Book Review: “Arabs without God: Atheism and Freedom of Belief in the Middle East” by Brian Whitaker

Dec 20, 2014

By Yemen Times

Since the start of the Arab Spring, atheism has become a growing social phenomenon in the region, with an increasing presence on social media outlets. In his timely book, Arabs without God, Brian Whitaker, British journalist and former Middle East editor at The Guardian, explores this rarely studied but recurrent phenomenon in the Arab world. Juxtaposing the new wave of atheism with existing social and political discourses in the region, Whitaker highlights the complexities of this intellectual revolution, while also presenting possible solutions for its accommodation in a part of the globe known for its religiosity.

Losing Religion and Choosing the Self

Social alienation also drives some Arabs, especially women and homosexuals, to reject religion. In his book, Whitaker navigates the ways in which patriarchy, familial discrimination, as well as social marginalization, push women and homosexuals away from their religion.

On their road to non-belief, women and homosexuals each develop a unique set of characteristics, expressing their private feelings within tightly guarded circles of trust while mirroring social expectations in public. For example, Whitaker’s book contains examples from ex-Muslim women and homosexuals who felt comfortable sharing their non-belief with selected immediate family members, while continuing to superficially display their religious affiliations.

Whitaker attributes this unique identity formation to two things. The first has to do with the “comfort factor,” which encourages those who are insecure to seek religion, or the pretense of religion, for protection from harassment or persecution. The second has to do with “faith plasticity,” which involves “reshaping orthodox concepts of God and faith to fit their needs.”


 

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8 comments on “Book Review: “Arabs without God: Atheism and Freedom of Belief in the Middle East” by Brian Whitaker

  • I have had a lot more contact with Muslims that most Canadians. One of the things that struck me was what counts is your public behaviour, not what you actually think. So for example you must publicly go along with the official view that there are djinn — evil spirits, but probably most Canadian Muslims don’t actually believe in them.

    You can have gay sex, but you must be very discreet. The unforgivable sin would be to challenge the official notion that is it very wicked. The challenging or implied challenging is why they “behead” you.

    So things are not quite as bleak as you might think. Much of the work in rationalising is already done in winning hearts and minds.



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  • On their road to non-belief, women and homosexuals each develop a
    unique set of characteristics, expressing their private feelings
    within tightly guarded circles of trust while mirroring social
    expectations in public.

    Chuck in those who drink alcohol, gamble, visit ‘models’ and maybe even have an odd ‘ham’burger and you just about got everyone. 😉



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  • As an Arab & Non-believer although I believe religion has a big bad influence in here but leaving it won’t make a big difference.

    Traditions and science illiteracy, poverty and the terrible political freedoms the bigger slice of the blame. I do realize that almost all are related but the whole thing isn’t helping much.

    Before leaving god it will be really nice to have better schools.



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  • @OP – Since the start of the Arab Spring, atheism has become a growing social phenomenon in the region, with an increasing presence on social media outlets.

    “Arab Spring” – There’s propagandist a misnomer if ever I saw one!

    Arabs without God may have increased in numbers, but dangerous fundamentalist Arabs and others “with their god”, have proliferated in numbers and influence, since the “repressive regimes” which kept them in check, have been undermined and overthrown: – largely under the influence and intervention of inept, interfering, foreign powers.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-30573385



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  • I had thought of the ultimate values (if any) the terrorist nations might effect, and it is unlikely that they leave none. The Islamic nation has produced a homophobic, male dominated, and intolerant society. With their murderistic phobias of the beliefs of other sects, even those in their own religion, they surely make even the most devout Muslims contemplate the validity of the religious dogma they have been force-fed all their lives. In light of the terrorist lot’s lack of concern for the lives of women, children, and anyone not of their religious clan, the Taliban, ISIS, etc. may be helping to nurture in a new world view of God (or the lack of). If life on earth becomes diminished to a point worse than anyone’s worst vision of hell, how can the concept of a God be sustained? A terrorist thinks little of placing explosives in areas that might detonate and kill innocent people. The rationale is that if they are “religious” their lives are insignificant because they will go to paradise. An atheist is likely to see all life as finite on this earth, and therefore sacred. He or she would never indiscriminately jeopardize another’s life. This fact alone must surely influence many of radical faiths.



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  • 7
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    In light of the terrorist lot’s lack of concern for the lives of women, children, and anyone not of their religious clan, the Taliban, ISIS, etc. may be helping to nurture in a new world view of God (or the lack of).

    That’s an interesting thought and hopefully it does play a role among the thoughtful and intellectually honest Muslims. But many non-violent devout Muslims, ex-Muslims and non-Muslims adopt the rationale that the acts and behavior of fundamentalists and Jihadists have nothing to do with the Islamic religion and religious dogma.

    To me, that is like saying that the violence perpetrated during the Spanish inquisition and the Crusades had nothing to do with Catholicism and its dogma. All religions deeply permeate the cultures and values of the people in the places where they have taken root. Beliefs and values guide one’s actions. It’s that simple and I still can’t fathom why so many otherwise smart, educated people can’t or simply refuse to see that.



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  • NTDWI— nothing to do with islam– has been the meme of ‘moderate muslims’ and
    Cameron, Obama & others.
    As it becomes ever more self- evidently ridiculous, another is gaining popularity; the
    INSANITY DEFENCE. Invoked in the Sydney Lindt siege and several ‘Allahu Akbar’ cases
    in France where devout muslims ran down pedestrians using vehicles [as advocated by IS].

    “These people must be mad”… BULLSH**



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