Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Correspondence with CJ Werleman Pt. 3

(Catch up on Parts one and two)

So here's the final segment of our email conversation. I asked CJ one important question that he never did answer:

"I'm hoping at this point you don't really think I'm evil or a threat to the world...right?"

But oh well. The entire thing was very civil, and friendly-ish, he was nice and polite while disregarding most things I said. And he did answer some of my tougher questions, after I asked him twice. I appreciate that CJ was willing to respond to things that flat out called him on some double standards, and slurs.

Many have written to me saying that it was a very frustrating task I undertook, and asked why. Well, I wanted it to be on record that 'New Atheists' are not what we are described as being. We are knowledgable, nuanced, and too often misrepresented as being unreasonable. We are often speaking from lived experience, and disregarding our voices is a terrible injustice.

CJ brought up his friend Mubin Shaikh, an ex-jihadist....How truly wonderful that he is not a jihadist any longer. However, in my interactions with Mubin, he has been quite unreasonable and unwilling to admit any fault with Islam. A particular conversation about a troubling prayer in mosques, was carried out in the most disingenuous way by him, where he refused to admit it's 'problematicness', and downplayed the risks to apostates like myself. If people who think 'disbelievers are hostile' are supposed to help with deradicalization, I'm not sure how comforted we should feel.

One can 'contextualize' this prayer in terms of 'war' all they like, but they should also take note of how such prayers and verses are used to justify violence. Groups like ISIS are at war with everyone who doesn't believe they are right. Extremists are perpetually at war, these verses then... provide great justification for barbaric acts carried out in the name of religion. Why utter them in mosques? Why let them influence young children?

There was also the time Mubin decided to focus on how drawing offensive Mo cartoons, was not the 'smartest' way to do things - The day the Charlie Hebdo massacre happened. This was his focus, that its not 'smart' ....because Muslims will react violently if offended. Apart from having really low expectations of Muslims, it's appalling that the actual shooting was not his main focus. Like how could people be killed for drawing? When instead of straight up condemning this horrible act, he said "The rules of Islam don't apply to non-muslim countries" So it's ok to do this in a Muslim country? These are the people helping us against Islamists? Well then.

(weirdly his previous twitter account and tweets are gone, replaced by a random egg account that hasn't tweeted yet)

CJ ends our conversation speaking about 'secular wars', and claiming that when the religious are dehumanized slaughter has followed. As if there is some link between secularism and slaughter of the religious? This line of thinking is just...twisted...for the lack of a better word. The religious constantly leave theocracies and jump at the chance to move to secular countries, where their own rights are better protected, as is demonstrated by the current refugee crisis. Secularism doesn't dehumanize the religious, it in fact values everyone equally. States may dehumanize the religious, for various reasons of control. How is this 'motivated' by a lack of belief in gods?

Hitler was a Christian btw, often invoking god and claiming inspiration from Christianity

Thank you to all my wonderful Patrons for supporting my work.

You too can support here

Hi CJ,

And now we get to the good stuff. I think you think I disagree with you on things that I don't actually disagree on. 

I don't think mild forms of religion are a problem, if they are not imposed on others. I too think extremism is a major problem....but where does extremism come from? It comes from religion. If scriptures are adhered to closely, it becomes extreme and intolerable. This is not unique to Islam, though Islam is at the forefront of religious violence today. I acknowledge there are many factors to this, and not *just* religion. But I think denying the link it has to religion is counterproductive. 

If extremism is the problem, and I agree...what provides the raw material for extremism? 

You don't have to try hard to convince me of the link between socio-economic factors and religiosity. I fully agree. This is apparent everywhere, education, money, etc. Make a big difference as far as religiosity goes. Could this be that in poverty and without education you are prime target for easily being manipulated by myths that give you answers to things you can't understand otherwise? That you cling to a hope of a god who will some how balance things in the afterlife, or reward you for your acts? 

"In other words, the best vaccine we have against religious extremism is stability/peace/security coupled with economic liberalism i.e. where the size of the state is greater, and the level of poverty is reduced."

Is a vaccine against religious extremism also not a vaccine against religiosity? The myths and harmful practices surrounding religion are dispelled with more education...less value placed on religion = less religious extremism. 

This is generally the case, happy, prosperous, well educated, well looked after people will not turn to religion as much. However it doesn't account for the cases of well-educated, prosperous, people who do turn to religious extremism. There is something to be said for blind faith in a doctrine as a contributing factor as well. Surely you can't deny a link between Islam and Islamic extremism? 

"You can then apply this same rule for Islam in the Muslim world. Where do you find more extremism? Turkey (stable/democratic) or Afghanistan? Indonesia (stable/democratic) or Yemen? Malaysia (stable/democratic) or Pakistan?"

Turkey is an officially secular country, which places less value on religion than other countries in the Muslim world. And even though about 90% of Indonesians are Muslim, it is officially a secular country, placing value on equality in religion. According to the New York Times : 

"When Indonesian leaders were drafting the nation’s first constitution after declaring independence from Dutch colonial rule in August 1945, Islamists demanded that the country be declared a Muslim state. But nationalists, indigenous ethnic groups and the country’s small but influential Christian and Hindu minorities fought back. Indonesia became a secular nation that recognized six official religions and had a state motto of “unity in diversity.”

Same goes for Malaysia, while the official religion is Islam, I do believe it's constitution makes it secular. These are all countries that have chosen to place less importance on Islamic doctrine and not let themselves be governed by something like the shariah. Which may also have a hand in making them more stable, more democratic. As opposed to the Islamic republic of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia...However...these countries are not the beacons of freedom and democracy one might think either, because of connections to...Islam. 

"All ethnic Malays are Muslim (100%) as defined by Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia.[5][6] As required by Malaysian law and defined in the Constitution of Malaysia, a Malay would surrender his ethnic status if he were not Muslim."

Your Indonesian friends must have been lovely I'm sure, like I said...I have no doubts about people who practice to varying degrees. My experience with ppl who regularly pray 5x hasn't been one of high minded humanism or secularism though, but let's chalk that up to different experiences. 

How do you explain attitudes around 'morality' and female modesty, two finger virginity tests that do exist in Indonesia though...they link back to religion not socio-economic status.

I just don't think that denying the link is productive, and neither is denying the fact that there are other factors that govern a person's level of religiosity like education, wealth, etc. When Reza Aslan says fgm is an 'African problem', do you think thats an honest claim or productive to the debate around Islam? 

"In conclusion, New Atheists have a flawed strategy for tackling religious extremism, because they're yet to identify the problem is extremism."

Every prominent 'New Atheist' as you call them, certainly identifies extremism as the problem, they just go to the root of extremism though...I think no one will disagree with you that defeating extremism through things like education is important. 

"It's for this reason no one outside of the New Atheist echo chamber takes the New Atheists seriously."

I'd say 1.5 million followers between Dawkins and Harris alone is proof that many do take them seriously... and Dawkins is interviewed on places like the BBC, I never saw them as a 'new atheist echo chamber' 

"the New Atheist approach/thinking is clearly a waste of time."

I have to ask, do you really think me opposing my own oppression is a waste of  time? 

Some questions didn't get answered last time, and if you get a chance I'd love to get a response on those specifically:

-What are your thoughts on the term Islamophobia
-Do you think using terms like porch monkey, native informant, paid brown face are ok to use on people speaking about their own culture, their own lived experience? And do they not come across as bigoted? 
- what are you thoughts about the verse in the Quran that allows for 'striking' your wife? How can this be explained away by context, and as a is it that you're opposed to me objecting to this? 

"Their books/blogs/speeches will never resonate with extremists or highly uneducated Muslims who reside in broken/failed states." 

If one is uneducated to the point that they cannot read, and poverty stricken to the point they have no access to the internet...then certainly. But neither will yours or neither will mine, because of obvious reasons. 

I don't consider myself part of any echo chamber, I oppose things I disagree with on both ends of the conversation. Which is why i receive hate and harassment from both types of people too Muslims and non-Muslims. I do hope you'll acknowledge that. 


Hi Eiynah,

"And now we get to the good stuff."  LOL! :)

Where you write, "I don't think mild forms of religion are a problem, if they are not imposed on others." AMEN! This is my overarching point - that Religion isn't 'the' problem. Extremism is the problem, and extremism can be both secular or religious.

Where we now differ is to the degree to which religion or socio-economic-political realities play in fostering extremism.

In the under-developed world, extremism is nearly always expressed in religious forms. In the highly-developed world extremism is nearly always expressed in secular forms i.e. hyper-nationalism. Which is worse? Well, religious extremism will never come close to matching the body count left in the wake of hyper-nationalism. But that's not the point here.

Where you find cases of "well-educated, prosperous, people who do turn to religious extremism," you find a political/personal grievance at the root. In turn, the political/personal grievance is then expressed in religious terms. Over the course of the past year or so, I have developed a good friendship with Mubin Shaikh - who was a former jihadist. No one knows the mindset of a jihadist more than Mubin, and I mean nobody. Not only was Mubin a jihadist, but he also infiltrated a jihadist cell on behalf of the Canadian Intelligence Service. He says that in nearly every instance of violent extremism, you find a person who internalizes the following: "It isn't right. It isn't fair. It's your fault."

That individual THEN turns to scripture to justify the action they're about to take, often taking the Quranic verse out of context, too. Interestingly!

As for my claim that "no one outside the New Atheist echo chamber takes the New Atheists seriously," I mean in terms of their commentary on religion or violent extremism. Yes, Dawkins is on television, but it's for his contributions to science, and rightfully so. I am a fan of Dawkins where it comes to his field of expertise: science. But his commentary, like Harris, is completely whack where it comes to providing commentary on Islamic culture, terrorism, geo-politics, the Middle East, etc - and both are routinely lampooned by those who are considered experts in the aforementioned fields.

To answer your specific list of questions:

Q: "what are your thoughts on the term Islamophobia?":

A: It's real. It's happening. It's escalating. Is it Islamophobic to criticize the tenets of Islam? No! But New Atheists go beyond that. Harris regurgitates the Islamophobia industry talking points i.e. the Eurabia/Sharia conspiracy theories. These conspiracies are by design generated to whip up fear of Muslims. THAT'S Islamophobic! Dawkins paints Muslims as inherently violent when he says stuff like, "Well, I don't need to tell you the religion of the terrorist." He's so ignorant on the topic of terrorism that he forgets the word is arbitrary and thus meaningless. (There's so many other examples to add here, but my point is made.)

Q: "Do you think using terms like porch monkey, native informant, paid brown face are ok to use on people speaking about their own culture, their own lived experience? And do they not come across as bigoted? -

A: Ayaan is paid by a hate group: ACT4America. A hate group that's sole aim is to instill Americans with a fear of Muslims for this plays well for pro-Israel politics. Thus "native informant" is appropriate. As for Maajid, I did call him a "House Muslim." I called him this after he had joined the anti-Muslim bigoted attacks on Ahmed. He joined Dawkins/Maher in stripping away a fellow Muslim's humanity. A kid at that! 

Q: "what are you thoughts about the verse in the Quran that allows for 'striking' your wife? How can this be explained away by context, and as a is it that you're opposed to me objecting to this?"

A: Criticize it. You're not taking that verse out of its context. New Atheists, like ISIS, like al-Qaeda, etc, de-contextualize the verses related to jihad, war, infidels, and apostasy.

I've really enjoyed this dialogue. I hope you found it productive. I know I did, and I thank you for it. However, I might have to call this the end. I have multiple projects on my desk, and will be traveling for a bit. 

I wish you all the best.

Kind regards

Thanks for your time CJ. Appreciate you making the effort to engage with an evil threat like my New atheist self in civil conversation ;) I kid - I'm hoping at this point you don't really think I'm evil or a threat to the world...right? I'm not intolerant of religious people, just bad ideas that perpetuate intolerance. I hope I've proven that my motivations are based on freeing myself, my community from oppressive beliefs, and not based on spouting some colonial narrative (I don't really earn anything from holding these views apart from a *tiny* patreon account, hardly worth receiving threats over) Is it possible that I may have demonstrated good intention to you?

Just a couple of things before you sign off completely, if you would be so kind: 

I'm not sure how you compare secular 'extremism' to religious 'extremism' - and what you mean exactly. Are you referring to 'wars' when you speak about hyper-nationalism? Because how can we separate the geo-politics from war, and call it secular extremism? The motivation isn't 'secularism' for these things. Much like in the same way you argue for more context when holding religion accountable. Other hyper nationalism, like xenophobic far right groups in the west can often be traced to having a belief in 'Christian values'.

And when I say Islamophobia is a nonsense word, its not because i don't acknowledge anti-muslim bigotry... its because it places focus on the ideology and not on Muslims. Thus confusing the 'ideas vs ppl', which is an important distinction to make imo. Muslimophobia would make more sense to me. Just wanted to make that clear. In the same way, many 'New Atheists' do not deny the existence or problematicness of bigotry...its an issue with the term itself.

I have found our chat productive, it helps (I hope both ways) to humanize the opposing perspective. I hope you will reconsider using terms like 'house Arab' in the future, they are hurtful. Even if you disagree with someone, you can oppose their ideas. But removing their agency by implying they are hired for an agenda and can't possibly have these thoughts on their own just sounds a little 'colonial'.



Glad you enjoyed the discussion, too.

regarding your question: hyper-nationalism leads to secular wars - where men go willing to die/kill not for a god but for the power and glory of the State. The world's greatest slaughters and genocides were carried out in the name of the secular state - not long after the hyper-nationalism within each of the respective states had exalted their citizens while dehumanizing the other. 

In the name of the German state, Jews were dehumanized. In the name of the Serbian state, Muslims were dehumanized. In the name of the anti-theistic Soviet/Albanian/Chinese/Cambodian states, the religious were dehumanized. Slaughter followed.

All the best

1 comment:

  1. Hi

    Pretty nice dialogue.
    I do agree with CJ that Sam Harris has no idea of geopolitical issues. Seeing them merely through the prism of religion is stupid.
    But ya, he does not have a high opinion of Muslim reformers, he think apologists are reformers. Moreover I think you are talking across each other when you talk of secular fundamentalism. I think North Korea and the Stalinist Soviet Union is a better example than Nazi Germany.
    I also find it disturbing how he defends putting labels to people he doesn't like.
    Altogether, he is useless just like many on the hypocritical liberal left. He won't protest when the next Muslim reformer is killed, but to him New Atheists are the greatest danger to humanity (read: orthodox Islam). I would like to debate this guy if I could.