The “interfaith” trap – particularly for atheists

The video above shows some of the hassling of Maryam Namazie by members of the Goldsmiths Islamic Society when she gave a talk to the London’s Goldsmiths College on the topic “Apostasy, blasphemy and free expression in the age of ISIS.” The talk was sponsored by the Goldsmiths Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society but was opposed by the Goldsmiths Islamic Society and the Goldsmiths Feminist Society who attempted to get her invitation withdrawn. Warwick University Students Union and Trinity College Dublin had also originally withdrawn invitations to Maryam Namazie, citing fears of incitement to hatred of Muslims.

The video is long and the sound quality is not good. However I persisted and found interesting the fact that female Muslims in the audience were not able to ask their questions until  near the end – after the male disruptors had left!

Now University of Sheffield

The other day I saw a similar example of this attempted censorship at the University of Sheffield. But this time, the Sheffield Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (SASH) itself was the censor – they “turned down a suggestion by a student to invite Maryam Namazie to speak at the university. The reason? Her ‘hard anti-Islamist approach’ is not ‘conducive’ to the direction that the society wishes to go in” (see Atheist students are losing their faith in free speech).

So this is yet another example of the way group thinking and irrational arguments are being used to prevent open discussion of important issues like human and women’s right? (I discussed this in my articles Richard Dawkins and the Skeptics Conference controversy and Misrepresentation, misogyny and misandry – these should concern sceptics). But it is also an example of how “interfaith” activity, and indeed finding common cause with groups holding different beliefs, can result in the suppression of such vital discussion.

The author of the article is Hallam Roffey who is a writer and a student at the University of Sheffield. He writes:

“This isn’t a wind-up. Not only is the suggestion that you can be ‘too hard’ on Islamism baffling, but the fact that this statement came from an atheist, secularist and humanist society is almost beyond parody. To clarify, this is a society which aims to defend human rights and promote secularism declining to invite a renowned and influential ex-Muslim, secularist and human-rights campaigner. (Namazie has done extensive work supporting refugees, and has tackled both religious fundamentalism and far-right bigotry.)

“In its response to the inquiring student, SASH said that it would like to concentrate on ‘interfaith’ activities instead, stating that ‘interfaith between faith societies is vital’. Apparently, inviting Namazie, which may not be welcomed by some members of Sheffield’s Islamic Society (ISoc), would be antithetical to their objectives.”

So, in effect, this student society has thrown away some of its basic aims simply to further its “interfaith” activities.


Photo credit: AP/Valentina Petrova

I find that incredible. While I accept that cooperation between groups of different beliefs is important and laudable what is this worth if it involves giving up such important principles. Would the Christian societies at Sheffield give up their bible studies and prayer meetings in order to further “interfaith ” cooperation with the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society? Would the Islamic Society give up their involvement in Ramadan activities for such vague “interfaith” reasons?

I think not.

I think that this example shows how the involvement of atheists and humanists or “interfaith” organisational activities can be a trap. After all, many of these sorts of activities already assume ideas and customs which exclude atheists (eg religious observations and collective ‘interfaith” prayers). Atheists should limit cooperation to issues where there is common ground – and they should not limit their own activity on issues like human rights because one or other of the theist groups do not support them.

Or is this just   a fashionable “political correctness?”

Mind you, I wonder if this “interfaith” issue is just a handy excuse for those who rejected the request that Maryam speak. I wonder if the bogeys of “anti-feminism” and Islamophobia” are not the real reasons, at least for some, in the way these arguments have been used in attempts to suppress the voices of others – like Richard Dawkins.

Hallam Roffey says:

“SASH was particularly concerned that there would be a repeat of ‘what happened at Goldsmiths’, when Islamist students disrupted a talk being given by Namazie. But this only projects a pretty dim view of Sheffield ISoc. As a Sheffield student myself, I’d like to think that ISoc members would be up for the debate, and would not act at all like those thugs at Goldsmiths. Not all Muslims resent apostates.

“What’s more, the subtext here is that Namazie was in some way to blame for the Goldsmiths incident. Though SASH insists it does not condone Goldsmiths ISoc’s actions, it is nevertheless siding with Islamists at Namazie’s expense. This is cowardly and pathetic.”

I agree – this sort of suppression of discussion on topic human rights issues is cowardly and pathetic.

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9 responses to “The “interfaith” trap – particularly for atheists

  1. Other than the issue of addressing climate change, I think this imploding of character of many on the Left, the capitulation of liberal principle to appease and privilege the intolerance and bigotry of those willing to resort to violence (appeasement usually carried out in the name of cultural respect), this swing into implementing bullying policies upon natural allies that are both authoritarian and regressive, is one of the most important and dire issues of this generation… an issue not nearly challenged enough by those in positions of public authority. I see the growth of this fascist movement ion the Left taking root at universities across the West and growing ever bolder in their own intolerance of dissent. It is very concerning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Apostasy is a crime in many Islamic theocracies. That is a fact. However, when Christians point to harsh Islamic beliefs & tactics that violate my standard of Human Rights, I like to remind them that Islam is just over 1400 years old. What were Christians doing in the 1490’s? The Inquisition comes to mind.

    As a Baha’i, I am acutely aware of Islamic views toward apostasy. But I also hold as a fundamental belief the evolutionary nature of religion.

    I lived in an Islamic country for 4 years, and now I smile when I look back at my debate-esque discussions with fundamentalist Christians over breakfast and Islamic fundamentalists over dinner, all in the same day.

    And here you are discussing the secularist group SASH stifling someone who has a track record of pointing out the obvious problem of Islamic views toward apostasy. It’s the swing of the pendulum. A leading presidential candidate in the United States wants to ban Muslims from entering the country, and no rational person wants to be on board the bigotrain with him, including SASH.


  3. This stifling of the voices of reason by groups who should no better only maintains a clear ground for the true reactionaries like those supporting Trump.


  4. We don’t do interfaith talks with atheists because they hate us and only want to destroy everything sacred.
    Also, David, read a history book and take your head out your ass. The Inquisition was nothing like the thuggery of ISIS.
    Ken and David, Trump is correct and all of you are to weak to acknowledge it.
    Here is hoping to the death of secularism.


  5. David Fierstien


    Thank for the youtube video. This is why you make a great brown-shirted groupie of Trump. You don’t question anything. Since you like youtube videos, here’s one of Trump being ass-raped. Hope you enjoy.

    And you are right. The Inquisition, and Medieval Christian authorities in particular, were nothing like ISIS. They were worse. Victims of ISIS, whether blown up or beheaded, or burnt alive, are quickly put to death. Victims of medieval Christian authorities were kept alive to prolong suffering.

    Take, for example, the first European to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation, a true scientist in every sense of the word, Miguel Serveto. He was condemned by Protestants & Catholics alike. John Calvin believed Servetus deserved death on account of what he termed as his “execrable blasphemies” And on 27 October, 1553, Servetus was burnt alive—atop a pyre of his own books—at the Plateau of Champel at the edge of Geneva.

    Those running the Christian Inquisition committed no crimes you say? The public executions of the Spanish Inquisition were called autos da fe; convicts were “released” (handed over) to secular authorities in order to be burnt. Estimates of how many were executed on behest of the Spanish Inquisition have been offered from early on; historian Hernando de Pulgar estimated that 2,000 people were burned at the stake between 1478 and 1490.

    Burning was the preferred form of execution for the crime of witchcraft, a charge that was invented by those Christian authorities that you appear to be defending.

    Modern scholarly estimates place the total number of executions for witchcraft in the 300-year period of European witch-hunts in the five digits, mostly at roughly between 40,000 and 50,000. The majority of those accused were from the lower economic classes in European society, although in rarer cases high ranking individuals were accused as well.

    In 1532, Holy Roman Emperor Charles the 5th promulgated his penal code Constitutio Criminali Carolina. A number of crimes were punishable with death by burning, such as coin forgery, arson, and sexual acts “contrary to nature” (Presumably this meant homosexuality).

    Burning at the stake actually became an art form for those conducting the practice. The art, of course, keeping the victim alive as long as possible to prolong suffering. If the fire was small, the victim would burn for some time until death from hypovolemia, the loss of blood and/or fluids, since extensive burns often require large amounts of intravenous fluid, because the subsequent inflammatory response causes significant capillary fluid leakage and edema.

    Yes, ISIS burns people alive. But followers of that faith who partake in burning their victims alive haven’t yet mastered that art-form of keeping those victims alive to prolong suffering; the art-form that Christian authorities had mastered by the 1600s, you know, being that Islam is only 1400 years old. This leads us back to my original comment:

    When Christians point to harsh Islamic beliefs & tactics that violate my standard of Human Rights, I like to remind them that Islam is just over 1400 years old. What were Christians doing in the 1490’s? The Inquisition comes to mind.

    So, Caudillo, instead of using youtube videos as credible sources of information, maybe you should take your head out of your ass, quit trying to re-write history, and look at the world as it really is.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What were Christians doing in the 1490’s?

    Don’t forget the progroms.
    Almost as regular as clockwork.


  7. @ David Fierstien

    Equating the behaviour of people today based on how long their respective religions have been around is false (not to mention bizarre thinking that this is the important factor in considering barbaric human behaviour ).

    ISIS is very adept at working social media and using the interwebs for recruitment programs… something hardly equivalent to, say, the Christian version of the Malleus Malificarum papal bull that spawned so much death and torture in its name. Perhaps we can agree that using fundamental religious scripture as the yardstick for determining moral behaviour is brutal and barbaric no matter who falls into this religious cesspool or when. You see, people with access to the interwebs but who still act on Iron Age god-sanctioned morality have to intentionally avoid and refuse to consider on the one hand knowledge about ethics and equality human rights and all the philosophy that grounds these ideas in bettering human welfare while, on the other hand, using it to recruit and advertise its religious barbarity as selling point. The hypocrisy in today’s world is rich for ISIS and not equivalent to the general state of Christian moral ignorance before enlightenment revolutions first revealed and then rectified this pious justification for the barbarity it supported. For any member of ISIS to continue such religious barbarity today using this justification to piety is inexcusable and a moral capitulation unlike the earlier Christian barbarisms.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Tildeb,

    Your quote: “Equating the behaviour of people today based on how long their respective religions have been around is false (not to mention bizarre . . . . ”

    Answer: That may very well be true. As you can see from my original comment, I bring up the Inquisition in the 1400s to Christians who criticize Islam and the behavior of some of the more extreme followers of that faith. It was Caudillo who brought up the group ISIS.

    Actually, Tildeb, I believe just the opposite. I think there is a “purity” (for lack of a better word) when a particular religion begins, and that original purity is degraded and eventually lost through the centuries. Christianity began with a “turn the other cheek” policy when its Founder was tortured & crucified. No revenge was taken, or even desired, at the time; but 20 centuries later certain Christians are placing the blame for that single event around the necks of Jews. I would call that a departure from that original message.

    Take a look at Caudillo up there. It looks like he wants to put an end to a secular society (“Here is hoping to the death of secularism.”) I am guessing that he wants a non-secular Christian theocracy, because there are a few non-Christian theocracies right now. None of them are Utopia. Quite the opposite in fact: (I highly recommend this film, which was based on a true story, for an insight into that .)

    And yes, Caudillo, members of ISIS do appear to be the current assholes of the world; but you are lying to yourself if you believe Christianity was any better. People were slowly tortured & put to death in unendurable ways because they had unacceptable beliefs, had unacceptable sex, or committed petty crimes, all under the authority of that Christian utopia you believe once existed. And it also appears that you believe Trump will somehow deliver that mythical golden age that, in reality, never existed.


  9. Okay. I see now the emphasis of what you were saying about the two theocracies.

    Christianity I think, gained its popularity not because of the Jesus figure per se but because of its acceptance of women as equivalent souls…. until it morphed into Paulism, that is. That is when it became the patriarchy we know it to be today (and this expression no better revealed than its blatant misogyny in the Malleus – one that led to tens if not hundreds of thousands of deaths of women in Europe), which is similar to the patriarchy we see embedded throughout the Koran.

    But as for the central tenets being different, I think you mistake different specifics for a different form and evaluate them accordingly.

    I see ongoing and pernicious commonalities: granting ownership of lone’s life to a divine creator Dear Leader, demanding everyone’s submission to this Dear Leader, demanding respect for religious authority in the public domain supposedly authorized and sanctified by the Dear Leader, demanding one live this life according to the Dear Leader’s revealed religious rules and regulations in return for some other post-death life. I see the common antipathy to enlightenment values like individual autonomy, bottom up authority, secular equality law, and respect for individual responsibility and dignity of personhood regarding choices, the role of the State, and so on. The religious mindset susceptible to acting in the public domain on these private domain beliefs that honors these fundamentals remains contrary to the aforementioned Western secular liberal values upon which our modern civilization has been built.

    And in this regard, the specifics don’t matter. There is no qualitative difference between a Christian refusing to honour the individual choices someone else makes if they are contrary to the specific religious tenets (think gay marriage and adoption, abortion, end of life, teaching evolutionary biology, for just a few examples) and a Muslim… unless both have modified their religious fundamentals in the public domain to its most benign and non-interfering reformed version. And these soothing versions are usually the shield behind which the more pernicious and fundamental versions continue to impede the granting of political capital needed to addressing global problems that are of vital concern to all.


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