Dear New Atheists Re: Chapel Hill Shootings

Dear New Atheist Thinkers,

Salaamun alaikum (Peace be upon you),

I understand how conviction drives people. When we believe in an idea and we believe that it is good, nay the best for humankind, then we will go to great lengths to ensure that this idea is accepted. Sometimes we may even lose our objectivity in pushing this idea. We see it with religionists all the time. The compelling nature of dogma causes you to delude others, inadvertently perhaps. Maybe this delusion can even be self-delusion.

However, being New Atheists, I highly expect you to be reasonable people. After all, it was the very exercise of reasoning which enabled you to conclude that God does not exist. I disagree with your conclusions, of course but I respect you more than I respect religionists who simply inherit the dogma of their forefathers without question. Through your works, I can see that you have highly developed reasoning skills which obviously went into your ground-breaking and often philosophically challenging thought. This is how you became a movement, heralding a new phase in Atheism, as it were.

I must therefore ask you, why has this genius not found its way into your analysis of Islam?

I have read your books and followed your statements about Islam for some time and I find the most generalising language being used. I see phrases like ‘Islam is the problem’ ,‘Islam believes in’ and ‘Islam says’. This sort of language one can only find in public discourse. No, I take it back. Not public discourse but public chatter. It is no different from when, waiting for a bus along with a middle aged lady, we saw an elderly man in Muslim garb spit his betel nut juice on the ground. She commented to me, perhaps not guessing I’m a Muslim myself, ‘it’s his religion’.

I do understand that you see religion as the bane of human existence. From your writings, I would guess that you feel that Islam is probably the biggest bane of all. That’s fair enough. That is your perception and I respect it. I can even agree with you that Islamofascism (which I define to be the strain with the Islamic tradition given to oppression and suppression) is a huge menace to humanity and needs to be extinguished. However, why not use your mammoth intellects to also see that Muslims use their religion to empower themselves towards becoming better people? You may say that they can do that without religion and I would agree but why does that matter if they do indeed become better people? Surely if you press your way as the only way to Truth, then yourselves would be construed as religious fundamentalists! Why not respect that other people have their own ways to evolve?

A great tragedy occurred two days ago in Chapel Hill. I don’t need to tell you about it because you have responded. It is becoming clear that the alleged murderer was inspired by your writings. I am in no way suggesting that your writings encourage murder. Far from it. However, you cannot control who your readers are. One may read your books and use it as a justification to commit violence against those whom you consider ‘deluded’. This would be in no way your fault but here is what I would like to ask you: Is it possible that your generalizing language enables such evil individuals to perceive Muslims tribalistically, almost racially? Such perceptions cause random violence.

Perhaps, instead of saying ‘Islam says’, say ‘within the Islamic Tradition, it is said’ or ‘Islamofascism, an ideology distinct from other forms of Islam, says’ or even ‘some Muslim scholars say, but there are Muslims who disagree’. This is specific and precise language worthy of people with gargantuan intellects. Such people can understand various shades of grey. If you think about it, ‘Islam’ cannot say anything anyway. It is mostly a complex network of human discussions compiled over a thousand plus years. People speak, using these texts as their mouthpieces. By highlighting the specificity and subjectivity of these views, you will help people isolate the Islamofascists from the main body of Muslims and thereby cut it off from its human resource. Isn’t that your objective, rather than using Islam as a punching bag to increase your popularity? I sincerely hope it is.

Thank you very much for reading my humble letter and I hope we can all live together in a more peaceful world soon.

With peace.

Farouk A. Peru

The Chapel Hill Murders – A Proactive Response

My deepest condolences to the families of the three young people murdered in Chapel Hill last evening. They were 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. They were in their shared home when a man broke in and shot them ‘execution style’.

I can’t even imagine the grief their families are experiencing right now. These three had bright futures ahead of them and seemed to be enjoying life to the fullest. Deah was in dental school and did charity work. His sister in law, Razan, had recently graduated and showed some great creative pursuits. These were not radicalised young people who hated the West. They seem to be fully normalised and were getting somewhere in life. What must have been through in their minds in those final moments? I shudder to think, truly.

In times like this, I believe Muslims need to remind ourselves to be proactive. What can we do to stem the rising tide of Islamophobia? Depend on the media? Probably not. While there are good media framings of Muslims, there seems to be also a huge media bias against us. This is especially true in the States where apparently the Chapel Hill murders are said (at the time of this writing) to be only minimally covered. It is not the same in the UK. When the Charlie Hebdo massacre happened last month, the was plenty of media coverage of Muslims who vehemently condemned the attack.

But what can we really do in the face such hate? According to reports, the man who turned himself in, was an atheist-fundamentalist who read the works of major atheist thinkers. I can easily see how these thinkers can promote hate in their writings. These thinkers have extremely well developed critical thought but when it comes to scrutinizing Islam and Muslims, they have a total Dick-and-Jane approach (These are Muslims. They do X). Such hate rhetoric does not help the situation at all but merely throws fuel upon the already raging fire. Something eventually got burned.

Perhaps there is nothing we can do to prevent Islamophobic attacks. After all it only takes one person who go from ‘Islam is a problem’ to ‘Lets kill Muslims’ (an actual trended hashtag, if you remember). However, I do believe we can go a long way towards diffusing this anger. We need to be more proactive rather than let media portrayals define us. Here are a few things we can do:

  1. There are Muslims who show extreme vehemence and recalcitrance when it comes to the West These Muslims are generally young, born and brought up in the West themselves and well-educated. However, they subconsciously see Islam as a tribe and it is against their tribal pride to admit there is a problem within the Ummah. You will recognise them by their use of their term ‘White’ in a very negative way. When Cathy Newman retracted her ‘ushered out of the mosque’ response, they referred to her as ‘white woman’. Muslims often say that Islam does not recognise racial superiority. Why then do these Tribalist Muslims press that button often?

Not only that, they condemn Muslims who agree that Islam has a problem as ‘coconuts’ (brown on the outside, White on the inside). This is a highly racialised slur which shows that these people are themselves racists. How do we know if the alleged killer did not experience the wrath of these Tribalist Muslims? Their hate rhetoric could easily raze the blaze of his own hatred. Muslims need to identify these Tribalists and abandon them en masse.

  1. Going by the story which is emerging , it does not seem unreasonable to assume that the alleged killer targeted these victims due to their dress. That is the only overt sign I can see about them and that too, only among the Abu Salha sisters who wore the hijab. We have to understand, by adopting a religious uniform, we are enabling general perceptions. It is no different from people condemning Goths even though they are all individuals. The Goth look is the first thing they encounter and so they judge by it first. Is this right? Absolutely not. Does it happen? Well it just has.

I am not saying abandon the hijab (even though I do not think it is a command from God) but I am saying that please be aware – if you have a religious uniform, you will be defined by what the other members do. This is unfortunately how violent people operate. They do not come into your homes, ask about your religious beliefs and have in depth theological discussions. You assume the tribal signals – you become unwitting victims. That is how fast it happens. Even approximate tribal signals get included. Remember the Sikh gas station attendant who was killed after 9 -11?

  1. Finallay and perhaps most importantly, Muslims need to go to our tribal leaders and demand that they reform their views. During the Charlie Hebdo incident last month, no one single leader said a word about the theological causes behind Jihadism. There is a massive number of hadiths and ‘scholarly’ opinions’ which enable violence. When are our tribal elders going to be honest and call for the reform of these texts? This is not about becoming ‘modern’ or ‘westernised’, this is about becoming more islamic in the true sense. I guess these leaders are afraid of losing support from the Muslim populous if they do call for reform. Well they have a choice to make. Reform or continue to feed the Islamofascist narrative. Don’t be surprised then when Islamophobia rises accordingly and tragedies like this occur.

It is perhaps the greatest irony of this tragedy that Deah Barakat, the promising young dental student said on his twitter account in the final month of his life, “It’s so freaking sad to hear people saying we should ‘kill Jews’ or ‘kill Palestinians’. As if that’s going to solve anything.” I think it is even sadder that his rare voice of conciliation and moderation will now be silenced forever.