Invisible Atheists : The spread of disbelief in the Arab world

Last December, Dar Al Ifta, a venerable Cairo-based institution charged with issuing Islamic edicts, cited an obscure poll according to which the exact number of Egyptian atheists was 866. The poll provided equally precise counts of atheists in other Arab countries: 325 in Morocco, 320 in Tunisia, 242 in Iraq, 178 in Saudi Arabia, 170 in Jordan, 70 in Sudan, 56 in Syria, 34 in Libya, and 32 in Yemen. In total, exactly 2,293 nonbelievers in a population of 300 million.
Many commentators ridiculed these numbers. The Guardian asked Rabab Kamal, an Egyptian secularist activist, if she believed the 866 figure was accurate. “I could count more than that number of atheists at Al Azhar University alone,” she replied sarcastically, referring to the Cairo-based academic institution that has been a center of Sunni Islamic learning for almost 1,000 years. Brian Whitaker, a veteran Middle East correspondent and the author of Arabs Without God, wrote, “One possible clue is that the figure for Jordan (170) roughly corresponds to the membership of a Jordanian atheist group on Facebook. So it’s possible that the researchers were simply trying to identify atheists from various countries who are active in social media.”
Even by that standard, Dar Al Ifta’s figures are rather low. When I recently searched Facebook in both Arabic and English, combining the word “atheist” with names of different Arab countries, I turned up over 250 pages or groups, with memberships ranging from a few individuals to more than 11,000. And these numbers only pertain to Arab atheists (or Arabs concerned with the topic of atheism) who are committed enough to leave a trace online. “My guess is, every Egyptian family contains an atheist, or at least someone with critical ideas about Islam,” an atheist compatriot, Momen, told Egyptian historian Hamed Abdel-Samad recently. “They’re just too scared to say anything to anyone.”
While Arab states downplay the atheists among their citizens, the West is culpable in its inability to even conceive of an Arab atheist. In Western media, the question is not if Arabs are religious, but rather to what extent their (assumed) religiosity can harm the West. In Europe, the debate focuses on immigration (are “Muslim immigrants” adverse to secular freedoms?) while in the United States, the central topic is terrorism (are “Muslims” sympathetic to it?). As for the political debate, those on the right suspect “Muslims” of being hostile to individual freedoms and sympathetic to jihad, while leftists seek to exonerate “Muslims” by highlighting their “peaceful” and “moderate” religiosity. But no one is letting the Arab populations off the hook for their Muslimhood. Both sides base their argument on the premise that when it comes to Arab people, religiosity is an unquestionable given, almost an ethnic mandate embedded in their DNA.

The Arab Spring may have stalled, if not receded, but when it comes to religious beliefs and attitudes, a generational dynamic is at play. Large numbers of individuals are tilting away from the rote religiosity Westerners reflexively associate with the Arab world. In 2012, a wide-ranging WIN/Gallup International poll found that 5 percent of Saudi citizens—more than a million people—self-identify as “convinced atheists,” the same percentage as in the United States. Nineteen percent of Saudis—almost six million people—think of themselves as “not a religious person.” (In Italy, the figure is 15 percent.) These numbers are even more striking considering that many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Yemen, uphold the sharia rule punishing apostasy with death.
Capital punishment, however, is almost never put into practice; the convicted atheists spend varying periods in jail before being granted an opportunity to recant. Arab countries with no apostasy laws still have ways to deter the expression of religious disbelief. In Morocco and Algeria, prison terms await those convicted of using “means of seduction” to convert a Muslim. Egypt resorts to wide interpretations of anti-blasphemy laws to condemn outspoken atheists to jail. In Jordan and Oman, publicly leaving Islam also exposes one to a sort of civil death—a set of legal measures including the annulment of marriages and the stripping of inheritance rights.
Officially sanctioned punishments can be severe. This January, a 21-year-old Egyptian student named Karim Al Banna was given a three-year jail sentence for “insulting Islam,” because he declared he is an atheist on Facebook. His own father testified against him. In February 2012, Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari was imprisoned for almost two years without trial over three tweets addressing the prophet Muhammad; the most controversial was, “I will not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do.” The following month, a Tunisian tribunal sentenced bloggers Ghazi Beji and Jabeur Mejri to seven years for “transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order,” after they posted satirical comments and cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Last year, Raif Badawi, the founder of Free Saudi Liberals, a blog discussing religion, was sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes. And last December, Mauritanian columnist Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir was sentenced to death for penning a critique of his country’s caste system which traced its mechanisms back to decisions made by the prophet in the seventh century. The sentence is pending appeal.
Despite such draconian measures, the percentage of people who express some measure of religious doubt is higher in the Arab world (22 percent) than in South Asia (17 percent) and Latin America (16 percent). And that 22 percent is only an average; the percentage goes higher in some Arab countries, from 24 percent in Tunisia up to 37 percent in Lebanon. Considering the extent to which the Arab social and political environment impedes the expression of non­belief, the numbers of doubters and atheists would likely be significantly higher if people felt freer to speak their minds. In January, Egyptian atheist activist Ahmed Harqan told Ahram Online, “If the state preserved and protected the rights of minorities, the numbers of those who reveal they’re atheists would increase tenfold.”
In the spring of 2011, the Arab world was experiencing a regionwide revolutionary convulsion. In Tunis, Cairo, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, thousands of young people took over public squares, demanding new freedoms. At the same time, Waleed Al Husseini was in a jail cell in Qalqiliya in the Palestinian West Bank. The 22-year-old had been arrested a few months earlier in a cybercafé by Palestinian intelligence agents. Al Husseini was at the café because he had decided not to blog from his home because of threats he’d received for posts on his blog Noor Al Aqel, or the Light of the Mind.

As The New York Times reported, Al Husseini had “angered the Muslim cyberworld by promoting atheism, composing spoofs of Koranic verses, skewering the lifestyle of the Prophet Muhammad and chatting online using the sarcastic Web name God Almighty.” He told me he was brought before a military court because his online atheism was considered a “threat to national security.”
Al Husseini was locked up for ten months, during which he was physically abused and endlessly interrogated. Of the hundreds of questions he was asked, one stuck in his mind: “Who finances your atheism?”
“Posting my thoughts on a blog obviously didn’t require any financing,” Al Husseini told me. “But the question was an indication of their utter inability to understand that renouncing Islam was my personal choice, just as it could be anyone else’s—including them. In their minds, there had to be a foreign conspiracy behind this, preferably led by Israel. That was the only way my atheism could make sense for them.”
Al Husseini was eventually freed and fled to Jordan, where he sought refuge in the French Embassy. Today he lives in Paris and has published a memoir, Blasphémateur! Les Prisons d’Allah (Blasphemer! The Prisons of Allah). After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, he wrote an op-ed in the French daily Libération defending the slain cartoonists’ freedom of speech. The headline the editor put on it was, “I, a Muslim, Commit to Secularism.” Al Husseini, who by then had already published his memoir as an atheist and a blasphemer, commented in an amused tone, “They probably thought that putting ‘Muslim’ and ‘secularism’ together in the same sentence was bizarre enough to trigger interest.”
During a 2014 appearance on HBO’s "Real Time with Bill Maher," American author Sam Harris, a pillar of the New Atheism movement, fell into the same essentialist trap when he referred to “Muslims who are nominal Muslims who don’t take the faith seriously.” One can only marvel at the oxymoronic complexity of that sentence. If these people don’t take Islam seriously, why then call them Muslims, “nominal” or not?
Religiously motivated trials like Al Husseini’s are always a serious affair, with the accused considered not just an enemy of God, but also of the state. All Arab regimes use religion, to various extents, as a source of legitimacy. The expression of disbelief represents, for them, an existential threat. In 2014, Saudi Arabia went as far as listing atheism and questioning the Islamic faith as terrorist acts. There is an understandable logic behind the move. “Saudi Arabia depends greatly on religious credentials, since its basic law roots the regime in Wahhabi Islam,” Whitaker, the author of Arabs Without God, told me. “If you are an atheist in Saudi Arabia, you are also a revolutionary. If atheism is allowed to flourish, the regime won’t be able to survive.”
It’s not just the authorities that consider disbelief a problem. Arab societies as a whole are not wired to accept declared atheists in their ranks. The first reason for Arab atheists to keep quiet is to not upset their relatives. Amid omnipresent religious references, claiming that you don’t believe in God is hardly seen as an expression of your singularity. Rather it is considered a challenge to society in its entirety. Religiosity in the Arab world is not just mainstream; it is the norm, to which one is supposed to adhere unquestionably, or else be deemed a “deviant”—the literal translation of mulhid, the most-used Arabic term for atheist. And since religion is seen as the cradle of morality, godless people are assumed to be devoid of a moral compass. Whitaker cites Mohammed Al Khadra, a Jordanian atheist and civil society organizer, who said, “The main view is that if someone is ... an atheist then he must be living like an animal. That’s how they see us. I have been asked so many times why wouldn’t I sleep with my mother?”
It’s even more problematic when the nonbeliever is female. “The popular association of atheism with immorality is a particular deterrent for women who have religious doubts, since in Arab society they are expected to be ‘virtuous’ and not rebellious in order to marry,” Whitaker wrote in his book.
In such a milieu, one would assume the vast majority of Arab people are devout religious practitioners. The fact of the matter is, except in relatively small ultra­religious circles, secular lifestyles and attitudes are largely tolerated in the Arab world. For example, though forbidden in Islam, drinking alcohol is commonplace, particularly among the educated middle and upper classes. Until recently in Morocco, a country that produces large quantities of wine (alongside Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan), alcohol was sold in a super­market chain owned by King Mohammed VI, also known as the Commander of the Faithful. In a recent speech, Nabil Al Fadhl, a Kuwaiti member of parliament, deplored his country’s prohibition of alcoholic beverages, in effect since 1964, for driving young people to drink clandestinely manufactured—and thus dangerous—beverages.
Sex outside of marriage, another practice prohibited by Islam, is also unexceptional, especially in urban environments where genders have been mixing in the public space for more than half a century. In Morocco, a study determined that 800 clandestine abortions (presumably prompted by out-of-wedlock pregnancies) are performed on any given day.
Likewise, while Islam requires its followers to pray five times a day at fixed times, including twice during working hours, believers typically skip the prayers while they’re at work and perform them once back home. In Saudi Arabia, one of the most zealous Arab countries when it comes to religious protocol, shops have to close for about 15 minutes at each prayer call to allow the customers to perform their religious duty. But you can often see small crowds of people gathered on the sidewalk and waiting idly—some taking a cigarette break—until the shops reopen.
In today’s Arab world, it’s not religiosity that is mandatory; it’s the appearance of it. Nonreligious attitudes and beliefs are tolerated as long as they’re not conspicuous. As a system, social hypocrisy provides breathing room to secular lifestyles, while preserving the façade of religion. Atheism, per se, is not the problem. Claiming it out loud is. So those who publicize their atheism in the Arab world are fighting less for freedom of conscience than for freedom of speech.
It hasn’t always been so. Since the 1960s, larger-than-life Arab intellectuals, such as Palestinians Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish and the Syrian Ali Ahmad Said Esber, also known as Adonis, haven’t shied away from challenging religious orthodoxy. Abdullah Al Qasemi, a Saudi writer who died in 1996 and is considered the godfather of Gulf atheists, famously declared, “The occupation of our brains by gods is the worst form of occupation.” Back then, such statements were much less of a problem. As the Associated Press’s Diaa Hadid reported in 2013, “In the 1960s and 1970s, secular leftists were politically dominant. It wasn’t shocking to express agnosticism. ... But the region grew more conservative starting in the 1980s, Islamists became more influential, and militants lashed out against any sign of apostasy.”
Abdel-Samad, the Egyptian historian, experienced this firsthand. Today, at 43, he is a declared atheist, but he was an enthusiastic member of the Muslim Brotherhood in his university days. But while he was attending a summer camp run by the Brotherhood, doubts started to creep in. “It was meant to be some sort of collective physical and spiritual effort,” he told me. “We were each given an orange and instructed to walk in the heat for hours. After an exhausting journey in the desert, we were ordered to peel the orange. We were happy to finally get something to quench our thirst. But then, our group leader ordered us to bury the fruit in the sand, and eat the peeling. I felt utterly humiliated. The objective was obviously to break our will. This is how you make terrorists. I left the Brotherhood soon after that.” In 2013 an Egyptian extremist cleric appeared on television and issued a death fatwa against Abdel-Samad after he’d asserted that Islam had developed fascist tendencies since the time of the prophet.
Why are more Arabs turning their backs on religion? The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman argued in a column last December that the horrors committed in the name of Islam by terrorist groups like ISIS are to blame. This reflects the mindset of many American pundits, for whom terrorism is central to all things Middle East. In reality, repudiating terror is rarely the motivation of those who veer from Islam. “While researching my book ... I spent a lot of time trying to find out why some Arabs turn to atheism and none of those I spoke to mentioned terrorism or jihadism as a major factor,” Whitaker wrote. “That’s not particularly surprising, because atheism is a rejection of all forms of religion, not just the more outlandish variants of it.”
For the vast majority of Arab atheists, the road to disbelief begins as it did for Abdel-Samad, with personal doubts. They start to question the illogicalities found in the holy texts. Why are non-Muslims destined to hell, even though many of them are nice, decent people? Since God knows the future and controls everything, why would he put some people on the wrong path, then punish them as if he had nothing to do with their choices? Why is wine forbidden, yet virtuous Muslims are promised rivers of it in heaven? Such questions began bugging Amir Ahmad Nasr, Sudanese author of My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind—and Doubt Freed My Soul, when he was twelve, and he brought them to his sheik, the imam of a mosque in Qatar. The answer he received—that doubting God’s commandments is haram (religiously illicit) and can only be inspired by the devil—only prompted him to continue digging. As Islam Ibrahim, the founder of an Arab atheist Facebook page, said: “I wanted to secure a spot in paradise, so I started studying the Quran and Muhammad’s teachings. But I found a lot of contradictory and bloody things and fantasies in it. ... Anyone who uses his brain five minutes in a neutral way will end up with the same conclusion.”
Al Husseini, the Palestinian blogger, recalled his journey after he decided to leave Islam. “I began reading the books I could get my hands on,” he said. “The discovery of the elementary notion of evolution was mind-­blowing. Books like Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Darwin’s The Origin of Species opened my eyes to a whole new paradigm.” The 24-year-old Moroccan atheist activist Imad Iddine Habib told me that he read books by American astrophysicist Carl Sagan.
The story of Iman Willoughby illustrates the second-­most frequently cited reason, after doubting, for Arab citizens to turn to atheism: The oppression they personally experienced in the name of religion. Willoughby today is a happily married 39-year-old mother of two with her own massage clinic in Nova Scotia. But she went through a two-decade nightmare in her country of origin, Saudi Arabia. Physically abused by a father who broke her bones and a stepmother who chased her with knives, Willoughby was jailed twice by the Saudi religious police. The first time, she was spotted unveiled near a stream outside her hometown Riyadh. “It was an isolated place, I liked to go there and just close my eyes, feel the wind in my hair,” she told me. But since females aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi, a male driver had to take her. The day the religious police caught her unveiled, they accused her of having an illicit relationship with the driver. She spent three days in a police station before her father came to free her—and then “beat the living life out of me,” she said.
The second arrest happened a few years later, while Willoughby was in medical school. The university was a 45-minute drive from home, and one night her driver didn’t show up. A male student offered her a ride, and while they were crossing a small desert town, the religious police forced them to stop. They beat Willoughby’s classmate unconscious and took her to a police station, where they forced her, under threat of physical abuse, to sign an “admission statement” that she was sleeping with her friend. Three months of imprisonment and “religious reeducation” followed, during which mandatory prayers were the only distraction from the cell she occupied, with nothing in it but a mattress on the floor, persistent cockroaches, and a video camera constantly filming her. She received no word from her family or friends. Willoughby was eventually freed, only to find out that she had been convicted and sentenced to 80 lashes. Her brother interceded before a prince—“not because he cared for me, only to salvage the honor of the family,” she said—and she was pardoned.
Before prison, Willoughby had applied for a scholarship to continue medical school in Canada. She obtained it, begged her father to give her her passport (a scene she recalled as her “ultimate humiliation”) and left forever. Her atheism? It had felt like a natural calling for a long time. “I never really prayed in my life,” she told me. “Even in jail, I was just going through the motions to keep people quiet.”
“Religion is a form of surveillance,” said Habib. “It’s not about God; it’s about the power wielded by those who act in his name.” Habib, Willoughby, and many others have switched to atheism as an act of rebellion. But their rebellion is less against Islam than against the abuses committed by religiously powered individuals and political systems.
Many Arab atheists weren’t political at first. But it seems there is just no way around it. Momen told Abdel-Samad he didn’t mean to politicize his atheism. “But when people’s faith is political, my lack of it is just as political, by definition,” he said. “As long as unbelievers are persecuted, as long as religion encroaches on people’s private lives, I can’t reject it purely as a private matter.” And since politics is around the corner anyway, might as well do it well—and straight-faced. That’s the conclusion Egyptian atheist activist Islam Ibrahim shared on the YouTube program “The Black Ducks.” Started in August 2013 by another Egyptian atheist, Ismail Mohamed, the program invites atheists from the Arab world to speak their minds. When you’re anonymous, you can say silly things and not be held accountable for them, Ibrahim said on the program. “I thought, if we atheists stop being ghosts and materialize, we will be taken more seriously, because our statements will become better thought through. Also, we’ll never get what we want if we don’t have the courage to claim it with our real names and faces.”
As of mid-April, more than 140 “Black Ducks” episodes have been uploaded, and they’ve received hundreds of thousands of views. The channel has two objectives: Achieving “a secular society in the Middle East and North Africa. ... [and offering] solace and courage to those who are atheists in secret so they may know they are not alone in the world.” In the episode featuring him, Ibrahim said: “Your brother, co-workers, friends, family members might be atheists, just like you, but they’d never dare say, unless they see you come out on Facebook. It actually happened with my neighbor. We became friends in real life, as it happened for many.” Toward that end, Ibrahim established a Facebook page where hundreds of Arab atheists posted their stories, including their names, photographs, countries of residence, and the reason behind their atheism.
Being connected to each other is crucial to Arab atheists. After Willoughby started her blog and Twitter feed in 2008, she said, numerous strangers reached out to her, thanking her for sharing her story, and anxiously asking for advice about how to deal with their own personal predicaments. To her, it felt like duty calling. Willoughby said she has helped a dozen atheists get out of Saudi Arabia by giving them access to information, and even sending money in some cases.
In 2007, a now-worldwide network of “ex-Muslims” was established to support refugees, exiles, and anyone from a Muslim background. The first such group was created in Germany at the initiative of Iranian exiles vowing to support the freedom to criticize religion and to end “religious intimidation and threats.” There are now chapters in several countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Belgium, and New Zealand. There is no central body, and each chapter runs independently, but they collaborate on conferences and advocacy campaigns. Many of the ex-Muslims’ activities are conducted online, but a good deal also happen in real life, which elicits security concerns. “If you’ll be holding real life meetings, you should screen each person who wants to join for safety’s sake,” Kiran Fatima Opal, a Canadian-­Pakistani active member of the ex-Muslims of North America, told me.
Habib started the ex-Muslims group in Morocco, which has about 20 members, and he has given news conferences alongside other activists. One last summer launched a campaign to gain the right to abstain from fasting during Ramadan (breaking the Ramadan fast in public is a criminal offense in Morocco, punishable by one to six months in prison.) “I created the Council of ex-Muslims so we’d stop saying, ‘We are with the atheists,’ and start saying, ‘We are the atheists,’” Habib told me. “Like for gays, [the] time has come to claim ‘atheist pride.’” Habib came to the attention of the public in March 2013. The police were looking for him, apparently to indict him because he had mocked the Islamic creed, “There is no god but God,” on his Facebook page by turning it into, “There is no god but Mickey Mouse.” Instead of turning himself in, he went into hiding while a support campaign was taking off on the Internet. By the time he resurfaced, the police had apparently given up on bringing him in. His relative international exposure (Western journalists such as The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof had interviewed him) may be what has shielded him from arrest so far.
Despite the risks and the social and political challenges they’re facing, all the atheist activists I interviewed said they were confident that the future of the Arab world belongs to secularism. Willoughby told me that “atheism is spreading like wildfire” in the Middle East. Brian Whitaker views it as “the symptom of a much bigger thing, which is the battle against oppression.” The booming Arab underground music scene is another example of the irresistible impetus for change that is quietly transforming the Middle East and North Africa. A full cultural revolution will probably take some time. Speaking about his country, Abdel-Samad said, “I think secularism is a certainty, not just a possibility, for Egypt’s future. All that remains unclear is what price the country will pay first. History tells me blood.”
Waleed Al Husseini told me that he’s “pessimistic for the next 20 years, but optimistic for what’s coming afterwards.” He can afford it: By then, he’ll be only 46.

Ahmed Benchemsi is the editor in chief of

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Pastor Encourages Followers To Use Guns To Fight Against Same-Sex Marriage Rights In Viral Video

Gun-wielding preacher tells his followers to fight back against same-sex marriage rights. “It’s time that we finally take a stand and say no more.”

Former Arizona televangelist Joshua Feuerstein isn’t happy about the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality across the country. He’s so upset that he created a video where he waves a semiautomatic assault rifle and tells his followers, “It’s time that we finally take a stand and say no more. We’re not backing up any further.”

Feuerstein shared the video with his 1.6 million followers on Facebook, and it has been viewed more than 5 million times since it was uploaded on July 9.

Feuerstein first claims an essentially fake and definitely outdated story about a gay man supposedly suing two publishers for $70 million over anti-gay passages in the Bible proves same-sex marriage is really about helping the left and liberals "to come after Christianity."

But that's just the first part of Feuerstein's hyperbolic rant.
“Why are we backing down to the government and not drawing a line in the sand?” Feuerstein asks after recounting examples of how Christians have been retaliated against because they discriminated against people in the LGBT community. One complaint Feurstein has is the Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery case, in which the owners were ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding. It should be noted that the owners of the bakery also posted the lesbian couple’s home address online which resulted in them being relentlessly harassed, as NCRM reported in an extensive analysis of the final ruling. Others, including the Advocate, agreed.

Feuerstein also mentions the instance where Donald and Evelyn Knapp refused to host a same-sex wedding at their business, the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He claims the Knapps are being told they could face arrest and imprisonment if they don’t marry gay couples. NCRM also proved that claim to be false, as have others.

“They’re coming after our First Amendment constitutional rights!” Feuerstein continues to rant in his video. “Well, check this out, this is one pastor that will not bow. Why?” he asks as he picks up a semiautomatic assault rifle. “Because my First Amendment right is guaranteed by my Second Amendment right. Think about that, ladies and gentlemen. It’s time that we finally take a stand and say no more. We’re not backing up any further. We’re not going to allow a tyrannical government to come in and strip away our rights as Christians and try to demonize us so that they can make the Bible bigoted.”

This isn’t the first time Feuerstein has gotten attention for his extremist views. In April, he posted a video where he called Cut The Cake bakery in Florida and demanded they bake a cake with an anti-gay message for him. After the video went viral, the owner had to call the FBI after receiving numerous calls and death threats. Feuerstein also made headlines for attacking TLC for pulling "19 Kids and Counting," after a police report surfaced, detailing how one of the stars, Josh Duggar, sexually molested five girls, including his sisters.
"I will ALSO MAKE SURE that EVERY ONE OF MY 1.2 MILLION FOLLOWERS never watch your 

stupid channel again!! #TeamDuggars," he wrote. 
The Advocate calls Feuerstein's latest video a "horrifying call to arms."

by Eric Rosswood

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Pastor Who Believed Prayer Would Protect Him from Rattlesnakes Gets Bitten While Preaching and Dies


Pastor Jamie Coots died on Saturday after being bitten by a rattler during one of his church services at Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church in Middlesboro, Kentucky.

Coots, a former bus driver, was the star of Snake Salvation, a National Geographic reality television show. He believed he was commanded to handle snakes, and if in danger or bitten he was forbidden to seek medical attention. Instead, it was required that he pray for healing.  The family’s strong belief in Pentecostalism, arguably the most important mass religious movement of the twentieth century, is thought to protect them from venomous snakes.

During the night service, Coots was handling a rattlesnake, as a means to demonstrate his  unwavering faith, and was bitten.

“Jamie went across the floor. He had one of the rattlers in his hand, he came over and he was standing beside me. It was plain view, it just turned its head and bit him in the back of the hand … within a second,” Cody Winn, another preacher for the church, explained to WBIR-TV.

According to the Middlesboro Police Department, by the time an ambulance arrived at the church, Coots had already gone home. When emergency workers got in contact with Coots, he refused any medical treatment, and an hour later he was pronounced dead.

“The snake that bit him, we’ve been carrying it for four months. It’s been carried hundreds of times and handled all kinds of times. But when it’s your time to go, it’s just your time to go,” Coots’ son Cody said.
Generally, rattlesnake bites are not fatal, as there is reliable anti-venom at virtually all medical facilities, and proper care can lessen the resulting tissue damage and pain. While carrying on his family’s 100-year-old tradition in the name of God, Coots had allegedly been bit eight times before and was expecting another full recovery. In the past, he even lost a finger to a serpent bite after it rotted and broke off.
Despite being in shock, his family says they will stand by their faith and snake handling practices.
“I don’t think it’s dangerous. It’s the word of God. We’ve always said it’s a good way to live by and it’s a good way to die by,” he  said.

While the third generation handlers may think it safe to practice such performances, back in 1995, a 25-year-old woman, and mother of five, was also bitten by a timber rattlesnake at Coots’ church. She later later died at his home.

The family announced Coots didn’t have insurance coverage for his perilous lifestyle and they are now accepting donations.

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“Palestinian” atheist imprisoned, beaten for criticism of Islam

“My views, however, cannot be changed by a prison sentence or by persecution. I still believe that Islam often stands in opposition to human rights and women’s rights. I believe that the Qur’an relays that Muhammad demanded death for non-believers….” Waleed Al Husseini better be careful with talk like that. He’s in the Daily Beast today as a prisoner of conscience, but if he continues to say that “Islam often stands in opposition to human rights and women’s rights” and that “the Qur’an relays that Muhammad demanded death for non-believers,” he will soon begin to be denounced as a racist, bigoted, right-wing, hatemongering Islamophobe by those who preen that they are the champions of free thought.
“What It’s Like to Be an Atheist in Palestine,” by Waleed Al Husseini, Daily Beast, December 8, 2014:
Like many non-religious people around the world, I use the Internet to express my thoughts. It provides a relatively safe way of speaking freely, especially in a country where the vast majority believe in one religion and do not like to hear criticism. Or so I thought.
I used to run a blog in Arabic called “Nour Alakl” and ran a satirical Facebook page under the pseudonym “Allah.” But in October 2010, Palestinian security forces stormed into an Internet cafe and arrested me. Until then, I had been under the impression that I had a right to freedom of speech and to the freedom of belief. But in jail, I was told that my online statements about religion and Islam were illegal. I was told that society didn’t accept such criticisms.

That’s certainly true in the West, if not in “Palestine.”
I was beaten by prison guards who demanded to know who had made me write against Islam. In their minds, I could only say these things as the result of some plot, some conspiracy. The idea that I might simply want to express my independent thoughts was alien to them.
The 10 months I spent in Palestinian prison were the worse of my life. I faced constant pressure to retract my statements. I was told they had removed my blog and that I must apologize for publishing it. Even once I was freed, I was told I should never again use the Internet, nor meet with the media.
For months after my release, I was harassed by the security services, who further interrogated me and detained me without cause. I received letters from people saying they wanted to kill me.
My views, however, cannot be changed by a prison sentence or by persecution. I still believe that Islam often stands in opposition to human rights and women’s rights. I believe that the Qur’an relays that Muhammad demanded death for non-believers. Many Muslims may disagree with my view, or interpret Islam in a more moderate way, but I cannot accept this religion myself. That is what my conscience tells me….
 waleed AL husseini book published in france
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Blasphemateur. Le prigioni di Allah

Waleed Al Husseini è un coraggioso giovane di 25 anni nato in Cisgiordania. Arrestato e torturato dalle autorità palestinesi per i suoi scritti su facebook e sul suo blog con l' accusa di villipendio della religione, ha poi trovato rifugio in Francia, dove l'editore Grasset ha tradotto e pubblicato il suo libro "Blasphemateur. Le prigioni di Allah", in cui racconta la sua esperienza, l' islam e la società islamica. Insieme ad altri trenta ex musulmani, nel 2013 ha creato il "Conseil des ex-musulmans de France", composto da atei, liberi pensatori ed umanisti che prendono posizione per incoraggiare la ragione, i diritti universali, la laicità e il diritto di critica della religione, e per la proibizione di tutte quelle pratiche religiose discriminatorie, nei confronti delle donne e delle scelte private nelle relazioni emotive e sessuali nella vita degli uomini, e contrarie alla libertà e ai diritti dei popoli.

 Cari amici,
dopo la pubblicazione della mio libro, "Blasphemateur. Le prigioni di Allah", giusto una settimana dopo gli attentati contro Charli Hebdo, la minaccia è onnipresente in Francia. Così, alcune librerie si rifiutano di esporre il mio libro per paura di rappresaglie. Altri librai temono reazioni anche di coloro che, benchè quasi analfabeti, non esiterebbero a usare la loro arma preferita, la violenza. Nonostante le buone intenzioni, anche la casa editrice Grasset non può correre il rischio di organizzare incontri pubblici intorno al libro e a richiedere l' intervento della polizia, sopraffatta dal piano Vigipirate, per garantire la sicurezza.
Nonostante tutto questo disagio, un libraio da Saint Hippolyte du Fort (Gard) mi ha invitato in aprile per organizzare una sessione di firma. Per farmi incontrare molti dei miei amici, gli organizzatori hanno dimostrato non solo coraggio, ma soprattutto hanno confermato il loro rifiuto ad abdicare contro l' ideologia violenta degli islamisti. Inoltre, un'altra dimostrazione potrebbe tenersi presto anche a Nîmes.
Nonostante le intimidazioni e i tentativi di intimidazione di cui sono il bersaglio, io mi rifiuto di abbassare il braccio. La mia lotta continua, perciò risponderò sempre positivamente a qualsiasi libreria o associazione desideri discutere il mio libro, o, più in generale, il tema del libro.
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Blasphémateur ! The right to be atheist in Palestine


Book review
Blasphémateur !’,
by Waleed al-Husseini
Grasset, Paris
EAN : 9782246854616
marieme helie lucas

On January 14, 2015, a book, by Waleed al Husseini, titled: ‘Blasphemer !’, will be released in Paris. The date that was set in advance, but it so happened that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists were slaughtered just a few days before the book launch.
This highlights two facts that many prefer to ignore : on the one hand, the first victims of armed fundamentalist non-state actors and/or of fundamentalist states live in so-called Muslim countries; on the other hand, it is not just in France or in the West that people free themselves from religious beliefs, many agnostics and atheists live in hiding in our countries, or pay the high price for declaring themselves non believers.
Under this flamboyant title ‘Blasphemer !’, the young Palestinian author – age 25 – describes an experience which is shared by more and more youth in North Africa and in the Middle East. Like everywhere else in the world, young people come of age, suffocating and oppressed by religiosity in their family and in their neighbouhood; they refuse to renounce their craving for freedom, the discovery of sexuality, and freely mixing with the world’s youth. They end up rejecting religion, ‘loosing faith’ - if at all they ever had one of their own. Few of them take the pain – as Waleed did - to seriously explore their reasons not to believe in god.
Being rejected by their family is painful, a split of the heart from beloved ones that one goes on loving, often for lack of belonging perspectives elsewhere, as there are no atheist communities that could welcome them, with whom they could share their ideas. They face emotional and intellectual isolation.
And they face fear too. For, increasingly during the last two decades in many Muslim-majority countries, young libertarians’ rejection of religion is met – not just with moral sanction from family and neighbours -, but with state legal repression.
This is the experience Waleed al Husseini describes and ‘blasphemer’ is not just a flamboyant title for a book : it is indeed the accusation made against him when he was only 20 years old, that brought him into Palestinian jails where he experienced torture for being an unbeliever.
He is far from being the only one facing such a dreadful fate : young and not-so-young people (the eldest is probably Kassim Ahmed, age 82, a Muslim erudite, accused of ‘insulting islam’, who will be tried by the Sharia Court on the decision of the High Court in Malaysia) are regularly jailed ( like the egyptian journalist Bishoy Boulous Armia, age 32, sentenced to 5 years in jail on allegations of causing ‘sectarian rif’ and ‘insulting Islam’ for testifying on persecution of Christians in Egypt); or they are sentenced to torture ( like Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia, due to be flogged a thousand times - 1000 ! - for ‘insult to Islam’) ; or they are sentenced to death penalty ( like Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitirin in Mauretania, age 28, journalist and anti-slavery activist, sentenced to death on December 25, 2014 for ‘insulting the Prophet’ – he obviously disturbed some big slave trafficking and the religious argument was used to silence him for good) ; and they are even executed for ‘insulting Islam’ or for ‘blasphemy’ (Mohsen Amir-Aslani, age 27, declared guitly of insulting Prophet Jonah and of ‘introducing innovations in religion’ by his interpretations of the Qur’an, was hanged in Iran in September 2014) *
In secular France, - how long will it remain secular ? – one can still be a declared atheist or agnostic without running risk : a recent enough and serious piece of research** shows that the percentage of unbelievers is pretty similar in the French ‘Christian’ population and in the French ‘Muslim’ one : both show around 25% of declared atheists. Practicing believers are as few in one and the other religious denominations (about 5%), and the rest of the population limits its practice to celebrating Christmas or Eid.
This is likely to shatter prejudice. It certainly explains why Waleed al-Husseini, when he finally got out of the Palestinian jail and came to France as a refugee, was outraged at being branded ‘Muslim’ once more, as is the case of so many migrants or French citizens of migrant Muslim descent. He felt the need to set up an organization that represents him : the Council of ex-Muslims in France.
Similar organizations mushroomed in many places in Europe : the first one was set up in Germany by an Iranian woman, Mina Ahadi; it was quickly followed by a second one in the UK led by another Iranian, the formidable and tireless Maryam Namazie ; then it started in Scotland, in France, etc...
However, it would be erroneous to believe that ex-Muslims come out in Europe only: Imad Iddine Habib is the founder of the Council of ex-Muslims in Morocco; persecuted by the regime, he finally had to come out of his country. In Algeria, the « un-fasters » ( a playing on words – de-jeûneurs-, since ‘breaking the fast’ and ‘having lunch’ sound alike in French) organize public picnics during Ramdan, at great risk for themselves, in order to stand for their right not to be forced to be Muslims; interestingly, declared believers - who are fasting - join them and protect them, openly telling the media that they are opposed to government’s enforcement of Ramdan and to denial of freedom of conscience.
Waleed al Husseini is fully aware of the numerous issues that are in stock for him after the publication of his book.
The first danger of course comes from our green-fascists, a minority indeed but a vocal and determined one, who takes it as a religious duty to physically eliminate ‘kofr’ – i.e. anyone who does not pander to their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.
But not just them.
There are the well-meaning Lefties who - till such time an end is put to Israel’s control over Palestine, deem it inappropriate to raise any concern with whatever is taking place in Palestine – even torture and arbitrary detention for exercising one’s freedom of conscience, - a clear indicator of Islamist ideology’s progress within the Palestinian state. (Regarding the critic of the theory of priorities and the ‘main enemy’, please see Daniel Bensaïd’s comment, and the little poem he quotes ‘ I was shot down by my secondary enemy’.***)
And there is the large ‘respectful’ Left whose above-all concern is to avoid being accused of racism; they were instrumental in disseminating all over the world the concept of ‘Islamophobia’ that was created and propagated by Muslim fundamentalists. As if it were an idea that was slaughtered, as if it were ‘Islam’ that was facing pogroms, rather than hapless humans hunted down by racist crowds which certainly do not check on their religion before hitting their brown skins. Just ask Syrian Christians how they feel about it when they come to Europe. And, alas, it is too late to ask the too-dark-skined Brasilian who was the only one murdered after the London bombing.
After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the international English-speaking media gave us the best possible exemple of cowardly response to Muslim fundamentalism –no other brand of fundamentalism ever deserves this cautious treatment but the Muslim one; of course no one dared dispense of condemning violence, but right after having paid lip service to it, they started with caveat : yes, it is terrible but Charlie was ‘provocative’ regarding religion ; yes butCharlie had been well warned to stop it ; yes but Charlie, actually, was ‘Islamophobic’, etc…
There are also, of course, the traditional, racist and anti-Muslim right and far-right which will attempt to misuse his book, thrilled that a ‘Muslim’ may attack ‘Islam’. But Waleed al-Husseini is very clear about the différence between racism and the fundamentalist concept ‘islamophobia’. In his book, he mentions an incident: when 5 members of a far-right organization using a ‘secularist’ label as camouflage disturbed the launch of the Council of ex-Muslims of France. They had come in the hope of participating in some Muslims-bashing, but they were rebuffed by all the speakers one after the other, who firmy told them they only defended their right to be atheists.
To publicly resist, all in one go, to the traditional racist far-right, to the Muslim fundamentalist far-right, and to the coward Left in France – this is the task for Waleed al-Husseini.
We wish him a lot of courage and of political clarity to continue his struggle without falling into any trap. He already showed he did not lack courage when he faced Palestinian jails; and he also proved he did not lack political clarity by not letting any one use him politically.
May this straight forward and very thruthful book encourage Waleed al-Husseini’s new fellow-citizens – the French people – to support the vibrant popular forces wich, everywhere in our so-called Muslim countries, fight fundamentalism in isolation, feeling abandonned by the rest of the world.
Notes :
*Maryam Namazie : A defence of Charlie Hebdo must also turn into defence of other blasphemers and apostates
** Patrick Simon, Paris, INED, quoted in : Marieme Helie Lucas, A South-North transfer of political competence : women of migrant Muslim descent in France, p 46, in Marieme Helie Lucas ed. :The struggle for secularism in Europe and North America :Women from migrant descent facing the rise of fundamentalism, September 29 2014, Amazon, paperback, ISBN-10 : 1907024220 ISBN-13 : 978-1907024221
*** idem p IV: ‘The control of capital over bodies, its strong will to reveal their market value, does not at all reduce their control by religious law and the theological will to make them disappear…The poor dialectic of main and secondary contradictions, forever revolving, already played too many bad tricks. And the ‘secondary enemy’, too often underestimated, because the fight against the main enemy was claimed to be apriority, sometimes has been deadly’. Daniel Bensaïd.
Bensaïd goes on quoting Erich Fried’s poem: ‘Totally caught into my struggle against the main enemy/ I was shot by my secondary enemy/ Not from the back, treacherously, as his main enemies claim/ But directly, from the position it has long been occupying/And in keeping with his declared intentions that I did not bother about, thinking they were insignificant’.
**** Statement : After the Charlie Hebdo’s massacre, Support those who fight the religious-right, 
January 7, 201

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Erdogan: women are not equal to men

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set off a new controversy on Monday, declaring that women are not equal to men and accusing feminists of not understanding the special status that Islam attributes to mothers.

Addressing a meeting in Istanbul on women and justice, Erdogan said men and women are created differently, that women cannot be expected to undertake the same work as men, and that mothers enjoy a high position that only they can reach.

"You cannot put women and men on an equal footing," Erdogan said. "It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. Their constitution is different."
Erdogan added: "Motherhood is the highest position ... You cannot explain this to feminists. They don't accept motherhood. They have no such concern."

Lawyer and women's rights activist Hulya Gulbahar said Erdogan's comments were in violation of Turkey's constitution, Turkish laws and international conventions on gender equality and didn't help efforts to stem high incidences of violence against women in Turkey.

"Such comments by state officials which disregard equality between men and women play an important role in the rise of violence against women," Gulbahar said. "Such comments aim to make women's presence in public life — from politics to arts, from science to sports — debatable."

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, often courts controversy with divisive public comments. He has previously angered women's groups by stating that women should bear at least three children and by attempting to outlaw abortion and adultery.

He raised eyebrows this month by declaring that Muslims had discovered the Americas before Christopher Columbus.

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