Category Archives: Council of Ex Muslims of Britain

Diana Nyad on “Soul to Soul” and Acting As an Atheist Ethically

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Soul to Soul with Diana Nyad: “I’m an Atheist Who’s in Awe”

It’s incredible to think that the pigeon holing of atheists continues. That they are less civic minded, not good citizens – uninterested in life and the universe lacking the emotional response that people who believe in God have. No awe of nature or the spirit of humanity.

Diana Nyad on Oprah Winfrey’s show articulated awe without a supernatural element, spirituality without the divine. It sounded so good that Oprah did not want to call Diana an atheist. Rather patronising, but Diana handled with amazing grace. Talking about atheism as humanism that transcends the mundane to see and feel the sublime.

Diana showed a confidence to talk about her humanist view – which brings me to an article that David Silverman shared. That not talking about your atheism would be unethical. Silverman mentioned social benefits by more atheists being known in the community via a tweet.

According to David Silverman, president of American Atheists, “Hiding your identity means lying to everyone you know, forcing them to love someone fictional out of fear that they might not like the real you. However, given the chance, most family members love the person, not the lie, and everyone benefits from a more honest relationship.”

Why is being closeted about one aspect of one’s core worldview an untruth? Some nonbelievers will take offense to connecting this decision to ethics, suggesting that their lack of a god belief just isn’t important to them, so why advertise it? But that’s a weak argument because it’s undeniably of vital importance to many people in our society with whom they communicate. Despite the rising numbers of nonbelievers, belief in a god, specifically in the Christian God, is more than a majority idea in America. In fact, 78 percent of Americans believe in a Christian God, and 31 percent believe so strongly that they interpret their Bible as the literal word of God. Lack of belief in a god may not be the dominant issue in your personal life (most humanists understandably have a much more positive agenda than that), but it has to be recognized that it is meaningful to others. If people are to be respected, they deserve to know who we truly are.” [The Huffington Post article written by Roy Speckhardt Oct 15, 2013 whose opinions I am challenging here]
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As I am sure David would acknowledge, it will not always strengthen family bonds to openly declare atheism as this article highlights much more vividly than Huffington Post:

While Namazie was “astonished” when she found out how many Muslims there are with atheistic, agnostic and secular tendencies, she admits that groups like the CEMB find it difficult to attract them, as most are deeply worried about airing their beliefs in public. “Muslims are not homogeneous,” she says, emphasising how – like basically every human in the entire world – they don’t want their identities to be pre-defined in narrow terms. Unfortunately, owing to fears like the possibility of their family completely disowning them, they often end up falling into line publicly rather than admitting their beliefs lie somewhere else on the Kinsey scale of faith. [Source]

Putting aside physical danger to being open as an atheist (which the article mentions), I find the use of the word unethical to keep hidden from the world views on the existence of the supernatural perplexing, rather than offensive. Am I being unethical when I say bless you to someone that sneezes, “Oh God!” at the heights of ecstasy or even naming a child with a gospel name nine months later?

The use of Christian names was brought up at an American Atheist Conference talk where it was suggested that using them entrenched Christianity – we should therefore name our children otherwise to promote a less religious society, rather than act in a way that condones religious sentiments.

This suggestion angered me. The talk suggested that our ethical character reflected on us as atheists. My radar is sharp to pick up such exertions on individuals to think of the group and others in our atheism. To suggest not being open about atheism is dishonest – not buying into that for the same reason. I happen to be an atheist and blog about it – such openness is not for everyone.

Intellectual honesty and being open about how you feel about faith or non faith are not quite the same thing. No one has a right to know what my religious feelings are – it is of my own free will to express them. No religious test may be imposed on me by the state or indeed anyone as a citizen. There should be no demands made to express or conform in society.

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In a truly secular world whether I am a theist or an atheist would not matter. Yet for some there will be judgments made on them. That is unethical – not someone that keeps it to themselves. I also resent that personal views should be expressed for the social benefits of others. In matters of religion they are deeply personal and a matter of conscience. It is up to an individual to decide whether to make them public or not. Diana is a model of how to speak with heartfelt sincerity about atheism and the humanist view – but that was for her alone to decide and no one would deny the benefit of her public appearance talking about it.

We should be encouraging people that being atheist, and joining the discussion about religion, faith, secularism and pluralism is not just about being intellectually honest. It is a rewarding discussion to have, and yes may have a positive benefit to society when we evaluate social policy not by religious dogma but impact on people irrespective of it.

Telling atheists they are unethical for not being open, is to me not the way to go about this, and quite frankly sounds dogmatic however noble the reason for saying it. I may even go so far as to say ridiculous. If someone brings up religion it is entirely ethical to say back that is a private matter for me or not to reply – if they persist quote Bill Hicks above right back at them. The really ethical thing to speak up for is secularism – we still have a long way to go to ensure that all citizens are treated equally regardless of faith or non faith. We need to be having a go at those that pressurise others for public declarations of faith, for being unethical. Not mimic them in this as atheists.

I would encourage everyone to get involved with promoting a secular state that is for all. Declaring your atheism by contrast is up to you when you are ready, and confident to do so. You may however feel as Brian Cox says above, that declaring it is the least part of your true character to be concerned about. That is just being honest.

Just remember, it is up to you.

Update: via twitter David Silverman felt I was misrepresenting his view vis “Telling atheists they are unethical for not being open” I have replied and restate here this is a counter view to The Huffington Post article.

Have made clearer now that Huff article was written by Roy Speckhardt, and it is that article I am replying too.

Hope that clarifies.

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Jesus and Mo Creator Interviewed by Council of Ex Muslims Forum

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Background to the London School of Economics banning the wearing of Jesus and Mo t-shirts worn by atheist student society members can be read here

My good friends at the Council for ex Muslims of Britain Forum have interviewed the artist behind Jesus and Mo.

    Could you tell us a little about your influences as a cartoonist and stylist, and in a wider sense, who influenced you in terms of your sense of playfulness towards the conceits of religion, and your satirical sensibility?

    I’m still a bit reluctant to call myself a ‘cartoonist’ even after 8 years of making Jesus & Mo. I think cartoonists need to be able to draw, and that is not a skill I would claim for myself.

    That said, as a child I read a lot of Peanuts – had a load of Charlie Brown paperbacks which I’d read and reread. I still do. I love the gentle tone of Peanuts, the mixture of innocence and worldliness, the lightly worn wisdom. Schulz was a great artist – much too good for me to declare him an “influence” in any way other than the fact that he instilled in me a love of the 4-panel form.

Read the full post here.

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Islamism and the Scapegoating of Muslims

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Once in ancient times when woes happened on a people, rituals were performed. A high priest would enter a temple having taken on, and hopefully been cleansed for, the sins of the nation. After this a rope was tied round him before he went to meet the divine presence in the Holy of Holies in case God did smite him, and they could drag him out. If sins forgiven, he would come out alive without being tugged.

The more common one we think of is such sins being transferred into a goat that would be driven out of the community into the wilderness – the legendary scapegoat of Leviticus 16.

In modern times those to be scapegoated are five percent of the population:

There’s a problem within Islam, this is true, but unless people stop screaming racist, bigot, fascist, hate monger and resort to insults and threats at those who criticise/hold an opinion then we will never ever see peace in our lifetime, muslim population is less than 5% of the UK population yet it’s in our media and lives daily, what happens when it gets bigger? You may not care enough today, but what about tomorrow, if we don’t do something about our concerns today then next generations will say “what the hell did our parents/grandparents do”…

At least mine will say “she tried”

Invited by a blogger to shed a tear reading that last line, I wonder what frenzy of fear must grip someone to think there will be no peace in the land of hope and glory while Muslims reside amongst us, only adding to our problems if they breed? A shiver up my spin was my reaction instead. A group of easily identified people were the problem while the solution was left hanging.

Martin Amis, in remarks he now regrets making, summed up the scapegoating principe:

There’s a definite urge—don’t you have it?—to say, “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.” What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation—further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan. . . . Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children. . . . They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs—well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people.

The blogger that took “there’s a problem … ” quote above from the post of an English Defence League (EDL) supporter made this remark which they shared with me in a new post:

The painful truth is that we are in deep, deep waters precisely because many Muslims are correctly interpreting an ideology which is demonstrably intolerant, disturbing and violent. People don’t understand just how poisonous this ideology is and they don’t understand the cancer of self-censorship and fear gnawing away rabidly at free speech, because they haven’t got even the slightest clue how important free speech is to our way of life. [Source]

Political Islamism is an ideology within Islam – calling it the correct interpretation is as ludicrous as denying it has anything to do with Islam. Looking at other faiths people have similarly found inspiration to legitimise intolerance and violence whether in Rwanda or the Balkans. Religion far from helping to bring people together sets them apart.

Religion is a problem and political Islam the biggest challenge we all face including Muslims who suffer the most from it.

Will intransigence by the educated middle class result in us “living under full fat sharia” as the blogger states:

Only at that point might they beg their unwashed underclass to fight this apocalyptic war for them. The only thing stopping them from asking now is that they’re too fucking stupid to realise we’re already at war. [writers own emphasis]

Sharia would be an anathema to the human rights model that we esteem in this country, and secularism means freedom of religion and lack of coercion in matters of religion. Multiculturalism should not mean human right abuses like female genital mutilation being tolerated. Yet when I have seen Muslims on twitter with secularised renderings of Koran and Hadith I have seen non muslims tell them they are not sticking to the “correct” fundamentals of their faith. What version of Islam do we want for goodness sake! Is the war to be fought against our own people or is there a better way than using such rhetoric on a whole people who are not terrorists, just Muslims.

Secularism and humanist principles do not allow sacred books or traditional interpretations to have the last word. Muslims can totally get that – they need to be emboldened not told they lack the correct interpretation. They have a hard enough time from orthodox believers, believe me. Women should not be imprisoned in their homes, and segregation in public spaces zero tolerance for in the UK.

The enemy is not muslims but those that support a theocratic Islamic state denying pluralism, free speech, fundamental human rights and secularism – the Islamists. The left need to realise this distinction in British politics and that we must challenge theocracy at every turn.

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The EDL in their mission statement “Promoting The Traditions And Culture Of England” are vague on the details in this supposed war in the UK. Some supporters tell me reaffirming the Church of England and Christianity is the way forward – a religion set up by a “Paedophilie” King (Bessie Blount mistress to King Henry VIII at around 14). The irony of using modern social norms when criticising a 7th century “paedophile” prophet is lost while they promote the C of E. And who supported sharia in England – none other than the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Yes I am mocking the crass remarks in tweets about Mohammed – far better ways to make the argument follow.

Those that are apologists for Islam – trying to make slavery under it benign for example – need to be challenged on the historical veracity of their revisionism. Some verses deserve outright condemnation rather than revision. As always making something God’s Word makes this too sensitive for some; and illegal in some countries to question. Pointing out that sex with minors and captured slaves makes values of early Islam not timeless but subject to the moral zeitgeist may not always be appreciated. They are valid.

Our criticisms require us to be well heeled in knowledge of Islam and extremism without wearing jackboots ourselves. If the shoe fits I hope you find it uncomfortable and take off quickly before marching against the ideals you claim to be protecting.

As Ghaffar Hussain says, ‘The far-Right has been evolving in their tactics and strategy and seeking to adapt to their environment in order to survive. One of the outcomes of this adaption has been the attempt to hijack the anti-extremist agenda in order to drive through a hidden racist and xenophobic agenda.’

I will continue to criticise religion – but I will not welcome as fellow critics those on the far right that promote solutions that would erode secularism in this country, not encourage secularised Islam to flourish, and would deny freedoms that are the rights of all citizens in this country regardless of creed or skin colour.

Nor will I for the sake of embracing different cultures accept the degrading of human rights as if that was what multiculturalism called for. The left misunderstood this and continue to with the Muslim Brotherhood.

If you oppose sharia support “One Law For All”. Ending extremism within Islam and young people Quilliam Foundation. The human rights of blasphemers and apostates The Council of Ex Muslims of Britain.

Religion poisons everything – people of indefatigable good will to all are the antidote. They are to be found as atheists and theists.

There is no scapegoat to drive off this island, and no high priest to absolve us of our sins. We have to work hard together to defeat the extremists that would rule us by fear or coercion.

For a master class in dealing with Islamism read Christopher Hitchens Facing the Islamist Menace.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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To the journalists out there – thanks from a blogger

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Engel said that just because someone knows how to use Twitter does not make them necessarily a journalist.

“We’re all bloggers and punks and rebels with cameras. There is absolutely no respect for career journalists anymore,” he said. [CBC News]

One distinction between a blogger and a journalist is the news gathering of the later over the opinion on the publicised news of the blogger. The journalist is a paid professional with training in media, the other usually unpaid with a particular interest or perhaps a qualification in the field they talk about but no training beyond getting to grips with formatting a blog.

Yet there is a cross over. Some journalists run a blog to promote their work in one place or talk more freely than perhaps published journalism would let them.

In some ways us bloggers are parasites feeding off the labours of others then giving our spin on it to suit either our opinions and those that may follow us – in under 800 words. How we do this is not governed by any particular media code of ethics. There is no “off the record” or established protocol in how a blogger goes about their scribbles. We have no editors or legal departments to advise us or improve our copy. Frankly we sometimes learn by trial and error – and the law does not necessarily give a blogger the same privileges a journalist can claim when covering a story.

We do filter the news. If you follow this blog there is a good chance that is because I cover secular, atheist and religious stories – other things too but those are my principle interests to comment on. What I try to do when covering a story is see if something is being left out in the mainstream media, or I have a genuine interest and something to say.

Bloggers should not compare themselves to the news gatherers – let alone those on the front line. In the article cited above over 600 journalists have been killed in the past decade. 90% of the journalists slain have yet to have the perpetrators brought to justice.

Which makes what I write very opinionated yet safe in comparison. I know that my mother worries that I do not hide behind a pseudo name when criticising religion. I assure her that free speech gives me the right to speak and that even those that disagree uphold that right in my experience.

I know others are not so fortunate. That they become targets either because of their background, or where they live. For example the atheist bloggers in Bangladesh still facing blasphemy charges. Or good friends at the Council of Ex Muslims Forum who have to use pseudo names in case they are outed as apostates for genuine fear of reprisals.

Hopefully us bloggers on sofas will be ever grateful for those that risk life and limb to get the news to us, and the liberties we have to write what we do.

The photo above comes from this post here which shows journalists in anything but a good light with members of the public.

    New published posts by John Sargeant:

Colin Brewer and talking freely about disabled human rights – Left Foot Forward

Twitter: Let’s not Indulge with the Pope The Huffington Post

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May there never be compulsion in religion

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Religious freedom is truly one of the great ideas to be expressed by the enlightenment. Though we can trace those ideas to other thinkers before, it was this movement which went beyond speaking and acting as freethinkers to actually challenge orthodox organised religion’s monopoly on thought and explanation. Humanism, emboldened by empirical observation and reasoning beyond scriptures, came out of the shadows of being an act of religious reflection. Humanist thought became a way of understanding the world, morality, ourselves and the cosmos without strict adherence to the confines of the divine or preceding tradition. Natural philosophy, and the scientific method ushered in a new era.

Whilst this age of reason is one to celebrate, one of the challenges to the notion of religious freedom is the consequence of leaving a faith – being an apostate. Here I am trying to lay out the battle for the idea of where it comes from and means now in Islam. The reason this matters is quite simply the death penalty that exists, or the process of being excluded by family and other believers, if someone renounces the faith they grew up in. Let alone principles of free speech and freedom of expression which together with freedom of religion are classed as universal rights.

Apostasy matters now

As my good friends at the Council of Ex Muslims Britain Forum (CEMB) observe:

Countless individuals accused of apostasy and blasphemy face threats, imprisonment, and execution. Blasphemy laws in over 30 countries and apostasy laws in over 20 aim primarily to restrict thought, expression and the rights of Muslims, ex-Muslims and non-Muslims alike. [CEMB]

In my critique of Islam I mentioned concern that by cherry picking the Koran and Hadith it gave cover for Islamists to kill apostates. For example:

Qur’an (4:89) – “They wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of God; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper.”

Bukhari (52:260) – “…The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ ” Note that there is no distinction as to how that Muslim came to be a Muslim. [Ibid]

When discussing this with Sam Harris he made these observations:

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A modern retelling

In Abdul-Azim Ahmed’s article for the Rationalist Association, he explains why as a Muslim he fully supported the Apostasy project using Koranic quotes to justify:

“The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who desires believe and let him who desires disbelieve.” – 18:29

“If they accept Islam, then indeed they follow the right way; and if they turn back, your duty is only to deliver the message.” –3:20

“And if your Lord had pleased, all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them. Will you then force people till they are believers?” – 10:99 [Rationalist Association]

It would be amiss of me not to point out that Ahmed stresses European Colonialism as having a theological impact on punishment for apostasy in response to machine guns and missionaries. Regrettably, death for apostasy existed way before the British Empire ever attempted to prevent the sun setting on it.

Yet sociological and political factors are playing a part. Acceptance of principles like pluralism and secularism mean challenging concepts such as apostasy. In the battle of ideas some modern theological thinkers are pointing out the subjective spin put on death for apostasy in the past, though often stating such a view is controversial to the point of putting a bullseye on your thinking cap even now.

As Usama Hassan mentions in a concept paper:

There is no explicit sanction in the Qur’an and Sunnah (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad) for the criminalisation and punishment of blasphemy: in fact, the opposite is the case; the few scriptural texts that are misquoted in this regard all refer to wartime situations, and the harsh, mediaeval Islamic jurisprudence on blasphemy was developed centuries after the Prophet himself.[Quilliam Foundation]

The War of Apostasy, also known as Ridda Wars shortly after the death of Mohammed suggests that violence was sadly a means of preventing dissent which was considered a threat to cohesion let alone future territorial ambitions on Persia and beyond. Conquest existed way before modern European colonisation.

The title for this post will be familiar to those aware of The Koranic verse, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). A critique of the context of that verse can be found on the CEMB forum site. That rather than a call for tolerance it is the manifest destiny that Islam is the faith for us to follow when quoted in full:

“There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the Shaitan and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.”

Still that is a hallmark of a particular religion that it is the right way. The narrative given in the Quilliam Foundation concept paper: NO COMPULSION IN RELIGION: AN ISLAMIC CASE AGAINST BLASPHEMY LAWS is certainly an answer to Sam Harris’ earlier remarks.

It is the practise of political Islam by Islamists which concern all of the people mentioned above. Where we differ in belief we would uphold the values of pluralism, free speech and free expression. An inherent inalienable right we would agree is religious freedom. I am delighted to see that the Quilliam Foundation takes the radicalisation of people by some within Islam very seriously and looks to challenge that.

Maybe not in the next world

As mentioned in the past I wish we did not have to argue over interpretations of sacred texts but could move beyond them. That is not the world we live in. As such we will continue to debate and argue with each other over such things.

The bare minimum is that none should be put to death for the argument, and dissent from others beliefs should not just be tolerated but considered a cause for celebration in a pluralistic and free society.

Those who believe, those who follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Sabians, Christians, Magians, and Polytheists,- God will judge between them on the Day of Judgment: for God is witness of all things. – Koran 22:17

I hope mothers and fathers can embrace their children no less just because they no longer follow their religion. It really is a matter of free thought and not a reflection on them. However, the fear of the next life is one that still grips people. Apostasy will still concern people even in a free society.

Perhaps until we are free of the fear of death freedom of religion will not be absolute in this life when people consider the stakes are eternity and the blessings of the Almighty are available even now if all follow His will.

My thanks to Sam Harris, CEMB, Maajid Nawaz, Usama Hasan, and the Rationalist Association UK (and Abdul-Azim Ahmed) for known or unknown assistance in writing the above article (which is written by me and not necessarily endorsed by the above) and to @yakuza72 for passing on the cartoon.

Please support the Apostasy Project

My Apostasy Story

Update 18/6/2013: Tribune article on blasphemy in Pakistan

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