Dialogue with Islam? No thanks!

Having now written three negative posts about particular Muslims, I was hoping that this one would be a lot more positive. I had high expectations of a gathering initiated by the Dialogue with Islam organisation and co-hosted by the Central London Humanist group. On its website Dialogue with Islam appears to be a well-intentioned initiative whose declared sole aim is to “provide a bridge of understanding and discussion between the Western Intellectuals and the Muslim community in Britain”. The website features quotes from a few high-profile journalists and politicians giving the impression that, thanks to Dialogue with Islam, valuable and constructive discussions were taking place from which we could all learn something.

As a result of the meeting I attended — a precious hour and a half of my life that I’ll never get back — I have resolved, firstly, not to bother attending any more CHG meetings that are addressed by religous speakers and, secondly, to join the National Secular Society.

The event was a debate between humanist philosopher, Nigel Warburton and Hamza Andreas Tzortzis who, like his friend Adam Deen,  about whom I have written two posts already, describes himself as an ‘intellectual activist’. And like Adam Deen, it’s hard to imagine anyone less intellectual.

Listening to him speak, it soon dawned on me that of the three following possibilities, one was definitely true:

1. Adam Deen has adopted Andreas Tzortzis as his mentor and copies everything he says and does.
2. Andreas Tzortzis has adopted Adam Deen as his mentor and copies everything he says does.
3. Deen and Tzortzis are both products of some sinister cloning process.

I’m inclined towards the third option. If they are not literally clones, they do appear to have undergone some kind of redaction programme that has cruelly stripped them of whatever critical thinking skills they might have possessed and programmed them to spout the exact same nonsense in the exact same way. As I have already written extensively about Adam Deen, I’m tempted just to point readers to my posts about him with the advice that everything I wrote about Deen applies equally to Tzortzis.

One of the strategies of the How to claim to be a Muslim intellectual activist and keep a straight face! training programme undergone by both Tzortsis and Deen is to quote-mine extensively from just about anyone as long as they sound vaguely important. Tzortzis took this strategy very seriously and rolled out one quote after another in quickfire succession. No doubt many of these quotes were very interesting but, as he rattled them off so quickly, I’ve no idea what any of them were or who said them. This hardly matters because the object of the exercise, of course, is simply to give the impression that the speaker has actually read widely and understands his material. Nobody was fooled (except, perhaps, the small number of Muslims in the audience) and, as someone pointed out, anybody can find quotes to support their point of view but they do not an argument make. I’m sure these speakers are fully aware that a live debate is different from an academic essay and that quotes and statistics are lost on a live audience.

The debate topic on this occasion was, Is Religion A Force For Good Or Evil?. In the merficfully short time he had available, Tzortzis referred to several “fallacious claims against religion” and presented what he presumably thought was a watertight rebuttal of each of them. For example, against the “fallacious claim” that religion is divisive, he argued that “Islam preaches tolerance and compassion”. So the Islamists I had witnessed bullying and harassing people at the Conway Hall the previous evening (see my last post) were not being aggressive thugs, they were being tolerant and compassionate. Their leader, who criticised British society for being “dirty” and had previously defended the murderers who bombed London in July 2005 and blew 52 innocent people to bits is undoubtedly a very tolerant and compassionate man. He just got bad publicity, right?

On the “fallacious claim” that religion causes violence, Tzortzis simply argued that secular ideologies had been the source of more violence. Personally, I’m not aware that anybody  has ever denied the violence perpetrated in pursuit of communism or whatever but  highlighting it does not address the very real issue of people being blown up because they happened to be born in a different culture and were raised worshipping a different version of the sky-daddy or none at all. As the very tolerant and compassionate Anjem Choudary said of the 7/7 bombings:

At the end of the day, when we say “innocent people” we mean “Muslims”. As far as non-Muslims are concerned, they have not accepted Islam. As far as we are concerned, that is a crime against God.

You can’t get much more tolerant or compassionate than that now, can you?

Tzortzis also  helpfully pointed out that there were statistics to show that religious believers were happier and gave more to charity and who can argue with statistics? What he singularly failed to address was the question of all the horrible things done in the name of religion. In fact, he seemed to be in denial about them. When they were raised by Warburton and by members of the audience he dismissed them as “presuppositions”. A question from an audience member asking that if religion is not to blame for the bad things done in its name, how can it take credit for the good things, was also ignored.

As with the Andrew Copson v Adam Deen debate, it was apparent that Warburton and Tzortzis were unable to get on the same page. Warburton had obviously gone anticipating genuine dialogue to take place, Tzortzis had gone there simply to preach. Warburton was later criticised by some humanists there as being far too conciliatory but I don’t particularly agree with this criticism. Warburton talked intelligently and stayed focussed. At the very outset he said he thought the debate topic was a false dichotomy, that there were some benefits and some negative consequences of religion and that not all religions were the same. But he didn’t pull his punches when listing the vile things that religious people do: child abuse, the murder of  Theo Van Gogh, genital mutilation of women, homophobia all got mentioned but Tzortzis simply wasn’t prepared to acknowledge that these have anything to do with religion and as long as religious people try to slither out of facing up to them, there can be no useful dialogue with them.

Certainly nothing useful came of that meeting and feedback from those attending was uniformly negative. A few examples:

Has Tzortsis never heard the famous phrase “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”? Warburton didn’t take the easy ‘religion=evil’ stance, but I felt that his conciliatory approach was lost under the bludgeon of Tzortsis’ simplistic ‘religion=good’ version of Islam….The meeting ended with one member of the audience virtually equating homosexuality and paedophilia and whilst I understand Warburton’s answer that we should debate these ideas rather than rely on dogma, I felt this questioner was let off lightly, and his unpleasant ‘slippery slope logic’ left unquestioned and unchallenged.

The 6 young muslims sat next to me, who seem to have been there at Tzortzis request, appeared to pay no attention to the debate but managed to time their homophobic and ill-informed islamic propoganda statements perfectly to avoid any serious challenge. I can only applaude Nigel Warburton for attempting to answer, and was equal not surprised to notice Tzortzis make no attempt to challenge them. It was disappointing to see someone of Tzortzis apparent distorted views allowed a platform in this group and more so to have allowed the representative of Dialogue with Islam to wander around taking photos until my partner challenged him.

The Muslim speaker preached more than he debated. Guaranteed to make hackles rise, but this was, after all, a dialogue with Islam. We surely weren’t surprised by the dogmatic assertions and claims to objective truth mystically secreted in obscure quotations…

Indeed, I wasn’t surprised that during the discussion period Tzortzis lost the plot, went off-topic and starting parroting the same poppycock about objective morality so beloved by Adam Deen (and the Christian evangelist William Lane Craig, whose exact turns of phrase Deen likes to emulate). The Deen/Tzortzis indoctrination programmme sees the issue of objective morality as a kind of virility test. As I said in another post,

In Adam’s view, if you aren’t prepared to nail your colours to the mast and declare child abuse, say, to be objectively morally wrong, then you are effectively saying that it might be OK in certain circumstances. Therefore, however decent and moral we seem, at heart we are no better than child abusers.

They think that believing in God as a source of objective morality keeps you on the right track, whereas those of us who realise that  morality is a product of human nature and experience will point to the monstrous things done by religionists in the name of their religion as giving the lie to that notion, only to hear religionists deny these things have anything to do with religion. And so we reach deadlock. End of dialogue, such as it was.

Everything Tzortzis said, I could take with a pinch of salt until the point when he started telling us that our views were “inconsistent with an atheist viewpoint”, an accusation he repeated several times evidently without realising quite how ignorant and pompous it made him sound. Just like Adam Deen, Tzortzis is simply not interested in hearing in what humanists think or believe. Their indoctrination programme has told him what the “atheist position” is and what we actually say can be safely disregarded.

In case anyone thinks I’m overplaying the similarities between Tzortzis and Deen, consider this: In my second post on Adam Deen, I said that Deen sneeringly pointed out that, according to atheists, “human beings are just the accidental by-products of an evolutionary process”. Tzortzis said exactly the same thing. He used the same words and the same tone. In that other post I quoted Deen as saying, “when a fighter bomber bombs an entire community and a whole community is killed, all that’s really happened on an atheistic perspective is a realignment of molecules.” Again, Tzortzis said exactly the same thing. Bloody hell, they’ve got a script! Shouldn’t someone whisper to them that to qualify as an intellectual, you actually need to be an original thinker not a mindless moron that parrots empty arguments that a child can refute?

I deeply regret not just walking out the minute Tzortzis decided to start insulting us in this way and the implication that atheists don’t see people as anything more than a block of molecules is about as insulting as anyone can get though Tzortzis is evidently too lacking in human empathy and understanding to appreciate this. That was an hour and a half of my life I wasted listening to someone who wouldn’t know a rational argument if one sat on his face and sang ‘Hello Dolly’. But the worst thing is that I declined to attend a demonstration for human rights outside the Iranian Embassy because I really wanted to have this “diaologue” with Islam.

I’ll know better in future. 🙁

Some recommended websites:

Council of ex-Muslims

IslamWatch

FaithFreedom.org

And here’s an interesting post from another blogger who’s met Tzortsis: More than I could chew?

14 thoughts on “Dialogue with Islam? No thanks!”

  1. I was at the debate, and Tzortzis did say “this doesnt mean that atheists do not have moral or display moral behaviour, and he emphasised the words, ‘I am talking about this conceptually’.” Please be honest. I agree with some of the things you said but dont spoil it by twisting what happened.

  2. Furthermore, if you were attentive to what he said he was providing evidence from peer reviewed journals, academic journals and handbooks of sociology by well respected academics. He did this not to provide his opinions inorder be more subjective and have a nuanced discussion. Nigel was too laid back in that he didnt substantiate any of his claims and played with the audience’s stereotypes on religion. Nigel was just providing his subjective opinions with no evidence, unlike Tzortzis.

  3. Fazzamin, you don’t seem to get the point about quote-mining in live debates and I don’t know how to make it any simpler. At the same time, I’m struggling to see what your point is. So he was talking “conceptually”. So what?

    Love the way you (and Tzortzis) simply dismiss people’s ideas as religion on “stereotypes” in spite of the fact that we were speaking from our real-life experiences. Kind of confirms what I said about the lack of basic human empathy.

  4. You seem to be selective in peoples responses, are you doing this to be unbalanced in your view? It looks like. Why didn’t you quote this review:

    Comment was made by Oya (an atheist by the way):

    “I was very disappointed by the poor standard of this so-called “debate”. Contrary to other comments I thought the case for ‘religion as a good force’ was made very well – although with well-known cliche statements. But there was no argument for the opposite view at all. The speaker was almost apologizing for the use of the term ‘evil’ and said that religion could be good and bad and there were differences amongst religions. Well, what was the purpose of having a debate then? We could just have listened to the Muslim speaker and asked him questions. And, when two of his feeble examples for the ‘evil’ force were completely shattered by religionists (9/11 and paedophile priest cliches) he accepted defeat immediately and praised the worth of dialogue so that people (meaning himself presumably) could change their views. As a life-long atheist I was very embarrassed. ”

  5. Sabena

    You seem to be labouring under a misapprehension: This is not a BBC news website, it’s a personal blog where I express my personal opinions. I am no more obliged to be ‘balanced’ than Tzortzis is. In any event, I thought my sentence, “Warburton was later criticised by some humanists there as being far too conciliatory but I don’t particularly agree with this criticism”, was actually pretty generous given that Oya appears to be in a minority of one.

    I don’t know why you think I should quote her in full when her main point was that Warburton wasn’t aggressively atheist enough but I trust you have levelled the same criticism of selective quoting at Tzortzis, who seems to have perfected it to a fine art?

  6. so why u still make dialoge with Sabena Akhtar n Fazzamin Huda????? im confused with ur title thread but u still discusiun. duuhhh
    dont answer my question.just say no thanks.

  7. hanieef

    You seem to have trouble both writing and comprehending English and I sense it isn’t your first language.

    Let me clarify:

    As I say in the first paragraph, Tzortsis was representing an organisation called ‘Dialogue with Islam’. As a result of listening to Tzortsis spout his nonsense, it is the organisation I am saying ‘no thanks’ to.

    I don’t regard everyone with a Muslim name as a representative of Islam. I treat them as individuals expressing a point of view and I respond accordingly.

    Got it now?

  8. Re William Lane Craig, he is an interesting and genuine philosopher with wacky conclusions, not quite in the same boat as Tzortzis et al. Skepticat, I would be interested to know what you actually think on the God question – are you atheist, agnostic or what? Maybe we could work out some agreed arguments to combat the theists – over eg so-called objective morality, the burden of proof being on the believers, etc

  9. the video from Bill Craig – I think Dawkins deals with this confusing language the theists always use about chance and huge improbabilities. The alternative explanation to God’s “design” for the evolution of life is not “chance” but natural selection according to principles of biological causation which are now well understood. Chance surely does not even exist as a real thing – it is an epistemological term indicating one’s lack of knowlege of the causes of a particular phenomenon. Skepticat – I have hopefully signed onto the site you mention and am awaiting an email; maybe I will buy you a virtual drink some time. Keep up the good work and best wishes to all godless goodies.

  10. in a word, no, but I tried, and it is definitely the right place if you mean the right site – I never find these sites that easy to join, and why does one have to go thru the rigmarole anyway? (I even use my own name, dammit, rather than a pseudonym). I will try again – I can see you’re thirsty for that drink.

  11. Dear Skepticat – seeing again your comment about Hamza T. and his use of the word “fallacy” reminds me of how often he uses this word. Have you seen the video of his debate with a woman philosophy professor at the American University of Beirut? I cannot remember her name, but she was clever and funny, and she took the piss out of HT by remarking that “fallacy” was one of his favourite words. Pseuds of all kinds will never use a short word, like “wrong”, if a longer one will do.

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