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Below are a selection of quotes from three prominent figures of the Atheist movement, and three prominent far-right figures. Try and guess which are which and maybe comment with your score (answers at the bottom).

  1. I regard Islam as one of the great evils in the world, and I fear that we have a very difficult struggle there… There are people in the Islamic world who simply say, ‘Islam is right, and we are going to impose our will.’
  2. Western values, freedom of speech, democracy and rights for women are incompatible with Islam, which is a cancer eating away at our freedoms and our democracy and rights for our women.
  3. It’s almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country, because you are accused of being racist or Islamophobic.
  4. I do feel visceral revulsion at the burka because for me it is a symbol of the oppression of women.
  5. The Koran is an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror.
  6. Islamo-fascists gave us no peace and we shouldn’t give them any. We can’t live on the same planet as them and I’m glad because I don’t want to. I don’t want to breathe the same air as these psychopaths and murderers and rapists and torturers and child abusers. It’s them or me. I’m very happy about this because I know it will be them. It’s a duty and a responsibility to defeat them. But it’s also a pleasure. I don’t regard it as a grim task at all.
  7. The dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants.
  8. Islam is not compatible with our Western way of life. Islam is a threat to our values. Respect for people who think otherwise, the equality of men and women, the equality of homosexuals and heterosexuals, respect for Christians, Jews, unbelievers and apostates, the separation of church and state, freedom of speech, they are all under pressure…
  9. Let us remind ourselves what Sharia means on freedom of speech, conscience, and protest. All we need do is look at a few examples from other countries.
    In Pakistan, the Criminal Code articles 295 and 298 have shut down any freedom of speech as regards Islam. The blaspheme laws are a rod to beat down and kill the non-Muslim population.
    In Saudi Arabia, in 2007 the religious police beat little school girls back into their burning building because they were not properly covered.
    In Egypt, converts from Islam have to either flee the country or go into hiding.
    In Iran, protesters are gunned down in the street for declaring their lack of confidence in and support for the recent presidential elections.
    And in this country we are apparently not allowed to have an opinion that can be in anyway construed as being negative about Islam.
  10. As a matter of doctrine, the Muslim conception of tolerance is one in which non-Muslims have been politically and economically subdued, converted, or put to sword.
  11. Sharia – the rule by a so-called Allah means the domination of non-Muslims. It is a central teaching of Islam and rooted in the Qur’an and the example of Mohammed, the founder of Islam.
  12. I think it is well arguable that Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today.
  13. This wicked, vicious faith has expanded from a handful of cranky lunatics about 1,300 years ago, to it’s now sweeping country after country before it, all over the world. And if you read the Koran, you’ll find that that’s what they want.

The point of this (to preempt some of the more predictable objections to this) is not that atheism inevitable leads towards fascism or racism (as some of the more ludicrous religious evangelists will argue) nor that the Atheist movement and the far-right share common ideologcal roots (they don’t). It is to illustrate that the kind of vulgar post-political reductionism embodied by the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens converges with the far-right around a shared problematisation of Islam, and, more specifically, the presence of Muslim immigrants in the West, as well as shared anxieties around multiculturalism and political correctness. One can find much more explicit racist framings of Islam among the comments on the likes of Richard Dawkins website, while Dawkins and others are quoted enthusiastically by the EDL et al. This suggests (unsurprisingly, given that both inhabit the same political discourse) not just a point of convergence but an inter-relation of the two movements – a mutual feeding-into-one-another.

EDIT: Ok just to be clear, for the benefit of all the Redditors, I’m not asserting, nor do I believe, that the word ‘Muslim’ is interchangeable with ‘Arab’ or anything of the sort. But nor is it possible to draw a sharp distinction between race and religion as many commenters have. The word Muslim has a set of associated racial meanings. It is used in various ways to signify a multiplicity of minority races and cultures. This is simply a fact of our political discourse. This is why the political framing of Islam is a racial issue. What’s more: everyone knows this. The “I’m criticising their beliefs not their race” gambit is merely an attempt to deny the racial content of your statements in order to sidestep accusations of racism – a classic racist move.

Answers:

  1. Atheist Richard Dawkins (source)
  2. Fascist Nick Griffin (source)
  3. Atheist Richard Dawkins (source)
  4. Atheist Richard Dawkins (Ibid.)
  5. Fascist Geert Wilders (source)
  6. Atheist Christopher Hitchens (source)
  7. Atheist Sam Harris (source) (He goes on to say that “The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”)
  8. Fascist Geert Wilders (source)
  9. Fascist Tommy Robinson (source)
  10. Atheist Sam Harris (source)
  11. Fascist Tommy Robinson (source)
  12. Atheist Richard Dawkins (source)
  13. Fascist Nick Griffin (source)

As it’s presently constructed, the LGBT movement is probably less than a decade away from achieving all of it’s major aims in most Western societies: centrally, same-sex couples having the right to marry and raise children, and, more broadly, equality, understood as assimilation within already-existing conservative institutions such as the military, the police, or the boardroom. Inevitably, this will mean a massive demobilization and depoliticisation among LGBT people and the collapse of much of whatever activist networks currently exist, as, demonstrably, we will have achieved pretty much everything we are currently demanding.

But equality is not liberation. Paradoxically, even as gay concerns become increasingly mainstream and everyone from major corporations, to the English Defence League, to apartheid Israel scramble to feel the benefits of positive pink PR, we are hardly closer to liberating our sexualities from the bridle of conservative/religious moralism.

Instead, we have sought, and are beginning to be granted, inclusion within heteronormative structures, namely marriage, but only on the understanding that the basic form and logic of marriage is to remain unchanged. In fact, this very concession is at the core of much of the smug liberal advocacy for “marriage equality”: of course conservative concerns are irrational, we have no intention of threatening their family values ideology, we just want in.

Marriage as an institution is the antithesis of free love, the mechanism by which the state bludgeons our sexualities into the most useful shape for reproducing the next generation of labour, and the word-made-flesh of anti-sex theology.

However marriage is redefined, it will never be ours. The State retains the power to define what constitutes a “normal” relationship, to write the relationship script for the vast majority of society, while those who don’t or won’t fit the script are pushed to the margins. This doesn’t just affect people at the point where they “choose” to get married, but in fact all relationships are expected to be proto-marriages: monogamous, and aiming at permanence, with a series of predefined stages (which vary according to culture) on the way to marriage. Romantic narratives about “finding your soulmate” (i.e. expectation that you will only legitimately love one person in your entire life) are bound up with the institution of marriage, and shape people’s expectations around sex and relationships in an often damaging way.

Marriage is the institution of an ideology that sees human sexuality as a threat, and seeks to constrain it. Ideally, sex should only happen for the purposes of procreation, but failing that, only within the bounds of stable monogamy, and not in any way that might be considered kinky or weird. There is no room for fluidity, or polyamoury, or promiscuity, which are at best tolerated among young people with the expectation that they will “settle down”.

It’s an institution borne out of sexual repression and patriarchy, and inseparable from its history as male ownership of women – a history which still shapes the lived realities of married people.

Generally speaking, within the structure of marriage, women are still expected to do the work of child-rearing for no money, and their work isn’t even considered work. Often this is on top of having a full time job, so women work a double-shift, usually for less pay than a man on a single-shift. While same-sex marriage may begin to decouple this expectation from gender somewhat, the child-rearing-as-unpaid-labour problem remains embedded into the very construction of the nuclear family.

Necessarily then, we can only participate in marriage on their terms. However much it changes, we will always have to change more in order to assuage the fears of conservatives that we pose a threat to their vision of sexual morality. Within the LGBT community, there is political pressure, particularly on those who are the most visibly queer, to reshape our sexualities into forms that are more palatable to conservative moralists and legislators, to have a binary-identified sexuality that was fixed at birth, or to ditch the concerns of trans* people altogether because they make us look bad. In other words, gay marriage takes a certain section of the queer community and makes them just like straight people, casting the rest aside.

This process of recuperation has happened over a relatively short historical period. Within decades, we have gone from being a radical sexual liberation movement which challenged and threatened the foundations of conservative sexuality morality, of which marriage is a keystone, to being little more than a movement beating at the door of family values ideology begging to be let in. In order to claim the right to be included within marriage, we place ourselves in the position of defending marriage, or cementing its position in the centre of society – we become it’s biggest cheerleaders, pushing out endless stories about happy gay couples who just want to get married because marriage is such an awesome institution – the fullest and most natural expression of love between two human beings – or of gay couples who raise perfect children (according to conservative standards) because we’re such awesome parents.

In short, as long as we continue to aim for equality-through-assimilation, we concede that we will never win the struggle to free love from the grip of bourgeois morality, and to experience love as we see fit, with whoever we see fit. In fact, we strengthen the institutions that keep our bodies and our hearts in chains.

EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that the usage of LGBT here for what is essentially an LGB movement focused on LGB concerns erases trans* people. I use LGBT in a referential rather than descriptive sense because that is how the majority of the movement self-describes.

TRIGGER WARNING

Contains some discussion of psychological responses to crisis pregnancy which may be triggering. Some of the links may also be triggering in other ways.

Over the last few days, a number of those awful Youth Defence posters that have been appearing on billboards all over Dublin have been ripped-down, paint bombed, stickered over with Joyce quotations or otherwise vandalised. (Video here.)

The story was picked up by Broadsheet this afternoon and predictably the comments section is filled with the usual tedious liberal bleating about freedom of speech. Here’s a couple of randomly chosen examples:

Hate this. Am very pro-choice but I also believe in free speech. Just like I don’t agree with the BNP but I hate they way people attempt to stop them attending debates but have no problem with radical leftists attending similar debates.

This is against freedom of expression. Very naive thing to do even to God bothering moral nazis.

The rest is more or less the same: people who vandalise posters are against free speech/worse than Nazis/thugs etc. etc.

First of all, we need to recognise that Youth Defence have deliberately designed these posters to evoke feelings of shame, guilt and distress in order to bully women into doing what they want. Crisis pregnancy and termination can cause acute feelings of distress and anxiety in women, much of which can be linked to pervasive conservative ideas about the immorality of abortion. These posters are designed to be deliberately triggering for women who have been through traumatic situations (triggering here means provoking extremely strong or damaging emotional responses,for example, post-traumatic flashbacks or urges to harm themselves – see here for more).

For that reason alone these posters shouldn’t be all over the city forcing themselves into people’s consciousness without their consent, and people are right to rip them down. The potential for actual tangible harm to vulnerable people trumps whatever abstract rights Youth Defence can lay claim to.

But we should also think about what exactly free speech means, who gets to lay claim to it, who benefits from it and so on.

Liberals conceptualise freedom of speech in negative terms, as the ability to say whatever you want without any coercive force preventing you from doing so. That’s a useful freedom from the point of view of those with access to the political, social, economic and cultural capital to turn their negative freedom into positive expression. It’s really useful for groups like Youth Defence, who are given massive funding by wealthy anti-choice individuals and groups in the United States, and who operate in a country in which patriarchal Catholic conservatism is embedded culturally and institutionally, but for those without access to those forms of power, their voices remain excluded.

In her testimony to the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, Andrea Dworkin criticised the (liberal) ACLU because “they have convinced many of us that the standard for speech is what I would call a repulsion standard. That is to say we find the most repulsive person in the society and we defend him. I say we find the most powerless people in this society, and we defend them. That’s the way we increase rights of speech in this society.” (source)

In Ireland, people don’t come much more powerless than women in situations of crisis pregnancy – doubly so if they are children, or victims of rape, or in institutional care, or undocumented migrants, or simply too poor to travel to England for an abortion. Every attempt by women to pursue the access to free, safe and legal abortion in this country, either through the courts or through parliament has failed. It’s been 20 years since the X-case ruling established the on-paper right to lifesaving abortion in this country, but since then, actual legislative remedy has been prevented by kicking it back and forth between committees for two decades. In this society, for women who have found themselves, may one day find themselves, or currently find themselves faced with situations of crisis pregnancy and whose voices are routinely dismissed and ignored by state institutions, vandalism like this is their speech and should be defended.