Earlier today, an excerpt of Daniel Loxton’s review of Alom Shaha’s The Young Atheist’s Handbook was published at Religion News Service. Loxton’s full review appears below.

YAH Biteback Cover JPEG“I remember the first time that I ate bacon,” begins The Young Atheist’s Handbook. This was a small moment, back when author Alom Shaha was waiting tables at a breakfast buffet. And yet, accepting a joshing co-worker’s lighthearted dare to taste bacon was also a “momentous, pivotal moment in my life, requiring courage, strength, and determination,” for Shaha was raised as a Muslim. “It might not be an exaggeration to say that some Muslims would rather die than eat pork,” he reflects.

“I wanted to try bacon,” Shaha writes, “not just because it smelled good, but also because I wanted to commit this act of rebellion against the religion I had been brought up to believe in but had largely rejected.” He instantly loved the flavor, which was diminished only by the “visible disgust on the face of one of the other waiters, a friend of mine and fellow Bangladeshi, who took his religion a little more seriously.”

What is it like to be the sort of person who recoils in disgust from the thought of consuming a crispy strip of sizzling, savory bacon? I have no idea. My mouth is watering simply from writing the word. To be repelled by bacon is to be situated within a physically different experience of the world. I might almost ask what it is like to be a bat.

As I’ve tried to absorb this slim, unusual, wonderful book, my thoughts have returned to again and again to challenge of empathizing with the lived experience and diverging perspectives of other human beings.

The Young Atheist’s Handbook is not in fact a handbook, but a personal memoir. Alom Shaha is a London-based science teacher. He was born in Bangladesh and raised in the UK. Some aspects of his life—his Muslim upbringing, his experiences as an immigrant confronted by racism and religious bigotry in his new homeland—are quite far removed from my own background as a sandy-haired Canadian raised by hippies in the Pacific Northwest. Other facets of Alom Shaha’s life, such as the challenges of atheism and the joys of geek-culture, are as familiar as the back of my hand. And in still other sections, The Young Atheist’s Handbook brought the shock of unexpected recognition—the feeling that another human being can understand a central, secret part of my lived experience, even though they were not there.

Structurally, the book is both simple and complex. Shaha tells his own story in roughly chronological order, with eight snappy chapters unified by themes such as “Being Good,” and “God is Love.” Those looking for the atheist book genre’s standard arguments for non-belief and the expected critiques of religion will find them, presented in an uncommon way. These are sewn throughout his narrative, an informal thread of philosophical reflection upon the joys, frustrations, and tragedies of his own life. Shaha describes this approach with characteristic frankness: “While I have touched upon some of the philosophical arguments for the non-existence of such a deity…I don’t think I have much, if anything, to add to these arguments—at least, nothing that you couldn’t find in a hundred other books, or simply by googling ‘arguments for and against the existence of God.’”

It is a book of remarkable honesty and vulnerability. The atheist subculture is macho in its way, especially online. Against the theatrical bluster of the blogosphere, Shaha has the confidence to unselfconsciously tell us he kisses and apologizes to books he happens to step on. He describes the transformative power of romantic love, argues that “religious love can be the same thing”. He writes about childhood prayers to wake up in Narnia; reveals that he cried during the movie The Crow; tells us about the eyeliner he wore as a goth. He has a tattoo in honor of his mom.

Within 20 pages of chuckling about the bacon, Shaha’s story had me in tears. His mother was, by his account, a wonderful woman consumed by something she couldn’t control. “My mother’s presence in the world,” writes Shaha, “was enough to make me feel safe, protected. When she was well, it was evident in everything she did that we were the centre of her universe: it shone through in the way she fed us, bathed us, held us.” But this woman was unmade, swept away from the children she adored by severe mental illness. Sometimes her sickness manifested as melancholy; sometimes, as something even more frightening. As Shaha matter-of-factly describes it, “the trauma of her psychotic episodes is still fresh in my mind, including one incident in which she dangled my newly born brother over the balcony of our flat. When a psychotic episode took hold of her, her behaviour would become increasingly erratic: she would become sexually disinhibited and, eventually, so violent that she would need to be locked up.”

These passages struck me like lightning. This is a story of crushing familiarity for me, and I suppose for many children of families broken by severe mental illness or addiction. “You can imagine how terrifying it was for us to see our mother in this state,” he writes, and indeed one might try—but I don’t really have to. I’ve seen such a descent into madness myself, tried in desperate futility to stop it with prayer and love, felt the terror and loss and sorrow. My family hid our sorrows as best we could, isolated by the knowledge that it would be difficult for many people to relate to our shared experiences. For Alom Shaha to try to communicate his family’s story when I am not willing to make the same attempt—not in print—strikes me as moving and brave. I admire his disclosure very much.

After a long struggle with “all sorts of medical problems,” Shaha’s mother died. He was 13 years old. He remembers racing, too late, into her hospital room; he remembers being caught in the arms of a Bangladeshi relative:

“Your mother is no more.” That’s a precise translation of her words: “Your mother is no more.” I remember emitting some sort of feral yell, crumpling to the floor, and crying so hard that it hurt. … I was inconsolable then, and I am still inconsolable today. Nothing that has happened in my life since that moment, nothing I believe and nothing I know, can provide consolation.

The Young Atheist’s Handbook is warmed throughout by its empathy, and here we see into its heart. “This is why I suspect that I am in some way predisposed not to believe in God,” Shaha reflects, “because God is the only thing that could have provided any solace. Death gives birth to Gods; without death, there would be fewer Gods, if any.” The consolation of religion is not available to him. This does not make him blind to its value in the lives of other people: “Just as religion can provide some people with answers to the question of how the world is, it gives some people a sense of meaning, solace, and happiness—and who am I to cast judgement on that?”

Shaha is highly sympathetic to those who face bigotry or suspicion because of their perceived membership in some group of Others. His break with Islam could not be more complete (“I am a kafir, an infidel, an apostate”) but he carries with him the lived experience of racism and bigotry, poverty, and the difficulties of living as an immigrant, a person of color, and a member of a distrusted minority faith. “The sting of the word ‘Paki’ is one of the indelible memories of my childhood,” he recalls, with a note of tired frustration for those who hear such utterances as “just words”:

The meaning of these words is deeply imbued with a notion of racial hatred that is hard for some people to imagine, simply because they have never and can never experience such racism for themselves. For example, there is no word that I know of for white people that can make them feel, and indeed believe, that they are inferior by design.

But the immigrant community in which he was raised was not set apart merely for the color of their skin, but also by their minority faith. And while naked racism may be less commonly voiced than it once was (one can hardly imagine a modern London police officer calling a child “Paki,” as happened to Shaha), Alom portrait by Desfear and distrust of Muslims has only become more mainstream in the years since 9/11. “Just as the racists I grew up with saw all brown people as being the same—that is, inferior—Islamophobes today see all Muslims as the same,” he reflects. This isolates Muslims, exposes them to violence and hate, constrains the horizons of their lives. The Islamophobia accepted and perpetuated by our culture and media must for many, Shaha writes, “have the same devastating effect that racism had on me as a child. To me, it is an issue of human rights: I worry that many Muslim people in the west now feel like second-class citizens because of their religion.” Bigotry toward western Muslims pushes them toward a transnational Islamic identity (and in some cases, radicalization), creating barriers in their home countries “that only compassion and empathy will break down.”

This perspective is especially vital given that well-known atheists have proclaimed, “There is no such thing as ‘Islamophobia.’ This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia.” As a former Muslim, Shaha’s more direct perspective differs:

Although I am an atheist, I nevertheless find it distressing that people can be contemptuous of all Muslims based on their own prejudices about what it means to be Muslim. Some atheists are guilty of this ideological categorisation, too, and it bothers me that some of those who really should know better feel that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot, by definition, get along. I suspect this is a point on which I differ from many more-hardline atheists, but perhaps my own experience of being judged for my skin colour has made me acutely sensitive to such judgements being exercised upon others.

Confronting Islamophobia does not insulate Islam from criticism, but instead creates the opportunity to criticize Islam justly:

I think that it is important for people like me, who are critical of some aspects of Islam, to be clear that our criticisms are not founded on the same racist assumptions [of Islamophobes], or motivated by the same kind of thinking. We can be critical of the ideology behind Islam, as well as the way in which it is sometimes practised, without being critical of those who believe in Allah or attend a mosque. People often unfairly conflate the two and, as a believer in human rights and justice, I find this abhorrent.

Shaha’s compassionate, pluralistic approach to faith and non-belief make The Young Atheist’s Handbook an inspiring, engaging read. It’s one of very few offerings in the atheist book genre that I’d feel comfortable recommending to a wide audience of believers and non-believers alike as a way for each to understand the other better. (Chris Stedman’s Faitheist is another.)

And yet, for all his book’s gentleness, Shaha is not a pushover. Nor is this an agnostic book. Though he understands as a science teacher that empirical science is unable to resolve non-empirical faith questions such as the existence of God, Shaha firmly claims the word “atheist.” This is a “deliberate attempt to use it as I think it should be used in the modern world—not as a scientific term, but as an identity label that signifies important beliefs.” It is a label with political implications; an identity Shaha takes on as a moral duty. “I feel that it is important for people like me to be ‘out,’” he writes, “because there are not enough such people from a Muslim background who are willing to be open and honest about their lack of belief in God, and this makes it difficult for young people from these communities to be who they want to be.” (I’ve likewise openly described myself as an atheist for over 20 years, though I have no particular fondness for the baggage-heavy label. When members of a distrusted minority declare themselves openly, they help to carry each other’s burden.) Moreover, though Shaha is a pluralist who defends and values everyone’s right to ask great questions and find diverging answers without shame or fear of bigotry, he is also an evangelist for his own views. He rejects the suggestion that “religious and superstitious people are simply ignorant or stupid,” but nonetheless believes that “the human race as a whole needs to outgrow religion”—or at least move beyond the more repressive forms that religion can take:

I have something in common…with religious proselytisers of all stripes. I feel that it is deeply unfair that some people may never experience the joy of knowing that they can lead a perfectly happy life, full of meaning and purpose, without God. So, despite my best efforts to be reasonable, empathetic, and understanding about religion, I cannot end this book without this simple statement: I believe that the world would be a better place if there were more atheists, if a greater proportion of the world rejected religion and embraced the view that we humans can make a better, fairer, happier world without God.

This moral intuition and sense of evangelical calling are points of difference between Alom Shaha and I. Twenty years ago I believed, as Shaha believes, that the world would be kinder and saner with more atheists; moreover, I felt that this made it a moral virtue to try to shake people out of their faiths, even if this had the unintended consequence of reinforcing negative stereotypes against atheists as hostile and intolerant. I don’t believe that anymore. Or more precisely: I don’t know whether humanity would hypothetically be better off without faith, but I’ve come to feel that denouncing and opposing religion mostly just makes the world worse—for atheists, and for everyone. Atheist activism, dominated by a confrontational anti-theism that too easily shades into anti-religious bigotry, has largely talked me out of my belief in disbelief.

My sense of alienation from movement atheism has been almost as complete as Shaha’s from Islam. There just doesn’t seem to be a place in atheism for atheists who are friendly or even merely indifferent toward other religious viewpoints. Or rather, there wasn’t until the emergence of newer, pluralism-oriented voices such as Alom Shaha’s. In these, I see atheist activists who are better positioned to challenge anti-atheist bigotry, voices who can more accurately represent atheists like me in the public square. Perhaps paradoxically, it may be just such inclusive, compassionate voices that atheist evangelists should be looking toward if they truly do wish to swell the ranks of self-identified atheists. It’s often ruefully acknowledged that only a small fraction of de facto atheists are willing to associate themselves with the term. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but I can speak to one of them: the constituency of people living without Gods is much broader and more varied than the ideological belief that religion ought to be opposed.

In speaking to this wider complexity of non-believers, The Young Atheist’s Handbook succeeds where a thousand anti-religious polemics fail: it makes me feel a rare little spark of atheist pride. By telling his tale, Alom Shaha breaks down the entrenched dichotomy between compassionate, pluralist atheism OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(“accommodationism”; Humanism) and assertive, evangelical atheism (“confrontationalism”; New Atheism). He shows us that all these can exist in the same heart. This is a testament to the power of story, the power of the personal. When he shares his hopes and sorrows with us, we share the journey of a fellow human being—as alien, as familiar, and as beautiful as any other lived life.

Daniel Loxton writes for Skeptic magazine, where he is the Editor of the kids’ section, Junior Skeptic. His books include Abominable Science! (with Donald Prothero, for Columbia University Press) and the Lane Anderson Award-winning Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be (Kids Can Press).

Where we can meet Pope Francis

May 23rd, 2013 | Posted by:

When details first emerged about Pope Francis’s liberal policies and attitude towards the nonreligious, I took a few posts to express some tentative optimism. I think recent events validate my first impression—by most accounts, Pope Francis is turning out to be pretty cool.

I don’t think anything quite so cleanly captures the new direction of the Church as the  photo above. The shift from ornate robes and traditional throne seat to Francis’s white papal robes and an unelevated, plain chair—the same chairs on the same level as given to his guests—is extraordinarily stark and compelling.

His shift to a more reserved and austere church—from denying Vatican employee their bonuses to insisting that Christians be for the poor, rather than politely discussing theology over tea[ref]I am so guilty of the secular equivalent of this like whoa.[/ref]—honestly surpasses anything I could have hoped or expected.

It seems clear that Francis is shifting his focus to the secular world, specifically to alleviating poverty and doing good works here on Earth. This is almost the picturesque example of “common ground”[ref]As overplayed the term may be[/ref] that believers can find with atheists. I often hear atheists questioning whether they’re even welcome to work with believers, and I think it’s an issue seriously worth addressing.

Pope Francis, though, has fortunately made his acceptance and, if I might be slightly bold, esteem towards nonbelievers clear. At a recent Mass, Pope Francis said the following:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

I’ll happily agree. We may not actually be redeemed by the blood of Christ, but we’re all united around our shared commitment to making the world a better place.

I often find it distressingly narrow when atheists deny any wisdom just because it comes from a religious source. I’m happy to accept that I should focus more on moral action instead of abstract discussion, even if Francis framed this in discussing churches and theology. And I’m happy to recognize that everyone—believer or atheist—is united in doing good on this Earth, even if Francis believes this comes from our shared redemption in Jesus.

We will miss the forest for the trees if we let ourselves be distracted by such petty theological differences. If there’s one thing believers and nonbelievers can share, it’s an understanding that there’s action we need to take to help other people. Props to Pope Francis for pointing that out.

EDIT: Right after I published this, I saw that Kimberly Winston wrote for Religion News Service about atheists liking Pope Francis. Check it out. 

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

Are we “getting” Islam?

May 2nd, 2013 | Posted by:

A little more than two years ago, I invited Sean Faircloth to speak to members of the Yale and New Haven nonreligious communities. At the time, he was the executive director for the Secular Coalition of America, and he struck me as one of the most compelling and persuasive political advocates for issues such as Church-State separation and countering the religious right.[ref]I should note that my opinion hasn’t changed.[/ref] He’s since published a book, Attack of the Theocrats!, and joined the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science as the Director for Strategy and Policy.

Faircloth published a lengthy essay this morning, asking “Are liberals finally going to get it this time about Islam?” The idea being the (at this point somewhat familiar) refrain that liberals ought to condemn Islam; that beliefs are not deserving of respect or protection, but rather believers; that open criticism is necessary for liberalism; and so on. Faircloth pleads, “My fellow liberals: please stop ignoring reality.”

It’s worth noting that I largely agree with Faircloth here, but the small bit where we disagree matters a lot and largely colors our respective attitudes towards Islam. There’s a subtle shift in Faircloth’s language throughout the piece, and I think this is rather emblematic of this difference. Faircloth says:

If liberals can – with great vitriol – condemn the Christian Right (as they do constantly), then liberals can treat Islam like any other ideology — because Islam is just another ideology – like the Tea Party, like the Christian Right. Islam must be subject to the same rough and tumble of ideas as is any other ideology.

And this I think is the main problem. Faircloth doesn’t discuss liberal condemnation of “conservatism” or “Christianity,” as if they were unified and broad ideologies. He references specific and narrow branches—the far right Christian radicals like the Westboro Baptist Church, or the extreme mix of misguided libertarianism and Christian theology that is the Tea Party. Faircloth is right that liberals often, and ought to, condemn these ideologies. But notice how quickly his language broadens, and how easily specific language lapses into generic language. Faricloth references Islam, not as a diverse mix of ideologies that’s often as varied as its billion-and-a-half adherents, but as one, monolithic, unified thing. 

We can very easily and conveniently talk about how the Tea Party’s policies might be anti-women, but Faircloth goes too far by suggesting that, therefore, Islam, writ large, full stop, should be the proper target of our criticism, too. As if Islam, writ large, full stop, is a violent ideology that is anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-science, anti-liberalism. Or that Islam, writ large, full stop, has been the cause of terrorist activities.

I’ve written before that one of the most blatant and troublesome aspects of Islamophobia[ref]Taken here in I guess the narrower sense—not as racism or general anti-muslim bigotry, but irrational prejudice against Islam and its adherents. I’m obviously not suggesting that all criticism of Islam is islamophobic or racist.[/ref] is that we generalize about Islam in a way we don’t with any other ideology or religion. It seems that any muslim can stand in for a radical (as we’ve seen with the FEMEN protests and Everybody Draw Muhammed Day); any behavior of a radical generalizes to the ideology of the moderates in a way that doesn’t hold in reverse (no one looks at peaceful or charitably acts by Muslims and goes on to say that they’re the result of Islam, even if they fit the same criterion Faircloth wants to apply in terms of “expressed religious motivations” following a “religious path that has become familiar”); and any behavior by radicals has to be swiftly and loudly denounced (whether or not you’re listening) by the moderates, or they’re somehow implicated in the action.

So I largely agree with Faircloth—we ought to, and very loudly, protest human rights violations by Islamic extremists. In fact, I don’t know many liberals who would disagree.[ref]I’m not interested in whether any liberal disagrees. I am sure that they exist. What I’m not convinced about is that they exist in large enough numbers to be seriously representative of what could meaningfully be called a liberal position.[/ref] But a failure to go and criticize Islam, writ large, full stop, is not moral cowardice on the part of liberals. It is not PC gone mad. And that’s I think where Faircloth gets it wrong.

It’s telling that there are only two groups of people who blame 9/11 on Islam—far right Christians and a certain brand of atheist. Few political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, liberals, or anyone else studying religion, really,[ref]I literally know of none. I say “few” to simply have some buffer, but I don’t want to understate how really rare a position this is among any serious scholar who has looked at religion and politics.[/ref] says “Islam caused 9/11.” Yet Faircloth and many other atheists present it as established fact. So why the disparity between modern scholarly thought and the anti-theist position?

It could very well be that a conspiracy-like story is true—liberals know Islam is responsible for these atrocities but don’t have the brass to say it, and the liberal academe, poisoned by postmodern multiculturalism, is too afraid to point out what atheists and Christians see so obviously. Or it could be that liberals, like me, might have a better view on Islam than atheists like Faircloth and the religious right do. It’s us who “get it” — Islam is not a broad, unified ideology; politics and social factors seem to be much more relevant in explaining suicide and terror attacks than Islam; proper criticism should be specific and not whitewash an entire ideology; and so on.

Now someone like Faircloth might sensibly object that Islam as an ideology, writ large, full stop, is to blame for these things. That the commonalities in the ideology shared by all 1.5 billion Muslims on Earth is the problem. Now they might have trouble squaring that with contemporary scholarly thought on the topic, but it’s a fair point they could make. But note that this isn’t a conversation about moral courage anymore, or whether criticism of Islam is islamophobic, or whether liberals need to be consistent. This conversation isn’t about when liberals will finally come around to reality (or why they might be hesitant to), but instead about what reality is. Disagreements are about the nature of Islam—if there can even coherently be one—and what the proper attitude we should take towards that is.

And there, I think, Faircloth falls somewhat short. Faircloth mentions some statistics (and there are some good ones coming out of this recent Pew survey), and references a few cases of terrorism, but I’ve gone on long enough for this post. I’m not convinced and I’ll address them shortly in a follow-up.

I’d just like to note[ref]For like, the fifth time. I really don’t want to understate how great Sean is.[/ref] that I think Faircloth and I agree a lot, and I don’t mean to imply that I think he’s racist, or bigoted, or that his motives are insincere. Faircloth is largely right: liberals should condemn anti-liberal practices and policies, and this includes swaths of radical Islam. But whether Islam is an appropriate target for that condemnation is unclear to me, and I haven’t seen a good case for it yet.

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

Casual Islamophobia Roundup 4/25

April 25th, 2013 | Posted by:

It’s not generally that surprising to see a steady current of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry and animus, especially following the discovery that two Chechen brothers were behind the Boston bombing.

So in keeping with the spirit of my roundup of all the awful responses to the Boston bombing, allow me to look at another week in Islamophobia.

A blog at The Telegraph argues that there was no real backlash against Muslims in the wake of the Boston bombing, and that people who were concerned were the real bigots.

Time and again, Left-leaning campaigners and observers respond to terror attacks in the West by panicking about the possibly racist response of Joe Public – and time and again, their fears prove ill-founded and Joe Public proves himself a more decent, tolerant person than they give him credit for. What this reveals is that liberal concern over Islamophobia, liberal fretting about anti-Muslim bigotry, is ironically driven by a bigotry of its own, by an deeply prejudiced view of everyday people as hateful and stupid.

As a nice counterpoint, feel free to read this compelling account of Muslims in Boston following the bombing.

Ann Coulter also recently went on the Sean Hannity show to argue that women who wear the hijab ought to be imprisonedRaw Story reports:

“I don’t care if [the widow of the Boston bomber] knew about [the attack],” Coulter said. “She ought to be in prison for wearing a hijab. This immigration policy of us, you know, assimilating immigrants into our culture isn’t really working. They’re assimilating us into their culture. Did she get a clitorectomy too?”

Hannity seemed momentarily puzzled at the sudden citation of female genital mutilation, stammering his reply. “I, uh, I don’t know the answer to that,” he said before confidently adding: “But your point is well taken.”

She went on to use the attacks as a further excuse to criticize U.S. immigration policy. Forget “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

“Our immigration policy has nothing to do with helping America,” Coulter insisted. “It has to do with solving the internal problems of other countries. We’ll take Russia’s radicals. We’ll take the illiterate, unskilled, low-skill workers from all these countries. We’ll take their old people and put them on our supplemental security and Medicare. No, immigration policies are supposed to make your country better, not to make it worse and to create all these problems.”

In other news, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) suggested that we might bar young Muslims from receiving visas. And former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wants us to monitor the Muslim community. Fox News host Eric Bolling called Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) “very dangerous” and the “Muslim apologist in Congress.” He went on to advocate the profiling of Muslims.

Bill O’Reily would like to know why Obama didn’t condemn Islam right after the bombing. Both he and Andrew Sullivan were quick to immediately peg radical Islam as the motivation behind the attack, despite a lack of any real information at the time. Glenn Greenwald, in a great column, wryly notes:

The New York Times today reports that “United States officials said they were increasingly certain that the two suspects had acted on their own, but were looking for any hints that someone had trained or inspired them.” It also reports that “The FBI is broadening its global investigation in search of a motive.” There’s no reason for the FBI to search for a motive. They should just go talk to Andrew Sullivan. He already found it.

Representative Peter King (R-NY), the man behind the 2010 “radicalization hearings,” advocated for “increased surveillance” of Islamic communities in the U.S. He said the “new threat is definitely from within.” The New York Times has a great Op-Ed on the topic.

I argued on the BBC’s World Have Your Say, that, rather than Islam, we’re better off looking to the Aurora shootings or the Newton Massacre to understand what caused the bombing. Dispatches from the Underclass agrees, and further explores the double standards we have towards attacks aimed at civilians.

On a positive note, more great blogs from The New York Times. Friend of the blog Hind Makki argues that fighting for or against the hijab is distracting.

A headscarf doesn’t tell me anything about a particular woman’s access to medical care for herself or her children. An uncovered head doesn’t tell me anything about a woman’s access to legal recourse if she is sexually assaulted. A piece of cloth does not tell me how safe a woman feels in her society to protest her political leaders, enjoy a night out with friends or choose her own spouse.

And on the topic, still from the Times, Murtaza Hussain argues that it is arrogant to ignore Muslim women.

Lastly, for everyone complaining that moderate Muslims don’t speak out against the actions of radicals, have you really tried listening?

UPDATE: I think I might try to make this a somewhat regular feature. To any readers who come across particularly awful content online, feel free to tweet it my way (@vladchituc)

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

I’ll be discussing the recent controversy surrounding FEMEN for HuffPost Live tonight, and I’m pretty excited to share my perspective. You may recall that I thought they were unequivocally on the right side of the issue, though their execution was lacking (to put it lightly). You can read the column I wrote on the topic here (NPS version) and here (HuffPo religion version).

You can watch me live tonight at 7:30 P.M. Eastern Time, 4:30 Pacific. The link will end up on the internet eventually if you’re busy then.

Also feel free to leave me advice or words of encouragement below. Not because I’m nervous or anything.

Update: Looks like it fell through last minute, sorry for anyone who might have been looking forward to or were interested in my appearance. Read my silly not-at-all bitter account here.

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.