• The Trouble Within Atheist Ireland

    A few weeks ago Andrew Devine of Atheist Ireland published this newsletter. It subsequently caused a stir as many people thought aspects of it stereotyped Muslims. Unfortunately much of the debate was on Twitter which as we all know is often counter productive. Also much of the debate was centred on labels rather than the actual substantive points. So I am going to explain why people took issue with it. People had no issue with the main thrust of the newsletter, just this paragraph.


    Now many people probably don’t see any issue with such a paragraph. However, anybody who spends even a small amount of time keeping track of the rising right wing Islamophobia across Europe will notice a trope used to demonise ordinary Muslims employed twice here. Islamophobia doesn’t just manifest itself in the assault of Muslims and burning  of Mosques, it exists on a spectrum from the extreme to the insipid. It would be great if Islamophobes laid their bigotry out in the open so people could see what they truly are. But they don’t. Instead they use underhanded tactics to link the Muslim population with terrorism. They achieve this by casually linking Islamic extremism with ordinary Muslims. They use such a tactic because it achieves the aim of linking Muslims with terrorism, it scaremongers, and they can deny they are being outright bigots and weasel out by saying “We didn’t say all Muslims”. We see this tactic used by right wing Christians when they bring up paedophilia while discussing homosexuality.

    Here is an example, when Nadiya Hussain won the Great British Bakeoff, the Daily Mail wrote this:


    Is the Daily Mail calling her a terrorist? No. But they are casually making a link between Muslims and terrorism by unnecessarily mentioning terrorism when discussing her win. It happens all the time. When Sadiq Khan was campaigning for Major of London the Conservatives ran one of the dirtiest campaigns in history by trying to link Khan to terrorism at every stage. If Khan walked down the same street as an Islam ic extremist then there were headlines screaming “Sadiq Khan’s link to terrorism”. All across Europe at anti-immigration rallies you see things like “rape-ugees”, implying the Muslim refugees are rapists. Of course when challenged they will retreat into “I didn’t say all Muslims”.

    The tactic is clear. They are trying to turn the European population against Muslims by trying to make a mental link between ordinary Muslims and terrorism by encapsulating terrorism into any discussion about Muslims and Islam.

    Now, I am not saying that’s what Andrew was trying to do. I vehemently believe that’s not what he was trying to do. But the problem, and the reason why people got so angry, is that his comments were indistinguishable from said tactic. The only way to know the difference is if you know Andrew. When I asked Michael Nugent how he knew it wasn’t stereotyping he said it was because he knew Andrew’s opinions on the topic.


    If you don’t know Andrew then it appears to nothing more than the underhanded, dog-whistling Islamophobia we see strewn across The Sun and the Daily Mail.

    But what makes it so? Let’s take the first part of the paragraph.

    I was very surprised this week to learn that you can take Arabic as a subject in Irish secondary schools. Even with less than two hundred students on the up take it’s still a more popular subject than Cartoonery is across the Muslim world.

    First of all, this is generalising. Not all Muslims are against deceptions of Muhammad. Now Andrew didn’t say all, but the joke clearly implies a vast majority. Of course when criticised Andrew and his defenders said it was mere satire. But satire doesn’t mean it isn’t a generalization, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. They also said prohibitions of depictions of Muhammad are “prevalent” or “generally held”. Which might be true. But it’s not what Andrew said, his “joke” implied (heavily implied) a vast majority. Remember what I said about weaseling out? Well his phrasing allows him just enough room to do so. He didn’t explicitly say the almost all even though it can be read as such, so therefore he can pretend he meant that it was only “prevalent” or a simple majority. Again, I am happy to believe him when he says he meant that it was prevalent. But it’s not what he said.

    I also find I am have to repeat myself on this point. The comment isn’t satirising Islam. The comment is about Muslims, not Islam. Despite being blue in the face repeating this, there seems to be an insistence from Atheist Ireland to pretend it was a criticism or satire of Islam. This was written a week later by Andrew and he still can’t seem to understand that he wasn’t satirising Islam.

    Satirising Islam

    He and his defenders also wanted to pretend it was merely a commentary on how difficult it is draw cartoons of Muhammad in the Islamic world. Which is clearly not what is written.

    Satire difficult to engage in

    Both Michael Nugent and John Hamill repeated this claim. They eventually dropped it because it’s beyond silly to pretend that’s what he meant. Imagine saying “the vast majority of the people in Ireland are against abortions” then saying it was a comment on how it’s difficult to obtain an abortion in Ireland.

    To make matters worse, when challenged to provide evidence to back up their claim they employed logic and evidence that would make a creationist blush.

    Evidence 1

    British Muslims are not representative of the Muslim world. Also 27% isn’t a majority, nevermind a vast majority.

    Evidence 2

    A country’s laws are not representative of how people feel. Again I use Ireland’s abortion laws as an example.

    Evidence 3

    There are 50 Muslims majority countries in the world. Riots occurred in maybe half a dozen.

    Evidence 4

    Again, 50 majority Muslims countries in the world. You can’t use a dozen as an example.


    See that “in general” again. Even though that’s not what was said. Also sharia doesn’t automatically equate to a prohibition of cartoons of Muhammad. For example Shias, 10% of the Muslim population, have no problem with depictions and many of them support sharia as law. And of course there are many other Muslims who want sharia but don’t think depictions of Muhammad is part of sharia. So equating sharia with a prohibition of imagery is not evidence.

    As you can see, none of the above proves that the vast majority of Muslims are anti Cartoon. Yet these “rationalists” thought this line of evidence is good enough. No doubt frantically googling to turn up anything to support their case. Not just that, they seem to not even be able to deal with what Andrew said. There is a consistent pattern of pretending he said something entirely different. It’s a reverse strawman. Instead of constructing an argument that is easy to attack they construct one that is easier to defend.

    If Andrew wanted to satirise beliefs he could have picked any Islamic belief. Instead he choose one that is closely associated with terrorism due to the atrocities in France and elsewhere.  He could even have taken a shot at the prohibition on depictions in general but he went straight to the cartoon well. Ergo conjuring up the atrocities and terrorism in the mind of the reader when discussing Muslims. Like I said before, this is the tactic of the right wing Islamophobes. I also want to repeat that I don’t believe that’s what Andrew is doing, but, unfortunately, it appears to be no different. Atheist Ireland should also ask themselves why, as rationalists, they need to persistently pretend Andrew said something different than he did, and why they are using extremely dubious logic.

    Now, onto the second part. This one is a bit more explicit.

    If I had just fled from Islamic extremists in fear of my life and found refuge in the west I’d be more than mildly annoyed if my daughter came home from school chanting ‘allahu akbar’.

    The hypothetical is self contained and says if he escaped extremists he would be annoyed if his daughter came home chanting allahu akbar. The implication being that allahu akbar, a prayer said by millions of Muslims, is a sign of extremism. The defense was that he didn’t mean it is a sign of extremism but that a non Muslim would be annoyed if their child was citing Islamic prayers. If that’s the case then why mention extremism at all? Also the sentence structure clearly links the prayer with extremism. I dare anybody to write a similar structure and see what happens.

    “If I hated Manchester United and my child came home chanting “come on you Red Devils” I’d be more than mildly annoyed”

    The sentence structure doesn’t work unless the thing you are annoyed by has no bearing on the object in the first part of the sentence. If you write a sentence where the second part doesn’t refer to the object in the first sentence then it simply makes no sense.

    Also, “allahu akbar” is, unfortunately, linked to extremism due to the fact many terrorists have uttered the phrase prior to committed an attack. It is linked to terrorism to such an extent that the Manchester police use the phrase when training for terrorist attacks. Also a video went viral showing Muslim refugees in a train chanting “allahu akbar”. Right wingers were spreading the video like wildfire claiming Muslims terrorists were invading Europe and they were ISIS recruits etc.

    Again, Andrew could have used any prayer to make his point. But he choose to use the one most closely linked to terrorism again. Probably not his intention but again it appears indistinguishable from dog whistling Islamophobia.

    Context can be key when identifying  dog whistling Islamophobia. Say, if a person spends a great deal of time promoting LGBT equality then says something that appears to dog whistling, one might give them the benefit of the doubt.

    So when it comes to combating Islamophobia, how does Atheist Ireland’s credentials stack up?

    Not good. I can’t find anything on the site where they have done anything or said anything which makes it clear they oppose Islamophobia. They have discussed the plight of Muslims who suffer at the hands of Islamic extremists but that doesn’t prove anything. Plenty of right wingers often use LGBT and women’s issues to criticise but say nothing of those issues in the west. There is even a term for it – Pinkwashing. LGBT people are used as a tool. I am not saying Atheist Ireland are doing that but it can’t be used as evidence they care about the plight of Muslims in Europe.

    There was a march against Pegida in Dublin. Did Atheist Ireland attend, no. They were close though, they set up their usual Saturday stall and were right across the road from the anti fascist protests but decided not to cross for whatever reason.

    The only mention of Islamophobia that is uttered is generally about how it’s not a useful term because it conflates Islam and Muslims. (This is ironic as shown above they can’t seem to differentiate between them two themselves by insisting a comment about Muslims is really one about Islam). They think the term anti-Muslim bigotry should be used. However, they fail to use it themselves out of the context of attacking the label Islamophobia. Which is odd for an ethical organisation in a time when Islamophobia is rising at a dramatic rate all across Europe.


    A poster on the Atheist Ireland Connect Facebook page linked a disturbing article about rising Islamophobia in Ireland and the only comment made by anyone in the Atheist Ireland committee (Andrew Devine and Michael Nugent) was how the term Islamophobia shouldn’t be used.

    Atheist Ireland Chairperson, Michael Nugent, has shared a stage not once, but twice, with Mark Humphries and Ian O’Doherty. I think it’s safe to call these individuals Islamophobes (you can throw in Transphobe for Ian O’Doherty too). Both are devoutly anti immigration, especially Muslims and both spend a decent amount of time fear mongering over terrorism. Nugent has expended 50,000 words or so on PZ Myers rhetoric but gets up on stage with these two. One of whom has no qualms about an Irish citizen spending years in prison without trial. I agree with Nugent regarding PZ but I would rather play little spoon to PZ than get on stage on the same side as those two. I can’t understand how one can find the need to publicly disassociate yourself from PZ Myers yet happily stand on stage with those two.

    Atheist Ireland also hosted Anne Marie Waters. And I don’t see any “disassociation” from her. Despite the fact she is a member of UKIP and founder of Pegida in the UK, an anti-Muslim fascist group. One Law for All disassociated themselves from her for what they describe as “racist hate politics“. Maybe Atheist Ireland are not aware of her descent into Islamophobia. If so I expect that they will disassociate from her and condemn her soon. It should probably be prioritised before any reply to this. If they are aware then they care more about attacks on Dawkins than they care about bigotry thrown at millions of Muslims. During the disassociation with PZ, Atheist Ireland stated as one of the reasons was because PZ called Waters a “nutter”.


    But Waters never explicitly said rapes of Muslims, so I suppose we should let her off for such an odious comment?

    Another worrying development is this, possibly the most cuddly description of Pegida I have ever heard. Even their members describe the organisation more harshly. This is after Nugent said he would research Pediga after the incident in Dublin four months prior.


    Describing Pegida in such a manner is like saying the KKK are a Christian organisation. Technically true but it’s not what they’re known for.

    So in the context of the comments which are indistinguishable from dog whistling Islamophobia we have Atheist Ireland which is, at best, is completely indifferent to Islamophobia and it’s spread across Europe. They may say they “oppose all forms of bigotry” but I may say I am builder, unless I actually build something I ain’t no freakin’ builder. Atheist Ireland aren’t actively combating the rise of Islamophobia, not even in the most benign way. They are more concerned with how the term Islamophobia is used.

    I would love for Atheist Ireland to take step back for a second and look at its behaviour. It’s publishing content that wouldn’t be out of place in the Daily Mail. A Stormfront member could visit the site and see nothing that would suggest that AI is antithetical to their brand of Islamophobia. Instead they would find what appears to be dog whistling Islamophobia, arguments about stopping the use of the term Islamophobia and links to a number of Islamophobes. Atheist Ireland hasn’t done or said anything that is Islamophobic, and I am not saying they have done but they have shown pure disinterest when it comes to Islamophobia, and in this context now appear to be publishing  dog whistling content.

    As a supporter of Atheist Ireland and a former volunteer I would love for them to take a step back see how people view their actions from the outside and how, unintentionally, the rhetoric in the newsletter has the ability to ad to an already hostile environment for Muslim refugees.

    I also think they need to analyze their willingness to engage with criticism. I was taken aback with the defensiveness I was met with. And with  the logically fallacies and level of evidence that was thrown my way.

    This wasn’t the only incident either. On their Facebook page Andrew Devine said there were no Patriarchies in the west. Myself and others disagreed. I provided the definition of a Patriarchy and how Ireland meets that definition as men hold power across numerous powerful societal  institutions: government, academia, financial etc. This evidence was never engaged with and Ashling O’Brien, Atheist Ireland, said she would write a post on the topic but it has yet to materialise. Again, I was shocked at the level of defensiveness. Also surprised that a group of self described rationalists would be on the side that has very  little evidence versus the one with an apt amount. In fact, the evidence I provided was completely ignored in its entirety.

    In another incident just recently, Andrew was arguing against the concept of Identity Politics. In fairness with Andrew I agree with him that there are aspects of identity politics I find unnecessarily divisive. However, many groups, ideologies, movements etc. have their fringe elements. And it is fallacious to dismiss the whole because of the fringe. If that was the case then atheism, feminism, humanism, animal rights etc. would all be discarded. Me and others commenters highlighted this fallacy and pointed out positive aspects of Identity Politics: LGBT societies and rights groups, feminist organisations, immigrant groups etc. Unfortunately, once again, this was ignored.

    Shit really hit the fan in the last few days. Furthering the discussion on identity politics Andrew linked to an article on Spiked magazine about students wanting segregation on some campuses. I pointed out that Andrew was, again, attacking the fringe to negate the whole and while doing so he is linking to a magazine that has engaged heavily in paedophile apologetics. For those not in the know, Spiked has published dozens of articles claiming Jimmy Savile is hard done by and Operation Yewtree is nothing but a witch hunt. They have also claimed by the standards of the time what the men did wasn’t that bad (the definition of apologetics). One author even wanted to lower the age of consent to 13. Despite this evidence the comment was deleted as it was claimed to be defamatory. Personally I haven’t a problem with my comment being deleted, but I do have issue with the inconsistency with which the Atheist Ireland moderation team employ their standards. It is clear they have different rules for different people based on who they are and if they happen to be disagreeing with a member of Atheist Ireland.

    There was a post made a day or two prior to my comment about another magazine. The poster alleged this magazine was engaging in child abuse apologetics. Except there was zero evidence supplied to show that this was true. After my comment was deleted I asked why the other post was not also deleted as if mine violated their moderation standards then surely that post does also. I didn’t get a response. I didn’t get a response the second, third or fourth time of asking either even though they were replying to and deleting comments in the meantime. So deleting defamatory comments isn’t a top priority unless you happen to be disagreeing with Atheist Ireland, then your comment is deleted within a few minutes.

    I eventually got a response from Michael on the fifth request. Michael said he would look into the post in question when they have time, but they don’t have time at the moment. This excuse, to be blunt, is absolute horseshit. They have 12 moderators, some of whom, including Nugent, were reading, replying to, and deleting comments all the while claiming they didn’t have time to look at the other post. It’s been 4 days and the other post is still up. Not to mention when my comment was deleted Nugent made a separate post about its deletion whereas a comment saying all Muslims were paedophile apologists was deleted without comment.

    In the meantime Atheist Ireland have decided to upgrade their moderation policy, one of the rules being

    If you have an issue with a moderating decision, please privately message a moderator. If you challenge a moderating decision publicly, we will remove you from the group

    Wow. That’s all I can say. Basically they don’t want their hypocritical, inconsistent moderation called out in the page so subscribers will never know when they are behaving as badly as they are doing above.

    This post is long enough and there is so much I have left out. But as a long time supporter of Atheist Ireland I am dismayed with their recent behaviour. Not only with the flirtations with Islamophobia but with how unreceptive to criticism they are. Throughout all of this I have been labeled racist, a regressive leftist, just a hater of Atheist Ireland, not an honest commenter, and too stupid to argue with. All ad hominems to distract from the substantive points.

    And this is to somebody who was a volunteer for Atheist Ireland. I have had dinner and drinks with these people. I shudder to think how they would treat somebody whom they’ve never met.

    Please Atheist Ireland, take a step back and engage in some introspection before you lose many more allies.

    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: Humanisticus