I Don’t Care About “Your” Quran – I’m Worried About What the Violent Muslim Thinks

I received a comment on a previous piece, in which I outlined why I am not a Muslim. You can read the piece for the whole reason, but mainly I find Islam narrow-minded in its view on humanity finding fulfillment. The commentator took it upon him- or herself to machine-gun me with bullets of quotations from the Quran that speaks of human rights and equality and other nice stuff.

Many “liberal” Muslim scholars, like Tariq Ramadan and Reza Aslan, speak similarly and beautifully about Islam and its past. Indeed, Aslan’s debut, No god but God, was a lovely book on the history of his particular form of a particular faith. I found a lot of his arguments unconvincing, since in order to repudiate his claims for peace, love and equality in Islam we can look to the same source as Aslan – namely, the Quran.

Anyway, the point being that in order to discuss Islam there is a paradox: the Quran is literally the Word of Allah and must be obeyed to the letter. It is eternal, perfect and must never be altered or changed. It also supposedly loses many meanings through translation, thus in order to understand it one must read it in original Arabic – or so that poor argument goes. This is nonsense, however, since the majority of Muslims are not Arab-speakers and thus this claim is hollow. Nevertheless, a point I want to make clear, especially concerning aforementioned comment, is this: It does not matter what you think the Quran says, or what Islam means, what matters is what the Quran says and what Islamic leaders say. These are the men – no women of course – who decide for a whole nation or Islamic society, how to deal with a current “crisis”.

The Ayatollah Khomeini was an instance of this – he took it upon himself to decide that Rushdie must die. He was of course justified, according to his magic book. To carry this point further, look at this reply to the Jyllends-Posten cartoons, issued by Al Ghurabaa:

The recent cartoons that appeared in a Danish newspaper (Jyllands-Posten) and that were then re-printed in a Norwegian magazine, The Paris daily France Soir, The German Welt daily, Spanish and also Italian newspapers and which insult the Messenger Muhammad (saw) carry the death penalty in Islam for the perpetrators, since the Prophet said ‘Whoever insults a Prophet kill him’ [For example in the narration collected by Al-Haakim, upon the authority of Hussain Bin Ali (ra)] In this respect Muslims do not make any distinctions between any of the Prophets of Allah (SWT) and so this would also apply to any insults levelled against Essa (as) (Jesus) or Musa (as) (Moses) or Ibraheem (as) (Abraham) etc…Allah (SWT) sent his Messengers and Prophets to mankind to guide them from the darkness of following their own whims and desires into the light and beauty of obedience and subservience to him.

For example, the Quran informs us to kill unbelievers (2:191-2), that unbelievers will suffer doom and death and fire (3:131, 3:151, 3:177, passim.) and so on. Fine. Sure. See, we can quote and belabour this point till Judgement Day – which to many can’t occur soon enough – but the point remains that quoting does not help apologists. And religious groups and leaders issue statements like the above all to often to somehow render Islam peaceful and lovely.

So, my previous commentator can tell me all sorts of lovely things in the Quran; (s)he can talk to me all about the sophistry, sorry, “theology” of Islam that has the doctrine of abrogation (where the violent parts are not really true only in that context even though it is an eternal book but no wait we are peaceful, they are not true Muslims). Frankly, I don’t care whether the Sunni’s got it right but for some reason you think you have it spot-on. It doesn’t matter. It is the same problem I have with Karen Armstrong (who I genuinely am in awe of): she has a beautiful view of faith, backed up by years of scholarship into the history and plethora of religions and cultures. But the problem is, the dangerous, horrible, terrible people – who get into mobs to kill people they barely know about an unproven “crime” of blasphemy – do not render their faith in such beautiful language or focus on those nice lines.

The point is, they have told us explicitly what they think of the Western world and its ideals especially when we insult their religion; the West and its ideals of equality and justice; its progress toward the betterment of everyone regardless of religion or lack thereof; the emancipation of women and the placing them on the plateau of treatment. Sure, many Muslims can say: “See? The Quran also speaks about equality, justice, liberty. It justifies my religion and makes me feel good to be part of such a progressive, universal religion.” But many Muslims, who have more of an impact in our society by diminishing lives as opposed to benefitting them, do not and can justify their anti-rights, anti-women, anti-liberal, anti-freedom views by pointing to the Quran with one hand and pointing to the promise of paradise with the other.

So, I don’t really care if you think that Islam is beautiful and lovely and so on. This really is not the point. I am not going to try reform those who think that it should serve as a tool for the destruction of lives, happiness and the denigration of women. Instead, we can pull the carpet out completely instead of trying to clean it with a soap even dirtier than the filth it targets. I have no problem with those who love their religion and believe in equality and liberty and other things. But they must remember that people – who possibly believe even stronger than themselves – threaten death, violence and bloodshed to those they do not know, for “crimes” that have harmed no one physically. Call yourself a Muslim but remember how many kill in that same name, die because they believe so strongly, and rape and torture and belittle their wives and daughter because, well, the Quran says so, as does the hadith… basically, god said so.

PS: Please note, the article sounds more harsh than I actually intend it, mainly for brevity’s sake.

Lashing Old Women – The Hubris of the Islamic Bullies

“Respect for your elders” has never been something that I have accepted for the sake of it: We should accept people based on their merit as people and their treatment toward us. This multi-layered confusion results in many children being forced into a frustrating disposition, where they endure the brunt of intolerant adults simply because “they are your elders!” No, I believe first we must earn each others respect, regardless of age. But my reaction to this certainly does not extend as far as that great bastion of unreason, that spoke in the faculty of knowledge, known as the mutaween of Saudi Arabia – or The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The commission has become the Elvis of stupid ideas, the Led Zeppelin of clerical bullying, and the siren to all those sexually-repressed men who just can’t find a meek-enough, mild-enough Muslim sheep (i.e. a woman) to copulate with. Instead, they must vent their repression on 75-year old women.

As CNN reports

A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a 75-year-old Syrian woman to 40 lashes, four months imprisonment and deportation from the kingdom for having two unrelated men in her house.

The men were delivering bread to the elderly Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, since her age made it inconvenient to procure such items. Even Thomas Kinneally, author of Schindler’s Ark, could not conjure up a more enduring scene of human dignity, created to be usurped by the hands of unreason. Yet, here we have an example of just such a scenario.

Of course, when you say Saudi Arabia, women and “what the hell” in one sentence, in the next breath you should be contemplating the mutaween. Where the death knells of reason sound, there the mutaween will be bouncing up and down, pulling hard on the rope. The mutaween have  more than 3,500 officers, and additional thousands of volunteers.

As the BBC reports: “They patrol the streets to enforce the country’s deeply conservative Islamic codes of dress and morality. [They] instruct shops to shut during prayer time and keeps a lookout for any slips in strict dress codes”. They also have the power:

to arrest anyone engaged in homosexual acts, prostitution, fornication, or proselytizing of non-Muslim religions, they can also arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, enforce Islamic dress-codes, Muslim dietary laws (such as the prohibition from eating pork) and store closures during the prayer time. They prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as un-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film). They also actively prevent the religious practices of other religions within Saudi Arabia

They have struck many false chords in the past: Consider their banning of the letter “X” because it looks too much like the Cross from Christian lore. This is a country that is proudly anti-Semitic, in the core sense of the word, even scorning Catholics to the point where they are ousted from the country – even when they are practising religion privately in their own apartments. I am anti-theistic, but this is simply ridiculous – this is not a thorough dismissal of Catholic ideas, it is dismissal of Catholic persons. Even if a non-religious party did this, I would still defend his right to practice his belief in the privacy of his home.

Famously, in 2002, 15 girls were burnt to death in an outbreak of fire because the mutaween did not allow fire-fighters to help them. Why, you may ask? Because the girls were not wearing their abayyas, or head-scarfs. Do these clerics – note, clerics, people who have hotline to god – not think it strange that this being they worship and, quite literally, think is so “great”, would be hurt by little girls wearing a piece of cloth on their heads? How on earth, at such a moment where human lives are so blatantly in danger, can theology honestly come into play?

If anyone does not believe that religion allows for madness to become doctrine, for the insane to become powerful, one need not look further than these mullah-minded horrors of humanity.

The renunciation of one faith for another is already dubious but when it is underpinned by the scornful wrath of the intolerant, it takes on sickening level. Especially, when someone from this same mutaween feels they have the right to cut out their daughter’s tongue and burn her alive for her act.

Amidst these clamours of discord, the one resounding chime will be Sheik Abdul Aziz Ben Baz’s fatwa of 1974, which stated that the earth is flat. In a brilliant piece of illogic that would have Russell spinning, the blind cleric stated:

If the earth is rotating, as they claim, the countries, the mountains, the trees, the rivers, and the oceans will have no bottom.

With the wallowing in the mire of mumbo-jumbo, it is perhaps no wonder that such flowers of idiocy arise. All the ideas and the sheer anger that drives them toward actualisation in brutality, leave a horrid taste in ones mouth. In this climate, it is no wonder that 75 year-old women can be sentenced to lashing. It almost seems as though it ought to happen, given the backward nature of this country. Once a soil is fertilized with such horror and decay of human sensibility, what can bloom but poisoned flowers?

If you are as horrified as I am, please alert people to the plight of women within Saudi Arabia. Ignoring whether you agree me on a god, I hope, at least, you can agree with me in my defence of our fellow humans.

Why I am an Ex-Muslim

Whilst I find biographical writing egotistical in most cases, I hope to indulge here in a trajectory of thought rather than a life. I hope to show my own severing of the Islamic veil, which shrouded everything within its bleak dichotomous imagery, and how it is that ex-Muslims are a rarity. Though we are growing in number, there are not many who are willing to openly criticise Islam – I consider this to be part laziness, part apathy and part incredulity by “moderate” Muslims.The major reasons and criticisms will be dealt with in the second part.

Is it racist to loathe some one’s nonevidential-based and metaphysical beliefs? I do not think so. If this were true, I’d be considered alongside the person who decided “Whites Only” was a good sign to make on park-benches. We do not find black people declaring themselves ex-black, or white people declaring themselves ex-white. To say then that I am a racist is incorrect. I was Muslim, now I am no longer.

The question then is why declare oneself by what one is not. Why focus on being an ex-Muslim?

Power in Words

Defining oneself by a negative is something we as sceptics and atheists often have to puzzle over. Indeed, such a sentence might itself preclude this notion. I have said and I will continue to say that atheism is not a thing, a group, a set of goals. It is not a group of people clamouring for their world view to be adopted, since it is not a world-view. It comes close to be meaninglessness as air comes to being an ocean breeze. Indeed, the harshest critiques of labelling arises from amongst the “upper” echelons of the pursuit of reason.

Sam Harris in his address at Atheist Alliance in 2007, picks up on this theme of racism and atheism too, when he states:

Attaching a label to something carries real liabilities, especially if the thing you are naming isn’t really a thing at all. And atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as “non-racism” is not one. Atheism is not a worldview—and yet most people imagine it to be one and attack it as such. We who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by even naming ourselves. So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” …  “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.”

We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.

No doubt, my dear readers, some of you will already have objections to this. Whilst I am not dealing with atheism in general, the application to ex-Muslim can be seen as a two-pronged defence: To labeling ourselves atheists and maintaining the use of ex-Muslim.

The main reason: No, there is no such thing as non-racism. But there was a very prominent, destructive, irrational and un-evidential claim known as racism. But we can not deny the activism of “black consciousness”; No reasonable person today would support my country’s history of apartheid. Yet during that time, people proudly – but sometimes in secrete for fear of reprisal – called themselves “anti-apartheid activists”. Yet would any of us today call ourselves “anti-apartheid”? Well, yes, if there was an apartheid to oppose.

Similarly, the tide must turn with faith. I believe it must be eradicated, for good if we are to even grasp at the near-infinite beauty of a good life. No: We do not call ourselves non-astrologers, as Harris states. Nonetheless, just as it needed activism to render most people’s accepted world-view of “race” into something aversive, I think it will take such “activism” to render faith into the vice it is. But this is for another article.

I believe, then, that the use of reason effectively dealt with racism, such that only stragglers and madmen could present themselves proudly as racists today. Similarly, with faith: It too is a great retardation of intelligence. But one so great that even those who do not have “faith” sometimes think it must be sacred, left to its own devices, “it’s not harming anyone” (those I call IDGAFS1).

And a form of faith that has coiled into a great fist, smashing the ground beneath our feet, is Islam. All religions have their horrors and their extremists, no one denies this. Essentially, it is our main point in critiquing it: Religion is man-made. That must be religion’s most salient and nocuous property.

And no more so demonstrated than through the repugnant, almost childish knee-jerk reactions from fundamentalist Muslims. Having unwoven the threads of caustic intellectual abuse, by the hands of the vice of faith, I can finally step back to see this for what it is. But there are no woods to step out of to see trees of respect, love, or reason. Faith would have us cover our eyes and just nod to shadows. Islam, being what it is, as dangerous as it is, would send those shadows out to fight. It is time to fight back.

We know what a terrible darkness such shadows of truth hold.

The Triumph of Reason

I can admit something I was never very proud of before: I do not think I ever truly believed in a god or afterlife. Along with probably most of you, I am the addressee of Pascal’s Pensées: He who is so made that he can not believe. I learnt the Quran – and still know it – from beginning to end. I can read and write in Arabic. It is a very beautiful language and the incredible aesthetic beauty of its script no less appealing.

But what does the Quran say? If you had asked me that after I had read it the first time, then proceeded to memorise it, I would have stared at you blankly.

As we speak, there are approximately 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, comprising 22% of world. The results may vary but we can assume this: There’s a lot. Of those, I’m an uncertain how many of those are children of Muslim parents (did you flinch when you thought of “Muslim children”?). We can safely say though that millions of children around the world are taught to read, learn and recite in Arabic without understanding a word they’re saying.

I did not know I was reading this, when I recited:

98:6 Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings.

88:23-24 But whoso is averse and disbelieveth /Allah will punish him with direst punishment.

These are mere tips of growing icebergs, as fundamentalists freeze ancient ideas into growing pandemics of destruction.

Perhaps your own thoughts can formulate on why it is dangerous to learn in a language you essentially do not speak, to learn sentences you would not condone. I do not condone murder or destruction or harm to any person, yet here I was, learning verses spoken by “Allah Himself” (via Jibreel, to Muhammad, to the scribes, to etc.). Who was I to question my duty as a Muslim?

I attended seven madrassas. At each one, I was physically abused by the jaded jackals of god’s word. If we did not pronounce certain Arabic letters correctly, our fingers were bleeding after a good dose of punishment by a cane. We were yelled at, screamed at, hair was torn out in anger as we were not feeling Allah’s power and grace and beauty. It is neither hard nor uncommon to consider such occurences and perhaps that’s what makes it so wrong. A lot of my ex-Muslim friends also went through similar conditions. All this amidst a growing society, fresh from the battle against oppression – a society still licking its war-wounds and scrambling for some semblance of stability.

I neither consider myself scarred, harmed or abused to any great degree. I am neither angry at those men nor wish them harm. In a sense, I thank them for instilling the most powerful seed that resides in the human mind: Doubt.

We all know the foundation for stable thought in analysis begins with Cogito ergo sum. Yet, we must also remember Dubito ergo Cogito (I doubt, therefore I think), THEN Cogito ergo sum. I found myself wondering, if god’s love is so great, his power so immense, why do I constantly feel nothing but the biting cain against my knuckles?; Why do I feel nothing but paper when I touch the Quran?; and where is that rapturous experience that exudes from all the imams and mullahs I had interacted with?

It was then that stumbled across the most important book in my life: The Satanic Verses. It was to render that doubt into reason, to turn my apathy into action and so stabilise why I think being an outspoken ex-Muslim is important…



1. Idgafs are not necessarily “not giving a frack”, as the term suggests, but they are primarily nonbelievers who treat faith as something that should not be attacked, mocked, criticised, or at least attempted to be understood using emotion. Most nonbelievers I know are like this, even though they would be supporting me in any other area to promote reason.

Being Part of the “One Law for All” Campaign

I was invited by Maryam Namazie, the spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britian, to be a petitioner; along with AC Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christopher Hitchens, and others. You can find yours truly on this list along with other better, greater writers and thinkers.

It was launched on the 10th December, 2008, the same day I wrote my article on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to campaign organiser, Maryam Namazie, ‘Even in civil matters, Sharia law is discriminatory, unfair and unjust, particularly against women and children. Moreover, its voluntary nature is a sham; many women will be pressured into going to these courts and abiding by their decisions. These courts are a quick and cheap route to injustice and do nothing to promote minority rights and social cohesion. Public interest, particularly with regard to women and children, requires an end to Sharia and all other faith-based courts and tribunals.’

The campaign has already received widespread support including from AC Grayling; Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Bahram Soroush; Baroness Caroline Cox; Caspar Melville; Deeyah; Fariborz Pooya; Gina Khan; Houzan Mahmoud; Homa Arjomand; Ibn Warraq; Joan Smith; Johann Hari; Keith Porteous Wood; Mina Ahadi; Naser Khader; Nick Cohen; Richard Dawkins; Shakeb Isaar; Sonja Eggerickx; Stephen Law; Tarek Fatah; Tauriq Moosa; Taslima Nasrin and others. It has also received the support of organisations such as Children First Now; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran; European Humanist Federation; International Committee against Stoning; International Humanist and Ethical Union; Iranian Secular Society; Lawyers Secular Society; the National Secular Society; and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

The campaign calls on the UK government to recognise that Sharia law is arbitrary and discriminatory and for an end to Sharia courts and all religious tribunals on the basis that they work against and not for equality and human rights.

The campaign also calls for the Arbitration Act 1996 to be amended so that all religious tribunals are banned from operating within and outside of the legal system.

In the words of the Campaign Declaration: ‘Rights, justice, inclusion, equality and respect are for people, not beliefs. In a civil society, people must have full citizenship rights and equality under the law. Clearly, Sharia law contravenes fundamental human rights. In order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all those living in Britain, there must be one secular law for all and no Sharia.’

Roy Brown, immediate past president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union said, “IHEU is lending its full support to this campaign. It is intolerable that the very values on which UK society is based – human rights, equality and the rule of law – are being undermined by the quiet and insidious application of systems of law that have no basis in equality or justice.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, which is also supporting the One Law for All campaign, said: “It is a grave error for the authorities in this country to give credence to Sharia in any form – whether legally or in terms of informal arbitration. When women are being subjected to violence in their marriages, it is not acceptable for religious authorities – which are, by definition, misogynistic – to arbitrate. A two-tier legal system, with women’s rights being always secondary to religious demands, is unnecessary, undesirable and ultimately unjust.”

To RSVP to attend the launch or for more information, please contact Maryam Namazie, email: onelawforall@gmail.com, telephone: 07719166731; website: onelawforall.org.uk. The campaign’s website will be available on the day of the launch.

One Law for All

Campaign against Sharia law in Britain


We, the undersigned individuals and organisations, call on the UK government to bring an end to the use and institutionalisation of Sharia and all religious laws and to guarantee equal citizenship rights for all.

Sharia law is discriminatory

Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals are discriminatory, particularly against women and children, and in violation of universal human rights.

Sharia law is unfair and unjust in civil matters

Proponents argue that the implementation of Sharia is justified when limited to civil matters, such as child custody, divorce and inheritance. In fact, it is civil matters that are one of the main cornerstones of the subjugation of and discrimination against women and children. Under Sharia law a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s; a woman’s marriage contract is between her male guardian and her husband. A man can have four wives and divorce his wife by simple repudiation, whereas a woman must give reasons, some of which are extremely difficult to prove. Child custody reverts to the father at a preset age, even if the father is abusive; women who remarry lose custody of their children; and sons are entitled to inherit twice the share of daughters.

The voluntary nature of Sharia courts is a sham

Proponents argue that those who choose to make use of Sharia courts and tribunals do so voluntarily and that according to the Arbitration Act parties are free to agree upon how their disputes are resolved. In reality, many of those dealt with by Sharia courts are from the most marginalised segments of society with little or no knowledge of their rights under British law. Many, particularly women, are pressured into going to these courts and abiding by their decisions. More importantly, those who fail to make use of Sharia law or seek to opt out will be made to feel guilty and can be treated as apostates and outcasts.

Even if completely voluntary, which is untrue, the discriminatory nature of the courts would be sufficient reason to bring an end to their use and implementation.

Sharia law is a quick and cheap way to injustice

Proponents argue that Sharia courts are an alternative method of dispute resolution and curb legal aid costs. When it comes to people’s rights, however, cuts in costs and speed can only bring about serious miscarriages of justice. Many of the laws that Sharia courts and religious tribunals aim to avoid have been fought for over centuries in order to improve the rights of those most in need of protection in society.

Sharia law doesn’t promote minority rights and social cohesion

Proponents argue that the right to be governed by Sharia law is necessary to defend minority rights. Having the right to religion or atheism, however, is not the same as having the ‘right’ to be governed by religious laws. This is merely a prescription for discrimination, inequality and culturally relative rights. Rather than defending rights, it discriminates and sets up different and separate systems, standards and norms for ‘different’ people. It reinforces the fragmentation of society, and leaves large numbers of people, particularly women and children, at the mercy of elders and imams. It increases marginalisation and the further segregation of immigrant communities. It ensures that immigrants and new arrivals remain forever minorities and never equal citizens.

One law for all

Whilst arbitration tribunals are part of British law, they are subject to such safeguards as are necessary in the public interest. Clearly, public interest, and particularly the interests of women and children, requires an end to Sharia and all faith-based courts and tribunals.

Rights, justice, inclusion, equality and respect are for people, not beliefs. In a civil society, people must have full citizenship rights and equality under the law. Clearly, Sharia law contravenes fundamental human rights. In order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all those living in Britain, there must be one secular law for all and no Sharia.


One Law for All

  • We call on the UK government to recognise that Sharia and all religious laws are arbitrary and discriminatory against women and children in particular. Citizenship and human rights are non-negotiable.
  • We demand an end to all Sharia courts and religious tribunals on the basis that they work against and not for equality and human rights.
  • We demand that the Arbitration Act 1996 be amended so that all religious tribunals are banned from operating within and outside of the legal system.

reposted from Butterfliesandwheels.com.

The Harvest of Ideas

If we are to progress as a species, we need to understand differentiation. And this lies in attributing respect, rights and sympathy to the right sphere in an individual. If anything, humans are so made to resemble a snow man, with various massive parts that fit together in a semblance of form. Rolled into one, we thus view this whole-person as a thing to be respected.

But this view is wrong.

A fundamental error in our dealings comes from this fallacious view. Because our ideas and opinions are also part of what constitutes our individuality. And ideas are powerful enough to move mountains, given time for ripeness, fruition and actualisation. The petals to reality open to the light of reason and are justified accordingly to truth. Yet we forget that the ideas, the nectar from the fruits, need not be accorded rights and liberties and respect.

We need to be able to criticise every idea and scrutinise every opinion. Perhaps we can even add that no idea should be respected, given rights and treated with sympathy. If we are to understand this position, I need only point out the undue irrationality that this poison fruit is ripe for. In the garden of bad ideas, the flies always drift to this one.

Things like “blasphemy” or “non-Christian” or “non-Muslim” views are in this area. Religious ideas are cloistered within a sacred, pure garden and any outsider trespassing with his dirty feet, soiled hands and hardened eyes will ruin that sanctity. But no such place exists. The realm of ideas is constantly under growth and change and to consider otherwise is to live in delusion. Every idea should be under scrutiny, every thought should be liable to disagreement, every conceptual position should be amenable to change. “Sceptical scrutiny,” wrote Carl Sagan, “is the means by which deep insights can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

Because many of us continue to harbour the belief that certain ideas dwell within the garden of purity, living by the flickering light of faith, we do undue harm by the truckload. We should all be the dirty, unkempt traveller into garden unknown, into territory long hidden to us. The acquisition of knowledge is one of the greatest things for any human.

But to treat those ideas and opinions with respect is unjustified.

Let us look at two polarised examples: The ideas in shari’ah law that women are given the status, in courts, of being only half-a-man; and the ideas and opinions of great humanists, respect, love, compassion, and so on.

In the first place, we can say the idea that women are inferior to men is a pretty stupid one. We can formulate arguments for this, and writers better than myself have done so (from the great John Stuart Mill to Simone de Beauvoir, though take her with a pinch of salt). Nonetheless, this is an idea we can criticise, look at sceptically and so on. Our desire to show that this idea is flawed can give rise to discussions on the brain, on the differences inherent in women and men and so on. This can only further our knowledge and be a good thing. This shows that whilst we do not respect the idea of treating women as inferior, it does give rise to knowledge because of the inevitable outcome of scepticism, scrutiny and critical analysis.

That was a soft target and one we can all agree is a silly one. But we can see that by looking at an idea critically, no matter how apparently backward, it does give rise to further knowledge.

Now, in this second instance, let us take the humanists’ view. Many, including myself, advocate free-speech, compassion, respect, reason, helping one’s fellow man in any way and so on. But here’s the essence of what I’m saying: Even these, I do not want you to respect! Why should you have to respect these ideas of mine? Saying that just because Bertrand Russell, AC Grayling, and Paul Kurtz express these views is an appeal to authority. Yet they have ideas which I (and which everyone should) endorse.

But just because we endorse a view does not repudiate it from criticism. If anything, we should constantly be challenging our notions of compassion, looking critically at what constitutes respect (which prompted me to write this article in the first place!); we should challenge how we can help others; we must look sceptically at free-speech (for example, does writing an article which calls black people defamatory names warrant banning?). We are constantly under self-scrutiny – even though these ideas must sound pleasing to the average person, they need not be respected.

They are just ideas.

By showing you polarised ideas, I hope I’ve demonstrated that ideas never need respecting. What does respect mean in this arena? Let us look at all the definitions that Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary provides and juxtapose them with the bad and good idea I provided. The Bad Idea in this case is the idea (or view) that women are inferior to men; the Good Idea is the idea that people are worthy of compassion.

1 : a relation or reference to a particular thing or situation ‹remarks having ~ to an earlier plan›
2 : an act of giving particular attention : consideration
3 a : high or special regard : esteem b : the quality or state of being esteemed c pl: expressions of respect or deference ‹paid our ~s›
4 : particular detail ‹a good plan in some ~s›
– in respect of chiefly Brit: with respect to : concerning
– in respect to : with respect to : concerning
– with respect to : with reference to : in relation to

2respect vt (1560)
1 a : to consider worthy of high regard : esteem b : to refrain from interfering with ‹please ~ their privacy›
2 : to have reference to : concern regard

We can dismiss the first instances as a noun (for example: “with respect to Einstein’s equations, it seems this is wrong…”). This is synonymous with “consideration”. Now with regards to definition 3, we can safely say ideas do not warrant high or special regard. Be it the Good Idea of humanistic freedom and treatment; or the Bad Idea of viewing women as inferior. Both are ideas to be criticized. We might be a little surprised to find that even ideas we endorse are not worthy of high regard. But I think that is to miss the point, as one can hold still something in high regard but treat it critically.

Consider: Even when it comes to those are ideas we find good, incredible, or beautiful. Daniel Dennett considers Darwin’s idea of evolution by natural selection incredible, calling it Darwin’s Dangerous Idea:

If I were to give an award to the single best idea anyone has ever had, I’d give it to Darwin, ahead of Newton and Einstein and everyone else … My admiration for Darwin’s magnificent idea is unbounded, but I, too, cherish many ideas and ideals that it seems to challenge, and want to protect them. [There are many ideas that] may need protection. The only good way to do this – the only way that has a chance in the long run – is to cut through the smokescreens and look at the idea as unflinchingly, as dispassionately, as possible.

Dennett, as always, hits the nail on the head. I, too, love Darwin’s ideas on some things; I adore Dennett’s ideas, opinions and eloquence. I am enraptured by the awe and wonder of the beauty of the cosmos, as espoused by Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins. I enjoy being challenged by the ideas of Blaise Pascal, Einstein, Hawking. Ideas are there, growing in the fertile ground of the human mind. The fruit they bear is one which we can harvest or throw away – but we need to take the fruit, look at it critically, pressing our fingers into all its parts, and check it for rot or worms instead of simply throwing it into our baskets for immediate consumption.

This is my only plea: That we learn to look at all our ideas, opinions and viewpoints and realise:

(1) We are fallible, therefore our ideas are too.
– Every generation thinks it has the best morals and looks disdainfully at its past: Racism, misogyny, etc. “My goodness we would never incorporate those things as public policy!” we think now (not so in South Africa, only two decades ago). Yet, what will our children and our grandchildren think of some of the ideas we cherish? Perhaps the humanistic endeavor is fraught with lurid attempts at happiness, which will only be shown in the distant future.

(2) We can love and cherish ideas, but it does not mean we must respect them.
- You need not respect my ideas for fighting for equal human rights, over and above religious authoritarian views. But it should not be a crass dismissal; it should be intelligently answered and not dismissed with a snide-aside.

Thus, whilst I do think the idea of “women or non-whites as inferior” is a stupid idea, I can safely say why I think so and have no respect for that idea. Similarly, you can think my ideas are stupid and have no respect for it. Indeed, I hope you do not have an ounce of respect for any of the ideas I proclaim in this article! By looking at them dispassionately, but by treating each other as equal members of the human species, we progress.

This does not mean emotions are gone, or feelings. I am not stating we become robots marching to the drone of a flat-lined heart. It is in the defense of humanity that my view of ideas as open to criticism thrives. How many of us share opposing ideas, yet can embrace, love, and sit comfortably with another?

Ideas treated as they should be – as simply ideas – only add to our humanity. Treating ideas as if they were people in fact dehumanizes us. It is by liberating ideas from the conglomerate of the human individual that, in fact, we can locate the human to whom we owe respect, admiration and accord rights and liberties.

If one considers that ideas are “sacred”, it seems to minimize the central importance of us as humans: Ideas are not sacred, our lives and our existence are. It is for other people I would die and never ideas. How many of us would die for the ideas of Einstein? But how many would defend to the death our families? The sooner we start separating ideas from people, severing the immaterial from the mortal, the sooner we can come into full growth. One can consider ideas as vines that must be severed for the tree to stand tall against the light of compassion. Once we have severed the vines, we can hold them in our heads and treat them to the scrutiny they deserve. Let us place humanity before humanity’s ideas and never again equate the two.