By CJ Werleman
APRIL 12, 2014
Politics is a funny game, for wedge issues often make for strange bedfellows. NSA overreach unites the far left with the far right. Libertarianism unites neo-confederates with black evangelicals. If you’re looking for an even stranger ideological matrimony, try this one on for size: mention the Middle East peace talks, and voila, you have atheists singing from the same song sheet as the Christian Right.
Despite the Palestinians making a sudden about turn to the United Nations, who can blame them, Secretary of State John Kerry is to be applauded for his efforts to bring the peace process back into focus. Not only has he dragged both sides to the negotiating table, he has also attained crucial concessions from both the Palestinians and the Israelis. But any further progress is made difficult while Americans remain in the dark about what is really taking place in the Occupied Territories. The most ignorant include the corporate-owned media, the Christian Right and movement atheism. This ignorance results in a lack of political pressure on the White House, Republican or Democrat, to seek a much-needed two-state solution.
Despite claims by David Silverman, president of the 501(c4) political lobby group American Atheists, atheism does not earn an atheist the title of freethinker. With very few exceptions, movement atheists are not. They’re parrots. Don’t believe me? Ask an atheist to opine on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and he or she will invariably wax lyrical about religious motivated violence, Islamic extremism and suicide bombers. In other words, expect a recital from atheist luminaries Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens.
“Islam is an unmitigated evil,” said Dawkins in response to whether or not atheists should support faith-based NGOs in Africa, while simultaneously ignoring the despotic warlords Western secular governments have financed in recent times. On his blog, Sam Harris asks why “nineteen well-educated, middle-class men trade their lives in this world for the privilege of killing thousands of our neighbours?” With total disregard for geopolitical history, what troubles Muslims living in the Middle East, and studies into global terrorism, Harris answers, “Because they believed that they would go straight to Paradise for doing so.”
Atheists, myself included, enjoy mocking religious fundamentalists for their inability to question authority or dogma. But very few atheists sound dissimilar to the aforementioned atheist heavyweights when it comes to assessing the roots of Islamic terrorism. In the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, American Atheists president Silverman tweeted, “Dear Peaceful Muslims: Sorry, but yet, that IS your Islam and your Prophet’s followers.” Silverman included the hashtag #IslamIsBarbaric. If you were told neo-con firebrand Ann Coulter had posted this careless tweet, you would have believed it.
No doubt, Harris (neuroscience) and Dawkins (evolutionary biology) are leaders in their respective fields. What they’re not is an expert on terrorism and the Middle East. So movement atheism needs to stop pretending like they are, because the words of Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens serve only to make movement atheists sound like neo-conservatives, Zionists and the Christian Right, which ultimately makes seeking peace even harder to attain.
A dangerous and toxic belief found within movement atheism is utopian idealism—the belief that the eradication of religious human beings will cleanse the world. If history has taught us anything, it’s that bad things inevitably follow when large segments of the population share that belief. On that point, Harris and Dawkins are every bit as dangerous as the thugs of Israel’s conservative Likud Party. “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them,” writes Harris in reference to Islam. He suggests that Islamic nations may be politically un-reformable because Muslims are “utterly deranged by their religious faith,” and that all Muslims are effectively suicide bombers in waiting.
Chris Hedges, who not only spent a decade as a New York Times correspondent in the Middle East, but was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of global terrorism, writes, “The dehumanization of Muslims in U.S. social culture and the wilful ignorance of the traditions and culture of the Islamic world reflect our nation’s disdain for self-reflection and self-examination. They allow us to exult in the illusion of our moral and cultural superiority.”
Demonization of Muslims writ large ensures that we see the Middle East crises only through the propaganda of the Israeli government and its U.S. political lobby arm AIPAC, which all but guarantees the further elusiveness of peace.
Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, found that almost without exception, suicide bombers are members of communities that feel humiliated by an occupying force. In fact, of all suicide bombing campaigns, 95 percent were carried out with the objective of driving out an occupying power. This was true in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Kashmir, as well as Israel and the Palestinian territories. That 17 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis seems to underscore Pape’s findings.
U.S. military bases in the Holy Land and our unwillingness to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in an even-handed manner has fuelled most (all) of the Islamic world’s hatred toward the West. At best, we ascribe moral blame equally to both sides. At worst, we completely ignore Israel’s continual and repugnant violation of international laws and atrocities committed against the Palestinian people. Israel is the oppressor in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel’s escalating oppression has become the most potent recruiting tool for Palestinian suicide bombers. Israel likes to pretend it’s engaged in a “war to the bitter end,” but a war is a contest between competing military rivals. The Palestinians do not have a military. They have no army, navy, air defences, or heavy weapons; while Israel has the best military U.S. money can buy.
Former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, who is Jewish, recently condemned the collective punishment of Palestinians as a “crime against humanity,” and a “flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
What the Nazis were to the Jewish population of Warsaw is what the Israeli government is to the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. “It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that each day poses the entire 1.5 million Gazans to an unspeakable ordeal, to a struggle to survive in terms of their health,” says Falk. Of the ongoing Israeli blockade, he writes:
“This is an increasingly precarious condition. A recent study reports that forty-six percent of all Gazan children suffer from acute anaemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with Israeli over flights have caused widespread deafness, especially among children. Gazan children need thousands of hearing aids. Malnutrition is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75 percent of Gazans. There are widespread mental disorders, especially among young people without the will to live. Over 50 percent of Gazan children under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live.”
Israel punishes Gaza with daily 12-hour power outages, blocks medical equipment and medications from entering the territory, forcibly removes Palestinian farmers from their land without compensation, and has now erected a barrier that has annexed at least 40,000 acres of Palestinian land. Life in Gaza is so grim that “families are piled in boxy, concrete rooms capped with corrugated tin roofs weighed down by rocks. Water and electricity service work only sporadically…donkey carts crowd the streets, and orange garbage bins, donated by the European Union, overflow with putrid heaps of refuse,” observes Hedges.
Faced with occupation, humiliation, starvation, misery, and death, is it any wonder that 71 percent of children interviewed at a school in Gaza said they wanted to be martyrs?
Harris, Dawkins and many of their atheist sycophants, contend, however, that these children are “utterly deranged by their religious faith.” Movement atheists can choose either to adopt this ill-informed and breathtakingly ignorant narrative of the Middle East, in turn continuing to be an obstacle for the attainment of peace, or they can question the authority of their ideological heroes, and in turn, adopt the narrative of those who truly know what they’re talking about.
“The use of terror and hunger to break a hostile population is one of the oldest forms of warfare. I watched the Bosnian Serbs employ the same tactic in Sarajevo. Those who orchestrate such sieges do not grasp the terrible rage born of long humiliation, indiscriminate violence and abuse. A father or a mother whose child dies because of a lack of vaccines or proper medical care does not forget. A boy whose ill grandmother dies while detained at an Israel checkpoint does not forget. A family that loses a child in an airstrike does not forget. All who endure humiliation, abuse and the murder of family members do not forget,” Hedges writes.
To date, State Secretary Kerry has shown he is willing to stand up to those who adopt the unhelpful and false neo-con language used by the likes of Senator John McCain and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It’s time for movement atheists to reject this language and false narrative, too.