of Islamophobe. It can be safely assumed that all the critics of Islam have been labelled ‘Islamophobe’ at some point, amusingly many a time by the same Muslims who don’t feel shy making anti-Ahmadi and anti-Shia comments. Islamophobia means prejudice against Muslims because of fear. I find Islam as a religion an oppressive, backward, distasteful, misogynistic and dividing religion. But does that mean I am an Islamophobe? No, I have never held any prejudices against Muslims. I have many Muslim friends who have stood beside me when fighting for freedom of speech and freedom of conscience and some of them would agree that Islam needs some reforms, and none of them think of me as an Islamophobe.

The Amazon ranking for Lean’s book is #106,786 (Sept. 2012), whereas the Amazon rankings of the books written by the New Atheists he has been criticising are:

The God Delusion (Dawkins): #720
The End of Faith (Harris): #2802
God is not Great (Hitchens):  #1652

Of course, these books are older than Lean’s book but perhaps Lean’s criticism of the New Atheists stems from jealousy?  New atheists have been a media success. Their books sell, their debates are instant hits on YouTube. What many critics of new atheism fail to grasp is that new atheists are no different than regular atheists. The only difference is that new atheists are atheists "with attitude". They’re brainy and brash. Their cogitations on the creation of the universe have indeed piqued the interest of many believers. New atheists like Dawkins and Harris are popular in the media because they are popular among the people.

Lean’s criticism of Dawkins’ tweet can be argued by asking, how many of us who criticize neo-Nazis have actually read Mein Kampf? If Lean was judging Dawkins’ intellect in 140 characters, he should also know that many of us can judge his by many of his tweets too. And while it may be unhelpful to describe Islam as evil and Dawkins would have gained more agreement if he had made his point in a better way, it can also be counter-argued that a religion can only be defined, particularly if you’re an atheist, by the way it is practiced.

Lean also criticises Dawkins for praising far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders who made the film Fitna, but Lean failed to see that Dawkins’ praise was directed at Wilders’ bold step even when he knew his life could be threatened. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to make Fitna, no matter how amateurish you think the film was. What’s more, it’s interesting that Lean didn’t say anything about the ‘force’ behind the killing of Theo van Gogh or the recent attack on Lars Hedegaard.

What Nathan Lean and his supporters don’t realise is that if religious scriptures play the role of a weapon, the person pulling the trigger is in fact a follower of those scriptures who believes he or she possesses the absolute truth. Hence, the opposition to women’s rights and gay rights, witch-burning, prostitute-stoning and suicide bombings. Decrying the harms of religion is not a “digression” but the very reason people oppose the follies of faith.

In the end, as Ricky Gervais once said, "Some of you Twonks don’t like it when I reply to haters. Some of you do. Like you, I’m torn. Ignoring is fun. But so is defending yourself."

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