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Sat Sep 20 13:58:11 SAST 2014

On riotous Islam and smug atheism

Bruce Gorton | 19 September, 2012 10:38
A Muslim demonstrator holds up a sign during a protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Bangkok.
Image by: CHAIWAT SUBPRASOM / REUTERS

Crommunist over at Free Thought Blogs put up a blog post on how it is overly simplistic to blame Islam for the protests across the Middle East.

So far as I can see his central point was that given the US’ interference in internal Middle Eastern politics that there was a lot more to the protests than just some film on YouTube.

Go read his post, because even when I disagree with Crommunist reading his thoughts provides an education.

And this is one time I do disagree, because when you get right down to it the pictures I saw from the protests were saying “Stop insulting Mohammed” and not “stop meddling in our government.”

But I do agree with his sentiment that it is not down to religion, and that the atheist community doesn’t get to feel smug about this. I just have different reasons for saying that.

Atheists don’t get to feel smug because we too have our rioters, the only difference is our rioters have Internet connections.

If you look at what is happening with regards to death and rape threats to prominent atheist feminists, the only difference there to what happened in Yemen is a matter of degree. The aims were the exactly same: censorship.

And censorship is not Islam, any more than it is Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism – it is the universal impulse of “I don’t like what you say, therefore I will fight to the death your right to say it”.

And that aim has not been reflected in South Africa’s Islamic community  - we haven’t had riots against US embassies because our local Islamic community is better than that.

Can we say the same of the international atheist community in our internal controversies?

When people started sending pictures essentially saying “I know where you live” to female atheists, that was no different to the threat delivered in these Middle Eastern protests. They are exactly the same thing in fact “Don’t say that or I will do something nasty to you.”

So no, we don’t get to sit in judgement on the Middle East because we have our own rage boys to deal with.

And it is more important that we start dealing with these rage boys because we can’t do anything about the behaviour of others who are often separated by continents, but we can do something about our own behaviour.

We should be looking upon this violence in the Middle East not as an excuse to feel superior but as a reason to reflect upon our own behaviours and learn.

As it stands we have a long way to go before we get to say how much better we are on these issues – because here is the other thing about those riots.

Those riots are led not by an Islamic majority, but a very vocal minority. The same is true of sexist and racist atheists and the same defence is raised - we tend to say “well it is a small subset”.

In a block of flats I once lived in, there was a kid who would climb through people’s balconies and steal their stuff. There were about forty flats in this block, and apart from that one kid, it was a pretty law abiding bunch.

Does that mean the block didn’t have a crime problem? Should people have ignored the fact that every now and then their homes were getting broken into because, after all, there was only one little criminal and they shouldn’t have blown it out of all proportion?

And some blocks had more criminals than ours did, surely we should rather have spent our time criticising their crime problems rather than focusing on ours.

After all we didn’t want our property values to drop with all this talk of having a crime problem did we?

Now if you look at sexism online it is a small subset of people who are sexist jerks. Really these are the people none of us wants online because they bring unpleasantness wherever they may roam not just to the sexism debate.

And it is not social awkwardness. It isn’t social awkwardness when you actually mean to make something unpleasant for a group of people; it is social vandalism.

It doesn’t take a lot of social vandals to make the whole community unlivable for their targets. It takes a small group of dedicated thugs to repeatedly spam abuse at someone for them to shut down their blog.

I call it censorship via bigot because that is the aim. It is aimed at making things so unpleasant for a given group that they stop showing up and thus stop speaking up.

And we need to put a stop to it because otherwise we are no better than those angry protesters saying, “O Allah, seek revenge on them one by one. Slay until there is nothing left. And do not run away from them until there are none left.”

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Sat Sep 20 13:58:11 SAST 2014 ::