On the subject of ex-muslim speakers


I just read a post by Maryam Namazie and I will list her points, go over the probable arguments against her points and then explain why I don’t think they are good enough. Yes, I’m going to be writing in sociology format today. No, I’m not trying to create straw men: I will write them as best I can. And if I see a good enough argument, I will even change my mind.

Point 1: “You can have several speakers debunking Christianity but only one critic of Islam is ever allowed! This is also true for many secularist and humanist conferences. They are all quick to criticize Christianity (and rightly so) but not so quick to bring focus and attention on Islam.”

Argument 1a: We don’t generally consider speakers to be debunkers of christianity or of islam, or whatever religion the speaker was raised to believe in; debunking any one religion is almost trivially easy, and religions are so alike that showing that there is no valid reason to believe in one is the same as showing there is no valid reason to believe in any of them. We consider speakers to be advocates of naturalist or critical thinking, or specialists in or from a field that is the focus of religious ire, or human rights activists.

For instance, Greta Christina: she advocates skeptical thought as a way of approaching all problems, not just religion. In the past she was a sex worker; the very existence of such a category being something that gets so far up the noses of (many) religious folks that it musses up their hair. And she is a human-rights activist. She fights for religious freedom, she fights for women’s rights, and she fights for gay rights. She is all-around badass, and she is not just a debunker of christianity.

Jen McCreight is an advocate of skeptical thought, she is a grad student in biology and she is a secular, gay rights and feminist activist. She is damned amazing and she is not just a debunker of christianity.

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, and considering all of the stupid debates surrounding dualism – in this day and age! – that is a useful specialist to have around. He is not just a debunker of christianity.

And – Maryam Namazie- neither are you just a debunker of islam. I read your blog and I get notices from your through moveon.org: I know you as a human rights activist. It’s why I read your blog, and Greta’s and Jen’s. I don’t need anybody to debunk islam for me. I figured out that the god-concept I was raised to believe was logically contradictory: after that, figuring out that the same applied to other god-concepts was not exactly taxing.

Argument 1b: Christianity is the majority religion in all three of the examples given. Thus, christian control of government is a much more likely threat to religious freedom than islamic control of government, christian belief is what is most often proselytized and brought into schools, christian beliefs about women drive the arguments against women’s rights and christian beliefs about homosexuality drive the debate against equal marriage rights.

Argument 1c: Many racists are vocal about their hatred of the Arabs. A great many idiots conflate Arab with muslim, despite the fact that the Arabs were around for a long time before islam and the fact that Indonesia is the country with the largest population of muslims on the planet. We don’t want to be associated with racists, so we are going to go easy on islam.

Counter 1a: Debunking one religion may be almost trivially easy, it may be done almost as a side effect of these talks, but if you don’t bother to do so, you are allowing it to flourish unopposed. That is not without consequence: I know the arguments may be well-mannered things, but people are dying, being raped, being maimed, have their individuality hidden by rules for gender appropriate, class appropriate, caste appropriate behavior… as a result of religion. So when you have most of the examples used derived from only one religion, you are giving the rest of them a free pass. I am guilty of this. In my talk “The Great Success of Past Apocalypses” I mostly talked about christian apocalypses. Yes, I selected a few others to talk about, and there is a disproportionate amount of christian predictions of the end times. But I could have shown more religions to be ridiculous than I did.

And ex-christian atheists don’t have any sort of monopoly on those roles mentioned. There are skeptical thought proponents, scientific specialists, people who have run afoul of religion in their work or life, and activists who came from many different backgrounds and are ex-muslim, ex-jewish, ex-hindu, ex-zorastrian, ex-pagan, or who never were religious at all. Even if christianity were the only harmful religion – which it is not – getting more points of view would be valuable: what is the emotional difference in viewing christian zealots not as a christian or ex-christian, but as someone who never was a christian? Think of how much more interesting conferences would be if we heard all of the interpretations of dogma and religious idiom of those who were never drugged with such concepts from youth.

Counter 1b: Christianity may currently be the majority religion of those countries, but christianity is a religion that has actually been moderated and to an extent defanged by the secular movement since it was called The Enlightenment. We have gotten christianity to come around to the notion that burning people at the stake is wrong. We have gotten christianity to come around to the notion that torturing people for religious disagreements is wrong. No, they are nothing like completely reformed: they still deny rights for stupid reasons, they still treat women as second class citizens and they still some really warped notions concerning how abdicating responsibility is a virtue, if you abdicate responsibility by turning it over to a god-concept. But they have had to tone things down. Due to an accident of geography, islam has not been moderated as much by The Enlightenment. It badly needs to be, and “we are here and it is now”*. Do you see any other way it will happen?

Counter 1c: So the way you are avoiding being lumped in with racists is by seeming to support the conflation that the racists make? Excuse me. You are doing it wrong.

Point 2: “Also, it sometimes feels like the token ‘victim’ brought to retell one’s experiences leaving the rest to be addressed by proper experts.”

Argument 2a: All of us who have escaped religion were victims of those religions. There is nothing different here.

Counter 2a: Except that if all of the people brought in to talk about science or how religion has been in conflict with their fields are escapees from christianity, and the only time an escapee from islam is brought in is for the human rights activist or advocate of secularism slots, the representation is rather skewed.

Point 3: “The atheist movement in particular has an important role to play in bringing attention to what I call the Islamic inquisition. And it needs to be more inclusive of those who have renounced Islam and are battling Islamism.”

Argument 3a: We are entirely inclusive. Anybody who wants to be part of the secular movement is, and anybody who is good at public speaking should be able to get gigs at conferences.

Counter 3a: Saying we are inclusive isn’t the same as doing things to show we want those viewpoints, and not just in attendees. We should be actively reaching out to people willing to talk at conferences about things most of us don’t know enough about. How about inviting all three of those activists Maryam mentioned to each give a speech and then how about a panel :

Leaving a Religion with an Automatic Death Sentence


Secularism and the Liberation of Women.

Greta Christina can’t be the only one telling us why we should be angry and active and ex-muslim atheists have a lot of reason to do both.

(*Yes, I’m quoting a fictional character from the book Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. You should read it. Yes, you.)


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