Coffee House

It’s fine to be a ‘new’ atheist, so long as you don’t object to Islam

22 July 2013

Rationality can be an overrated quality in politics. Communism was, after all, so rational that it imagined humans as lumps of clay to be moulded at will – with unsuitable ‘elements’ consigned to the Gulag.

The attempt to apply rational political criteria to the actions of psychopathic movements has also historically led to erroneous political decisions at home: appeasement in the case of Nazi Germany and a frivolous desire to find materialist ‘root causes’ of Islamic extremism.

As the great documenter of Stalinism Robert Conquest put it:

Reliance on reason alone is itself irrational: It neglects the instinctual and deep-set elements of the real human being.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising to learn, then, that there has been something of a backlash of late against the so-called ‘new’ atheists. In some respects this is justified. Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens together with Sam Harris have at times come across as aggressive curmudgeons demanding complete ‘rationality’ from all – in the process turning off many would-be allies.

Claim your gift

What’s interesting, however, is that the backlash is increasingly coming from the non-religious left, which traditionally has been rather fond of rationalist politics.

The American liberal magazine Salon has recently run a series of pieces denouncing the new atheists, with one article accusing them of ‘anti-Muslim hate’. New darling of the Anglo-American left Glenn Greenwald has accused Dawkins and co of ‘fuelling the sustained anti-Muslim demonization campaign of the west’; while Independent columnist Owen Jones claimed last year that there is a “rising tide of anti-Muslim prejudice which dresses itself up as secularism”.

To the casual observer this may seem slightly confusing. A closer examination of the polemics, however, reveals why Dawkins and co have so upset the left. They have fallen foul of an important unspoken code: while Christianity may be cursed to the skies, criticism of Islam must be bookended with ‘religion of peace’ disclaimers or refrained from entirely. The problem is not that the new atheists exult rationality at the expense of a deeper understanding of human affairs; it is that they are too consistent in their denunciations of religion.

Being ‘tolerant’ is also very often seen on the left as more important than being correct. It is certainly considered safer. Criticise Islam too strongly and you may fall out with your multicultural peers, face accusations of colour prejudice or, worse still, provoke a fanatic with a penchant for something stronger than polemics. Have a go at Dawkins on Twitter and someone may start a forum thread about you at Atheism UK.

In sum, should you wish to apply your critical faculties objectively to all religions, be prepared for the shrill accusations of prejudice that will inevitably follow you around – not so much from believers, but from your fellow liberal atheists.

As the American commentator David Frum has phrased it: ‘It’s ok to be an atheist, so long as you omit Islam from your list of the religions to which you object’.

Give the perfect gift this Christmas. Buy a subscription for a friend for just £75 and you’ll receive a free gift too. Buy now.

Show comments
  • lancastrian1

    Omitting Islam from the list of religions has a rational basis in that it is more a totalitarian political ideology with a beard of religion to cover the desire to dominate the world.

    A respected and celebrated Islamic scholar, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), studied Al Qur’an in its original Arabic and other Islamic texts and wrote this: h/t FreeSpeech (Indie)

    “In the Muslim community, the holy war [jihad] is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force … The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the Holy War was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense … They are merely required to establish their religion among their own people. That is why the Israelites after Moses and Joshua remained unconcerned with royal authority [e.g., a Caliphate]. Their only concern was to establish their religion [not spread it to the nations] … But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.”

    and then there is this judgement allowing Turkey to ban a political party for wanting to introduce sharia as official Turkish law is probably the only judgement that truly fulfills the original remit of preventing the spread of totalitarian ideology in Europe.

    ECHR: Noting that the Welfare Party had pledged to set up a regime based on sharia law, the Court found that sharia was incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy as set forth in the Convention. It considered that “sharia, which faithfully reflects the dogmas and divine rules laid down by religion, is stable and invariable. Principles such as pluralism in the political sphere or the constant evolution of public freedoms have no place in it”. According to the Court, it was difficult to declare one’s respect for democracy and human rights while at the same time supporting a regime based on sharia, which clearly diverged from Convention values, particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the legal status of women and the way it intervened in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts.

    Then there is this statistical analysis of Islamic texts:

    and the way Islam has behaved since its inception:

    All in all, a compelling case.

  • andyrwebman

    You make the mistake of regarding the left as “rational” when they were only ever “rationalisers” – big difference. A rationalist lets his ideas be influences by empirical evidence.
    The socialist manifesto has not been about anything postive for years – it represents the sucidal self loathing dark side of western culture. Anything is accepted, anythign is ok – as long as it’s against “the traditional western establishment”

    It reminds you of a rebellious teenage girl shooting up smack and getting pregnant at 16 in order to p*** her father off.

  • Antonios G. C. Theophagous

    Atheism is spreading in the Islamic world as well.. and a Muslim is not
    necessarily a “dark-skinned person”.. that’s what I would consider as
    racism.. Islam is a religion, not a race, and should be criticized like
    all other thought systems..

  • FlyingFree333

    “There is a huge difference between being tolerant and tolerating intolerance.” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Muslim, human rights activist

  • tey thorn

    So what ? Enough with this wet liberal codswallop. Wake up! I don’t remember anyone fearing crazed Buddhist suicide bombers. Nor do I remember C of E followers running around with sabers in broad daylight terrorizing anyone and everyone not wearing a chardor. Do Methodists fly planes into skyscrapers ? I live in Turkey and this madness is an everyday reality. A land where the new public health policy is to ban caesarian sections and painkillers during childbirth. Where kids with cancer are treated by Imams with holy tickling sticks. You wanna know what the new Islamists are like ? They are ignorant and they want power, a devastating combination. Read the blog from start to finish – a real time expose of what they are like in power. Coming to a street near you real soon now.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here