Interview, Religion, Top Stories

“Liberals Have Compromised on Their Own Values”: An Interview with Ali A. Rizvi

The Pakistani-Canadian writer Ali Rizvi is a fierce critic of Islam, the religion in which he grew up. But unlike many other critics who maintain that Islam is inherently incapable of modernization, and that the Muslim world is sliding ever further into backwardness and fundamentalism, Rizvi is refreshingly optimistic about the future. The seed of a new Enlightenment has been planted in the Arabic world, he told me in Antwerp, and there’s no way to eradicate it.

In his book The Atheist Muslim, Rizvi speaks directly to the many closeted atheists, agnostics, and secularists in the Muslim world. These people are obliged by the societies in which they live to present themselves outwardly as Muslims, but in private, they harbor different ideas. Rizvi’s book is often polemical in tone, but also humane and sympathetic to the plight of Muslims around the world. He is keenly aware of the consolations which faith provide to some, and he never stoops to condescension.

If Rizvi is right, freethinkers in the Muslim world are more numerous than most of us suspect. Not only are their numbers growing, but they are becoming more and more emboldened. With eloquent and outspoken ex-Muslims such as Rizvi, who offer a message of hope and liberation from dogma, religious conservatives around the world should start to worry.

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Maarten Boudry: The title of your book is The Atheist Muslim. For many people, you must be a walking contradiction. What is an atheist Muslim exactly?

Ali Rizvi: You can read the title of my book as a satirical take on the religious practice of cherry-picking. I have a friend who tells me she’s a feminist Muslim. So I asked her, is that like a meat-eating vegetarian? And she told me that, sure, she has some problems with the Quran, and what it says about the status of women, but doesn’t everyone engage in cherry-picking? So I thought: OK, how far can I take this? Let’s cherry-pick all the way. I’ll keep Eid and the feast of Ramadan, I’ll keep the tax-exempt status of religions, and that’s it.

But the title is not necessarily self-descriptive, even though it has become that by now. You know, people say: “Oh, here’s Ali Rizvi, the Atheist Muslim.” In the first place, the title is addressing atheists who are closeted, who have to present themselves outwardly as Muslims. In the Muslim world, there are countless such freethinkers, atheists, and agnostics, who are going around presenting themselves as Muslims, because there are very serious consequences for openly saying what they are. You know all the reasons. It ranges from being rejected by their families, disowned and ostracized by their communities, to being persecuted, jailed, or even hacked to death, as with the Bangladeshi secular bloggers. These people are atheist in thought, but Muslim in appearance. They are all living a contradictory existence.

How about the predicament of ex-Muslims in the West? In my own country, Belgium, up until very recently, ex-Muslims were completely invisible in the public domain, and it strikes me that there was a lot of denial about this. Many people assumed either that ex-Muslims just don’t exist, or that it’s their personal decision not to come into the spotlight, which we should respect. What else could the reason be, right?

There’s a lot that ex-Muslims take on when they come out. In the West, of course, it’s not that the government might put you in prison, which is what my friend Raif Badawi is going through in Saudi Arabia. But ex-Muslims lose their families, their childhood relationships, the communities they grew up in. Often they’re completely ostracized, especially the girls. There’s this whole idea that being a Muslim makes you a modest girl with good moral character. So when you leave Islam, other men will look at you and assume that you must be a whore. And then there’s the physical threat. It doesn’t come from the government like in Saudi Arabia, but it still exists. Here in your part of the world, you had the murder of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, and the death threats towards his friend Ayaan Hirsi Ali. People were plotting to assassinate her, and she had to travel with security everywhere. These are very real risks, and it’s understandable that all of this has jarred and shaken people up. I also heard about the Muslim mayor in Rotterdam, who’s a progressive and open-minded reformer. Well, he’s gotten himself into trouble too, and now he also needs security.

It doesn’t make any different to the fanatics, of course. As soon as you have given up certain non-negotiable parts of the doctrine, you’re all apostates anyway.

Yes. Now, on top of all of that, if some Muslim goes ahead and dares to criticize her religion, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, you also see a lot of liberals turn against her. I have my political differences with Ayaan, but really, if someone is rejecting Islam because she likes liberal Enlightenment values, because she believes in gender equality and human rights and freedom of speech, then you’d like your Western counterparts to support her. But often they don’t. When Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses, which was his right to do, many liberals just shunned him.

It’s shocking to read some of that stuff from the fatwa days. People wrote that Rushdie should have been more respectful, that it’s always wrong to ‘burn your enemy’s flag,’ that freedom of speech comes with responsibilities, et cetera.

Jimmy Carter, the former president of the U.S., wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which he acknowledged that freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but then he went on to chastise Salman Rushdie for writing the book. That was victim blaming. Many freethinkers and disbelievers in the Muslim community who saw what happened to Salman Rushdie, even in the West, will think twice before coming out. Liberals are not supporting the people that they should be supporting, and they have compromised on their own values. That’s how terrorism works. They want to curb terrorism, but they’re not curbing it, they’re already victims of it.

By engaging in self-censorship, they’re even emboldening the terrorists. They show that intimidation works. Can you explain why many people on the Left are so terribly confused about ex-Muslims and Muslim reformers?

It’s part of the liberal conscience to want to protect religious minorities. If there’s a minority group that you think is being targeted unfairly, or being maligned, you want to protect them. But this leads liberals into a conflict of values. Minority communities often have very conservative social values, so by defending and guarding them, you end up, inadvertently, defending and guarding the actual beliefs themselves. Many liberals are unable to make that distinction, between defending someone’s right to believe what they want, and defending the beliefs themselves; between defending the right to wear the hijab, and celebrating or endorsing the hijab itself. Often these things get conflated.

There’s also this tacit assumption that Enlightenment values are reserved for Western people only.  ‘They’ have their own culture, which should be respected. And people like you, ironically—because you speak ‘our’ language, the language of Western liberals—you are not regarded as an authentic representative of your ‘own’ culture.

The underlying narrative is that the only good Muslim is a conservative Muslim. This is bizarre. If an ex-Catholic has been persecuted by her religion, and she comes out and says that religion is bullshit, she’s hailed as a hero. Leah Remini, who escaped from Scientology, has her own TV show, and a best-selling book. But if there’s a Muslim who comes up and says that she believes in free speech, in gender equality and in secularism, suddenly there’s mass confusion. Look, Europeans challenged their own religion during the Enlightenment, and we’re all benefiting from their efforts today. But when non-Europeans want to do the same, it’s ‘Islamophobia’? That is the real bigotry.

They say you betrayed your own culture.

You’re a sell-out; an Uncle Tom. Liberals have often squandered the opportunity to have an honest and morally responsible conversation about this. And by doing so, they left a void, which has been filled by opportunists from the far-Right, who want to have this dialogue in an irresponsible and xenophobic way.

I want to reframe what ex-Muslims are doing, and what secular elements in the Muslim world are doing, as the beginning stages of a new Enlightenment. If you look at the technological advances that facilitated the Western Enlightenment in the Christian world, one of the things that helped take down Christian theocracy was the printing press. Many people say that, without the printing press, there wouldn’t have been a Reformation or Enlightenment. These intellectual revolutions were facilitated by a technology that allowed information to be spread across the masses. Of course, it was wielded by both sides, by the establishment for propaganda, and by the rebels to achieve their purposes. You’re seeing a similar thing happening with the Internet now in the Muslim world, where ISIS is using it to their advantage, but at the same time, the ex-Muslims and freethinkers are organizing and exchanging their ideas as well. It is an excellent analogy, although no analogy is perfect.

We’ve come a long way already. When Rushdie published his book, he had to go into hiding for ten years, but now there are literally thousands of Muslims speaking out. There are conferences, books, podcasts, interviews. Ex-Muslims are showing up on TV in Egypt and Kuwait. This is something that is happening on a scale that was unimaginable in the Rushdie days. And that was just under 30 years ago.

Is there a sense in which the rise of Islamic fundamentalism can be seen as a backlash against the larger trend of secularism and modernity? Perhaps the conservatives realize that the belief system is under enormous pressure, from many different directions, and that they have to crush all dissent now, or risk losing the war.

Exactly. Someone was asking me the other day how I could be so optimistic about a Muslim Enlightenment, when we’re seeing this rise in jihadism and fundamentalism. Saudi Arabia is even labelling atheism as a form of ‘terrorism’ now. My answer to that is: why is Saudi Arabia labelling atheists as terrorists?

Because they’re afraid!

Because they’re seeing a rise of atheism in their youth. In countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, about 70 percent of the population is under 30 or 35, and their youth are being exposed to all these different ideas. When I was growing up in Saudi Arabia, we just had print media, no Internet. My dad used to get Time magazine or Newsweek, and sometimes pages were ripped out of it, because the authorities censored the news. If there was something that they didn’t want you to know, you would never know it. Denzel Washington came to Mecca to shoot the movie Malcolm X. Now, Washington is a non-believer, who’s not supposed to be in Mecca. But the Saudi government allowed him in, I guess because they paid a lot of money. Nobody in the country even knew that movie existed, until we went on vacation and thought, wow, what the hell is Denzel Washington doing at the Ka’ba?

But then, the Internet came around. Here in the West we use it mainly for sharing cat videos and we enjoy that, but for them, it is a window onto a world that they had no idea existed at all. These are people who are born and raised there, who didn’t go on vacation to the West like I did. Muslim youth globally are being more exposed to secular influences. They’re seeing Hollywood movies that are now uncensored, and they are thinking about these things, comparing them to their own life. And yes, the conservatives are very worried about this.

So the rise of jihadism and fundamentalism is more of a backlash than a movement. I compare it to the rise of Trump and the alt-right. When Obama was elected president—a global citizen, half black, half white, raised in Indonesia, coming from a lot of different cultures—everyone thought that the racial struggle was over. Now we could move on and talk about other important things, like veganism and gender pronouns. And while they were doing that, there was an underground backlash, which culminated in the election of Trump. People now think this is a new movement, but it has always been there. It has just come to the surface now. This is the way progress happens: two steps forward, one step back. Backlashes like these are not necessarily afflictions of a world that’s getting worse, but symptoms of a world that’s changing for the better.

A 2012 Gallup poll showed that, in Saudi Arabia, 19 percent of people don’t have a religious affiliation, and 5 percent are flat-out atheists. That’s pretty stunning.

An admittedly non-scientific poll conducted by the Kurdish news agency AK News found that, in Iraq, about 7 percent of the population identifies as atheist. Not just non-religious, but straight-out atheist. This means that, in Iraq and Saudi Arabia alone, there are over 2.5 million confirmed atheists. Quite a substantial number. And this is probably a conservative estimate, given people’s reluctance to report their atheism. It’s also quite consistent with the anecdotal experience I’ve had. There are thousands of freethinkers in the Muslim world with whom I’ve communicated. And they’re now speaking out.

Let’s talk about your own former faith. Isaac Asimov once said, “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” Do you think the Quran is a good contender? When I read your book, it looked as if, of all books, it was the Quran which mainly drove you away from faith.

Reading the Quran as it is, is an excellent antidote to faith. And the apologists know this. What’s the one thing the apologists keep telling you?

Don’t take it literally!

Exactly. Don’t read it literally. This is the infallible, unquestionable, immutable word of the Creator of the Universe, but please don’t use it the way he wants you to. Put the word of God down, and please read my human interpretation and commentary.

In a way, they’re saying “The guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, don’t take him too seriously.” Isn’t that blasphemy?

That’s also what people say about Trump’s tweets! Those are also open to different interpretations by his followers, who justify them in any way they want. The problem is that ISIS and Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not quoting professor so-and-so at Al Azhar university, or religious apologists like Reza Aslan. They’re quoting the Quran. As long as that’s true, it’s always going to be a problem.

Let me play devil’s advocate. Some people would say that you’re actually in alliance with the fundamentalists, because you’re arguing that they are the ones who read the Quran and the hadiths properly and seriously, in the way it was intended. You write that it’s actually not the jihadists, but the moderates, who have to engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics to explain away all the disturbing verses. So tell me, are you in cahoots with the fanatics?

People do make that argument, and it’s sort of a shaming technique. So you take this verse literally? You’re doing what the Wahhabis do. My radar is always up when it comes to such shaming techniques. It’s a way to curtail the dialogue. Whether you like it or not, the fanatics are consistent and have more credibility. I’ve argued with these fundamentalists on our podcast (Secular Jihadists), and they do have scriptural and philosophical back-up for what they’re saying. They really try to explain and justify some of the horrible ideas they have. And even though I disagree with them much more than I disagree with the moderates, I respect their intellectual consistency. At least you can have a dialogue, which is more than you can say about the wishy-washy apologists who keep saying that you take things out of context. And then when you ask, “So, what’s the real context?” their answer is “Well, I’m not a scholar.” That’s not a way to argue.

Many people are also confusing equivalence of passion with equivalence of purpose. On the one hand, you have the Taliban, who are extremely passionate about oppressing women, about keeping them at home and putting them in bags. On the other hand, you have women’s rights activists, who are extremely passionate about fighting the Taliban. So you can say, “Hey look, these women are just as fanatical and aggressive.” No, they’re not. Equivalence of passion does not equate with equivalence of purpose.

Ali Rizvi

This notion that the Quran itself is pure and good, and that it has been distorted and hijacked by fanatics, is also far from inconsequential. If you’re going to fight the jihadists on their terrain, with scriptural arguments, you might end up on the losing side. As you write in your book, many moderates haven’t even read the Quran, and they’re very surprised to find all these disturbing things in there. Many parents of radicalizing kids even send off their kids to Quran schools, so that they can study the Quran properly and realize all their errors. Seems like a bad idea.

A really good example of this is Sura 4:34, which says that if you fear disobedience from your wife, as a last resort, you can beat her to discipline her. Now, you have a lot of South Asian scholars who translate the term not as “beating”  but as “striking a separation.” It’s about temporarily parting from them, or even about loving them. But all these different interpretations have only come out in the last 100 years or so. It’s the same with the age of Aisha when Mohammed married and had sex with her; this was never controversial until a hundred years ago, when it started to dawn on people how disturbing this fact is. So, when you go to an Arabic speaker and say that the words adhribu hunna actually mean “to strike a separation,” they will laugh in your face. And rightly so. When I say, “Let’s hit the road,” then “hit” means “let’s go travel.” It’s a completely different meaning than in the phrase “hitting the ground.” But when I say that therefore “hit the woman” means “travel with the woman,” you would think that I’m an idiot. And I would be an idiot. Scriptural re-interpretation is a losing game. Even if you interpret something liberally, your starting point is still the assumption that scripture is infallible. You’ve already given away so much.

How does Islam compare with other religions in this respect? Do you think some religions are worse than others?

Faith itself is the most toxic element, and in that sense all religions are equal. When you’re encouraging faith, when you’re saying that it’s a virtue to believe things without evidence, then you can no longer argue against the jihadists. In that sense, I think the focus on terrorism as the worst part of Islam is misplaced.  Yes, today Islam is more dangerous, and what makes Islam unique is the toxic combination of belief in martyrdom, the glamorization of death, and the killing of unbelievers. But when people say that you can’t talk about jihadism without talking about Islam, I’d go one step further. You can’t talk about Islam with talking about faith itself. Faith programs people into believing bullshit without trying to seek evidence for it, and it makes them more susceptible to being manipulated by demagogues. The root story of all the Abrahamic religions is the story of Abraham sacrificing his son. That is the essence of faith: you hear a voice in your head, and the next thing you know you’re going to kill your son. So the worst part of Islam is the same thing that is bad about all the other religions.

You started to question religion early on, as a child. Was there ever a period in your life when you were firmly convinced that there was a God and an afterlife, or did you never really swallow all of that?

I started to doubt very early on, but I did endorse the belief in heaven and hell. Except I thought of it as a metaphor, something we humans can’t imagine. For example, when you do something wrong, your conscience is plagued by guilt. But we manage to distract ourselves from our guilt by experiencing physical pleasure like food, travel, and sex. But when we lose our physical bodies, the guilt will remain, and weigh on us very heavily. And the more guilt you have, the more ‘hellish’ it’s going to be. So I thought maybe that’s what hell is.

Perhaps you’re only going to be ‘roasted’ in there in the sense of a celebrity roast.

Yeah. I Deepak Chopra-ed the shit out of that afterlife. But then later on I came to the conclusion that it’s not going to happen. When you have mad cow disease, a little bit of your brain turns to sponge, and you lose significant intellectual faculties. So when your entire brain turns to sponge, it’s hard to imagine that anything of ‘you’ will pass through to the other side. And even if there is, it’s irrelevant to me now, because I can’t know.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in the Book Review section of the New York Times that you “may well become the Dawkins or Hitchens for the millennial generation.” One thing you have in common with the New Atheists is your admiration for science, and your belief in the conflict between science and religion. You also write that the approach of the New Atheists, which is often seen as too ‘militant,’ actually appeals more to people in the Muslim world than the conciliatory approach. How does that work?

Someone like Richard Dawkins doesn’t hold back. He’s is very abrupt and aggressive, and he says what he thinks. This is something atheists in the Muslim world all wish they could do. In Saudi Arabia, for example, they’re not able to express themselves at all. They’re censored and oppressed, their speech is heavily regulated. Living in such restricted societies also makes them quite angry. If you take all of that into account, it’s understandable that they find the idea of respectful and conciliatory dialogue a privilege reserved for people who live in open societies. It’s a luxury they cannot afford. That’s why they relate more to someone like Dawkins or Hitchens, who comes out and says it like it is. Their approach resonates more with the way they feel.

The bootleg Arabic translation of Dawkins’s The God Delusion has been downloaded more than ten million times. I hope you’re working on an Arabic translation of your book too?

I think, ultimately, that’s what’s going to happen. I’ve heard about people who are doing bootleg translations. I’ve been sent the PDF of an Indonesian translation that’s already finished. I’m in touch with a small independent publisher in Egypt for an Arabic translation, but sometimes these publishers get caught up in paperwork for rights issues and translation, so it takes time. But we are working on it. Fingers crossed.

Photography © Franky Verdickt

 

Ali Rizvi is a Pakistani-born Canadian author and physician based in Toronto. He spent his childhood years in Libya, Saudi-Arabia, and Pakistan, permanently moving to Canada in his twenties. He is the author of The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason (2016) and a regular contributor for the Huffington Post. He is the co-founder and host of the Secular Jihadists podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @aliamjadrizvi

Maarten Boudry is a philosopher of science based in Ghent (Belgium), who studied in Vienna, Boston, and New York. His most recent book is Science Unlimited? The Challenges of Scientism, co-edited with Massimo Pigliucci. He has published around 40 academic papers on human irrationality, pseudoscience, supernatural belief, and cultural evolution. He has also published two popular books in Dutch on critical thinking and irrationality. You can follow him on Twitter @mboudry

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120 Comments

  1. dave says

    Fascinating, this is my introduction to this thinker. Comes across very well in text. This is the kind of information that isn’t covered by liberal media, this is journalism.

    • Wilson says

      Great read, but one thing I’d diverge on is Trump as a response to a black president and vegan evangelism – this mantra that ‘all racists are Trump supporters’ says a lot about leftist ignorance on this issue. That’s just childish, not that you can’t find a racist Trump supporter. To be precise, he’s a response to a president who insisted that jihad has nothing to do with Islam, to campus witch hunts, to riots over justified police shootings, to anthem protests, to censorship of anything featuring the Confederate flag, to tearing down statues as if they were erected yesterday, to demonizing white men, to environmental protesters who leave their own million dollar mess behind, and so on. (I’d add immigration, but if you listen to speeches by both Obama and Clinton it’s hard to tell the three apart, a wall is only so insulting when added to fences plural.) It’s not so much archaic racism that genetically wormholes its way through time and space to pop up in otherwise advanced futures. I hope Rizvi understands this. It’s surprising that he wouldn’t, given his otherwise incisive analysis of moral confusion among western progressives.

      I’d also take some issue with him equating religions on the basis of faith as a concept, that sounds like a bit of a cop-out. Surely it depends a great deal on what you’re asking people to have faith in and what consequences they face (if any) for refusing. There’s a lot of daylight between “none” and “death”. As Sam Harris says, “Some ideas really are worse than others.”

      • BuddyLama says

        Some ideas are certainly worse than others, but faith is the antithesis of reason and embracing it makes one vulnerable to all manner of bullshit.

  2. I’m always amused to no end to hear progressives faun over Muslims and wring their hands over the utterance of non-PC compliant phrases such as ‘Islamic terrorism.’

    We need a word to describe the defining characteristic of the progressive who is so afraid of reality that the mere utterance of words that reflect reality make them apoplectic. What would we call this fear? How about “ontologicophobia”?

    • andrea2018 says

      needs to be snappier. how about ‘narcissism’? I think liberals often base their politics on how they think their views reflect on how they are perceived by others. hence all that ‘virtue signalling’.

    • I don’t think Rizvi adequately explains this behavior. He suggests it is grounded in the progressives’ instinctive protective reaction towards any minority and the fact that Muslims are seen as a minority in the West. Yet he acknowledges in his following commentary that progressives are hostile to Western religions. Certainly they have no sympathy for the minority evangelical sects. I don’t have the answer. It is one more example of progressive behavior that can be blatantly hypocritical but yet they remain blissfully unaware of the conflict.

  3. Today Sharia is relevant in the West. The Rushdie rules have been accepted by the Western political class. That wasn’t the case before these interventions took place.

    They provided the adversaries of free speech with one of their main arguments: Anything that potentially enrages the people in Muslim nations will endanger Western forces.

    South Park could depict Mohammed in July of 2001 without anyone taking special notice. In 2010 am attempted depiction was censored. The canary in the coal mine had fallen from its perch.

  4. Pingback: „Fanatici v tom mají lepší systém“ – Kechlibar.net

  5. dirk says

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been mentioned, but not her 2015 book “Heretics”. Like that of the other Ali, also an enlightened, humanistic book in which it is explained that (unlike in her former, more rigorous books) it is quite possible to remain a Muslim in the West, but this can’t be different than in the form of an atheistic Islam, Mohammed no longer THE messager, but just another prophet, and life on earth more important than eternal life and heavenly rules. Maybe, Ali Rizvi is one of the very few to have understood this message, and lives accordingly. What to do with your faith in the modern world, whether christian or Islam? Step out altogether? Or reform it on religious terms? I am still a christian at birth, wedding and funeral occasions. So, half baked christian, indeed. The future of mankind??

  6. Andrew_W says

    One of the reasons Christianity and Islam have been so successful across so many peoples and for so long is because their religious books contain so many contradictory passages, this allows believers to change their practices to whatever works best at any given time. The Christianity we practice today is different to that of just 50 years ago and very different to that of 200 years ago, the same applies to Islam, apostasy is supposedly punished by death, but historically there have been times when Islamic scholars have argued that punishment can be deferred until the day of judgment.

    Islam has the concept of abrogation,in which more recent passages in the Quran supposedly supersede older passages, but there is no fixed rule on which passages are abrogated, some contemporary Islamic scholars claim hundreds, others claim none, this is important because the teaching in the Quran on, for example, how Muslims are to live or deal with nonbelievers changed throughout Muhammad’s life, in earlier passages fair cooperation was virtuous, in later passages it was more of the ‘put them to the sword’ type of talk. Today Islamophobes concentrate on the put them to the sword, ignoring the more conciliatory earlier text, for liberals it’s the reverse, in practice, as I said, Muslims (as Christians do with the Bible) can pick what best suits at the time.

    • Daniel says

      Andrew_W, you have a point about picking convenient passages, or proof-texting as it’s called. And for Christians trying to live with integrity, that’s always something to be wary of.
      But it’s important to consider how inconvenient Christians find the Bible to be. All of Scripture is in opposition — strong, uncompromisingly uncomfortable opposition — to our natural tendency to be selfish and mean. It is not a book that justifies your preconceptions.
      While you are right in that the cultures in which the Bible is read change constantly, people who read it with humility have a lot in common with each other, despite being separated by up to 2000 years.

      • Andrew_W says

        Daniel, I’m an atheist, how do you suppose is it that I manage to live with integrity and not be selfish and mean? There are many people in the world that are not adherents to any of the Abrahamic religions, most of them also manage to live with integrity and not be selfish and mean to members of their own tribes (on a par with the adherents of the Abrahamic God), how do you suppose they manage that?
        Perhaps it’s because if too many members of a society lack integrity and are selfish and mean civil order breaks down. If that is the case, doesn’t it make sense that Christianity and other religions are successful because they fit in with innate human social nature, not because adherence creates civil people. In other words the social nature comes before the belief, successful religions fit into our nature, they don’t create our nature.

        • Peter from Oz says

          That’s a very interesting point. Just about all societies have evolved religion as a tool of explanation of the inexplicable and of social control.
          It was only in the 20th century that we had atheist societies or societies, lke the West, where a great number of the people are non-believers. So it was then that we could test your theory that people could be free from meaness and selfishness without religion.
          It didn’t go well did it? Although we can’t say that the totalitarians wrought their depradations as a result of their atheism, we have to acknowledge that their reaction against religion did have something to do with their behaviour and thought.
          But, I think there is a lot to be said for G.K Chesterton’s wtticism about a man who ceases to believe in God believing in anything. Collectivism in all its forms is really just another kind of religion, but one that can’t be separated from the State. It is that last fact that makes collectivism (in which I include most of the modern left) more dangerous a religion than Christianity, and a natural ally of islamism which is itself another religion wedded to the State.

          • Andrew_W says

            “So it was then that we could test your theory that people could be free from meaness and selfishness without religion.
            It didn’t go well did it?”
            You must be living on a different planet to me, today there are numerous countries mostly western nations, in which the majority of the population do not believe in any deity.
            Try not to confuse totalitarianism with atheism, and I’ll try not to confuse genocide with religion.

          • Peter from Oz says

            Andre_W
            You forgot to read the next sentence after the one you quoted, which offered a qualification and a far more sophisticated argument than you could understand.

          • Andrew_W says

            You mean this bit? “Although we can’t say that the totalitarians wrought their depradations as a result of their atheism, we have to acknowledge that their reaction against religion did have something to do with their behaviour and thought.”

            The problem with your objection is that you’re just continuing in the same vein, these were totalitarians, it was totalitarian thought. Other atheists, like the vast majority in Western nations today are not totalitarians and so, I only have to repeat the point I’ve already made to refute the fallacious line of reasoning your attempting to draw.

          • Andrew_W says

            Your reasoning is as valid as, “throughout history Christians have been responsible for many atrocities, Christian’s of today believe in the same God, they rely for guidance on the same book, therefore Christian’s of today are just like the Christian’s that committed those atrocities.”
            I wouldn’t insult you or Christian’s by using such flawed reasoning, please stop insulting me and other atheists.

        • Wilson says

          But what DOES create that nature is a force expressed via religion, some might say. Granted, with the expression following the recognition of the nature, chronologically. Which only makes sense. In any case, it seems clear that Christianity has progressed fairly linearly alongside civilization, while Islam has been far more tumultuous and defiant. And one wonders how popular Islam might be today were it not a mandated theocracy. If Christianity’s popularity in the west is any indication, probably not very, and Christianity is infinitely more likable. At least they can have rock bands. And women drivers. Alcohol? It’s served in church, for Christ’s sake.

          • Bill says

            And Bacon! The whole reason the Middle East is in constant turmoil is the discontent of the bacon deprived populace!

          • Blinky The Doormat says

            The correlation between Christian Rock and the rise of Trumpism is what has caused the moral decline of the west.

        • Daniel says

          Andrew_W, if I understand you correctly, that’s possible, but I would not say that represents the whole picture. Humans demonstrate remarkable plasticity, and successful worldviews operate within the parameters of reasonably plausible plasticity.

          If I understood you correctly, your point was that the beliefs of a successful religion are congruent with the values of the surrounding culture. I agree that there is a bit of give and take, but religion has a massive, overpowering, even exclusive effect on culture. That’s why the Islamic countries I’ve lived in (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan and Indonesia) all have more in common with each other than any of them has with a non-muslim country.

          But perhaps I digress. The point I was responding to was the idea of religions just following the times. The fact that in the West living out a religion results in conflict with the prevailing culture — a conflict that is almost constant — indicates that religion is not a matter of glib expediency. Rather, my experience is that it is a strong pull, and it is stronger when it is lived with integrity and humility.

          As evidence, I would point to the Christian denominations that have adapted to be most congruent with the changing culture. They are shrinking and closing churches. I won’t say why other people don’t like them, but from when I have visited, they seemed to be trying too hard to be hip, and sacrificed authenticity as a result.

          Also, it was not my intention to suggest that atheists can’t live ethically or morally. We see that’s not the case; and besides, that’s a separate discussion.

          • Andrew_W says

            Daniel, I was certainly not suggesting that religious belief is a “matter of glib expediency”, religion can be a hugely powerful force that can both tie a “tribe” together and help to differentiate it from competing groups, that’s not in conflict with the teachings being somewhat malleable, at times preaching war will be the best option, at other times preaching trade and cooperation with other tribes will be the better option for advancing a tribes interests, in successful religions the good books provide the requisite variety of scripture.

            The weakening of Christianity I think can be attributed to two main characteristics of modern western life:
            Firstly from the enlightenment to modern life the westerners mind has changed quite remarkably, we are far more questioning and analytical in the way we think, and we are far more capable at abstract thinking, the result is we are more able in questioning (here I actually do mean more able, rather than more inclined) our cultural and religious background. Science, the methodology of which we’re all vastly more able to use, provides us with many reasons to question our religious background. Here’s James Flynn explaining how our minds have altered with our changing environment in recent times:
            https://www.ted.com/talks/james_flynn_why_our_iq_levels_are_higher_than_our_grandparents

            Secondly, as I said above, religion is immensely useful in tying a tribe together against outside threats, in the West, especially Europe, we no longer have the same scale of those outside threats (or don’t see or rate them if they’re there), in America where the people do see such threats (seemingly everywhere, including, these days, from within the American tribe), Christianity remains relatively strong.

            If you look to the Muslim countries isn’t it obvious that, in those countries that have seen conflict with Western countries, that the strength of hawkish Islamic teaching has become stronger? That they have circled the wagons against an increase of the perceived threat from some Christian countries?

    • Daniel says

      Andrew_W, that helps clarify. Thanks for the good talk.

  7. Aux says

    The tone of this interview could be more balanced. It seems like most the prompts are pushing the narrative that Ali is a victim a few liberal critics.

  8. Designer says

    The essential message is: “Faith itself is the most toxic element”. Faith is the root of all evil, because that is the precondition to make good people do bad things (Dawkins). Religious faith is the come-on drug for political ideology, totalitarianism, fascism, racism. That is what the ‘pseudo-liberals’ don’t want to accept: you can not defend faith-based ideologies, even if they are hold by a minority. They have to be oppressed.

    • Yes. That is his most incendiary and insidious comment.

      “Faith itself is the most toxic element, and in that sense all religions are equal. When you’re encouraging faith, when you’re saying that it’s a virtue to believe things without evidence, then you can no longer argue against the jihadists.”

      Completely disagree with it. This is extremely over-simplified and would not defensible if argued out.

      • Laura Thuijls says

        I agree. Let’s remember it was the quakers who pushed to abolish slavery in the UK. Their faith lead them to believe something good that many atheists at the time did not. I think this author suffers from a condition that many atheists suffer from. They don’t like to acknowledge that Islam is simply the worst religion out there currently. Instead they try to draw false equivalences between Islam and other religions.

      • Designer says

        This is definitely a faith based comment. I can not argue with that. Except that faith is an under-complex, over-simplified worldview.

    • augustine says

      Can Rizvi provide any *evidence* that atheism would provide a better moral framework than faith-based systems? Like Communism, I suppose we must let it prevail “to find out what is in it.” But the Communists have never got it right (impure motive, etc.) so we must endure further iterations until it delivers its promises to all. Or else. Does atheism propose better?

      • Sara says

        Many faith-based systems have hundreds of human right violations (particularly for women and minorities of all kinds)… so yes, I think atheism, not by itself, but since it’s not attached to particular beliefs, offers a better moral framework a million times over. Great article! As a former Muslim myself, I find Rizvi to be quite eloquent in expressing everything that I can’t seem to.

        • augustine says

          Sara,

          Atheism is a particular, positive belief. If it is not attached to anything meaningful it must be unbiased and amoral. How do you derive a moral framework from it?

          If atheism dispenses with religion and morality altogether, does such a framework make any sense? You want to replace a known with what exactly?

          • Andrew_W says

            augustine, I’m an atheist, I accept moral principles, but obviously I don’t accept they come from a God, they come from the innate instincts I have as a social animal and my upbringing in the society I live in.
            “You want to replace a known with what exactly?”
            What’s the unknown you’re referring to?

          • augustine says

            @ Andrew_W

            So that’s where your moral principles come from. How do you suppose they ended up being invested in your society, in your upbringing? Assuming that you and others in your social circle agree that your moral framework is a good thing, how will it continue into the future? Is it important to know the origins and prospects of one’s own morality?

            Anyone– bus driver, murderer, astronaut– could make the same claim you make here as to origins of morality. How do you see an arrangement of millions of personalized moralities leading to a viable, prosperous and peaceful society?

            I asked what will replace religion (a known). Whether the replacement is a known or unknown I do not know.

          • Andrew_W says

            augustine, you ask several questions, I assume you think the answers to those questions are somehow supportive of your perspective.

            “How do you suppose they ended up being invested in your society, in your upbringing?”
            The basic ones are innate, others are arrived at because they contribute towards making stable societies. If the society isn’t stable it gets replaced until one that is stable is created.

            “Assuming that you and others in your social circle agree that your moral framework is a good thing, how will it continue into the future?”
            well I hope so, if you’re suggesting that Christian values are required for long term stable societies you should have a look at the world today, history, and also consider just how much “Christian values” have changed over the decades and centuries to adapt the the requirements of the various Christian societies that have existed, the “Christian values” that have remained constants are the values that are innate in humans and are values that are common in societies:
            Look after your old parents
            Don’t kill (members of your own tribe)
            Don’t be caught committing adultory
            Don’t steal (from members of your own tribe)
            Don’t lie (about members of your own tribe)

            “How do you see an arrangement of millions of personalized moralities leading to a viable, prosperous and peaceful society?”
            Evidently you didn’t properly read my above comment.

            “I asked what will replace religion (a known). Whether the replacement is a known or unknown I do not know.”
            If you’re referring to atheism it’s fairly well known and common in many of todays most stable and wealthy countries.

        • X. Citoyen says

          Sara shares the progressive’s conceit: The world in her imagination is more fair and more just than the real one. Could it be otherwise?

      • John Ralph Spray says

        Religious zealots and intractable ideologues are both cut out of the same bolt of cloth… forever trying to pound that square peg into that round hole based on faith or a cockamamee sense of rightious entitlement. Although Atheism is sort of a left-handed belief system, I still find this crew to be more pragmatic and objective in their thinking than the tribes of Bible/Koran thumpers or the arrogant hoards that embrace isms.

        • augustine says

          Andrew_W,

          My questions were asked in good faith, without any presupposition as to how or if you might answer.

          What makes you say that any moral principles are innate? Evidence, please? Are immoral principles innate also? I wonder how you see the weave of morality through mankind’s long history of oppression, genocide and psychopathy. Or through the lives of average people. I’m interested in what can ameliorate suffering in the natural order of things. Atheism I think validates the ego rather than bringing people together in understanding the larger problems of existence.

          Your list of Dos and Don’ts sounds like an enumeration of successful evolutionary adaptations, especially with the tribal spin. We are veering OT but I will say that the purely evolutionary, atheistic view is more likely to end in nihilism and violence, simply because without guidance that is recognized as divine and above any single person’s or group’s authority, we remove the rational barriers against annihilating an acute mortal enemy. Utilitarianism lies this way, among other bad ideas.

          How did my question about millions of personalized moralities miss the mark? That is exactly what atheism implies– that each individual will come up with his or her own ideas and if they are not in accord with the rule of the day they will be quashed by the majority or by the legal system. This rootless subjectiveness of atheism is one of its principal shortcomings.

          “If you’re referring to atheism it’s fairly well known and common in many of todays most stable and wealthy countries.”

          So is atheism a moral replacement for religion or a way to safety and material comfort?

          • Andrew_W says

            augustine
            Moral principles are innate traits that strengthen a group, these traits can be found in many social animals that cooperate to further their own collective interests, other social animals do not require Gods to enable cooperation, as a member of the evolutionary tree I cannot see how we would not have inherited such traits.

            The driver of this innate quality is group selection, it was noted by Darwin when he wrote: “Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected. A tribe rich in the above qualities would spread and be victorious over other tribes.”

            In Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind, on page 221, Haidt writes: When I say that human nature is selfish, I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our own interests, in competition with our peers. When I say that human nature is also groupish, I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our group’s interests, in competition with other groups.We are not saints, but we are sometimes good team players. . . natural selection works at multiple levels simultaneously.”
            Haidt goes on to provide 4 pieces of evidence supporting the existence of group selection. Buy the book as I did. For humans I’d expect you to accept that we have been cooperating in tribal groups for hundreds of thousands of years, long before we got around to inventing the Abrahamic God, as did the principles I listed above (Look after your old parents etc).

    • Ray says

      No. There is only one evil and it is that ‘I should use my energies to control the choices of another’. Religion is just one banner used to impose control over the choices made by individuals. Remember the primary purpose of religion over the millennia has been to structure, organize and control societies. Reality is what you believe it is. Your one real freedom is to create a reality (world view) from your experiences.

      • augustine says

        How then would an atheistic society be organized? How do we dispense with the structure, organization and control that you decry? It sounds like you are advocating the atomization of “belief in reality”, even hinting at the idea that humans do not require societies (as we know them) to survive or flourish.

        We do create our own experience but how does this work in terms of cooperation?

        • Andrew_W says

          There are many western nations in which the majority of the population does not believe in any deity, so you don’t need to speculate how an atheistic society would be organized, they’re there for you to see.

          • augustine says

            Those Western nations– you don’t say which ones– are riding on the coattails of Christendom, as well as Greek and Roman inheritance. They are not organized around atheism.

          • Andrew_W says

            How about Japan and South Korea?
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_irreligion

            You’re clutching at straws, in all societies the principles I listed above exist, whether you live in China or a little village in Liberia, you don’t steal from other members of your tribe, or bear false witness against your neighbor or murder them (if you and they are members of the same tribe) because if you do and you’re caught the tribe will punish you.

            I should make a point, to avoid confusion, that being a member of a “tribe” is also a multi-layered condition, the closest members of your tribe are family, the other kin, then outwards, I think it’s fair to say that most humans do innately recognize a kinship to people right across the world, this kinship gets stronger as the world gets smaller, a war between England and Scotland wouldn’t be so easy to arrange as it once was, and the same applies to a shooting war between European countries. And before you argue otherwise, the world is in fact more peaceful today than it has ever been before, once death in combat was common, today as a percentage of the total population, it’s extremely rare.

          • augustine says

            The tribalism you describe results in *more conflict*, not less. The innate behavior of the most primitive tribes living today (Yanomami, etc.) illustrates this, with homicide and abuse of women at some of the worst per capita rates on the planet. This was covered in a recent Quillette piece. Absence of (organized) religion does not result in paradise, because human nature itself is the problem. I think our disagreement may be in what we think human nature is, and what to do about it.

            How about Japan and South Korea are not Western nations. They are not exactly atheistic, either, and their societies certainly are not derived from modern atheistic precepts.

            People generally want to live peacefully (maybe what you are saying basically). The question is, what stops them from acting out their worst innate impulses when the going gets tough? Why should anyone forfeit a righteous claim of revenge against a transgressor? In-group pressure or laws are not enough.

          • Andrew_W says

            “The tribalism you describe results in *more conflict*, not less”

            No, “tribe” as I’m using the word, is a human group that share a common interest, in the modern world the United States can be considered a tribe, the Democrats can be considered a tribe within a tribe.
            “Most primitive tribes living today (Yanomami, etc.) illustrates this, with homicide and abuse of women at some of the worst per capita rates on the planet.”

            Perhaps the recent Quilette article you’re referring to the article “Burying A Child”. Modern day man lives in an environment that has only very rarely occurred in human history, we live in an environment in which our societies are not under constant mortal threat from either other tribes or from a harsh environment. Primitive Man lived in what was a zero sum world, the environment could only support so many people, if there were more people being born than available resources could support some had to died. These harsh rules have applied to Christian societies throughout most of their history as well, with the result that you can lump past Christian societies in with the past societies in which punishment for stepping outside the strict rules of the tribe were severe.

            I think a good analogy that might give you an idea as to why the rules were so strict in such societies under such pressure to survive is the military. Armed forces cannot be fair or open or democratic, soldiers must be trained harshly to survive the realities of combat, they must all work together and with total and selfless commitment, failure to bind strongly and stick together could result in the destruction of the tribe (military unit) That’s how it was for most of history, that’s why primitive cultures were and are strict.

            The change in society we’ve seen towards liberalism is a product of wealth and technology, sex outside of marriage, even if it results in unplanned pregnancy, does not result in a crippling cost being imposed on the family or the wider society, we can be soft and lax towards the selfish and inconsiderate people within the tribe.

          • Bill says

            I think there is a circular argument going on:

            Andrew_W’s perspective is that you don’t need a deity for morals and social construct using the animal/pack analogy. Augustine is going back to “but those morals and social construct are based upon religion.” That there are currently Western nations where the majority is atheist they didn’t start that way. They evolved that way and continued the social constructs and morals and behavioral bindings from their non-atheist forefathers. Take the US where there is a mix of religious believers of all types as well as atheists. The social constructs we abide by are rooted in Judeo-Christian beliefs dominant for much of the nation’s history.

            With respect to the “other animals without need for a God” comment, for most (perhaps all) of those animal/social pack situations violence and survival of the fittest replace that. Dogs are a great example. The alpha maintains their status (male & female) through violence and the threat of expulsion. This is the dueling parallel. They don’t need a god, they have to follow the rules set by the strongest/dominant male & female. The introduction of deities in human society could be viewed as an evolutionary adaptation allowing leadership sharing/a way to disrupt the cycle of violence. The notion of the “god” simply being the construct used by the not-strong to justify their ascendance like in many early societies like Egypt and Japan.

          • augustine says

            @ Bill

            Contrary to what you imply, I do think that people can be ethical and compassionate without the intercession of religion. But it is not a human tendency to be good and being good is a great challenge if one is religious or not. I think it is clear that on a societal level organized religious belief is required in order to transcend our brutish and selfish nature. Whether morals and social constructs are *based upon* religion in some original, organic sense is an open question.

            Atheism is a construct that evolves sometimes as a response to theism. It requires a population of believers in order to have any validity or to appear at all. It says that everything we need, and everything we could possibly claim to have or know, is contained within biology/evolution. Theists believe that this is an insufficient understanding of things as they are, and an insufficient framework for moral progress.

          • Andrew_W says

            Bill,
            I’d call it a chicken and egg argument rather than a circular argument.
            A closer analogy to human morality would be the social instincts of apes, especially the chimpanzee, Jordan Peterson describes how it’s often not the the biggest toughest chimp that gets to the top. The tribal parallels with humans is also strong.[length: 6:25]
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kyu0ip4RAn0

            There is the obvious point that I haven’t made, other than in passing, that some religions, even without the existence of a God, could be expected to be superior to other religions in serving the interests of their followers, and that some will be better than others depending on the environment. Certainly the Judeo-Christian religion has proven themselves better than most at adapting to change, but it would be wrong to claim that the morality of that religion is somehow unique. As those same basic ethics (the really basic ones that have remained constant throughout the history of the religion) about how you should respect other members of your tribe are common across all religions.

          • chowderhead says

            I’m dumb, and so is my browser – there’s no ‘Reply’ at the end of this thread, after Bill…

            @augustine: Are you saying that theism is the foundation of all of our societies? That we are unable to rationalize morality that suits our needs without leaning on deities and unsupportable beliefs?

          • augustine says

            @chowderhead

            I would say that the origination of any society is based, in part, on common spiritual beliefs. Over time this may be the most important part– assuming we agree that an organized group identity is important (I don’t think it can be avoided). Other pragmatic elements such as ethnicity, geography, food production, disease, etc., have played and continue to play major roles in shaping societies.

            Anyone can rationalize morality on some practical, personal or divine basis. So what? When you say “suits our needs”, who is “we”? I cannot object to atheism as a personal choice, but I have yet to hear an explanation as to how a society can be expected to operate successfully without shared belief in concert with shared morality.

    • chowderhead says

      @augustine:

      “We” is humans.

      I would agree with your assertion in the absence of context and history, but surely, in the present context, and given our history, we could expect to rationally organize a functional morality for society. We have a system of laws that enforce morality, regardless of whether those laws were originally founded on religious basis. My view of theism and secularism is that the latter is a natural, evolutionary outcome of the former given our propensity for asking and then answering questions. Theism and religion was a necessary strategy to control people having limited grasp of the workings of nature. As we learn more, their role in society should diminish.

      I simply cannot see assigning value to imaginings when we have empirical evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Great danger lies in believing some unprovable truth that a god exists and has agency in the physical world. The unquestioning faithful are perpetrators of humanity’s worst crimes. That’s a morality we can all do without.

      • augustine says

        So if all religion and belief is abolished, authentic human nature can take over (again) and we can finally say goodbye to… what behaviors exactly?

        “The unquestioning faithful are perpetrators of humanity’s worst crimes.”

        Have you ever thought critically about this tiresome dogma? Prior to the 20th C this would be axiomatic since virtually everyone was religious or had spiritual beliefs. The question is, what caused them to act badly? An indication of how they might have acted without religion can be seen in the genocidal achievments of Socialism and Communism. And what caused them to act?

        I would submit that in either case the answer is human nature and that we require both secular and religious approaches to avoid our worst tendencies.

  9. One hypothesis is that “liberals” don’t actually believe in free speech or freedom of conscience, they are simply anti-Christian and anti-Western culture. Thus, their sympathies lie more with Islamic Fundamentalists, who are anti-Christian and thoroughly anti-Western, versus an “atheist Muslim”, who may (or may not) be anti-Christian, but has reject the glorious non-Western culture for European Enlightenment thought.

    This hypothesis is more consistent with the empirical evidence.

    • The liberal alliance with fundamentalist Islam is precisely that, a marriage of convenience, “enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of stuff. Why else would American feminists who love their pussy hats and slut walks ally themselves with people who would just as soon cane a woman who showed too much ankle? For now they have a common enemy, the white Western world. Once that is vanquished, it will be interesting to see them turn on each other. Feminists, especially third wave white feminist women, are already finding themselves excluded from the movement they thought they were leading.

  10. Sharon Hawkins says

    I live in a area of rural Canada that has strong fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Even among the reasonably well educated, you can still find people who proudly and confidently take the Bible to be the literal Word of God without exception (or at least claim to do so). Faith, for them, is a treasure that will always trump reason. Having said that, it is also a fact that in conversation with individuals within that group, it IS difficult to find more than a scattering of those who deny evolution and still harbour the belief that, for instance, the Noah story, could be literal truth. But even among the die hard Biblical literalists, the views of the Enlightenment clearly underpin the way they conduct their lives and their relationships toward non-believers. No more enthusiasm these days for putting blasphemers to death (Leviticus 24:16) How reassuring it is to read that there is a real and growing appetite within Islam for their own Reformation, and reason to hope that it won’t take several hundred years to filter down to the vast majority of Muslims as did the ideas of ‘our’ Reformation. Christians as a whole have left Salem behind at a dizzying speed if measured by the pace of ‘progress’ of other theological revolutions. It certainly isn’t unreasonable to hope that Islam will be able to temper its excesses, given the access to information of today. May it come soon because, like it or not, we are going to have to find a way to peacefully co-exist and eventually real harmony.

    • Peter from Oz says

      The amusing thing is that fundamentalists of all religions and ideologies are irrational. As I heard someone mention the other day: feminists deny more science than any Christian.The whole basis of modern feminist and trans thinking is counter to the science of biology.
      The funny thing is that a person who believed in the truth of the Bible on issues where it differs from science would do little harm in the world. Knowing the theory of evolution is a wonderful thing, but hardly necessary for good and happy life. Denying the facts of biology, as feminist and transexual activists do, will have a detrimental effect on society as well as women and transgender people.

  11. dirk says

    Western and Christian scholars and ordinary citizens love it to confront the unflexible islam with judeo-christian modern values. Wrong!! Christian and Islam faith developed in times and cultures completely different of ours, e.g. little sympathy for individuality, autonomy, freedom of speech, respect for diversity, equality of man/woman, tolerance for minorities. The difference is: western faith picked up the humanistic and enlightened spirit as developed by writers and philosophers in a long and gradual process over centuries. This was also the case in early Islamitic times (1000-1200, Andalucia, Iran) in the time that they still were powerful and rich due to trade routes, but I see very little left of that humanistic modernization the last centuries. So, the enlightened muslims now are typical westerners, as are the 2 Ali’s: Ayaan Hirsi and Rizvi. Surely, there are some others, but not very many. There is even a tendency that modernization in Islam is moving backwards again, to Salafism and Wahabbism. Something for the sociologist and psychologist! Why is this?

  12. The seeds of the enlightenment in the West grew out of a century of religious wars on the European continent. It is unlikely that Muslim countries can follow this same path, given the global nature of violent conflict and the propensity of Western nations to intervene when Muslim countries start killing their own people. The sad truth is that the West may need to get out of the way and let violence in the Middle East run its course before something like an Islamic reformation is even possible; that is, if the experience of the West is any guide.

    A century of killing each other will chasten them from religious fundamentalism.

  13. Pingback: Intermezzo (919) | Blue Archive

  14. defmn says

    Really enjoyed the article. The idea that the rise of a radical and violent Islam could be reactionary to the rise of religious skepticism within the Muslim community is something I had not considered.

    It was particularly interesting how clearly Rizvi sees the shallowness and mediocrity of mind of the ‘agnostic’ or cafeteria believer who strolls down the aisle of their religious teachings helping themselves to the offerings that look tasty while shunning those that they disagree with. This, of course, describes the large majority of those who consider themselves religious – particularly those raised in the western liberal democracies. They flare up with moral indignation should their hypocrisy be noted but Rizvi – raised in a religion that has not experienced an equivalence to western enlightenment – sees it for what it is. A wishy washiness that lacks both principle and reason. As such it is the most attractive alternative for the largest majority. A commentary on human nature with important consequences.

    I do wish to correct one error I see.

    I realize that this is not an interview about the Enlightenment but it is talked about in the way most moderns see it as simply a logical step that happened because of that vague concept ‘progress’. This, of course, is nonsense. A very strong argument can be made that the cultures dominated by Islam were far more civilized and advanced in science and math than their contemporary Christian countries.

    The enlightenment was the result of the writings by great minds. The seminal concept that created the epistic parameters of modern science was introduced by Bacon in his New Organon as the precursor to his student’s writing of The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. Locke, Descarte, Hume, John Stuart Mill etc. came later and contributed details and innovations that still largely form the basis for our metaphysical understanding of the world.

    What seems to be largely forgotten these days is that the writings of Bacon and Hobbes was a direct assault on the hegemony of Christianity as the only legitimate perspective from which to view the world and judge your actions within it. Very much as the true believers of Islam view their tradition.

    It was this tradition of political philosophy and its atheistic roots that trace back to Plato that allowed the west to mitigate the more virulent forms of religious zealotry and it is the dual roots of the modern liberal democracy that trace not just to Jerusalem, but more importantly to Athens, that is the most distinctive feature of western civilization.

    Failure to understand where we started from and who chose the path has, somewhat ironically, led us to the dead end cul de sac we call post modernism these days. It is important to understand how the Hobbesian/Bacon project evolved through Rousseau and Nietzsche to Foucault and his fellow travelers in order that our enlightenment not fail and give renewed vigour to those who would have us return to the darkness of religious ignorance.

    If Rizvi is correct that there are significant numbers in the Islamic community now ready to join modernity in rejecting the yoke of religious ideology then it is crucial that the west find its way back to an epistemology that embraces the possibilities of reason.

    • Just Me says

      Very true, but this omits a key point. “It was this tradition of political philosophy and its atheistic roots that trace back to Plato that allowed the west to mitigate the more virulent forms of religious zealotry and it is the dual roots of the modern liberal democracy that trace not just to Jerusalem, but more importantly to Athens, th of the euqlat is the most distinctive feature of western civilization.”

      The Greeks and Romans, i.e. the pre-Christian “pagans”, had no notion of the equal moral worth of all humans. That was the result of Christianity.

      It was the unique confluence of Christianity’s basic belief in the moral worth of all individuals, no matter their gender or social status, and need for individual salvation, which set the stage for the recognition of the need for social equality and freedom of conscience.

      That confluence eventually led to our modern notion of equality and human rights, but it is no accident that idea arose in the West and not elsewhere.

      It took the meeting and melding of those two streams of thought to produce modernity.

      • augustine says

        @ Just Me

        Thank you for that. To add to what you say, I believe that intellectual pursuits never have, and never will, lead to mercy, compassion or charity. Science speaks to the mind but cannot speak to the heart.

      • johntshea says

        True! The best of the Enlightenment was and is a development of Judeo-Christianity and more Christian than many modern liberals or Christians are prepared to admit.

        • Andrew_W says

          johntshea.
          Really? Many of the minds behind the enlightenment were secular, many of the moral teachings of the Old Testament our societies have abandoned, many of the teachings of the New Testament have also been abandoned. Christianity, as with other successful religions, allows such a huge variety of interpretation that adherents can pick and choose whatever teachings best suit the times, even over the last few decades Christians have altered which passages on morality in the Bible they accept and which they forget. Is homosexuality still a sin? How about sex outside of marriage? What about working on the Sabbath?

      • DEFMN says

        //It was the unique confluence of Christianity’s basic belief in the moral worth of all individuals, no matter their gender or social status, and need for individual salvation, which set the stage for the recognition of the need for social equality and freedom of conscience.//

        Not really. If that were true the human misery of the 1500-1700 years after the death of Christ in the Christian world would be difficult to explain. The changes came about as a result of the secular writers with Bacon and Hobbes providing the seminal thought and Locke, Descarte etc. clarifying and adding to the project. You are correct that ‘moral worth’ was not part of the Greek tradition in the way we moderns view that idea but it is not as stark as you appear to make it. But that is a long discussion off topic from this one.

        It was Hobbes who introduced the idea of ‘human rights’ in the modern sense. I have never seen that idea anywhere prior to his writings. Religious scholars will point to Aquinas and his ‘natural law’ but that is a completely different concept. The only thing they have in common is Hobbes using it as a departure point.

        Think about it this way.

        Today ‘human rights’ is the ‘holy grail’ for the secular left. Once something has been pronounced a human right all opposition to that idea is condemned by that ideology in the strongest possible terms. You are racist or misogynist or some other horrible person.

        The religious right’s comparable position is ‘god’s will’ or more amorphously The Bible. Once something has been pronounced as “in the Bible” or “god’s will” the discussion is ended and any opposition to that idea is condemned in the strongest possible terms.

        There is one point where god’s will and human rights come together. They are both ideas created by a human mind for the purpose of shaping human conduct. As such they exist as competing concepts in the construction of a metaphysics meant to explain how humanity fits into the world.

        Today in the modern liberal democracies (MLD) the former argument is considered the stronger. Human rights trump god’s will. That was one of Hobbe’s innovations. And he created that concept for exactly the reason it played out as – to blunt the power of the church.

        You really cannot understand the intellectual history of the west if you do not understand that political philosophy saw religion exactly the same way that religion saw political philosophy – as its greatest enemy in a struggle for the hearts and minds of humanity through the reformation of religion’s more virulent practices and beliefs. It is the oldest war of the west.

        To the best of my knowledge that history is unique to the west. The struggle for supremacy of ‘truthful speech’ over ‘beautiful speech’ (philosophy’s side of the discussion from Plato) simply never happened within the Islamic tradition.

        Regardless of what ‘true believers’ think the differences between Christians living in the MLD’s and Muslims are not adequately explained by the relatively minor disagreements between the New Testament and the Quran. The salient difference is the lack of separation between religious and political power in the Islamic world which insists on public adherence to the tenets of its holy books in both speech and action.

        Christianity in the MLD’s used to be like that. Hobbes and those who followed him changed that.

        • augustine says

          “Once something has been pronounced as “in the Bible” or “god’s will” the discussion is ended and any opposition to that idea is condemned in the strongest possible terms.”

          If this defensiveness were really so fierce then critics of religion (per se) in the West would not refrain from criticizing Islam similarly. Perhaps Islam is not yet a big enough phenomenon in the West to merit open mainstream criticism?

          The same Biblical pronouncements can be the beginning of conversations between actual people who are not stuck in political platforming because many are willing to engage in good faith discussions about these issues (e.g., truth) more than we are led to believe by cultural commentators. Those who hold sclerified, “scary” religious views are the exception rather than the rule– strongly held secular beliefs can be scarier still. Some leader could wake up one day and say “Let’s nuke those bastards” without invoking any spiritual doctrine. This idea does not deter atheists as far as I am aware.

          “And [Hobbes] created that concept for exactly the reason it played out as – to blunt the power of the church.”

          I assume you mean here the political power of the Church. The power of Christianity is much more than that.

          “The struggle for supremacy… simply never happened within the Islamic tradition.”

          Or anywhere else. Could it be that our unique heritage is, at least in part, because of Christ’s followers and not in spite of them?

          You are right that a critical difference between Islam and other religions is the complete absence of any distinction between church and state. Islam is a holistic political force and it can be argued it is therefore *more than a religion*. But you paper over other differences that matter, such as the unique origins and experiences of the peoples that developed either the West or the East. To offer anesthetizing similarities between the “Abrahamic faiths” is usually a red flag, a misleading ruse. As with DNA, the differences make all the difference.

          • DEFMN says

            //To offer anesthetizing similarities between the “Abrahamic faiths” is usually a red flag, a misleading ruse. As with DNA, the differences make all the difference.//

            Only to those indoctrinated. In the battle between ‘faith in faith’ and ‘faith in reason’ the former’s distinctions are largely without a difference.

            In any case I didn’t join the discussion to get involved in arguments about some supernatural being with an inordinate interest in our sexual lives.

            I wrote what I did because I thought it might be interesting for those who are unaware that there is an intellectual root in western civilization that predates Christianity and that offers a path to understanding what we are as humans through a rational lens rather than the fairy tale version.

        • Just Me says

          Sure, but Hobbes did not grow up in a vacuum, but in a Christian society. I never claimed Christianity in and of itself produced our modern concepts, of course not. I said it was the *confluence* of several strains of thought that did, Xianity being one of them.

          It was the Quakers that started the ball rolling of considering slavery morally evil, it had been taken for granted as a basic human institution until then. That was no accident.

          • Just Me says

            ctnd…

            Oh, and of course the notion of the separation of Church and State also has its origin in Jesus’ statement in the New Testament, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.”

  15. What seems to be assumed here is that once Muslims stop believing in Allah, all will be well. The reality of what happens to a society when a shared religious belief, even a primarily cultural one, is abandoned is not so encouraging. Pol Pot. Stalin. Mao. People are naturally religious and tribal, take away one tribal identity and they will substitute another. People in Somalia and Pakistan are not going to recreate Enlightenment Europe just because they no longer believe in Islam and what replaces political Islam might very well be worse.

    • dirk says

      You might be right Arthur, and it is exactly the worry and message of Foucault, as preached in his 1979 message for Iran after the western Shah period!

  16. dirk says

    You mentioned only scholars from above the Loire, def, except Plato, also, in fact a philosopher, rediscovered by this tiny North Western group (because of some things that they liked and recognised). But there is so much more in the world ( I think, Shakespeare, another NWestern, said that)

  17. Interestingly, when he talks about open vs restrictive societies, I immediately thought about how our society (at least in California and on most major online sites) has become just as or even more restrictive when it comes to libertarian and conservative speech.

    • Just Me says

      I am starting to think our society will self-destruct from its own excesses. Every ideology produces its fanatics. Christianity produced the Inquisition. Islam produced ISIS. Nationalism produced the Nazis. Marxism produced Stalin, Mao, the Khmer Rouge, etc.

      The moderate version of the Christian notion of the equal moral worth of all individuals under God eventually produced democracy and human rights, but its extreme version is producing the extremists we are seeing today, and who knows how that will end…

      I’m not optimistic.

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  20. EK Chakkar says

    A lot of Rizvi’s ideas deserve credit and contemplation. Assuming his views are mostly on point, we will see a lessening impact of religiosity from Islamic countries when they deal with rest of world. But one must take exception to Pakistan within Islamic world because its entire existence is based on flawed idea that Muslims of Subcontinent cannot live as minority with rest of population, i.e., 2-nation theory.

    As Rizvi is of Pakistani background and espouses it, journalist Boudry should ask follow-up question. If Pakistan becomes truly secular state with reform in wider Islamic world, what is its reason for existing in long term? Put Rizvi on hot-seat. Just because he is representing persecuted atheist minority in Islamic world, tough questions on 2-nation theory (which can be viewed as a mild form of apartheid) should not be avoided.

    Also, Rizvi is rather disappointing in ignoring rich intellectual traditions of Subcontinent’s ancient cultures that can help atheists deal with leaving Islam.

    • If Pakistan became a “secular” state (no “state” is secular, see Carolyn Marvin’s work), then Pakistan would remain different because Pakistani’s have a different ancestral group, a different history, and different ethnic customs from Indians. Ask a Croatian, a Pole, or Finn about this type of thing.

      • dirk says

        But, KD, and Pakistani, how old is this common history? Not very old, I think. There was a time of Zarathustra, Mani and many other non-muslim prophets and philosophers, that might have been much more important for your culture than all that islam!
        Have you forgotten that? It”s a shame.

        • Finland became a nation in 1907, Croatia in in 1991, Poland has been and has not been a nation for centuries (see Heinrich Von Treitske’s views in the 19th Century denominating the Poles as an example of dead nation).

          I don’t see how Pakistan could be Pakistan unless it was Muslim, any more than Georgia would be Georgia without Southern Baptists–so I find it hypothetical, in the sense that “truly secular” strikes me as logically impossible. Islam will always be integral to the state, whether officially or unofficially, like Catholicism in Poland.

          • Just Me says

            KD-

            A country can be secular yet culturally Muslim, in fact it could not be anything else. Just as European countries have become secular, but remain culturally Catholic or Protestant.

            The idea that when a people abandon belief in a religion, it reverts to some kind of secular blank slate, life an actor removing the stage makeup to reveal their natural face, is a mistake.

            It is more like adults who have lived their whole life eating a certain diet, the results can be seen in their skeletons, i.e. bones, teeth, nails, etc. thousands of years later. The religion permeates all aspects of the culture, the literature, music, art, moral sensibilities, etc.

            Even when someone rebels against the religion they were brought up in and rejects it, their identity has been built in opposition to that religion, not another one they were never meaningfully exposed to.

            People continue celebration the secular version of Xmas and Easter even when they no longer believe in the religious part, and secular Jews are still often attached to the food and rituals of their ancestral religion.

      • @ KD

        You’ve got no clue about the Pakistanis, the country has the same ancestral lineage as the Indians, their history is the same as that of India. Only they have actively denied that they are but converts from Hinduism. The same is true for the middle-east, they have a history of denial and disinterest regarding their pre-Islamic history.

        As Nassim Taleb suggests, cuisine is a good measure of ancestry and history. Look at the Pakistani cuisine and find all the typical Indian flavor.

        Islam is the only disease afflicting the Bangladeshis as well as Pakistanis and hence are unable to reconcile democracy with the totalitarian demands of Islam. They are cultural Hindu having a hard time following Islam and the dissonance is debilitating for both the nation.

        The only alternative left for either nation is to recede back to India and follow the traditions of their forefathers.

    • The idea that Muslim’s can’t safely live as a minority in an non-Islamic state has plenty of empirical evidence. (Look at Burma.) Islam is first and foremost a political system, only secondarily, if at all, is it a “private conviction of conscience”. Shari’ah is about imposing a social form on the body public. As a political minority, Muslims necessitate control of public space and separate laws. This is not compatible with the homogenizing effects of democracy, and provokes resentment among the majority.

      I think the rise of Modi and the BJP puts to rest the idea that India is going to respect or protect the rights of Muslims.

      • Ek Chakkar says

        @KD:
        Idiotic ideas deserve ridicule. India is not a democracy. It is a democratic republic. Difference between two is that majority is stopped from imposing rules and preferences over minority.

        “The idea that Muslim’s can’t safely live as a minority in an non-Islamic state has plenty of empirical evidence. (Look at Burma.)”
        – By this logic, all places where safety of Muslims is even slightly threatened are ripe for separation demanded by Muslims. It also means that Subcontinent can look forward to partitions wherever Muslims feel unsafe.

        From an earlier response, you wrote: “Pakistani’s have a different ancestral group, a different history, and different ethnic customs from Indians”
        – Assuming all you wrote is true, it means Pakistanis are invaders on lands of Subcontinent. They are colonialists that see the natives of Subcontinent as different and, one can safely argue, inferior (witness attitude towards dark skin in Pakistan). So, by your logic of being distinct, Pakistan exists to normalise colonialism and racism. By your logic, you are inherently racist. So, KD, are you a racist?

        I doubt the day will ever come in India where Muslims are mistreated like you imply. Any inkling of that will be crushed by majority that wants integration with wider world above religious politics. Modi is not even 5 years as PM. He won’t last even 5 months if he tramples on rights of Muslims.

        • Ek Chakkar:

          The question is not whether I see people as different (for example, perhaps I regard Obama as white), it is the question of whether a people sees themselves as different, and the Pakistanis (and the Bangladeshi’s) see themselves as different from each other and Indians. What makes them different if not ancestry, history, and customs?

          Acknowledging ethnic differences does not a racist make. Islam is not Christianity. Jews are not Armenians. This isn’t racist, its simply descriptive.

          As far as India, Nehru’s coalition was based on support from Indian Muslims, and made a lot of concessions to Muslims. BJP is not interested in the Muslim vote, is using Hindu backlash against prior concessions, and the recent Supreme Court decision to ban child marriages appears like a naked attack on Shari’ah. Certainly plays well in the West, but I suspect it is more motivated by Anti-Muslim hostility than some kind of “human rights” discovery.

          • Ed Chakkar:

            I do not “promote” Muslim separatist political movements. Muslim separatist movements happen in history, and there are some cultural reasons I think that can be ascertained as to why this happens.

            I would hold both Pakistan and Bangladesh to be legitimate nation-states, both are recognized by the UN. If this is radical fascism, fine, but you won’t find any Western diplomat who believes otherwise. I’m sure even George Soros acknowledges both nations to be legitimate–its only the Hindu nationalists who see them as fitting the bill as lebenstraum.

        • Ed Chakkar:

          You are right about Pakistan–I think Bangladeshi Independence, however, invoked more ethnonationalist sentiments than Pakistan–as both populations were Muslim.

      • Andrew_W says

        “The idea that Muslim’s can’t safely live as a minority in an non-Islamic state has plenty of empirical evidence.”
        The idea that Muslim’s can safely live as a minority in an non-Islamic state has far more empirical evidence, as that is the situation in the majority of countries in the world.

        “Islam is first and foremost a political system”
        You must be confusing “political” with “judicial”, and even then in most Muslim majority countries Sharia law is not applied in criminal law.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_of_Islamic_law_by_country

        “As a political minority, Muslims necessitate control of public space and separate laws.”
        What complete and utter tripe. “This is not compatible with the homogenizing effects of democracy, and provokes resentment among the majority.” You’re just spouting the propaganda of your own separatist ideology, what you claim simply does not match the actual reality of this planet.

        • Andrew_W:

          Please don’t project on me. You are the one with the political agenda, I am the one citing the historical record.

          Historical persecutions of Muslims is a fact, in India, and out of India:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Muslims

          Today Burma, yesterday Bosnia, tomorrow may well be India (again).

          As far as “political” vs. “judicial”, I have to admire your ability to make distinctions where there is no difference. Is the legality of slavery a “judicial” question or a “political” question? Did Dred Scot resolve a “judicial” question or a “political” one?

          The reality of world politics is that religious and ethnic minorities are vulnerable and at risk of persecution or worse. This is not an ideology or a political talking point, its true even if you don’t believe it. Hence the historic interest in liberalism of concerns for “rights of minorities”?

          • Andrew_W says

            KD, you claimed that: “The idea that Muslim’s can’t safely live as a minority in an non-Islamic state has plenty of empirical evidence.”
            That is an absolute claim and it is wrong, (I only need to provide one example of Muslim’s living safely as a minority in a non-Islamic state for it to be wrong) if you don’t want people to correct you don’t make false claims.

            The Dred Scot case was a judicial matter, some judicial cases can become political outside of the court, but the courtroom only settles judicial matters.

          • Andrew_W: Why don’t you tell it to a Muslim who used to live in Serbia? Ask them why they left. . . or a Muslim who used to live in Burma?

          • Andrew_W says

            KD, I don’t know any Muslim’s that used to live in Burma or in Serbia, does this make me a bad person?

          • Ek Chakkar says

            @KD:
            “Acknowledging ethnic differences does not a racist make. Islam is not Christianity. Jews are not Armenians. This isn’t racist, its simply descriptive.”
            – You are right. Pakistan justified existence on basis of religion, not ethniticity. Specifically, it was Muslims amongst Punjabis and Bengalis that decided to split with their fellow citizens. They claimed, as you are, that they had a different history, which was a lie. And you repeating the same is also a lie. People with different customs live side by side world-over world, so it is hardly a strong base for demanding separate country.

            Racism is at core of Pakistan itself splitting less than 25 years after creation. Punjabis considered Bengalis as inferior partially because of latter’s dark skin.

            So, then, your point on demanding separate state based on ethnicity is false, as far as Pakistan is concerned. No Pakistani ethnicity exists. You are a bigot, pure and simple. And since you seem to believe that secular states don’t exist, you are probably a fascist as well.

            If you are then citing articles and writings to support your bigoted, fascist ideas it just reflects on your prejudice and those of writers where you both agree. For you, solution to any Muslim persecution is separate country. Therefore, your type of person isn’t a faithful partner in building and sustaining a vibrant society where everyone can live in peace.

      • @KD

        You have an irrational affinity for Islam. The assumption in the innocence of minority is tiresome and incidentally Muslims are not a minority anymore. At partition the Hindu percentage in Pakistan was 15% and now at a mere 1.5%. While in India the Muslims were at 9% and now at 15%. Where is the persecution happening?

        Muslims live in self-segregated communities and are opposed to proposals of modernisation. Hindus have treated Muslims better than Muslims have in both Bangladesh and Pakistan.

  21. Sydney says

    Not a terrible interview, but the old saw, ‘fiddling while Rome burns,’ comes immediately to mind. A piece like this was current about 10 years ago.

    If Quillette wants to be current, it should have a discussion between American Islamic scholar Robert Spencer (not to be confused with weirdo racist Richard Spencer) and the fantastic Australian Imam Mohammad Tawhidi @imamofpeace. Maybe even throw (Albanian-born) ex-Muslim professional cartoonist (Eisner-nominated) Bosch Fawstin into the mix.

    There would be no fiddling there. What about it, Quillette?

  22. Maire says

    Articles like these always conflate ex-Muslims and reformers. The problem with this should be obvious. If you leave a religion/ideology and become an “ex” whatever, how can you also be a reformer? Even if your actions lead others to reform–which is the unstated assumption of all this kind of work–you are not a reformer yourself. You left. Nobody believes that Dawkins or any of the other professional atheists in the West are out to “reform” Christianity, so why should we think any differently about so-called Muslim atheists?

    The Reformation is still popularly characterized as a development which reformed Christianity, and if you were alive in 17th century Europe you could be forgiven for thinking that’s all that it was. Taking the long view, with the hindsight afforded by living in 2018, it is clear that this is misleading. Whatever its original intentions, as the primary impetus for the Enlightenment and subsequent secularization which followed, the Reformation was really just round one in the destruction of Christianity in the West. This is precisely why Rizvi and his Western fellow travelers clamor for an “Islamic reformation.”

    My point is that none of this is lost on conservative Muslims. While 17th cent. Europeans could be genuinely optimistic about their experiment, Muslims in 2018 can see how it actually ends. Yes, the moderates and Muslim feminists are mealy-mouthed and disingenuous, and their progressive Western allies are shameless hypocrites. But it’s also disingenuous to lump people like Rizvi in with reformers. Let’s be honest. As faith is absolutely fundamental to the Islamic religion, anyone who thinks that “faith is toxic” is really looking to destroy it.

    • Ek Chakkar says

      I doubt Rizvi wants to destroy Islamic faith outside of some personal fantasy. He has stated before that he is cultural Muslim, just like Dawkins can be called a cultural Christian if he enjoys the sights, sounds and celebrations of Christmas.

      I’ve always been cynical of his motives since seeing the title of his book, ‘The Atheist Muslim’. Reduced to a few core ideas, imho, he is little more than an apologist for the idea of Pakistan (a separate state for Muslims of Subcontinent because they can’t live safely as a minority). Still, I wish his best ideas gain more attention in policy circles.

    • Lydia says

      “Whatever its original intentions, as the primary impetus for the Enlightenment and subsequent secularization which followed, the Reformation was really just round one in the destruction of Christianity in the West. “

      Don’t confuse the state church with Christianity. Besides, the Reformation was really about power politics of Rome. Think of the word. “Reform” as in “Reform the Catholic Church political power structure.”. Round one in the destruction of state church institutions, perhaps.

  23. Interesting. But MAGA equals ISIS? Come on man. You cannot seriously believe that protecting borders, keeping boys out of girls’ showers, deregulation, etc. are commensurate with jihad (murder)?

  24. dirk says

    How was it in Christianity? No doubt, Luther was a good example of a genuine reformer. There are more such examples, Calvin, Zwingli, Hus. But what about ” Honest to God”, of Robinson? Can this last one to some extent be compared to Rizvi? (sorry, didn’t read it, only heard about it)

  25. Susan says

    I have listened to and been a patron of The Secular Jihadists podcast since day one. The personal stories of ex-Muslims are compelling and often hair-raising. A favorite guest was an American fundamentalist Muslim whom Armin Navabi (Ali’s co-host) forced to admit that Ali and Armin would have to killed (as apostates) to protect the happiness of the ummah (community) when sharia law prevails and the Islamic Utopia is established.
    The unholy alliance between third-wave feminists and Islam-weird!
    Note to Ali: Personally, I prefer the ex-Muslim guests over Stephen Pinker (way over-exposed), Jordan Peterson attacks (let it go), other non-Muslims, etc. Just me?

    • dirk says

      Indeed Susan, hair raising, but that has a reason. The arrogance of power! I fear, I would react the same, in similar conditions.
      But I have the luck, being borne in another atmosphere, and feel quite happy in that.

  26. “Now we could move on and talk about other important things, like veganism and gender pronouns.”

    The above I thought was way out there. Then he suggests Trump voters are like the traditional Muslims. The intolerant many think are on the left. They socially assassinate people who step outside their norms. Some are hoping to remove Trump because they are offended. Their world view is being challenged. In 2008 when President Obama won, how many even knew about gender pronouns? Veganism has some traction but has failed to go mainstream and who really cares about it? While the author identified important problems, veganism? How about underfed people living in other countries? Young women without options?

    • A. Karhumaa says

      “Now we could move on and talk about other important things, like veganism and gender pronouns.”
      – Well, sarcasm is not always explicitly marked. A delicious sentence.

  27. Darwin T of BC Humanists says

    Differing approaches to atheism, scepticism, freethinking are all needed. Hitchens for some, Sagan for others. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is needed. George Carlin for others still!! A rainbow of voices will catch more eyes and ears, more hearts and minds. Thanks Mr. Rizvi for your approach and voice.

  28. “Of course, [the information revolution] was wielded by both sides, by the establishment for PROPAGANDA, and by the rebels TO ACHIEVE THEIR PURPOSES.” Little dichotomy there, bro. Otherwise, good article so far. Onward and read-ward.

  29. Muhammad Ali-Jinnah on the two nations of India:

    “It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders, and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one Indian nation has troubles and will lead India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, litterateurs. They neither intermarry nor interdine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspect on life and of life are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes, and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built for the government of such a state.”

    Two nations based on:

    i.) different religion, ii.) different endogamous communities (e.g. different gene pools), iii.) different customs, iv.) different histories (note, identity of hero and foe are the same, but roles reversed), v.) Muslims unwilling to be a political minority under Hindu majority.

    • Ek Chakkar says

      How convenient! Jinnah wanted guaranteed representation of Muslims at centre after independence. He did NOT want Partition. Muslims were declared as one political group by British decades before Partition. Therefore, Jinnah just followed colonial construct and pushed for Muslim representation at centre. He stated that Bengal should not be partitioned because Bengali identity was inextricably linked to Kolkota. This speech of his you are citing is one for gullible masses (then and today) and makes perfect sense given that he was a lawyer advocating for his client. A lawyer will say anything to win.

      Having to reluctantly accept Pakistan as a reality, he never envisioned Pakistan splitting into two parts and foresaw porous borders for ordinary citizens. Jinnah’s Pakistan has died a thousand deaths already. It doesn’t exist.

      Your ideas are from a fantasy land and are idiotic. They deserve to be ridiculed and exposed for their bigotry.

  30. Lydia says

    Author lost me at Trump and alt right. Please define —if one is not into oligharch globalism where does one go? Wouldn’t a Libertarian prefer less government and bureaucrats micromanaging any way they can get it? He seems to equate Western “fundamentalism” (whatever that is) with Islam. Huh? There are something like 4000 “Christian” denominations since our Founding. I find that healthy difference from the Euro state church. Except for Mormons living in compounds with sister wives, who are these fundys he is talking about? Christian fundys who stone gay people and blow up innocent people? Force the hijab? Where?

    Islam is not really a “religion”, IMO. It’s a form of totalitarian government with religious lipstick. Can our Constitution “coexist” with Sharia, for example? I think not. Can islam be Reformed to be a mere religion? I think it can and will be. As Christians learned, you can slap a plastic fish on anything and call it “Christian”. So will Muslims at some point.

    • dirk says

      I think so Lydia, but it will take some time. I’m just reading here about a certain Adriaen Koerbagh, a Dutch 17th cent. theologian, who explained that the existence of devils, demons, and Satan himself had to be understood in an allegorical way, in context, not literally, it was merely the evil existing in people themselves ( so, he was a very early pomo). For these ultra modern sermons, he was thrown in jail, and died there soon, and all this in the oh so tolerant NL of the 17th century, 1600 yrs after Christ. So, if we look at Islam, it likely will take until 2300 before some similar voices of doubt about the literal truth of holy texts will be heard, and another so many centuries before it will be accepted and understood by the masses. So, what we need is some patience, that’s all!!

  31. Pingback: “Liberals Have Compromised on Their Own Values”: An Interview with Ali A. Rizvi | 3 Quarks Daily

  32. 2 closed minds saying, We’re right, aren’t we? & Yes, we are. Look no further. How sad, the waste.

  33. dr. malcolm slavin says

    This is excellent–as far as it goes. The main problem, as I see it, is that atheism is not the only, or even the major alternative to intolerant, fundamentalist religiosity. Ali Rizvi may be an atheist. But I think that equating his reform movement with his atheism is a mistake.
    indeed, the enlightenment was a complex, historical Christian (maybe Judeo-Christian) movement. it succeeded in putting God into the church and temple–taking God out of the laws and official political power. The enlightenment did not deny the existence of God–a god of some widely interpretable kind. It legitimated, protected, deepened debate about God’s existence. The creators of the enlightenment were, by and large, not atheists.
    This distinction between liberal, enlightenment values and ideological atheism is particularly crucial regarding the cultural challenge facing islam.
    Framing the cause of promoting the future development of enlightened Islamic societies in terms of atheism creates and either/or, black and white distinction–a forced choice for many in the muslim world. their deepest cultural/psychological struggle is to create their own form of tolerant, enlightened Islam. Not simply an atheism (though it may well include that). And not simply a copy of what was achieved historically in the West.
    Psychologically, they must create a version of Allah who, so to speak, is not too humiliated and enraged to be relegated to the mosque. A version of belief/non-belief that is open to a far wider range of understanding that includes, yet is by no means equated with, what is generally implied ideologically by atheism.

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