Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Negative Influences of Islam in Africa

In the last blog post, we examined some of the negative influences of Christianity in Africa. We should now turn our attention to some of the negative influences of Islam in Africa, of which there are many.

Black Muslim apologists often contend that, unlike Christianity, Islam teaches its adherents to defend themselves against violent attacks. These apologists point to Muslims that fought against slavery and other forms of oppression throughout history.

However, like Christianity, Islam is not "all good." North Sudan offers the best example of how extremist Muslims have harmed African people, identity, and culture. Though many people in North Sudan physically resemble Black people, they identify as Arabs, embracing the Arabic language, Arab dress, culture, etc. They have long oppressed the Black Sudanese of the South, literally enslaving many of them and killing many others. The mainstream media have given much attention to the plight of people in Darfur.

However, much less attention has been given to the Black people of the Nuba Mountains, who have also been victims of genocidal attacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The government of Sudan denied them the right to vote, laid waste to their farms and villages and starved them.

This hatred against Black Africans in Sudan has been aided and abetted by the likes of the late Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was a racist, and like many of the Muslims in Sudan, he used the word "abd," or "slave," when referring to a Black person.

Sadly, many African Americans willingly ignored the plight of the Blacks of South Sudan and/or sided with the oppressors in Khartoum. Indeed, in the 1990s, leaders in Khartoum invited members of the Black press on a supposed "fact-finding mission," on which the government carefully controlled their every move. Most of the Black journalists bought it hook, line and sinker, and did not even report on what little they were permitted to see.

Nigeria also offers a great example of the negative aspects of Islam in Africa. In the 1990s, dictator Sani Abacha ruled the nation with an iron fist. He was opposed by Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader of the Ogoni people. The Ogoni were fighting for land rights and against exploitation by wealthy oil companies.

Abacha sided with the oil companies and had Saro-Wiwa and about seven other Ogoni activists arrested on trumped up charges. They were eventually hanged amid a vast international outcry. However, Louis Farrakhan, a friend of Abacha, said that, considering that so many African Americans had been lynched in the U.S. during the 20th century, Americans should not express outrage about the hangings of a few Africans.

Muslims and Christians are constantly at war in Nigeria. Thousands have been killed in recent years. The south is predominantly Christian. In the predominantly Muslim north, there are 12 states under sharia law. This is despite the fact that Nigeria is a secular country with a secular constitution.

In Nigerian sharia states, amputations and death by stoning are permissable (though there have been no deaths by stoning to date). In September 2011, two men, Auwala Abubaka, 23, and Lawalli Musa, 22, were sentenced to be amputated in public, after pleading guilty to stealing a bull. In previous years, an illiterate woman found guilty of "adultery" was sentenced to death by stoning. (Due to international outrage, the woman was spared. In sharia courts, "adultery" oftentimes is, in actuality, fornication.)

Islam in Africa does not have to lead to conflict, oppression, or sharia. For example, Senegal is a predominantly Muslim nation. However, Christians and Muslims there get along very well. Such good relations were cemented by secular values promoted by Senegalese intellectuals with a firm foundation in French secular culture.

Like their reactionary Christian counterparts, reactionary Muslims are thoroughly homophobic. People having sex with members of the same sex can be put to death under sharia law in Nigeria. In African nations such as Malawi and Nigeria, reactionary Muslims and Christians are united in attempting to strengthen laws against homosexuality.

Christianity and Islam will continue to have great influence in Africa. Indeed, the Catholic Church has become dependent upon Africa to make up for the shortage of priests in the West. Africans in the Anglican Church are becoming increasingly infuential. It is up to secularists and progressive religionists to constantly battle against the negative and reactionary influences of religion wherever they rear their ugly heads. However, forward-thinking Africans must have the chief leadership roles in efforts to combat these insisdious and invidious ideas and actions on the African continent.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Freethought in Texas

By Naima Washington

October 6-9, 2011 marked the 4th
Annual Texas Freethought Convention.
This year’s event attracted more than
600 participants and was co-hosted by
the Atheist Alliance of America. The
theme was “From Grassroots to Global
Impact,” and according to Nike Lee,
the Alliance’s president, “We want this
[convention] to be a springboard for
local activism all over the United
States. This is a time for non-believers
to step forward, make their presence
known in their communities, and to
challenge the impression that all
Americans are religious zealots… we
need YOU to enlist in this effort and
become politically and socially active
in your own community.”

Paul Mitchell, president of the
Texas Freethought Convention echoed
these sentiments, “We want to keep
you engaged and have you come away
enriched and empowered with the
tools and ideas you need to take back
to your communities and make an
impact.” The convention program lists
22 sponsor s and friends who
assured its success; there was a film
festival; Camp Quest was on hand to
engage children and the Richard
Dawkins Foundation sponsored day
care services. There was a blood drive
held during the convention and the
League of Women Voters provided onsite
voter registration.

It was great to hear Christopher
Hitchens speak during Saturday’s
banquet as well as participate in a lively
Q&A session. He was also named by
the Atheist Alliance of America as this
year’s recipient of the Richard Dawkins
Award which was presented to Mr.
Hitchens by Richard Dawkins. There
were at least twenty other presenters at
the convention and needless to say, I
was unable to hear all of them. I did see
a few WASH members including
author, Donald Wright who lives in
Houston and is the Vice President of the
Humani s t s of Hous ton. Sikivu
Hutchinson, founder of Black Skeptics
of Los Angeles gave a dynamic
presentation where she explored the
relationships between race, class,
gender, and religion. Her latest book,
Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender
Politics, and the Values Wars, explores
these relationships even further. Many
other speakers gave presentations
including Eugenie C. Scott, Michael
Shermer, P.Z. Meyers as well as former
Marine and rapper, Greydon Square
whose music deals with atheism, social
and political criticism.

I met and was able to spend time
with some incredible people including
African American atheists many of
whom live in Texas and said this was
their first convention. There were many students present and
it’s probably safe to say that the Secular
Students Alliance can take credit for
that due to so much of their work on
campuses. The convention was
organized so that the SSA participation
was almost a convention within a
convention since the Alliance had many
specific programs and activities for
their members. Houston residents
probably outnumbered all other
attendees; however I did meet an
African American man who had
recently joined SSA. He was from
Spokane, Washington; another woman I
met flew in from Hong Kong for the
convention. One very dynamic speaker
was blogger, Sunsara Taylor, a writer
for Revolution newspaper as well as the
host of radio station WBAI’s program
entitled “Equal Time for Freethought.”
A radical, well-informed, and elegant
speaker, she was also very engaging as
she fielded questions and comments
after her presentation.

The accommodations and staff at
the Hyatt Regency were excellent, and
the organizers of the convention earned
a five-star rating. I am interested,
however, in what organizations do with
all of the information they collect when
registering people at conferences and
conventions. I see the potential to use
this information as a tool for helping
non-theists organize at the local level.
It would be easy enough to find out if
attendees would like to have their email
addresses shared with other
attendees in their cities and/or home
states. This would give people an
opportunity to meet after a conference
or convention since it is often
impossible to know how many atheists,
especially those who are unaffiliated,
live in any given area. I have no idea
who else from our area may have
attended the convention, and if we are
really intent on organizing people at the
local level, being able to get in touch
with them after the convention would
be helpful.

Even so, the convention presented
me with many opportunities to meet
many people, give out back issues of
the WASHline and to have a wonderful

Naima Washington is the secretary of
WASH and a member of the Board of