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As’ad Abukhalil: “The Economist and Ex-Muslims”


Prof. As’ad Abukhalil takes on the latest reliance by The Economist on “lazy cliches” regarding Islam and Muslims in relation to apostasy and Atheism.

Abukhalil takes issue with its essentialization based on anecdotal stories, inaccurate relaying of the facts as well as relying on the testimony of Islamophobic bigots such as Ibn Warraq who have a clear agenda.

On Ex-Muslims

by As’ad Abukhalil (Al-Akhbar English)

There are so many obsessively redundant stories about Muslims and Islam. They are too familiar: stories about the veil, Jihad, the status of women, minorities and apostasy. Western reporters love to search and find a Muslim in the West who tells a story of persecution by Muslims. These stories are sexiest when the person elaborates on his new freedoms in the West and how he/she was not able to breathe until their arrival in the West. They tell about their past suffocation and how they could only read and enjoy “Lolita” in Western countries.

But the stories of apostasy still resonate. Westerners don’t know that apostasy laws were common at the time when they were promulgated in Sharia. The Economist is sometimes reasonable, but other times indistinguishable in its resort to lazy clichés about Muslims. The new issue of the Economist has a long article about “Atheists and Islam.” In the article, all the familiar clichés are squeezed in to draw a most dramatic picture that is worthy of movies about medieval Europe. It operates under the classical premise: that one story about one Muslim suffices to tell the story about all Muslims. And in singling out a story or two about Muslims in the West, the writers don’t know that they often fall victim to deception.

In the last few decades, Western governments developed asylum laws which permit a person to obtain legal status if she/he can establish real concern for safety in his/her homeland. I have served as a consultant to many lawyers and law firms in the West and saw the most bizarre stories by people who are desperate to stay legally in the US. Some people talk about how their tribes (even when “the tribe” does not even apply in Damascus or Beirut) will kill them, because they once told a cousin that they are secular. Another claims that his tribe – again – kills its members if they exhibit effeminate tendencies. And many have stumbled on the legal premise of fear of apostasy. They tell a judge (with no background or knowledge of the Middle East) that governments there typically behead apostates.

The Economist’s article belongs to this genre. It talks about how only in Turkey and Lebanon atheists can live safely, but only quietly. Where do they get this information from? This doesn’t seem to be from someone who know people in the region. I, for one, became an atheist in my teens. My friends and comrades in Lebanon (Lebanese and Palestinians) were also vocal atheists, and none of us faced persecution or even harassment for our views. There is no evidence for any such persecution. Many of my “Facebook friends” are young Arabs who identify their religion as “atheists.” And no one is persecuting them. The Saudi government is a rare exception in this case. But Saudi Arabia is often the exception, although it gets good press here in the US. TheEconomist says that eight states in the region have apostasy punishment on the books, but does not say that no one can find one case of implementation of the law in this case, even if you go back decades in time. There is a clear concoction of a dramatic alarmist sensationalism that does not conform to the facts.

The Economist in fact admits that “such punishments are rarely meted out” but does not admit that they are NEVER meted out. The Economistin this article befitting Fox News or the National Inquirer, even talks about “vigilantes inflicting beatings or beheadings,” but gives no examples or specifics. And the article assumes that the rise of the Islamists is adding to the dangers ostensibly faced by atheists, but fail to notice that atheists and secularists have in fact become more assertive and more self-confident. And in referring to the past, the article refers to medieval Arab and Persian poets and writers who were atheists, but then adds that “several were famously executed.” But such judgment has now been discredited by historians. We don’t believe, for example, that Ibn al-Muqaffa` or Bashar Bin Burd were executed for their atheism, but for their political inclinations or for their involvement in palace politics.

The shoddy quality of the article is further revealed when it concludes with an interview with “Ibn Warraq,” who is a right-wing Zionist propagandist who lives in the West under a false name because Muslims around the world – according to his tale – are chasing him because he is an ex-Muslim. But I have been an ex-Muslim since my mid-teens and I have not been chased by Muslims: not in the Middle East and not in the US, and I never hid behind a pseudonym.

The question is this: Why are some Western reporters so easily fooled, especially in cases when the lie and tale befits the paradigm of hostility to Islam and Muslims?

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  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    You have done all of these things and in fact you have not responded to being called out on your contradictions.

    It’s very strange that you are not “worried” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s lying about her life biography, her desire to “crush Islam militarily,” her sympathy with Norway terrorist Anders Breivik, etc. Instead you are worried by our critique.

    In fact it does not appear you asked them because then you would have quoted exactly what they said. I don’t know what Muslim in their right mind actually agrees with Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ranting against Muslims and Islam.

    There shouldn’t be any confusion regarding our position on Maajid or the seating guidelines if you read the article. If you actually had a point of contention you would have raised them but you didn’t.

  • The greenmantle

    I admit that was one of my points . But also I felt it betrayed the view that these organisations were set up like some sort of western NGO bit like Oxfam with guns :-)
    You may not be aware but this site is plagued with rabid nutters who post bollocks on old threads . Most new comers who are genuine post on new threads . Your MO is more like the former than the latter and as such is likely to be treated as such
    Sir David .

  • Chameleon_X

    “Oh come on I wasn’t for a minute suggesting thats what everyone on this site was doing!!”

    Neither was David if I read his post literally. I think he was referring to the loon propaganda that these organizations actually even have an active mission statement to threaten the world with. You asked the question of whether this site “was supported by people who supported the mission statements of organisations like Hamas and Hizb ut-Tahrir.” Call me completely ignorant of the scary world domination scenario that could apparently be upon us all, but I have no idea what these mission statements even are to be able to answer that question. Since you seem to be so fully aware and concerned about what these mission statements are and how they are being implemented today, could you please address my humble ignorance by quoting these scary mission statements word for word? I might need to invest in a hardened bunker or buy some serious firepower to repel these invaders.

  • Ilisha

    …they mentioned articles on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as well as the way you guys write about Maajid Nawaz

    I’m not sure why a Muslim would defend Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has endorsed eradicating Islam, by military force if necessary. That is a radical position.

    As for Maajid Nawaz, he has almost no support from the British Muslim community, which is uncharacteristically united against him in disdain. His organization receives large amounts of taxpayer funds, and they spend it smearing even mainstream Muslim organizations. We are based in the US, where he is not well known, but we do not support his tactics and are suspicious of his association with EDL thugs and neoconservative organizations whose policies are generally harmful to Muslims.

    I’m not sure what articles you’re referring to, but we have had a few on Nawaz. They were factual. We also invited him (via Twitter) to write a rebuttal to any of the articles that mention him. He is, of course, also free to comment here, though he has not done that either. We’ve disagreed with him, but I don’t think we’ve been particularly hostile or unfair.

    As for your intentions here, we definitely have had a flood of people who are apparently from Jihad Watch and similar sites. If you’re sincere, then we welcome you here and are happy to answer your questions.

  • George Wilson

    I have not done any of the things you accuse me of, and I really do not appreciate the instant assumption that I am agreeing with these things. I came here asking these things because I actually wanted to know. A judgemental prick would not have bothered to come here, without a pseudonym, to ask some genuine heartfelt questions. Please do not insult me. – Must I explicitly say that I find Robert Spencer and his ilk to be unpleasant conspiracy theorists?

    Anyway, I found articles on Ayaan Hirsi Ali which worried me slightly, as some of the language seemed unseemly, and as I have said I had a couple of friends and acquaintances who happen to be Muslim who I asked about this site, who gave me this information. At no point was I suggesting that you support those organisations, or that I thought you did – I was asking you to tell me whether or not you did. Questions of clarification are not the same as assumed truths. I do not apologise for actually asking you. Incidentally, I did ask them to substantiate their claims, and they mentioned articles on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as well as the way you guys write about Maajid Nawaz. The fact that I have been reading this website and have come out and just asked you should indicate that I am not just wandering in ready to label you all as lunatic extremists.

    When it comes to Maajid Nawaz, I must confess I am confused as to your position.

  • George Wilson

    Oh come on I wasn’t for a minute suggesting thats what everyone on this site was doing!! I was asking a few questions to actually find out for myself. Do I not get a bit of credit for coming straight here and asking? I have been reading this site, and decided to just ask, as I was getting fed up of trawling through all the different articles to find examples of what I had been warned about. After a while I thought “this doesn’t seem to be illegitimate, what the hell is going on?” Why else would I have come to this article and commented?! If I thought you were all loons I a) wouldn’t have commented and b) would be pretty surprised to find you all congregating on a public website!

  • The greenmantle

    I love the idea that the violent extreemists sitting round having a meeting all together to work out a mission statement
    Sir David

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    I keep forgetting, do’h

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Don’t come here and try to be coy.

    You contradicted yourself.

    You say you came here with no assumptions. Assumption #1: “I thought I would really get on with this site, but I find the labelling of almost anyone who criticizes Islam itself in any way shape or form that I’ve discovered here a bit worrying.”

    Hmmm…who do we criticize? Islamophobes. So it is quite strange and revealing that you would try to claim that you’ve found we label anyone who “criticizes Islam.”

    Our site, as anyone truly familiar with it, has flattened the narrative and extremist “work” of Islamophobes such as Bat Ye’or, Steven Emerson, Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, etc. who claim to be “critics of Islam.” If you are truthful give us some examples in which we have labeled anyone an Islamophobe or anti-Muslim for merely “criticizing Islam” as you claim that is what you’ve found on our site.

    Then you say you came here prejudiced by “many Muslim people” who said don’t bother. Now, who are these “many Muslim people” you vaguely cite? Is it perhaps Quilliam, Maajid Nawaz, Ghaffar Hussain and that clique? Do you support them, yes or no?

    Of course, we’ve exposed their parlay with extremists and anti-Muslim neo-Cons and so naturally they would attempt to smear us. Interestingly you did not ask your “many Muslim people” to substantiate their claims, to provide evidence for just one instance in which we’ve “supported the mission statements of Hamas or Hizb-ut-Tahrir.” That’s what a rational, fair-minded individual would do.

    Of course we do not support the mission statements of the organizations that you mentioned. The reason you sound ridiculous to us who’ve been on the website for years is because the question, to anyone who has actually read our articles or followed our site is completely absurd.

  • The greenmantle

    Its not Robert Spencer lets be very clear .
    Its the Rev Deacon Robert Spencer and he is as qualified to speak on Islam as I am .
    That is not at all
    Sir David

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Of course there are instances of discrimination against atheists but to a large extent, as Abukhalil points out in this article it is quite exaggerated. In Egypt itself there has been a growth in Atheism, according to some polling survey 5% of the population identifies as such and I don’t see pogroms against them.

    You have come here loaded with assumptions and are projecting that onto our site without really engaging with the substance–we’ve grown accustomed to this.

    Our criticism is of hatemongers, not critics of Islam, perhaps you think Robert Spencer is a “critic” but to most who analyze his “work” it’s clear he’s a hateful, fanatical propagandist.

  • Ilisha

    Do people on this site, while rightly condemning many american and european foreign policy moves, and genuine bigotry in general, still recognise that there are problems of interpretation to be sorted out within some Islamic doctrines?

    Yes, of course.

    Some articles that might interest you:

    Message to Iran: Free Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

    Breaking: Pastor Nadarkhani Released, Aquitted of Apostasy

    Goat Milk: Death by tweet? How Hamza Kashgari’s fate will shape the face of Islam today

    Hamza Kashgari Cheats Death by Tweet

    Pakistan: 11 Year Old Christian Girl, Rimsha Masih Arrested on Charges of Blasphemy

    Pakistan: Rimsha Masih Freed, Blasphemy Debate Continues

    Complaint to God and His Reply

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    The author of this article himself is an atheist and became an atheist while a young teenager in Lebanon. He didn’t have any issues, even as an outspoken and open atheist. That was his experience, alongside quite a number of his friends.

  • Chameleon_X


    You can request my email from LW, and they can consider this post as my permission to give it to you. I don’t have a website, but I can email you when I have something ready. It helps to know that someone might be waiting for it or could benefit from it, since that could give me an incentive to finally get it done. With respect to this more fundamental topic on the logical necessity for faith and related topics (if that was your main request), you will likely have to wait longer for that, but it is coming. I can elaborate a bit more offline.

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