Author and Activist
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd.
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (mashed)
Gather round Atheists and observe two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From an ancient grudge, like Capulets and Montagues, the Christians and Muslims break to new mutiny, killing each other over an argument that may just as well be about whose desert bush is burning the brightest. As they bite their thumbs at each other, the carnage is not limited to the combatants, but spills over into all members of world society and civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From an invited afrocentric US Libyan ambassador, to South African commercial pilots, to demonstrating bystanders, to enlisted police constables. All are touched and not even Atheists can escape this madness. All are punish'd.
For those of you not familiar with the two hour traffic of our stage, essentially what happens is that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian living in The US, makes a 14 minute film denegrating the Prophet Mohammed, blessed be his name. Copts are Christians who live in the Middle east as minorities to the Islamic Majority and bite and chafe at the the unjust manifestation of Gods will, especially the unpalatable fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.
The fact that a Bullion Muslims choose Islam of their own free will does not fit with the Christian evangelitical view of a world in which all sin is absolved only by Jesus and no one comes to the Kingdom but through their doctrine. Against this rising tide from the East, their frustration turns to ranting. The plot to produce the film is to taunt and show Muslims to be an aggressive bunch, not worthy of the holy support that undeniably feeds the growth of Islam. This crusade becomes a vitriolic repository of hatred and ascerbic evil, and in a deal with the Devil, they unleash this post modern Jobian virus into the Middle East. All hell is unleashed. Libyan supporter, Chris Stevens is murdered first, many other deaths follow and an elected minister in Pakistan offers a $ 100 000 reward for a vigilante hit job. In the face of this calamity, do good Christians cry out to their parishioners “On pain of torture, from those bloody hands, Throw your mistemper'd weapons to the ground,”. No, who do they blame? – The Muslims.
What will quench the fire of the pernicious rage, with purple fountains issuing from their veins? For this is not about a film, this is about an ancient grudge. Those of you who have seen the film, Innocence of Muslims, personally I was unable to sit through 14 minutes of it, know that it is not so much an insult to the Prophet Mohammed, blessed be his name, but rather an insult to the Californian Film making industry. It looks like an unfunny version of The Life of Brian. In the case where John Cleese mocks Jesus, we wanted to offer him an MBE, here we want to defile the film maker. Do the Muslims see this trash for what it is? Do the Imams of Islam cry out for calm and reflection? Do they seek out from their own, the the vile beginners of this fray? No they call to burn down buildings, murder people and make worms meat of them.
There are three guilty parties in Shakespeare's, Romeo and Juliet, the two protagonists and the State who allows them to get away with it. All are guilty and all are punish'd.
First I deal with the Christians. Christians, you don't have to make a denigrating movie to find out how Muslims will react on attacking their artifacts, simply open the Koran on page one and read what “aweful” fate waits those that do not bow down before the Prophet. This should not surprise you. None of these fates is any less dogmatic than the copious volumes of Christian testament condemning those that do not accept Jesus. Besides that fact that is written in ancient text, what is the need to make hateful, inciting remarks about other peoples religion? Why can you not simply extend the hand of civic friendship and live alongside people that read a different fairy story to their kids at night? Then in the light of mutual understanding, we can deal rationally about the issues of whether the fairies should dance clockwise or anticlockwise around the toadstools.
Now I will deal with the Muslims. It may surprise Muslims, that as Atheists, we too have prophets. We too want our prophets to be respected. It is a daily insult that Atheists take from all Abrahamists that you simply “assume” that God exists and without further question just merrily go about ordering our society as if every move we make is watched over by some beared cosmic dice roller. And now the final insult to believe that you can use force and threats to make us conform, as if somehow your show of force makes you more right. In the words of our last great prophet, Albert Einstein, “If one thousand scientists say one thing, and a single scientists says the opposite, it does not make the single scientist wrong.”
Muslims, we will respect your right to speech, respect your right to practice what you believe, respect your right to walk among us without fear, but to asking us to respect your religious artefacts is to the same as to ask us to give up ours. This is tantamount to asking us to become Muzlim and give up everything that we believe. Asking this from us is like us asking you to reject the notion of divine interference in Youngs Double Slit Experiment, before you even have a full understanding of field theory. This would of course lead to as asking you to take off your shoes, face magnetic north and kneel before the majesty of the standard model.
Thirdly Athiests, who think that this has nothing to do with us, who wink at their discords, playing the role of the Prince and representing the State, is Barack Obama, who gets up after the announcement of Chris Steven's death and makes one of the weakest speeches of his Presidency. Granted he is reeling from watching four years of foreign policy disappear in a smoke filled few hours, but does he cry out “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace, Profaners of this neighbour-stained steel. If ever you disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.” No, mumbling away, with his head down into a prewritten teleprompter, he aks us to pay repsepect to the dead and tells us of a society, “That respects all Religions”. What about respecting our religion Mr President? Atheists don't participate in this hatred, but we do call for the right of free Atheist thought and the human dignity that goes with making a rational decision about how we view the universe around us. The quest for knowlege and constant self evaluation can never be compatible with dogmatic intransience.
Noone despises Nakoula and his accomplices with their poisonous ideas and rhetoric more than Atheists, but if we do not defend their right to free thought and expression, where such expression can be carried out in a world of peace, then we can never demand that our own arguments are heard. The call is not to respect other peoples religions. The call is to respect other's rights to have an opinion. In the continued quest for what is real, we must give voice to all, for we can never foresee that what seems today’s blasphemy may become tomorrows truth. Without allowing a contrary opinion we would never have had al-Khwārizmī, Copernicous, Galleleo and Newton. Without giving Einstein a voice, we would never have found out that they were wrong. Without giving the next prophet a soap box we may spend the rest of eternity thinking that it all started with a big bang.
Atheists, there is is no need to to mock or denegrate Messiahs or Prophets. Dealing with the Abrahamists on a rational battleground is a simple matter. All Prophets and Messiahs stand on the Rock of God. Without God they are revealed as straw puppets, simply the hallucinations of men. There is no need to insult or harm other people. To make your point, simply remove the rock and there is nothing for the super-men to stand on. As Atheists we have no cause with other humans. Our cause is with God, a concept void of rational justification. Without the slightest scrap of evidence we are asked to respect a hypothesis that borders on delusion. There is nothing more insulting to Atheists than to ask us to give up cognitive reason. What else is there to live for? To ask us to respect God is to ask us to self lobotomise, to amputate rationality, the very essence that makes us human. Force is of little consequence in rational debate. If you force us to respect God, then you force us to shut out all the sacrilegious ideas that overturned accepted thought, and have made us who we are today. Worse, you ask us to deny ourselves. And the final insult, you make us unworthy of divine judgement, for what God, no matter how great his mercy, could ever accept a beleiver who first did not respect himself?
Self judgement is a universal privelege of conciousness, respecting other peoples religious belief is not going to help you reach yours. Respect their right to religious thought yes, but we cannot respect their religious artefacts, without qualification. Respect must be earned through rational argument. By reductio ad absurdum , blind, unqualified cross denominational respect leads to the Paradox of the Blue fairy. If we are asked to respect God, then we can be asked to respect anything. We could be asked to kiss the blarney stone.
Yet today in the Year of Our Lord 2012, Evil rides in broad daylight on the backs of giant bats. As a non believer it is hard to accept how the God that built the Rock that underlines these cosmic events would have the mischievous character to rent this mayhem upon us. One shudders to think how many more star crossed lovers must lose their lives for us all to see the high road forward. This would be a very good time for God to reveal himself and give his chosen people some real world guidance. But until he does show up, can I suggest that this is the time to show tolerance and enter into rational debate about world issues, where everyone no matter how undesirable their opinion is, is given a chance to express it. If after this process, people still choose to believe in the irrational and non real, that is their right and we respect their right to live in the impoverishment of intellectual ignorance.
Without this tolerance, all are punish'd.