The BBC reports from Bangladesh: “Up to half a million Hefazat-e-Islam supporters gathered in the city, where rioters set fire to shops and vehicles…Chanting “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is greatest!”) and “One point! One demand! Atheists must be hanged”, the activists marched down at least six main roads as they headed for Motijheel”.
Half a million. Half a million! Protests after the Dhaka building collapse reached twenty thousand, yet here, for what really matters, are half a million.
What does it say, when less people protested the deaths of over 650 labourers in desperately unsafe working conditions, than march calling for the execution of their fellow countrymen for being atheists? What does this say about priorities, about the distortion of morality, and how have we got here?
Is it not possibly the case that contributing to this desperate display of inhumanity is a religious text that holds lack of belief, above all else, to be the worst possible crime? A text in which the sacrifice of hundreds of lives for profit is forgiveable, but lack of belief in a particular god is not? Does a text that obsesses on the endless torture of non-believers, that goes to great lengths to distance, denigrate and other those who aren’t monotheists, not bare some of the responsibility when hundreds of thousands are more enraged by others holding a contrary opinion than by the suffering of the hundreds killed and thousands injured in the Dhaka building collapse? Must this always be blamed on culture, on politics, on circumstances, must the central ideology always be protected from due criticism and apportioned blame?
And yet I am still asked, regularly, “how can you be moral if you don’t believe?” More suitable would be the retort, how can you be moral if you really do?
Guest post by Wael Alkel. Wael is an admin for the Syrian Atheists Facebook page.
It’s not new for me and Syrians like me to feel alienated in our own country. Throughout the years we have struggled with a conservative society in which concepts like free speech, gender equality and civil rights are partly rejected by most of the people. That being said, Syrians were generally moderate and tolerant in comparison to most neighbours in the Middle East and despite my alienation I never for once looked down at my fellow Syrians as inferior or less human.
Syria was ruled for the last forty years by the Assad family,who came to power via a military coup and installed a brutal dictatorship that robbed the people of basic rights and liberties, plunging the country into police state corruption. The Assad family came from a very poor Muslim minority called the Alawites. Alawites are a fraction of the Shiite sect of Islam. To bluntly summarize the origins of this sectarian divide among Muslims, it all started after Mohammad’s death, when his cousin and son-in-law Ali, along with Mohammad’s daughter Fatima and their sons Hassan and Hussein, entered into a dispute over power with Mohammad’s wife Aisha and his best buddies Abu Bakir and Muawiyah ibn ʾAbī Sufyān. The conflict ended with the latter team getting into power, their supporters became what is known as the Sunni sect while Ali’s supporters became what is known as the Shiite sect. The conflict never really ended and over a thousand years later they are still fighting that outdated battle, with Iran playing the role of leadership for the Shiites and Saudi Arabia playing the same role for the Sunnis . They have been engaged in a sort of cold war style conflict by fuelling sectarian strife in other countries, including Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen and now Syria.
Anyway back to Syria, where the Sunni majority and Alawitesminority have been coexisting in harmony for years. As soon as the Assad family came to power it used the existing sectarian divide to ensure it remained thereby appointing over 90% of all army officers (especially the high ranking ones)from the Alawite minority, in addition to filling the key positions and presidential inner circle with Alawites as well. The regime worked hard to incite fear of what the Sunnis would do to minorities if they ever came to power, while keeping the majority of Alawites in poverty to retain control overthem. In 2011, the Arab spring knocking down one dictator after another inspired the Syrian people to revolt against the regime. Thousands of Syrians from all religions, sects, and ethnicities marched in the streets in peaceful protest demanding freedom, democracy and the end of Assad’s tyranny. There are no words to explain the joy I felt marching with them for the promise of a new,better Syria. I looked with disgust at those who justified the dictatorship in fear of extremism and sectarianism. They all gave the example of the brutal Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein who managed to keep the lid on sectarian hate in Iraq with an iron fist, before it erupted after his downfall, claiming thousands of lives. But that was not acceptable to me, knowing that this man dropped chemical weapons on his own people, murdering tens or even hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds without discrimination. Somehow the concept of accepting the lesser of the two evils looked so evil in itself.
The Assad regime never wasted time or gave diplomacy the slightest chance; it immediately started a harsh crack down on the demonstrators, shooting live ammo at peaceful protesters and soon enough even bombing and shelling rural demonstrations in an effort to quell the revolution. The killing continued in a monstrous and sectarian fashion, targeting the Sunni population specifically, in efforts to turn the revolution into a sectarian civil war so that the regime could convince the Alawite minority that it is fighting for their protection from impending slaughter. In the stench of death rose up religious extremism as, in their helplessness, people started seeking the help of god and the comfort of believing in a better life awaiting those who were stolen from this one. The Syrian secret service focused its efforts on the utter destruction of any Alawite opposition, which wasn’t hard as some of the sectarian fuelled Islamist Sunni opposition began to shun them, accusing them of being an extension of the regime for merely belonging to a minority that too suffered injustice under Assad’s rule. One massacre after another left every Syrian with horrific images of slaughtered civilians, children, women and the elderly. An unrivalled display of inhumanity and sectarian bigotry sent shocking waves of sadness and anger, claiming every drop of compassion and mercy from everyone who bared witness to the atrocity.
Soon enough the peaceful protests ended, only to be replaced by a rebellion of armed, mostly Islamist, militias, first started by army defectors who refused to shoot civilians but later, thanks in part to Saudi petrodollars, infused with foreign Jihadi elements.
With every massacre people got more and more sectarian. To most Alawites these children who are slaughtered are being killed so that their children may live, while to Sunnis these dead children are the justification for the killing of the Alawite’s children once the regime is toppled. Who pays the price for this never ending circle of hate, prejudice and bigotry? Innocent children, of both sides, these children who were born merely human, not Sunni, Alawite or even Muslim to begin with, they were born pure and untainted with our savage differences posed by our irrational beliefs.
People have gotten so sectarian and hateful that I started to abstain from talking about politics with them in real life. Now, as I browse through Facebook and Youtube all I see in the top comments are promises to annihilate a sect without mercy. My greatest disgust was when I saw a comment made on a Facebook status of a secular revolutionary activist, who said that justice is to punish those who committed murder, regardless of their sect. This particular comment had over two hundred likes, surpassing all others on the above mentioned status, and it said“sorry but it themes that you didn’t suffer yourself from the loss of a child slaughter with machete then disfigured with rocks and feet. They very few Alawites who aided the revolution will be spared but the others will be killed along with their children to answer for their crimes against our sect”. I kept wondering in my head, how could two hundred people cheer for this horrific vengeance disguised as a perverted sense of justice?
It is safe to say that the majority of Syrians think in that sense today. Never did I feel alienated from all of them this way. They all now feel like hordes of Daleks (hateful aliens in the popular Sci-Fi series Doctor Who), full of fear and hate, shouting “EXTERMINATE…EXTERMINATE”. It saddens me to see every drop of humanity in them consumed by a war that has claimed the lives of over 80,000 people, and yet I fear what they will inflict upon everyone else in the days to come.
Once we were a home to some of the greatest civilizations humanity ever witnessed, we walked tall with our people’s innovation, science,philosophy, medicine and art. We gave safe refuge to hundreds of nations and cultures that fled to our land. We were the center of the old world and the hub for world trade. Our land was invaded countless times yet always welcomed and assimilated the invaders into its own complex mix of cultures. How could we shame such proud history with hate, and anger? How could we let religious myth poison our hearts and minds? Fuck your gods for if they are not false they stood idle watching tens of thousands of innocent lives suffer and die. Fuck Ali, Fatima, Hassan, Hussein, Aisha, Abu Bakir, Muawiyah and all Mohammad’s motherfucking companions, for they are no different from Assad, causing the death of people just so that they can cling to power. These corrupt power-seekers have been herding you like cattle for thousands of years, turning brothers against each other and all their heads combined are not worth a single hair from the head of an innocent child.
Here we stand, the very few human survivors on the new planet of Dalek Syria, calling out for help from the rest of the world. French archaeologist André Parrot once said “every civilized man has two home lands, his motherland and Syria”. Whoever you are, and wherever you are, in the name of the humanity we share, help us save the cradle of civilization from complete destruction and its people from devastating civil war. Raise awareness of the brutal crimes of the regime and demand international military intervention, before this spins further out of control into a fountain of death and suffering.
(Many thanks to Christopher Roche for editing and proof reading)