Dishonest Tactics

So I was scanning the posts at Salon, trying not to click on any of their ridiculous click-bait postings while trying not to miss anything that was actually interesting, and I saw a headline that caught my eye.  Richard Dawkins: Religion isn’t the problem in the Middle East.  Now while I feel that much of Dawkin’s earlier writing, including The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth are incredible books that just about everyone with an interest in either religion or evolutionary biology, respectively, should read, I am also of the opinion that Prof. Dawkins has a habit of opening his mouth and allowing incredibly stupid things to come out of it.  (As an aside, it always cracks me up when a creationist tries to argue me out of my acceptance of evolution by attacking Darwin.  My answer to anything similar to “Did you know that Darwin …….” is usually “Yes, but did you know Dawkins is a sexist creep?  Know how much of the evidence for evolution either of those statements refutes?”  Sorry, I don’t accept evolution because some authority told me to.)  So aware of the vomit that seemingly routinely escapes the mouth of Prof Dawkins, I clicked on the link fully expecting to see him saying some form of the headline.  After all, the article was subtitled “The new atheist reluctantly concedes Islam can’t be blamed for the actions of terrorist organizations like ISIS.”  So let’s see him make this reluctant concession, shall we?

“Religion itself is not responsible for this… It’s also this feeling of political involvement. It’s a feeling that it’s ‘us against them.’ And I think that quite a large number of young Muslims feel kind of beleaguered against the rest of the world.”

Well.  It certainly looks like Prof. Dawkins is absolving religion of any blame for ISIS, does it not?  The author of the piece certainly trumpets the statement for everything it is worth.

Dawkins’ statement is a huge divergence from the opinions of atheists like Sam Harris and Bill Maher, who continue to claim that religion is the primary motivator for radical terrorist groups like ISIS.

Well, first of all, so what?  Atheists aren’t some monolithic group with a pope or priest that dictates our beliefs to us from on high.  And if we had a leader like that, it certainly wouldn’t be either Dawkins, Harris, or Maher.  Dawkins can have his ideas, Harris and Maher can have theirs, and I will continue to have mine.  Weird how that works.  Moving on…..

Wait a second.  That Dawkins quote I blocked off up there?  That isn’t quite the full quote.  Here it is in full, with bolding added by me.

“Religion itself is not responsible for this… It’s also this feeling of political involvement. It’s a feeling that it’s ‘us against them.’ And I think that quite a large number of young Muslims feel kind of beleaguered against the rest of the world. And so religion in some sense might be just an excuse, but I do think that a dominant part of the motivation for these young men has to be religion.”

Now while Dan Arel at least included the whole quote, rather than just quote mining and scrapping that last little inconvenient sentence, he may as well of left it out since he wrote his whole article completely fucking ignoring the actual meaning of Dawkin’s answer.  Dawkins isn’t saying that religion is innocent, he is saying that along with religion as the “dominant part of the motivation,” other factors, such as a feeling of political involvement and the “us against them” feeling also play a role.  Suggesting that he is saying that religion is not to blame after reading that whole quote is dishonest and a form of quote-mining.  In this case, rather than leave off the context of the last sentence, the author is just betting on his readers not catching it.  Hell, for all I know, maybe the author himself didn’t catch it.  Either way, this is not the way progressives should be making arguments.  Quote-mining allows you to make anyone say anything you want them to say.  Here’s an example.  Ever listen to Hardcore History by Dan Carlin?  Great podcast, right?  I used to love it, until I was listening to the episode “Bubonic Nukes” and Mr. Carlin dropped this bit of bile into the cast around the 38:39 mark.

“And Aids is a good thing.”  -Dan Carlin

Bet you never thought of Dan that way, now did you?  Probably changes your opinion of him, and may make it less likely for you to support Hardcore History.  Of course, I had to quote-mine to get that damning evidence, hoping that the fact that the episode is now not available for free and just general laziness will stop anyone from finding out that the whole quote is:

“And Aids is a good thing to use as a comparison with some of these old plagues, because a plague it certainly is…”- Dan Carlin

Leave quote mining to the creationists.  Seriously, we should be above that.


Another way to dishonestly wage an argument?  Wave your hands and make uncomfortable evidence disappear!  Wow, it’s magic!

One thing that you can count on during any progressive versus progressive debate on Islam is the side making the case that religion is a problem will cite the Pew Research poll of a hell of a lot of Muslims.  I’m not going to go into the findings of that poll, since that isn’t what this point is about.  Feel free to check it out, I am sure I will be quoting it in the future.  Ahmed Benchemsi must have found the poll an annoyance that got in the way of his arguments, because in an article over at Salon (who’d have guessed?) he engages in a bit of magical hand waving to make it disappear .  Yep, apparently the Republican poll unskewers during the 2012 cycle have inspired progressives to unskew their own polls.

That would be the case if I trusted the Pew poll. But I don’t. What I am questioning here is not the methodology of the respected research Institute, but rather the genuineness of the answers provided by many of the 38,000 individuals it surveyed.

Okay, fine.  Debate the “genuineness” of the answers given, wonder if they were worried that Big Allah was watching them, influencing their answers, try to figure out a way to conduct the poll to get answers that you do not doubt the “genuineness” of, but the simple fact that you do not agree with the results of the poll does not mean you can just choose to ignore it.  You are making the argument that poll responders were so worried about who was listening in to their answers, that they defaulted to the most conservative answer.

Imagine you live in a country where Islam is the religion of the State, where criticizing the religion (let alone leaving it) is a criminal offense, where the educational system and the pervasive state media gang up every day to hammer that Islam is the highest moral norm ever—where, hell, even the opposition (mostly made of Islamist groups) does nothing but double down on religious intransigence… And here comes the Pew pollster, a total stranger with a list of disturbing questions pertaining to religion—questions to which the wrong answers can get you in trouble in many ways… Not the best conditions to conduct a credible opinion poll.


In other words, the more the questioned citizens are coerced into religiosity, the more likely they are to pick the safest answers—those consistent with what they were force-fed about religion since they were kids—when a pollster comes around.

I’m sorry.  I really am.  The author has much more experience with this part of the world than I do, but I still have to call shenanigans.  First off, I trust the people who run Pew not to design a poll and polling practices that would immediately call all results into question.  Second, you do not get to dismiss a poll with a hand waving “yeah, but they didn’t really mean it when they gave those answers” unless you are packing evidence.  How is this any different than the guy from unskewed polls?  Seriously.  A poll is released.  Person A disagrees with the finding.  Person A then decides the methodology of the poll is skewed, thus rendering the poll irrelevant.  Poll defeated.  Until you show me a different poll, of similar comprehensiveness, that shows a different result, or until you come up with evidence that the results of the poll are wrong because of any of the reasons you cited, the poll carries more weight with me than your anecdotal opinion.  (Say it with me, boys and girls!  The plural of anecdote is not data.)

If the religious opinions of Muslims are questionable, then so is their adherence to religion in the first place. I’m not saying that no citizen from Morocco to Indonesia genuinely adheres to Islam. I’m just stating the obvious: no one knows how many really do—and no one will ever know until people are free to form and state their religious opinions freely. This has an important implication: all of the mainstream Western debate about what 1.6 billion Muslims think is built on the false premise that… there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the first place.

I have no doubt that there are non-believers hiding as Muslims in Middle Eastern countries.  And while what the author says is technically true, that we don’t know how many of the professing Muslims actually are Muslims, if he seriously thinks the amount of Middle Easterners who would come out as non-believers (or hell, as Christians, Jews, any other religion) if they felt safe doing so would actually be enough to really make a difference, then he is definitely more optimistic than I am.  Now both of us, the author and I, are talking out our ass now.  Neither of us have any idea how many professing Muslims actually are secretly non-Muslims.  But judging from the amount of Americans who remain in the faith community they were raised in, or gravitate to another sect of the family religion, in a nation where they are supposedly completely free to do so, I am willing to wager the author a fairly significant amount that the number would fall somewhere between “zero” and “not enough to make a fucking difference.”

At some point in Maher’s show, Sam Harris mentioned the hundreds of millions of Muslims who are nominal Muslims who don’t take their faith seriously. What an oxymoronic marvel this phrase is. If these people don’t take Islam seriously, why call them Muslims, “nominal” or not?

Oh come on.  Are you just being dense on purpose now?  You know exactly what he meant.  America is full of “nominal” Christians, who call themselves Christians, believe in Jesus, and may even go to Church, yet ignore any facet of the faith that they don’t personally agree with, would never think of telling someone of another faith that they were going to burn in Hell, and think the religious right is batshit insane.  I have no reason to doubt majority Muslim nations experience the same phenomenon.  Why call them Muslims?  Because no matter how serious they believe, they consider themselves Muslims.  They believe in Allah and the faith, it just doesn’t control their lives.  I’d have no problem with these “moderates” of both faiths, if not for the cover they provide the more extreme fundamentalist members of their faiths.  But that is an argument for a different time.

This is not just a semantical point. It’s a paradigmal one. If you define people as irremediably Muslims, then the only choice you believe they have is either being a good or a bad Muslim, an extremist or a “moderate” (whatever that means).

Honestly.  “Whatever that means?”  Like the idea of a moderate member of a religious faith is that hard to understand?

Western opinion makers must realize that the 1.6 billion people they flatly call “Muslims” hold in fact an incredibly wide array of spiritual convictions, including atheism and agnosticism—and arguably not in small proportions. It’s not just about faith; it’s also about lifestyle. Just ask whoever is familiar with the realities of the Middle East about the prevalence of alcohol consumption, non-marital sex and other not so Islamic social practices. You’d be amazed.

Once again, I have no doubt that some of the 1.6 billion lumped together as “Muslims” are in fact, not Muslims.  The author just seems to think that number is way higher than I do.  One of us is wrong.  I don’t think it is me.  As for lifestyle, no, I really wouldn’t be amazed.  Some people are fundamentalists of any faith.  In America, there are definitely Christians who believe drinking alcohol, dancing, dating, pre-marital hand holding, reading Harry Potter novels, and recycling are of the Devil himself, and would never think to take part in any such activity.  Yet strangely enough, there are also Christians who do all of the above.  Why would I believe the Muslim world would be any different?

What does amaze me is the prevalence of honor killings in Islamic areas.  And female genital mutilation.  But go on, argue how even though Muhammad was totes coolio with FGM in the Qur’an, it is a cultural issue, not a religious one.  I’m sure you have a similar argument about honor killings.

The west, America especially, has spent decades fucking over the Middle East.  Even if Islam didn’t exist, Middle Easterners would have sufficient reason to hate Americans.  In the name of our own interests, we have done whatever the fuck we wanted, including shutting down elected governments to install right wing friendly dictators.   You want to throw a Blame America party, I’ll blow up some balloons.

The Middle East needs education.  It needs progress, technology, science; a renaissance to return to the glory it once had.  Once, Islam was the shining star of science, keeping the flame of knowledge alive.  Perhaps that form of Islam could return, but I think it goes without saying that it isn’t the dominant form of today.  When a nation forbids women from driving, you can not tell me that is not a religious law.  When extremists shoot little girls because they are going to school, you are not going to be able to convince me that Islam is not a problem.

As I said earlier, religion is the problem, not just Islam.  Anyone who doesn’t believe America has Christians just as extreme as any Muslim in Afghanistan is living in an ignorant bliss I wish I could join.  America’s Bill of Rights keeps the government, in theory, from endorsing any religion, leaving the extremists to grasp for power that the moderate majority so far has prevented them from obtaining.  Rather than install puppet governments friendly to the US, we would have been better off just allowing the whole Middle East to democratically elect their own government, even if it was openly hostile to our interests, as long as the nation first installed a Bill of Rights ensuring a secular state.


Part of me just wants to ignore this and enjoy the afterglow of protest.

Luckily for me, it was the part of me that is easily ignored.

You know, when I first decided I wanted to write a blog, I thought that I would devote most of my time and effort to atheism and the atheist community.  After all, the blogs that inspired me all dealt with non-belief, chief amongst them PZ Myers’ Pharyngula.  Don’t get me wrong, I was also influenced by Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars, as any of my readers can tell you, so there was always also going to be a bit of politics and social issue stuff, but I honestly thought the majority of my posts would be about atheism and the atheist movement, with a healthy dose of skepticism thrown in.  I mean, look at my book shelf.

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Benjamin Radford….

And yet, the more I posted, the more I strayed from posting about atheism.  I never stopped posting about fringe religious elements and the Christian conservative control of the GOP, but that was much more due to the social issue ramifications than anything to do with an atheist, or skeptical movement.  And as much as I didn’t want to be just another liberal, progressive political blog, the more I posted, the more that is what I became.

Why?  Look at my book shelf.

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Benjamin Radford….

Why People Believe Weird Things was my baptism in skepticism. The God Delusion my intro into the “New” atheism.  I loved The End of Faith so much that Harris became my second favorite author with a last name beginning with “H.”  And not only did I love Radford’s team up with Joe Nickell for Lake Monster Mysteries, but Monstertalk was my favorite podcast.  Two of my favorite magazines are heavily involved with Radford and Shermer.  From what I could tell, organized skepticism and atheism was entwined with these men.

And yet I found myself drifting away from skepticism and atheism as movements.  Why?

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Benjamin Radford…..

First there was “Elevatorgate” and Dawkins showed his privilege.  Oh, but if only that was the only bit of sexism to make itself known in the community.  For those of you not involved in atheism or skepticism as a community or movement, I will spare you the details.  Those of you involved know exactly what I am talking about.  As time moved on, the list grew longer and longer.  DJ Grothe inserted foot firmly in mouth.  Sam Harris let us all know that he isn’t the sexist pig we’re looking for.  Go ahead and Google Radford and Shermer.  All I’ll say is Karen Stollznow was the best host of MonsterTalk.

PZ has a interesting post up today, it is worth reading the whole thing.

You won’t get your philosophical atheist utopia at all if that utopia considers the dignity of all human beings to be a secondary matter. You will effectively kneecap the whole movement if you don’t care about social justice, and worse, are more afraid of driving out the hateful and intolerant who are already inside our ranks than of embracing the needs of the many millions outside of them.

It’s already happening, though. The disenchantment with the movement is growing.

Libby Anne wonders, Do They Care about Women, or Simply Bashing Religion?.

Frankly, I feel used. These atheist activists are the sort of people who want to use my story as proof that religion is horrible to women but aren’t willing to listen to what I have to say about sexism in our culture at large. They are the sort of people who are eager to use the shooting of young education activist Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban to prove how horrible religion is for women but somehow fail to mention that Malala is a Muslim who speaks of drawing her inspiration to fight for gender equality from the Koran. This is not standing up for women. This is exploiting women as merely a tool in a fight against religion.

I’m done. I’m so, so done.

Katha Pollitt thinks that Atheists Show Their Sexist Side, and are currently having a “sexist tantrum”.

Alas, the ability to take such instruction is in good part something Sam Harris thinks women sadly lack. “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” said the bestselling author of The End of Faith. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.” It seems to me, judging from recent events, that atheist men are the fragile flowers here—they, not women, are the ones wilting under criticism. Perhaps they can’t stand it that women are withholding that “extra estrogen vibe” that used to make conferences so much fun. (Amanda Marcotte, of the steel-trap mind, has a fine time slapping Harris around at Pandagon. Remind me never to get into a fight with her.)

Why would women join a movement led by sexists and populated by trolls? If this is atheism, I’m becoming a Catholic.

Tauriq Moosa says the reason he became an active atheist is now why he’s not one.

I won’t be part of a movement resolutely more focused on shielding rich, white dudes than by being inclusive of marginalised, non-male, non-white people. Count me out. Call me back when we give a shit about women and you can admit those of us writing in a small corner of the internet actually care about moral action, not money, for what we do.

The only people who can survive off atheist clickbait are people who write books called The God Delusion. It’s not fucking bloggers.

I will make a prediction, right here and now. The number of people identifying as “nones” will grow in this country in coming years, because we’re on the right side of history, and because organized religion is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on other-worldly issues that don’t help people. The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people.

I can’t say that’s a bad thing. The name of atheism has been burdened with unfair and inaccurate stigma for a great many years, and we’re now drifting into an era in which atheism will be burdened with a totally fair and accurate stigma.

Unless we change.

I don’t know that we can.

I’m pissed.

I took part in a nice little bit of atheist activism today.  There were men, women and children in attendance, working together, because atheism isn’t a men’s issue, or a women’s issue, it is a human issue.

I don’t want to be a political blogger.  I want to be part of an atheism/skepticism movement, a community that I can be proud of.

I’m so sick of watching my heroes prove themselves pigs.

(And yes, I am going to do something besides bitch about it.)

Now go enjoy your weekend.  I’ll be back on Monday.