Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Atheists Should Be More Like Hamas

Two many Gods.
(Yes, it's a joke.)

Hamas, the Sunni terrorist organization that runs the Gaza strip, has a lot to teach the atheist movement.

No, it's not that atheists need to have an armed militia like Hamas.

No, it's not shooting sub par rockets into enemy territory. (Though the idea of lobbing a few missiles at the Creation Museum while everyone is at church does seem appealing.)

Hamas does charity work, a lot of charity work. I was reading through this week's Economist (August 27th-
September 2nd 2011) and came across a book review on Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: engaging the Islamist Social Sector.  
Few would expect an Islamic charity to offer workshops on sexuality and ways for disabled people to improve their sex lives. But the al-Wafa hospital in Gaza has been providing this service for years, and it is hardly atypical. Many assume that Islamic charities are “merely a guise for promoting terrorism”, writes Sara Roy, a Middle East scholar at Harvard. In her new book about social services in Gaza, based on trips to the strip over the past 15 years, she argues that the reality is more complex.
We atheists typically pride ourselves on being a rational lot. However, if we were going to be judged by the often clumsy attempts to act as a group one walks away with the realization that we are anything but rational. What use is it to understand Occam's Razor or Russell's teapot if radical Christians take over all three branches of the federal government? Sure, you may be very popular on the Secularized Ghetto Talking Tour but that will be cold comfort, to say the least. Hamas has certainly used its armed militia (just ask Fatah, who Hamas kicked out of Gaza), but it has won many Palestinian hearts and minds through a soft touch.
The social work that Hamas does has certainly empowered the organisation. But Ms Roy argues that this indirect appeal for votes “is very different from mobilising people into collective action in support of an activist Islamist agenda”. It is not as if Hamas uses its social institutions to launch political or military activities, she adds.
This is the pay off from localized charity work. People like you. They support you because you help feed, clothe and educate them.

Now, many atheists may wring their hands and say Atheism has nothing to do with helping people! It is simply not believing in God(s). Once again Hamas has something to teach us.
When Ms Roy began conducting research in Gaza 25 years ago, she found little popular support for a political agenda built on Islam. A determined secular streak runs through Palestinian society, she maintains. Rather than Palestinians becoming more Islamist, “Hamas has had to broaden its definition of Islam and ‘Muslimness’ in order to claim and maintain as large a number of adherents as possible.” As a movement that is political at heart, not religious, Hamas has been forced to “de-ideologise” Islam and appeal to more practical needs to ensure its political survival.
Hamas acted pragmatically and they reaped the rewards -- voters at the polls. We too need to broaden what atheism means culturally in order not to get rolled over by the Christo-fascists.

Learning from our enemies is the rational thing to do.

This is Purgatory.

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