In 2013, American Atheists President David Silverman announced that he would be writing a book called I, Atheist. But a few months later, that book was off the table. What happened? Silverman explained in a now-deleted Facebook post that there had been a disagreement with his publisher: “We parted ways amicable over a smiley face, labeled ‘Muhammad of Islam’, which I refused to remove.”
Now, a different version of that book is finally seeing the light of day. (And the smiley face is in it.)
It’s called Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015). And if you thought Richard Dawkins was “aggressive” in The God Delusion, just wait till you read this. Unlike Dawkins, who wanted readers to shed their faith, Silverman wants those of us who are already atheists to be much more vocal about it.
In the excerpt below, Silverman discusses the idea of “Islamophobia” and why we must push back against the faith-based rules others demand we follow. (I have removed footnotes for ease of reading.)
I’m sometimes called Islamophobic. And while I do admit to fearing some major factions of Islam, I don’t like the connotation or the politically correct assertion that such fear is irrational. Concerns about Islam are very different from, for example, concerns about Judaism because Islam is unique among religions today in posing a real threat to the human condition. I would go so far as to say an educated fear is a completely rational position. It’s not about race (Islam is not a race), and it’s not about people (victims) — it’s about an ancient and particularly violent desert religious sect, separated from society and honed over generations by a destructive religious cycle into a barbaric nightmare that, unlike Christianity and Judaism, has yet to be tempered by modern values (due to that very separation).
Islam was born in the desert, where food and water were scarce and life was cutthroat. According to Dr. Wafa Sultan, psychiatrist, author, and critic of Islam, “Raiding… was the only means of survival. The tribes fought one another in their quest for water and food… Then Islam came and tried to regularize raiding operations, justifying raids by its Prophet and followers, but proscribing raids by others… Islam tried to justify these raids by regarding them as death in God’s cause.”
According to Dr. Sultan, Islam is a religion founded in justifying violence in the name of its god. One can easily imagine how such a beginning might yield a religion with a very different character from a religion formed in agrarian or fishing societies, where gods provided ample food and water. Since then, like other religions, it has splintered, fractured, and evolved into many sects of varying beliefs, each of which calls itself “true Islam,” but all stemming from the same basic beliefs and lore, which, according to Sultan, yields a commonality of thinking among Muslims: “Muslims eat raiding, dress raiding, talk raiding, and drive their cars like raiders.”
That last sentence is too broad a generalization for my taste, but I can see the point — a religion formed in a brutal environment, where whole communities lived and died by stealing from one another, glorified raiding and conquest as central in its teachings, which makes it different (yes, more barbaric) from other religions at its core.
According to the popular version of Islam, you may not draw the Prophet Muhammad’s face or representation, and you may not portray him onstage. In September of 2005, when Danish cartoonists dared to disobey this command, riots or protests occurred in nearly every country with a Muslim majority, and the brainwashed followers of this barbaric religion killed more than a hundred people over comics of their prophet.
The world gasped, and then caved, en masse. The ability we once had to draw Muhammad, see his picture, or poke fun at him in any way evaporated, and the world started obeying Islamic law, just a little. Suddenly, most people viewed depicting Muhammad as an act of provocation, not expression.
American Atheists embraced “Draw Muhammad Day,” where, again, all we did was disobey someone else’s demands to follow their religion’s primitive tenets, and we were called “instigators.” I disagree. Islam was the instigator by telling me that I have to follow its arbitrary rule in the first place. I have the right to draw anything I want, and I’m defending it by doing it in defiance.
We were not alone in our opposition to this prohibition. Nationwide and worldwide, other atheist and free-speech organizations opposed this PC-cloaked censorship and continued to draw Muhammad and criticize Islam.
Then, on January 7, 2015, Islamic militants launched another attack on our right to express ourselves, storming the headquarters of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, murdering twelve people. With shouts of “We have avenged the prophet,” these religion-made murderers killed people as a punishment for printing cartoons of Muhammad.
The world mourned. In huge demonstrations of solidarity, people who finally began to understand that their rights were being threatened stood together screaming, “Je suis Charlie!” But the US press still caved and would not do what it needed to do — show the cartoons that the shooters used to justify their murders. “Defy their demands!” we complained, and the social media shares of the comics were indeed huge, but the mainstream press acquiesced, again, largely refusing to show the cartoons out of fear cloaked as “respect.”
Most recently, on May 3, 2015, two Islamic militants opened fire on unarmed civilians inside the US, in Garland, Texas, where a group was hosting a “Draw Muhammad” contest. Yes, the people who were holding the event knew they were being provocative, but no, that does not make the shooting their fault in any way.
Americans see attacks and riots over such depictions of Muham- mad and fear for their fellow humans. In response, citizens of the United States, the country that defined freedom of speech, obey these repressive demands — and criticize those who do not! They may not fear for their own lives, but they fear for others, globally, and their empathy makes them respond by obeying and pressuring others to obey. The anticipated guilt they would feel if they were to break the code of the “all-peaceful” Prophet Muhammad and “terror riots” or shootings were to erupt where innocent people could die because of their actions makes them comply. That’s yielding to terrorism.
But let’s be clear: the people depicting or drawing Muhammad are not responsible in any way, shape, or form for any riots or deaths that might occur — the rioters and killers are. Willingly submitting to this religious proscription amounts to yielding to terrorism, and recoiling in the face of this violence only teaches the terrorists that they have an effective tool to curtail our most basic rights. In short, obeying in the face of violence begets more rules to obey under more threats of more violence!
If a mob of atheists went on a killing spree every time someone burned a picture of Charles Darwin, who would deserve blame for the deaths? The picture burners? No. The people to blame for killing sprees are the killers. Just as Theo van Gogh (assassinated for making a film with Ayaan Hirsi Ali that was critical of Islam) was not to blame for his own murder, neither are the Danish cartoonists, nor the newspaper that printed the cartoons, even remotely. The rioters were the killers and bear all the blame.
Can we all agree on that? If you say something to offend me, I mean really offend me, so I take out a gun and shoot you, is your death your own fault? Did you deserve it? No. The people expressing their opinions, like the organizers of the Draw Muhammad contest, hold zero responsibility over the actions of those who disagree.
When fanatics say, “Obey our religious laws even if you’re not a believer,” the immediate response must be to break whatever religious laws they are talking about. Don’t draw Muhammad? Here’s a picture. Don’t criticize Islam? Hell, yes, I will say what I think. If militant Muslims riot and kill people, they are to blame. We are not to blame for exercising our rights. That can simply never be the case.
It’s pretty sad that Islamic fanatics think we would give up any portion of our right to freedom of expression, press, and speech, but that’s exactly what they are demanding. It’s sadder still that in many cases they are right — nobody seems to be complaining except atheists (and only the firebrands at that), while the politically correct crowd chastises us for being too in-your-face and calls us names. Meanwhile, people relinquish their rights readily and eagerly in a quest for peace with religious fanatics that will never be realized.
Case in point: let’s look at Bill Donohue, president of the almost-always-wrong Catholic League, blaming the victims for the Charlie Hebdo shooting in a manner that I can only describe as pandering to fanatics (in this case, it’s a rather obvious attempt to leverage the shooting to quell criticism of his own failing faith):
• “Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.”
• “Those who work at this newspaper have a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of figures and this is especially of their depictions of religious figures.”
• “Stéphane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death.”
Indeed, it seems a majority of Americans are eager to give up rights in exchange for peace with radical Islamists. They don’t even consider that rights are lost in increments, and if we allow our country to obey some part of Islamic law, the same militants will use these successful tactics to force obeisance of their next law, and then the next, and so on. Notice how the 2005 demands of “do not draw Muhammad” have now broadened to become “do not insult Islam” — restrictions grow in baby steps.
Giving in to terrorism will yield more terrorism, because it works. The way to defeat terrorism of this nature is to show that it doesn’t work. The way you show it doesn’t work is to continue to break as many of Islam’s laws as possible, and even more so after terror riots and murders occur.
Fighting God is now available online and in bookstores.
Excerpted reprinted with permission from the publisher.