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…

ENDNOTES

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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

Declaration

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.

Petition

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.

News: Reasons for Christians to Support Hari

In an unsuprising turnaround, my friend, the theologian Jordan Pickering has written a response to the Hari edicts. Whilst I do not agree with any of the Christian references, his famed clarity and lucidity help capitulate the universal message of liberty and freedom to bounds and recesses I can not. Please read it for further grounding on this most unstable of ground we call human rights.

In Defence of Johann Hari

“Freedom of thought,” says the philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville, “is the only good more important than peace. Without it, peace would be another word for servility.” This is the basis for the first amendment in the American constitution; itself formulated from the thoughts from the man who perhaps coined the term “United States of America”, namely the great Thomas Paine.

As Paine wrote in Common Sense:

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.

Those last words are resounding and might be the distant echo to the so-called Rushdie Affair. The “defense of custom” seems to have become the staple diet for the majority. We have fought so long and so hard for tolerance that we tolerate the intolerant; We defend their customs and their ideas which themselves are based on bullying strategies that renders a cloud of protection on “men of faith”. When someone who is not of the cloth utters that the 2007 floods in Northern Yorkshire are a deity’s judgments on homosexuality, as the then Archbishop of Carlyle, Graham Dow, did, we would think them insane. But because he has archbishop next to his name we are meant to “respect” such barbaric, backward and unhelpful thoughts.

Recently, my friend the great Johann Hari has faced a horrible string of threats, underpinned by death, fear and Islam. He alerted his faithful readership to the horrid poison, weaving a noose within the veins of equality in the UN. Islamic countries are demanding that we respect their hideous misogynist notions of shari’ah, to steer clear of criticising an illiterate pedophile who flew on horses to heaven, and to never raise reason as an ecumenical notion for everyone.

They are demanding this because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stresses the right to free-speech, free-thought. This logically means the ability to criticise openly any and all ideas. The only thing that the UDHR even alludes to being “sacred”, in the normative sense of the word, is the unified human spirit to unite without superstitious, overzealous boundaries. Muslims fear this, as Hari correctly highlight, because it would mean that young people would do the one thing all religions fear: THINK FOR THEMSELVES.

Sapere Aude (Dare to know)!” says Kant in his essay on the Enlightenment. ” ‘Have courage to use your own understanding’ – that is the motto for the Enlightenment.” Islam – and all religions – would quiver under such scrutiny. The use of intellect is hardly encouraged unless it is in accordance with Allah’s will. Everything is supposed to be through Allah; but everything includes good and bad, right and wrong, evil and misconceptions. So wouldn’t this religion, which is mistakenly called a “religion of peace” by many world leaders, cherish such open-mindedness? Why then the fear of Enlightenment values?

Because then the foundations would fail, it would flounder and like a hydra dying and frothing red beneath the sea, it would sink into the bottom depths of our history. Muslims realise this. They realise their grips would falter on the minds of their flock; so much so that they are willing to arrest the Indian editors of Hari’s article.

How could Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha be arrested for publishing Hari’s article? Because hurting religious feelings is part of the Indian penal code. Under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code it forbids “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”. The irony rests in the double-standards. And what religions are included in section 295A? Why some religions, Islam, but not others, Norse or Roman? And, of course, what about those who are outraged but are not religious? Why do we never get any “special treatment” for our “feelings”?

Boo-hoo, my childish Islamic friends. Your feelings were hurt? Shame. I can tell you exactly why those of us without religion neither have any law against offending us, in India (and most places), and more importantly, why we usually don’t fight for one: Because we believe in the freedom of open criticism. We believe in the right to express any ideas, in a rational, open way.

This means I do not care whether you worship Zeus, Allah, or Yahweh: If it makes you happy, go ahead. If it consoles, by all means do it. But you can not demand me to respect such ideas and to not criticise them. I am open to you criticising my ideas, any of them. I will not be privy to respecting any ideas just to make the faithful happy. To quote Hari:

[A] free society cannot be structured to soothe the hardcore faithful. It is based on a deal. You have an absolute right to voice your beliefs – but the price is that I too have a right to respond as I wish. Neither of us can set aside the rules and demand to be protected from offence.

Whilst we writers against religion limit ourselves to words, our antagonists would find vent in bullets. Whilst we would change and let the plateau of equality be the ground on which we all walk, Muslims would have the high-ground to censure equal human rights. They would rather we shut up and step away from hurting their poor feelings.

I support Hari in his criticisms, as is apparent. Hari had every right to write what he liked, as did people in my country’s past. Consider that Steve Biko’s book is entitled I Write What I Like. I even support the freedom to write tripe like creationist or Holocaust-denial literature. Because scientists and historians can then openly criticise and point out the flaws in the creationist and “revisionist” literature. I don’t believe in banning books or writers or the stultification – in fact, my life is dedicated to fighting for anyone to say anything, in an open minded, discursive way.

Not so for the religious, as this reaction to Hari’s article displays. If that is not a sign of backward thinking, pointing away from the path of reason into the dark woods of dogma, then I am not sure what is. Perhaps the Quran and its horrible statements of death to infidels (“Kill them where ye find them!”)? Perhaps the terror Muslims invoke, when we draw cartoons of their Prophet, or the death-threats when a Teddy-bear is named after him?

I want us all to be amenable to change, criticism and open to ideas. This is a grownup way to look at the world. But the neotony inherent in our species finds vent in that which is itself a product of our mind’s infancy. Consider this bounder, called Abdus Subhan, who “[was] prepared to lay down his life, if necessary, to protect the honour of the Prophet [against Hari]” and Hari should be sent “to hell if he chooses not to respect any religion or religious symbol … He has no liberty to vilify or blaspheme any religion or its icons on grounds of freedom of speech.”

But why not? We need to all grow up and face the fact that many things will “offend” us. We are diverse and diversity inculcates a sense of realisation of many different things.  So, using “that offends me” as a reason and argument to cease that which causes offence, is no grounds at all for it to cease. Before you think me venturing into the territory of cultural relativism, I mean it simply according with what we understand to be human rights, personal autonomy, the right to liberty, freedom of thought, and so on.

I stand by what I write here as I stand by Johann Hari. Muslims should be more horrified at me, someone who was once Muslim, now admonishing them; I deserve their scorn and outrage more than someone who won the Amnesty International Newspaper Journalist of the Year (2007). Please let us all grow up, face the beauty of the world and time we have. Muslims must realise that we are fighting for them and their freedom as much as anyone else. The ones who suffer the most from the dogmatic assertions of clerical bullying are other Muslims.

We want everyone to be free, we want everyone to have the right to liberty and freedom. Let the ashes of dogma settle to allow some growth of a newfound liberation and reasoned tolerance. If we hurt each others feelings so be it. But that does not mean we are allowed to kill, arrest or maim each other. Growing up and opening our eyes means we see and experience more, which means more opportunity for pain. But it also means more opportunity for growth. Like trees entwined at the roots, our growth rests in each other. The faster we all severe our ties from celestial propitiation, the faster our own lives can be rendered to soar with freedom and openness

I know this will do nothing to stop or cease Muslim’s anger. It might incite more. But, I will quote Paine again to finish. Immediately after the first line I quoted above, he says:

But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

Let it be so.

A Preface: Bullied No More

We have played into the hands of clerical bullying for too long, with every religious group demanding special attention because its feelings are hurt. We, in Western democracies, are quick to ape mewling mothers and suckle them to our breast of quiet platitude, so that they might feast on our milk of tolerance. But tolerance of people does not extend to their ideas and, in what is indeed a great enlightenment value, our toleration has become our own demise.

The tawdry lies and clerical bullying, so long dominating our society, must now cease to hold our lives in their clutches. Whilst the rest of the world would reach for the light of reason, mullahs would usher in a new dark age. They would rather fool themselves with ghosts in the darkness and call it god than banish such shadows into the memories of our species, where it belongs.

Many great modern writers are attempting to find bridging gaps between Islam and modern thought; yet no one sees the double-standards of not doing the same for the ancient Norse, Greek or Sumerian religions. People like Irshad Manji, who wrote The Trouble with Islam Today, and Reza Aslan, the author of No god but God, are attempting just such mental gymnastics. The sinuous undergrowth of tortuous theological pap obscures any form of rationality; it is an undergrowth so mangled, one can almost see these writers bending over backwards to somehow reconcile universal values of happiness and equality with mullah-mindsets of a backward past. Indeed, if their minds were bodies, Manji and Aslan would look like mangled corpses after a tornado.

I do however understand such importance in bridging gaps. People like Manji and Aslan would be those parachute-instructors who gradually raise the bar, allowing the students to slowly reach a greater height and thus not be afraid when told to let go.

I see no such time for small steps, comforting noises and the occasional nod to Islamic history as somehow apropos to its legitimacy now. I would rather we square up and ask a simple question: Is Islam ready for today’s heightened secularism and universal humanism? Is it appropriate for running a society, lives and interactions? Is it really necessary for children to learn the entire Quran to be better people in the future? Is it entirely necessary for average Muslims to develop neuroses over whether its OK to perform simple actions, like touching a dog after praying, with their only solution to write long letters to their local imam?

The answer is NO.

Islam – and all religions – should no longer have a dominating place in this world. They are childish, impromptu explanations of things we knew little about in the infancy of our species. We need to take a stronger stand against the rising tide of dogmatism.

If you don’t believe that clerical bullying, Islamic stupidity (which is the application of Islam to cohere with secular, enlightened values), and blunted minds can effect you, have a look at the recent developements of the UN. If even the largest body of human rights is being poisoned by the mullah-mindsets, what hope do we have?

It will take the actions of ordinary but passionate people to lower the bar of tolerance. Yes, lower. Because we are tolerating too much: We have taken toleration so far that we tolerate ideas and see them as, somehow, “sacred”. But we should not respect ideas. As Johann Hari indicated, we can respect each other so much as human beings that we won’t respect our bad ideas.

Any idea taken too far, from tolerance to equality, can be disastrous. If tolerance is taken too far, we have many religions squaring their shoulders in our tolerant society, demanding that their own rights supersede those of the civil society in which they dwell. If equality and respect are taken too far, we have cultural relativism, and no standards by which to judge whether genital mutilation on Muslim girls is just “another view of happiness”. We can not impose if that is what brings their families happiness, that is simply arrogant. But, that view too is extreme and extremely wrong! If we don’t work in absolutes, then even the notion of “there are no absolutes” (i.e.: the premise of cultural relativism) becomes bizarre, since it is an absolute statement. As Karl Popper said: “a theory that explains everything, explains nothing.”

We need to have some notion of right, wrong, happiness. And the idea that everyone should be treated equally, without regard to race, creed, culture or country and judged according to this blindness of human attributes, is so far the best form of governance we have. That does not make it perfect or right. But all counterarguments and ideas thrown against it, have withered under the light of reason.

Yes, we might be wrong. But so far we haven’t been. Equality and respect for people work: equality and respect for their ideas does not. Muslims need to understand this. They do not need to respect it but certainly they need to point out how their ideas – treating women like cattle, preventing the stunning of animals so that more pain is caused and therefore they can perform their Bronze-Aged ritual, and so on – is better than the current standards of science and secularism.

They will and do find it does not. That is why they must kill and threaten to make their points; they understand that the Quran does not hold up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and created their own (governed of course by the rather bizarre shari’ah).

Life is incredibly beautiful. We need to grasp it and remove it from the hands of gods, mullahs and others who claim to have a hot-line to god. Like puppets with all these millions of strings tethered to shifting celestial fingers, if we severe them, we can see the beauty of the sky, the horizon and the endless wonder of human existence.

We require no permission to do this. It is our right as human beings. We will be bullied no more into thinking and respecting. Ideas are won by their strength alone and not the impacts of bullets and the loudness of voices. Once we all learn that, we can be stronger in our defence of reason against the mullah-minds and Islamist-insanity quivering in the shadows of ancient gods.