Defending Dawkins and New Atheists: A Response To Nathan Lean’s Atheist-Bashing Article In Salon

An edited version of this article was also  published at AAI

An article by Nathan Lean is making rounds on the internet and it seems like everybody is jumping on Lean’s atheist-bashing bandwagon. Nathan Lean recently wrote an article for Salon. The title: Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens: New Atheists flirt with Islamophobia. Many anti-Islamophobia crusaders quickly shared it with comments like ‘Dawkins’ idiot brigade’. To be fair,many liberals, atheists,Christians shared it too. But Lean’s article for Salon is currently a hot favorite in circles that dislike atheists in general because of their atheist views,there’s actually a question on Yahoo answers asking Are all the “New Atheists” (Dawkins etc) Islamaphobes? If you’ve read Lean’s article,you probably already know who is Nathan Lean. But if you don’t,let me fill you in.

Nathan Lean is the Editor-in-Chief of Aslan Media. The group Aslan Media is an aggressive opponent of Israel and some of the people who are part of it hold a reputation for making anti-Israel comments on their Twitter including Nathan Lean himself. Nathan Lean is also the author of the book The Islamophobia Industry. The group Aslan Media has also been seen taking cheap shots at Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller in the past and have been called out by Jihad Watch on more than one occasion. Aslan Media is also ‘supported’ by Loon Watch,a group of anonymous people who have been smearing almost every critic of Islam while also outing anti-Muslim bigots. Jonathan Schanzer wrote a critical review of Lean’s book for the Wall Street Journal. Loonwatch published a petulant and defensive response piece viciously attacking Schanzer. Loon Watch also interviewed Reza Aslan  in the past,the interview mostly consisted of Robert Spencer-bashing. Nathan Lean also endorses cyber terrorism:


I don’t approve of the Spencer/Geller’s bigoted rhetoric because I think they are not being helpful in any way but it would be hypocritical of me to deny them freedom of speech or threaten to realease their personal information just because I don’t approve of their message,something Nathan Lean failed to understand. Schanzer writes in his review of Nathan Lean’s book:

The author fails to grapple with the fact that, unlike average Muslims, Islamist terror groups like al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah do commit unspeakable acts of violence in the name of Islam—actions that surely help account for why many Americans (49%, according to a 2010 poll) hold an unfavorable view of Islam, even when they view favorably Muslims that they personally know.  According to anti-Islamophobia crusaders, though, even questioning the origins of the concept is itself a form of Islamophobia. Such dogmatism chills the crucial conversations that need to take place about Islamism here in the West. It also does a profound injustice to liberal Muslims around the world. After all, if Islam is dominated by its most violent and illiberal elements, and questioning these forces is deemed by intellectual elites to be a form of racism, then reform-minded Muslims really stand no chance.

 What is most amusing, Nathan Lean and his types conveniently ignore the acts of Islamofascists. For them,any criticism of Islam equals to Islamophobia,as Schanzer writes in his review. As a response article on Harry’s Place points out, Lean was either not aware of or completely ignored the fact that Dawkins is quite fair when it comes to baiting.


In many criticism of New Atheism it is said that this type of non-believer is the most mean and ‘in-your-face’ type.  Lean puts New Atheists like Harris,Dawkins,Hitchens in the ranks of Pamela Geller and anti-Muslim bigots while calling New Atheists ‘the new Islamophobes’. This is a little disturbing and so over the top that it sounds almost absurd. Anyone who has read the works of New Atheist authors such as Dawkins and Harris knows that their ‘invectives’ are directed against Islam as a religion, and not Muslims. If Lean should be criticising anyone,it should be those who engage in destructive acts of terror,those who make lives of people hell on earth by giving fatwas,those Muslims who kill Muslims and then go on to whine  about Islamophobia. Nathan Lean further asserts that New Atheists are no better than Pamela Geller and her disciples because to him the criticism coming from New Atheists towards Islam is “uneducated ramblings of backwoods racists rather than appraisals based on intellect, rationality and reason” which itself is not true at all. Anyone who is familiar with the writings of Dawkins,Harris and has watched these great minds debate theist scholars knows that the arguments of New Atheists are based on rational thought and intellect.  Lean also conveniently ignores Islam’s track record itself. He also seems to be unaware of Muslims who oppose women rights and gay rights or all the oppressive laws that Muslim majority countries practice.  Say,is Christianity better than Islam? No. For years the followers of Christ ruled Europe,a time that is recorded in the history books as Dark Ages. What happened then? Things changed,not because Christianity improved,but because it’s power and influence significantly decreased. If Muslims living in Muslim majority countries want their respective countries to become progressive secular countries,their religion Islam would have to become less powerful and influential. Many of us who criticise Islam for it’s oppressive laws are very well familiar with the label of Islamophobe. It can be safely assumed that all the critics of Islam have been labeled ‘Islamophobe’ at some point,amusingly many a time by the same Muslims who don’t feel shy making anti-Ahmadi and anti-Shia comments. Islamophobia means prejudice against Muslims. I find Islam as a religion an oppressive,backward,distasteful,misogynistic and a dividing religion. But does that mean I am an Islamophobe? No,I have never held any prejudices against Muslims. I have many Muslim friends who have stood beside me when fighting for freedom of speech and freedom of conscience and some of them would agree that Islam needs some reforms and none of them think of me as an Islamophobe but people who have called me an Islamophobe were also Muslims.

If New Atheism is such a fail,why is it being continously hammered again and again? This might explain a little about where the criticism of New Atheism is coming from:

The Amazon ranking for Lean’s book is #106,786 (Sept. 2012) whereas the Amazon rankings of the books of New Atheists he has been criticising are:

The God Delusion (Dawkins): #720

The End of Faith (Harris): #2802

God is not Great (Hitchens):  #1652

Of course the books of New Atheists are  older than Lean’s book but it is important to look into where the jealousy is coming from. New Atheists have been a media success. Their books sell,their debates are instant hits on YouTube. Another critic of New Atheism Clay Naff in his article for HuffPost complained:

The evidence is in, and it is clear: New Atheists have been a media success and a societal failure. They know how to sell books, how to debate, how to sneer, skewer, and satirize — in short, how to use all the squabbling skills of the modern academic (cf. the letters section of the New York Review of Books) — but the New Atheists seemingly have no idea how to build a positive social movement.

In the series of attacks on New Atheists,Aljazeera published a piece written by Murtaza Hussain. Glenn Greenwald approved the piece and tweeted it to his followers. Sam Harris blogged about his conversation with Glenn Greenwald which is a must read. National Post also published a good opinion piece about why criticism of Islam shouldn’t be labeled as Islamophobia in retaliation.

What many critics of New Atheism fail to grasp is that New Atheists are no different than regular atheists. The only difference is,the New Atheists are atheists with an attitude. They’re brainy yet brash. Their cogitations on the creation of the universe have indeed piqued the interest of many believers. New Atheists like Dawkins and Sam Harris are popular in the media because they are popular among the people. Is Lean accusing New Atheists of venality? Then it would be fair to accuse Lean of jealousy. New Atheists are clearly selling their books,something which Nathan Lean’s book’s ranking on Amazon can’t claim. Lean’s criticism of Dawkins’ tweet can be argued by asking,how many of us who criticize neo-Nazis have actually read Mein Kampf? If Lean was judging Dawkins’ intellect in 140 characters,he should also know that many of us can judge Nathan Lean by many of his tweets too (one has been shared above). While it’s unhelpful to describe Islam as evil and Dawkins would have gained more agreement if he had made his point in a better way but it can also be counter-argued that a religion can only be defined,particularly if you’re an atheist,by the way it is practiced. Lean also criticises Dawkins for praising far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders who made the film Fitna but Lean failed to see that Dawkins’ praise was directed at Wilders’ bold step even when he knew his life could be threatened,he went ahead with it. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to make Fitna,no matter how amateurish you think the film was. What is even more amusing Lean didn’t say anything about the ‘force’ behind the killing of Theo van Gogh or the recent attack on Lars Hedegaard.

What Nathan Lean and his supporters don’t realise is that if religious scriptures play the role of a weapon,the person pulling the trigger is in fact a follower of those scriptures who believes he possesses the absolute truth. Hence, the opposition to women rights and gay rights,witch-burning,prostitute-stonings,suicide bombings,etc. Decrying the harms of religion is not a “digression” but the very reason people oppose the follies of faith.

In the end,as Ricky Gervais once said, “Some of you Twonks don’t like it when I reply to haters. Some of you do. Like you, I’m torn. Ignoring is fun. But so is defending yourself.”


10 thoughts on “Defending Dawkins and New Atheists: A Response To Nathan Lean’s Atheist-Bashing Article In Salon

  1. Well reasoned article, it’s good to see that atheists now have the courage to bring reason to the entire religious world, hopefully one day removing the last great divisive force in the world so that we can finally become the global village we are destined to become.
    Muslims will kick up a terrible fuss in the short term because they are less used to the criticism, just like like the Catholic church of old, but in this age of information, no religious group, no exceptions, will be able to sustain such controlled mind-policing and human rights violations for much longer.

    • True,Muslims are comparitively less used to criticism than Western Christians. And I don’t think Muslims or anyone else can do much to avoid valid criticism and accountability in our modern world,like you said.

  2. Amen to that, Glenn, for the point that Muslims are less used to criticism. You know, sometimes, I wonder, what if the only cure is a natural one? The Europeans grew out of religion. Five hundreds of year or so of religious dogma not excluding wars and bloodshed disillusioned them. Maybe. Maybe, it would happen with the Muslim world too. But for that to happen, we better do whatever we can to help the Muslim Galileos and Copernicuses risking their lives to enlighten the masses.

    • Actually, a lot of Muslims do that, but their definition of what constitutes ‘women’s rights’ and ‘domestic violence’ varies. I believe, Muslims in general are not advocating ABOVE what Islam has established. For instance, there was this guy I talked to, who believed whatever was the norm in the 7th century Islamic Arabia should be the norm now. I disagree with that. Take the issue of women, for instance. Women could be considered property back in that era, and also invariably deficient in intelligence, but not now. Islam gave property and marriage rights to women, but let’s build upon them rather than assuming 7th century Arabia to be the END of human development, with no room of further improvement.

  3. Taking religion literally is what gets you killed in the long run. Things that were written centuries back can’t possibly be taken literally by a sane humanbeing. Reformed minded and secular Muslims have understood this,they use their own brain to distinguish between right and wrong rather than following their religion blindly,and they have reformed themselves to a great extent to fit in with the modern world. But sometimes,it’s not enough.

  4. Any one has read the Islamic history and Quran will know for sure that Islam is a great threat to any civilisation.Islam do not compromise with any cultures.If this is so offended to Muslims then they should humanize their religion.I respect people who defend their societies of such devastating learning of Islam.we are suffering of these teaching in Islamic countries,please be aware.

  5. Pingback: Atheistic Bigotry Is Still Bigotry

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