The growing problem of Islam: an atheist view
Talk presented to the 1st International Symposium on Liberty and Islam in Australia
Melbourne, 9 March 2014.

Geert Wilders, in his speech in Australia last year, particularly mentioned that he welcomed the participation of atheists and humanists. So as an atheist and humanist I am delighted to be here.

We may have our differences regarding religion, but regarding Islam, we are all on the same side. We recognise that Islam is a significant problem we need to deal with. Most people, unfortunately, don't. This applies also to many of my atheist and humanist colleagues. They strive to be opposed to all religions equally. But some religions are worse than others. By reasonable objective criteria, Islam is the worst. We need to recognise this.

I may also say that I come from a different political perspective from many of you. Again, when it comes to recognising the perils of Islam, we are all on the same side. I don't see why it should be a right wing or left wing issue. We all simply need to be aware of the facts. Islam is a danger, a threat, and it causes immense suffering. Anyone, whatever their political persuasion, should be able to recognise that. Recognition of facts does not make us extremists.

I am a humanitarian, and a social liberal. That is why I am opposed to Islam. Islam causes suffering and oppression, especially for women. Those who suffer from it most are the Muslims themselves. Hence, as Geert Wilders and many others have stated, we are not against Muslims we are against Islam. It is nothing to do with racism. Those who claim to be feminists and humanitarians but turn a blind eye to the misogyny and social oppression of Islam are hypocrites. We need to raise people's consciousness. We need to focus on the facts.

I have participated in quite a number of university debates against Islamist opponents, where I have sought to present facts. Of course we do not expect that those with firmly held religious beliefs will change their minds because of a debate. Such beliefs are held often in blatant defiance of facts. But what I think is valuable in such debates is to see how our opponents conduct themselves and what arguments they put on the public record.

At one debate at the University of Western Sydney, our opponents were from Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an overtly anti-democratic Islamist group. During Q&A, a bearded man, raised his fist and shouted "Islam will conquer the world!", at which the entire Muslin audience cheered wildly. It was really quite shocking and frightening for all those atheists present.

In my debates at La Trobe University, the audience was more subdued, but the arguments they put were equally shocking. These opponents were academics, and one, Mohammed Tabbaa, was a committee member of the Islamic Council of Victoria, so we can assume that their views are authoritative.

Their arguments were dressed up in the fraudulent rhetoric of post-modernist relativism, where objective reality is denied and where all reality is supposed to be socially constructed and simply result from the "power relations" in society. These are just sham arguments where the truth is arbitrary and anything can be justified. Yet the Koran is true according to them. In fact, religious views almost invariably result from socialisation (or indoctrination). Religious identity not part of our genetic inheritance.

What was interesting about the debaters arguments about the superiority of Islam was that they quite openly admitted that Islam is incompatible with democracy. So, the proposition that Islam is a fascist ideology is actually supported by our most authoritative Islamic spokesmen. Apparently the situation is this: if Islamists say they reject democracy, that is not extreme, but if we quote them as saying that, we are extreme. Absurdity reigns.

In another debate, at Swinburne University, my opponents argued that the Koran is so poetical that it must be a miracle and therefore the direct word of Allah. I wonder how many words, or pages of the Koran they have to go through before they say: Bingo, it's a miracle!

Actually the Koran is not that easy to read, because it is so full of egregious content. In that debate I referred to chapter 65 verse 4 of the Koran which details provisions for divorcing wives including those who have not yet menstruated. I asked my opponents how sex with children could be consistent with morality. I expected they would try to avoid my question or obfuscate. Instead, as per the Koran, they openly defended, condoned and even advocated, the rape of children. I really found their attitude so appalling and disgusting I felt like walking out of the debate.

Why is it that we are experiencing this surge in Islamic activism, and why is it a growing problem? The "secularisation hypothesis" was that as people became more educated and more informed, religious belief would fall away. I have not given up hope, but this has not happened yet, especially for Islam, and in fact the reverse is the case. My explanation is increased religious indoctrination in schools. In Muslim countries, as elsewhere, as living standard rise, so does school attendance. But in Muslim countries, religion is a large part of the syllabus and is taught as fact. Hence more education means more indoctrination means more Islamism.

This is a growing problem because Islam is inevitably associated with violence, oppression and social, economic and political dysfunction. As Islamism gets worse, these problems get worse.

Ten years ago I wrote an article in Free Inquiry magazine about the systemic problems in Arab societies that were highlighted in the United Nations Arab Human Development Reports. These were a series of reports, written by Arab scholars, who found that Arab countries were deficient compared with similar countries, according to a wide range of measures. The reports identified three major deficits. These were in: freedom, women's empowerment, and knowledge. I pointed out what the Arab authors could not: that the reasons that Islamic countries suffer from these three deficits is Islam itself. I do not need to point out to this audience how Islam denies freedom, disempowers women and denies knowledge.

I might just point out how intellectually isolated Muslim and Arab societies are. You might know that in the Middle Ages the printing press was prohibited in the Muslim world for 300 years after it was invented and proliferated in Europe. In this vein, the UN reports highlighted similar instances, for example the fact that the number of books that are translated into Spanish each year is one thousand times the number that are translated into Arabic.

As an economist I know the importance of raising productivity through research and development, innovation and investment in technology. But in the Arab world, expenditure devoted to this is minuscule. The reports noted "a political and social context inimical to the development of science". This deprivation can be related to the Islamic concept of bidah, or aversion to innovation. The economic cost in term of loss of human welfare was enormous, I wrote in my 2004 article.

Ten years later the situation in the Arab world is immeasurably worse. Violence has increased. The Arab spring revolutions have come and gone. Multi-faceted civil war in Syria, all in the name of Allah, has led to the destruction of a third of the housing stock and 2.2 million refugees, a tenth of the population.

In Egypt an Islamist government has been replaced by a military regime. Islamist governments are intolerable, even for Muslims. These events are not new. This turmoil is something that has occurred repeatedly in Muslim countries throughout Islamic history. Karl Marx said that history repeats first as tragedy, second as farce. But the endless repetition of this cycle of violence is becoming catastrophic.

What if we project this worsening trend forward for another ten years? We may be looking at many more Muslim countries descending into chaotic violence and failed-state status. These are governance issues that affect the entire world community. We must not only stop the Islamisation of nations. These nations desperately need to be de-Islamised.. Eventually it must come to a point where the dangers of Islam have to be recognised.

Yet we are very far from this recognition now. Deniers and wishful thinkers cling to the belief and the deception that "true" Islam is peaceful and that only extremists are the problem. As ex-Muslim Ali A Rizvi put it, if Islam was peaceful then Islamic extremists would be extremely peaceful. They certainly are not.

How does this fiction persist? A typical instance surrounds the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby. The murderers explained in gruesome detail on television that they were acting in accordance with their Islamic duties. Yet Prime Minister David Cameron described their actions as "a betrayal of Islam". That comment is either delusion or deception. In sentencing, the judge repeated the phrase "betrayal of Islam".

"It's a lie" the murderer contemptibly yelled. But the murderer was correct and the Prime Minister and judge were wrong. Violent jihad, in emulation of the Prophet Mohammed, is a sacred duty of the Muslim. The murderer, in the circumstances, was doing nothing more than his faith commands. The extremists are not an aberration. Islam is extreme.

How is it that people are so blind to the true nature of Islam? The answer, from my atheist perspective, is this: for psychological reasons people believe what they want to believe, not what is actually true. It is willful blindness.

Unfortunately, in many ways our societies actively encourage this type of behaviour, particularly with the nonsense notion that all religions are equally true. In such compartmentalised aspects of our lives, the truth is arbitrary and relativism reigns supreme. But the quest for the truth, based on scientific method is the driving force behind the progress of civilisation. We must not forsake this quest.

Relativism is the notion that all views are equal, irrespective of merit. Cultural relativism says that all cultures should be respected, again, irrespective of merit. But they are not equal. We should not be abandoning objective standards.

But what standard should we use? What is liberty? How do we define freedom? May I suggest that we might refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? In Islam, humans do not have rights, only Allah has rights. Islamic counties want to abandon the Universal Declaration and replace it with their own Islamic Rights. But they can't, thanks to the good old United Nations.

Everyone thinks their own religion is true, but this is just cultural arrogance. There are no chosen people, and there is no promised land. We need to demythologise religions and instead rely on reason, evidence and critical thinking.

How about this for a suggestion: we get all the governments of the world to commission an Intergovernmental Panel at the United Nations, to gather all the scientific evidence and answer this question: which, if any, religion is true?

Naturally when all the world's scientists report their findings, the result would surely be accepted. All the deniers and special interest peddlers would have to change their minds. If not the consequences could be dire. They will be dire.

We need to abandon ancient cultural superstitions. We certainly need to abandon ancient perceptions of morality which forbid a woman to show her hair or face. We need to aspire to a world based on reason and rationality, and where the universal principles of compassion, freedom, honesty and justice are the main points on our moral compass.

Note: My participation in symposiums does not mean that I agree with all the views of the other speakers or the organisers of any such event. Although I may disagree with other critics of Islam, I defend their freedom of speech. Islam raises serious and legitimate human rights and humanitarian concerns. To mindlessly label all critics of Islam as "racist", "extremist", "far right wing" and other derogatory and defamatory slurs is a silencing tactic and a practice that must be resisted. Before engaging in such behaviour, apologists for Islam are invited to consider first the relevant aspects of Islamic doctrine and their implementation.