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The ‘Underground Railroad’ To Save Atheists A vision to protect those persecuted for non-religion

The ‘Underground Railroad’ To Save Atheists

A vision to protect those persecuted for non-religion
By David Robson
https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/01/the-underground-railroad-to-save-atheists/550229/

Lubna Yaseen was a student in Baghdad when death threats forced her into exile. Her crime was to think the unthinkable and question the unquestionable—to state, openly, that she was an atheist.

Growing up in Hillah, a city in central Iraq, she developed an independent mind at a young age. “My mother is an atheist intellectual person, and she brought up me and my siblings to think for ourselves and to be open to anything,” she told me. Yaseen was particularly concerned about her teachers’ attitudes toward women. “I always asked why girls should wear a hijab and boys are not obligated to do so,” she said. Why would “God” treat the two sexes differently? She quickly learned the dangers of expressing these views: Her teachers often threw her out of their classes, and sometimes beat her.

In 2006, when Yaseen and her mother were driving home one day, al-Qaeda militants pulled them over and threatened to kill them for not wearing the hijab. Still, Yaseen’s desire to explore secular thinking grew at university. “I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Whenever there was a conversation, I talked.” She started handing out leaflets on Mutanabbi Street, the heart of Baghdad’s intellectual life, and wrote about her atheist beliefs on Facebook. Her activism attracted further threats from fellow students and local Islamist militia groups, but she was determined to continue. “I believed in my rights to be who I am,” she said.

The tipping point came when Yaseen’s story caught the attention of the American TV host Dave Rubin, who featured her on his show The Rubin Report in early 2016. After the clip was released online, she faced a torrent of death threats and finally went into hiding. “I disappeared—I left everything. I had to be always on the run, changing places and disguises,” she said. “I couldn’t feel anything except that I would end up being killed.”

Yaseen would still be at risk if it weren’t for the actions of Secular Rescue, which helped her escape to California, where she is waiting for her asylum claim to be approved. The initiative, launched in 2016, is run by the Center For Inquiry, a U.S.-based non-profit organization that aims to promote secular values, such as scientific rationality and freedom of speech, with the support of Richard Dawkins and other prominent atheists.

“It’s really an underground railroad of sorts for non-believers in countries where simply expressing doubt about religious belief is a criminal offense or where it may lead to grave physical harm,” Robyn Blumner, the president and CEO of the CFI, told me.

Secular Rescue does not just face challenges abroad in militantly religious countries; due to some unnervingly resilient biases, implicit prejudice against atheists is still prevalent in ostensibly secular Western countries, making it difficult to raise the necessary diplomatic support there for people like Yaseen.

But in many countries across the globe, the danger of expressing non-belief comes directly from the state. According to a comprehensive report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, a U.K.-based non-profit that aims to promote the rights of non-religious people, there are currently 12 nations in which apostasy (including atheism) can be punished by death: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Pakistan, meanwhile, threatens the death penalty for blasphemy, which may include expressions of atheism.

Even in states that ostensibly protect religious rights, atheists may have to fear repercussions from vigilante groups. In Iraq, for instance, the right to freedom of conscience is enshrined in the constitution, yet Yaseen faced regular death threats from fundamentalists and got little support from the police. “There is a mob mentality that sanctions violence against people who don’t conform on religious grounds,” Blumner said.

Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for Secular Rescue, told me that government complicity is a particular problem in Bangladesh, which has seen the murder of at least 10 writers who had questioned the religious dogma since 2015. “We know there have been, and may still be, hit lists, issued by those who are trying to keep their hands clean, encouraging young radicals to slaughter secularists of their own volition,” Fidalgo told me. “And one of the worst parts is the callousness of the response from the Bangladeshi government. From the prime minister and other officials, we get several versions of ‘Well, they shouldn’t have been insulting religious beliefs.’ After one student was murdered, officials began to investigate the dead guy to see if he had written anything worth killing him over.”

When faced with these threats, many people are understandably reluctant to admit their religious doubts even to their closest confidants, making it difficult to gauge how widespread atheism actually is around the world. But there are signs that the numbers of atheists are sizable. A 2012 Win/Gallup International Poll, for instance, found that 19 percent of people in Saudi Arabia claimed not to be religious, with 5 percent identifying as convinced atheists—roughly the same proportion as in the U.S. That’s a surprisingly high number given the difficulties of exploring non-religious thought in this country, and the true figure may be greater; even if their responses remain anonymous, many non-believers may still have been reluctant to declare their religious doubts openly.

Mark Aveyard, a social psychologist in the United Arab Emirates, believes that some changing attitudes toward religion (at least in the UAE) may be linked to shifts in the way people are encouraged to think in education and at work. “They study or work in organizations where they’re encouraged to be bold, disruptive, innovative, creative, unconventional—with business, technology, entertainment, academics, etc. They’re rewarded for questioning the received wisdom.” Although many manage to compartmentalize these more critical attitudes, it has caused some to rethink their religion, Aveyard said. “So there are more youth now who question and doubt, but they do so privately.”

For non-believers like Yaseen who are more committed to expressing their opinions, however, the internet now provides a community and forum for the formation of an atheist identity. Arabic Facebook groups promoting atheism can reach tens of thousands of followers before they are targeted by “cyber jihadists.” (One popular tactic is to break into the account and post pornography, leading Facebook’s moderators to shut it down.) Blumner, meanwhile, points out that an Arabic translation of Dawkins’s book The God Delusion has reportedly been downloaded by more than 10 million people, with about 30 percent of downloads (3 million) coming from Saudi Arabia. “It shows you there’s a tremendous appetite for understanding religious doubt, for exploring religious doubt, for affirming religious doubt,” she said.

Some religious leaders and politicians are hoping to regulate atheism with increasingly fiery rhetoric and more stringent laws. Egypt, for instance, already criminalizes the act of blasphemy, leading to the recent conviction of a 29-year-old computer scientist for running a Facebook page on atheism. But in late December, the Egyptian government announced plans to extend these laws, so that disbelief itself would be criminalized, even if the person does not actively declare or promote atheism (although it remains unclear how this could be practically enforced).

Although some organizations like Amnesty International have taken up the cause of certain individuals, the CFI’s Secular Rescue was founded to tackle the broader global problem. The support it offers is largely diplomatic, financial, and legal: to pull strings with government agencies, organize the transportation of potential victims, and pay the costs of settling in a new country. Since 2015, it has helped save 30 people, including Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury (also known as Tutul), who was chosen by Margaret Atwood for the PEN International Writer of Courage Award in 2016. The year before, he had suffered a nearly fatal machete attack by insurgents in Bangladesh, after which Secular Rescue helped his family to Norway. With enough funds, the group would hope to help many more.

Beyond creating these escape routes, Secular Rescue also campaigns for bodies like the UN to protect the rights of atheists to express their freedom of conscience. Blumner, for instance, recently visited the UN Human Rights Council to discuss mounting concerns in Malaysia, after an eruption of atheist persecution in August was sanctioned by the government. She says that the plight of non-believers is overlooked by politicians from ostensibly secular societies, meaning that activists working on behalf of persecuted atheists often struggle to garner the necessary support. “Part of the problem is that people don’t like atheists and it’s hard to protect a group you don’t like.”

This is even the case in the United States, where Blumner’s assertion finds support in a series of studies by the psychologist Will Gervais at the University of Kentucky, who has described atheists as “one of the most hated groups in the U.S.,” even as they face no state-backed persecution. His work has centered on a well-accepted measure of prejudice that tests how much people implicitly associate certain acts with representatives of a particular group.

In one early study from 2011, he found that people assume that atheists are more likely to commit immoral acts such as stealing money from a wallet left on the sidewalk, or failing to give the correct insurance information after a road accident. Indeed, of all the groups he measured—including Christians, Muslims, Jewish people, feminists, and homosexuals—only rapists were considered to be similarly untrustworthy. He has since shown that people are also more likely to implicitly associate atheism with incest, bestiality, animal torture, even murder and mutilation. Opinion polls, meanwhile, reveal that nearly 50 percent of people would rather that their children did not marry an atheist (compared to 34 percent who declared that they would be disappointed if their child married a Muslim).

“People have these strongly negative reactions to atheists,” Gervais told me. Strikingly, these views were not limited to religious participants in his studies. “Even our atheist participants seem to intuitively think that serial killers are atheists.”

He emphasizes that these associations are probably learned, and even if you don’t go to church, you may still be exposed to lingering cues in our culture that encourage that distrust. “We have had millennia of religious influence,” he said. Nor are these biases restricted to the U.S. In 2017, Gervais demonstrated that they are shared across many countries usually assumed to embody secular values, including the U.K., the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic.

It’s worth noting that people turning away from religion in the West may also feel threatened by the people in their community, and given the widespread bias against atheism—among the religious and non-religious alike—it’s not surprising they sometimes fail to report their fears. Maryam Namazie, founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, has described a “tsunami of atheism” in the U.K., with many living in fear of reprisals from their religious community. “There are many cases where ex-Muslims have gone to the police and not received any support at all because the problems aren’t taken seriously,” she told the Independent.

Increasing the acceptance of atheists in the West—and concern about their plight in the West and elsewhere—may be a battle in itself, one that must be fought in tandem with the battle to sustain an “underground railroad” that rescues atheists from physical harm.

Yaseen, for her part, told me that she is still trying to heal from her experiences, but that they have ultimately made her more determined to share her story and build awareness of the dangers facing atheists in countries like Iraq. “I hope my voice can be heard, so Western communities can open their eyes to what’s going on, and build a safer place for people like me.”

In Europe and U.S., Nonbelievers Are Increasingly Vocal

In Europe and U.S., Nonbelievers Are Increasingly Vocal
By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 15, 2007
https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/14/AR2007091402501_pf.html

BURGESS HILL, England — Every morning on his walk to work, high school teacher Graham Wright recited a favorite Anglican prayer and asked God for strength in the day ahead. Then two years ago, he just stopped.

Wright, 59, said he was overwhelmed by a feeling that religion had become a negative influence in his life and the world. Although he once considered becoming an Anglican vicar, he suddenly found that religion represented nothing he believed in, from Muslim extremists blowing themselves up in God’s name to Christians condemning gays, contraception and stem cell research.

“I stopped praying because I lost my faith,” said Wright, 59, a thoughtful man with graying hair and clear blue eyes. “Now I truly loathe any sight or sound of religion. I blush at what I used to believe.”

Wright is now an avowed atheist and part of a growing number of vocal nonbelievers in Europe and the United States. On both sides of the Atlantic, membership in once-quiet groups of nonbelievers is rising, and books attempting to debunk religion have been surprise bestsellers, including “The God Delusion,” by Oxford University professor Richard Dawkins.

New groups of nonbelievers are sprouting on college campuses, anti-religious blogs are expanding across the Internet, and in general, more people are publicly saying they have no religious faith.

More than three out of four people in the world consider themselves religious, and those with no faith are a distinct minority. But especially in richer nations, and nowhere more than in Europe, growing numbers of people are actively saying they don’t believe there is a heaven or a hell or anything other than this life.

Many analysts trace the rise of what some are calling the “nonreligious movement” to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The sight of religious fanatics killing 3,000 people caused many to begin questioning — and rejecting — all religion.

“This is overwhelmingly the topic of the moment,” said Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society of Britain. “Religion in this country was very quiet until September 11, and now it is at the center of everything.”

Since the 2001 attacks, a string of religiously inspired bomb and murder plots has shaken Europe. Muslim radicals killed 52 people on the London public transit system in 2005 and 191 on Madrid trains in 2004. People apparently aiming for a reward in heaven were arrested in Britain last year for trying to blow up transatlantic jetliners. And earlier this month in Germany, authorities arrested converts to Islam on charges that they planned to blow up American facilities there.

Many Europeans are angry at demands to use taxpayer money to accommodate Islam, Europe’s fastest-growing religion, which now has as many as 20 million followers on the continent. Along with calls for prayer rooms in police stations, foot baths in public places and funding for Islamic schools and mosques, expensive legal battles have broken out over the niqab, the Muslim veil that covers all but the eyes, which some devout women seek to wear in classrooms and court.

Christian fundamentalist groups who want to halt certain science research, reverse abortion and gay rights and teach creationism rather than evolution in schools are also angering people, according to Sanderson and others.

“There is a feeling that religion is being forced on an unwilling public, and now people are beginning to speak out against what they see as rising Islamic and Christian militancy,” Sanderson said.

Though the number of nonbelievers speaking their minds is rising, academics say it’s impossible to calculate how many people silently share that view. Many people who do not consider themselves religious or belong to any faith group often believe, even if vaguely, in a supreme being or an afterlife. Others are not sure what they believe.

The term atheist can imply aggressiveness in disbelief; many who don’t believe in God prefer to call themselves humanists, secularists, freethinkers, rationalists or, a more recently coined term, brights.

“Where religion is weak, people don’t feel a need to organize against it,” said Phil Zuckerman, an American academic who has written extensively about atheism around the globe.

He and others said secular groups are also gaining strength in countries where religious influence over society looms large, including India, Israel and Turkey. “Any time we see an outspoken movement against religion, it tells us that religion has power there,” Zuckerman said.

One group of nonbelievers in particular is attracting attention in Europe: the Council of Ex-Muslims. Founded earlier this year in Germany, the group now has a few hundred members and an expanding number of chapters across the continent. “You can’t tell us religion is peaceful — look around at the misery it is causing,” said Maryam Namazie, leader of the group’s British chapter.

She and other leaders of the council held a news conference in The Hague to launch the Dutch chapter on Sept. 11, the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States. “We are all atheists and nonbelievers, and our goal is not to eradicate Islam from the face of the earth,” but to make it a private matter that is not imposed on others, she said.

The majority of nonbelievers say they are speaking out only because of religious fanatics. But some atheists are also extreme, urging people, for example, to blot out the words “In God We Trust” from every dollar bill they carry.

Gaining political clout and access to television and radio airtime is the goal of many of these groups. With a higher profile, they say, they could, for instance, lobby for all religious rooms in public hospitals to be closed, as a response to Muslims demanding prayer rooms because Christians have chapels.

Associations of nonbelievers are also moving to address the growing demand in Britain, Spain, Italy and other European countries for nonreligious weddings, funerals and celebrations for new babies. They are helping arrange ceremonies that steer clear of talk of God, heaven and miracles and celebrate, as they say, “this one life we know.”

The British Humanist Association, which urges people who think “the government pays too much attention to religious groups” to join them, has seen its membership double in two years to 6,500.

A humanist group in the British Parliament that looks out for the rights of the nonreligious now has about 120 members, up from about 25 a year ago.

Doreen Massey, a Labor Party member of the House of Lords who belongs to that group, said most British people don’t want legislators to make public policy decisions on issues such as abortion and other health matters based on their religious beliefs.

But the church has disproportionate power and influence in Parliament, she said. For example, she said, polls show that 80 percent of Britons want the terminally ill who are in pain to have the right to a medically assisted death, yet such proposals have been effectively killed by a handful of powerful bishops.

“We can’t accept that religious faiths have a monopoly on ethics, morality and spirituality,” Massey said. Now, she added, humanist and secularist groups are becoming “more confident and more powerful” and recognize that they represent the wishes of huge numbers of people.

While the faithful have traditionally met like-minded people at the local church, mosque or synagogue, it has long been difficult for those without religion to find each other. The expansion of the Internet has made it a vital way for nonbelievers to connect.

In retirement centers, restaurants, homes and public lectures and debates, nonbelievers are convening to talk about how to push back what they see as increasingly intrusive religion.

“Born Again Atheist,” “Happy Heathen” and other anti-religious T-shirts and bumper stickers are increasingly seen on the streets. Groups such as the Skeptics in the Pub in London, which recently met to discuss this topic, “God: The Failed Hypothesis,” are now finding that they need bigger rooms to accommodate those who find them online.

Wright, the teacher who recently declared himself a nonbeliever, is one of thousands of people who have joined dues-paying secular and humanist groups in Europe this year.

Sitting in his living room on a quiet cul-de-sac in this English town of 30,000, Wright said he now goes online every day to keep up with the latest atheist news.

“One has to step up and stem the rise of religious influence,” said Wright, who is thinking of becoming a celebrant at humanist funerals. He said he recently went to the church funeral of his brother-in-law and couldn’t bear the “vacuous prayers of the vicar,” who, Wright said, “looked bored and couldn’t wait to leave.”

Now, instead of each morning silently reciting a favorite nighttime prayer, “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord, and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers . . . ” (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer), he spends the time just thinking about the day ahead.

He said his deceased mother, a Catholic, was comforted by her faith: “It kept her going through difficult times,” particularly when his father left her when he and his sister were young.

“I really don’t know how I will react if something really bad happens,” he said. “But there is no going back. There is nothing to go back to.”

Not believing in an afterlife, he said, “makes you think you have to make the most of this life. It’s the now that matters. It also makes you feel a greater urgency of things that matter,” such as halting global warming, and not just dismissing it as being “all in God’s plan.”

He called himself heartened that the National Secular Society, which he recently joined, is planning to open chapters at a dozen universities this fall. The rising presence of the nonreligious movement, he said, is “fantastic.”

“It’s a bit of opposition, isn’t it?” he said. “Why should these religious groups hold so much sway?”

How fundamentalists helped revive militant atheism in the West

How fundamentalists helped revive militant atheism in the West
From the Blog: Classically Liberal
https://freestudents.blogspot.com/2007/09/how-fundamentalists-helped-revive.html

The Washington Post has an article on the rise of the vocal atheist. It starts out with the story of a man who was a life long Anglican and who one day just decided he no longer believed. I’ve seen the same thing happen to other people. There is a clear increase in the number of individuals who identify as atheists. In recent years, among young people, the number of self-identified atheists has doubled.

Of course we don’t know the true number of atheists. Many atheists are aware of friends who put on the pretence of religion but privately admit to being atheists. Even some clergy fall into this category. What percentage of pews or pulpits are occupied by atheists is anyone’s guess.

In recent years polls in the US have shown that religious Americans are more likely to vote for a Muslim, in spite of the 9/11 attacks, than for an atheist regardless of their qualifications. The same sort of disdain for atheists carries into their private lives. All of this reduces the likelihood of an atheist speaking out. Many remain closeted but that doesn’t alter the fact that are atheists.

Yet in spite of this, the number of self-identified atheists is increasing rather rapidly. But that is only part of the phenomenon. The number of atheists who are being open about their atheism is increasing as well. And the number of atheists who are becoming vocal is also increasing. So, not only are the number of non-believers increasing, but those who do exist are becoming more militant and vocal.

The article discusses the rise of the Council of Ex-Muslims in Europe, which was founded in Germany a few months ago with several hundred members. It has created chapters in England and Holland as well. Maryam Namazie, the head of the English chapter said: “We are all atheists and non-believers, and our goal is not to eradicate Islam from the face of the earth.” Instead they are trying to make religion entirely private and strip it of the power to control the lives of non-believers.

The article quotes an academic who has studied the rise of atheism. Phil Zuckerman says: “Anytime we see an outspoken movement against religion, it tells us that religion has power there.” And one atheist is quoted saying: “There is a feeling that religion is being forced on an unwilling public, and now people are beginning to speak out against what they see as rising Islamic and Christian militancy.”

Strictly speaking, an atheist merely lacks a belief in a deity of any kind. It is not a rallying point, nor a particularly reason for social cohesion. Not being something is not something around which a common identity can be forged. The natural tendency, in my opinion, is for atheists to be a relatively unorganized because of this. Atheist organizations will generally contain only a very small percentage of non-believers. Atheists have no more in common with each other than do people who don’t believe in Santa Claus.

But recent world events has forced a rethink. Two things have happened. One is the 9/11 attacks, along with the rise of militant Islamists conducting other terrorist attacks. The second is that religious extremists — Muslims in Europe and Christians in America — have been demanding that more and more state power, meaning coercion, be used to further their agenda.

In both cases these militant fundamentalists are actively trying to impose their stilted world view on the rest of society. Witness the fits they go into over the gay marriage issue. Now if marriage equality is passed no fundamentalists will be forced to marry a same sex partner. They are free to shun the arrangement completely. They don’t want to be left alone, they want the law to prevent others from having the same relationships they can enjoy.

Fundamentalists complain if they are censored. But they are not against censorship. They favor it, provided they get to decide who shall be censored. Nor are they advocates of government leaving people alone. They want government to leave the religious alone and to actively harass others. And they have become increasingly vocal about such demands.

But the worst part for them was that they, and George Bush, entered in some sort of uncivil union. We saw the merger of church and state, the creation of the Theopublican movement. George Bush became their most visible representative. And for that, atheists should thank God.

The Theopublican agenda has been so closely linked to the Bush agenda that the dishonesty, viciousness and ineptness of the Bush administration now tarnishes Christianity itself. Whether that should be case is another question. Bush has been a PR disaster for the two things he is most closely tied to: the Republican Party and God.

On the other side of the world religious fanatics have unleashed their Dark Ages philosophy wherever they can. Islamists have killed thousands and thousands of people. Islamist governments kill people by the hundreds. And they do so in the most barbaric ways. The world is disgusted with Islam as a result. Even many Muslims have become disgusted with Islam.

The fundamentalists of the world, mainly Christian and Muslim, have breathed life into the atheist movement. In many ways they are creating a new, vocal atheist movement.

As I noted, there is no common ground for atheists. You can’t build a movement around a non-belief. But the fastest way to build a movement is to find a threat that intimidates people. Environmentalists know this, which is why they have an endless series of scare stories and have had then for decades now. H.L. Mencken noticed that political movements often succeed by “menacing” people “with an endless string of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” When people face a common threat, or enemy, they tend to unify. Republicans know this. That’s why they pushed the antigay campaign for several years. They wanted to build a fear campaign around homosexuals to unify the Religions Right. Now they are doing the same over immigrants.

If imaginary hobgoblins work well in creating a movement then real hobgoblins are even better. And rational people have felt threatened by Islamism and Theopublicanism. There it is — the reason for the rise of vocal, militant atheism. People are becoming atheists in larger numbers, or becoming more vocal and active atheists, precisely because the religious extremists have, or are trying, to seize power in order to inflict their agenda on the rest of society.

The moral majoritarians don’t merely want to avoid erotica. They want to force you to avoid it as well — regardless of your personal preferences. They want to burn the magazines, and some no doubt, the publishers as well. The Islamists don’t want the right to worship Allah. They want to deny you the right to not worship him. It’s not that these people want to lead lives abstaining from what they see as sin but that they want the state to punish you if you sin according to their religion.

I became an atheist over two decades ago. I remember sitting in my apartment one morning looking into the garden while reading a book on the logic of theism. I had been a Christian, attended Christian schools, was active in the church, and even attended Bible college. I had no doubts about a deity but then I never gave the matter much thought — something which is always conducive to faith. But that day I did give it some thought and concluded that a deity was a highly irrational assumption on my part and that the evidence was not there to support the belief I adopted. So at that point I abandoned it and haven’t looked back since.

But I was a quiet atheist for years. I did condemn the Moral Majoritarians and the like but pretty much ignored the religious impulses behind this new authoritarianism. But as time went by the nascent movement of theocrats in the 70s and 80s became increasingly shrill and illiberal and powerful. Their movement got uglier and more vicious. They were voracious for power. And then comes 9/11 with the praying fanatics who managed to kill 3,000 people in one day. I watched the second plane hit that tower as it happened on television. And I can’t escape the images of people leaping out of the burning building 100 floors above the ground, to their deaths. Watching these living human beings plummeting to their death was more than I could stomach.

And then I ran into some “orthodox Christians” who were pushing the theocratic agenda. And they felt I was an obstacle to them. So they engaged in a concerted hate campaign that turned my life into a living hell. And they enjoyed it. They relished it. They even bragged about it.

When I added all these things up in my head I concluded that I was obligated to not only reject the faith statements of theism, but that I ought to be more vocal about the threats and dangers as well. I was pushed into the position of being a “militant atheist” much against my own inclination. I’ve always been an adherent of the “live and let live” view of the world. But I realized that some people simply refuse to let you live and you have no recourse but to resist. So I went from quiet non belief to vocal atheism.

Apparently the same thing is happening in the educated nations of the world. Atheism is on the rise. The numbers of non-believers are escalating as people reconsider religion based on the results that they see around them. And those who, like me, were quiet atheists, have decided to put an end to their silence.

The massive sales of atheist books in the last year, works by Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, are the result of millions of people rethinking religion because of the actions of the religious. People are not buying these books because of Dennett, Dawkins and Harris. They are more likely to be doing so because of the Bushs and bin Ladens of the world. The real salesmen of atheism have been the theists not the atheists.

And when these theists started grabbing political power they gave millions of people the incentive to organize in opposition. If there were an Academy Award for atheism the recipients would have to get up and give a speech along these lines:

I want to thank all those people who made this possible. In particular George Bush and Osama bin Laden. Without you guys this just wouldn’t have been possible. Of course there are so many to thank. I should mention Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell as well but it was really the little people who deserve the thanks. All those people bashing on gays, bombing abortion clinics, closing down adult shops. And we can’t forget the guys who arrest people for selling dildos, or cut off the heads of infidels or slit the throats of sinners. And all those parents who murder their own children in ‘honor’ killings or let them die without medical care because medicine indicates a lack of faith. Your campaigns in the Shiavo case, to promote ‘faith based’ initiatives and to eradicate the separation of church and state, or mosque and state helped. All of you made this possible. Without your help we wouldn’t be where we are today. Thanks for making this possible.