I read a really interesting book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Its author, Stephen Pinker, is, like yours truly, a Jewish atheist.
There is a lot of interesting stuff in the book, but I wanted to mention something that relates to what I myself am struggling with: the truth about Islam and whether or not Islam itself is a problem. When I ask about this, people accuse me of bigotry (and usually of racism, which makes me cross since Islam is not a race). At any rate, here’s what Dr. Pinker has to say, and I think it sums it up:
“The impression that the Muslim world indulges kinds of violence that the West has outgrown is not a symptom of Islamophobia or Orientalism but is borne out by the numbers. Though a fifth of the world’s population is Muslim, and about a quarter of the world’s countries have a Muslim majority, more than half the armed conflicts in 2008 embroiled Muslim countries or insurgencies. Muslim groups held two thirds of the slots on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations…”
And that doesn’t include what I might refer to as “peacetime” violence, such as stoning to death for adultery, honor killings, amputation for theft, female genital mutilation, etc.
I don’t know why we dwell on bad things, but we do. We just do. Maybe because they’re interesting. Maybe because we want to make sure they never happen again. As much as I’ve read on the tragedy (I haven’t written much about it), one thing I always think is: we were stupid.
According to an airport employee who checked in a couple of the terrorists, he said that they looked “like terrorists.” In the interest of not alienating passengers, he didn’t do anything about it.
The pilots in flight school didn’t seem interested in learning how to land, and we didn’t catch on.
All the terrorists, based on what I read, paid for their tickets in cash, and bought one-way tickets. These were warning signs and we still didn’t catch on.
It shouldn’t have helped that these men were clearly Muslim. Percentage-wise, many terrorists are/were Muslim (not all. I’m alert enough to know that). I’m just saying that put all those things together and alarm bells should have gone off.
Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but we were stupid.
Every year on my blog, I reference All European Life Died in Auschwitz, from a Spanish journalist, which was one of the factors that pushed me into thinking that, yes, Islam itself is a problem. (Not to say all Muslims are “bad,” but it’s the whole gestalt.) Every year, the article moves me, even though I know not all my friends agree with the sentiment, and I keep repeating the last line to myself: “What a terrible mistake was made by miserable Europe.”
It’s telling how Israel’s enemies, by which here I really am targeting American liberals (of which I am one), charge Israel with racism. If they knew a bit more about the country, they would find it difficult to maintain this accusation.
First off, let me say that Islam is a religion, not a race. Also, most Arabs/Muslims are not “browner” than most Israelis. Many people have remarked on the irony that Israelis and Arabs look so much alike.
Not all Jews in Israel are blond-haired, blue-eyed Europeans. Like Muslims, Jews can be of any race. If you don’t believe me about Israel’s diversity, please go over and see for yourself.
(Tangentially, while we’re on the subject of racism, it’s worth noting that racism is serious in the Muslim world. Sadly, blacks would have no relief moving to the Muslim world and may be shooting themselves in the feet.)
If your real accusation is that Israel is unfair to Muslims, than “racism” is still not the correct charge and you’re only calling it “racism” out of ignorance. I need to repeat it because it keeps coming up: Islam is a religion, not a race.
Let’s look at how Israel behaves about race. One concrete episode comes to mind.
In the 1980s and 1990s, in the spirit of bringing Jews sanctuary in Israel (which is what I see as the purpose of Israel), Israel’s government, on its own dime and by its own initiation, airlifted Ethiopia’s Jews to come live there. We are talking about 120,000 blacks. In addition to footing the bill to bring these black Jews to give them a better life, the government paid for immigrant absorption centers to feed, shelter and find employment for Ethiopian olim (Hebrew for new immigrants to Israel).
On its own dime. By its own initiation. To 120,000 blacks to live with them.
Has any other country in the world done something like this? I’m asking non-rhetorically. I don’t know what the opposite of “racism” is, but that’s about as far from “racism” as you can get.
The purpose of Israel is to provide a sanctuary for Jews. Put bluntly, we needed a place to be safe from everyone else.
While I am not religious (ya think?), nothing can change the fact that I’m ethnically Jewish. More importantly, nothing can change the fact that I believe in freedom and democracy. That’s why I stand with Israel.
Recently on Facebook, I shared an article about a proposed plan, which probably won’t go through, about sex-segregating the upcoming train system in order to appease the religious market. Part of what shocked me about this is that Israel is very liberal when it comes to sex and gender, in many ways much more so than the U.S. Women in Israel get drafted, just like men. (Yes, the terms are less for women, but the point is that both sexes get drafted.) They don’t have boy scouts and girl scouts; just scouts. The U.S. could learn a nice lesson from Israel.
The responses I got from my friends, though, veered off the sex segregation topic and into a wholesale attack on Israel and on Jews. As a Jewish woman and a supporter of Israel, I can’t help but take this personally. I know that many of you will disagree with me about all this, but I aim that if you follow my thoughts, you might be swayed. Either way, I wish you peace– shalom!
One commentator on my post called Israel a “disgusting country.” Another of my FB friends said about Jews, “Fucking goddie pieces of shit! The arrogance to think that the Lord and Creator of the entire universe would pick some backwards clan of violent Bronze Age sheep fuckers (literally) as His Chosen People is just so damned ridiculous! I don’t condone pogroms or the Holocaust, but I sure understand why they happened. I mean, any kid who went around talking about how cool and special he is in the playground would soon have his ass kicked for him and everyone would understand. Anti Semitism is the same thing; it’s just a matter of scale.”
I replied to these commentators: “@Bob– my mom lives in Israel and I don’t think it’s disgusting at all, but this isn’t one of its prouder moments. Likewise, the US has its share of shameful chapters.
@Anthony: *every* religion thinks it’s the “chosen people,” almost by definition of what religion is. Jews spent a lot of our history in our hidey-holes staying away from everyone else’s wrath, so I don’t think we were out there bragging in the marketplaces that much.
Let’s stick to the original post:) Shalom!”
One of the posters continued: “[Jews] bleated on incessantly about how special and chosen they are by some backwater god. The original Hebrews were a small nomadic tribe with next to no technology or literacy living in the shadow of giant advanced empires in a patch of land that has been called the world’s hallway since it is both in between much and yet contains nothing much of interest of itself. These backwater Bronze Age jackasses rambled on about how special they are on god’s eyes (a claim that can really only be made by monotheists) and the rest of the world has never stopped retaliating.”
In other words, we had it coming. I don’t think of Jews as any more “chosen” than anyone else, although I do think our contributions to the world are very significant, but as I said before, every religion thinks it’s “the best”! BTW, Jews were literate in much larger numbers (yes, even the women) in times and places where most other people were not.
Let’s start with why I see a need for Israel. Jews are in need of a sanctuary after what the world has done to us. Throwing us a bone in the form of a little strip of desert the size of New Jersey isn’t asking too much. All we want is a place to live in peace and to protect ourselves from our numerous enemies. (Please remember: there are tens of millions of people who would like Jews off the face of the Earth.) Perhaps Israel does not need to be geographically where it is, but we want the land more and we make better use of it. Jews came to Israel, purchased lots of the land, irrigated it and farmed it. It was much more desolate and poorer in the hands of Arabs. Now it has an important economy. It might interest my nerdier friends that a lot of internet pioneering was in Israel.
One of my commentators: “I lived in Israel for a year and my brother, sister and all of their children live there. I don’t want to get into debate about how nice it might be to live there but I’m sure if your mom was an arab, she wouldn’t think it such a nice place to live.”
I’ve already made my point when it comes to sexism, but if you still think Israel is a sexist/fascist/ultra-conservative country, compare it to its neighboring countries. I don’t think I need to spell out the details of how backward much of the Muslim world is, but in every liberal and progressive value, of which I hope you share with me, Israel is truly an oasis. By the logic of the above commentator, the measure of a country’s niceness is how it is to Arabs, so perhaps Saudi Arabia is the best nation in the world. (I’ll help you pack. Kidding.) Compare the progressive values of Saudi Arabia with those of Israel.
Think about where you’d rather live. Under whose administration you’d rather to live.
More about sexism. A commentator continued: “It’s pretty impressive how religions speak of the value that they have for women while at the same time, treat women like crap. The Jewish religion claims to hold women in greater esteem than men while not allowing them to have a voice. Many orthodox jews still believe that’s it’s even forbidden to hear a woman’s voice in song! Some members of my family even have separate beds.”
I replied: “I don’t know any Jews like the ones you’re describing, and I think even the most religious Jews out there share beds with their spouses (except during menstruation). Besides, in percentages, how liberal are Jews with regards to sex roles, or anything else, compared to Muslims? And I’ve never seen a Jewish woman wearing a burka, or even heard of such.”
The average Jew, in the US or Israel, espouses liberal and modern values. Can the same be said of the average Muslim? Not if you look at how their countries behave, at least.
Another commentator replies to the guy who said that while he didn’t approve of persecution of Jews, the Jews had it coming: “So the holocaust and the pogroms happened because the christians were appalled by the treatment of women and because the jews were so backgrounded? That is why the nazis burned Einstein’s books?
What is it with people that when they are thinking of the wrongs and crazy superstition of a people, they have to justify the pain those same people suffered?”
Good point about the holocaust and Nazis, but not so much the second matter. The above opinion ignores the point that all religions think theirs is the right one. As for Jews being a superstitious people, I replied:
“The wrongs and crazy superstitions of Jews? Compared to whom? I guess Einstein must’ve been crazy and superstitious… as are nearly all the Jews who are far over-represented in the sciences.”
While no one brought it up in this conversation, many people accuse Israel of racism, which I think is an unfair and untrue accusation, but that’s fit for another post. There are many issues involved in Israel and I don’t have the brainliness to address them all here today.
Israel is the one really free and democratic nation in the Middle East and is the only hope for that region. What really gets to me is that the world resents Israel and many nations in the developed world condemn it, while at the same time saying, “By the way, get out there and protect us from Islamic terrorism.”
Excuse the long post; I didn’t have time for a shorter one.
I’m not religiously Jewish, but I’m ethnically Jewish. Yes, that’s tough to explain to goyim (non-Jews).
While reading stories of Jewish atheists, I couldn’t find what about Judaism specifically turned people off, as in something that is unique to that religion. I ask because it looks to me that Judaism simply has fewer “sins” than Xianity or Islam (did we ever live to regret spawning those two religions, but I digress).
Take me, for example: Hebrew school turned me off, as I wrote in one of my earliest posts here. Still and all, there wasn’t a whole lot that I experienced that wouldn’t take place in Muslim or Xian education. I didn’t have anything “extreme” imposed on me, as I see in stories of non-Jewish atheists. Things like hell and proselytizing aren’t even mentioned or allowed in Judaism, all the more reason why I see it as a more “innocent” religion than Islam or Xianity.
My rejection of religion was to religion, not just to Judaism. It wasn’t that I became an atheist to chow down on fried shrimp and sleep in on weekends.
For you Jewish atheists, help me out!
What are the “sins,” if any, that we can throw at Judaism’s feet? Yes, it can be a very demanding religion, but anything else?
Tomorrow is the eighth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in history. For many, the events of September Eleventh strengthened their belief in god– for some, in an angry, vengeful god, and for others, a kind, loving god. Others, still, wouldn’t retain their faith in the aftermath of the tragedy. Some of you may be among them.
It is probable that Richard Dawkins wrote the God Delusion and started the New Atheist movement in direct response to the attacks. Would New Atheism have come about if it hadn’t been for the last straw, this one fell swoop that illustrated in the most gruesome way how dangerous religion is?
For certain, many claimed and still do that the terrorists were not acting because of religion. Critics said it was for reasons having to do with the economy or occupation. However, the terrorists themselves believed that they were acting in the name if Islam, and that is what really mattered.
I was an atheist before the attacks and remain so. It wasn’t until afterward did I arrive to the conclusion that, yes, religion is dangerous… that, yes, September Eleventh gave us cruel evidence of that reality. For at least a few years after the tragedy, I was still making excuses. It’s not about Islam, I kept telling myself. Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.
Finally, I had to call a spade a spade.
How many of you became atheists, or started to lose faith, as a direct result of the September Eleventh attacks? If we count the God Delusion and the resulting New Atheism as indirect results, we can count many, many more.
This is a post from a couple of weeks ago that I mistakingly put as a page, previously on the right by the About this Page stuff.
No results on the winner of the Christian Kitsch contest just yet…Corey of God is Pretend and I have so many great choices to contend with that our judgment day is very difficult!
This blog is about the personal stories of atheists, since there are many other blogs dealing (much better than I could) with political happenings, current events, evolution, skepticism, etc. When I started Not My God, I resolved to refer to such things tangentially lest I lose the mission of the project, but sometimes it’s hard to not mention those other subjects when they can weigh so heavily on my mind.
I think that along with global warming, militant Islam is the greatest challenge of our times and both scare me so much that I wish I had a prescription for Lisa Simpson’s Ignorital, but pay attention I must or else what else am I supposed to do?
The most recent book I read about the threat of Islam is Brigitte Gabriel’s
which not only scared the hell out of me, but provided ways we can fight back to preserve freedom and democracy. I was spellbound and horrified by what I read.
One of the obstacles of challenging Islam is political correctness/”cultural sensitivity” of the free developed world for the benefit of Islam. While I am in general skeptical of PC, well-intentioned though it may be, for reasons such as this example
Six Year-old Suspended for Sharing Lemon Drops
In the latest in a national trend, a six-year-old boy was suspended from school for half a day for giving a lemon drop candy to a classmate. Officials at Taylor Elementary School in Colorado Springs, CO summoned an ambulance and the fire department to respond when they found the boys in possession of the candies, which were bought by the student’s mother in a local health food store, and which school officials could not identify. The suspension came despite the mother’s assurances as to the identity of the candies, and despite those assurances, school officials urged the parents of both students to take the children to a local hospital for “tests.”
The school district’s policy treats any unfamiliar product as “drugs,” according to an administrator. The suspended student’s mother told the Denver Post that the school’s response was one of “complete hysteria” adding “I can’t believe these people are educating our kids.”
from THE WEEK ONLINE with DRCNet
ISSUE #20 – November 23, 1997
Drug Reform Coordination Network
I agree even more strongly about the danger of political correctness in abetting and emboldening our enemies.
While I do not think Gabriel herself is an atheist (she was raised, at least, as a Christian), I think that atheism, and the nation of Israel, will go a long way in our fight. While we’re on the subject of Israel, it fries me how the developed world chastises Israel for its attack (I would say counter-attack) of Muslims…all while saying, “Now get out there and save our asses from Muslim terrorism!”
The threat of Islam is relevant to me on a personal level– even if not exactly “the personal stories of atheists.” This could, in a very practical and horrible way, effect us all.
Please read Gabriel’s book, if for no other reason than for its practical advice about grassroots activism.
The answer is in your hands, as the story says. The free world defeated Naziism. We can defeat this, too.
Huzzah, everyone! One of my interviews was published in Secular Nation magazine. Right now, the article itself is only available in print, but the magazine site itself is http://www.atheistalliance.org/secular/index.php#new_issue
Also, please check out my Not My God video. Thanks again to all who participated. Let’s make another one if, Darwin willing, my book is picked up. I admit, though, I’m a little embarrassed by how I looked and sounded. Gosh, do I really sound like that?!? Ugh. How come no one tells me I sound so hideous?
Please check out my new submissions of people’s stories. Not every one will make it to the book I am writing, but nevertheless, everyone’s stories are worth reading.
It’s not directly about atheism, but…
Lots of people have been asking me, and I’ve been discussing online, the current situation with Israel. My mom lives there, so I have an affiliation to the country that biases me, although I think I would feel the same way no matter where she lived. To those of you who asked, she and her husband and friends are fine, thanks for asking, but naturally concerned. If you’ve read a couple of my older posts, you’ll know that I lived in Israel, as well, and yes, my feelings about being forcibly moved there were less than charitable, but today I acknowledge the importance of Israel.
I have a homemade poster in my room depicting the Israeli flag and the caption, “These colors don’t run, either. Stand with freedom and democracy.” Over my desk, I keep a copy of the Israeli National anthem, HaTivka (“The Hope”) which here I translate loosely:
As long as every (spiritually) living Jewish heart goes on,
We advance towards the East,
Our eye to Zionism.
We have not lost our hope,
The 2,000-year-old hope
To be a free people in Our Land
The land of Zionism and Jerusalem
Yes, I’m not religiously Jewish, but nothing can change the fact that I’m ethnically Jewish. Israel was created in part because, given the events of history, Jews need a sanctuary…although I’ve expressed some skepticism in the past that grouping us together in a small part of the world would make it that much easier for our enemies to “finish the job.” Think how easy it would be to club chickens in a chicken coop. That aside, here in Brookline, a very liberal city with a large percentage of Jews, we’ve had demonstrations for both Israel and Palestine. I told the pro-Israel demo that I was on their side, as they proudly held the flag, singing, “Am Yisrael Chai,” which loosely translates into “Long Live the Nation of Israel.” I sang along as I walked towards home.
Again, yes, I’m not religiously Jewish— but Israel is the only truly democratic and free country in the Middle East. It is a small free nation, surrounded by enemies on all sides, peoples who well and truly wish to destroy us. Obviously, I am sympathetic to innocent Palestinians who are dying, but I’m with Israel here.
My feelings are strong, as my feelings with regards to Islam have been strong in the last several years. I know that not everyone, not all Jews, nor all atheists, are with me on all this. For one of my discussions on the matter, look here. I would like to quote it here in full, but it would take up too much space.
I: You got that right.
In the case of Israel, Israel needs to exist. The US and the rest of the free world needs to think: who are our friends and who are our enemies? Your friend is the nation of people who live in a free country with a true democracy and not governed by religious dogma. Your enemy is the one whose people were cheering in the streets when September 11th happened.
V (Other poster): Sarah, it’s clearly a bigoted statement you’ve made there. If only reality were so prejudiced and myopic. I too saw video clips of Palestinian peasants cheering on Sept. 11th. This doesn’t persuade me that ALL Palestinians are enemies any more than a black riot or a white supremacist group’s lynching persuade me that ALL whites are racists and ALL blacks are angry bigots. Equally weak is the idea that any and all democracies are allies on every American concern or issue.
A war that is waged by a government, where millions of innocent civilians are killed, and excused by that government as “acceptable casualties,” is hardly more moral than a terrorist organization that targets thousands of innocent civilians and calls that “acceptable” turn-around.
In the “Isreal and her enemies” conflict, when it is not clear “who started it,” we can’t just take sides arbitrarily just because it’s politically expedient. Peace only happens with mutual consent and real compromise. In my understanding of Isreal’s history, it is not clear that Isreal has abided by treaties set down 40 years ago. Those that side with Isreal excuse her for breaking the treaties and making land grabs against the UN decisions. If that doesn’t really matter, then what does?
I: I know that I’m bigoted and I think it’s a justifiable and essential bigotry. I am no longer going to be “tolerant” of ideas that threaten me and freedom.
I am not at all saying that all Palestinians are our enemies. I am speaking of the entity itself. I look at the sheer numbers of supporters of Islamofacism, and there are a lot– not just a small niche like Caucasians in the KKK.
Again, Israel does not target civilians. Palestine does. Israel does not indoctrinate children to become suicide bombers. Palestine does. Do all Palestinians do this? Of course not. However, lots of them do. Look at the facts of the situation rather than accept things in the name of “tolerance.”
Again, who are your friends? Who are your enemies?
If you live in Boston, I invite you to join me for coffee and see that I’m not as bad as you think:)
(me again, not on the Amazon discussion)
Even now, Americans don’t know what it’s like to have your enemies next door, blasting rockets at you, so before any pro-Palestine people who are reading this think Israel isn’t really defending itself, think again.
Just kidding. This is Not My God, a site for the personal aspect of atheism. I'm putting together a book with that title, having already 20 interviews lined up, but I still want to hear from more of you.
I've expanded the blog to include material not related to atheism, including rants, raves, consumer issues, curmudgeonly matters and other miscellany.
Read more about Not My God on the About page
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