New atheism's move from Islamophobia to white nationalism

New atheism's move from Islamophobia to white nationalism
Comment: New atheism has become increasingly sympathetic to right-wing causes and voices and is in danger of being aligned with a growing white supremacist movement, writes Dan Arel.
6 min read
12 Jul, 2017
With the ascension of far-right demagogues to political office, white supremacists have become mainstream [Getty]
"New atheism" has of late become increasingly sympathetic to right-wing causes and voices.

For years it was accused of anti-Muslim bigotry in the form of Islamophobia.

Proponents argue that these new atheists are simply criticising religion, and while in some cases this is true, opponents are quick to point out other times when the attacks turn to demonising Muslims in general, inflaming anti-Muslim bigotry.

The growth of such bigotry in the new atheist movement has not subsided, and in fact, in recent years has only grown to give rise to voices that promote bigotry across a broader field, bringing new atheism from a seemingly Islamophobic movement to a white nationalist one.

It's become increasingly harder to differentiate the so-called liberal-centrists of the new atheist movement and those on the far-right, supporting Muslim travel bans and fanning the flames of racial tension around the United States.

Comment: Secular US voices essential to fighting Islamophobia

Sam Harris, arguably the most active and vocal of this group has taken to his podcast, Waking Up, to defend and amplify voices of racists such as Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, which argues that race plays a factor in intelligence and uses IQ tests as evidence for this.

When interviewing Murray, Harris doesn't even pretend to take issue with Murray's long debunked findings and instead tells listeners: "For better or worse, these are all facts," and continues, "In fact, there is almost nothing in psychological science for which there is more evidence than for these claims."

The claims, of course, being that blacks and Hispanics in the US are biologically inferior when it comes to intelligence.

Meanwhile, academics have long refuted this claim and even go as far as refuting that IQ test proves anything about intelligence other than a person's ability to take an IQ test.

Not wanting his lofty perspective contradicted, Harris avoided the likes of Stacey Patton, Michael Eric Dyson, Michelle Alexander, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Sikivu Hutchinson, and Marc Lamont Hill

Harris also hosted a discussion on race and violence in America in which he used his platform to endorse anti-Black Lives Matter views and take blame away from white America for the problem of racism.

As humanist Sincere Kirabo noted when writing for The Huffington PostHarris had to avoid many respected black activists to find one who agreed with his bias.

"Not wanting his lofty perspective contradicted, Harris avoided the likes of Stacey Patton, Michael Eric Dyson, Michelle Alexander, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Sikivu Hutchinson, and Marc Lamont Hill - black academic-activists enmeshed in the struggle for racial justice in this nation. Instead, he opted to reinforce his beliefs by speaking with Glenn Loury, a professor of economics at Brown University."

Loury describes himself as a Democrat, yet spent most of his life as a prominent Reagan conservative. If you listen to him speak today, his views on black life in America is illiberal and fits right into the "All Lives Matter" narrative propagated by the right.

Harris even more recently went as far as to ask: "What is the [expletive] point of having more Muslims in your society? It seems perfectly rational to say, we don't want any more. We have enough. And certainly increasing the percentage is not a help to anyone who loves freedom of speech and anything else, any of the other liberal values."

This came during a discussion on his podcast with Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz. During the show Harris argued that US immigration policy would need to figure "out some way to keep the number of Muslims down in any society, whether we're honest about this or whether we do this covertly. Clearly it's rational to want to do this."

While this still reeks of Harris' previous anti-Muslim rhetoric, it is also a prominent white nationalist talking point. He even went on to say he knows someone like neo-Nazi Richard Spencer would agree.

Comment: American white supremacy rears its ugly head

"This is not an expression of xenophobia," Harris insisted. "This is an expression of the implication of statistics and the fact that it's only rational not to want to live in a world that looks more and more like Jerusalem at the height of the Intifada."

Nawaz agreed, claiming it is not "inhumane" to think this way and blamed the "political left" for denying humans' "natural bigotry", calling xenophobia "natural".

Outside of Harris, new voices have risen to the forefront to move past Islamophobia into outright white nationalism.

Rubin goes further and defends the 'alt-right' movement in the US, bringing on guests such as Milo Yiannopoulos, a guest he regularly defends from attacks from 'the left'

Dave Rubin, the former Young Turks correspondent and now host of The Rubin Report on YouTube, parades well-known white nationalists such as Lauren Southern. Rubin and Southern defended the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer against accusations of being a white supremacist.

Rubin goes further and defends the "alt-right" movement in the US, bringing on guests such as Milo Yiannopoulos, a guest he regularly defends from attacks from "the left" - even after Yiannopoulos doxxed a transgender student from the stage, swore to expose immigrant students, and then defended paedophilia.

Comment: Not 'alt-right' - call it what it is

Rubin also ushers in voices such as former Breitbart writer Ben Shapiro. Both men defended businesses using discrimination based on race and or sexual orientation. He also hosts voices such as Dennis Prager, or Larry Elder.

Rubin, like Harris, doesn't bring these guests on to challenge their views, but instead to give credibility to their previously held biases. Both hosts claim to defend the "free market of ideas", yet only support one side of those ideas - and that side is chalk full of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the like.

The rest of the movement is full of defenders of this practice - such as retired biology professor Jerry Coyne, who recently attacked Mother Jones for calling Rubin part of the "right's independent media personalities".

With Donald Trump now in office, putting forward bans on Muslims entering the US and attacking the civil rights of minority groups, the time should be now for secularists of all walks of life to stand up and fight this kind of bigotry.

New atheism has a white supremacist problem

While a great number of atheists, humanists and religious people from around the country have united with Muslims and people of colour to fight such bigotry, these prominent "new atheists" have continued to double-down on siding with the movements that make these laws possible.

New atheism has a white supremacist problem. If Harris, Rubin and the like wish to prove they are not the white supremacists they endorse, they need to actively work to combat such ideas instead of defending them under the guise of the free market of ideas. Yes, better ideas can sometimes beat bad ones, but you can't beat a bad idea when you nod your head in agreement with everything a white supremacist says.

If you're going to defend, platform, and advocate for the voices of white nationalists, at some point you must own up to the message you are sending. You cannot continue to hide behind the guise of scepticism or rational thought and pretend you're not promoting racism and bigotry.

Like it or not, new atheists have become the go-to for media interviews and expertise on counter-religion commentary - meaning their actions, in turn, reflect upon the millions of atheists and nonreligious in the country who are still under fire from many on the Christian right simply because they don't believe in God.

Don't make their lives harder by also aligning them with a growing white supremacist movement.

Dan Arel is a political activist, award-winning journalist and the author of The Secular Activist; and Parenting Without God. 

Follow him on Twitter: @danarel

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.