Back when I first joined Facebook in 1953 or whatever, I just added anyone who asked to be my friend. At the time, I saw Facebook as an easy opportunity for marketing Skepchick and The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe; a way for fans to hear what was going on and say hi.

When I hit 5,000 friends a few years ago, Facebook prevented me from adding anyone else, so I stopped and only added people I knew in real life whenever someone got defriended for randomly posting racist, sexist, or homophobic things on my wall. It’s only been recently that I’ve started actually looking at my friend feed, which is now full of thousands of people’s status updates and comments, and most of those people are relative strangers to me. Still, I’m shocked at how often these people are idiots.

For instance, this guy:

Burn a Quran

This guy, who has been lurking as one of my Facebook friends for several years now and who is, according to his profile, a grown-ass married man, has linked to a website where visitors are encouraged to virtually burn a Quran “to raise awareness about increased islamization of the world, and to defend freedom of expression for all people.”

If you have at least part of a working human brain at your disposal and you’ve not been living in a cave the past several decades, you already know how stupid and counterproductive this is. You already know that burning books is the legendary method by which freedom of expression is impinged, and you also already know that the most famous case of Quran-burning was when fundamentalist Christian bigot Terry Jones first threatened to do so in 2010 and then actually did so the following year. Angry Islamists responded in both cases, by murdering a total of 50 people and injuring hundreds more. Apparently, at least one atheist then thought, “I need to get in on that!”

But that aside, if you take a second to look at the rest of the page, you’ll soon find a widget counting down to when Obama is out of office, just under one that counts how many Islamic terror attacks have occurred since September 11, not too far under a poll asking whether or not Obama is secretly Muslim (57% of visitors say yes).

None of this fazes the Facebook guy because, as he says, “there’s nothing wrong with being against Islam.”

This is the sort of ignorance that makes it difficult for humanists and secularists to effectively fight Islamism. Keeping all religions out of government and protecting people from dangerous ideologies is important, but not important enough that we need to team up with bigots to get it done. I have no doubt in my mind that this person would never support a fundamentalist Muslim who was mocking fundamentalist Christianity, let alone a Muslim who was using the imagery of censorship to do it.

It matters who you team up with. Someone who thinks Obama is a Muslim isn’t necessarily wrong about everything, but that fact should raise red flags. For instance, it immediately tells us that the person is a racist idiot with some views that should definitely not be promoted by rational people. If I visited a website about strawberry shortcake recipes and it included a page on why all Mexicans are lazy, I wouldn’t post it to my Pinterest and when called out on it respond, “There’s nothing wrong with strawberry shortcake.” And seriously, I fucking love me some strawberry shortcake.

Luckily, we can have our cake without the bigotry. There are plenty of sites that are critical of Islamism without being a racist cesspool – check out Maryam Namazie or Taslima Nasrin, for a start.

Oh and by the way, I do have a Facebook page that anyone can follow. Even racist shitheads, so long as they never, ever, ever post anything.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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26 Comments

  1. Avatar of Rebecca Harbison
    May 10, 2013 at 12:24 pm —

    The hornet comment kind of disturbs me as well, all the more that it is presented in the context of comparing spraying hornets with poison to acting against Muslim fundamentalism.

    Hornets are just trying to make a living; I don’t want them near my house, but I’m not going to watch in glee as they are killed. I’d prefer to take tactics to discourage them from building near me in the first place, rather than poison them, but ultimately I do prefer not having to worry about stings over their lives. But I’d rather this happen with a minimum of suffering on both my and the hornets’ behalf. (Hence the ‘you do not want to nest here’ tactics first; the hornets and I would probably both prefer I don’t have to spray them with insecticide.)

    Multiply that by a hundred or thousand for humans. Hearing about humans being horrible to their fellow humans is upsetting and I want to stop it (all the more if it affects me and my friends and family directly), but I don’t want the perpetrators to suffer excessively. After all, they are humans as well, albeit being rather shitty ones at the moment.

  2. Avatar of criticaldragon1177
    May 10, 2013 at 12:33 pm —

    Rebecca Watson

    Klingchore is also a great alternative to the anti Muslim hate sites.

    Here’s his blog,
    http://klingschor.blogspot.com/

    And here’s his youtube channel.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/Klingschor/videos?flow=grid&view=0&sort=dd

  3. Avatar of punchdrunk
    May 10, 2013 at 1:03 pm —

    So, he’ll just ignore the proliferation of hate crimes against Americans who ‘look Muslim’? The arson and pipe bombs and citizens being harassed and abused because of their (perceived) religious faith?
    The most important thing is being right and lulz, no concern for the safety and well being of people who aren’t him.

    On the same note, my partner recently defriended a Christian family member who went off on a rant about ‘towelheads’, and an atheist friend who used graphic pictures of 9/11 to rant on about the evils of Muslims. Within a week of each other.
    Fuck them, Nobody wants that on their feed. Go evangelize your bullshit at someone who doesn’t think you’re despicable for dehumanizing huge groups of people.

  4. Avatar of bug_girl
    May 10, 2013 at 1:24 pm —

    Racism has a long an ugly history of using pest control metaphors. See:
    http://membracid.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/pest-control-an-old-metaphor-for-racism/

  5. Avatar of scribe999
    May 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm —

    Imagine if you had linked an exercise regimen from a known al-Quaeda support site to his Facebook page and said “Wut? I don’t agree with the terrorism or anything, but these routines really stabilize your core!”

  6. Avatar of Bjornar
    May 11, 2013 at 3:57 am —
  7. Avatar of Dale Husband
    May 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm —

    Rebecca, I admire your sense of integrity. I hope I’m always on your Facebook friends list.

  8. Avatar of Mark Thomas
    May 11, 2013 at 3:11 pm —

    PZ Myers desecrates a communion wafer – a sacred symbol of Catholicism – and after a lot of debate and discussion, you write in one post that you “didn’t spend nearly enough time mocking the belief in transubstantiation.”

    This guy promotes (digitally) burning a Koran – a sacred symbol of Islam – and it’s “stupid” and “counterproductive”.

    The apparent difference? Catholics didn’t respond to PZ Myers by killing scores of people in a faraway land.

    The Muslim belief in the Koran is something equally worth mocking.

    “Some scholars have even suggested — astoundingly but, in our view, plausibly — that, in a sense, the Christian counterpart of the Quran isn’t the Bible, but Christ himself, the Word of God. In the Muslim view, the Quran is literally the word of God…Thus, just as most Christians see Christ as God’s “incarnation” (en-flesh-ment), Muslims, it could be argued, have tended to see the Quran as something like a divine “inlibration” (em-book-ment).”

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765558159/Muslims-view-the-Quran-as-purely-divine.html?pg=all

    The “en-flesh-ment” of transubstantiation is directly comparable to the “em-book-ment” of the Koran. The point here is not burning a book, but mocking a belief.

    That belief has no racial component btw, there are Muslims of all races. Liberal writers for some strange reason tend to conflate religion with race when writing about Islam, but race is not a choice – religion is.

    When criticizing a religious belief there is always the risk of backlash. But the decision to criticize a bully shouldn’t hinge on if/how many people that bully will brutally murder in response. That gives all the power to the bully and in fact incentivizes that brutish behavior.

    • Avatar of vexorian
      May 11, 2013 at 3:36 pm —

      * The quran is a book. Burning books has a withstanding relationship with censorship and oppression.
      * Wofers are symbolic. Desecrating a wofer is a good symbol of “I don’t find this holy). But burning the quran is an ambiguous symbol that could be interpreted as “Islam should be censored”. Catholic Wofers don’t contain any information or opinion or anything. A quoran does.
      * At least in the US and Europe (Context of PZ’s desecration and possibly the context of the guy burning the Quran) Catholics are not an unpriviledged minority. If you were instead a fellow Pakistani citizen protesting about the abuses of the dominant Muslim class, then burning the Quran wouldn’t be that much of a problem. Context is important.

      • Avatar of Mark Thomas
        May 11, 2013 at 4:07 pm —

        You missed the main point of my comment – the Koran is NOT (just) a book for some Muslims, it is in and of itself divine. Read the linked article. That is a belief worth mocking.

        The first problem with your third point is the US and Europe are pretty much the only places in the world this type of mockery can exist. Your hypothetical Pakistani would be dead seconds after he lit the Koran on fire – that would be a pretty big problem for him/her.

        And Scientologists are religiously an “underprivileged minority” yet we mock them anyway, so I’m not sure I understand that point either.

        • Avatar of MarlowePI
          May 11, 2013 at 8:24 pm —

          But Scientologists aren’t an underprivileged minority in the US and Europe in the way that Muslims are. I would be very strongly willing to bet that not a single person, anywhere, ever, has been attacked and/or killed because they “looked Scientologist.”

          • Avatar of Mark Thomas
            May 11, 2013 at 9:57 pm

            You are making a racial argument, not a religious one. There are Muslims in every racial and ethnic group, from African to Arab to Asian to – literally, as we saw in Boston – Caucasian.

            And even this line of argument doesn’t hold much water. The FBI compiles hate crimes statistics which document the fact that you are an order of magnitude more likely to be a victim of a hate crime if you are Jewish than if you are Muslim. Jews didn’t kill 3000 people on 9/11 or shoot up a medical facility at Ft. Hood, yet they are targeted for hate crimes more than any other religion…and Rebecca isn’t writing any blog posts bemoaning all this rampant Jewish ‘racism’.

            This is the folly of critical race theory in general, and specifically our tendency to associate Muslims with a particular race. When everything is about race, and when nothing a “minority” group does can be criticized, you end up with leaps of logic like this. One group can believe the sun rises in west and we make fun of them because they’re predominately white – another group can believe ingesting Snooki’s vaginal juices is, in fact, the secret to eternal life and because most of them have brown skin we give them a pass.

          • Avatar of punchdrunk
            May 11, 2013 at 10:28 pm

            @Mark Thomas
            I’m not seeing Atheists attacking Jewish people with the kind of vitriol they use against Muslims. Maybe your experiences are different.

          • Avatar of criticaldragon1177
            May 11, 2013 at 10:30 pm

            Mark Thomas,

            Go over to The Southern Poverty Law Center. They have entire category for Anti Muslim hate. Bigotry and hate crimes against Muslims in the US is a serious problem, even if as you claimed, there are more hate crimes committed on a daily basis against Jews.

            http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/ideology/anti-muslim#.UY77fsrsroo

            You can also read about large numbers of anti Muslim incidents on their blog, including hate crimes committed against Muslims or people suspected of being Muslims by Islamophobic bigots.

            http://www.splcenter.org/blog/topics/anti-muslim/

            Even, Heina Dadabhoy here at skepchick has mentioned on at least one or two occasions how people stereotyped her when she was a Muslim because of how she used to dress before she deconverted.

            We shouldn’t associate Muslims or Islam with any race, but despite you being correct on that one point, it hardly changes the fact that anti Muslim bigotry is a real problem, that shouldn’t be ignored.

            Also, just because people who were Muslims, carried out 911 or shot up a military base doesn’t change anything. No one here is giving Muslims or Islam a pass just because most of them happen to be non whites, including Rebecca Watson. Please reread what she wrote. She also recommended two websites critical of Islam, that are not anti Muslim hate sites.

        • Avatar of vexorian
          May 11, 2013 at 10:01 pm —

          “You missed the main point of my comment – the Koran is NOT (just) a book for some Muslims, it is in and of itself divine. ”

          It seems you missed the point.

          • Avatar of vexorian
            May 11, 2013 at 10:03 pm

            Hit enter too soon. The point is that the Quran is a book to everyone. The message you send to everyone in the world, Muslim or not is censorship and oppression. Muslims may also be offended because they think it is holy. But that’s not the main message you are sending.

        • Avatar of criticaldragon1177
          May 11, 2013 at 10:12 pm —

          Mark Thomas

          “You missed the main point of my comment – the Koran is NOT (just) a book for some Muslims, it is in and of itself divine. Read the linked article. That is a belief worth mocking.”

          How about burning the Bible than? Just because something is worth mocking doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about how something makes you look. Plus, what good would it do? Seriously, are you really going to change those Muslims who are fanatics, most of which are not in the west.

          “The first problem with your third point is the US and Europe are pretty much the only places in the world this type of mockery can exist. Your hypothetical Pakistani would be dead seconds after he lit the Koran on fire – that would be a pretty big problem for him/her.”

          Again, what good would it do, and Vexorian is correct in his assessment. You’ll give even reasonable liberal minded Muslims, who support your right to criticize their religion, good reason to think that you’re a bigoted person supports destroying their faith. Wouldn’t that be counter productive?

          “And Scientologists are religiously an “underprivileged minority” yet we mock them anyway, so I’m not sure I understand that point either.”

          Yes but do we burn there books? Also There really is a genuine problem in the west with genuine anti Muslim bigotry. There have been attempts to pass laws that single out Muslims. Here’s just one example.

          https://www.au.org/media/press-releases/oklahoma-anti-sharia-amendment-violates-us-constitution-groups-tell-appeals

          Also who can forget the stupid “ground zero Mosque” controversy?

          • Avatar of Mark Thomas
            May 12, 2013 at 11:44 am

            Dragon – the SPLC is not an objective source of information, they are a left wing advocacy group. However, I will stipulate that bigotry and hate crimes in the US are a problem. Here are the latest FBI hate crimes statistics:
            Of the 1,480 victims of an anti-religious hate crime:
            63.2 percent were victims of an offender’s anti-Jewish bias.
            12.5 percent were victims of an anti-Islamic bias.
            5.7 percent were victims of an anti-Catholic bias.
            4.4 percent were victims of a bias against groups of individuals of varying religions (anti-multiple religions, group).
            3.4 percent were victims of an anti-Protestant bias.
            0.3 percent were victims of an anti-Atheist/Agnostic bias.
            10.5 percent were victims of a bias against other religions (anti-other religion).

            For comparison, there are an estimated 6 million Jews in the US and close to 3 million Muslims.

            Also, quoting from the SPLC’s Anti-Muslim page, you are characterized as a “hate group” if you depict Islam “as sanctioning pedophilia, marital rape and child marriage.” By that definition, the top Islamic cleric in Saudi Arabia must be a Muslim hating bigot: “‘It is incorrect to say that it’s not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger,’ Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom’s grand mufti, said in remarks quoted Wednesday in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. ‘A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married.'”

            http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/01/17/saudi.child.marriage/

            But I digress, back to your other points. I will grant you that in the Western tradition, burning books is, as Rebecca wrote, “the legendary method by which freedom of expression is impinged” Ironic, isn’t it, that freedom of expression doesn’t exist in Islam. Also ironic that we’re not talking about an actual book, but an “online book.”

            That aside, even if it were an actual book, when a religious group sees it as something divine in and of itself, never to be desecrated (not even notes in the margins!), only to be read in Arabic (even if you don’t understand Arabic!), this is a belief worthy of mockery. No other religious group believes these things about their books – burning a Bible would not be making the same point but, as I pointed out, desecrating a communion wafer did make a similar point, an event celebrated on many skeptic blogs.

            We don’t mock simply to change minds – Christian and Scientologist beliefs are mocked all the time on this blog and elsewhere yet we do not wring our hands and worry that it will be counterproductive or that we are going to push away moderates. We don’t warn of anti-scientology bigotry – in fact we celebrate it, look at Anonymous’ Scientology protests. Rebecca herself put a plug for them on this site and solicited for feedback from the protests.

            I applaud Rebecca for plugging the two blogs critical of Islam, for the Bangladeshi bloggers petition, and for many other things she has done. I just think she, and you, are off the mark on this one. And I think in Rebecca’s case it has more to do with politics – this guy wants Obama out of office. He puts up a poll on his website asking whether Obama is a Muslim, and despite the fact that he disagrees with the results, thinks Obama is a Christian or Atheist and thinks no rational person would believe he is a Muslim, Rebecca still somehow concludes that “the person is a racist idiot with some views that should definitely not be promoted by rational people.”

            I also understand the argument that we should fight “Islamists” but not lump them in with “moderate” Muslims. My point is we don’t worry about that when we talk about Christians, we don’t worry about that when we talk about Scientologists, yet the Muslim religion as practiced is far more pernicious, especially on the subject of women’s equality.

          • Avatar of wishfulthinker
            May 12, 2013 at 6:19 pm

            …the SPLC is not an objective source of information, they are a left wing advocacy group.

            According to whom? Right-wing bigots who get a little touchy whenever their deeply entrenched Christian/White/Male supremacist beliefs are criticized?

          • Avatar of criticaldragon1177
            May 12, 2013 at 7:33 pm

            Mark Thomas

            Reread what I wrote, and reread what Rebbecca wrote, and reread the first Southern Poverty Law link I posted in my second reply to you, and if you have issues with them as a source, check their sources. You seem to have some trouble understanding exactly what I’m saying. Also, I doubt the SPLC would regard Maryam Namazie or Taslima Nasrin as anti Muslim hate mongers. They don’t have a problem with people simply being against Islam.

            I also find it ridiculous that you seem to think Rebbecca is only be upset by this because she supports Obama. She’s has good reason to be upset, even if they guy doesn’t believe that Obama is a secret Muslim, because that guy doesn’t seem to have a problem with people who do. He also doesn’t seem to have a problem with demonizing Muslims in general, instead of just attacking the extremists or objectively criticizing their religion. So Rebbecca has a very good reason to oppose him. Skepchic also doesn’t celibate bigotry against scientologist and unlike Muslims, as far as I can tell there aren’t a substantial number of people in either the US or European trying to pass discriminatory laws that will specifically target scientologists or their beliefs and violate their religious freedom.

          • Avatar of criticaldragon1177
            May 12, 2013 at 7:37 pm

            Mark Thomas

            Also, its not like Christianity or Judiasm hasn’t also had a long history of Misogyny and Homophobia just like Islam.

          • Avatar of Mark Thomas
            May 12, 2013 at 8:48 pm

            Dragon – I did read the SPLC link, I quoted from it in my reply.

            You suggest that the SPLC doesn’t “have a problem with people simply being against Islam.” Yet Rebecca writes above “None of this fazes the Facebook guy because, as he says, ‘there’s nothing wrong with being against Islam.’ This is the sort of ignorance that makes it difficult for humanists and secularists to effectively fight Islamism.”

            So I’m going to admit to being stumped…who should I believe?

            You also write, “He also doesn’t seem to have a problem with demonizing Muslims in general, instead of just attacking the extremists or objectively criticizing their religion.” You provide no evidence for this – where/how is he demonizing Muslims in general? This is still a skeptical blog, we need evidence to back up assertions.

            I’ll do a little of your work for you – on the “About Islam” page of his site, he writes this: “This site is designed to show you the dark side of Islam…You may feel uncomfortable looking at this site. You should.You will feel anger and disgust that our leaders do not understand Islam when it comes to the motives that drive our enemies to commit suicide for their ideology.” So he is absolutely NOT committed to portraying a balanced, nuanced portrait of the religion and states that up front.

            Is this a problem? Depends on your viewpoint I imagine. Here’s an exercise – do a google search for the following: “does islam sanction child marriage.” First hit should be a lengthy article from Dr. David Liepert in the HuffPo where he argues that there is absolutely no scholarly evidence to support Muslims marrying children. He goes on at length about A’ishah, one of Mohammed’s wives, and how there is no possible way she could have been 6 years old when the two were married. Ok, fine.

            Contrast that with the top Saudi cleric I quoted earlier, or this wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aisha

            I’m again confused about what to believe. Marrying children is an accepted practice in Saudi Arabia – home to Mecca, where no non-Muslim can legally visit – and elsewhere in the Muslim world, it is sanctioned by top religious leaders, all based on what they believe Mohammed did when he was alive, yet the SPLC says I’m a hate monger if I point this out as a fact.

            So is this guy a racist idiot for designing a web site which shows the dark side of Islam, if (!) everything he shows is completely accurate? Are web-sites dedicated to showing the dark side of Catholicism (i.e. priest pedophilia) similarly racist/bigoted? What about site designed to portray Scientology’s dark side?

            You write “Skepchic also doesn’t celibate bigotry against scientologist [sic].” I used that term – bigotry – purposely. Like the term racist/racism, it gets thrown around by otherwise well intentioned people looking to delegitimize a certain point of view. Rebecca used this tactic when she called this guy a “racist idiot” based on little evidence (one piece of which is, arguably, false). Bigotry (and racism) is sometimes in the eye of the person throwing around the term, and just using the it doesn’t automatically mean you are correct to do so.

            I wrote what I did about politics because I followed the evidence Rebecca gave us: (1) digitally “burning” a Koran – I’ve discussed that at length (2) widget counting down days until Obama is out of office, (3) widget that counts Muslim terror attacks (not sure how that is bigoted or racist, unless the underlying facts are incorrect, which is not suggested), (4) poll asking whether Obama is a Muslim, (5) the guy writes “there’s nothing wrong with being against Islam.” (a sentiment you seem to echo).

            I put this evidence together and made a determination. I’m not a mind reader, but I am interested in understanding how the line of evidence she cites translated into “racist idiot.”

      • Avatar of
        May 12, 2013 at 1:32 pm —

        Context is important: so is a passing familiarity with fact. Catholics have indeed been an underprivileged minority in various European countries.

  9. Avatar of punchdrunk
    May 12, 2013 at 9:01 pm —

    @Mark Thomas
    I just wanted to address this:
    “Is this a problem? Depends on your viewpoint I imagine. Here’s an exercise – do a google search for the following: “does islam sanction child marriage.” First hit should be a lengthy article from Dr. David Liepert in the HuffPo where he argues that there is absolutely no scholarly evidence to support Muslims marrying children. He goes on at length about A’ishah, one of Mohammed’s wives, and how there is no possible way she could have been 6 years old when the two were married. Ok, fine.

    Contrast that with the top Saudi cleric I quoted earlier, or this wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aisha

    I’m again confused about what to believe. Marrying children is an accepted practice in Saudi Arabia – home to Mecca, where no non-Muslim can legally visit – and elsewhere in the Muslim world, it is sanctioned by top religious leaders, all based on what they believe Mohammed did when he was alive, yet the SPLC says I’m a hate monger if I point this out as a fact.”

    You’re not a hate monger for pointing out the facts and controversies, as you did here – you’re a hate monger if you accuse Muslims (or Catholics or Mormons) of being pedophiles, rather than addressing the disgusting actions and statements of (some of) the people in those faiths.

    • Avatar of Mark Thomas
      May 13, 2013 at 11:24 am —

      @punchdrunk – just to clarify, I’m not accusing Muslims of being pedophiles. I’m reporting that Saudi Arabia – birthplace of Mohammed, home to Islam’s two holiest shrines and a country which touts itself as “Islam’s Heartland” – legally and religiously sanctions child marriage (and by extension pedophilia). Additionally, the International Islamic Fiqh Academy in December 2012, when given the opportunity to issue a fatwa prohibiting child marriage, “decided after reviewing many researches and hearing many discussions that the matter needs further research.”

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