That’s Not Atheism, It’s Just Racism

Atheism does not have a stellar history when it comes to Islamophobia, particularly in the realm of holding Muslims or Muslim countries to the same standards that we hold everyone else. Instead, Islam has for many atheists become the emblem of Bad Religion (no, not the band). When convenient, it’s the pawn with which some deflect accusations of sexism (cough Dear Muslima cough), and when it’s not, Islam tends to get thrown under the bus.

Enter the latest in a series of organized atheism’s missteps with Islam. Over at The Friendly Atheist, there’s a post up about Somali residents of Minnesota seeking funding for a food shelf with halal options. Libby Anne has a great breakdown of the numbers and facts of the situation, why these residents need the help and support of their community, and how culturally appropriate food is considered a human right.

There are so many things that are wrong with the original piece that many other people have covered, but what is particularly disgusting is the final p.s. “I can’t help but wonder if some of these folks don’t have jobs — in retail, or in transportation, or in the hospitality industry, etc. — because they believe their religion forbids them to handle alcohol, or pepperoni pizza, or dogs.”

I live in Minneapolis, and it’s pretty obvious that Somali communities are struggling because they are new immigrants trying to adjust to a new culture and community that tends to look poorly on people with dark skin. There is open racism against the Somali community that I hear on a regular basis. The services that are available are fairly taxed with new immigrants from a variety of places. Systematic issues are keeping this community in a rough place, and coming from a background of war is hardly making it an easier adjustment. But apparently if you’re an atheist you get to be as xenophobic as you like and it counts as objective logic because it’s religion that’s the problem.

But it’s easier to point towards religion than examine our own biases and the responsibilities we might have towards people who are struggling. it’s a lovely sort of victim blaming; if you weren’t so stupidly religious you would have a job, so reconvert and your life will be great! It’s your own stupid superstitions that are holding you back! It’s like the atheist version of The Secret: stop believing and everything will work out for you! The moment you cut God out of your life, all your problems will disappear because the only thing that’s holding you back is yourself and your stupid God-thoughts.

It is lazy thinking to believe that there is a one to one correlation between our beliefs and our success in life. Believing that you’re a skeptic, and then making assumptions like this is hypocritical at best and racist at worst. If religion is the only thing that matters, then it’s easy to overlook racism or sexism and simply blame bad things on either people being taken advantage of by religion or on people being blinded by the horrible beliefs of their religion. Libby Anne phrased it as “attacking minorities”, but it seems to me that the problem here is even deeper than that: it’s victim blaming any minorities for their problems because of their religion. It’s not simply being unnecessarily cruel and oppressive, it’s doing so under the atheist banner thinking that it will give you the moral high ground.

You’d think that if atheists want to demonstrate what moral people they are, they’d be willing to support a poor, immigrant community get support for a food bank, but apparently some of us are willing to be the caricatured, moustache twirling, evil atheist. We can do better folks.


Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at

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  1. Maine has seen an influx of Somali immigrants too and a lot of people don’t understand the realities if the situation. These are people who fled war and horrors most of us can’t imagine, coming to a new country, many were prevented for many years from legally working as their immigration status was processed (I don’t know how many are still in that process, some of these people may not have the option of getting a job still), those who can work have language and education barriers. Most of the Somali people I see out working locally are younger, those who came to the US as children because they have had more educational opportunities and it’s easier to learn languages as a child than as an adult. Even so they face hurdles getting jobs, not because they refuse to do jobs but because they are dark skinned Muslims and we still have a lot of racist, xenophobic, islamaphobic douchebags in our society.

  2. The comment section in the Patheos article is a fairly good fleshing out of the issues. Should religion be granted special privileges? No. Should disadvantaged people be able to eke out a decent freakin’ meal for their kids? Yup. Might the local mosques play a bigger role? Sure. But what if the mosques are all really poor as well? Good point. Is sopme of their signage presumptuous? Maybe. If they were starving refugees from Northern Ireland would people be telling them to suck up their Catholicism and get a job and eat fetuses? Nope. I think the “tell” was in his post-script, saying “hey, work harder you lazy immigrants!” He tries to defend it with his own immigrant background, but that’s a Clarence Thomas/Hirsi Ali tactic, hey, how can I be a dick since I suffered too?

    I guess my main take-away is why should anyone be upset? Here we have some poor immigrants saying they’d sure like to have a food shelter with culturally appropriate food……like, ya know, if persecuted WASPs in Burma didn’t want to eat dog. If you really think that these impoverished and hungry people are demanding something special, well, I refer you to hedge fund managers getting taxed at a lower rate, and respectfully ask you to shut the fuck up.

  3. The cries of ingrate in the comments section at The Friendly Atheist is sickening.

    This bullshit idea that poor people should take whatever shit you deign to give them and be fucking happy about it is part of the reason I fucking hate a certain type of atheist (person really, some of which are atheists). Just because those that are asking (or demanding, which seems to be the sticking point for some) for consideration are religious makes any dietary concerns they have unimportant is such a crock of privileged bullshit and it smacks of racism, xenophobia, cultural insensitivity, islamophobia, and quite frankly just being self-important dickheads.

    I wonder how they would feel if they were asking for money on the street to be able to eat and were given a Canadian toonie? Would they feel grateful that they had been given charity or would they feel put out by the all but worthless (in the situation) gesture? Would they think that “beggars can’t be choosers”? Somehow I don’t think they would.

    Someone rightly pointed out that charity that ignores the needs of the recipients is not actually charity but rather an empty gesture to make the giver feel good about themselves. Boo indeed.

  4. I think the main takeaway from this is that it’s pretty clear today that every atheist org or public figure shouting “you can be an atheist and a conservative, an atheist and a libertarian!” were actually shouting: “we welcome atheists even if they’re bigots! (Main thing is you don’t believe in gods, it’s ok to kick the poor, minorities and women under the bus.)”

  5. “Atheism does not have a stellar history when it comes to Islamophobia”

    To be fair, Islam does not have a stellar history when it comes to:

    – Treatment of Hindus
    – Treatment of Christians
    – Treatment of Jews
    – Treatment of other religions
    – Treatment of Atheists.
    – Treatment of women.
    – Treatment of children.
    – Treatment of female children especially (their founder “married” and raped a not even 10 year old girl, the Muslim scriptures even have extensive evidence about how he showed up, took away her doll, and then proceeded to do the deed).

    1. To be fair,t his is a straw man. And i could also point out that PEOPLE don’t have a stellar history when it comes to people, particularly poor, disadvantaged minorities.

    2. Davidp070,

      Who here said Islam had a “stellar history” as put it, when it comes to respecting the rights of non Muslims, women and children?

      No one here is denying that Muslim did horrible things in the past ( and sometimes do horrible things today ) and use their religion as a justification? People belonging to all faiths do that. Even atheists will sometimes use a political ideology along with pseudoscience to justify inhuman behavior. That’s why we have to fight bigotry wherever we find it, including among atheists.

      Its also bigoted to judge all Muslims by the actions of the terrorists and fundamentalist, who also belong to their religion, which is what a lot of people unfortunately are doing.

  6. When I read that “P.S.” my mouth dropped. And then I read the comments. Holy fuck. I stopped reading the Friendly Atheist a long time ago, and my reasons were just solidified. That shit isn’t “friendly” — it’s racist. Ugh.

  7. It is the one-two punch of anti-immigrant racism: crap on them in every way you possibly can so that they turn to each other for the only decent treatment and support they’re going to get, and then blame them for not assimilating into the culture that you’ve gone out of your way to exclude them from. Nice work asshole atheists.

  8. The PS was definitely bizarre and repellent. But, the core issue remains: how can generic emergency services be ready to give assistance to people who may have specific limits as to what they can/will accept?

    As a white, cis-gendered, male, native born American citizen; I’ve had to seek food assistance in recent years. The assistance was a mockery, food earmarked for the poor is barely fit for survival, even without extra ‘issues’ (I’m diabetic and had to ‘pass’ on about 75% of the ‘food’ offered).

    As a wealthy nation, we should be able to provide food assistance to individuals and communities with problems. In a sane society, there would be enough flexibility and variety to allow for quick adjustment to community needs. Any city or county with a substantial Somali population under the poverty-line, has no excuse for not thinking about dealing with the Halal issue.

    Still, religious dietary restrictions are silly and pointless. And Islam is not a race. This whole mess is about class, poverty, immigration, employment, education…and religion.

    1. As someone who has had to utilize food pantries in the past, I agree: The options are mockery. Maybe the answer is that we need to be better at providing better options in general.

      I don’t think religious dietary restrictions are silly and pointless. Compassion is important. Religion is hard to distinguish between culture. What about vegetarians? Vegans?

      Maybe I’m getting more accepting as I get older, but I don’t see anything wrong with at least trying to honor different cultural dietary restrictions. And I say cultural instead of religious because, as I previously mentioned, they aren’t really that different.

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