Mohammed Alkhadra: “Islamophobe”: American Atheists Convention 2018

Photo: Me with Mohammed Alkhadra enjoying a windy day, appreciating our rights to think and speak freely.

Mohammed Alkhadra is a 25-year-old Jordanian Ex-Muslim atheist and the founder of the Jordanian Atheist Community, a group focused on raising awareness for atheism in Jordan as well as helping Jordanian atheists.

With the assistance of American and British nonprofit organizations and coordinated by American Atheists, Mohammed moved to the United States after leaving Jordan due to his atheism and renunciation of Islam. After giving a speech in the United Kingdom about Islam, Mohammed faced arrest and even death at the hands of the government and Islamic extremists, prompting him to move to the United States. 

Mohammed is currently working to organize the Council of Ex-Muslims of Jordan to more publicly advocate for the rights of ex-Muslims in his home country. 

Today at the American Atheists Convention in Oklahoma City we heard from Mohammed Alkhadra. The title of his talk was “Islamophobe,” and you might be surprised as to why.

Alkhadra was born in the US, but was raised in Jordan and had adopted its belief system. He remembers seeing the Twin Towers go down in 2001. By my math, he would have been about 9 years old. He remembers the happiness he felt seeing the towers fall, because by that point he had “enough hate inside him” that seeing the death of infidels, Jews and pagans of all kinds made him glad.

In 2011, some of his classmates were sent to Syria to perform “jihad” and even when one of his friends came back in a wheelchair, he was again happy and even jealous that he was not allowed yet to go.

Mentally, he was ready to join the struggle for  Sharia law to rule above all manmade laws. He was all in—he was ready to throw homosexuals off of buildings, to discipline women, and to enslave those that were defeated.

Then a strange thing happened… while on the internet, Alkhadra ran across a video of Richard Dawkins explaining evolution. He experienced a profound moment of doubt and questioning and a sense of wanting to know more.

Through the use of the internet, Alkhadra and 26 other Jordanian atheists formed a secret group using fake identities. That was 5 years ago and today the group numbers in the hundreds. Through contact with other like-minded people, Alkhadra grew to no longer see women at chattel, to no longer be a homophobe, and to value free speech above all else. And yet, he was still living in an environment where non-belief made him a criminal, where he could be jailed for 3 years for blasphemy, and where renouncing Islam could result in the death penalty. In fact, he said it is estimated that 82% of Jordanians still believe apostates should be put to death.

Alkhadra believes the internet is to Islam what the printing press was to Christianity. The access to and dissemination of information is revolutionary.

Free speech is dear, according to Alkhadra. We must not fall prey to the idea that we cannot offend the sensibilities of others or we are threatening intellectual discourse, even if it includes speech which some countries now recognize as hate speech.

For this reason, today Alkhadra says call me an “Islamophobe,” call me a “bigot,” if you must. That is better than what he was called in Jordan–an infidel, an animal, a pig, a Zionist devil worshipper—who must fear machetes, bullets or being put to death for a Facebook post. Here, he joked, the worst thing that will happen to him is being called a “Nazi” on a webpage.

For Alkhadra, playing nice is not enough when a person is taught that strapping on a bomb and committing jihad is easy if this life does not matter. Lighting candles or changing your profile picture into a flag is just not cutting it. We must draw a line, we must stand up and say that this religion is incompatible with this part of the world. For Alkhadra, identity politics is doing damage by blocking criticism and debate. Only the truth matters, and for Alkhadra, if this means he is labeled an Islamophobe or a bigot, he will take it, because he stands for truth.

Alkhadra says atheists and freethinkers trapped in “the fascist ideology that is Islam” are thirsty to feel part of a bigger movement. To this end, he has teamed up with Armin Navabi (founder of Atheist Republic) to introduce #AtheistDay which will be celebrated on March 23, 2019. A simple green circle will be used as the symbol to stand in solidarity with ex-Muslims and to denounce the shaming and murder of fellow atheists. He requests that you check out http://www.atheistrepublic.com/atheist-day and send suggestions as to how we may connect with and support those still trapped in Islamic states.

“Our existence; our rights shall not be denied anymore. It’s time for us to go public. We are the Council of Ex-Muslims of Jordan.”

http://ex-muslimofjo.com/

Highlights from the American Atheists Convention So Far

The annual convention opened March 29, 2018 and runs through April 1, 2018.

Yesterday, I was introduced to Yvette D’entremont, who goes by the moniker SciBabe. She gave a workshop on fact-checking and lawsuit prevention as she writes about dubious medical claims, naturopathy and pseudoscience. Since I don’t want to get sued either, I’ll not go in to too much detail, but look for her on Twitter at Yvette @TheSciBabe.

Suffice it to say, she has tackled some subjects that not only have questionable value, but may actually cause physical harm to a person, finding such ingredients as cyanide and lead in substances or products claiming to improve health and/or longevity. Scary to say the least.

Next, we popped into a workshop on Street Epistemology (SE) led by Anthony Magnabosco. It was packed and included a one-on-one with a random partner that proved to be fun but challenging. Magnabosco also gave a more formal address on the main stage which was very well received. He explained to an interested crowd that SE is useful among family members and friends, as well as with total strangers. It is not a form of evangelism as some critics have claimed.

Talk Heathen, hosted by Eric Murphy and Jamie, a podcast based out of Austin, did a live show and brought on a couple of more experienced podcasters: Cecil from Cognitive Dissonance and Noah Lugeons from The Scathing Atheist. While they giggled and entertained a lot, they touched upon the rather serious topic that podcasts are now reaching people throughout the world in places where it might be the only atheist content they were able to hear.

More later!

Essay Contest for US Junior & Senior High Schoolers on Church-State Separation

Presented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Deadline: April 15th

First Place: $1,500                        Second Place: $1,000                      Third Place: $500

This Contest Is Open To All High School Juniors And Seniors In The United States.

Topic

While ever-present, the threats to church-state separation have evolved over the years. In addition to the many cases of prayer in public schools and religious displays on government property, we now face new dangers, including:

  • Discrimination against the LGBTQ community, women and religious minorities in the name of religion
  • Attempts to change the tax code so politicians can pressure nonprofits — including houses of worship — for endorsements
  • And efforts to ban people from entering the country because of their religion

What do you think has been the greatest threat to church-state separation in the past year? (Your answer can be, but doesn’t have to be, one of the issues mentioned above.)

What have you or others in your community done to oppose this threat? What are some of the barriers that prevent work on this issue? And what more can be done?

2018_EssayPoster_FINAL.jpg

Criteria

  • 750-1,200 Words
  • Adherence to guidelines and carefully proofread
  • Articulate, creative, and tightly focused response that demonstrates a genuine grappling with the topic
  • Observation of rules for Standard English usage (grammar, punctuation, and mechanics) in writing
  • Well-researched with convincing arguments supported by specific examples

http://www.austudents.org/essaycontest/

So To Speak Free Speech Podcast is Worth a Listen

So to Speak: The Free Speech Podcast takes an uncensored look at the world of free expression through personal stories and candid conversations.

New episodes post every other Thursday.

So to Speak The Free Speech Podcast

Sample Episode:

Mar 08, 2018

Former Evergreen State College Professor Bret Weinstein describes himself as a “professor in exile.” The evolutionary biologist left Evergreen last September in the fallout from the controversy surrounding the school’s planned Day of Absence programming.

Weinstein’s objection to the programming led fifty students to disrupt his class and demand his resignation. The backlash became so intense that Evergreen’s chief of police told him she could not protect him from protesters. As a result, he had to hold his biology course in a public park.

On this episode of So to Speak, we speak with Weinstein about his experience and the state of free speech and inquiry in higher education and beyond.

The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity. FIRE’s core mission is to protect the unprotected and to educate the public and communities of concerned Americans about the threats to these rights on our campuses and about the means to preserve them.

FIRE was founded in 1999 by University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors and Boston civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate after the overwhelming response to their 1998 book The Shadow University: The Betrayal Of Liberty On America’s Campuses.

Check it out!

Call to Prayer: Oklahomans Will Pray for One Hour for Schools

Image courtesy Facebook.

As Oklahoma teachers prepare to strike, Oklahomans are encourages to circle up and prayer for one hour on March 25, 2018 from 3 to 4 pm.

Courtesy Facebook:

PRAYER REQUEST: This Sunday, March 25, from 3-4pm, we invite you to “Circle Our Schools” in prayer. Join the Church all across the Tulsa area in an hour of dedicated prayer for students, teachers, staff and families as we ask for wisdom for our state legislators and educational leaders who are facing Oklahoma’s biggest question. We invite you to participate by going to the school parking lot nearest you, the school you serve with or the school your children go to and praying. If you are not able to go to a school property, consider a time of dedicated prayer where it works best for you. Let’s unite in prayer asking God for clear solutions for our educational system.

No matter what side of the fence you stand on regarding the potential teacher walkout on April 2, as the Church, we can all agree on the intrinsic value of our children, those who teach them at our schools and our state leaders. We encourage you to share this post leading up to Sunday’s prayer hour to help us fully “Circle Our Schools” in love and prayer.

 

Stop Mocking the “Antifa Giraffe Professor”: Here’s Why

Ok, so here’s the deal. Almost a year ago I began writing about Antifa and trying to figure out what the heck was going on. I don’t believe in violence and I do believe that reason and civil discourse are superior to screaming and skirmishes in the street. In fact, my observation of the situation was that it was drawing more attention to the folks that Antifa was protesting and was doing more harm than good. It just didn’t seem to be productive or effective.

About that same time, I saw that Professor Mike Isaacson was to appear on “Tucker Carlson” to explain Antifa. I was most anxious to hear what he had to say as I was really trying to understand this movement as more than a crazy mob.

Well, the interview didn’t go well. It was a total hit job. When asked if he was denying another’s right to speech rights, Isaacson said no, that was not the case—it was a mischaracterization. When asked if he personally believed in committing violence, Isaacson denied that as well. He didn’t say shut down free speech, he said opposing the ideas of problematic speech through peaceful community organizing. Carlson kept up with the “so what you’re saying is” tactic that left Isaacson looking ridiculous, even when Isaacson attempted to redirect the conversation to the topic of NONVIOLENT CIVIL DISCOURSE.

The Isaacson situation went into full-on attack mode and mockery post-interview when Far Left Watch started going through all the tweets Isaacson had ever made and pulled up one, taken out of context, which was then used to claim “Antifa Professor Calls For Killing Police” | The Daily Caller or, per Gateway Pundit, Isaacson “argued that Antifa terrorists have a right to beat people they disagree with.”

There were other problematic tweets, but by the time Isaacson clarified that he was (obviously clumsily) critiquing policing as an institution, it was too late. Death threats rolled in. They were graphic and scary to read.

Then, there was the Professor Giraffe meme that was created, as well as the Professor Pez Dispenser Meme. And if that wasn’t enough, the New York Post dug up his profile on a “kink” website, where mutually consenting adults match their interests for whatever… I don’t care. That has nothing to do with his ideas. His sex life is his business (and apparently the Post’s business.)

Ok, now that we’ve gotten all the dirt out of the way, here’s the deal. Isaacson has a publication called “You Can’t Punch Every Nazi” which he presents at workshops and guess what? It’s excellent. It addresses ways to “disabuse” those espousing fascist ideologies with actual WORDS, not PUNCHES. It also clarifies the terminology used, since many rational folks are pretty tired of the implication they are a Nazi, a Neo-Nazi, or a Nazi sympathizer if they are not in agreement with Antifa’s methods.

(Note: I found it very comparable to Street Epistemology, a dialogue technique used to “disabuse” people adhering to religious ideologies, supernatural beliefs, superstitions, etc. SE is based on the work of philosophy professor Dr. Peter Boghossian. I’ll link to an explanation of that methodology below.)

So, while we were all busy attacking, threatening and mocking Isaacson as a person, turns out we completely missed the fact that he actually has some really great ideas on how to deal with the problem of fascist ideologues through rational civil discourse. 

Isaacson begins with the hypothetical: what if someone you know or care about is dabbling in fascist ideology? “Regardless of how you feel about all of this, you don’t want to see this person go down a path that almost inevitably leads to prison, early death, and a lifetime of increasing social isolation. You care about the people around you, and you don’t want to see them harmed.” 

Huh? You mean Isaacson doesn’t just believe you punch it out of the person? Just knock some sense into them and they’ll be fine? No, he uses WORDS. In fact, he uses these kinds of words.Ask them open-ended questions to interrogate the origins of their beliefs. Examples of such questions might include:

  • Why do you think that’s true?

 

  • Why is that important to you?

 

  • How did you come to believe that?”

 

Sound familiar? That’s discourse. That’s called Socratic questioning.

Isaacson believes often times a person will embrace fascist ideologies due to a sense of injustice. He recommends looking into common life changes or trauma. For example, a person may start to wonder about fascism due to loss of job, loss of home, loss of business, isolation and loneliness. Understanding this might lead to a more productive conversation.

Most enlightening to me was the similarity between fascist ideologies and closely held religious beliefs, which we already know can lead to all sorts of violence and havoc.

“Fascist ideologies function in much the same way religions or self-help programs might. These ideologies give their adherents a general explanation for the injustice of the world and provide a ready self-improvement program for the individual to rise above it. For this reason, some scholars who have studied fascist ideologies refer to them as political religions.  For this reason, adherents to fascist ideologies flock to them for the same diverse reasons one might join a church.”

This is a language I can begin to understand. He goes into detail about the underlying belief systems. The parallels between closely held religious beliefs and fascist ideologies are incredible. One example:

“Radical Traditionalism: Some racists are so interested in having a religious justification for their bigotry that they decide to appeal to all of them. Radical traditionalists analyze Vedic, Nordic and sometimes Christian texts as containing hidden information to reveal universal truths. They believe that traditional lifeways are an accumulation of ancient wisdom that has been abandoned since the Enlightenment. Consciously anti-rational, they rebuke science in favor of a mythology of benevolent kingdoms, secret evils, and adversarial races.”

So, beyond the one-on-one methodology, Isaacson recently agreed to discuss his ideas on a vlog called “Millennial Woes,” AKA Colin Robertson. Robertson is a Scot and describes himself as an alt-right neoreactionary inspired by the works of  Theodore Dalrymple. He is apparently quite popular on YouTube and has a large following. He has 20K followers on Twitter alone. His YouTube channel has almost 50K subscribers. The interview with Isaacson has been viewed more than 30K times generating 1000-plus comments.

In a blog post about his goals, Isaacson wrote: “His (Woes) followers however are not so committed. It takes a certain level of commitment to put your face in front of a camera and go for broke on YouTube with nazi race theory. It takes a minimum commitment to watch such a troll while browsing on the internet. If Millennial Woes admits the error of his ways, he is disgraced. If his followers do, it was an unfortunate phase. Ultimately, my goal is not to argue with Millennial Woes at all, but rather to speak to the insecurity of his followers.”

http://www.vulgareconomics.com/2017/12/why-i-went-on-nazis-podcast-approaches.html

Interesting to me is that in today’s hostile speech climate, centrists are not allowed to talk to these folks like Millennial Woes because then they are condemned as Alt-Right themselves or, at the very least, Nazi sympathizers. But that’s exactly what we need to do is reason our way through this ideology and debate it. (Is it true?)

“You Can’t Punch Every Nazi” goes into much more detail, of course. I hope you will take a look. It is a work in progress and Isaacson welcomes input, but I do believe he has the beginnings of an epistemology that deserves attention. Perhaps we can help.

Full pdf version of “You Can’t Punch Every Nazi”:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx5aakHAtxFJcFZBSjZkYlJpX0k/view

Street Epistemology: A Primer on Beliefs and Finding Truth

Crazy Joe Biden vs Donald Trump Fight TBA: Twitter Funnies

This tweet…

In reply to this comment…

Sparked this…

 

Who would win?

Trump says he would be the victor, but Biden is looking pretty good:

]

Well, Biden is looking good mostly:

Trump’s preparations…

And a little live action…

As we denounce those accused of bad acts, may we still love their work?

Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, a film by Roman Polanski.

I wrote about the Lawrence Krauss allegations early on, and many people condemned him to the point that they were throwing away his books and never buying another.

How far do we take this outrage? Can’t we separate the person from the work, and still value the work?

Truth be told, I am going to watch “Rosemary’s Baby” every time it comes on TV, especially if it’s dark outside.

And I am going to read Dr. Seuss to every child I encounter, even though early in his career, he made ends meet by drawing racist ads and cartoons.


Today happens to be World Poetry Day:

“To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower.

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

An eternity in an hour.”

William Blake, Augeries of Innocence

Sounds like William Blake was a bit of an ass to his infertile wife. At a time of tremendous strain in his marriage, in part due to his wife’s apparent inability to bear children, he directly advocated bringing a second wife into the house.


 “April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.”
 
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
 
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday
Turns out Eliot is suspected to have been a big ol’ anti-semite.
——————-
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
 
William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming
 
So, it seems Yeats was an Irish Nationalist fascinated with the authoritarian, anti-democratic, nationalist movements of Europe.
———–
 Don’t let the outrage cheat you out of the beauty of art and science.

Sudan, World’s Last Male Northern White Rhino, Dead at Age 45

It is with great sadness that Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Dvůr Králové Zoo announce that Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, age 45, died at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on March 19th, 2018 (yesterday). Sudan was being treated for age-related complications that led to degenerative changes in muscles and bones combined with extensive skin wounds. His condition worsened significantly in the last 24 hours; he was unable to stand up and was suffering a great deal. The veterinary team from the Dvůr Králové Zoo, Ol Pejeta and Kenya Wildlife Service made the decision to euthanize him.

Sudan will be remembered for his unusually memorable life. In the 1970s, he escaped extinction of his kind in the wild when he was moved to Dvůr Králové Zoo. Throughout his existence, he significantly contributed to survival of his species as he sired two females. Additionally, his genetic material was collected yesterday and provides a hope for future attempts at reproduction of northern white rhinos through advanced cellular technologies. During his final years, Sudan came back to Africa and stole the heart of many with his dignity and strength.

“We on Ol Pejeta are all saddened by Sudan’s death. He was a great ambassador for his species and will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness globally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity. One day, his demise will hopefully be seen as a seminal moment for conservationists world wide,” said Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s CEO.

Unfortunately, Sudan’s death leaves just two female northern white rhinos on the planet; his daughter Najin and her daughter Fatu, who remain at Ol Pejeta. The only hope for the preservation of this subspecies now lies in developing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) techniques using eggs from the two remaining females, stored northern white rhino semen from males and surrogate southern white rhino females.

#SudanForever #TheLoneBachelorGone #RememberingSudan#Only2Left

photo: Andrew Harrison Brown

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting and outdoor

Senate Intel Committee’s Initial Recommendations on Election Security for 2018 Election Cycle

03.20.18

 

WASHINGTON – Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in advance of today’s press conference with Committee members, made available the Committee’s initial recommendations on election security after investigating Russian attempts to target election infrastructure during the 2016 U.S. elections.

The Committee will hold an open hearing on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, on the threats to election infrastructure.  The hearing will cover attempted attacks on state election infrastructure in 2016, DHS and FBI efforts to improve election security, and the view from the states on their cybersecurity posture.

The Committee’s initial recommendations are embedded below and available here.

RUSSIAN TARGETING OF ELECTION INFRASTRUCTURE DURING THE 2016 ELECTION

SUMMARY OF DRAFT SSCI RECOMMENDATIONS

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has examined evidence of Russian attempts to target election infrastructure during the 2016 U.S. elections. The Committee has reviewed the steps state and local election officials take to ensure the integrity of our elections and agrees that U.S. election infrastructure is fundamentally resilient. The Department of Homeland Security, the Election Assistance Commission, state and local governments, and other groups have already taken beneficial steps toward addressing the vulnerabilities exposed during the 2016 election cycle, including some of the measures listed below, but more needs to be done.

The Committee recommends the following steps to better defend against a hostile nation-state who may seek to undermine our democracy:

1. Reinforce States’ Primacy in Running Elections

  • States should remain firmly in the lead on running elections, and the Federal government should ensure they receive the necessary resources and information.

2. Build a Stronger Defense, Part I: Create Effective Deterrence

  • The U.S. Government should clearly communicate to adversaries that an attack on our election infrastructure is a hostile act, and we will respond accordingly.
  • The Federal government, in particular the State Department and Defense Department, should engage allies and partners to establish new international cyber norms.

3. Build a Stronger Defense, Part II: Improve Information Sharing on Threats

  • The Intelligence Community should put a high priority on attributing cyber-attacks both quickly and accurately. Similarly, policymakers should make plans to operate prior to attribution.
  • DHS must create clear channels of communication between the Federal government and appropriate officials at the state and local levels. We recommend that state and local governments reciprocate that communication.
  • Election experts, security officials, cybersecurity experts, and the media should develop a common set of precise and well-defined election security terms to improve communication.
  • DHS should expedite security clearances for appropriate state and local officials.
  • The Intelligence Community should work to declassify information quickly, whenever possible, to provide warning to appropriate state and local officials.

4. Build a Stronger Defense, Part III: Secure Election-Related Systems

  • Cybersecurity should be a high priority for those managing election-related systems. Basic but crucial security steps like two-factor authentication for those logging into voter databases can improve the overall election security posture. States and localities should also take advantage of DHS offerings, to include DHS’s network monitoring capabilities.
  • The Committee recommends DHS take the following steps:
  • Working closely with election experts, develop a risk management framework that can be used in engagements with state and local election infrastructure owners to document and mitigate risks to all components of the electoral process.
    • Create voluntary guidelines on cybersecurity best practices and a public awareness campaign to promote election security awareness, working through the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), and the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED).
    • Expand capacity to reduce wait times for DHS cybersecurity services.
    • Work with GSA to establish a list of credible private sector vendors who can provide services similar to those provided by DHS.

5. Build a Stronger Defense, Part IV: Take Steps to Secure the Vote Itself

  • States should rapidly replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems. At a minimum, any machine purchased going forward should have a voter-verified paper trail and no WiFi capability. If use of paper ballots becomes more widespread, election officials should re-examine current practices for securing the chain of custody of all paper ballots and verify no opportunities exist for the introduction of fraudulent votes.
  • States should consider implementing more widespread, statistically sound audits of election results.
  • DHS should work with vendors to educate them about the vulnerabilities of both the machines and the supply chains.

6. Assistance for the States

  • The Committee recommends Congress urgently pass legislation increasing assistance and establishing a voluntary grant program for the states.
  • States should use grant funds to improve cybersecurity by hiring additional Information Technology staff, updating software, and contracting vendors to provide cybersecurity services, among other steps.
  • Funds should also be available to defray the costs of instituting audits.