Richard Dawkins managed to outrage the Muslim world, and pretty much everyone else, many atheists included, with his ignorant, bigoted and intolerant message about Muslims on Twitter last year. It’s curious that such atheists, self-professed exponents of rational thinking, cannot see that their behaviour smacks of everything for which they criticise the object of their scorn: sadly, because of a few bad eggs, this has primarily become Islam. After many years of making arguments that, while polemical, made a lot of sense, Christopher Hitchens fell into the same trap during the nineties.
It is important to stress the fact that these thinkers who openly come out criticising Islam, do not criticise terrorists, not even Islamic fundamentalists; they trace the evil back to its supposed origin: the Islamic faith as a whole. They must see that this is grossly unfair. They must see that the West has always needed an enemy in order to justify their imperial actions and through convenience more than anything else, what with the Soviet Union’s demise at the end of the 1980s, and the vast resources that reside in that region of the world, Islam was chosen. Surely they aren’t so stupid to think that the only reason we have a terrorist threat is because Islam is an unreasonable religion and they despise our freedom.
Yes, the Muslim extremists who have committed atrocities have justified their actions using the Qur’an, but it no more makes Islam an inherently violent faith than the IRA’s previous actions make Christianity one. Any sensible Christian has cherry-picked the nuggets of wisdom from the Good Book and rejected the outdated, horribly violent parts; any sensible Muslim has done the same. My point is we should blame the action and the actor, not the religion. It is telling that the Western world is not prepared to do the same with Israel and its actions. The minute somebody blames Israel’s murderous and oppressive behaviour on Zionism, cries of anti-Semitism immediately follow to douse the flames. Yet the charge is the same: Israel wants to preserve a set of beliefs and promises, justified from a holy book, that results in the systematic oppression of a whole people. We sit back and condemn Israel’s “heavy-handedness”, at best. Why? Because Israel is the West’s friend.
Now, I am an atheist myself. I believe religion has caused much evil in the world and that it has hindered progress. But it’s not all bad: it does provide a robust (when rational people cherry-pick the good parts) moral framework that for many people works well. Nonetheless, I look forward to a day when we all come to the realisation that there is no way Christianity (or any of the organised religions) can be based on truth and when we all come to reject them. However, I also believe that it’s a natural, slow process that must necessarily run its course and that we shouldn’t try to force it, at least in any direct way.
Social Darwinism came out of Darwin’s original theory. It was an arrogant attempt to interfere with what was a natural process, and it led to many apparently reasonable intellectuals espousing eugenics and ultimately resulted in Nazism; I believe that to do the same with atheism, to impose atheistic views whilst simultaneously antagonising good people of faith is tantamount to spreading hate, and could potentially encourage violence: exactly the issue atheists have with Muslims. You only have to spend a bit of time on Reddit to see crazy videos of Arab people doing crazy things, along with hundreds of comments with brutal verbal attacks on the Islamic faith. This is not helpful. It will eventually achieve the opposite of what these angry atheists believe they are fighting for.
You only have to look at the gradual secularisation of many countries to see that that’s the way we are heading. There’s no need to rush it. People are reasonable if given the facts and the freedom to think for themselves. Instead of blaming Islam as an inherently evil religion, let’s condemn the states that encourage an oppressive attitude towards women, let’s condemn the states that are interfering in other parts of the world thus causing a hatred in their people that manifests itself in the desperate willingness to inflict damage and death on innocent people. These should be the target of our wrath, not the Muslim, or any other, faith in itself: this only serves implicitly to attack and offend the vast majority of peaceful, reasonable Muslims whose faith provides hope, legitimate guidance and a sense of identity.