The Director of Atheist Nexus Speaks Out on Atheist Communities

(Report by Hugh Kramer) I've just returned from a meeting of the Ventura County atheists where we heard a talk by and had a discussion with Richard Haynes, who runs Atheist Nexus, the new (it just celebrated it's first birthday) social networking site exclusively for non-theists. Richard, who sometimes writes under the sobriquet, "Brother Richard," was formerly an associate minister at a 12,000 member evangelical mega-church in Georgia. In 1993, he experienced a crisis of conscience over some of it's practices and, with his young wife and baby daughter, left the church. After a lot of vicissitudes and soul-searching, both he and his wife concluded that they no longer believed in God. Some of the habits of his time as an evangelist have persisted though and now he has dedicated himself to encouraging other atheists to "come out of the closet" and form themselves into a self-sustaining community. That, in fact, was the subject of his talk.
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OK, I'm going to try one last time, as I think I'm not getting my point across well. Something to do with my writing, and, no doubt, the medium (no, not a spiritualist--damn English again).

Banning the burqa isn't a way to get women to change. It's a way to get misogynistic men to change. Any fine or punishment for wearing a burqa should be levied against the male head of household that the woman lives at. That would be because the male head of household is ultimately responsible for enforcing the cultural attitudes that cause the burqa to be worn. It is not worn by any kind of truly free choice. It is worn under duress. That the women who wear it are victims of the Stockholm syndrome is really quite beside the point. That some of them appreciate the burqa as a way to preserve their modesty is unfortunate collateral damage, and ultimately derives from the Stockholm syndrome anyway. Anything done under duress isn't a valid expression of the will of the actor, aka freedom.

It's perverse to think of the right to wear the burqa as an expression of freedom, unless you mean the male freedom to oppress the female. I support the freedom to dress as one wishes; I do not support the freedom to oppress as one wishes. Obviously, this distinction comes down to a judgment call, but I believe the burqa, despite the protestations of some brainwashed burqa-wearing females, is clearly a case of the latter. Why? Because women sufficiently freed from the burqa-enforcing environment invariably choose to abandon it. Because the men in burqa-enforcing cultures freely describe their women as chattel, though perhaps not in so many words. There is no mystery or confusion as to why the burqa is worn. A state-enforced ban will almost certainly not suppress anybody's valid freedom. No law can be 100% correctly applicable. But this one would come close, since almost nobody wears the burqa as a simple fashion choice. They have no fashion choice, except perhaps what fabric to make the burqa out of.

I don't agree that this is a slippery slope. The burqa is not just another dress. It is a very clear statement of an antiquated and abhorrent cultural tradition of devaluing women. It is an expression of current and ongoing domestic abuse and involuntary servitude, whether anybody involved sees it that way. It does not hide the bruises of physical abuse. It is a bruise. As such, in a society that values individual freedom, it should be investigated, and if necessary, the women removed from the abusive environment and the males punished. In my opinion, the mere act of requiring the burqa meets the definitions of coercion and involuntary servitude in The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 in the US.

I see no moral distinction between the burqa and female genital mutilation. One limits freedom of movement and the other limits freedom of sexual enjoyment. Both are expressly designed to keep women in their place, to keep them down. Promoters of both practices admit as much. (And I am most emphatically not saying that anybody on this thread qualifies as a promoter of either. I think we all hate both.)

Of course, I am primarily talking about western cultures and immigrants, at least insofar as the practical matter of a burqa ban. I am not suggesting we invade Iraq (d'oh! too late!) to stop the practice there. This is a criminal matter, according to the laws of each country. International organizations must work to change the laws and get them enforced around the world, but a military "solution" would clearly cause much worse collateral damage than affronting the modesty of women used to covering themselves up to the eyeballs.

In any case, misogynists who wish to continue in their misogyny should probably avoid immigrating into countries that don't approve of it. They should not be surprised when the gendarmes show up at their doors. Yup, I'm OK with that.
dude, that is a well argued, fully fleshed out set of reasons. I'm not being sarcastic and I'm not blowing smoke up your ass before I disagree. I mean it, you almost have me convinced and frankly, you've given me a lot to think about.

And I still disagree with you. :)

"Banning the burqa isn't a way to get women to change. It's a way to get misogynistic men to change. Any fine or punishment for wearing a burqa should be levied against the male head of household that the woman lives at."

Your idea may well work. And we could stamp this out in western societies. But we shouldn't. We atheists talk a lot about the Establishment Clause but the other half of that section of the first amendment is the Exercise Clause. And banning this, except in matters of security identification, is a clear violation of that clause. I'm strictly talking United States here because clearly laws vary among the western nations but the principles generally hold. If we hold to the Constitution and especially in these matters, to the Bill of Rights, then we cannot ban religious dress in this country. I'd love to see the practice ended but I can't justify it within the framework of our ideals.
Thanks, Mike. I try.

No right is absolute. All rights end where they rub up against opposing rights. We ban the withholding of medical care from children by faith healers (though not consistently enough). Why shouldn't we ban the religious oppression of women? The point is that the women wearing burqas are being oppressed by somebody else's religious ideas. The Free Exercise clause does not give anybody the right to harm anybody else for religious reasons. That they frequently get away with doing so owes more to misguided popular deference to religion in general than to any constitutional right.

Anyhow, this isn't even a religious issue. It's cultural. Islam in no way mandates the burqa. It's not mentioned in the Quran or the Hadith, which only require "modest dress" for men and women. The burqa/chadri is peculiar to Iraq, Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, and a couple of other places, but it's only a tradition among a very small percentage of the billion or so Muslims in the world. I suppose it could be argued that their small sect of Islam requires it, but I think it could equally well be argued that the Free Exercise clause wouldn't apply to a cultural tradition.
I mentioned Winston Churchill before, but he has a clarity of language few of us can hope to attain. The precise part of his quote -

The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property - either as a child, a wife, or a concubine - must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

Let's assume a Burqa law can be enforced and doesn't turn a horde of lawyers into millionaires. The result will be cosmetic at best. The Burqa is a trivial symptom of an infinitely larger and malignant disease. The case for legislating against Burqas given thus far (and I don't like to specify these terms because I don't like them, but it's what most people will understand) is from the "liberal left" perspective. And the "liberal left" will end up being it's own worst enemy (again).

There was a furore in Australia ~ 15 years ago regarding the issue of allowing Islamic women to have set times where they had exclusive use of a public (tax funded and for everyone) swimming pool in Australia. The arguments to do so where identical to those used for burqas. This was one response defending the idea -

Bob Lewis, Democratic Socialist candidate for the seat of Wills, rejects the “reverse discrimination” claims: “This is just playing with words. The heart of the matter is that the position of women and men in our society is not equal. Some modest measures to provide some separate space for women shouldn't be the occasion for howls of outrage”

The same loopy defenses are already happening with the current situation, from the familiar right bashing -

Sarkozy is No Friend to Feminists

to the outright WTF ??? -

In Defense of the Burqa: A Gay Perspective

A burqa ban will achieve nothing. The real issue, as Churchill pointed out so long ago, is slavery. Its an issue we skirt around and refuse to look at directly because it's oh so horrible, and because its way too big for our tiny little brains. We come to think that trivia like banning burkas is something attainable and will change the world and we can all slap each others backs and congratulate ourselves on a job well done, when really, it will do fuck all. The only real result is that the liberal left will degrade itself (again) and get mired in idiotic hairsplitting debate, providing free fodder for the O'Reillys and the Coulters to send out as liberal bashing mind control radiation to idiots to dumb to think. Islamic women will keep on getting raped, abused, mutilated and generally treated like shit. In other words, business as usual. Do I have an answer ? No. I just have a deep mistrust of concerned citizen driven legislative solutions. Because they always end in tears.
And an addendum to those that dismiss the "slippery slope" argument. Ireland has just passed blasphemy laws. What odds the first case in court will be a t-shirt ? What effect would a burqa ban as legal precedent have on the outcome ? Its not that paranoid or hysterical.
A burqa ban would achieve the elimination of burqas in public. It would also send a strong message to the slaveholders that their ways will not be tolerated. It's a start. Of course, it's not a finish, as Winnie pointed out. But you have to start somewhere. Why not start with the most obvious outward sign? As I've stated before, if the response is simply to imprison women in their own homes, well, that's a crime, and a fairly obvious one, and the men who commit it would go to jail. It's certainly reasonable to argue that we should start elsewhere, that we should have a higher priority in this fight, but I see no reason to not ban the burqa/chadri.

I'm not sure that slippery slopes actually exist apart from ski resorts and mudslides. Anyhow, I'm not particularly worried about this instance, because it's banning something for a good reason, and because it's banning an outlier, and because it's not banning speech. Felch, you're probably right that the first Irish blasphemy case will be brought because of a t-shirt, but banning speech is different from banning actions. Sticks and stones, after all.
As Alber Crombie was unable to find a quote of me saying that I was "just kidding" about thinking it was fine to pass out beer at Church (because, indeed, I never said any such thing,) and because he pretended that I did so that he could call me a slew of names, we have our first Atheist News ban.

I'm locking this thread down now; unless anyone else has anything meaningful to add about the actual topic as posted by Hugh Kramer?



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