Thursday, March 30, 2006

The War on Islam Christianity

It looks like the religious fundamentalists in Afghanistan will not get the opportunity to execute Abdul Rahman. Rahman was on trial for the crime of converting to Christianity. In Afghanistan, the punishment for apostasy (converting from Islam) is death. Consequently, many religious conservatives in Afghanistan were hoping for an execution.

However, after declaring Rahman possibly insane (for certainly anybody who converts from Islam must be mad), the Afghan government released him from jail. At that point, the Italians arranged to smuggle him out of the country before some well-meaning Muslim evangelical dedicated to performing God's will on earth had a chance to kill him.

While Rahman was being spirited away, the Afghan parliament, dominated by religious conservatives were demanded that he not be allowed to leave the country. They simply were not going to accept the idea that they be deprived of their rightful and righteous execution. If their demands were not met, they promised to lead the good (execution-living) people of Iraq in a political revolution against those secular, anti-Muslim liberals responsible for allowing Rahman's escape, and replace it with one more devoted to the principles of Islam.

In America, this would be called a "wedge issue." It is one of those issues, like gay marriage or the pledge of allegiance, that religious conservatives can use to rally their religious followers into a political force to take over the government.

This point -- that Rahman's execution seems to be the will of the people -- deserves some attention. People in Afghanistan are not marching or protesting that an unfair and unjust government was trying to execute an innocent man. They were protesting the fact that the government was willing to let Rahman live. They are protesting what they see as an Afghan version of a liberal "attack on Islam."

It is easy to imagine such people protesting that in no way should the properly religious and devout majority allow an impious minority to dictate such things. Simply by being a majority, if 85% of the people favor the execution of apostates then by God those apostates have a duty to stand by and be executed. The last thing this majority should tolerate is a pack of liberal "activist judges" telling them that they may not kill those people that their God tells them to kill. Instead, the minority -- those who support these "activist" liberal judges, should accept the fact that they are a minority, which means that they should just sit down and shut up.

In this specific case, the government's ad-hoc solution saved Rahman's life. However, it left every other Christian convert or future convert under religious oppression. It left the doctrine or the policy of executing converts intact. Thus, their solution still means that converts from Islam must still stay in the closet -- pretending to be Muslim and living their lives as a hypocrite if they are to save their lives. Those with the integrity and moral fortitude not to live a lie are punished for this crime -- the crime of being honest.

Now, we wait to see what the decision to save Rahman’s life (and no others) will have on the Afghanistan government. We wait to see of the religious conservatives will be able to rally the people into voting them into power and getting rid of the secular liberal government that let Rahman live.

We get to see how well the religious conservatives in Afghanistan can spread the word that the liberals there are engaged in a "war on Islam." We get to see how those religious conservatives can get their message out -- a message that says, "We need to make this country safe for Islam. We need to take a stand against those who would attack our religion by allowing apostates such as Rahman to go on living. We are not going to let them get away with saying that Islam is a hate crime simply because we insist on executing people like Rahman who attack our religion."

There is almost no religious freedom in Afghanistan today, and the religious conservative promise that there will be less religious freedom in the future.

It is particularly interesting to note the type of language that these religious conservatives are using in their quest to control the government.

“This is an attack on Islam.”

To help establish religious conservative rule in Afghanistan, religious conservatives are standing before the people claiming that the decision to allow Rahman to live, rather than execute him as their religious teachings require, is an “attack on Islam.” Their own actions, they claim, is merely an attempt to defend Islam from these types of attacks.

This is quite like what religious conservatives are doing to try to institute religious rule in America. The specifics are different, but the tactics are the same. Ironically, at the same time this was going on, there was a meeting in Washington DC to discuss "the War on Christians and the Values Voters of 2006" -- values that, though not identical, are very similar to the values expressed by the voters in Afghanistan.

Apparently, Christianity is under attack in America. However, the nature of this attack is not really much different than the nature of Abdul Rahman’s attack on Islam. There are a group of people in this country who do not wish to be forced to subscribe to the majority religion. They have found other options that make more sense to them. However, religious conservatives view any dissent from their religion as an attack. Any wish to say something other than “Merry Christmas” during the holidays is an attack on Christianity. A wish to send their children to religiously neutral schools rather than schools that seek to coerce children into accepting their religious views is an attack on Christianity. Any desire to attend government meetings without first publicly supporting their church is an attack on their church.

If we look at what these religious conservatives are trying to do in the schools, we can see a plan to turn them into taxpayer-funded churches which all children (with few exceptions) must attend. They insist on filling the halls and rooms with the trappings of their religion to make the school indistinguishable from one of their churches. This includes the 10 Commandments and religious slogans such as “in God we trust” as well as any form of art or symbol that portrays their religion.

Once church-school begins, the children are coerced into pledging allegiance to the state-God. The school day starts with a lesson by which children are told to stand and say out loud that they will view any who are not “under God” (and we all know which God they are talking about) as being as anti-American as rebels, tyrants, and criminals. Following this, there is a prayer to the state-God.

If students are permitted to sit out these rituals (though a mandatory pledge is certainly what the religious conservatives seek to require), this will only serve to identify dissenters as plainly if they were required to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothes. This way, all “good Americans” (because the ceremony does in fact teach that only those who pledge allegiance to the state-God are good Americans) will know who the bad Americans are.

You cannot have students stand up day after day and repeat the ritual that only those who accept the state-God can be “good Americans” without it having an effect. The effect of these rituals can be found, for example, in a study done by the Pew Research Center, and another recent study from the University of Minnesota. These studies show that atheists are the least trusted and viewed as the least American group in the country. How can it be otherwise in a country where children pledge each school day to view those not "under God" as anti-American, criminal-like beings?

This effect can also be found in a UCLA law article that shows how courts routinely deny atheists custody of their own children for no reason other than religious differences.

Note: Thanks to and The Secular Outpost for making me aware of these articles.

In this type of environment, it is wholly unreasonable to expect that an atheist student in a public school will get a fair evaluation from the average teacher. If a teacher accepts and even indoctrinates others in the prejudice that those who are not “under God” are “bad Americans”, then he is also going to tend to see them as “bad students,” and will evaluate their school work accordingly.

If somebody protests a ritual that brands them as a “bad American” then they are guilty of attacking Christianity.

We can also see those religious conservatives working to create a situation where participating in a government function requires that one first attend the appropriate religious ritual. They do this by putting the ritual at the start of the government ceremony, where only those who attend the ceremony are in place to participate in government. Once again, those who conspicuously refuse to participate in the ceremony are easily recognized – again, as easily recognized as if they were forced to war a large yellow star on their clothes. This way, the government can easily spot who they should listen to and who they may openly ignore or even mock..

Once again, those who protest – those who protest are said to be guilty of attacking Christianity.

If protesting a ritual that calls one a “bad American” in schools and at government functions is an intolerable attack on Christianity, then converting from Islam is an attack on Islam that good Muslim people must not tolerate.

The mentality, and the moral character, of Christian conservatives in America and Muslim conservatives in Afghanistan are quite similar. Both seek to take control of the government by convincing the people that anything that even hints at a rejection of their religion is an attack that good Muslims/Christians must respond to in kind. Both groups seek the same type of state – one which unites church and state and sees to the alienation and denigrate at best, and death at worst, of those who do not accept their rule.

There is one final injustice in this propaganda campaign claiming a so-called "war on Christians." Just like the "attack on Islam" that Rahman allegedly launched, it makes the mistake of claiming that Christianity (or Islam) is defined by this oppressive intolerance of others. These Muslims are not saying that this is an attack of one narrow-minded and hate-filled subtype of Islam. They say that this is an attack on all of Islam. Similarly, religious conservatives in America do not describe these protests as rejection of a narrow-minded, hate-filled brand of Christianity, but an attack on all of Christianity. In doing so, they do an injustice to Muslims and Christians who are more tolerant than they are. Nobody is attacking the Muslim who refuses to execute those who convert from their religion, just as nobody is attacking the Christian who refuses to support attempts to alienate, denigrate those who do not share their religion.


RC said...

Good post...i appreciate time and effort you put into your thoughts on this issue.

--RC of

Anonymous said...

This is a really interesting article. I have one objection, however:
"In this type of environment, it is wholly unreasonable to expect that an atheist student in a public school will get a fair evaluation from the average teacher. If a teacher accepts and even indoctrinates others in the prejudice that those who are not “under God” are “bad Americans”, then he is also going to tend to see them as “bad students,” and will evaluate their school work accordingly."

I don't believe this is completely true. They've been saying the pledge with the "under god" part for years, and religion has always been part of school (trust me, I don't agree with this what-so-ever), but that doesn't mean that teachers are going to automatically decide that those who don't say the pledge are "anti-American." I stopped saying the pledge when I was in 5th grade because I didn't believe that this is the country that our forefathers had in mind when they fought the Revolutionary War, not to mention I didn't believe in god. I made my disapproval well known, often sitting down smack in the middle of the hallway if I was running late for class and the pledge was being recited over the loud speaker. I had both teachers and Administartion asking me to either stand or stop and pledge to the flag when I was in high school, and I would refuse. However, I was never graded down because of it. I was never labeled a "rebel" for refusing to stand for the flag (I was labeled a "rebel" for other reasons!). I let my teachers know that I was an atheist when it came time to talk about the Christ figure in English, and though I was being taught about said literary device by a born-again Christian, the most he ever tried to get me to do was read Genisis. I understood his reasons for asking me to do this (hold up, listen to them before you get pissed), I'd never read the Bible, and was making some comments about it without being informed. He wasn't trying to convert me, he just wanted me to know both sides before I got angry. I still got A's in his classes, even if the paper that I was writing straight out refuted the Christ figure.

In history classes, none of my teachers graded me down for not agreeing with them. I was very out spoken, and often said things that smeared America, yet NONE of my teachers ever graded me down for this. In fact, I was even asked to sit in a three way debate between the ideals of Sparta, Athens and America (imaginary, obviously), and they placed me with the Americans. During that entire debate, I played Judas, actually debating for the Atheanians, much to the dismay of my team mates. Yes, I got in trouble from my teacher for not playing my role, but I still got an A, because my thoughts were very well reasoned, and forced everyone else to think harder about their own arguments. And no, I did NOT go to a liberal private school, this was a very concervitive, back-woods public high school.

My point is this, yes, it's wrong to have prayer in public schools, and teachers shouldn't be trying to convert their students, but just because teachers are thrown into this mix doesn't mean that they're going to be biased. From my experience, teachers want to teach, and they want to see their students grow, and I believe that most would see any sort of integration between church and state as a hinderence. If a student can make well reasoned arguments for their position, then that's all that matters. Yes, we're heading down a very dark road with religion trying to creep into every aspect of our lives, but I'm willing to bet that teachers will be the guerilla warriors for true balance instead of trying to indoctronate their students into the Christain folds.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


I used the phrase "average teacher" in my description intentionally.

I recognize that there will be exceptions. There will even be a few bigoted teachers who are atheists themselves who see theist students as consumed by irrationality and not worth their time and effort. These teachers will favor atheist students.

However, regardless of these exceptions, the general tendency of having the class perform a ritual declaration that atheists are comparable to rebels, tyrants, and criminals will be in the direction of putting atheists at a disadvantage.

Now, annecdotal evidence is never a good argument. My experience -- as a result of simply answering "no" when asked if I believe in God, was a long period of brutality and abuse that included one incident where I was convinced that I would soon die. (Fellow students held me under water to 'baptize' me by force longer than I could hold my breath.)

At the same time this was happening, my best friend was as much a "fundamentalist" as one can imagine. A 'literal truth of the bible' type. Yet, we got along quite well.

However, that story in itself proves absolutely nothing. You cannot measure a trend by looking at a single example, any more than you can determine the direction the stock market went by looking at a single stock.

Psychological research -- not individual stories -- tell the effects of a teacher standing in front of a class and saying, 'these students who are under-god are superior to those students who are not under-god.' There may be exceptions, but the general trend is to promote an attitude whereby the superior students think that it is within their right to trample underfoot those who they are told are inferior.

I do not think it is at all a coincidence that we are seeing just that effect in the political culture of this country.