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Ibn Warraq on Islam & Fascism Blasphemy in Pakistan

Atheism and Holy War

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Summer 2001

American Atheist
A Journal

of Atheist

News and Thought

The Curse Of Religion
Frank R. Zindler

By the President of the

United States of America A Proclamation
The Evangelist-in-Chief claims
the Constitution empowers him to
order public prayers and vigils.

Cover art: Ann Zindler captures

the religious irony in the New York
disaster by superimposing the
second sura of the Qur'an upon
the smoldering ruins of the World
Trade Center. The Arabic reads:
"In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful. A. L. M. [Three
mystical letters of unknown significance] This is the book; in it is guidance secure, without doubt, to those
who fear God; who believe in the
unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and
spend out of what We have provided
for them; and who believe in the
revelation sent to you, and sent
before your time, and have assurance of the hereafter."

This belief and assurance of the

hereafter was the fuel that drove
the engines of human destruction
on September 11.

Knocking off the Gods

Margaret Bhatty
Our Indian correspondent reports
on the Taliban's destruction of giant
Buddhas and reveals that for centuries such vandalism has been part
and parcel of Hinduism as well.

"In The Name Of Allah ..."

Blasphemy, Younis Shaikh,
and Resurgent Islam
Conrad F. Goeringer
The circumstances relating to the
sentencing to death of a Rationalist
professor in Pakistan, America's
Islamic ally in America's crusade
that isn't supposed to be a Crusade.
Joining The Outcry In
The Shadow Of Violence
Conrad F. Goeringer
American Atheists and other
unbelievers demonstrate at the
Pakistani Embassy in Washington
and Ellen Johnson seeks to intercede with embassy officials on
behalf of a man condemned to death
for alleged violation of that nation's
blasphemy law.
Atheism In The New
Holy War
Josh Karpf
The director for New York City
Atheists reports on the 9-11 disasters from an Atheist perspective.

Volume 39, No.4

Parsippany, New Jersey

Islam, The Middle East, And

Ibn Warraq
The famed author of Why I Am
Not A Muslim shows not only how
Islam is a form of Fascism but how
the religion so easily can be harmonized with the views of a Khomeini
or a bin Laden.

Mark Twain's Secret Vendetta

With the Almighty
Gary Sloan
Facts about America's literary
superstar you won't find discussed
in high school English texts or
memorialized at your local library.
Vardis Fisher: An American and
Atheist Novelist on the History
of Religious Ideas PART V
Earl Doherty
The author of the widely
acclaimed The Jesus Puzzle continues his review of the monumental
20th-century work THE TESTAMENT
OF MAN, examining the novel A Goat
For Azazel.

Autumn 2001


Page 1

Volume 39 Number

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Frank R. Zindler
Ann E. Zindler
Conrad F. Goeringer
Ellen Johnson
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Autumn 2001

American Atheist

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fter the horrific events of9-11a date which itself symbolizes
the mega-emergency that has
ushered in our new century - it is
impossible to remain silent concerning the religious roots of the atrocity
and the threat that religion poses to
the survival of civilization. America,
instead of recognizing the role of religion in creating the disaster, has
indulged in an orgy of prayer. "God
Bless America" appeared overnight
on every advertising marquee and
light-board from San Diego to Bar
Harbor. No one seems to have asked
what good a blessing could do after
such unimaginable destruction oflife
and property. Not even the most
hopelessly religious sign-makers
could seriously have thought their
god would restore to life even one of
the thousands killed in New York
and Washington. In mindless desperation, religious slogans were displayed all across our beleaguered
nation. More mindless still were the
ubiquitous moving-headline signs
that commanded survivors to pray:
"Pray for America," "Pray for the
U.S.,"or simply "Pray!"
What about the fact that the
prayed at least five times a day? Of
no effect were the millions of prayers
that had been prayed daily on behalf
of America. The prayers of the millions could not overpower the
prayers of the few. Even today, most
Americans cannot see the lesson in
this simple fact. Few recognize the
stupidity - not to mention the uncon-

Frank R. Zindler
Parsippany, New Jersey

stitutionality - of our Evangelist-inChief ordering a national day of

prayer and mourning on behalf of
the victims of the terrorist attacks in
America's front yard.
But stupidity is the brighter side
of the response by the powerful and
famous. There was a malignancy in
some responses
as well. On
Thursday, 13 September, just two
days after the destruction of the
World Trade Center and part of the
Pentagon, Jerry Falwell sat for an
interview by Pat Robertson on The
700 Club. Falwell blamed the attacks
- at least in part - upon pagans,
abortionists, feminists, homosexuals,
the American Civil Liberties Union,
and People For The American Way.
"All of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in
their face and say, 'You helped this
happen'," Falwell declared. After
agreeing with Falwell on at least
some of his outrageous claims,
Robertson later that day released a
statement to the effect that America
had insulted God and lost divine protection. "Wehave insulted God at the
highest level of our government.
Then we say,'Why does this happen?
... It is happening because God
Almighty is lifting his protection
from us."
One must suppose that "the
highest level of our government"
must be President Bush - the man
who has brought Christianity into
government as no president before
him has ever dared. Was it Bush's
endless statements in support of
religion that angered the deity? His

Autumn 2001

creation of an Office of Faith-Based

Initiatives in the White House? His
choice of Jesus as his favorite
At least a few commentators recognized some of the religious underpinnings of the horror, however,
pointing out that fervent belief in the
Islamic doctrine of Paradise was a
large part ofthe force that sustained
the suicidal behavior of the terrorists. Unlike Christians and Jews,
who pay only lip-service to a belief in
beyond the grave,
Muslim kamikaze martyrs really do
believe that if they die in jihad they
will be instantly translated to a
paradisiacal world in which they will
be satisfied in every whim by sloeeyed houris. Although it is safe to
assume that no self-aware 'homosexuals ever apply for the religious
office of suicide bomber or murderous martyr, young Muslim men
fighting against fears of latent
homosexuality might very well enlist
in such 'service' in order to demonstrate to themselves as well as the
world their genuine machismo.
An actual example of this supposition may in fact be found in the
case of the 33-year-old Egyptian
Mohamed Atta, the man believed by
many to have piloted the American
Airlines jetliner that crashed into
the north tower of the World Trade
Center in New York. A will that Atta
wrote in 1996 was found in a suitcase left at Logan Airport. In it, Atta
left instructions for his funeral (this
was written before he had decided
upon cremation) which betray a

Page 3

misogyny and loathing of women

that equal the attitudes of his namesake prophet as they are enshrined
in the Qur'an.
"Everybody should mention
God's name [at my funeral] and that
I died as a Muslim, which is God's
religion ... The people who will prepare my body should be good
Muslims because this will remind
me of God and his forgiveness ...
Those who will sit beside my body
must remember Allah, God, and pray
for me to be with the angels ... When
you bury me, the people with whom I
will be buried should be good
Muslims. I want to face east toward
Mecca... The person who will wash
my body near the genitals must wear
gloves on his hand so he won't touch
my genitals ... I don't want any
women to go to my grave at all during my funeral or any occasion thereafter ... I don't want a pregnant
woman or a person who is not clean
to come and say good-bye to me
because I don't approve of it."
As readers will realize after
reading Ibn Warraq's "Islam, the
Middle East, and Fascism" beginning
on page 21 of this magazine, Atta as
well as the remaining terrorists had
every right to consider themselves
good Muslims. The Qur'an and the
Hadith (oral tradition) provide plenty
ofjustification not only for their selfdescription but for their deeds as
The teachings and practices of
Islam were sine qua non for bringing
about the most horrific scenes the
world has seen since Dresden,
Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
But the harmful role played by
Islam is only the most obvious part
played by religion in creating the
conditions for this atrocity. Judaism
and Christianity have played their
part as well in creating the conditions in the Near East that have
stoked the engines of terrorism. In
the Fifth Commandment, believers
are ordered to "Honor your father
and mother, as Yahweh your God
commanded you, so that you may
live long, and that it may be well
with you in the land which Yahweh
Page 4

your god is giving you." It was the

pernicious myth with which this
commandment ends - the myth that
Yahweh had given Canaan (Palestine) to the proto-Jews on the condition that they slaughter all previous
inhabitants of the region - that
inspired the Zionist reconquest of
the 'Holy Land.' Needless to say, the
people who were displaced by the
Zionists from lands their families
had held for more than a millennium
did not leave quietly. They fought for
their homes.
In America, meanwhile, Christian preachers and televangelists
who also believed in the myth of the
Fifth Commandment and the apocalyptic belief in the necessity of
Jewish Return contributed further
incendiary elements to the religiopolitical mixture. Hopeful that Israeli
infliction of the most egregiously biblical forms of punishment upon the
Palestinians might lead to their
longed-for Armageddon, these religious loonies never objected to the
bull-dozing of homes belonging to
parents of children suspected of
being stone-throwers. They never
protested the endless massacre of
people trying to defend or regain
their homeland.
This late in history, there probably was nothing our government
could have done to forestall the
evil we have just
endured. Nevertheless, it is not
impossible that the fuse might have
been pulled from the dynamite had
the Clinton administration pressured Israel to withdraw its 'settlements' from the occupied territories
and do what it could to block new
ones. Fear of the Religious Right as
well as the Jewish Lobby has prevented all American governments
from making any real effort to be
even-handed in the Arab-Israeli
imbroglio. George W. Bush's recent
snubbing of Yasser Arafat and letting it be known that he was persona
non grata at the White House told
the world that America was on the
side of Israel, no matter what biblical things that nation might do.
Autumn 2001

Reasonable people may disagree

with many parts of my assessment of
the situation, and there may be
essential pieces of the puzzle of
which I have been unaware. Nevertheless, all reasonable people will
have to agree that America is a country cursed by religion - even if it is
not a nation abandoned by a god as
Rev. Robertson teaches. The present
crisis will not be resolved by civic
orgies of religious revival; they can
only make it worse.
Faith - belief without evidence
that can lead to irrational acts - is
the greatest danger facing civilization today. The greatest acts of terrorism in the world today are not the
suicide bombings of present concern.
Rather, they are the daily swindles
occurring in mosques, churches, synagogues, temples - and, alas, homes
- around the world that are the most
profoundly terroristic acts. In these
supposedly sacred sites, otherwise
rational people are persuaded to
believe that the real world in which
they have their being is of less value
than a fervently wished-for world
beyond the grave. Don't worry about
solving the problems of this world.
Allah, Jehovah, or Jesus has something better awaiting you in a hidden world - provided you obey his
prophets, priests, preachers, rabbis,
or mullahs.
The superstitions that euphemistically are called "The World's
Great Religions" are really nothing
more than failures of reality-testing.
Faith-based actions cannot solve the
problem: they are the problem.
Failure in reality-testing has never
led to success in anything except the
corporate success of the superstitions that parasitize the minds of
men, women, and children and sap
their mental and moral strength.
The greatest terror threatening civilization is religion. The most ferocious terrorists are those that seduce
innocent folk into supposing that
they must worry more about an
undetectable world in hyperspace
than about the world in which they
live and love and have their being.
American Atheist

After the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City and part of the Pentagon in the
District of Columbia, President George W. Bush led the religious attack on the First Amendment of the Constitution
of the United States by issuing the proclamation reprinted below. It is not known who wrote it nor exactly which part
of "the Constitution and laws of the United States" has vested in Mr. Bush the authority he claims with which to command prayer and candlelight religious vigils.

n Tuesday morning, Sptember 11, 2001, terrorists attacked ~merica in a series of de~ica6[e actscif war. They
hijackedJour yassenger jets, crashed two of them into the Wodd Trade Centers twin towers, a third into the
1leadquarters of the 'U.s. 'Department of'Difense at the PentC/,Bon,
causing great (055 of (ife and tremendous damage. The fourth y(ane crashed in the penn~[{,ania countryside, ki([[nga(( on board butfalling wereshort of its intendea ta1}]etayyarentFy becauseof the heroic e orts ofj'assengers on boara. This carnage, which caused the cortayseof both
Trade Center towers and the destruction 0 yart cj the Pentagon, ki(fed more than 250 airy (aneyassengers and thousands more on the ground.

Civifizedyeoy(e around the wodd denounce the evildoerswho devised and executed these terribfe attacks. justice demands
that those who he~ed or harbored the terrorists beyunished - and yunished severefy. The enormity of their evil
demands it. We wireuse a(( the resources of the 'United States and our cooyeratingfriends and ames to yursue those
re~onsib(e for this evil, untiejustice is done.
We mourn with those who have stifJeredgreat and disastrous (055. ~(( our hearts have been seared by the sudden and
sense(esstaking of innocent fives. Weyray for heafing and for the strength to serve and encourage one another in hoye
Scr!rture says: "'13lessed are those who mourn for they sha(( be comforted." '1 carron every ~merican famify and the
famiFy of ~merica to observea 'l'fationa( 'Day of Pra~er and 'Remembrance, honoring the memory of the thousands of
victims Of these bruta( attacks and comforting those who (ost (ovedones. We wif(yersevere through this nationa( tragecY
and yersona( (055. '1ntime, we wirefind heafing and recovery;and, in theface of a(( this evil, we remain strong and united, "one 'l'fation under od."
'l'fow, T']-{X'ltl:'FO'ltl:, '1, XO~X w. '13'Us'l{ President of the 'United States of ~merica, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and (aws of the 'Uriited States, do herebyyroctaim 'Friday, Sptember 14, 2001, as
a 'l'fationa( 'Day of Prayer and 'Remembrancefor the Victims of the Terrorist ~ttacks on Sptember 11, 2001. '1 ask
that theyeoyfe Of the 'United States and y(aces of worshp mark this 'l'fationa( 'Da}jof Prayer and 'Remembrance with
noontime memoria( services,the ringing of beefsat that hour, and evening cand(e{tght remembrance vigifs. '1 encourage
emy(oyers toyermit their workers time
durine the {unch hour to attend the noontime services toyray for our {ana.
'1invite theyeoyfe of the wodd who share our griif tojoin us in these sofemn observances.


'1'l'fW'1T'l'fxSS W']-{X'ltl:O'F,'1 have hereunto set my hand this thirteenth day of Seytember, in the year of our Lord
two thousand one, and of the '1ndpendence of the 'United States of ~merica the two hundred and twenty-sixth.

Parsippany, New Jersey

Autumn 2001

Page 5

Blasphemy, Younis Shaikh, and Resurgent Islam

The case of Pakistani Rationalist Dr. Younis Shaikh exposes troubling problems
with the West's confrontation with Islamic extremism.

By Conrad F. Goeringer

ew Americans have heard of

the French writer Michel
Houellebecq, or the Egyptian
author Salah Addin Mohsen, or even
a Lebanese musician named Marcel
Khalife. More likely remembered is
the name Salman Rushdie, whose
novel The Satanic Verses ignited
debate in the United States, Europe
and elsewhere in the late 1980s
when Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini
issued a death-sentence
against its author because of its
allegedly profane content.

But to begin with more

recent events ...
On September 6, 2001 - just five
days before hijacked jetliners
crashed into the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon - Reuters news
service carried a brief report about a
dispute in France. It
revealed that Islamic groups there
and in Saudi Arabia were filing
charges against Mr. Houellebecq for
"comments and writings they take to
be anti-Muslim." Attorney JeanMarc Varut, one of the lawyers rep-

Conrad Goeringer is Director of American Atheists On-Line

Services and a Contributing Editor
to American Atheist. He surfs the
Web and writes about the world
from his home on the South Jersey
Page 6

resenting the National Federation of

Muslims and the Saudi-based
Islamic League declared, "We are
taking this to the tribunal (court) to
avoid a fatwa."
The story received minimal play
in the American media, and by now
has likely been consigned to the editorial dustbin beneath a mountain of
coverage over President George
Bush's declaration of war against
international terrorism. People are

Osama bin Laden

focused on Osama bin Laden, a
shadowy character
Americans had not heard of until the
tragedy of September 11. Had
Mohammed Atta, a 33-year-old
urban planner and a dozen or so
other Middle East religious fanatics
not commandeered four American
airliners on that day, Michel Houellebecq, and not the name of bin
Autumn 2001

Laden, might be in the news. We may

also hear a bit more about Salah
Mohsen, sentenced last January to
three years in prison with hard labor
for "blaspheming against Islam." Or,
we might read an occasional snippet
about the fate of Marcel Khalife, a
popular Lebanese musician charged
with "insulting" Islam for writing a
song that included a verse from the
The Moroccan paper Liberation
featured Mr. Houellebecq on its front
page in early September, branding
him "racist, despicable and scandalous" for his professed dislike of
the Islamic religion, and solemnly
warned that Houllebecq was "seeking a fatwa" for voicing his opinions.
"This person hates you," read the
Liberation caption.
Houellebecq's transgression was
to describe Islam as "the daftest religion" during the course of an interview with the literary journal Liree.
Referring to the holy book of the religion invented by Mohammed, he
added, "When you read the Koran,
it's so depressing." Islamists also
point to passages in his latest novel
in which the main character admits
to a "quiver of glee" when a "Palestinian terrorist" is killed.
Speculating about how history
may have turned out given a change
in the real timeline of events is, well,
speculative at best. Appropriately, it
is rendered a sub-genre of science
fiction, and one can endlessly
exchange opinions of ethereal
American Atheist

scenarios. What if the South won the

civil war? What if Nazi Germany had
the atomic bomb?
What if the tragic events of 11
September 2001 had not transpired?
Would we have seen Muslims in
France and other countries pressuring publishers, book stores, and distributors to not carry works penned

"Only out of respect,

because he was our
teacher, did we not
beat him to death on
the spot."
by Mr. Houellebecq? Might there
have been rioting, threats, violence
as part of a wider culture war
against those institutions in the
West which permit "sacrilegious"
and profane utterance to be made by
anyone, be it in print or elsewhere?
Is one who suggests this possibility "daft" or misguided? Those of us
who muse that this certainly could
have occurred might point to the
Rushdie affair, where Moslem
groups and nations throughout the
world demand the author's very life,
merely for his literary vignettes in
The Satanic Verses. In the United
States, bookstores and libraries
received threats. Cowardly, many of
them responded by pulling Rushdie's
titles from their shelves. Not a few
Christian and even Jewish religious
leaders agreed with their Islamic
counterparts that, yes, anything
which profanes or "insults" religious
belief needs to be banned, or at least,
somehow, driven from the intellectual marketplace.
There shall be no toleration in
respect to dissent from religious
Which brings us to the case of
Dr. Younis Shaikh, a 46-year old
Rationalist, founder of a group
known as "Enlightenment," and a
medical lecturer in Pakistan. He is
one of hundreds of victims of that
country's notorious blasphemy laws
Parsippany, New Jersey

which circumscribe the publication

or utterance of anything that insults
or questions anything in the Islamic
religion and its prophet. Shaikh was
arrested in October, 2000, after
delivering a lecture which included a
discussion of pre-Islamic customs.
He told students that Mohammed
had not technically become a Muslim
until age forty, and did not practice
customs which included circumcision
and removal of body hair.
"My students asked about the
shaving of pubic and armpit hair,"
Shaikh recounted at his trial, "and I,
in describing the glory ofAllah's revelations, said that before the arrival
of Islam, the Arabs did not have
these practices - and truly they did
not." At least one student complained to a religious vigilance
group, the Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-iNabuwat,
or Committee for the
Protection of the Finality of the
According to a story in the 12
May 2001 New York Times, some students considered Shaikh's comments
to be offensive. One 17-year-old
declared, "Only out of respect,
because he was our teacher, did we
not beat him to death on the spot."
Shaikh was charged under
Provision 295-C of the blasphemy
statutes, which specifically bans any
defamatory remarks against the
sanctity of Muhammad. In the
Dictionary of Islam by T. P. Hughes
[Lahore, Pakistan, Premier Book
House], Blasphemy is derived from
kufr, and is defined as "to hide the
truth" and includes any denial of an
essential principle of Islam. "A
Muslim convicted of blasphemy is
sentenced to death in Muhammadan
countries," notes Hughes. A broader
meaning is conveyed in Webster's
as "contemptuous or
irreverent speech about God or kings
regarded as sacred."
Muslim writer Sayed Mumtaz
Alim author of Apostasy
Blasphemy in Islam, (see http://muslim-canada.org/aposnol.htm)
discusses apostasy: "According to
Muslim Law, a male apostate, or
murtadd, is liable to be put to death
Autumn 2001

if he continue obstinate in his error;

a female apostate is not subject to
capital punishment, but she may be
kept in confinement until she recant.
If either the husband or the wife apostatize from the faith of Islam, a
divorce takes place ipso facto; the
wife is entitled to her whole dower,
but no sentence of divorce is necessary...
"If a boy under age apostatize, he
is not to be put to death, but to be
imprisoned until he come to full age,
when, if he continue in the state of
unbelief, he must be put to death ..."
Muslim culture cannot claim
exclusivity to notions such as blasphemy and apostasy. These prohibitions run deep in the Western experience, figuring even in the colonial
and post-Revolutionary history of
the United States. In Pakistan, the
blasphemy statute can be traced to

Salman Rushdie
British law imposed throughout
India and beyond, and the 1860
criminal law. The statute was modified in 1926, still years before the
birth of Pakistan as a modern
nation-state. When India won independence, Muslims flowed north in
one ofthe greatest migrations in history, resulting in the creation of the
Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Ironically, while India emerged
as an incompletely secular democracy dominated by adherents of the
Hindu religion, it played a pivotal
role in l'affaire Rushdie, an event
associated closely with Islamic sensiPage 7

bilities about blasphemy and profanity. Viking Penguin Inc. published

the first British edition of Salman
Rushdie's The Satanic Verses in
1988. Rushdie was considered a
scholar and member of the literary
elite, an accomplished novelist with
a wide audience throughout Asia
and the Middle East as well as
Europe and, to a lesser extent,
America. The Satanic Verses promptly won the respected Whitbread

time to actually read The Satanic

Verses) did not pronounce a fatwa or
sentence of death against Rushdie
until 14 February 1989. Earlier in
the month, the Pakistani National
Assembly voted unanimously to ban
distribution of the book. O'Hair
noted: "An early February issue of
Newsweek was banned because it
contained a detailed account of the
book..." (Curiously, a similar incident
has happened regarding Dr. Shaikh.

The trial was held within the

very prison where Shaikh has languished over the past year, and
Islamic militants were evident outside the facility and threatened "serious consequences" according to
Hussain if the judge did not hand
the accused the maximum sentence.
Hussain Chotiya, had expectations
for an acquittal, but later declared:
"The judge was visibly harassed. We

No one who has been convicted has been executed by the

government - despite the automatic sentence of death.
The innocent and 'guilty,' become fair game for Islamic
militants who often carry out the ultimate sentence.
Prize for 1988, and was named runner-up for the Booker Prize.
Rushdie's work received positive
acclaim in many Arab literary and
academic circles. An Indian Moslem,
Sayed Shahabuddin, was among the
first to complain, saying that the
story line included imaginary yet
profane descriptions of Islam. The
book was ordered banned by Prime
Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Mr. Rushdie
then wrote a letter to Gandhi, which
was printed months later in the 17
February 1989 issue of The New York
Times under the title "My Book
Speaks For Itself" In a summary of
the Rushdie matter which appeared
in the September, 1989 edition of
American Atheist, Madalyn 0' Hair
continued the time line...
In the letter he [Rush die] noted
that India banned his book from
that country under Section 11 of the
Indian Customs Act at the behest of
two fundamentalist Moslem members of the Indian Parliament, Sayed
Shahabuddin and Khurshid Alam
Khan, neither one of whom had read
the book. He challenged Gandhi to
rise to a higher stature than agreeing with them ...

Demonstrations throughout the

world followed, and it is instructive
to note that Ayatollah Khomeini
(who at least reportedly took the
Page 8

Copies ofNewsweek which contained

an expose of the Shaikh case by
writer Zahid Hussain were recently
intercepted by Pakistani customs
authorities, and the offending article
excised from each copy before it was
allowed to be distributed. The piece
("Pakistan: Talking Is Dangerous")
made it on to the MSNBC Web-site,
For secularists, Shaikh's case
has become the cause celebre in an
campaign to focus
attention on blasphemy laws in
Pakistan and, for that matter,
throughout the world. The issue has
become all the more urgent because
of an ugly fact of how the blasphemy
statutes operate in Pakistan. Hundreds have been arrested and held
often for months, since the offense
does not allow for bail. No one who
has been convicted, though, has been
executed by the government despite the automatic sentence of
death. The innocent and 'guilty,' however, do become fair game for Islamic
militants who often carry out the
ultimate sentence.
The climate surrounding the
trial of Younis Shaikh reflects the
wider tensions between the precarious government of Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf,
and the growing phalanx of extreme
Islamic groups throughout the region.
Autumn 2001

were shocked when he pronounced

the death sentence. The order did not
even have his signature."
Blasphemy, especially in Islamic
nations like Pakistan, has become
newsworthy primarily because of the
activities of Christian missionary
groups throughout the Middle East.
Much of the push for "international
religious freedom," including passage of the Freedom From Religious
Persecution Bill in 1998, stems from
the efforts of Christian groups to
proselytize a region of the globe they
describe as the "10/40 Window."This
geographic belt includes most of the
nations of northern Africa, an area of
mixed nativist and Islamic belief; the
Muslim countries of the Middle East
and South Asia; India with its billion
or so Hindu believers; and AsianSoutheast Asian countries which,
along with China, form a medley of
countries characterized by Sinicl
Buddhist and Islamic faiths. For
evangelical Christians, this is the
final frontier
of their "Great
Commission" to proselytize and
Not surprisingly, these efforts
have fueled resentment in much of
the Third World developing sector,
and, of course, the theocratic establishments of the Middle East and
Asia, including
encroachment of Christianity, even
American Atheist

when mixed with liberal portions of

humanitarian aid and U.N. development packages, is seen as an incursion into the citadels of Islamic faith.
Osama bin Laden completed his ideological sojourn from billionaire to
Afghan Mujahadeen freedom fighter
to outright terrorist when his home
nation of Saudi Arabia allowed
American troops to set foot on that
"sacred" soil. Blasphemy laws in that
part of the world provide the legal
expression for a sort of religious protectionism, an ideological tariff.
Further north, in the cradle of
Orthodoxy which is the former
Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox
Church seeks similar, though less
draconian legal and cultural shields
against the activities of outside (and
often well financed) U.S. and
European missionary groups.
from the Sudan and northern Africa
through the Middle East and into
South Asia, are challenging the religious hegemony of Islam - and often
with mixed results. For their efforts,
many who preach "outside" religions
or convert from Islam to some other
belief find themselves penalized. A
report from the Asian Human Rights
Commission published in Human
Rights Solidarity (August, 1999 Vol
9., No.8) notes, "Conversion from
Islam to Christianity is in itself a
cognisable offense."
While the persecution of foreign
receives the lion's share of American
attention, as well as considerable
absorption on Capitol Hill, the case
ofYoun is Shaikh constitutes a different sort of problem. While some of
his statements
regarding Islam
appear more for the benefit of the
court than true ideological sentiments, he is one of the pre-eminent
in the
between secularism and Islamic
His case has attracted some coverage in the international press, and
even a thoughtful piece by Celia
Dugger in the 20 August 2001 edition of The New York Times. It quotes
a statement from the International
Parsippany, New Jersey

Humanist and Ethical Union, which,

taking note of Shaikh's conviction on
the blasphemy charges, declares:
"The civilized world should shudder
at the news that in this century a
human being can be tried and eventually be killed by Pakistan's brutal
Islamic state for merely saying that
neither Prophet Muhammad nor his

Muslim Distribution




ical divide from Islamist militants,

caught somewhere in the center is
of Gen.
Musharraf. After seizing power in
1999, Musharraf found himself outflanked by Islamic organizations and
geopolitical forces which the Pakistan government itself had helped
bring about. During the decade-long



parents could logically have been

Muslims before Islam was revealed
to the Prophet."
An earlier piece in the Times [12
May 2001] was aptly titled: "Death to
Grip on
Pakistan." It explains in part, anyway, how in this century such brutality is indeed possible. Writer Barry
Bearak noted:
a nearly bankrupt
nation with 150 million people, a
military government and an expanding nuclear arsenal, is drifting
toward religious extremism. Blasphemy cases are its version of the
Salem witch trials, with clerics sniffing out infidels, and enemies using
the law to settle personal scores.

If secularists like Dr. Shaikh,

and even those who promote or convert to Christianity and other religions are on one side of this ideologAutumn 2001

civil war in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan was a close ally of the

United States and other western
nations in the fight against "godless
Communism," specifically the rump
Soviet state
which had been
installed in Kabul. American policy
strategists decided to play the religion card, and backed a loose coalition of Islamic militants (including
Osama bin Laden and his nascent
networks) which finally drove the
Russians out. In the bloody aftermath, religious factions, drug dealers, and armed militias fought for
control over a nation reduced to rubble.
Pakistan, through its Interservice Intelligence Agency (IS!)
supported a rag-tag militia known as
the Taliban. Composed mostly of
semi-literate adolescents, the Taliban grew out of the sprawling nightmarish refugee camps and bombedPage 9

out settlements along the Afghanistan- madrasas. The clerical organizations

check to the Shi'ites in Iran) and, of
course, Pakistan. U.S. foreign policy
Pakistan border. Most of the young running the madrasa institutions
found common cause with the
regarding Afghanistan had been,
men could barely read; and Taliban
prior to 11 September, ambivalent
indoctrination usually consisted of
rote memorizing of the Qur'an mixed border, and today they continue to from potentially supportive. The
provide a steady flow of recruits to Taliban might, though some Ameriwith guerrilla training. In no time,
can strategists, be useful in the drug
the Taliban had become notorious for Osama bin Laden and his guerrilla
its stern and authoritarian brand of movement. They also threaten to war and provide "stability" in the
destabilize and overwhelm the gov- region.
Islam. Roadblocks leading into
The reality
Taliban controlled
frisked The challenge represented by Dr. Shaikh... is has been far more
and all about secularism and secular values, insti- brutal, of course.
It took the audachecked residents
for any sign of pro- tutions, and movements. This is not just about cious bombings of
fane material or "which religion" one may be believe in, but the the World Trade
Center in New
intellectual latitude or mental/cultural space in York
magazines, chess which to believe in no religion.
attack on the Penboards,
tagon in Washingand anything else smacking of ernment of Gen. Musharraf, and
ton, DC, to put Afghanistan and the
Taliban firmly 'on the map' of the
Western cultural influences were
seize control of Pakistan's deadly
nuclear arsenal.
evening news, and American conThe Taliban found a steady flow
Once coming to power, the
sciousness. Women in Afghanistan
of willing recruits not only from the
Taliban attracted little international
have been subjected to the brunt of
support save for Saudi Arabia (which Taliban fanaticism. Females are
refugee camps and the ISI, but
another source - Pakistan's thriving
applauded its Sunni form of the
banned from the educational system,
system of religious schools or Islamic religion, and saw it as a may not work or engage in business,

Page 10

Autumn 2001

American Atheist

and remain confined to home. When

venturing forth in public, they must
wear the cumbersome head-to-toe
garment known as the burqua, and
be in the company of male relatives.
Much of the same practice is mandated in other Muslim states including Saudi Arabia.
Under the Taliban, men are not
that much better off. Beards are
required, along with a dreary regimen of prayer at the local mosques
where religious authorities maintain
lists of "slackers." Television, ownership of song birds and canaries, playing of board games and a lengthy list
of other activities are prohibited. It
was not until September 11, though,
that the Taliban theocracy soared in
media status from a Middle East
lunatic sideshow to an object of
grave geopolitical concern.
Musharraf - a man educated in the
West - now finds himself and his
precarious regime under growing
pressure from the same Islamists
which Pakistan once nurtured. Here
is where the blasphemy law, which
Musharraf has unsuccessfully tried
to reform, becomes one of the many
enforcing religious
orthodoxy.Bearak notes:
''Accurate crime statistics are a
low priority here, but the number of
those imprisoned on blasphemy
charges is estimated in the hundreds. Only the most sensational
cases get much notice: when vigilantes murder the accused or the
bold judge who set him free. When a
man is condemned to die if a few
pages in the Koran are torn. When a
newspaper is shut down after publishing a sacrilegious letter."
The case of Youn is Shaikh, then,
become emblematic of a cultural conflict raging throughout Pakistan and
even the rest of the Islamic world.
Shaikh is no Christian, and is identified with peace and rationalist movements throughout the world. Even
Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell
have voiced support for "persecuted
Christians" in the Middle East,
including those in the service of
foreign missionary groups. The chalParsippany, New Jersey

lenge represented by Dr. Shaikh, and

those who support him, though, is
more fundamental. His case is all
about secularism and secular values,
institutions, and movements. This is
not just about "which religion" one
may be believe in, but the intellectual latitude or mental/cultural space
in which to believe in no religion.
Shaikh's case is also about the role of
institutions which are inherently
neutral in respect to religion schools, the marketplace,
media, the intellectual polis. Having
such a "space" is anathema to stern
Islamic moralists, who see their religion as necessarily saturating personal and public life.
In the wake of the 11 September
attacks, pressure has mounted on
Gen. Musharraf and his government
to demand that Afghanistan and its
Taliban rulers turn over Osama bin
Laden. As I type this, bin Laden's
fate is unclear. So is the situation
Younis Shaikh
Musharraf's government. Will the
latter succumb to an Islamic coup,




the result ofthe very fundamentalist

forces which Pakistan helped to
unleash years ago when it, along
with the United States, backed the
holy warriors of the Mujahadeen?
Will the wave of Taliban fundamentalism spill across the AfghanistanPakistan border, opening the way for
the pan-Islamic mega-state which
Osama bin Laden calls upon fellow
Muslims to create?
So far, Musharraf has attempted
- with some success - to rally what
remains of the Pakistan middle
class, the bourgeoisie of merchants
and remnant intellectuals that, in
his words, are a "silent majority."The
phrase is hauntingly familiar. It does
not, unfortunately, include an open
solicitation to the one segment of
Pakistan society which could make
the difference in the new political
conflict against Islamic terrorism.
Dr.Younis Shaikh is still in jail- and
with him, the hopes of Pakistan having an energetic political and cultural counterweight to the ravages of
mad dreams of Islamic jihad.

Peter F.Wiener

Martin Luther:
Hitler's Spiritual
New edition with foreword

From www.Atheists.org
American Atheist Press
P.O. Box 5733
Parsippany, NJ 07054
128 pp. Paperback
ISBN 1-57884-954-3
CAT. #55 16
$1 1.00 + $2.50 S&H

Autumn 2001

by F.R. Zindler

During WWII this book shocked England and

America by its documentation of the agreement in "principles" between the Catholic
Adolf Hitler and the Lutheran Church's
"! do insist on the certainty that sooner or
later - once we hold power - Christianity
will be overcome and the German Church
established. Yes, the German Church, without a pope and without the Sible, and
Luther, if he could be with us, would give
us his blessing"

Page 11


Just days after the September 11 attacks, American Atheists and others marched
in front of the Embassy of Pakistan to demand freedom and exoneration for
Dr. Younis Shaikh
By Conrad Goeringer
twasn't a large crowd. What we
lacked in size, though, was more
than made up for by enthusiasm
and determination - and possibly
the impact we had.
The media were busy elsewhere
it seemed, enthralled by the carnage
at Ground Zero in New York where
the World Trade Center towers had
once stood or focusing on some
"interfaith prayer service" and talking about how America was "under
attack," or seeking solace in church
(mosque, synagogue, or temple gratuitously included) or what Osama
bin Laden was planning next.
We were in the nation's capital,
though, responding to a call that had
gone out from human rights groups
across the world. Dr. Younis Shaikh,
a Rationalist physician, was facing
death after being convicted of violating Pakistan's repressive blasphemy
"Let The Protests
declared the International Humanist
and Ethical Union Web-site, calling
for a round of peaceful demonstrations. Already, there had been
protests in Britain, Norway, and one
was being planned for Bangladesh.
Friends and supporters of Dr. Shaikh
were everywhere.
Ours was scheduled for 22
September 2001. Dan Consolatore
and Tim Mitchell, two Washington,
DC-area Atheists, had set up a fledg-

Page 12

ling "freethought action" coalition,

with the goal of organizing a demonstration on behalf of Shaikh . What
better place than the nation's capital, and the sidewalk in front of the
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of
Pakistan on Massachusetts Avenue?
American Atheists launched a Website (http://www.free-drshaikh.org),
complete with information about the
demonstration and an on-line petition demanding freedom and exoneration for Dr. Shaikh, and other victims of blasphemy legislation.
Then came September 11 - 9-11.
Some of the groups which had originally supported
the upcoming
balked, expressing the opinion that
the timing was all wrong. The nation
Autumn 2001

was in mourning, in fear, in confusion.

Or, suggested American Atheists
President Ellen Johnson, maybe the
timing was better than ever.
On 18 September, American
Atheists broadcast a nationwide
press release stating that by freeing
Dr. Shaikh, Pakistan would send the
entire world community a clear signal that it was serious about fighting
terrorism and dealing with the social
and cultural conditions which give
rise to religious extremism. Ron Barrier, Communications Director for
American Atheists told reporters:
"We can't "drain the swamp" of
in which terrorism
thrives without helping to address
the social causes of violence - such
American Atheist

about the fate of Dr. Shaikh. She

praised statements made earlier
that day by Pakistan's head of state,
Gen. Pervez
pledged to combat international terrorism. During the one-hour long
meeting at the Embassy, Johnson
underscored the fact that by freeing
Shaikh, Pakistan would send a
clear, unambiguous signal that it
was taking a stand against religious
and the ideological
repression that terrorists seek.
The talks were "extremely cordial, extremely frank."
Mr. Khan said that there was "no
way of knowing" how long Dr.
Shaikh's case would take now that
it was under appeal, but insisted
that the Pakistani
would have a "fair trial."

Afterwards, Johnson said that

progress had been made in bringing
to the attention of Embassy officials
the concern of Dr. Shaikh's American
supporters. She added: "It's ironic
that the head of an Atheist advocacy
group is treated better by a foreign
nation than by some American officials."
Mr. Kahn "had no problem in sitting down and talking with an
"D-Day" arrived just forty-eight
hours later. The Embassy was technically closed, but there was plenty
of evidence of activity inside. Cars
pulled up and discharged officials.
Four members of the uniformed division of the U.S. Secret Service stood
watch, and at 2 PM people slowly
began populating the sidewalk in

Masood Kahn and Ellen Johnson

as poverty, lack of opportunity and
personal rights. Building secular
institutions - and that means helping to end blasphemy laws - may be
more important in the long term
than any military strikes the U.S. or
allied nations choose to launch."
On 20 September, just two days
before the Washington demonstration, American Atheists President
Ellen Johnson met with Masood
Kahn, a Foreign Affairs Officers at
the Pakistan Embassy. This was a
historic "first" for American Atheists;
and Ms. Johnson told Mr. Khan that
many Americans were concerned

-Men ~e\'er Do Evil

So completely


Cheerfully As When
The>' Do It From
eiigious Conviction' - Pascal

Parsippany, New Jersey

Autumn 2001

front of the Embassy of the Islamic

Republic of Pakistan. A large red
banner with words calling for an end
to blasphemy laws was unrolled;
individual members of other groups
including the Washington Area
and the Gay and
Lesbian Atheists and Humanists
began showing up. Picket signs reading "Blasphemy Is A Victimless
Crime!" and "Free Dr. Shaikh" started
to appear.
From inside the embassy, there
appeared the occasional peek from
behind a drawn curtain.
Page 13

Flanked by two of the Secret Service guards, Ellen

Johnson climbed the steps in front of the Embassy,
banged on the door, and was greeted by a small gaggle of
solicitous officials. Were they confused? Surprised? A bit
overwhelmed by all of this? When was the last time picket signs had appeared in this up-scale neighborhood?
And were they shocked to see that people from halfway
around the planet were concerned about the fate of Dr.
Younis Shaikh?
Ms. Johnson presented them with several documents
including a Statement of Concerns regarding the Shaikh
case, and a hard copy of a petition with hundreds of
names from the free-drshaikh.org web site. There were

pledges that all of this would be conveyed to the government of Pakistan, and Gen. Musharraf Even if that
turns out to be a broken promise, it is clear that
Pakistani officials know that Dr. Shaikh's case is one
which cannot be ignored and has attracted international

Ellen Johnson escorted to the doors of

the Pakistani Embassy
Page 14

Autumn 2001

American Atheist

By Josh Karpf
t'sbeen a time for fear, grief,
strength, and awkwardness for
many Atheists in the New York
City area. Whether we lost someone
in the ruins or merely struggle with
cut-off streets and services, the
World Trade Center terrorist attack
has disrupted our lives very locally.
When the rest of the world reads
about the aftermath, they also read
about us.
Most New Yorkers identify with
a religion even when they're not religious. So it's understandable that all
the available support forums are
religious, and mostly Christian. To
their credit, the sectarian groups
that sponsor them have joined
together and have bent over backward to make them friendly and
open to all. But interfaith efforts,
vaguely spiritual
at best and
monotheistic at worst, rarely support the rationalism of freethinkers.
And even purely patriotic acts seem
to echo religious fervor or ritual,
such as buying a flag and discovering the almost Levitical federal laws
that govern how it is raised, displayed, lowered, and eventually
The post-attack support groups
and charity relief have had an explicit organized-religion character. Both
community vigils at firehouses and

Josh Karpf is an editor with a

bioscience Webzine and is director
for New York City Atheists
(http://foody .org/atheist.html). He
welcomes mail at: atheist@foody
Parsippany, New Jersey

neighborhood altars on sidewalks

show a more popular piety, starring
votive candles and hand-drawn art,
and they include flyers with both
familiar religious verse and the new
"0 God, Our Words Cannot Express,"
a hymn composed by a New Jersey
minister hours after the attack. The
makeshift murals of printouts on
walls come closest to a rational
response, showing the missing people's names and faces and characteristics and relatives' information.
Hard information mixed with hope.
Is all this religiosity a harmless
coping mechanism? Or could it
instead reflect beliefs that created
this crisis, beliefs that might make it
worse? Why are Islamic extremists
so eager to demonize the West, and
why are Westerners, including sympathetic
ArabAmericans, so eager to demonize and
disavow those extremists? Will there
be an American holy war, and if so,
how will Atheists feel in its foxholes?
The Popular and
Press Response
"This Is a Time to Turn to Your
God,"shouted the New York Post in a
headline soon after the attack. Its
article "Grief-Stricken Seek Solace
In Religion" quotes a churchgoer as
saying, "I've prayed to God to give us
a sign that he's still here. We need
divine intervention now more than
ever." "I was having a cigarette [outside] when it exploded," said another.
"I never thought a cigarette would
save my life - and I'm here to give
thanks.'" Predictably hawkish, the
Post's Steve Dunleavy wrote, "The
Autumn 2001

response to this unimaginable 21stcentury Pearl Harbor should be as

simple as it is swift - kill the bastards. .. . A gunshot between the
eyes, blow them to smithereens, poison them if you have to. ... As for
cities or countries that host these
worms, bomb them into basketball
"New Yorkers Seek Solace in
Prayer," said Newsday in an article
profiling a woman who said that her
being "guided by God" let her "dodge
the shattered remnants of elevators
and flames that burned like funeral
pyres to lead fellow employees to
safety." The Daily News in one article
called early rescues "miraculous,"
and in another article credited a victim's "strong faith" for her rescue
from a subway through a street
grate. (Presumably those that died
were without faith, or without faith
that mattered.) Churches bulged
with new visitors, but articles
described them as listless, confused,
and looking for answers. "I'm just
torn up by what's happened. I can't
go down there and help dig, so maybe
I can help pray," said one person.
Prayer services, prayer vigils,
and candlelight vigils reigned for
several days. The Upper East Side's
Von Steuben parade and other fairs,
as well as a public college's graduation ceremonies, were canceled and
replaced by prayer services. Many
churches, including those of fringe
sects such as Christian Science, hope
to bring in new faces by advertising
free support and counseling. Some
Jewish groups have promoted their
emergency charity efforts in the
Page 15

context of the High Holy Days (the

ten days from Rosh Hashanah to
YomKippur) A New York Times article did concede that "humanists,
mourned, but to illustrate that, it
quoted a Humanistic Judaism rabbi.
Those who like visions savored a
Brooklyn photographer's snapshot
that includes a strange shape in the
random clouds of smoke. They say
they can see eyes, a nose, a mouth
and horns. Others say they see heavenly images above the face. The photographer, a longtime journalist, said
he never noticed a face till he was
questioned about it, and that he had
not doctored the image. CNN and
several other news organizations
have also broadcast a color smoke
photo that "many" say also contains
a satanic face.
The Official Response
On the national front, President
George W. Bush's first statement
announcing the attacks immediately
characterized them as "evil," a word
weighty with religious absolutism.
He also said, "We pray for healing
and for the strength to serve and
encourage one another in hope and
faith," and that "[all those who
grieve] will be comforted by a power
greater than any of us, spoken
through the ages in Psalm 23: 'Even
though I walk through the valley of
the shadow of death, I fear no evil,
for Youare with me.'"
The official Congressional benedictions,as usual, offered submission
and asked for inspiration, and also
specially mentioned the attacks. The
Senate chaplain's opening prayer on
the following day asked for divine
Representative's chaplain, two days
later, prayed to ''You alone who can
change human hearts ....You alone
[who] can reshape perspective and
bring to focus determined goals
based on the truth that removes illusion."
Soon Bush called for a National
Day of Prayer and Remembrance,
asking for nationwide noontime
memorial services. He also encourPage 16

aged "employers to permit their

workers time off during the lunch
hour to attend the noontime services
to pray for our land."
On that. day, at a service at
Washington National
(after performances of the now often
heard "God Bless America" and
"America the Beautiful"), Bush gave
a sermon. "We come before God to
pray for the missing and the dead,
and for those who loved them .... Our
purpose as a nation is firm, yet our
wounds as a people are recent and
unhealed and lead us to pray.... This
world he created is of moral design.
Grief and tragedy and hatred are
only for a time. Goodness, remembrance, and love have no end, and
the Lord of life holds all who die and
all who mourn .... Neither death nor
life nor angels nor principalities, nor
powers nor things present nor things
to come nor height nor depth can
separate us from God's love."
Bush, Carter, and Ford, along with
members of Congress, cabinet members, and Supreme Court justices,
joined Bush. Billy Graham, a longtime advisor to American presidents,
also attended despite his lingering
illness. At the service, he preached
that "we've always needed God. ...
God is sovereign, and he is a God of
love and mercy and compassion in
the midst of suffering. The Bible says
God is not the author of evil. ... We
desperately need a spiritual renewal
in this country. ... God understands
our sin and our suffering, for he took
them upon himself in the person of
Jesus Christ our sins and our suffering."The country will "feel the loving
arms of God wrapped around us,"
said Graham.
Bush also flew to the World
Trade Center rescue site for a halfhour visit. Standing on a crushed fire
truck, he said that "America today is
on bended knee in prayer." Later he
briefly huddled
with Giuliani,
Cardinal Edward Egan, and other
officials for more praying. He spent
"a prayer-filled 90 minutes" at the
Jacob Javits Center with relatives of
the victims, and signed "God bless"
Autumn 2001

on a photo that a grieving widow

slipped into her Bible.
Back in Washington, both at a
visit to a mosque and in an address
to a joint session of Congress, Bush
again emphasized the "evil" of the
terrorists but stressed that Islam
itself was peaceful. "Those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name ofAllah," he said in
his congressional address. "The terrorists are traitors to their own
In Manhattan, Egan led a mass
of supplication at St. Patrick's
Cathedral. Guests included Gov.
George Pataki, Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani, United Nations Secretary
General Kofi Annan, the city police
Senators Charles Schumer of New
York and Joseph Lieberman of
Connecticut. About 200 U.N. diplomats were also present. Afterward,
Egan appeared on the church steps
and along Fifth Avenue to bless the
outside crowd and lead them in
singing "God Bless America."
Despite still permitting commercial jets to overfly stadiums, the
Federal Aviation Administration
routed flights away from Yankee
Stadium during the Prayer for
America, a 20,000-strong interfaith
service with tickets reserved for families and colleagues of the World
Trade Center attack victims. The
thin crowd, one-third the expected
total, were entertained by celebrities, preached to by leading clergy
from a dozen religions, and heard
patriotic music including "The Battle
Hymn of the Republic" and "God
Bless the U.S.A.," and inspirational
music including "Wind Beneath My
Wings." Special effects included the
Muslim call to prayer, the sound of a
ram's horn, and a church bell.
Political leaders present including
former President
Bill Clinton,
Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton
and Charles E. Schumer, and former
Mayors Edward 1. Koch and David
N. Dinkins. The service was simulcast on giant screens at KeySpan
Park in Brooklyn and Richmond
County Bank Park on Staten Island.
American Atheist

Across the Hudson, principals in

Roxbury, New Jersey added "God
Bless America" to local public
schools' signs in response to the
attacks. The local superintendent
had first ordered the phrase
removed "to respect the beliefs of
Muslims and others with different
religious beliefs," and the signs were
changed to "Stand Up for America"
and "Proud to be American." But
after claiming that there was a
"strong public backlash," the superintendent rescinded his order and
plans to implement the signs across
his district.
A Bad Time to Be Muslim
(or just swarthy)
Local discrimination
Arabs and Muslims began even
before investigators were certain
that the attackers were foreign
rather than domestic. It has continued, even though Muslim lives also
were lost in the World Trade Center.
In South Huntington, Long Island, a
76-year-old man tried to run down in
his car a Pakistani woman and then
chased her by foot outside a mall. He
screamed "I'll kill you! I'm defending
my country!" while passers-by did
nothing during the ten-minute
chase. Arab teenagers in Bay Ridge,
Brooklyn have been kicked off sidewalks by police who said, "It's not
safe for you."Also in Bay Ridge, nonArab volunteers now escort Arab
children safely to school.Across New
York City, many yellow-cab drivers
are refusing to work, and some who
do work are suffering assaults,
thrown rocks, and spitting. Police
have so far documented assault,
rock-throwing, graffiti and other
vandalism, car rammings, attempted
arson, telephone harassment, hate
mail, and menacing against Arabs
and Muslims. In response, some
Arab men have shaved their beards
and mustaches.
The Middle Eastern commercial
strips of Steinway Street in Queens
and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn are
unusually quiet. In parts of Brooklyn
and Staten Island, leaflets and eParsippany, New Jersey

mails urge residents to boycott Arab

stores whose staff are accused of celebrating the World Trade Center
attack. Some women who wear
Islamic veils or head scarves are
harassed, spat at, egged, or stoned on
the street. Some remove such clothing before shopping, or substitute
baseball caps, or don't use trains or
streets at all. "Our mothers and our
sisters are trapped in their homes,
afraid to leave," said a Jersey City
Muslim man. Because many ArabAmericans came from oppressive
countries, almost none of the women
call the police when they are chased
or have scarves pulled from their
Even those who are mistaken for
Muslims are victimized. Because
observant male Sikhs wear turbans
and untrimmed beards, they too are
targeted, despite having themselves
been treated badly by Muslims
throughout history. "We look more
like bin Laden than do most
Muslims," said one Sikh to a
reporter. Some Sikhs have discussed
wearing smaller turbans or abandoning them for baseball caps or
bandannas. But boastful Sikhs interviewed in an Associated Press article
said "I'd rather die than give in," and
that "Sikhs don't fear." Recently, a
Queens Sikh man was shot in the
forehead by a BB gun as he left a
temple. Pakistanis and even nonMuslim Indians are at risk. A Hindu
temple was firebombed in Matawan,
New Jersey.
The Jewish Response
City officials ordered the evacuation of a number of synagogues, perhaps fearing
against Jews. Organizers canceled
the IsraelNOW Solidarity Rally,
which had expected to draw 50,000
participants from across the country.
Billed as a "non-political" expression
of unconditional support for the
Jewish state, it was to feature Israeli
prime minister Ariel Sharon as a
Because of the widespread
deaths at the World Trade Center,
Autumn 2001

many New York City rabbis softened

harsh Rosh Hashanah
which normally stress that repentance, prayer, and charity can lessen
divine judgment's severe decree over
who lives and who dies.
Since some bodies will not be
fully identified or even found,
Orthodox Jews are frustrated by
their inability to confirm such
deaths without Talmud-approved
direct identification, and by their
inability to bury their dead within 24
hours. Some rabbis question DNA
tests and will do not accept those
results alone as evidence of death.
Religiously acceptable proof among
the Orthodox is also needed to invalidate Jewish marriages so surviving
spouses can wed again.
Many Jewish groups see the
attack as a validation of their fears
and support for Israel, and hope it
will inspire more American sympathy and support. "Today, every
American, irrespective of their country of origin or religious affiliation, is
a Jew and an Israeli," said a
Brooklyn rabbi. "Yesterday, we woke
up in the morning to know what our
brothers and sisters have been living
with in the state of Israel." But some
groups are worried that Israel may
become less important as the United
States tries to build an Arab-Muslim
coalition. And though many Jewish
groups were quick to express condolences when the local anti-Muslim
attacks began, several warned that
"poorly planned ecumenical efforts"
might whitewash Islamic groups
that they felt had inadequately
opposed Middle East terrorism. "One
of the lines we don't cross is a line
that takes us into terrain of dealing
with people who defend our worst
enemies," said the executive director
of the American Jewish Committee.
The Washington Post has noted
that while "virtually all [American]
news organizations described the
carnage as the work of 'terrorists,'
they have often avoided that term
when reporting attacks against
Israeli civilians," preferring terms
such as "suicide bomber" or "militant
Page 17

organizations." Jews
may look forward to a change in
media references to such Palestinians in the near future.
The Enemy Is Evil,
or Worse, Irreligious
Clergy who urge retributive violence are in the minority, at least of
those who make it into print. But, at
the early mass before Egan's at St.
Patrick's Cathedral, officiating priest
Eugene Clark raged that "anyone
who preys on the innocent is an
enemy, and if that enemy persists
we must strike them down."
But even clergy and politicians
who counseled temporal restraint
did not moderate their opinion of the
"evil" of the Islamic enemy, or of the
supremacy of the god of the West,
under whom retaliation would somehow happen without hatred. Floyd
Flake, the former member of the
Congressional Black Caucus who is
pastor at the 13,OOO-member
Church in Queens, told his congregants that "this attack reminds us of
the evil that is prevalent in the
world. We need help that only God
can give." Said New York City's
Cardinal Egan in his mass, "I am
sure that we will seek justice in this
tragedy as citizens of a nation under
God in which hatred and desires for
revenge must never have a part .... I
am sure that we will not harbor
thoughts of war of any kind without
careful, careful consideration of
what is right and just before the one
God and father of us all." Said Bush
on September 11, "Our responsibility
to history is already clear: to answer
these attacks and rid the world of
evil." Returning to the White House
from Camp David, Bush urged the
United States to prepare to rid the
world of "evildoers." "This is a new
kind of evil and the American people
are beginning to understand," he
The same leaders often call the
enemy uncivilized, especially in comparison to the West. "We want this
outrageous crime, this evil, to be
handled before the courts of civilized
people,"said Egan in his mass. Egan
Page 18

then read a message from Pope John

Paul II (ne Karol Wojtyla) that urged
New Yorkers "not to be conquered by
evil, but to conquer evil with good."
He then added that "The best of us
donned hard hats and workmen's
gloves and face masks to deal with
this horror as decent, civilized human beings."
"Civilized people around the
world denounce the evildoers who
devised and executed these terrible
attacks," Bush said in his call for a
national day of prayer.
Bush has added to the demonization by defining childishly the terrorists' agenda. On the national day of
prayer, Bush said, "They have
attacked America because we are
freedom's home and defender, and
the commitment of our fathers is
now the calling of our time." At the
joint session of Congress, Bush said
that the terrorists "hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our
freedom of speech, our freedom to
vote and assemble and disagree with
each other."
At the same time, Bush has separated the attackers
from all
Muslims by declaring Islam free of
aggressive intent. "These acts of violence against innocents violate the
fundamental tenets of the Islamic
faith .... The face of terror is not the
true faith of Islam," said Bush while
touring a Washington mosque.
"That's not what Islam is all about.
Islam is peace. These terrorists don't
represent peace. They represent evil
and war." At the joint session of
"[Islam's] teachings are good and
peaceful. And those who commit evil
in the name of Allah blaspheme the
name of Allah. The terrorists are
traitors to their own faith, trying in
effect to hijack Islam itself."
Others are also eager to exonerate the faith. "Islam is not a killer
religion," said heavyweight boxing
legend Muhammad Ali when visiting
rescue workers at the World Trade
Center attack command center.
"Islam means peace." The terrorists,
he said, are not followers of Islam. At
the Islamic Mission, a downtown
Autumn 2001

Brooklyn mosque, an imam vehemently denied that "true Muslims"

would have attacked the World
Trade Center. The director of the
Muslim Center in the Bronx said the
terrorism "is absolutely against the
teachings of Islam. No matter what
they say, whoever did this does not
belong to our community. Whoever
did this does not belong to Islam."
"They are no believers of God at all,
nor do they believe in his messenger
Muhammad," said an Islamic New
York Police Department chaplain at
the Prayer for America in Yankee
Some leaders even have exonerated not only Islam, but all religion.
"This emphatically has nothing to do
with religion and everything to do
with people overcome by the venom
of hatred. It is beyond comprehension how anything like this could
have happened," said Episcopal bishop Mark Sisk of the Cathedral of St.
John the Divine. The InterFaith
Conference of Metropolitan Washington said, "We strongly deplore the
misdeeds of those who routinely justify violence on religious grounds ....
Our religions teach us the sanctity of
human life; they apply no veneer of
respectability to slaughter carried
out for personal vengeance or political purpose."
Religious Violence?
You Don't Say!
Only the religious place religions
above reproach. The history of war is
mostly one of religious carnage, with
religious campaigners slaughtering
themselves and each other in competition for resources or in condemnation of ideas. Arguments over the
true intents of scriptural teachings
are inevitably prejudiced by the sympathies of the arguers. Those who
quote technicalities
to separate
themselves from their violent religious peers ignore the fact that religious conflict need not be doctrinally
The acts of the few terrorists of
September 11 do not indict the billion Muslims who share their faith.
But their acts do arise from the same
American Atheist

faith, and cannot be disavowed as

non-Islamic because those acts are
unpleasant. Moderate Arab governments have often condemned these
new attacks and past attacks on
American interests, but that does
not mean they would not welcome a
weaker American presence in the
Middle East.
Whether or not Osama bin
Laden was involved with the attacks
on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, his expressed goals (see
sidebar) hint at the possible motivations of September's' terrorists. Bin
Laden focuses on an intruding Israel
and a corrupt Saudi Arabia, both of
which are closely tied to the United
States. But Islamic opposition to the
West also includes resentment of
U.S. military activity in Lebanon,
Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan,
and Libya, as well as even longerterm American political and economic support for autocratic Arab
regimes, as well as cultural influences seen as an endless affront to
Islamic culture.
On the American side, some official slips of the tongue help show a
Western religious attitude behind
the planned reprisals. In his postCamp-David speech, Bush called the
future war on terrorism a "crusade."
Since "crusade" has historically
meant a Christian holy war against
Muslims, some Middle Eastern clerics and Arab-American
instantly denounced the word as
proof of that intent. Also, the U.S.
military named its planned retaliation "Operation Infinite Justice,"
evoking both omnipotence and
omnipresence - too much of it; several Islamic scholars objected on the
grounds that only a god could render
infinite justice, so the name changed.
An unofficial but even more
newsworthy quotation was retracted
as yet another slip, but less convincingly so. When fundamentalist evangelist Jerry Falwell was a guest on
Robertson's 700 Club, he told
Robertson that the Christian god
had protected America "wonderfully
these 225 years. And since 1812, this
Parsippany, New Jersey

Fatwa of 23 February 1998 issued jointly by

bin Laden and several other leaders
of the International Islamic Front
From the preamble:
For more than seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of
Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the
neighboring Muslim peoples .... Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the Crusader-Zionist alliance, the Americans are
once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres .... Third, if the Americans'
aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve
the Jews' petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and
murder of Muslims there.
From the Fatwa itself:
The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military - is an
individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is
possible to do it, in order to liberate the AI-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] and
the Holy Mosque [in Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to
move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim
[again]. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "And fight the
pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there
is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God."
is the first time that we've been
attacked on our soil and by far the
worst results.
"Throwing God out successfully
with the help of the federal court
system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools,"Falwell
said. "The abortionists have got to
bear some burden for this because
God will not be mocked. And when
we destroy 40 million little innocent
babies, we make God mad.
"I really believe that the pagans
and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians
who are actively trying to make that
an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU,
People for the American Way - all of
them who have tried to secularize
America," Falwell continued. "I point
the finger in their face and say 'you
helped this happen'." Later in the
Autumn 2001

show, Falwell asserted that because

of those groups, "God continues to lift
the curtain and allow the enemies of
America to give us probably what we
The media happily hammered
Falwell, although headlines singled
out his blame of gays and lesbians
more than they did his blame of secularists, which was his main point.
Two days later, Falwell said he didn't
mean to blame anyone group for the
destruction. "But I'd say this is a
wakeup call from God," he told the
Associated Press. "I feel our spiritual
defenses are down. If we don't
repent, then more events might happen in the future." Yet before
Falwell's weak retraction, Robertson
backed Falwell, saying, "We have
insulted God at the highest level of
our government. Then, we say, 'Why
Page 19

does this happen? It is happening

because God Almighty is lifting his
protection from us.'"
The vengeful god of Jerry
Falwell seems a world away from the
rescuing and redeeming god celebrated in the candlelit sidewalk
altars that have sprouted on New
York City area sidewalks since
September 11. No more than a tiny
fraction of those cruelly trapped in
the World Trade Center were rescued, another poor performance by
an illusory deity. After such injury to
America, will Falweli's god seem
more powerful and appealing? Which
one will be invoked to support future
foreign policy?
Atheists choose no gods, but we
should be wary of the ones that rise
and fall for others. We should speak
out and vote according to clear consciences unmuddied by religious loyalties. If Americans do not acknowledge the motivations of Islamic
extremists, and past imperfect U.S.
involvement in the Middle East, and
instead fall for the simple claims of
Bush and others that opponents are
"uncivilized" and "evil," then we will
be unable to respond rationally and
effectively. The cost of an irrational
response might be the creation of
what hasn't existed for over 1,000
years - a united, zealous, expansionist Islamic superpower with the
strength to oppose the Enlightenment traditions of the Western
world. And then, whether you believe
in a god or not, all hell will break

9/14/01; "Americans Hold Prayer Services

after Bush Proclaims National Day of
Remembrance," Newsday,
9/14/01; "Bush,
Four Former Presidents Take Part in Prayer
Services at Washington's National Cathedral,"
Newsday, 9/14/01; "Memorials, Prayers for All
Faiths," Newsday, 9114/01; "At Houses of
Worship, Comfort Is Sought in Greater
Numbers," New York Times, 9/17/01; "Bush
Seeks Normalcy, Urges US to Be on Alert,"
Reuters, 9/16/01; "Bush's Remark on 'Crusade'
Offends Muslims," International
Tribune, 9/19/01; "InterFaith Conference's
Diverse Faith Traditions Gather for Prayer at
Gaston Hall," PRNewswire, 9/12101;"Prayers
to Take Place of Events," 9/20/01; "MuslimAmericans Fear Backlash," Newsday, 9/13/01;
"Anti-Arab Bias Incidents on Increase,"
Newsday, 9/13/01; ''Arab Community A Wary
Target of Anger," Daily News, 9/11/01; "Jersey
City Muslims Try to Cope," Daily News,
9/18/01; "Bias Incidents vs. Muslims Continue
to Be Reported," Daily News, 9/21/01; "AntiArab Assaults Surge Here," New York Post,
9/21/01; "Muslim Cabbies Stay Off The Job,"
New York Post, 9/14101; "Arabs Under Siege
Here," New York Post, 9/13/01; ''Muslim Mom
Chased," 9/13/01; "Arab-Americans Facing
Reprisals," Associated Press, 9/12/01; "A
Disturbing Wave of Hatred," Daily News,
9/19/01; "Arab Stores Hit By 'Boycott' Call,"
New York Post, 9/22/01; "Vols Helping Fearful
Arabs," Daily News, 9/21/01; "Trying to Soothe
the Fears Hiding Behind the Veil," New York
Times, 9/23/01; "Taxi Drivers Say They Risk
Bias Attacks and Loss of Income if They
Continue to Work," New York Times, 9/23/01;
"Sikhs, Facing Backlash, See Test of Faith,"

Associated Press, 9/19/01; "Diverse Gathering

Condemns Bias," Newsday, 9/20/01; "Bush
Denounces Muslim Harassment,"
9117/01;"Hate Crime Reports Up in Wake of
Terrorist Attacks," CNN, 9/17/01; ''NY Muslim
Women Taking Precautions,"
9/18/01; "Ali Defends His Religion," Daily
News, 9/21/01; "Identifying Victims a Thorny
Issue for Observant Jews," Newsday, 9/21/01;
"AP Photographer Stands by His Work,"
9NEWS.com (KUSA-TV), 9/18/01; "Jets to
Avoid Prayer Service Sites," Daily News,
9/22/01; "US. Radio Group Issues Sensitive
Song list," Reuters, 9/18/01; "'Infinite Justice'
May Not Stand, Pentagon Says," Reuters,
9/20/01; "Leaders Split on Overtures to
Muslims' Organizations," Forward, 9/21/01;
"Question Mark Hovers Over Anti-Terror
Pact: Who Is In, Who Is Out?", Forward,
9/21101; "Fear Over Makeup Of US.
Coalition," Jewish Week, 9/21/01; "Fuel for the
Fire," Village Voice, 9/19/01; "'God Bless
America' Slogan Back on Signs at Two
Roxbury Schools," Newsday, 9/19/01; "Falwell
Suggests Gays to Blame for Attacks," ABCNEWS.com,
9/16/01; "Falwell
Remarks," 9/19/01; International
9/19/01; " Robertson
Falwell," Associated Press, 9/13/01; " Who
Hates the US.? Who Loves It?", New York
Times, 9/23/01; "President Bush's Address on
Before a Joint Meeting of
Congress," New York Times, 9/21/01; "In a
Stadium of Heroes, Prayers for the Fallen,"
New York Times, 9/24/01; "Memorial at
Stadium Joins All Faiths," Daily News,
9/24/01; "United In Faith And Defiance," New
York Post, 9/24/01.

Mey- TJiAT PRE.ACJi~R. ~O~i

STOL.e. OOA Pt.A~ I.'

"This Is a Time to Turn to Your God," New
York Post, 9/13/01; "New Yorkers Seek Solace
in Prayer," Newsday, 9/13/01; "Miraculous
Rescues in Cavern of Horror," Daily News,
9113/01; "Many Dealing with Healing Via
Prayer," Daily News, 9/13/01; "Rabbis Revise
Sermons to Soften a Stark Prayer," New York
Times, 9118/01;"Cardinal Egan Leads Prayers
for Victims, and Applause for Rescuers," New
York Times, 9/17/01; "Commentators Are
Quick to Beat Their Pens Into Swords,"
Washington Post, 9/13/01; "Bush Calls for Day
of Prayer," Associated Press, 9/13/01; "New
Yorkers Pray to Remember Victims of
Terrorist Attacks," Newsday, 9/14/01; "'N.Y.at
Its Best,'" New York Post, 9117/01;"President
Bush Addresses Prayer Service," Newsday,

Page 20

Autumn 2001

American Atheist


'[he Jl1iddle east,

~nd Jascism
By Ibn Warraq

Ibn Warraq was reared as a

Muslim but came to write the
widely respected book Why I Am
Not A Muslim (Prometheus
Books, 1995) in which he presents
a critical analysis of the life of
the factors that
the writing of the
Qur'an, the rise of Islam as a
new religion, and its rapid
spread by conquest. The book is
a work of courage that criticizes
the dark side of Islam, exposing
the irrational taboos enforced
by Islamic fundamentalists,
of fundamental
human rights in many Muslim
countries, and the oppression of
women in Muslim society. In
these times, the book is a 'mustread' for every Atheist. This is
all the more so now, since a philosophy professor at a community
college in Dearborn, Michigan,
has been suspended
from his
teaching position for allegedly
evicting from his class a Muslim
student who created a ruckus in
response to the teacher's recommendation that his Muslim students read Why I Am Not A
Muslim so they might learn more
about their faith.
Parsippany, New Jersey

n a speech that he gave at

Columbia University, 1 Umberto
Eco spelled out fourteen features
that he considered were typical of
'Eternal Fascism' (which he also
calls Ur-Fascisrn) - adding however
this explanatory detail: "These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each
other and are also typical of other

kinds of despotism or fanaticism.

But it is enough that one of them be
present to allow fascism to coagulate
around it."
Umberto Eco Principle N" 1.
The Cult of Tradition
Truth has already been spelled
out once and for all, and we
can only keep interpreting its
obscure message.e
Autumn 2001

Islam is the quintessentially tradition-bound religion. First, the

Qur'an3 is the eternal and infallible
Word of God and contains the whole
of God's final revelation to man. It
must be obeyed in all its details.
"This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favor
to you. I have chosen Islam to be
faith."4 The
immutable. "Say: It is not for me
to change [the Qur'an]. I only follow what is revealed to me. I cannot disobey my Lord, for I fear the
punishment of a fateful day."5
"Proclaim what is revealed to you
in the Book of your Lord. None
can change His Words. You shall
find no refuge besides Him."? The
Qur'an is a faithful and unalterable reproduction of the original
scriptures which are preserved in
A Muslim's wish is to establish a
new life in accordance with a religious law willed by God and consonant with the Prophet Muhammad's
intentions. Clearly the Qur'an by
itself (i.e. uninterpreted) did not furnish enough guiding principles to
meet the changing requirements of
the early Muslims. Thus, in all matters whether civil or religious, the
will of the prophet had first to be
ascertained and followed as a true
Page 21

guide to practical conduct. The

('hidden'). The Khafi sentences are
lished itself to the effect that henceProphet's Companions were consid- further
into Khaji,
forth no one might be deemed to
ered the best source for learning the
Mushkil, Mujmal, and Mutashabih.
have the necessary qualifications for
Prophet's will - that is, from people In Khaji sentences, other persons or independent reasoning in law and
who lived their lives in his company, things are hidden beneath the plain
that all future activity would have to
witnessed his actions, and heard his
meaning of a word or expression.
be confined to the explanation, applivery words and pronouncements on Mushkil sentences are ambiguous.
cation, and, at most, interpretation
every single aspect of daily life. After Mujmal sentences have a variety of of the doctrine as it had been laid
the passing of this first generation,
interpretations, while Mutashabih
down once and for all. This closing of
pious Muslims had to rely on the
ones are intricate sentences or the gate of independent reasoning, in
members of the next generation who expressions, the exact meaning of effect, meant the unquestioning
passed on what they had
acceptance of the doclearnt from the first.
of established
Thus, transmission from
uman rIg ts activists preten , schools and authorities.
generation to generation in the face of overwhelming
evi- Islamic Law became
continued down to conincreasingly rigid and set
periods. dence to the contrary, that the 'real in its final mould.?
Finally, conduct and judg- Qur'an' is totally compatible with
ment were accepted as the
correct and their legitierated than their "fundamacy was established if a Human Rights."
chain of reliable transbecause they (the libermission (isnad in Arabic) ultimately
which it is impossible for a man to als) believe that by some creative
traced them back to a Companion
ascertain until the day of resurrecreinterpretation of the Qur'an they
who could testify that they were in
tion. The Qur'an itself tells us that it
will thereby bring the Qur'an, albeit
harmony with the Prophet's intencontains ambiguous verses, and
screaming and kicking, into the 21st
tions. On the strength of such tradiverses whose interpretation is only century. First, it does not seem to
known to God. (Sura 3:5, p.214, vol. 1) strike
tions, certain customs in ritual and
these misguided
law were established as the usage of
The Sharia or Islamic Law is Muslims that they are still prisoners
the authoritative first believers of based on four principles: The Qur'an;
to an obscure, incoherent, bizarre
Islam, and as having been practiced
the sunna of the Prophet, which is medieval text, a curious amalgam of
under the Prophet's own eyes. As incorporated in the recognized tradiTalmudic
such, they acquired a sacred charactions (hadith); the consensus (ijma)
Christianity, and pagan superstiter. They are called sunna, sacred
of the scholars of the orthodox com- tions (especially in the rites and ritcustom. The form in which such a munity; and the method of reasoning
uals of the Hajj), that is full of barby analogy (qiyas).
usage is stated is hadith, tradition.
barisms. They have not cut their
Sunna and hadith are not synonyMany liberal Muslims (if that is umbilical cords, and are still trying
mous - hadith being the documentanot a contradiction in terms) get to make sense of an often senseless
tion of sunnai'
excited by ijma, sensing that some- text more than a thousand years old.
Sunna intimately reflects the
how therein lies their only hope of Second, this desire to reinterpret has
modernizing Islam. However, historled to some willful and intellectually
views and practices of the oldest
dishonest 'rereading' of the Qur'an.
Islamic community and thus func- ically, the notion of consensus (ijma)
has nothing democratic about it. The
tions as the most authoritative interFeminists pretend that the 'real
masses are expressly excluded. It is
Qur'an' is progressive
pretation of the Qur'an. The Qur'an
the consensus Of suitably qualified
cannot answer every single problem
women. Human rights activists prethat any morally sensitive Muslim is and learned authorities. The doc- tend, in the face of overwhelming
likely to encounter, and it only comes trine of the infallibility of the con- evidence to the contrary, that the
sensus, far from allowing some liber'real Qur'an' is totally compatible
alive and effective through the
with the Universal Declaration of
sunna. Furthermore the Qur'an, conexpected,
protrary to what many Muslims realize,
Human Rights. The reality is that
gressive narrowing and hardening of the Qur'an, and the Sharia derived
is an extremely obscure text. Even
doctrine. By the beginning of 900 CE,
Muslim exegetes acknowledge that
from the Qur'an, are totalitarian
they do not know the meaning of Islamic Law became rigidly fixed constructs that try to control every
single aspect of an individual's life
many words and whole passages. For because Muslim scholars felt that all
essential questions had been thorinstance, the exegetes have classified
from the way he or she urinates and
oughly discussed and finally settled,
defecates, the way s/he eats, dresses,
obscure or opaque sentences of the
and a consensus gradually estabQur'an into Zahir ('obvious') or Khafi
works, marries, makes love, or prays,


Page 22

. h


. .


American Atheist

to the way he or she thinks on every

conceivable subject. Finally, while
the Qur'an is open to some reinterpretation, it is not infinitely flexible.
Umberto Eco Principle N" 2
Traditionalism implies the rejection
of modernism ...
The Enlightenment, the Age of
Reason, is seen as the beginning
of modern depravity.
In this sense [Eternal fascism] can
be defined as irrationalism.
Umberto Eco Principle N" 3.
Irrationalism also depends on the
cult of action for action's sake.
Thinking is a form of emasculation.
Therefore culture is suspect
insofar as it is identified
with critical attitudes.
Distrust of the intellectual world
has always been a symptom
of Ur-Fascism.
Umberto Eco Principle N" 4.
No syncretistic faith can withstand
analytical criticism.
The critical spirit makes
distinctions, and to distinguish is a
sign of modernism.
In modern culture the scientific
community praises disagreement
as a way to improve knowledge.
For Ur-Fascism,
disagreement is treason.
Umberto Eco Principle N" 5.
Besides, disagreement is a sign
of diversity. Ur-fascism grows up
and seeks for consensus
by exploiting and exacerbating
the natural fear of difference.
The first appeal of a
fascist movement is an appeal
against intruders.
Thus, Ur-Fascism is racist
by definition.sv
I shall show that, mutatis
mutandis, Islam also rejects modernism, is hostile to reason, critical
thought, fears disagreement, and is
terrified of intruders, though Islam's
form of exclusion is based on religion
and not race.

Parsippany, New Jersey

The revival of modern Muslim

thought owes a great deal to the
of the Indian
Pakistani) al-Maududi. In works
such as Jihad in Islam, Islam and
and The Principles
was the first modern Muslim thinker
to "arrive at a sweeping condemnation of modernity and its incompatibility with Islam, and to formulate a
definition of the danger it constituted."ll Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian
thinker, was in part influenced by alMaududi and felt that "Domination
should be reverted to Allah alone,
namely to Islam, that holistic system
He conferred upon men. An all-out
offensive, a jihad, should be waged
against modernity so that this moral
rearmament could take place. The
ultimate objective is to reestablish
the Kingdom of God upon earth ... "12
Secondly, let us not forget that
all three of the major Abrahamic
religions are irrational, that is , they
are based on irrational dogmas that
do not stand up to critical scrutiny.
The whole framework of the three
religions is historical, in that all
three depend on the historical veracity of putative events described in
their respective scriptures. But
increasing critical inquiry and scientific thought (historical, philological,
archaeological) has revealed the
improbability of the historical events
described in their scriptures and traditions. While Higher Biblical Criticism, developed by great thinkers
such Spinoza and further elaborated
in Germany in the 19th century, is
well-known to at least educated
Westerners and intellectuals in general, astonishingly few people even
among the Western Islamologists
seem to be aware of the shaky historical foundations of the beliefs of
Muslims seem to be unaware
that the research of the German
Higher Critics apply directly to their
belief system, which seems impervious to rational thought. For instance,
there is absolutely no evidence,
archaeological, epigraphic, or docuAutumn 2001

mentary, that Abraham ever set foot

in Arabia.tf let alone built the
Kaaba. Many scholars such T. L.
Thompson have even put forward
the idea that not only Abraham but
Isaac and Jacob never existed.l+
Muslims are also committed to the
dogma that
Moses wrote the
Pentateuch, despite research since
the 17th century of thinkers such as
La Preyre, Spinoza, and Hobbes, and
in the 19th century by historians
such as Julius Wellhausen, who have
all argued that Moses could not possibly have written the First Five
Books of the Old Testament. No
Western scholar believes the apocryphal Christian story of Jesus that
is to be found in the Qur'an. Further
it is surely totally irrational to continue to believe that the Qur'an is
the word of God when the slightest
amount of rational thought will
reveal that the Qur'an contains
words and passages addressed to
God (e.g. the Fatihah; sura 6:104;
6:114; 17:1; 27:91; 81:15-29; 84:1619; etc.) and that it is full of historical errors: at sura 40:38, the Qur'an
mistakenly identifies Haman, who in
reality was the minister of the
Persian King Ahasuerus (mentioned
in the book of Esther), as the minister of the Pharaoh at the time of
Moses. There is a confusion of Mary,
the mother of Jesus, with the Mary
who was sister of Moses and Aaron.
At sura 2:249/250, there is obviously
a confusion between the story of Saul
as told therein and the account of
Gideon in Judges 7:5. The account of
Alexander the Great is hopelessly
garbled historically (sura 18:82).
Finally, Goldziher, Lammens and
Schacht, have shown that a vast
number of traditions (hadith) accepted even in the most rigorously critical Muslim collections were outright
forgeries from the late eighth and
9th centuries. It is simply irrational
to go on accepting the 'truth' of these
The history of Islamic theology
can be seen as a struggle between
reason and revelation, with the
eventual triumph of the dictates of
Page 23

revelation, a victory for irrationalism, and blind obedience to tradition.

It is undoubtedly true that there
was at the dawn of Islam a rationalizingtendency as, for example, in the
theology of the Mu'tazilites But the
Mu'tazilites were nonetheless Muslims, which in itself, as I have tried
to argue above, is an indication of
irrational beliefs. Moreover, they
were ready to assassinate those who
rejected their doctrines and advocated the jihad in all regions in which
their dogma did not have the ascendancy. They were responsible for the
Mihna or the Muslim Inquisition.
Finally the rationalism of the
Mu'tazilites was defeated by the philosophy of al-Ashari (died 935 CE)
who, while not totally abandoning
reason, did essentially subordinate
reason to revelation. And the final
death blow was given to rationalism
by the real traditionists whose views
eventually prevailed in Islam. The
traditionists had no time for scholastic theology, which, for them was no
different from Aristotelian philosophy - both led to unbelief. The traditionists refused to bend to aql, or
reason; for them, reason was not
required for religious understanding. Religious truth lay in the Qur'an
and the sunna, both of which had to
be accepted without question or
doubts. For example, al-Shafi'i is
made to say,in true traditionist fashion, that people who advocate
scholastic theology with its modest
amount of rationalism, "should be
beaten with whips and the soles of
sandals, and then paraded through
all tribes and encampments while it
is proclaimed of them, 'Such is the
reward of those who forsake the
Qur'an and sunna and give themselves up to scholastic theology
AI-Ghazali was similarly dismissive of reason. He constantly criticized the Greeks and the Muslim
philosophers influenced by them. AI
Ghazali found Greeks the source of
all kinds infidelity. He was totally
opposed to the spirit of free inquiry.
For example in section 7, chapter 2 of
his Ihay ulum al-adin, al-Ghazali
Page 24

tells us that certain of the natural

sciences are contrary to the law and
religion, and in chapter 3 he tells us
to abstain from free thought and
accept the conclusions of the
prophets. The great Ibn Khaldun is
also suspicious of unbridled reason,
which he also found the source of
unbelief. "No," wrote Ibn Khaldun,
"one must be on guard by completely
abandoning any speculation about
[causes]. We have been commanded
completely to abandon and suppress
any speculation about [causes] and
to direct ourselves to the Causer of
all causes, so that the soul will be
firmly coloured with the oneness of
God. A man who stops at the causes
is frustrated. He is rightly [said to be
an] unbeliever. Therefore we are forbidden by Muhammad to study causes."16
The ultimate sign within Islam
of the fear of disagreement is surely
the law of apostasy, (in Arabic,
irtidad, or ridda; while an apostate
is called a murtadd). In the Qur'an
(16:106ff) the apostate is threatened
with punishment in the next world
only, but under Islamic law the
penalty is death. In the Traditions,
Ibn Abbas transmits the following
saying of the Prophet: "Kill him, who
changes his religion," or "behead
him" (Ibn Maja, Hudud, bab 2;
Nasai, Tahrim al-dam, bab 14;
Tirmidhi, Hudud,
bab 25; Abu
Dawud, Hudud, bab. 1; Ibn Hanbal,
i.217, 282, 322).
Finally, we come to Islam's fear
of outsiders. Islam undoubtedly
preached, to its credit, the equality of
all free-born, male Muslims. However, Muslim women and Muslim
slaves are of course not considered
equal. Thus Islam is not, in theory,
racist. However, Islam excludes people on the basis of belief. Salvation
outside the Islamic faith is impossible. The world is divided between
Muslims and Non-Muslims. There
are very many sayings in the Qur'an
which preach hatred and ill-will
towards non-Muslims and show a
pathological fear of the 'other':
Autumn 2001

4:101: The unbelievers are your

sworn enemies.
60:4: We renounce you (i.e. the
idolaters): enmity and hate shall
reign between us until you believe in
Allah only.
58:23: You will not find believers in Allah and the Last day on
friendly terms with those who
oppose Allah and His apostle, even
though they be their fathers, their
sons, their brothers, or their nearest
9:7: Allah and His apostle
repose no trust in idolaters.
8:13-14: Thus We punished
them because they defied Allah and
His apostle. He that defies Allah and
His apostle shall be sternly punished. We said to them, "Feel our
scourge. Hell-fire awaits the unbelievers."
8:55: The basest creatures in
the sight of Allah are the faithless
who will not believe.
25:55: Yet the unbelievers worship idols which can neither help nor
harm. Surely the unbeliever is his
Lord's enemy.
5:72: He that worships other
Gods besides Allah shall be forbidden Paradise and shall be cast into
Hell-fire. None shall help the evildoers.
9:23: Believers!
your fathers or your
choose unbelief in
faith. Wrong-doers
befriend them.

do not befriend
brothers if they
preference to
are those that

9:28: Believers! know that the

idolaters are unclean.
11:28: Let believers not make
friends with the infidels in preference to the faithful; he that does this
has nothing to hope for from Allah
except in self-defense.
3:118: Believers! do not make
friends with any men other than
your own people. They will spare no
pains to corrupt you. They desire
nothing but your ruin. Their hatred
is clear from what they say, but more
American Atheist

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violent is the hatred which their

breasts conceal.
5:14: Therefore, We stirred
amongthem [the Christians] enmity
and hatred, which shall endure till
the Day of Resurrection,when Allah
will declare to them all that they
have done.
5:64: That which Allah has
revealed to you will surely increase
the wickednessand unbeliefofmany
of them [the Jews]. We have stirred
among them [the Jews] enmity and
hatred which will endure till the
Day of Resurrection.
5:51: Believers! take neither
Jews nor Christians foryour friends.
They are friends with one another.
Whoever of you seeks their friendship shall becomeone of their number.Allah does not guide the wrongdoers.

Christians are marginally better

regarded than the Jews, but the
Qur'an still accuses them of falsifying the scriptures. 5:75: "They surely
are infidels who say, 'God is the third
of three'; for there is but one God;
and if they do not refrain from what
they say, a severe punishment shall
light on those who are unbelievers."
They are also accused of worshipping Jesus as the son of God
and, like the Jews, they have been
led astray and must be brought back
to the true religion - that is, Islam.
According to the Qur'an, Jews
have intense hatred of all true
Muslims and, as a punishment for
their sins, some of them had in the
past been changed into apes and
swine (sura 5:63). Others will have
their hands tied to their necks and
be cast into the Fire on Judgment
Day. The attitude enjoined upon the
Muslims towards the Jews can only
be described as anti-Semitic, and
certainly was not conducive to a better understanding, tolerance or coexistence.
5:51: Believers,donot take Jews
or Christians as friends. They are
but one another's friends. If anyone
of you takes them for his friends,
then he is surely one of them. God
will not guide evil-doers."


5:56-64: 0 Believers,donot take

as your friends the infidels or those
who received the Scriptures before
you [Jews and Christians] and who
scoff and jest at your religion, but
fear God if you are believers. Nor
those who when you call them to
prayer, make it an object of mirth
and derision. This is only because
they are a peoplewho do not understand. Say:"Peopleof the Book:isn't
it true that you hate us simply
because we believe in God, and in
what He has sent downto us, and in
what He has revealed to others
before;and because most of you are
evil doers?"
"Whydon't their rabbis and doctors oflaw forbidthem fromuttering
sinful words and eating unlawful
food?Evil indeed are their works.
"Thehand of Godis chained up,"
claim the Jews. Their own hands
shall be chained up - and they shall
be cursed for saying such a thing."

Jews are often accused in the

Qur'an of perverting the scriptures
and holding doctrines they never
9:29-30: Declare war upon those
to whom the Scriptures were
revealed but believe neither in God
nor the Last Day and whodo not forbid that which God and His Apostle
have forbidden, and who refuse to
acknowledge the true religion
[Islam] until they pay the poll-tax
without reservation and are totally
The Jews claim that Ezra is a
son of God, and the Christians say,
"the Messiah is a son of God."Those
are their claims which do indeed
resemble the sayings of the Infidels
ofOld.MayGoddobattle with them!
Howthey are deluded!
And they deserve fully any punishment they get:
2:61: Wretchedness and baseness were stamped upon them [the
Jews] and they drew on themselves
the wrath of God.This was because
they [the Jews] disbelievedthe signs
of God and slew the Prophets unjustly, and because they rebelled and
4:160-161: Because of the wickedness of certain Jews, and because

Autumn 2001

they turn many fromthe way ofGod,

We have forbidden them good and
wholesomefoodswhichwere formerly allowed them; and because they
have taken to usury, though they
were forbidden it, and have cheated
others of their possessions,We have
prepared a grievous punishment for
the Infidels amongst them.
Such are some of the sentiments
expressed in the Qur'an, which
remains for all Muslims, and not just
Word of God Himself. It is valid for
all times and places. Its ideas are,
according to all Muslims, absolutely
true and beyond any criticism.
The treatment of the Jews by
Muhammad is certainly not above
reproach. The cold-blooded extermination
of the Banu
(between 600 and 900 men), the
expulsion of the Nadir and their
later massacre (something often
overlooked in the history books) are
not signs of magnanimity or compassion. His treatment of the Jews of
the oasis of Khaybar served "as a
model for the treaties granted by the
Arab conquerors to the conquered
Arabia." Muhammad attacked the
oasis in 628, had one of the leaders
tortured to find the hidden treasures
of the tribe, and then when the Jews
surrendered, agreed to let them continue cultivating their oasis only if
they gave him half their produce.
Muhammad also reserved the right
to cancel the treaty and expel the
Jews whenever he liked. This treaty
or agreement was called a dhimma,
and those who accepted it were
known as dhimmis. All non-Muslims
who accepted Muslim supremacy
and agreed to pay a tribute, in return
for 'Muslim protection', are referred
to as dhimmis.
The second caliph Umar later
expelled the Jews and the Christians
from the Hijaz (the region containing
the holy cities of Mecca and Medina)
in 640, referring to the dhimma of
Khaybar. He is said to have quoted
the Prophet on the right to cancel
any pact he wished, and the
Prophet's famous saying: "Two reliPage 25

gions shall not remain together in

the peninsula of the Arabs." To this
day, the establishment of any other
religion in Saudi Arabia is forbidden.
Many Christians have been executed
for simply practicing their religion.
Here is how Amnesty International
describes the situation in Saudi
Hundreds of Christians, including women and children, have been
arrested and detained over the past
three years, most without charge or
trial, solely for the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs. Scores
have been tortured, some by flogging, while in detention. The possession of non-Islamic religious objects
including Bibles, rosary beads, crosses and pictures of Jesus Christ is
prohibited and such items may be
confiscated. [AINO 62; July IAugust

At least since the Renaissance,

one of the characteristics of Western
civilization has been its interest in
other lands and societies. "This
universal curiosity is still a distinguishing, almost an exclusive, characteristic of Europe and her daughters."17Muslims are by contrast profoundly convinced of the finality,
completeness, and essential self-sufficiency of their civilization. For the
Muslim, Islam is the one true faith,
beyond which there are only unbelievers. ''You [Muslims] are the best
of peoples" the Qur'an tells Muslims
[sura 3:110]. It is a remarkable fact
that until at least the late 16th century, when Turkish historians began
to show a vague and still faint interest in European history, Muslim historians, with three noble exceptions,
and Muslims in general, showed little desire to step outside their civilization intellectually. The exceptions are just that - exceptions: the
geographer Masudi, the cultural historian and observer al-Biruni, and
the historian Rashid al-Din. Until
the end of the 18th century, very few
European books were translated into
Muslim languages, and most of these
dealt with useful topics such as medical science.This attitude has continPage 26

ued to this day. No Islamic country

has university faculties that study
non-Islamic civilizations, with the
exception, significantly, of Turkey
where, in Ankara, one can study
Sanskrit. Even to listen to Western
classical music is considered undesirable and a danger to Islamic civilization. "The treason of an Arab
begins when he enjoys listening to
Mozart or Beethoven," wrote the
al-Wasiti (quoted by
Norman Daniel, Euro-Arab
Dialogue, p.88) Here is how one political
analyst sums up the situation in the
Arabs may be well informed on
currency movements and the latest
chat on the prospects of the Western
economies but know surprisingly little about how Western societies and
governments operate. Even those
who live in the West or visit it frequently on holiday do not have much
understanding of it because, in most
cases, when they are there they mix
with other Arabs, principally their
own relations, and take no interest
in the culture, history, or institutions
of the countries they are in."18

Muslims are certain that Islam

is not only the whole of God's truth,
but it is its final expression. Hence
Muslims fear and persecute such
post-Islamic religious movements as
the Bahais and the Ahmadis. Here is
Amnesty International on the plight
of the Ahmadis [ASA:33/15.91]:
Ahmadis consider themselves to
be Muslims, but they are regarded
by orthodox Muslims as heretical
because they call the founder of
their movement
Messiah]. This is taken to imply that
Muhammad is not the final seal of
the prophets as orthodox Islam
holds, i.e., the Prophet who carried
the final message from God to
humanity. As a result of these divergences, Ahmadis have been subjected to discrimination and persecution
in some Islamic countries. In the
mid-1970s, the Saudi Arabia-based
World Muslim League called on
Muslim governments worldwide to
Ahmadis are since then banned in
Saudi Arabia.
Autumn 2001

Umberto Eco Principle N<>6.

Ur-Fascism derives from individual
or social frustration.
There has been a demographic
explosion in the Islamic world, and
the leaders have simply not coped,
being unable to provide jobs, housing, health facilities, or transport
with inflation running high. All has
been compounded by human rights
abuses (torture, summary justice,
executions, and so on). This failure
has been very ably exploited by the
Islamists to increase their prestige
and to increase their power. This has
led, in turn , to mounting demands
for increasing Islamization of society.
Another essential factor in the current Islamic revival has to do with
Islam's crisis of identity - especially
in face of the West's overwhelming
economic and cultural success in
contrast to the relative economic,
cultural, human-rights failures of
the post-independence regimes in
the Islamic world. These failures
have led to an increase of frustration, envy, and hatred of the West
and an exaggerated emphasis on
their Islamic identity. And, "since for
Muslims Islam is, by definition,
superior to all other faiths, the failures and defeats of Muslims in this
world can only mean that they are
not practicing authentic Islam and
that their states are not true Islamic
states. The remedy, therefore, is
return to the pure, authentic Islam
of the Prophet and his Companions,
a rejection and elimination of the
accretions and innovations that had
debased and corrupted the faith and
enfeebled the Islamic society."19
Umberto Eco Principle N<>7.
Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist
psychology there is the obsession
with a plot, possibly an
international one.
The followers must feel besieged.
The easiest way to solve the plot is
the appeal to xenophobia.
But the plot must also come from
the inside: Jews are usually the best
target because they have the
American Atheist

advantage of being at the same time

inside and outside.
A belief in international plots, or,
in other words, conspiracy theories,
is the key to understanding the politics of the Middle East. As Daniel
Pipes in his acclaimed study The
Hidden Hand: The Middle East
Fears of Conspiracy put it: "Whoever
hopes to understand the Middle East
must recognize the distorting lens of
conspiracy theories, understand
them, make allowance for them, and
perhaps even plan around them.
Conspiracism [the belief in international plots or conspiracies] provides
a key to understanding the political
culture of the Middle East."2o
Amazingly enough, most of the
leading Muslim thinkers and actors
of the twentieth century have put
forward conspiracy theories to
excuse the continuing cultural and
economic backwardness of Islamic
countries; the prevalence of such
theories indicate a refusal on the
part of Muslims to take responsibility for their own failures.s! As Pipes
in his brilliant work says, "although
grand conspiracy theories surfaced
in the Middle East only in the late
nineteenth century, their subject
matter ranges much farther; indeed
it often extends right back to the
time of the Prophet Muhammad.
More broadly, conspiracy theorists
reinterpret the whole sweep of
Islamic history, plundering medieval
texts to locate instances of conspiracy, especially on the part of
Christians and Jews."22
The Iranian scholar Ervand
Abrahamian has shown how prevalent ideas of conspiracies are in Iran,
leading often to tragic consequences,
as in the mass executions of 1981-82:
When in June 1981 the [Peoples]
Mojahedin tried to overthrow the
Islamic Republic, Khomeini proclaimed that the CIA was planning a
repeat performance of 1953 and that
the whole opposition, not just the
Mojahedin, was implicated in this
grand international plot. In six short
weeks, the Islamic Republic shot
over one thousand prisoners. The
Parsippany, New Jersey

victims included not only members

of the Mojahedin but also royalists,
Bahais, Jews, Kurds, Baluchis,
National Frontists, Maoists, antiStalinist Marxists, and even apolitical teenage girls who happened to be
in the wrong street at the wrong
time. Never before in Iran had firing
squads executed so many in so short
a time over so flimsy an accusation.23

Muslim thinkers premise their

understanding of modern history on
Western plots against Islam. For
example, Muhammad al-Ghazali, a
thinker from Egypt, wrote, "There is
a conspiracy against Islam by
Western secularism because it
claims that Islam is a dangerous
religion."24Khomeini goes further by
explaining, "In the interests of the
Jews, America, and Israel, we
[Muslims] must be jailed and killed;
we must be sacrificed to the evil
intentions of foreigners."25According
to such Muslim thinking, Islam
made the Muslims great, culturally,
militarily, and economically. But
because of external influence and
plotting of the Jews and the imperialists, Muslims have been lured
away from the Qur'an, the Sharia,
the Muslim way of life, and hence
have lost their moorings. Khomeini
saw the Shah of Persia's granting
women the right to vote as an
Autumn 2001

"attempt to corrupt our chaste

women" and a plot against Islam
"perhaps drawn up by the spies of
the Jews and the Zionists" intending
to destroy "the independence of the
state and the economy." Rushdie's
novel, Satanic Verses, he saw as a
mortal threat to Islam.26
As Pipes concludes, nearly all
thinkers, such as Hasan al Banna,
Sayyid Qutb, Abu'l A'la al-Maududi,
accept the premise of anti-Islamic
conspiration by Jews and Europeans, as do most of the preachers,
scholars, journalists,
and politicians.s? The very constitution of the
Islamic Republic of Iran refers to
plotting, when it describes the White
Revolution (the Shah's land-reform
program) as an "American plot a ploy
to stabilize the foundation of the
colonialist government [of the Shah]
and strengthen Iran's ties with
world imperialism." This constitution also promises that non-Muslims
will be well-treated if they refrain
from getting "in conspiracies hatched
against the Islamic Republic of
Muslims of the Middle East fear
two main conspirators: Jews and
Imperialists. Jews are seen as a
threat to the whole of humanity and
are considered responsible for every
evil in the world, from assassinations of Lincoln, McKinley, and
Kennedy, to the French and Russian
Revolution, and so on. As Robert
Wistrich put it, for the Muslim
Brethren of Egypt, "Of all the myriad
enemies of Islam, Jewry represents
the ultimate abomination, evil in its
purest ontological form."29 And as
Daniel Pipes adds, the same applies
for many other Muslims-'' - for
example, Sayyid Qutb, the very
influential Egyptian thinker who
wrote, "Through the lengthy centuries regretfully [the Jews] poisoned the Islamic heritage in a way
that may itself be revealed only with
the effort of centuries."31 Mustafa
Mashur, another Egyptian thinker,
sees Jews behind "every weird,
deviant principle" in history.'<
Page 27

Muslims considered the UN.

International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo
in 1994 as an international plot to
undermine Islam, and to annihilate
Muslims. Adil Husayn, a leading
Muslim Egyptian thinker, argued
that the West's promotion of birth
control "is not aimed at developing
the poor world. It is a racist plan
designed to continue looting and
weakening us in favor of the dominating white race. The conference is
the culmination of a scheme aimed
at annihilating
What precisely is the reason for
the prevalence of conspiracy theories
in the Muslim Middle East? Many
analysts are convinced of the role
and nature of Islam in the incubation and perpetuation of conspiracy
theories. The saying "Better a hundred years of repression than a day
of anarchy" sums up the fear of anarchy (fitna) that lies deep in Islamic
culture and may be responsible for
encouraging the paranoid style of
thinking. More commonly, Middle
Eastern analysts point to the fatalism inculcated by Islam.w Though
there are, as usual, contradictory
statements in the Qur'an on this
subject, in the end it was the predestination doctrine that prevailed in
Islam. Here are some quotes from
the Qur'an that have led to a kind of
fatalism within Islam:
54:49 All things have been created after fixed decree.
3:139 No one can die except by
God's permission according to the
book that fixes the term of life.
87:2 The Lord has created and
balanced all things and has fixed
their destinies and guided them.
8:17 God killed them, and those
shafts were God's, not yours.
9:51 By no means can anything
befall us but what God has destined
for us.
(See also suras 13:30; 14:4;
18:101; 32:32 45:26; 57:22)

Page 28

Kanan Makiya , the Iraqi political thinker, sees "extreme fatalism

that may be a characteristic
Islamic culture generally" as a key
explanation for conspiracy theories.
In his view, this world view undermines the notion of man as responsible to himself.s> Similarly, Homa
Katouzian traces conspiracy theories
to an "unimaginable fatalism'f=; and
Jahangir Amuzegar ascribes them to
a "fatalistic streak."37 Others point
to the Shi'a tradition of taqiya (dissimulation for self-protection and
the safeguarding of faith), and some
single out the Shi'a tradition of martyrdom
Iranians to externalize evil and to
seek to put the responsibility for
their failures, misdeeds, and blunders onto others plotting against
Umberto Eco Principle N2 8.
The followers must feel humiliated
by the ostentatious wealth and force
of their enemies. However; the
followers must be convinced that
they can overwhelm the enemies.
Thus, by a continuous shifting of
rhetorical focus, the enemies are the
same time too strong and too weak.
Fascist governments are condemned
to lose wars because they are
constitutionally incapable
of objectively evaluating the force
of the enemy.38
The Muslims in the Middle East
have been constantly humiliated for
centuries, but perhaps at no time
more so than since the late 18th century when Napoleon first burst upon
the scene with the conquest of Egypt.
Ever since then,Muslims have continued to be at once both attracted
and repelled by Western civilization
and all its material and spiritual
wares - which they cannot afford to
buy or emulate for fear of being
accused of treason towards Islam.
The Six-Day War with Israel totally
humiliated not just Arabs, but all
Muslims around the world. And as
Umberto Eco says, they are condemned to lose wars as they seem
incapable of rationally and objectively
Autumn 2001

assessing the strength and weaknesses of the enemy. The enemy is

seen as both too strong and too weak.
As Field puts it, the paranoid style in
the Middle East "is obviously linked
to the theorists' general ignorance of
the outside world and this is clearly
a disadvantage for any society. The
belief in plots, combined with ignorance, leads the Arabs to exaggerate
the power of the West and misjudge
its motives, making them believe
that it is hostile and manipulative
when it is more likely to be morally
censorious, occasionally concerned
with upholding states' sovereignty
and/or protecting its oil interests,
generally interested in promoting its
exports, and often indifferent to Arab
issues or concerned but unable to see
how it can influence events."39
For the Middle Easterner, the
Jewish or Imperialist conspirator is
at once too powerful and too weak.
Thus "the conspirator never rests,
never falters, never makes mistakes,
and never shows fear; word to the
contrary is disinformation. He is
tireless/'s? "Every day the [enemies
of Islam] plot new conspiracies and
schemes."41 The Zionist conspiracy
"has enormous resources at its disposal: money, media, industry, technology, oil, military hardware, and
the intelligence agencies led by
Mossad and CIA."42 Gamal Abdel
Nasser also believed in the omnipotence of the West: "The Americans
know perfectly well what we will
say, where we will proceed, and what
we will do."43 While Sattareh
Farman Farmaian tells of the servants in her family's Iranian home
that they "believed that the English
were so diabolical that they could
even cause floods, droughts, and
earthquakes. And it was true that to
Iranians, the British seemed almost
supernaturally clever."44
And yet, the enemies of Islam
never win. "The Jews may try, but
will never
[Muslims]."45 Or as The Baghdad
Observer put it, ''A savage campaign
has been conducted by the US.
inside the Security Council to hurt
Iraq, choke its economy and starve
American Atheist

its people.Yet, as the first chapters of

the conspiracy have failed to weaken
Iraq, the final phase of the enemies'
schemes is definitely going to meet
the same fate. The whole conspiracy
is doomed to failure."

4:76: Those who believe fight in

the cause of God...

Umberto Eco Principle N" 9

For Ur-Fascism,there is no struggle
for life, but rather life is lived for
struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking
with the enemy. It is bad because
life is permanent warfare.

8:39-42: Say to the Infidels: If

they desist from their unbelief, what
is now past shall be forgiven them;
but if they return to it, they have
already before them the doom of the
ancients! Fight then against them
till strife be at an end, and the religion be all of it God's.

Umberto Eco Principle N" 11

Everybody is educated to become a
hero. This cult of heroism is strictly
linked with the cult of death.
In non-fascist societies, the lay
public is told that death is
unpleasant but must be faced
with dignity; believers are told
that it is the painful way to reach
a supernatural happiness.
By contrast, the Ur-Fascist craves
heroic death, advertised as the
best reward for a heroic life.
The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient
to die. In his impatience, he more
frequently sends other people to
Umberto Eco's feature 9 goes
naturally well with feature 11, so I
shall discuss them here and leave
feature 10 for later.
The totalitarian nature of Islam
is nowhere more apparent than in
the concept of jihad, the holy war
whose ultimate aim is to conquer the
entire world and submit it to the one
true faith, to the law of Allah. To
Islam alone has been granted the
truth - there is no possibility of salvation outside it. It is the sacred
duty - an incumbent religious duty
established in the Qur'an and the
Traditions - of all Muslims to bring
it to all humanity. Jihad is a divine
institution, enjoined specially for the
of advancing
Muslims must strive, fight, and kill
in the name of God:
9:5-6: Kill those who join other
gods with God wherever you may
find them.
Parsippany, New Jersey

8:12: I will instill terror into the

hearts of the Infidels; strike off their
heads then, and strike off from them
every fingertip.

2:256: But they who believe, and

who fly their country, and fight in
the cause of God may hope for God's
mercy: and God is Gracious,

It is a grave sin for a Muslim to

shirk the battle against the unbelievers; those who do will roast in
8:15-16: Believers, when you
meet the unbelievers preparing for
battle do not turn your backs to
them. [Anyone who does] shall incur
the wrath of God and hell shall be
his home: an evil dwelling indeed.
9:39: If you do not fight, He will
punish you severely, and put others
in your place.

Those who die fighting for the

only true religion, Islam, will be
amply rewarded in the life to come:
4:74: Let those fight in the cause
of God who barter the life of this
world for that which is to come; for
whoever fights on God's path,
whether he is killed or triumphs, We
will give him a handsome reward.

It is abundantly clear from many

of the above verses that the Qur'an is
not talking of metaphorical battles
or of moral crusades; it is talking of
the battle field. To read such bloodthirsty injunctions in a Holy Book is
Mankind is divided into two
groups - Muslims and non-Muslims.
The Muslims are members of the
Islamic community, the umma, who
Autumn 2001

possess territories in the Dar ul

Islam, the Land of Islam, where the
edicts of Islam are fully promulgated. The non-Muslims are the Harbi,
people of the Dar ul Harb, the Land
of Warfare - any country belonging
to the infidels which has not been
subdued by Islam but which,
nonetheless, is destined to pass into
Islamic jurisdiction either by conversion or by war (harb). All acts of war
are permitted in the Dar ul Harb.
Once the Dar ul Harb has been subjugated, the Harbi become prisoners
of war. The imam can do what he
likes to them according to the circumstances. Woe betide the city that
resists and is then taken by the
Islamic army by storm. In this case,
the inhabitants have no rights whatsoever, and as Sir Steven Runciman
says in his book The Fall of Constantinople, 1453:
The conquering army is allowed
three days of unrestricted pillage;
and the former places of worship,
with every other building, become
the property of the conquering
leader; he may dispose of them as he
pleases. Sultan Mehmet [after the
fall of Constantinople
in 1453
allowed] his soldiers the three days
of pillage to which they were entitled. They poured into the city...
They slew everyone that they met in
the streets, men, women and children without discrimination. The
blood ran in rivers down the steep
streets ...But soon the lust for
slaughter was assuaged. The soldiers realized that captives and precious objects would bring them
greater profits.

In other cases, they are sold into

slavery, exiled, or treated as dhimmis, who are tolerated as secondclass subjects, as long as they pay a
regular tribute.
It is common nowadays for the
of Islam,
Muslims or their Western admirers,
to interpret jihad in the non-military
sense of 'moral struggle', 'moral
striving'. But it is quite illegitimate
to pretend that the Qur'an and the
books on Islamic Law were talking
about moral crusades. Rather, as
Page 29

Rudolf Peters says in his definitive

study of Jihad says, "In the books on
Islamic Law, the word means armed
struggle against the unbelievers,
which is also a common meaning in
the Qur'an."46 Apologists of Islam,
even when they do admit that real
battles are being referred to, still
pretend that the doctrine of Jihad
only talks of "defensive measures,"
that is, the apologists pretend that
fighting is only allowed to defend
Muslims, and that offensive wars are
illegitimate. But again, this is not
the classical doctrine in Islam. As
Peters makes clear, the Sword Verses
in the Qur'an were interpreted as
unconditional commands to fight the
Sword Verses abrogated all previous
verses concerning intercourse with
non-Muslims.s? Peters sums up the
classical doctrine as:
The doctrine of Jihad, as laid
down in the works on Islamic Law,
developed out of the Qur'anic prescriptions and the example of the
Prophet and the first caliphs, which
is recordedin the hadith. The crux of
the doctrine is the existence of one
single Islamic state, ruling the
entire umma [Muslim community].
It is the duty ofthe umma to expand
the territory of this state in order to
bring as many people under its rule
as possible. The ultimate aim is to
bring the whole earth under the
sway of Islam and to extirpate unbelief: "Fight them until there is no
persecution and the religion is God's
entirely." (sura 2:193;
Expansionist jihad is a collective
duty (fard ala al-kifaya), which is
fulfilled if a sufficient number of
people take part in it. If this is not
the case, the whole umma [Muslim
community]is sinning.48
Here are more bellicose verses
from the Qur'an, the words of Allah
telling Muslims to kill and murder
on his behalf:
2:193: Fight against them until
idolatry is no more and Allah's religion reigns supreme.
2:216: Fighting is obligatory for
you, much as you dislike it. But you
may hate a thing although it is good

Page 30

for you, and love a thing although it

is bad for you. Allah knows,but you
do not.
9:41: Whether unarmed or wellequipped,march on and fight for the
cause ofAllah, with your wealth and
your persons. This is best for you, if
you but knew it.
9:123: Believers! make war on
the infidels who dwell around you.
Let them find harshness in you.
66:9: 0 Prophet! make war on
the unbelievers and the hypocrites
and deal sternly with them. Hell
shall be their home, evil their fate.
9:73: 0 Prophet! Make war on
the unbelievers and the hypocrites.
Be harsh with them. Their ultimate
abode is hell, a hapless journey's
8:65: 0 Prophet! Exhort the
believers to fight. If there are twenty steadfast men among you, they
shall vanquish two hundred; and if
there are a hundred, they shall rout
a thousand unbelievers, for they are
devoidof understanding.
47:4-15: When you meet the
unbelievers in the battlefield strike
off their heads and when you have
laid them low, bind your captives
25:52: Do not yield to the unbelievers, but fight them strenuously
with this Qur'an.
8:67: It is not for any Prophet to
have captives until he has made
slaughter in the land.

What Umberto Eco calls the cult

of heroism and the cult of death is
beautifully exemplified in the Muslim cult of martyrdom. The Qur'an
promises Paradise with its seductive
houris to all those who die in the
cause of Islam:
10:4-15 As for those who are
slain in the cause of Allah, He will
not allow their works to perish. He
will vouchsafe them guidance and
ennoble their state; He will admit
them to the Paradise He has made
known to them.

Autumn 2001

9:111 Allah has purchased of

their faithful lives and worldlygoods
and in return has promisedthem the
Garden. They will fight for His
cause, kill and be killed.
3:169-171: You must not think
that those who were slain in the
cause of Allah are dead. They are
alive, and well-providedfor by their
3:157-158 If you should die or be
killed in the cause of Allah, His
mercy and forgiveness would surely
be better than all the riches they
amass. If you should die or be killed,
beforeHim you shall all be gathered.

Bukhariw gives the following

hadith: "Narrated Anas bin Malik:
'The prophet said, "Nobody who dies
and finds good from Allah [in the
hereafter] would wish to come back
to this world even if he were given
the whole world except the martyr
who, on seeing the superiority of
martyrdom, would like to come back
to the world and get killed again [in
Allah's cause]." , "
Finally, on the obligation of
Jihad, I shall quote from two Muslim
thinkers greatly admired in the
West. First Ibn Khaldun in his
Muqaddimah writes: "In the Muslim
community, the holy war is religious
duty, because of the universalism of
the Muslim mission and [the obligation to] covert everybody to Islam
either by persuasion or by force."5o
And now Averroes, a much
romanticized figure in the West:
"According to the majority of scholars, the compulsory nature of the
jihad is founded on sura 2:216:
for you is fighting,
though it is hateful to you.' The obligation to participate in the jihad
applies to adult free men who have
the means at their disposal to go to
war and who are healthy. Scholars
agree that all polytheists should be
fought. This is founded on sura 8:39:
'Fight them until there is no persecution and the religion is God's
entirely' .... Most scholars are agreed
that, in his dealing with captives,
various policies are open to the
Imam. He may pardon them, enslave
American Atheist

them, kill them, or release them

either on ransom or as dhimmi [nonMuslim, second-class subject of the
Islamic state], in which latter case
the released captive is obliged to pay
poll-tax (jizya) .... Sura 8:67 'It is not
for any Prophet to have prisoners
until he make wide slaughter in the
land,' as well as the occasion when
this verse was revealed [viz. the captives of Badr] would prove that it is
better to kill captives than to enslave
them. The Prophet himself would in
some cases kill captives outside the
field of battle, while he would pardon
them in others. Women he used to
enslave. The Muslims are agreed
that the aim of warfare against the
People of the Book is two-fold: either
conversion to Islam or payment of
poll-tax (jizya)."51

that He may cause it to prevail over

all religions, though the polytheists
are averse." (See also 48:28; 61:9)
The arrogance of Muslims is captured very precisely by Frithjof
Schuon, a Western convert to a mystical variety of Islam:

Umberto Eco Principle N" 10

Elitism is a typical aspect of any
reactionary ideology,
insofar as it is fundamentally
aristocratic, and aristocratic and
militaristic elitism cruelly implies
contempt for the weak.
Ur-Fascism can only advocate
a popular elitism.
Every citizen belongs to the
best people of the world;
the members of the party are the
best among the citizens;
every citizen can (or ought to)
become a member of the party.

Umberto Eco Principle N" 12

Since both permanent war and
heroism are difficult games to play,
the Ur-Fascist transfers his will
to power to sexual matters.
This is the origin of machismo
(which implies both disdain for
women and intolerance and
condemnation of non-standard
sexual habits, from chastity
to homosexuality).

Here, it takes very little substitution to see how Umberto Eco's

tenth feature applies to Muslims as
well. "Every [Muslim] belongs to the
best people of the world; the members of the [Umma] are the best
among the citizens; every citizen can
(or ought to) become a [Muslim]
member of the [Umma]."
Islam is the most perfect of religions, and Muslims are the chosen
people, as sura 5:3 tells us: "This day
I have perfected for you your religion
and completed My favor to you and
chosen for you Islam as a religion."
Islam is destined to triumph ultimately, according to sura 9:33: "He it
is Who sent His Messenger with
guidance and the Religion of Truth,
Parsippany, New Jersey

The intellectual and thereby the

rational foundation of Islam results
in the average Muslim having a curious tendency to believe that nonMuslims either know that Islam is
the Truth and reject it out of pure
obstinacy, or else are simply ignorant of it and can be converted by
elementary explanations; that anyone should be able to oppose Islam
with a good conscience quite exceeds
the Muslim's imagination, precisely
because Islam coincides in his mind
with the irresistible logic of things.v-

Here are some macho sayings

from the Qur'an:
4:34 Men are in charge of
women, because Allah hath made
the one of them to excel the other,
and because they spend of their
property [for the support of women].
So good women are the obedient,
guarding in secret that which Allah
hath guarded. As for those from
whom ye fear rebellion, admonish
them and banish them to beds apart;
and beat them. Then if they obey
you, seek not a way against them.
Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted,
5:6 ... And ifye are sick on a journey, or one of you cometh from the
closet, or ye have contact with
women and ye find not water, then
go to clean high ground and rub your
faces and your hands with some of
it ...
Autumn 2001

33:32-33 0 ye wives of the

Prophet! Ye are not like any other
women. If ye keep your duty [to
Allah], then be not soft of speech lest
he in whose heart is a disease aspire
to you, but utter customary speech.
And stay in your houses. Bedizen not
yourselves with the bedizenment of
the time of ignorance. Be regular in
prayer, and pay the poor due, and
obey Allah and His Messenger ...

Equally, in numerous Hadiths on

which are based the Islamic laws, we
learn of the woman's role - to stay at
home, to be at the beck and call of
man, to obey him (which is a religious duty), to assure man a tranquil
existence. Here are some examples:
If it had been given me to order
someone to prostrate themselves in
front of someone other than God, I
would surely have ordered women to
prostrate themselves in front oftheir
husbands ... A woman cannot fulfill
her duties towards God without first
having accomplished those that she
owes her husband.
The woman who dies and with
whom the husband is satisfied will
go to paradise.
A wife should never refuse herself
to her husband, even if it is on the
saddle of a camel.
Hellfire appeared to me in a
dream and I noticed that it was
above all peopled with women who
had been ungrateful. "Was it towards
God that they were ungrateful?"
They had not shown any gratitude
towards their husbands for all they
had received from them. Even when
all your life you have showered a
woman with your largesse she will
still find something
petty to
reproach you with one day, saying,
"You have never done anything for

If anything presages a bad omen it
is: a house, a woman, a horse.
Never will a people know success
if they confide their affairs to a

AI-Ghazali (1058-1111),

Page 31

describes as the greatest Muslim

after Muhammad, in his The Revival
Of The Religious Sciences, defines
the woman's role:
She should stay at home and get
on with her spinning; she should not
go out often; she must not be wellinformed, nor must she be communicative with her neighbors and only
visit them when absolutely necessary; she should take care of her
husband and respect him in his
presence and his absence and seek
to satisfy him in everything; she
must not cheat on him nor extort
money from him; she must not leave
her house without his permission
and if he gives his permission she
must leave surreptitiously.
should put on old clothes and take
deserted streets and alleys, avoid
markets, and make sure that a
stranger does not hear her voice or
recognize her; she must not speak to
a friend of her husband even in
need ... Her sole worry should be her
virtue, her home as well as her
prayers and her fast. If a friend of
her husband calls when the latter is
absent she must not open the door
nor reply to him in order to safeguard her and her husband's honour.
She should accept what her husband
gives her as sufficient sexual needs
at any moment "...She should be
clean and ready to satisfy her husband's sexual needs at any moment."
The great theologian then warns all
men to be careful of women, for their
"guile is immense and their mischief
is noxious; they are immoral and
mean-spirited." "It is a fact that all
the trials, misfortunes and woes
which befall men come from
women," moaned Al-Ghazali.

In his Book of Counsel for Kings,

Al-Ghazali sums up all that a
woman has to suffer and endure
because of Eve's misbehavior in the
Garden of Eden:
As for the distinctive characteristics with which God on high has
punished women, [the matter is as
follows]: When Eve ate fruit which
He had forbidden to her from the
tree in Paradise, the Lord, be He
praised, punished women with
eighteen things: (1) menstruation;
(2) childbirth; (3) separation from

Page 32

mother and father and marriage to a

stranger; (4) pregnancy; (5) not having control over her own person; (6)
a lesser share in inheritance; (7) her
liability to be divorced and inability
to divorce; (8) its being lawful for
men to have four wives, but for a
woman to have only one husband; (9)
the fact that she must stay secluded
in the house; (10) the fact that she
must keep her head covered inside
the house; (11) the fact that two
women's testimony has to be set
against the testimony of one man;
(12) the fact that she must not go out
of the house unless accompanied by
a near relative; (13) the fact that
men take part in Friday and feastday prayers and funerals while
women do not; (14) disqualification
for rulership and judgeship; (15) the
fact that merit has one thousand
components, only one of which is
attributable to women, while 999 are
attributable to men; (16)... (17) the
fact that if their husbands die they
must observe a waiting period of
four months and ten days before
remarrying. (18) The fact that if
their husbands divorce them they
must observe a waiting period of
three months or three menstrual
periods before remarrying.

The Qur'an, of course, permits

men an unlimited number of women:
4:3 And if ye are apprehensive
that ye shall not deal fairly with
orphans, then, of other women who
seem good in your eyes marry but
two, or three, or four; and if ye still
fear that ye shall not act equitably,
then one only; or the slaves whom ye
have acquired.
23:1,5,6. Happy now the believers, humble in their prayers, shunning vain conversation, paying the
poor-due, and who restrain their
appetites except with their wives or
the slaves whom their right hands
possess: for in that case they shall be
free from blame.
33:49-51 0 Prophet! We allow
thee thy wives whom thou hast dowered, and the slaves whom thy right
hand possesseth out of the booty
which God hath granted thee, and
the daughters of thy uncle, thy
paternal and maternal aunts who
fled with thee to Medina, and any
Autumn 2001

believing woman who hath given

herself up to the Prophet, if the
Prophet desired to wed her - a
Privilege for thee above the rest of
the Faithful. We well know what we
have settled for them, in regard to
their wives and to the slaves ...; that
there may be no fault on thy part ...
Thou mayst decline for the present
whom thou wilt of them, and thou
mayest take to thy bed her whom
thou wilt, and whomsoever thou
shalt long for of those thou shalt
have before neglected, and this shall
not be a crime in thee.

The inequality between men and

women in matters of giving testimony or evidence; or being a witness is
enshrined in the Qur'an: 2:282 "Call
in two male witnesses from among
you; but if two men cannot be found,
then one man and two women whom
you judge fit to act as witnesses; so
that if either of them commit an
error the other will remember."
On adultery, the Qur'an says:
24:4 "Those that defame honorable
women and cannot produce four witnesses shall be given eighty lashes."
Of course, Muslim jurists will only
accept four male witnesses. These
witnesses must declare that they
have "seen the parties in the very act
of carnal conjunction."
In questions of heritage, the
Qur'an tells us that male children
should inherit twice the portion of
female children [4:11-12]. A male
shall inherit twice as much as a
female. If there be more than two
girls, they shall have two-thirds of
the inheritance, but if there be one
only, she shall inherit the half.
Parents shall inherit a sixth each, if
the deceased have a child; but if he
leave no child and his parents be his
heirs, his mother shall have a third.
If he have brothers, his mother shall
have a sixth after payment of any
legacy he may have bequeathed or
any debt he may have owed.
The birth of a girl is still seen as
a catastrophe in Islamic societies.
The system of inheritance just adds
to her misery and her dependence on
the man. If she is an only child she
receives only half the legacy of her
American Atheist

father, the other half going to the

male members of the father's family.
If there are two or more daughters,
they inherit two-thirds. This pushes
fathers and mothers to prefer male
children to female so that they can
leave the entirety of their effects or
possessions to their own descendants. ''Yet when a new-born girl is
announced to one of them his countenance darkens and he is filled with
gloom [Qur'an 43:17]. The situation
is even worse when a woman loses
her husband - she only receives a
quarter of the legacy and one eighth
if there are children. If the deceased
leaves more than one wife, all the
wives are still obliged to share
among themselves a quarter or one
eighth of the legacy.
All Muslim males can at any
moment separate themselves from
their wives, can repudiate their
wives without formality, without
explanations, without compensation.
It is enough for the husband to pronounce the phrase ''You are divorced"
and it is done. Up to a period of three
months the divorce is revocable. If
the husband pronounces ''You are
divorced" three times, then the
divorce is definitive. In the latter
case the divorced wife cannot return
to her husband until she has been
married, 'enjoyed', and divorced by
another husband. Divorce depends
entirely on the will and caprice of the
husband - he may divorce his wife
without any misbehavior on her part
or without assigning any cause. As
far as the custody of children goes, it
is the mother who has the right to
keep them. But as soon as she
decides to remarry, she automatically loses her right to her children
from the previous marriage. In the
case where the husband has the custody of children, if he remarries he
does not lose his right to keep his
children. Thus the woman is faced
with the choice of remarrying and
losing custody of her children or
keeping her children and not marrying. This of course leads to a total
insecurity for the women. Divorce is
very frequent in Arab countries;
instead of keeping four wives at the
Parsippany, New Jersey

same time, which is rather expensive, a man simply changes his wife
several times as recommended by
the great Al-Ghazali.
If a woman asks a man for a
divorce, he may agree if he is paid or
compensated in some way. In such a
case, she is not entitled to the repayment of her dower. The Qur'an sanctions such a dissolution [2:229]: "Ifye
fear that they cannot observe the
ordinances of God, then no blame
shall attach to either of you for what
the wife shall herself give for her
An annulment of a marriage
means a woman loses the right to
the dowry and must give back what
she has already received. Divorced
women do have the right to remarry
but "must wait keeping themselves
from men, three menstrual courses"
Umberto Eco Principle N" 13
Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective
populism, a qualitative populism,
one might say. In a democracy, the
citizens have individual rights,
but the citizens in their entirety have
a political impact only from a quantitative point of view; one follows
the decisions of the majority.
For Ur-Fascism, however,
individuals as individuals have no
rights, and the People is conceived
as a quality, a monolithic entity
expressing the Common Will.
Since no large quantity of human
beings can have a common will,
the Leader pretends to be their
Liberal democracy extends the
sphere of individual freedom and
attaches all possible value to each
man or woman. Individualism is not
a recognizable feature of Islam;
instead the collective will of the
Muslim people is constantly emphasized. There is certainly no notion of
individual rights, which developed in
the West, especially during the eighteenth century. The constant injunction to obey the Caliph, who is God's
Shadow on Earth, is hardly inducive
to creating a rights-based individuAutumn 2001

alist philosophy. The hostility to individual rights is manifest in these two

excerpts, one from the great Ibn
Khaldun, and one from a recent
Muslim thinker A. K. Brohi, a former
Minister of Law and Religious
Affairs in Pakistan who has often
written on human rights from an
Islamic perspective.
First, Ibn Khaldun: "All religious
laws and practices and everything
that the masses are expected to do
requires group feeling. Only with the
help of group feeling can a claim be
successfully pressed. Group feeling
is necessary to the Muslim community. Its existence enables [the community] to fulfill what God expects of
Now A. K. Brohi: "Human duties
and rights have been vigorously
defined and their orderly enforcement is the duty of the whole of
organized communities and the task
is specifically entrusted to the law
enforcement organs of the state. The
individual if necessary has to be sacrificed in order that the life of the
organism be saved. Collectivity has a
special sanctity attached to it in
"[ In Islam] there are no "human
rights" or "freedoms" admissible to
man ... in essence the believer owes
obligation or duties to God if only
because he is called upon to obey the
Divine Law and such human rights
as he is made to acknowledge seem
to stem from his primary duty to
obey God."54 (Note the chillingly
frightening, fascist, and totalitarian
phrase, "the individual if necessary
has to be sacrificed.")
Umberto Eco Principle N" 14
Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.
Newspeak was invented by Orwell,
in 1984, but elements of Ur-Fascism
are common to different forms of
dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist
schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary
syntax, in order to limit the
instruments for complex and
critical thinking.

Page 33

A. K. Brohi, already quoted

above, goes on to write, "By accepting
to live in bondage to this Divine Law,
man learns to be free" - which again
one of
Orwell's Newspeak slogan: "Freedom
is Slavery."
As for Arabic as the language of
Islam, one Muslim philosopher Shabbir Akhtar, who taught at the
International Islamic University in
Malaysia - has written of the limitations of Arabic: "In modern analytical philosophy, there is hardly anything in Arabic or any other Islamic
tongue. Philosophical discussion is
best conducted in English. Owing to
the grammatical
Arabic, it is impossible to express
most philosophical claims with an
acceptable degree of rigor and clarity. Moreover Arabic is a devotional
language lacking the vocabulary requisite for detached discussion of controversial matters."55






Published in New York Review Of

Books, June 22, 1995, pp. 12-15.
U. Eco, "Ur-Fascism," in New York
Review of Books, June 22, 1995, p.
All references to the Qur'an are to
the French translation by E. Montet,
Editions Payot, 2 vols., Paris, 1998.
5:5, p. 276, vol. I.
10:16, p. 397, vol. I.
18:26, p. 509, vol. I.
43:3, p. 233, vol. 2; 56:77, p. 307, vol.
1. Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic
Theology and Law, Princeton, 1981,
J. Schacht, An Introduction
Islamic Law, Oxford, 1964, pp. 7075.
U. Eco, op. cit., p. 14.
Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam,
Theology and Modern
Politics, New Haven, 1985, p. 22.
Ibid., p. 25.
W. Montgomery Watt, MuslimChristian Encounters, London, 1991,
p. 136: "It is virtually certain that
Abraham never reached Mecca."
See especially: P. R. Davies, In
Search of Ancient Israel, Sheffield,
1997; G. Garbini, History

Page 34












Ideology in Ancient Israel, London,

1988; N. P. Lemche, The Israelites in
History and Tradition, Louisville,
1998; J. Van Seters, Abraham in
History and Tradition, New Haven,
1975; K. W.Whitelam, The Invention
of Ancient Israel, London, 1996; T. L.
Thompson, The Historicity of the
Patriarchal Narratives, Berlin, 1974.
alhamawiya al-kubra," Rasail, I, 468,
Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah,
trans. F. Rosenthal, Princeton, 1967,
pp. 349-350.
B. Lewis, Islam in History, Chicago,
1993, pp. 115, 116.
Michael Field, Inside
the Arab
World, Cambridge, 1994, p. 165.
Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West,
New York, 1993, pp. 136-137.
D. Pipes, The Hidden Hand: The
Middle East Fears of Conspiracy,
New York, 1995, p. I.
Ibid, p. 2.
Ibid., p. II.
Ervand Abrahamian, Khomeinism:
Essays on the Islamic Republic,
Berkeley, 1993, p. 13I.
'Aqidati (Cairo), 6, December 1994.
Quoted in B. Lewis, The Shaping of
the Modern Middle East, New York,
1994, p. 12I.
Quoted in ibid., p. 120.
D. Pipes, op. cit., p. 46.
"The Constitution of the Islamic
Republic of Iran," Middle East
Journal, 34 (1980).
Robert Wistrich, Antisemitism:
Longest Hatred, New York, 1991, p.
D. Pipes, op. cit., p. 105.
S. Qutb, Ma'rakatna ma'a'l-Yuhud.,
Ash-Shab (Cairo), 19 April 1994.
Ash-Shab, 12 August, 1995.
D. Pipes, op. cit., p. 292.
Samir al-Khalil [pseudo of Kanan
Makiya], Republic
of Fear: The
Politics of Modern Iraq, Berkeley,
1989, p. 100.
Homa Katouzian,
The Political
Economy of Modern Iran: Despotism
and Pseudo-Modernism,
New York, p. 65.
J; Amuzegar, Dynamics
of the
Iranian Revolution, Albany, 1991, p.
U. Eco, op. cit., pp. 14-15.
Michael Field, Inside
the Arab
World, Cambridge, 1994, p. 168.
D. Pipes, op. cit., p. 180.
Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, chief of
Autumn 2001










the Iranian judiciary, Voice of the

Islamic Republic of Iran, 26 August
The Pakistan
Times, 4 February
Quoted in B. N. Schiff, Refugees unto
the Third Generation: UN Aid to
Palestinians, Syracuse, 1995, p. 12.
S. F. Farmaian, with Dona Munker,
of Persia: A Woman's
Journey from Her Father's Harem
Through the Islamic Revolution,
New York, 1992, p. 84.
Sayyid Qutb, Marakatna
ma alYuhud, quoted in R. Nettler, Past
Trials and Present
Oxford, 1987, p. 85.
R. Peters, Jihad in Classical and
Modern Islam: A Reader, Princeton,
1996, p. I.
Idem., p. 2.
Idem., p. 3.
Bukhari, Sahih, trans. M. M. Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, Vol. 4, p. 42;
Hadith 53, Book of Jihad.
Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah,
F. Rosenthal, Princeton, 1967, p. 183.
Averroes, al-Bidayat,
trans. and
quoted in R. Peters, Jihad
Princeton, 1996, pp. 29-43.
F. Schuon, Stations
of Wisdom,
London, 1961, note 1, p. 64.
Ibn Khaldun, The Muqadimah,
trans. F. Rosenthal, Princeton, 1967,
Quoted in A. E. Mayer, Islam and
Human Rights, Boulder, 1991, p. 606I.
S. Akhtar, "Ex-Defender of the
In The Times

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Parsippany, New Jersey


Page 35

Knocking off
the Gods
By Margaret Bhatty
he world must be puzzled
about the kind of noises coming out from India over the
destruction of the giant limestone
Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban
in Afghanistan. Our Prime Minister
calls it "a further obscurantist
regression - an assault on centuries
of Afghan tradition." This is the
same man who declared earlier this
year that the destruction of the
Babri Masjid (mosque) "fulfilled the
people's aspirations." Which people?
we would ask. He also said the temple to Ram would be built.
Smashing idols, demolishing
shrines, and desecrating sacred
icons is something the Christian
West has now outgrown. This was
how Christianity wiped out flourishing cultures when its tall ships circumnavigated the globe. Destroying
the gods of one's adversaries clearly
demonstrated the superiority of
one's own. Fundamentalist Hindus
don't like to be told that in ancient

Margaret Bhatty comes from a

Christian missionary family. She
is a free-lance journalist
author of books in English for
Indian children. She lioes in
Nagpur, India. For many years a
columnist for American Atheist,
she is the author of the AAP book
An Atheist Reports From India,
which is available from American
Atheists ($9.00, ISBN 0-91030942-6, Stock #5026).
Page 36

India, even before Allah emerged

from among the sand dunes of
Arabia, or Christianity found the
trade routes to the sub-continent,
Hindu kings had no qualms about
smashing the gods of other Hindu
kings and looting their wealth.
Harsha, who ruled a vast empire for
41 years from 606 CE, had special
officials whose duty it was to gather
the spoils and make an inventory of
temple gold, jewels, and land.
During the month of March, as
news got around here of the
Taliban's plans to destroy the idols of
the Buddha, among our loonies new
equations have begun to emerge on
the religious front. No one here is
really bothered about the cultural or
historical loss to the world of these
spectacular carvings. Our Hindu
outfits - the RSS and its various
squads - are instead much perturbed by this assault on the integrity of Buddhism in particular, and
Hinduism in general. After all, it was
from Hindu India that the religion
went northwards. Most Buddhists
don't see themselves as part of
Hinduism. In fact, Gautama's creed
was a spirited rebellion against
Hinduism and its attendant ills in
the 6th century BCE. But the RSS
would like to see that reversed. It
describes Islam and Christianity as
'alien' but concedes ethnic validity to
Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism as
'Indian.' In an effort to take Bud
dhists back where they originally
Autumn 2001

belonged - in the bosom of Hinduism

- Gautama was declared the tenth
avatar of Vishnu. In Ayodhya today
all the pillars, carvings, etc. are
ready for the final act when hordes
of zealots will descend on the town
and erect the temple without steel or
cement. Among the idols waiting to
be installed is a new arrival - a
freshly-carved image of Gautama
We have a huge Buddhist population consisting chiefly of former
Untouchables who converted when
their leader Dr. Ambedkar embraced
the religion at a mass conversion
ceremony here in Nagpur in 1956.
He hoped by this act to set all free
from the stigma of untouchability. It
didn't work. As neo-Buddhists his
followers are unimpressed by the
Hindu concern for their welfare.
They give their votes to their own
kind. (The efforts of the RSS to 'reinstate Sikhism as an off-shoot of
Hinduism also met with a spirited
rejection. It was obliged to tone down
its rhetoric when Sikhs threatened
to come out on the streets.)
Buddhism is of much older vintage than Sikhism. Gautama was
born around 563 BCE. His teachings
spread fast all over India. The success of this new creed was a great
loss of face to Hinduism. But it survives today chiefly in Southeast Asia
because of ruthless persecution by
Brahmins in order to restore their
Vedic religion.
American Atheist

The renowned Kashmir historian, Kaihana, who lived in the twelfth

century, recorded how King Jalauka
ordered the demolition of Buddhist
uiharas because the sound of clarions disturbed
his sleep. King
Abhimanyu had hundreds of Buddhists killed year after year. King
Nara, also of Kashmir, had uiharas
destroyed and settled Brahmins in
Buddhist villages. "The massacre of
Buddhists and destruction of their
holy places did not stop until
Buddhism was rooted out of the
Valley."In other parts of the country
also, Buddhists faced persecution or
death. One raja of Bengal, Shashank
of the seventh century, tried without
success, to uproot the Bodhi Tree in
Gaya. Buddhists were driven out of
Kerala. South Indian kings also
turned on the Buddhists. King
Sudhavan issued an edict: "From the
Bridge of Rana in Ceylon to the

Parsippany, New Jersey

Himalayas, who does not slay the

Buddhists, both old and young, shall
be slain."
According to a modern historian,
P. Ramanathan, both Buddhists and
Jains were actively persecuted in
south India. "The impaling of 8,000
Tamilian Jains on a single day by
the Tamilian Brahmin, Thirignana
Sambhanda, at Madurai, around 600
AD,is celebrated by an annual festival in the Meenakshi Temple and at
many other temples. The Vaikuntha
Perumal temple in Kanchipuram is
only one among numerous containing bas-relief sculptures of the murder and torture of Tamilian Buddhists and Jains ."
Letters in our newspapers present a revealing cross-section of opinion on the Taliban's destruction of all
pre-Islamic shrines in Afghanistan,
Inevitably, the destruction of the
Babri Masjid crops up. Hindutava

Autumn 2001

sympathizers all declare it was not

iconoclastic but a remedy to right an
earlier wrong. But the future agenda
also includes Muslim mosques in
Mathura and Varanasi with others
to follow.There is talk of destroying
the Cathedral of St. Thomas on the
Mount in Chennai (Madras), and
in Goa and
Pondicherry - all built on Hindu
temples razed by earlier Portuguese
and French colonialists.
One reader in the Times of India
writers "Perhaps there is only one
difference between Taliban and
Hindu fanatics: The Taliban have
managed to destroy their own country and its heritage without opposition. Our home-grown Talibans continue to operate fearlessly." He
deplores the way these monsters are
nurtured by our own politicians.
Another writer in the same column
(11 March 2001) declares "there

Page 37

never has been an instance of Hindu

intolerance against people of other
faiths. But history is replete with
of Muslim invaders
destroying the religions and cultures
ofthe lands they over-run - all in the
name of Islam." He describes the
destruction of the Buddhas as "the
third assault on Hindu civilization"
- the first that of the adventurer
Mahmud of Ghazni from 1010 to
1026, and the second by Muhammad
Ghuri in 1182 - both emerging from
the northwestern region through the
Khyber Pass. He sees the Taliban
action as the third assault on Hindu
Ironically, Sayed Rehmathullah
Hasmi, Taliban spokesman at the
UNO, has declared that the bombardment of the Buddhas is "in
retaliation to the demolition of the
Ban Masjid in 1992."We could go on
like this for decades, until there is
nothing left on either side to demolish.
As a mind-set "Taliban" is not a
monopoly ofthe zealots who promote
their brand of intolerance and brutality in Afghanistan today. Talibans
have rampaged through human history in different guises. The same
mind-set which marched with the
Crusaders to liberate Jerusalem,
also crossed the Atlantic with the
Conquistadors to demolish the gods
of the Incas and other flourishing
cultures. It circumnavigated the
globe in voyages of discovery and
repression and established Christianity in Africa,
In the Middle East and Europe,
the great schisms of early Christianity resulted in massacres, desecration of shrines, smashing of icons.
Wars between Catholics and Protestants were as brutal as tribal conflicts in the darkest regions of the
earth where Christ hadn't yet penetrated.
India, legendary for its wealth in
ancient times, was looted and plundered by warlike Tartars, Mongols,
Huns, and other hordes of Central
Asia. When these embraced Islam
their campaigns took on the character of holy wars waged against idolworshipping heathens. But there is
Page 38

nothing specifically Islamic about

iconoclasm. Every religion places
upon its adherents an obligation to
exalt one's gods. And if this can be
best achieved by destroying and laying waste to others' shrines and
sacred areas there is much merit
attached to the act. It is essentially a
vested interest in a game of power.
That is why we can recognize it here
in my country in the utterances and
activities of Hindu and other fundamentalists.
Repression, persecution, and
vandalism are taken as proof of the
vitality and validity of a dogmatic
belief We have all that and much


more now stalking this land which

could once pride itself on its secularism. If an Islamic Taliban is a blot on
the face of Afghanistan, how much
more reprehensible a Hindu mindset is in a culture which graciously
accepts all religions as just so many
different paths to the same end.
It is therefore even more ironical
that condemnation of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas should
come from the RSS. By identifying a
Hindu interest in seeing the sculptures preserved, it has taken upon
itself the role of self-appointed
spokesmen of Buddhist interests.
And in so doing it brings into sharper focus its own phobias about Islam.

at jason/ove.com

"It gets worse ... God was his co-pilot."

Autumn 2001

. American Atheist



Secret Vendetta With the Almighty

By Gary Sloan

hen Mark Twain died in

1910, he was an international superstar and an
American institution.
He was
cheered at home and abroad for his
droll wit, frontier bluffness, and
corn-pone wisdom. He was America's
knight errant against sham, cant,
and pomposity in places high and
low.His signature white suit, shock
of gray hair, walrus mustache, and
omnipresent cigar were etched in the
national consciousness. Wherever he
went, he drew exuberant crowds,
journalists wheedled piquant quips,
hosts vied for after-dinner remarks.
He was toasted by royalty, wooed by
moguls, embraced by the intelligentsia. Andrew Carnegie donated a
thousand dollars to spread "a new
Gospel of Saint Mark" (an anti-imperialist tract). Charles Darwin kept a
Twain volume on his nightstand.
William Dean Howells, a lifelong
friend and esteemed arbiter of belles
lettres, dubbed him "the Lincoln of
our literature."
Only a handful of intimates
knew this revered creator of Tom
Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, and Huck
Finn had died a bilious adversary of
the Almighty. Even today, Beelzebub
isn't a part of his popular image. In
his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri,
billboards, advertisements, posters,

Gary Sloan, a retired English professor in Ruston, Louisiana, is a

frequent contributor to freethought
publications, including American
Atheist. He can be contacted at
Parsippany, New Jersey

T-shirts, mugs, and other memorabilia betray no hint of Twain's vendetta

against god. In his twilight years,
Twain's volcanic pen belched ceaseless vitriol against his Maker.
Spewed into letters, notebooks,
essays, dialogues, autobiographical
dictations, and sundry fragments,
none of this uneven gallimaufry was
published in his lifetime. This was
gospel for the future. Marveling at
the audacity of his naughtiness, he
initially reckoned the world would
need five hundred years to catch up.
Later, in a flush of philanthropy, he
revised the estimate to 2006 CE.
He had no wish to emulate the
fate of Thomas Paine, whose The Age
of Reason he had read in his cub
pilot days. Because Paine openly
denigrated the Bible and religion, he
was skewered in pulpits across the
land. Overnight, he went from
national hero to national varmint.
Since Twain liked to be liked, he
Autumn 2001

opted for the better part of valor. At

seventy-two, he wrote: "I expose to
the world only my trimmed and perfumed and carefully barbered public
opinions and conceal carefully, cautiously, wisely, my private ones."
His private opinions had never
been arrestingly pious. His father,
who died when Mark was twelve,
was an easygoing Hannibal lawyer
and storekeeper, whom the son
would later suspect of having had an
agnostic bone or two. His Presbyterian mother showed flashes of heterodoxy. In his autobiography, Twain
recalls her sympathy for Satan
because he never got to tell his side
of the story. Like Tom and Huck, his
alter egos, young Twain preferred
smoking, cussing, spelunking, and
lollygagging to sermons, Sunday
school, and other heavy-duty moral
cleansers. When he did attend to
religion, his empirical proclivities
threatened orthodoxy. After his Bible
teacher had explicated the verse
"Ask and ye shall receive," Twain
spent three days praying for gingerbread. When none materialized, he
filched a convenient piece. He concluded that prayer is an inferior
mode of acquisition.
As an adult, he adopted the
Christianity of enlightened liberalism, congenial with his deism. He
discarded heaven and hell, the
immortality of the soul, and the
divinity of Jesus Christ. From Paine,
he had imbibed the idea that religions derive their authority from
spurious claims by their founders
that they had received revelations
Page 39

from a god, transmitted to posterity

as incontrovertible holy writ. Bibles
diminished the grandeur of the
"real" god by straitening him to the
narrow confines of parochial imaginations. The true revelation was
Nature, best apprehended through
As late as the 1880s, Twain could
still view with equanimity an aloof,
impersonal Creator: "I do not believe
in special providences. I believe that
the universe is governed by strict
and immutable laws. If one man's
family is swept away by a pestilence
and another man's spared, it is only
the law working: God is not interfering in that small matter, either
against the one man or in favor of
the other." Though severe, this
Olympian impartiality was without
Twain was quick to embrace
Darwinism. Descent of Man became
one of his favorite books. Like
Darwin, Twain was skeptical of the
theological bromide that evolution is
god's way of producing humans. At
various stages, the oyster, the pterodactyl, and the kangaroo, Twain
wryly suggested, had made similar
assumptions about themselves. For a
time, he believed evolution operated
on a teleological principle - design,
not chance. Later, he decided evolution is "a blind giant who rolls a
snowball down a hill." The direction
of movement is "unpremeditated,
unforeseen, blind."
Twain touted science, reason,
and logic as antidotes to ignorance,
superstition, and humbuggery of
every ilk. In A Connecticut Yankee in
King Arthur's Court, the mumbo
jumbo of the enchanter Merlin is no
match for the "hard unsentimental
common sense" of Hank Morgan, an
From Andrew Dickinson White's A
History of the Warfare of Science
with Theology
in Christendom,
Twain gleaned many facts that
found their way into his own writing.
Adducing evidence from geology and
paleontology, White demolished the
Page 40

Genesis account(s) of creation. The

book reinforced Twain's conviction
that no god meddles in human
affairs. When Dr. Jacques Loeb proposed that life could be created from
a mixture of chemical agencies,
Twain publicly defended him against
widespread skepticism in the scientific community. Historically, Twain
noted, the cognoscenti had often
scoffed at major breakthroughs.
Twain hailed Robert Ingersoll, an
outspoken agnostic, as "an angelic
orator and evangel of a new gospel the gospel of free thought."
Twain's boon companion and
biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine,
described the author's delight in cosmology: "He was always thrown into
a kind of ecstasy by the unthinkable
distances of space - the supreme
drama of the universe. The fact that
Alpha Centauri was 25 trillions of
miles away - 250 thousand times the
distance of our remote sun, and that
our solar system was traveling, as a
whole, toward the bright star Vega,
in the constellation of Lyra, at the
rate of 42 miles a second, yet would
be thousands upon thousands of
years reaching its destination, fairly
enraptured him." In Letters from the
Satan gives his angelic
cohorts a tutorial on astronomy so
they may be properly aghast at
Jehovah's ignorance of celestial
Compared with the majestic
pageantry of astronomical phenomena, church creeds seemed insular,
petty, and egoistic. In a letter to
Howells, Twain recounted the constricting effect of his sister-in-law's
religiosity on his brother Orion: "She
is saturated to the marrow with the
most malignant form of Presbyterianism - that sort which considers the saving of one's own paltry
soul the first & supreme end & object
oflife, so you see she has harried him
into the church several times, & then
made religion so intolerable to him
with her prayings & Bible readings
& her other & eternal pious clackclack that it has had the effect of
harrying him out of it again."
Autumn 2001

Despite his strictures on church

and Bible, Twain long retained
respect for Jesus. He told Orion:
"Neither Howells nor I believe in hell
or the divinity of the Savior, but no
matter, the Savior is none the less a
sacred Personage, and a man should
have no desire or disposition to refer
to him lightly, profanely, or otherwise
than with the profoundest reverence." Twain always respected what
he deemed sincere expressions of
moral idealism.
wealthy Olivia Langdon, of Elmira,
New York, in 1870, he wasn't averse
to her conventional piety. At this
time, according to Howells, Twain
was still "far from the entire negation he came to at last." Livy's ardor
for church, Bible reading, and family
prayers certified her virtue. Like
many men of his era, Twain believed
the female aptitude for spirituality
exceeded the male's. Deferentially,
he acquiesced for a while in his wife's
faith. He offered morning prayers
and daily readings from Scripture.
He desisted from snide remarks
about the Book. He regularly attended a church pastored by his friend
Joseph Twichell - a "progressive
Christian," Twain enthused. Temporarily, at least, he slipped comfortably into the vestments of Christian
respectability. Even after the punctilious phase of his piety had waned,
he observed an extended truce with
Prior to the 1890s, Twain's criticism of religion was more bantering
than acrimonious. He poked fun at
religious tracts, pious showboats,
and bombastic moralizing. "Colloquy
Between a Slum Child and a Moral
Mentor" illustrates the mode. The
supercilious mentor grows increasingly dithery when the child persists
in swearing and misconstruing the
nature of hell.
"I'd like to ben in that bad
place them times when I was
cold, by hokey!"
"Don't swear, James.
It is
American Atheist

"What's wicked?"
"Why, to be wicked is to do
what one ought not to do - to violate the moral ordinances provided for the regulation of our
conduct in this vale of sorrows,
and for the elevation and refinement of our social and intellectual natures."
So, what turned this amiable
wag and devotee of science into a
closetCaptain Ahab, storming at the
scrutable malice of the universe and
presuming God to
Here, one must
recur to conjecture.
overt pretensions, he
evidently never relinquished an anthropomorphic
thought. According to philosopher
Paul Edwards ("Atheism," Encyclopedia of Philosophy), few Westerners
do. When most adults "think about
God unself-consciously, they vaguely
think of him as possessing some kind
of rather large body. The moment
they assert or deny or question such
statements as 'God created the universe' or 'God will be a just judge
when we come before him,' they
introduce a body into the background, if not into the foreground, of
their mental pictures." In the fundamentalist Missouri of his youth,
Twain absorbed by cultural osmosis,
if not ecclesiastical injection, the
idea that god is a merciful and just
father. No matter how much he
derided the idea - and he did so ad
infinitum - some part of him continued to believe this is the way god
should be. "Twain's disbelief and his
pessimism," noted Bigelow Paine,
"were of his mind, never of his
heart." Forty years of halcyon fortune shored up the subterranean
Then, in the 1890s, his fortune
changed. He was buffeted by a series
of blows from which he never recovered.

brought him to bankruptcy, his oldest daughter, Susy, died of meningitis, his youngest, Jean, was diagnosed an epileptic, Livy began a slide
into lasting invalidism (she died in
1904), and Twain's own health was
in eclipse. "Having long derided the
notion of special providence," said
John Tuckey, a Twain scholar, "he
was now forced to consider himself
the personal victim of a scheme of
providential retribution."
When the crushing afflictions
were visited on him, he reacted like
an irascible Job. He struck back at


epithets of love and respect: ''With a

fine sarcasm we ennoble God with
the title of Father - yet we know
quite well that we should hang his
style of father wherever we might
catch him." "There is only one
Criminal," catechized Twain, "and it
is not man."
Before long, Twain's ire extended
to Jesus Christ - a.k.a. Jehovah
"after he got religion." The all-new
Jehovah was not an improvement.
He had added braggadocio and
deceitfulness to his repertoire of
defects. "His Old Testament self is
sweetness and gentleness and respectability
with his
earthly self. In Heaven
he claims not a single
merit and hasn't one outside
claimed by His mouth
- whereas in the earth
He claims every merit in the entire
catalogue of merits, yet practices
them only now and then, penuriously." With some historical legerdemain, Twain credited (or discredited)
Jesus with the invention of hell. This
was the most egregious rascality
imaginable because it deprived the
wretched human race of its lone solace, eternal death. Thus, "the meek
and gentle Savior was a thousand
times crueler than ever he was in the
Old Testament."
encompassed the stolid Designer of
the deists. He, too, was destitute of
morals. As the author of natural law,
he was culpable for the thousand
shocks flesh is heir to. Twain was
stupefied by "the all-comprehensive
could patiently
descend to the contriving of elaborate tortures for the meanest and
pitifulest of creatures." The effectiveness of the traps, pitfalls, and gins,
Twain mused, in no way depended
on obtrusive intervention: "He could
invent the tortures and set in motion
the laws and machinery which
should continue them through all
time without his supervision, then
turn His attention elsewhere and

Twain catcuiatea, was

statistically the b(ggest mass
murderer in history.

Parsippany, New Jersey

the abusive father with his best

weapon, words - feverishly, obsessively, endlessly, but never publicly,
discharged. Firing these paper bullets of the brain momentarily eased
his leaden grief.
For a time, his rancor was confined to the Old Testament god,
whom he had intellectually, but
never emotionally, sloughed off.
Twain "could never quite free himself from reading the Bible with fundamentalist passion," said Twainian
Stanley Brodwin, "even as he
ridiculed it in the name of reason."
Jehovah, Twain calculated, was statistically the biggest mass murderer
in history. Offended, he reflexively
slew everything in sight: ''All the
men, all the beasts, all the boys, all
the babies, all the women and all the
girls, except those that have not been
deflowered. What this insane Father
requires is blood and misery; he is
indifferent as to who furnishes it."
Nothing drove Jehovah's dudgeon
higher than minor lapses in hygiene.
Anyone "who pisseth against the
wall" was sure to provoke a wholesale massacre. Despite recurrent
bludgeonings, the pious persisted in
conferring on the brutal autocrat
Autumn 2001

Page 41

trouble himself no further about the

matter." The cosmic Watchmaker
could install automatic detonating
devices. This absentee knavery was
worse than Jehovah's in-your-face
Twain's anger was aggravated
by the supposition that god, were he
genially disposed, could eliminate all
unhappiness, yet sadistically declines to do so. Twain ridiculed the
moral axiom that suffering builds
character. He thought it more apt to
destroy than to edify. He inverted
Alexander Pope's cheery maxim that
"whatever is, is right." Since god is
malevolent, Twain reasoned, whatever is, is wrong. Twain obsessively
documented the wrongness: "The day
we are born he begins to persecute
us. Even our littleness, our innocence, our helplessness cannot move
him to any pity, any gentleness. Day
after day, week after week, month
after month, the wanton torture goes
on." Twain frequently chanted litanies of ailments: "Pain, pain, pain in the teeth, in the stomach, in the
bowels; disease follows disease:
measles, croup, whooping cough,
mumps, colic,scarlet fever, ague, tonsilitis, diphtheria - there is no end to
the list." In sum, the paragon of animals "is but a basket of festering
offal provided for the support and
entertainment of swarming armies
commissioned to rot him and destroy
him, each army equipped with a special detail of the work."
Twain oft rehearsed the ubiquitous malignity of the fly.God gives it
its orders: "Depart into the uttermost corners of the earth, and diligently do your appointed work.
Persecute the sick child; settle upon
its eyes, its face, its hands, and gnaw
and pester and sting; worry and fret
and madden the worn and tired
mother who watches by the child,
and who humbly prays for mercy and
relief with the pathetic faith of the
deceived and unteachable." He goes
on for another four-hundred words.
In a fragmentary Twain fable, a
monkey, hearing god praised, mumbles: "My praise is that we have not
two of him." Twain couldn't imagine
Page 42

himself as heartless as he supposed

god to be: "I often put a dog on the
fire and hold him down with the
tongs, and enjoy his yelps and moans
and strugglings and supplications
[in reality, Twain was kind to animals], but with a man it would be
different. I think that in the long
run, if his wife and babies, who had
not harmed me, should come crying
and pleading, I couldn't stand it; I
know I should forgive him and let
him go, even if he had violated a
monastery:" Most people are "better,
kinder, gentler, more to be respected,
honored, and esteemed" than the
deity they ostensibly revere.
Viewing Satan as a heroic rebel
against the real Archfiend, Twain
came to identify with the fallen
cherub and often used him as a
mouthpiece. In "That Day in Eden,"
Satan commiserates with the fallen
Adam and Eve, baffled by god's punishment: "Poor ignorant things, the
command of refrain had meant nothing to them, they were but children,
and could not understand untried
things and verbal abstractions which
stood for matters outside of their little world and their narrow experience." In Letters from the Earth,
Satan says, "The only person responsible for the couple's offence escaped,
and not only escaped but became the
executioner of the innocent."
Twain deprecated the Moral
Sense (he always capitalized it), a
legacy of the mythic Fall, as the
source of immorality. By allowing
humans to distinguish good and bad,
its sole effect was to tempt and to
enable humans to do evil. Without it,
we would live in a state of idyllic
innocence, unafflicted by conscience.
With it, we are inferior to the creatures, spared the accursed faculty:
"Whenever I look at the other animals and realize that whatever they
do is blameless, I envy them the dignity of their estate, its purity and its
loftiness, and recognize that the
Moral Sense is a thoroughly disastrous thing."
Twain was like a lapsed
Calvinist in a universe divested of
grace. Deprived of free will, proxiAutumn 2001

mately by temperament and circumstance, but ultimately

by god,
humans were servile mechanisms
doomed to enact, generation after
generation, to the last syllable of
time, the deeds god had contrived,
foreseen, and appointed to each.
Mentally, Twain dwelt in an
absurd universe where human
automatons trick themselves into
believing they are autonomous. All
the while, the cosmic Puppet Master
is pulling the strings: "Man is a poor
joke - the poorest that was ever conceived - an April-fool joke, played by
a malicious urchin Creator with
nothing better to waste his time
upon." As programmed mechanism,
"man is not to blame for what he is."
He "didn't make himself and he has
no control over himself." Only
"unthinking fools" believe they have
"an obligation to God and owe Him
thanks, reverence, and worship."
His own perfervid blasphemies,
he thought, were part of the appointed absurdity. Occasionally, Twain
sought refuge in solipsism. After his
wife's death, he wrote Joseph
Twichell: "There is nothing. There is
no God and no universe, there is only
empty space, and in it a lost and
homeless and wandering and companionless
Thought. And I am that thought.
And God, and the Universe, and
Time, and Life, and Death, and Joy
and Sorrow and Pain only a grotesque and brutal dream, evolved
from the frantic imagination of that
same Thought."
In his grief and despair, Twain
arrived at an endgame of utter
An Atheistic observer might be
tempted to descry in Twain's fate an
exemplum on the perils of theism. I'll
resist. At the end, for Mark Twain,
nothing short of death would do.
Informed that two old acquaintances
had died, he groused: "They get all
the good stuff." He had been
stretched out on the rack of the
world too long. Fame, Love, Riches,
Pleasure - these, he wrote, were
life's false gifts. Death was the only
true boon.
American Atheist


An American and Atheist Novelist
on the History of Religious Ideas
This se~ies of articles on Vardis Fisher's TESTAMENT OF MAN is adapted from an unpublished work written in the late
1~80s, ta~ed A.Journey Th~ough History in Fiction: A Reader's Guide to History and Historical Novels. Earl Doherty
w~ll.cO.ntmue in the ne~t issue of American Atheist with reviews of the final two novels of the TESTAMENT, about
Christian development into the Middle Ages, Peace Like A River and My Holy Satan.
By Earl Doherty
In previous installments
of this
series on Vardis Fisher's l l-uolume
work of historical fiction, the TESTA
MENT OF MAN, Earl Doherty examined novels on prehistory,
Israel, and the figure of Jesus. He
moves now to the next novel of the
which traces the development of Christianity as a faith movement and its expansion across the
ancient Roman empire.

Earl Doherty is a member of the

Humanist Association of Canada,
with a degree in History and
Classical Languages. As a longtime researcher into the subject of
Christian origins, he supports the
position that no historical Jesus
existed. His own contributions to
that theory have been embodied in
a Web-site that has gained worldwide attention and in a recent book
called The Jesus Puzzle: Did
Mythical Christ? published
Canadian Humanist Publications.
For information, visit the Jesus
Puzzle Web-site:<http://www.magi.

Parsippany, New Jersey


Alan Swallow, Denver, 1956 (368
he previous novel, Jesus Came
Again: A Parable, considered
the question: Who was Jesus?
A Goat For Azazel addresses the
question that follows:What was the
religion in his name and how did it
The novel is cast as the story of
Damon, son of an impoverished
Roman noblewoman and a Greek
slave. His mother, a Christian, is
among those accused by Nero of setting the great fire that leveled much
of the city in 64 CE. She is executed
by burning, and her unflinching
acceptance of this horrible death,
witnessed by her young son, instills
in him a life-long passion to learn
what Christians are and where their
faith has come from.
That quest, over half a century,
carries Damon to all the great cities
of the empire: cosmopolitan Rome,
learned Alexandria, lush Antioch
and licentious Corinth, to a ruined
after the disastrous
Jewish revolt, to other places rude
and small as he seeks out Christian
communities and their leaders, new
writings and the men who wrote
them, about the faith and about the

Autumn 2001

misty figure of Jesus. Damon is trying to create for himself, and for a
book he will eventually write, a
coherent picture of a movement
which seems to be growing into a
major force. Three widely different
women figure in his life and quest,
and the picture of Rome's diverse
empire is broad and colorful. But the
meat of the novel is the profuse
wealth of discussion about Christian
belief and its Jewish antecedents,
about Greco-Roman mystery cults,
ancient philosophy from Buddha to
Plato to Philo. Because of this overriding raison d'etre, it could be said
there are certain shortcomings in
plot and characterization; and Fisher
has perhaps tried to get too much
into it. But the reader who approaches it as a novel of ideas will come
away fascinated by its provocative
consideration of the origin of history's most influential religion.
A Goat For Azazel is really a
philosophical detective story. It does
not presuppose the specific events of
the preceding novel; that was a symbolic representation of the birth of
the Jesus movement. Damon begins
his investigation as a young man
toward the end of Nero's reign. He
finds that there is no central organization linking the diverse Christian
sects which dot the empire; they
Page 43

have local leaders who preach, but

no priests. A mix of Jews and nonJews, the Christians believe they are
an elect of Israel who have been
saved by accepting the Messiah. This
savior had been killed and rose on
the third day. His imminent return
will exalt his adherents and make
them immortaL On other points of
doctrine most groups are in violent
disagreement, or in ignorance of one
another. As for Jesus himself, he is a
shadowy figure. The Gnostics believe
he was a phantom and not a real
man, others that he was the son of a
soldier named Pandera, or that he
had five disciples and was hanged in
Palestine a century earlier as a
rebeL Some groups have no knowledge at all about an historical figure.
Few details about Jesus' life can
be found, until at Rome Damon
encounters a primitive book written
by one Mark who tells of certain
wonders performed by Jesus and
maintains he was turned into a god
at his baptism. Mark gives the first
bare account of his betrayal, hanging, and resurrection from the dead.
Damon finds that many elements of the Christian faith and rit-

from the moment of birth the son of

God, that he was rejected by the
Jews, that he had twelve apostles.
Many of these new details are contained in a book by Luke, whom
Damon meets in Antioch. Luke
admits that he knows personally of
no one who actually met any of
Jesus' original disciples, and when
Damon accuses him of reworking old
legends and scriptures, of putting
into Jesus' mouth many of the ethical ideas already abroad in the
world, Luke claims that he is not
inventing "when the holy spirit is
speaking through me."
Damon perceives that
strands are coming together: the lord
and savior god of the Greeks,
Romans and Egyptians, and the
messiah figure of the Jews. God and
man are being fused. The earthly
salvation of one nation is being
transformed into the personal and
eternal salvation of every believer.
One influence in this evolution,
Damon discovers, was a Hellenized
Jew named Paul, whose highly poetic and symbolic mind had given new
and deeper meanings to the mystery
cults, to ideas like evil, sin, and

gions. The Jews have no choice but to

reject the messiah of the Christians,
since they have made him the Son of
God, an idea which is anathema to
these uncompromising monotheists.
The Christians on the other hand
hold the Jews responsible for this
rejection, as well as for Jesus' death.
(Damon realizes that the figure of
the great betrayer Judas is an invention which represents all Jews.) The
Christians are further exacerbating
by appropriating
Jewish sacred books for themselves,
them into elaborate
prophecies about Jesus' coming. The
new religion of love and charity,
Damon laments, is turning into one
of hatred and intolerance. A new
book about Jesus, reputedly written
by a man named Matthew but which
Damon feels is a compilation from
different sources because of its combination of contradictory views, is
marred by shocking calumnies
against the Jews.
As the years pass, and Damon's
knowledge and writings about the
Christians take shape, the concept of
Jesus evolves further. From Mark's
human figure who became a god,

The novel's title, A Goat For Azazel, refers to the Judaic

element from which the idea of Jesus' redeeming role is
partly derived: the sacrificial animal upon which,
on each Day of Atonement, the Jewish priests symbolically
laid the sins of the people. The goat was driven into the
wilderness "into the arms of the demon Azazel."
ual seem to have been derived from
the popular savior-god cults of
Mithras, Dionysos, and Osiris. These
similarities to their Jesus Christians
impute to the wiles of Satan who,
of the
Christian religion, set up in advance
counterfeit systems in order to confuse believers when the real thing
came along.
Over the years, Damon witnesses the rise of new ideas about Jesus:
that he was born of a Jewish virgin
in a stable in Bethlehem, that he was
Page 44

redemption. Paul had been convinced that faith and repentance

were everything; he had jettisoned
the need to conform to the Jewish
Law of rituals like circumcision, and
he had abandoned the emphasis
which his fellow Jews placed upon
good deeds. In this way he had made
the new faith accessible to everyone
with appealing ease.
But the Christians' identification of their savior god with the
Jewish messiah is leading to a foreboding enmity between the two reliAutumn 2001

Jesus is now presented as a preexisting one, standing with the

Father in heaven before creation,
awaiting the eventual playing of his
redeeming role. This mystic revolution takes place in a new Gospel
written during the reign ofTrajan by
John the Elder of Ephesus. Jesus has
become the Logos, the Word, the personification of divine reason and
will, an aspect of God the Father.
This is an idea derived from the
Jewish philosopher Philo, as well as
from the Greeks. Paul too held this
American Atheist

cosmic view of Jesus (before the

Gospels were written), and his
delayed influence had contributed to
the Gospel of John.
Damon also witnesses the beginnings of an authoritarian church
hierarchy. Ignatius, the Christian
leader in Antioch, preaches an
unprecedented insistence on obedience and reverence for the bishop
and his assistants who now lead
most communities; he demands an
unquestioning acceptance of what
they teach. Ignatius is in the fore-

est, to those too destitute to afford

initiation into the pagan mystery
cults, to those too ignorant to study
and follow the Jewish Law. "Blessed
are the poor and the meek, the
accursed and the outcast!" This is a
cry Damon hears ringing across the
whole Roman world. Three-quarters
of the population of the empire were
slaves or little better, a sick, despairing host scorned by the aristocratic
classes. For these unfortunates,
"Christian promises were the oasis
in the desert. (They) opened the tem-

dominant, to art and science and philosophy, all of which they openly
despise and deride? And how will
they treat the rest of the world from
their new vantage point of truth?
Here, for Damon, lies the crux of the
matter: the worthiness of the new
religion will be determined by how
well they put their principles into
practice. He wishes he could look
into the future and see whether they
too will torture and kill in the name
of their God, as the old faiths have

What will happen, if the Christians become dominant, in

art and science and philosophy, all of which they
openly despise and deride?
front of the struggle with rival
Christian sects, whose 'unorthodox'
views about Jesus are fast becoming
the principal evil against which
proper Christians must fight. When
the Jews are utterly dispersed by
Rome early in the second century, it
will be a bitter war against heretics
that will occupy a growing Church's
attention. In Ignatius, too, is focused
a burgeoning passion for the joys of
martyrdom, as Rome increases its
persecution against the Christians.
In fulfillment of his greatest wish,
Ignatius is eventually taken to Rome
and burned in the arena. Damon follows to witness this replaying of the
great shaping influence of his own
mother's martyrdom, and here his
life and quest reaches its climax.
When early in his investigation
Damon perceives that the Christians
have borrowed most of the elements
of their 'new' religion from other
sources, from the Jews, from Greek
philosophy, from mythologies and
mystery cults all over the Near East,
the focus of his thinking shifts to the
question: Have the Christians thus
created a new synthesis, a new and
nobler myth? Its greatest virtue, he
believes, is its capacity for tenderness and compassion, its attempt to
apply the principle of love in the
everyday world ('charity'). Christianity is accessible even to the lowParsippany, New Jersey

ples of holiness to the unholy; gave

hope to the hopeless; offered another
life to the toiling slaves who labored
to enrich the few; and brought God's
son down to suffer with them and
show them how to carry their cross."
For such simple people without
resources, the requirements had to
be equally simple and undemanding,
truths had to be literal and unsophisticated. Thus the membership of
the early Christian faith determined
much of its outlook, but it promised
to be a pivotal step toward creating a
society with fairer principles of justice and compassion, with an
entrenched idea of human equality.
However, Damon perceives that
many of the immediate effects of the
Christian outlook are negative. In
this early stage, there is no thought
of reforming the world on principles
of equality, for Jesus' coming is
expected soon and he will exalt his
believers and condemn all others.
And with all hope and attention projected onto a life after death, the
great need and energy for a system
of justice and compassion in the
present world is set aside. Several
people Damon speaks to are fearful
that a new religion of the lowest
denominator in society will drag
down all human thought and accomplishment to their level: what will
happen, if the Christians become
Autumn 2001

Damon's other misgiving is

based on the very ease of salvation
which Christianity offers. Only faith
and repentance are required, because the consequences of sin have
been placed on the shoulders of a
scapegoat, namely the crucified savior. The novel's title, A Goat For
Azazel, refers to the Judaic element
from which the idea of Jesus'
redeeming role is partly derived: the
sacrificial animal upon which, on
each Day of Atonement, the Jewish
priests symbolically laid the sins of
the people. The goat was driven into
the wilderness "into the arms of the
demon Azazel." With its death, the
sins it bore were destroyed and the
nation was freed from their burden.
But this gives rise to a great moral
question: Shall we never be required
to pay the scapegoat a fee? Should
forgiveness not require that we do
accept the burden of our sins? That
we 'save' ourselves through good
deeds and by acting for the good of
society? Damon is disturbed by the
Christian parable of the prodigal
son: he who has led a profligate,
destructive life but repents at the
last moment will be accorded as
much if not greater welcome than
the faithful child who has labored all
his days in duty and honor. Upon
what is mankind's ethical wisdom to
be based? On penitent relations with
Page 45

a deity, or upon responsible and productive social behavior in this world,

to eliminate its pains and injustices?
This issue is Damon's guidepost in
trying to evaluate the promise of the
new religion, and it is the moral
bedrock of Fisher's novel.
The role of myth which Fisher
has been developing through the
TESTAMENT comes to a climax in this
novel. Christianity became a religion
based on the myth of Jesus, the concept of a saving figure whose roots
Fisher has traced through the course
of preceding millennia. Even if the
birth of the new religion were triggered by the life of a man who actually lived and died, the author is saying, the religion itself is the product
of this long-developing myth.
For Fisher, the elements of the
Jesus myth go back many centuries
to prehistoric times. At the furthest
level, Jesus is the sacrifice that has
prevented the Sun's death at the
winter solstice. And because primitive thinking had long associated the
sacrificial offering with the deity to
whom the sacrifice was made, Jesus
became God, an aspect of the Sun
itself. The Sun, and with it the life of
the earth, was resurrected in the
spring (at Easter time). These
strands of thought passed primarily
through the channel of the pagan
mystery cults and their more primitive antecedents.
At the next, more sophisticated
level, Jesus is the Son who submits
to and is sacrificed to his father's
wrath, averting that wrath from the
rest of his children. Evolving out of
patriarchy's enthronement of the
father as society's power-wielder,
Judaism embodied a strong 'fear of
God.' The redeeming Jesus/Son provided a psychological escape from
that fear, and became a more human,
accessible substitute for the Father.
In the same way, the Christian
emphasis on 'love' was a part of the
reaction against the Father and his
demands, for it was a bringing back
of some of the lost feminine emotions
embodied in the suppressed Mother.
This is why Joshua in Jesus Came
Again was something of an androgyPage 46

nous figure, so that he could embody

Fisher's female characteristics of
intuitive and unconditional love.
Jesus is also the personification
of the sense of separation from the
group which Yescha felt in The
Divine Passion, and which all human
beings have come to feel by virtue of
the evolution of self-consciousness.
By identifying with Jesus' redeeming
act, the Christian can feel his own
'at-one-ment' back into the whole,
back into contact with a newly
understood truth (which all religions
claim), back into a state of mind
which no longer fears death or the
misfortunes of the world. Fisher considers it unfortunate that this atonement has been achieved through the
concept of death and sacrifice rather
than through physical and emotional
communion - the male-produced
solution as opposed to the female.
For this leaves the human being still
separated from the deeper instinctual world, the female principle frustrated, the sexes still incapable of
reconciliation, given that the savior
figure always involves a denial of
sexuality and woman is seen as the
source of evil.
Fisher's fundamental point is
that the casting of the mythical
redeeming act as one of suffering
and death rather than love and life
has directed the psychological values
of religion and society on a largely
harmful course from the dawn of
to the present day.
Damon's wife Ayla declares that the
deity has always been a creation of
men for men. The cult of Mithras
was open only to men. Jewish women
were not permitted to be scholars of
the Torah. One of Christianity's
appeals was its accessibility to
women, but women soon found they
were still looked upon as secondclass citizens. (As Fisher shows in
the next novel, Peace Like A River,
the Christian religious establishment soon reached new heights of
misogyny.) Ayla points out that in
the Jews' creation myth, despite the
obvious and universal reality that
life arises from the female womb,
Eve is nevertheless 'born' from
Autumn 2001

Adam's rib! She asks: "Would man

make himself the vessel of birth, and
so rob woman of her marvelous powers?"
Damon's final conclusion is that
Jesus "has now been swallowed by
the mists, like a lonely figure climbing a high mountain, that vanishes
from sight and forever when the
clouds enfold him; and what he
taught, or to whom, or how he lived
and died we can never know."
And yet despite his rationality
and his understanding of the myth's
derivation, Damon finds himself
drawn irresistibly to the figure of
Jesus. "Even if there never was such
a man, even if he never said a word
that they have him say, there is such
a man for me now." The power of
myth is overriding. Damon realizes
that the idea of Jesus was the product of a great and universal human
yearning; that so many of the details
now being written in the Christian
books are valid for what they represent symbolically. Paul's great poetic
vision and mission had been to fuse
the salvation
promise of the
Hellenistic mystery cults with the
living, universal elements of the
Jewish heritage: to create something
beyond them both, for every person,
Jew or pagan, noble or slave. The
tendency as Christianity developed,
however, was to create a literal biography of Jesus, requiring a literal
belief in the man himself, in the performance of each miracle, the utterance of each saying. This degraded
people's critical and poetic faculties
into uncritical credulity, it reduced
mythic universal truths to mere
superstition. The Christians were
creating a great and beautiful new
poem for the religious mind of man,
but they were severely compromising it by insisting that it was factual
"Poets create a poem," Damon
muses, "and theologians reduce it to
In both Jesus Came Again: A
Parable and A Goat For Azazel,
Vardis Fisher leaves the reader in no
doubt that Christianity is rooted in
mythology rather than history, and
American Atheist

the very existence of Jesus is placed

in question. At the same time, while
he fearlessly conveys the failings
and detriments inherent in religious
belief and in societies enslaved by
faith, he is not above expressing
sympathy for the pervasive human
need for such faith and for figures
like Jesus. Indeed, it was Fisher's
conviction that only by understanding how these myths developed, their
roots and evolving processes which
he is tracing through the TESTAMENT,
that the western mind would ulti-

mately find a way to free itself from

an enslavement that had begun
almost with the very dawn of intelligence. That blind, groping progress
of a collective mind unguided by any
outside agency, down through the
long eons from The Darkness and the
Deep, was still searching and still
learning. From the vantage point of
A Goat For Azazel, Fisher knew (as
do we all) that there was and is still
a considerable way to go.

''l>AA'f .. ' . '3 .... +- ! P'RA'C'.


Parsippany, New Jersey

Autumn 2001

I ,~

'3 .. 4

! 1/
Page 47


Faith-Based Terrorism

future. He dare not alienate the

Muslims who are not yet provoked
enough to act out their religion.
Despite all the protestations to the
contrary, though, Islam - like fundamentalist Christianity and Judaism is an enemy of modern civilization.
Fundamentalist religion - and the
vast majority of Muslim sects must
be considered fundamentalist - is the
viper in the bosom of both developing
and established free societies.
The print and broadcast media
understand the president's problem
also, and some have been having
daily lessons on 'real' Islam. The most
recent - and most outrageous - was
an infomercial telling how wonderful
Islam was for women. 'True Islam' is
opposed to suicide - implying that the
terrorists were not real Muslims.
'Real Islam' advances peace, not war.
'Real Islam' is tolerant of other religions - etc., ad nauseam.
As the present case of Dr. Younis
Shaikh shows, Islam is literally the
mortal enemy of Atheists and liberal
thinkers of all degrees of freedom. A
large number of its adherents would
kill us if they could. Our freedom is a
threat to their faith. Faith is belief
not only in the unseen but the
undemonstrable. There is no objective
test that can prove that God is One or
that God is One in Three. That being
the case, the only way to get unbelievers to accept either one of these
claims is to use force. No matter, that
"He that complies against his will / Is
of his own opinion still." Your faith
will not be injured by silent thoughts.
Only spoken or written words can
harm your faith. If unbelievers object
to playing the part of hypocrite, kill
them - out of concern for their
immortal souls.
It is quite clear that the deeply
religious terrorists of present concern
have been frightened in their faith,
living in the West and being surrounded bya condescending, unbelieving majority. Since their beliefs


Autumn 2001

s I write the last page of this

issue of American Atheist, I
see the television reports of
American and British air strikes
against the Taliban in Afghanistan. I
see also an austere and resolute bin
Laden once again coolly telling the
West why he is waging his holy war his jihad - against America and her
allies. He adds to his list of reasons
for jihad not only Israel's aggressions
against the Palestinians but her war
against Lebanon as well. He calls for
jihad because of America's on-going
'terrorism' against the people of Iraq,
and because the West has already
been fighting a crusade against the
holy religion of Islam. With impeccable logic,bin Laden explains that the
whole world now is divided into two
parts: believers and unbelievers infidels.
Osama bin Laden is absolutely
right. America is fighting a war
against Islam. It just can't admit it
publicly.To admit the obvious - that
Islam is the enemy not only of
America but of democratic civilization itself - would not be strategically
sensible. It would immediately turn
into active enemies (rather than
potential enemies) hundreds of millions of people in dozens of countries,
and would create an incredible internal problem, now that millions of
Americans and resident aliens profess that outmoded system ofbelief. It
would be like announcing that we are
going to arrest all Roman Catholic
bishops because - as is true - they
are the agents of a foreign government that is opposed to the American
values enshrined in our constitution
and Bill of Rights.
For days, President Bush has
been assuring the world that Islam is
"a religion of peace, not violence." Of
course, even he knows better, but
what can he do? He has to try to separate the Muslims who are actively
doing harm from those who are
merely capable of doing so in the

cannot be proven by evidence or reason, violent response is their only

recourse. Such is ever the way of rel igion.
Since there is no practical way to
extinguish Islam altogether, it seems
obvious to me that it must be
defanged and declawed somehow. It
needs to have a reformation that will
transform it into an Islamic equivalent of the Methodists, Congregationalists, or Quakers. But how is this
to be done? Only by careful reasoning
and patient example could such a
thing come about. And there are
already the deadly results of the
feeble attempts that have been made
in this direction. What we present as
a model for emulation - our dearlywon democratic system of government and our mildly enlightened
understanding of the universe - is
viewed as a challenge and insult to
Islam in all the countries where that
superstition is in power.Any 'weakening' of Islamic Law is viewed not as
progress, but rather as a step toward
decadence and infidelity. Western
enlightenment has the same effect on
fundamentalist Muslims as it has on
Southern Baptists: it makes them
want to fight. I fear the struggle
against medieval superstition will be
as prolonged in Asia and Africa as it
has been here at home - and probably
no more successful. As I write,
creationists have just reintroduced
an antievolution bill in the Ohio
House of Representatives.
The barbarians have scaled the
walls. Their sappers have undermined our ramparts. Aided by millions of benighted Christians (and
some Orthodox Jews) that already
inhabit Fortress America, they
threaten to close all windows oflearning and shut all doors of enlightenment. A return to the Dark Ages is
their desire - a world-wide 'One
Nation under God'. We dare not let
them succeed.



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