Have you noticed how atheist conferences only always have one ex-Muslim speaker who focuses on Islam? The next three atheist conferences are good cases in point.

13-15 April 2012, Australia – Ayaan Hirsi Ali

18-20 May 2012, Canada – Me

25-27 May 2012, Germany – Taslima Nasrin

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 criticise Christianity (and rightly so) but not so quick to bring focus and attention on Islam.

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

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.

Well, at least that’s what I think.



  1. Well, it is also starkly noticeable that you want that “one ex Muslim” to be yourself. Witness the ludicrous attacks on Ayaan Hirsi Ali you’ve written elsewhere.

    You know, if everyone has chosen to forget it, it was your faction, the socialist and communist parties that brought Khomeni to power. If I had that record, I’d be a lot more modest.

    1. Yes you caught me! I am criticising another ex-Muslim only to promote myself! As if we ‘third worlders’ must all think the same! How did you guess?

      And by the way, the worker-communist movement and its previous organisations (CPI, UCM) never supported Islamism or Khomeini but don’t worry yourself with facts.

  2. I’ve never attended any secularist, humanist and/or atheist conferences. For what it’s worth, though, I am really glad that you were invited to blog on FTB. I don’t know whether or not Islam is the greatest threat to proponents of secular democracies in the world today, but that’s because I’m an ethnocentric American who’s ill-informed on the subject. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

  3. I’ll end my comment on this tread with a link to an article written by ex-Muslim Alom Shaha about the exclusion of ‘non-white atheists’. I wouldn’t necessarily use some of his terms but the arguments against his article are very similar to the ones given here. Some food for thought, particularly for those who don’t think they need it.

    1. Great article, but none of that justifies spouting BS about the “pro-Islamist Left.” Nor does it prove any of the “creeping Sharia” horror-stories I’ve heard (and heard debunked).

  4. I agree with Raging Bee. That’s new.

    I think part of the problem is that Islam isn’t a thing. I know plenty of Muslims who don’t think there should be a death penalty for apostasy. I live in Cedar Rapids, IA where most Muslims are fourth and fifth generation immigrants. Sure, plenty of others do, but using this as a criticism of Islam in general is off base, like criticizing American Christians for Africa’s witch hunters. In fact, there are plenty of American Christians pushing the idea all Muslims are bloodthirsty savages, ready to behead anyone who insults Moe, shows too much ankle, talks back or drives a car. Encouraging this as a view of Islam in particular rather than authoritarian religion in general (including Christianity in the third world and some of the more isolationist sects) actually hurts the atheist cause because it gives power to the Christian nutjobs.

    1. Yeah, the “thing” thing. I notice that when people trash Christianity, they tend to talk about evil things done by Christian people; but when they trash Islam, they tend to speak of “Islam” as an entity unto itself, existing independent of the people who believe in it — but getting stronger as the number of Muslims in a given country grows.

    2. Oh, Daniel, but they still segregate the men and women over at the Islamic Center. Granted, they don’t expect the women to be veiled, but they still have to have their hair covered, right?

      And don’t forget that Rockwell Collins has brought in a number of first generation immigrants. One of those was the first Muslim I had ever met. I’ll say he was (is) a nice guy, but…boy…he was also quite the apologist. It was the typical blame everything on the extremists who “misinterpret the scripture,” not the problem of believing in things without good evidence or basing one’s life on a 1000+ year-old text, and the “we respect women; that’s why we keep them in the house, where they will be safe” justification for his cultural views. It’s the typical problem that the moderates effectively protect the extremists because they only attack the symptoms (and their attacks are weak sauce at that), not the disease.

      In that same year, he introduced me to a woman who is, I’m quite certain, an atheist from a Muslim family (and thus probably an ex-Muslim); she was one of the first people to tell me to not buy into such arguments. Yet, she says these things to me in private. She won’t go public with her disbelief and disregard for religion. I suspect she still has a fear of punishment from her family in Pakistan.

      And let’s not forget about the fight after a softball game from last year. I don’t know if the whole story ever became public news, but I recall people saying he and his team started the fight, but then pulled out the racism/persecution card. Anecdotal, I know. And certainly could be blamed on jock aggressiveness.

      Point of all of this is that, while I agree it’s not wise to paint with a broad brush or overgeneralize, don’t go too far the other way and think it’s only a few bad apples!

      1. …It was the typical blame everything on the extremists who “misinterpret the scripture,” not the problem of believing in things without good evidence or basing one’s life on a 1000+ year-old text…

        There’s lots of people who believe unsupportable things from 1000+ year old texts or other unreliable sources (myself included); a pretty small percentage of them commit acts of violent intolerance, and some of them actually died fighting AGAINST such intolerant acts.

  5. From your earlier referenced post:

    …the government’s policies of multiculturalism and appeasement…

    Which specific policies are you talking about? You’re using two very vague words without defining what, exactly, you’re talking about.

    Both the far-Right and pro-Islamist Left purport that Islamism is people’s culture and that they actually deserve no better, imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the ruling class, parasitical imams and self-appointed ‘community leaders’.

    Would you care to quote ANYONE, on either “the far-Right” or “the pro-Islamist Left,” actually saying any such thing?

    Quite frankly, I think “the pro-Islamist Left” is nothing but a stereotype left over from the early days of Khomeini’s rule in Iran, when many Western liberals did indeed give Khomeini a bit of a pass — understandably, given he’d just overthrown a very unpopular dictator who had been helped to power by our own CIA. But that was a LONG time ago, and liberals have changed their minds about Islamism since then.

  6. Of course there is no quota! The point I am making is that it feels that way.

    Well, there’s the problem: you’re letting your feelings lead you into a quagmire of stupidity and hysteria — just like all those people listening to Gingrich and Palin and opposing a gathering-place for Muslims in New York.

  7. I’m all in favor of robust criticism of Islam and the wrongs done in its name. But what I’m seeing here is nothing but shrill nonsense that doesn’t make you look at all credible. Atheist conferences all decided, either independently or collectively, to allow only one ex-Muslim speaker per event? Please. If they were really that scared of violent retribution, their “quota” would be ZERO ex-Muslims, not one. Does anyone actually believe that violent intolerant Islamists would be okay with one vocal apostate but not two? That’s just fucking absurd.

    And let’s cut the crap about people criticizing Christianity but not Islam — it’s just plain false. I have yet to see one atheist, skeptic, agnostic or Pagan who was unwilling to criticise Islam — and in fact, many have attacked right-wing Christians by comparing their ignorance and bigotry to that of the Taliban. This is just another rehash of that old saw about how us spoiled academic liberals only criticize injustice in America and don’t understand how much worse things are in other countries. Seriously, you’re letting your agenda be hijacked by bigots and morons and the “bomb Iran before they get a nuke and kill us all!” crowd.

    1. You’re not getting it. I didn’t say that the atheist conferences were afraid of retribution; that is what they are saying. They are saying they don’t invite many ex-Muslims because there are few who are willing to speak out because of retribution. Of course it is not done on purpose. It’s similar to the under-representation of women atheists. There is a problem there that needs to be addressed. Not sure what this has to do with my allowing my agenda to be hijacked by the far-right when I criticise what I see as a problem in the atheist movement. Is it alright for others to do it but if I do it – I am encouraging the bomb Iran crowd? There must be some logic in what you say – however warped – I just don’t even see the links to try and refute it…

      1. Is it alright for others to do it but if I do it – I am encouraging the bomb Iran crowd?

        Where did I say anything like that? Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?

  8. “While I have great respect for Maryam, I strongly disagree with the tone of this article.

    Having organized more than a few international atheist conventions, I know that asking anyone to speak on Islam is asking them to put themselves in likely danger by Islamic fundamentalists”.

    I think Stuart Bechman just answered why there is usually one speaker from the ex-muslim camp invited to any one convention at any one time.

    The frightening thing about this mindset – the one that choses to defend and protect people from intimidation and violence by removing their platforms on which to speak – is that it does nothing to stop initimidation and violence. It merely tries to avoid it out of a misplaced concern.

    1. There are hundreds of people who are willing to speak out; I invites tens of them to each of the conferences I organise but there is only one of us at any atheist or humanist conference. Feigning to protect them as an excuse for not inviting more than one ex-Muslim to every conference reminds of the EU censoring the film on Afghan women ‘for their own good.’ Anyway, this still doesn’t address my point on why there can never be more than one at each conference. In the three conferences I mentioned, Taslima, Ayaan and I are all the only ex-Muslims and all at different conferences, never the same. Can I never see Taslima at an event organised by the atheists and secularists or will two of us be just too much?

  9. Greetings very dear Maryam
    I believe there is two aspects that are attributable to this phenomenon (and it is great that you brought it up, thanks to your sharp analytic-political approach):
    1. The lower-case critical stance regarding Islam and Islamism.
    2. The unconscious internalization of “orientalist” and low-case racist stance that, on the one hand, reveals itself in different types of discourses (e.g., “tolerating” the culture of “other”, multiculturalism, cultural relativism), and on the other hand, reveals itself in form of underestimating the importance of criticizing Islam and Islamism.
    Both approaches share the common core that “Muslims” –that is, those who are born in Islam-ridden countries– are incapable of conceiving fully rational judgments and, since “their” religion is a product of their culture or belong to them– Islam is so obviously irrational that it does not require to be critically and politically confronted.
    All in all, this is a political stance that does not aim at a terrestrial understanding of religion and religious “spirituality” but at a religious and “spiritual conceiving of human history.
    Keep the hard, excellent, critical work.

  10. @ atheist:

    You’re probably at least partly right about why sharia law has been trounced so soundly and so consistently in court – after all, Christian law does much better around here. But happily, the actual language of the decisions was based purely on legal and constitutional principles, at least in the cases I’ve heard about. They can potentially be used as precedents to defeat Christian law. Every little bit helps.

    And about Germany, I’m afraid I was terribly unclear. I meant to say that Germany is closer to Iran than the US in an entirely literal, geographical sense. I was talking about the physical distance between those countries, not the ideological distance. My point was to suggest that perhaps Germany has more reason than the US to be concerned with Islamism by reason of that proximity. It was a bit of a throwaway comment, as I know very little about modern Germany despite my ancestry. Presumably they’re avoiding any disaster sufficient to get them on the news over here. (I do know that their current chancellor is a woman and a physicist, though, which is awesome.)

    1. Robert B:
      Ah, now I understand what you meant by the “closeness” between Iran and Germany. Perhaps I should have taken the cue from your example of Indonesia and Australia. It is certainly true that physical proximity is important.

      Your take on the US anti-Sharia Law legislation seems over-optimistic to me, but it is true that I haven’t studied it deeply.

  11. Maryam– this is something that hadn’t occurred to me, ever. We do tend to have tokens in any sort of discussion group. But there is a lot to gain with the addition of voices.
    I first took a class in Islam while studying at a Jesuit university 30 years ago. It was a subject I knew next to nothing about. Being taught by a rabidly pro-Islam professor it seemed that there was pretty much one Islam, with 2 flavors: Shi’ite and Sunni. Clearly not so simple.
    It would be wonderful to have more voices at the same time in order to hear the differences in experience. My feeling us that you and your fellow ex-Muslims would gain in such a situation. It would give everyone more to consider. Just my view here.

  12. It does seem like a token thing, now that you mention it.

    That bothers me. I think you’re pretty much irrelevant, so I look forward to more conferences with zero ex-Muslim speakers, and a few with two or three.

  13. To answer your question, Maryam, I hadn’t really noticed it, and I feel a bit stupid.

    It’s interesting – when I was in Stockholm I met a lot of ex-Muslims. It definitely wasn’t “just one ex-Muslim at a time” there. Other places should be more like that.

  14. I find criticisms of Maryam short sighted and ill informed. Religious literalism is one of the biggest challenges to our very existence. They all should be addressed. And Maryam has criticized excesses of both christianity and judaism right her, as recently as a day ago or two.
    I despise Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry as much as the next person. In the grand scheme of things, however, Islam is the bigger threat. And for a simple reason: the enlightenment put an end to the most outrageous abuses of christianity, but it did not touch islam.
    The result: literalism with regards to the scripture, which extant in christianity, is considered an extreme position, at least outside the US. (I am well aware that it is catching on, mostly in African and Latin America, as a result of missionary activity.) In Islam, though, it is all but universal. Belief in infallibility of the Koran is the Islamic orthodoxy, and failing to live by that doctrine is considered apostasy which is punishable by death in many parts of the world.

    1. It’s because I don’t think literalism is the problem; it’s Islamism that is. It’s Islam access to political power that is. This in my opinion if first and foremost a political not ideological battle.

  15. Well, it would be nice to see you on a panel with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasrin and maybe someone else from an Islamic background. When I was working on the Dublin one, I did my best to get a good mix from all backgrounds. Science, philosopy, ex-clergy, people who pee sitting down, as there are too many who do it standing up in the Atheist Community! … etc

  16. This is also true for many secularist and humanist conferences. They are all quick to criticise Christianity (and rightly so) but not so quick to bring focus and attention on Islam.

    I think there are two main reasons for this. First, Western Atheists are threatened more by our home nations’ burgeoning Christian tribalism than by the Islamism of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Iran. We therefore naturally focus our attacks on Christianity (and to a lesser degree on Judaism and New-Age-ism) as it is the clear and present danger.

    Secondly, many of us are aware that within our own societies there exists a deadly anti-Islamic movement *. This movement wishes to push the Western powers beyond our current “Long War” ** against the largely Islamic “Arc of Crisis” into a situation of ethnic cleansing of Muslims from our Western homelands. It is absolutely counter to our aims as a humanist movement to align ourselves with this murderous anti-Islamic network.

    Based on these realities, I find it to be not at all surprising that Western atheists do not wish to attack Islam except when this is clearly done within a context of attack on all religion.

    * “Fear, Inc. – The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America“, The Center For American Progress, Aug. 26, 2011, by Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang , Scott Keyes, Faiz Shakir.

    ** “Understanding the Long War“, the Peace and Justice Resource Center, May 7, 2009, by Tom Hayden

    1. Sorry but these sound like excuses to me. Because I focus on Islam, doesn’t mean I also can’t criticise Christianity. If I feel religion is a problem, then it’s a problem whichever it is. Also if I am living in an era where Islam in particluar is still stoning people to death and hanging apostates, I would think atheists should now their duty towards them. Saying that the far-Right opposes Islamism for its own inhuman and racist agenda also isn’t good enough. I oppose US-led militarism and the Islamic regime of Iran. I don’t have to side with one over the other. In fact the far-Right opposes Islamism in order to defend Christianity – that makes it even more urgent for atheists to criticise both. The ‘within a context’ argument always ends up meaning we lose – the dissidents, the freethinkers, the ex-Muslims because those who should be on our side loud and clear are too busy with their excuses.

      1. Had to quote this here: Cahit Kaya from Facebook says: ‘it seems, there is no place for ex-muslims in the “holy war” between western lefties and western right wing activists.’

        1. Well, perhaps your friend Cahit Kaya has said something wise. It has been suggested before, how in this era the wars of the West have taken on a character more like external projections of our own culture wars than like the colonialism of the previous era. Anyway, interesting blog, thanks.

      2. It seems to me as if you are the one that is “ready aim fire” at anyone that doesn’t agree with you 100% or that seems to think perhaps in their town, in their life at this particular juncture, a different religion (perhaps christianity) may be a bigger threat to them.

        Because I focus on Christianity, doesn’t mean I can’t criticize Islam. A fundamentalist islamic cleric didn’t persecute me. A fundamentalist christian sheriff, however did.

  17. I think you should represent all ex-faiths atleast on a rotating basis. Non-christian atheists are often heavily under represented. And you would be insanely surprised by what a lot of atheists get upto across the world.


    Remember while your priests rant and rave at the pulpit, the priests of my old faith pass off magic tricks as genuine miracles. Pay note to some of the dedication these atheists have in matching the tricks of the gurus who earn money doing these.

    1. Yes, what skeptics do exposing the lies of priests of any religion is highly admirable. But remember, the price that critics of Islam pay is completely off the charts, compared to critics of other faiths: they have to live in self-imposed exile (or end up like Rafiq Tagi), they can never hope to see their land of birth again and they are not safe even in their adopted countries.

  18. I should really clarify, I don’t know a damn thing about Islam either. I only knew my acquaintances mentioned above were Muslim because we casually discussed which holidays we were taking vacation time for. So all I learned was that Ramadan falls on different dates throughout the year. (Which still strikes me as confusing, and sucks when fasting for long summer days, but hey.)

    …Y’know, I remember a bit of how those conversations went. Them, taking time off for Ramadan, and me saying “Yeah, I don’t have a religion but my family takes Christmas off, so I do too.” I wouldn’t have felt comfortable saying that to my own family.

    Just after 9/11, when people started slamming Islam and vandalizing mosques, I went to a couple of my Muslim friends (one fellow student, one restaurant owner) and said “If anyone hassles you, we’ve got your back.” I remember a circle of students gathering around to offer their support. At the restaurant, other customers said they’d make a point of coming there and keeping watch in case anything happened. The place was busier than usual for a few weeks.

    So on second thought, I think the atheist and skeptic communities really need to become more familiar with Islam and to actively add ex-Muslims to our circles, because due to intolerant Christianity in this country, we have a common enemy.

  19. I know exactly 0 muslims in my town, about 6 sikhs, 15 or so fundamentalist christians among the 999 more liberal catholics, protestants, baptists, jehova’s winesses, mormons etc. – so what topic do you think is more important to me?

    I have no clue how those committees select their speakers, but unfortunately christianity is a bigger threat to secular governance than Islam on the north and south american continent.

    1. All true, but you have to realize that:

      1) The internet and the blogs at FTB are bigger than North America.

      2) Atheist conferences happen in other places besides North America.

      3) Maryam Namazie is maybe a bit more cosmopolitan than the majority of the speakers/authors to whom you are accustomed.

      4) What happens elsewhere in the world is important. You’ll see plenty of white male types who deal all sorts of beliefs other than christianity, e.g., PZ, as well as their commenters. Why not women or men speakers who can speak from personal experience rather than having reference to news items or literature?

      5) It’s not all about you?

      6) Ex-Muslims speaking on Islam and topics other than Islam bring in viewpoints many of us have not heard before.

      7) Being inclusive can only help. More ex-Muslims, women, and generally anyone outside the white male (ex-)christian world being engaged as speakers will only broaden the atheist community and enlighten us.

      8) Fundies in the States got a lot of their current power due to reaction against what some maniacs did in the name of Islam. An “insider” view of Islam can be useful here.

      If you give a damn, e.g., about the kind of crap U.S. evangelicals/fundies promote in Africa, you’d probably do well to understand what Islam is promoting and what is happening. Sure, you may be able to better influence things of interest in the States, but why remain closed-off to everything else? And again, not all of us live in the States.

      Sideways question: Have you ever read the Black Skeptics blog? Granted, the blog is a bit different than some others, frequently being interviews, and highlighting individuals and organizations of the Black Atheist movement. Ever wonder why they have separate groups not so active in the mostly white “mainstream” atheist movement? The low amount of interchange is troubling, and it has a lot to do with how white men organize their groups and conferences, and this has been well-discussed in some communities and blog comments.

      Anyway, that’s my partial and not-so-well-organized list of why you might care.

      1. It is not only about me, but to the threat that a particular religion poses to the society I live in. And Islam is very low on the list of priorities.
        Much more interesting is the threat for a peaceful coexistence that christianity poses as displayed by american leadership hopefuls.

        It is only about me because my interest in the topic of the muslim threat to secular north american societies is rather low, which is just my considered opinion. If you are of a different one – you have expressed that too.

        I hope it is still legitimate to express an opinion, even if not to your liking.

        I also entertain the idea that eventually the more extreme expressions of Islam will extinguish themselves in a blaze of violence internally in those countries, and all I consider important to keep that violence from our shores, without interfering in those conflicts.
        I have absolutely no sympathy for any people that can believe in magic realities as posited by their holy books, be it the bible, the baghavat gita, the qur’an etc., I just hope they eliminate each other without further ado and do not unduly influence my well being.
        That is also why the particular idiocies of NA fundamentalism are rather high on my list of interests.
        Good riddance to all.

        And yes – if humankind is that stupid to pose a threat to itself because of religion (or irrational politics) – it deserves to wind down and vanish into the trashbin of the 99% species that have outlived their welcome on this rather lovely planet.

        1. I must point out that the Gita is an exploration of morality that is part of a big epic called the Mahabaratha. It’s about as religious in importance as C.S. Lewis… It’s an epic referencing well known characters.

          The vedas are what you are looking for. A lot of it’s interesting (earliest mention of variolation) and a lot of it is mental (Laws of Manu make Sharia Law look like the manifesto of Hippies)

          Hinduism’s decentralised nature make it very hard to fight. Put it this way… It’s had nearly a 1000 years of contact with Islam and it still dominated the sub-continent. In the south more Hindus attend church than christians. And the Sufi movement has it’s cultural roots in India. I can even show you how hinduism changed the attitudes of the hardcore mughal invaders in just 3 generations (the greatest regarded muslim king of India was Akbar and he was ridiculously apostate. You think Rushdie was bad, Akbar tried to produce a universal faith and openly had portraits made of himself. He even commissioned erotica…) I actually have prints of korans with illustration that he produced and unlike the austere tombs of his fathers his is filled with genuine hindu art mixed in with the calligraphy of islam.

          Yes Akbar was one of the earliest participants of Draw Mohammed Day. Hinduism is weird, 50% magic, 50% scripture and faith.

  20. I agree you were certainly the resident expert on Islam there, but I’d add that both Dan Barker and Michael Nugent have debated Muslims (specifically Hamza Tzortzis) in the past.

    Not my field, but that statement sounds a lot like saying Man and Man have criticized misogynists in the past, therefore wanting more Women to do it is unnecessary. (with the caveat that gender’s much more binary than religion, yes.)

    Why shouldn’t we expect the critics of a field to include the individuals with the most experience in that field?

    1. We should! But after a certain point the analogy gets strained. Looking at the same conference I could also say that there was only one ex Christian minister, only one developmental biologist, only one ex Catholic and so on.

      Either way, I’m not being prescriptive. I’m just asking whether it’s best to either get more ex Muslims as speakers, or encourage existing speakers who occasionally speak on Islam to speak about it more.

  21. I think the main reason might be that in most of the countries where these conventions are held, the religions that attendees interact with are mostly various flavors of Christianity, and speakers addressing religion are going to be mostly addressing concerns in that arena.

    An atheist convention in India would have a bigger focus on Hinduism and Islam, I would suppose.

    1. I know exactly one Muslim. I know a whole lot of Christians, a smaller number of Jews, and even several Hindus. So while getting information on debating Muslims is interesting, it’s not as high a priority for me as getting similar information Christianity and Judaism. In fact, I just realized I know more about Islam than I do about Hinduism or Buddhism.

      1. I’d say your statement argues for having MORE ex-Muslim speakers (err, speakers who are ex-Muslim) because they can provide information about a community that you know very little about firsthand.

        (for the record, I’ve known six Muslims personally, but only one was comfortable mentioning it post 9/11. You may know more Muslims than you think you do.)

      2. I may well know more Muslims than I think I do. The one I do know is named Mohammed, so it’s rather difficult for him to hide his religion.

        I see your point about having more ex-Muslim speakers. After all, I do know quite a bit about Christianity so what any information I get is generally reinforcement rather than new information.

    2. Even in India, there should and would most likely be a larger focus on Islam as they don’t have the same hangups as people in the west do of criticising Islam. Any atheist should know that Under Islamic sharia law people are still be executed for apostasy TODAY. Don’t you think that warrants a teeny bit of attention? If you are fighting against racism in the US and living in an era where racial apartheid rules, how could you not fully address apartheid in South Africa at a conference on rracism? You couldn’t really get away with saying ‘it’s not in America so it’s not my problem’ and so on. Plus this is even worse than racial apartheid if you look at the scale of it. Sharia law is the most widely implemented law worldwide; sexual apartheid is practised not just in the Middle East and North Africa and Asia but also in the west. But ‘progressives’ are too busy defending the veil and sharia law as the ‘rights of minorities’ rather than defending people vis-a-vis religion, Because it’s ‘their problem’. In this situation I expect a lot more from atheists, particularly since the humanist movement is so busy making excuses for religion in order to gain mainstream access and funding. It is more concerned with joining inter-faith coalitions and being ‘positive’ rather than helping push back religion’s role.

      1. Even in India, there should and would most likely be a larger focus on Islam as they don’t have the same hangups as people in the west do of criticising Islam.

        Muslims are a minority in India, and from what I’ve heard, they’re treated like shit there, possibly worse than African Americans during the Jim Crow era. I’m sure the Indians have no hangups about “criticizing” Islam.

  22. Hi Maryam, I saw you speak at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin earlier this year. (Excellent job by the way, loved your talk.)

    I agree you were certainly the resident expert on Islam there, but I’d add that both Dan Barker and Michael Nugent have debated Muslims (specifically Hamza Tzortzis) in the past. Also, Dawkins and others engaged with Hamza and other Muslim apologists in attendance – PZ Myers’ discussion with Adnan Rashid was especially memorable.

    Are you thinking that there should be more ex-Muslim speakers at these events, or that speakers in general should include more material on Islam in their talks?

    On a slight tangent I ran some numbers on Hamza Tzortis’ claim that liberal societies facilitate rape, and that Islam is the cure. Perhaps it may be of interest?

  23. While I have great respect for Maryam, I strongly disagree with the tone of this article.

    Having organized more than a few international atheist conventions, I know that asking anyone to speak on Islam is asking them to put themselves in likely danger by Islamic fundamentalists. We feel very lucky when we can get even one speaker on Islam. There is no quota on Islamic speakers at conventions; it’s simply a fact that there are very few qualified speakers on Islam who are willing to speak in public.

    1. Of course there is no quota! The point I am making is that it feels that way. And it’s not true that there are a few who are willing to speak. I think that’s a cop-out. If you can’t find speakers, please contact me and I will be sure to help! But if you look at the example I give – three conferences and three speakers. Can we not have Taslima and Ayaan at the same conference? That’s my point. Why is it always limited to ONE?

    2. There are plenty of qualified ex-hindu atheists out there (infact they would probably make up a bigger number of atheists than ex-jewish atheists…) It’s just that no one is interested in worries about the caste system or forced marriage, or Purdah (the Hindu equivalent of the Hijab and Burkha) and other issues. Which is why you don’t see ex-hindu atheists in any sizeable numbers giving these talks. And there are a lot of ex-hindu skeptics and atheists who do amazing things.

      The issue is that there is rather poor interest in Islam as a faith and even worse… That any anti-islamic stance as an atheist can be immediately co-opted by racists and there is an unwillingness to be seen in the same camp as them. It’s just that people are familiar with the judeo-christian god and their shennanigans. Also there is very little online crazy that we are exposed to from Islamic sources and that which we can find is very laughable (Poorly written, bad website design) or in languages we cannot understand.

      1. For what it’s worth, the little I know about the caste system pisses me right the frick off. I’d be interested in hearing more; but I do confess that my personal radar dish is US- and English-language-centric.

        1. …Wait a minute, the CASTE system is RELIGION-based? All this time I assumed it was secular… ARRRRGH *headdesk*

          I might have known that formally hating whole swathes of people would have a religious basis!

        2. The caste system is both… Hinduism entrenches it in religion but the other religions use it as a social bludgeon. It’s a point of contention but a lot of conversion tactics are aimed at the lower castes with promises of freedom from the caste system only to see their castes transfer to christianity and even things like the LDS where existing members KEEP their caste. It’s kind of a religious thing that’s gone mental.

      2. Hinduism should be criticized as well, of course, just like any system based on dogma. But Hinduism is a problem in one country only. Islam is a global problem. No western country has been been seen the harms of Hinduism (enlighten me if you have an example, I will be surprised). The harm of Islam is felt everywhere an everywhere. And if ideas against Islam are hijacked by racists, that is not a reason not to talk about Islam. It is a reason to condemn racism in the same breath.

          1. Hinduism does not actively prosletize and is not expansionist. Islam by contrast wants a world that is completely Muslim.

  24. Why do we need ANY speakers debunking religion? Is that what our main focus should be? Can we not focus on the positive aspects of humanism and what we offer as an alternative? But as an answer, perhaps we focus on christianity because most of us (at least in the US) have been exposed to that as the majority religion and the one that has had the most impact on our lives.

    1. Religion is not the only focus but it is an important one especially when it is part of the state, educational system and judicial system in many places including in the west. Moreover, I find the whole push of the humanist movement to be percieved as positive as opposed to the ‘negative’ atheist movement annoying. To say one is against torture or execution is not negative – it’s frankly as positive as positive can be. Saying one is against religion and its role is also so – particularly in this day and age. Also Islam has as much of an impact on the lives of people living in the west as Christianity does. It’s just not being addressed as it is easier to ignore it, especially given the threats and intimidation surrounding this movement. Add to that post-colonial guilt, false claims of racism and Islamophobia, real racism and so on and it just becomes a no go area.

      1. “Also Islam has as much of an impact on the lives of people living in the west as Christianity does.”

        Oh, I beg to differ. There is a real, credible threat of the US becoming a Christian theocracy. We are one Supreme Court justice away from this happening. We have Republican presidential candidates that are blatant about their christian ideologies how we need a christian theocracy-

        Herman Cain:

        What we are seeing is a wider gap between people of faith and people of nonfaith. … Those of us that are people of faith and strong faith have allowed the nonfaith element to intimidate us into not fighting back. I believe we’ve been too passive. We have maybe pushed back, but as people of faith, we have not fought back.

        Rick Perry:

        Somebody’s values are going to decide what the Congress votes on or what the president of the United States is going to deal with. And the question is: Whose values? And let me tell you, it needs to be our values—values and virtues that this country was based upon in Judeo-Christian founding fathers . . . in every person’s heart, in every person’s soul, there is a hole that can only be filled by the Lord Jesus Christ.

        Michele Bachmann:

        American exceptionalism is grounded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is really based upon the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments were the foundation for our law. That’s what Blackstone said—the English jurist—and our founders looked to Blackstone for the foundation of our law. That’s our law . . . I have a biblical worldview. And I think, going back to the Declaration of Independence, the fact that it’s God who created us—if He created us, He created government. And the government is on His shoulders, as the book of Isaiah says.

        Rick Santorum:

        Unlike Islam, where the higher law and the civil law are the same, in our case, we have civil laws. But our civil laws have to comport with the higher law. … As long as abortion is legal—at least according to the Supreme Court—legal in this country, we will never have rest, because that law does not comport with God’s law. . . The idea that the only things that the states are prevented from doing are only things specifically established in the Constitution is wrong. Our country is based on a moral enterprise.

        Newt Gingrich:

        A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have. Because we’ve in fact attempted to create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare.

        These people have the potential to become the next Commander in Chief and “Leader of the Free World” I would say that christianity s a much bigger threat in the US than Islam

        1. Way to be provincial, there. The United States is not the entire western world. To take an example I’m familiar with, you and I are fortunate that the US judicial system has been refusing to acknowledge sharia law, but I understand that England – also part of the west – has been less wise. I note that of the three conferences Ms. Namazie mentioned, none were in the US and only one was in the Americas. From Ms. Namazie’s blog profile, it looks like her work centers on Britain and Iran. So why exactly does the list of Republican candidates for the United States presidency constitute a good reason not to invite Ms. Namazie to a conference in Australia, which by the way has Indonesia right to the north, with an eight-hundred-year history with Islam and a province with officially sharia local laws? (thanks wikipedia) For that matter, Germany is closer to Iran than it is to the US.

          1. The US refusal to acknowledge Sharia law is a symbolic attack on a nonexistent threat. It is done to inflame Christian tribalism, not to protect secularism. It is true that, as an American, I do not have direct experience of the UK or Germany, but your statement that Germany is closer to Iran than the US, is absurd. If Germany is closer to Iran than to the US, then why did Germany and the US jointly threaten Iran with a regime of economic sanctions only five months ago, in response to an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program? *

            * “U.S., Germany threaten more sanctions against Iran“, Xinhua News Service, English language version, June 8th, 2011, editor Mu Xuequan.

          2. Of course I am being “provincial” My list of candidates has nothing to do with not inviting Ms. Namazie to speak anywhere and if you would care to read my post again, you would see that. I would love to hear her speak at any convention. My post was on a very narrow specific point about the real threat regarding christianity versus islam in America.

            Indeed, I am hosting a humanist conference in September of 2012 in Florida and I extend an invitation right here and now for Ms. Namazie to speak.

        2. What you fail to see is how political Islam has helped to bring about the rise of political religion everywhere. But the point is not what the bigger threat is – both are a threat. I am just concerned that you don’t seem to see it. The world is too global to just look at your own problems and not see the links with other problems.

        3. BTW I thought being a humanist meant putting people and human beings at the centre – not just ‘Americans’! Also you forget there are many types of Americans including ex-Muslims and others. But you live and learn…

          1. “Also you forget there are many types of Americans including ex-Muslims and others.”

            Are you purposefully being argumentative? I was addressing a point YOU raised. I forget NO such thing. You have jumped to many conclusions and made many assumptions about me based upon no evidence. Being a humanist certainly does mean placing ALL people first but I also thought it meant not being unnecessarily insulting and patronizing. Yes, indeed, live and learn. Consider invitation withdrawn.

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