An Open Letter to Xenophobic Atheists

Some of you have just jumped the shark. In the name of reason, you promote unreasonable hatred. You use trumped up “data” to support a fascistic disdain for humans outside of your tribe. You embrace the superstitious, xenophobic, and tribalistic thinking you rail against so frequently.

I know some of you to be very intelligent, compassionate people in your daily lives. Yet you are telling those of us who dare to suggest that ISIS does not comprise all of Islam that we are supporting ISIS. You fail to distinguish between supporting human rights for Muslims and supporting the terrorism of some Muslims. You have now failed at rational thought. You have now failed at humanity. It’s frankly disappointing. If you can’t see the difference between demanding freedom for Muslims and supporting terrorism, go back to school.

My favourites are those of you who wheel out the one and only quote from Marx  you’ve ever managed to learn–“Religion is the opium of the masses”–to support the disenfranchisement of religious people. Fail. Here is the quote in context, for those of you who couldn’t be bothered to discover it on your own:

“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Does this sound like the legitimization of anti-religious bigotry? If it does, you’re tone deaf and need to level up on your reading comprehension skills.

Stop a minute. Think. For once in the past few days, or for once since you started intellectually fellating Sam Harris and his ilk, put the brain you have to work and consider WHY it is that people would need an opium. Why would you tell someone who is oppressed that their “sigh” is the problem? That is what you are doing. You are telling people who suffer, “The symptoms of your suffering are the root cause of all the earth’s suffering.”

You’d apparently rather them die in their chains–or even murder them therein–than remove the root cause of their reliance upon religion. Well, guess what? Eradicate religion, and the world will still suffer from communal violence. Eradicate the opium, and the oppressed will find the next best thing to put in its place. From what I’ve seen of a fair number of you, that will be a braying slavishness to ersatz rationality and genteel atheism. There will still be wars. There will still be terror. What will you say the cause is, then? Will you at last awaken to the fact that class antagonisms and purposeful dispossession of workers, accompanied by rampant militarism and nationalism, are at the root of the world’s agonies?

I have been accused this past week of supporting terrorism because I refuse to conflate ISIS with all of Islam. I’ve been told that I deserve to be deported. That’s the least threatening “should be.” I have also been told that I deserved to be tortured and sexually assaulted. I’ve been called a “treasonous bitch” and a traitor. I have been told that I should give ISIS a big high-five for the Paris attacks.

I find it remarkable that many of the people saying such things take umbrage when I respond to these extraordinarily offensive statements (and can anything be more offensive than suggesting that someone wishes terror upon innocent people?).  Call them ignorant–which they are–and they immediately fall prey to the paroxysms of their wounded vanity.   “Character assassination!”they cry. “Ad hominem attack!”

These, the very same people who just moments prior called another friend a terrorist, a traitor, and a treasonous bitch, cannot handle a simple statement of truth.  These same people, who sometimes fall short of calling for actual assassination of Muslims, take exception to their character being “assassinated.”

Those who said these things, or who silently agreed–I am not a terrorist or a supporter thereof. You, however, are a burgeoning fascist. If you are worried about your country, look at the leaders we have on parade. Then, look in the mirror. The danger to your values is your own cognitive dissonance–not the “Muslim world,” wherever the hell that is, and not those of us who refuse to acquiesce to blind, dumb prejudice.

One day, I sincerely hope you will wake up; I hope that you do so before you cause too much damage. Can we be friends? Maybe, if you haven’t  completely dehumanized me by this point.  I will still call you out on your bigotry, regardless.

As the class struggle deepens, however, you will find your position and mine inherently opposed.  At that point, you are my manifest enemy and an enemy to my class and to the world I want to see.  Until then, friends we may be–nevertheless, I am not one of you.  Don’t ever dare assume that I am.


A Fellow Atheist (for whom you absolutely do not speak)

False Flags

I live in a landscape haunted by dead Confederates.  They brazenly ride throughout my state’s history, throughout our narrative and our political discourse.  They gallop most brazenly through the deeply entrenched inequities that haunt Alabama to this day.   The Confederate sword left its deepest scar on the working class; black workers and white workers, who share a common history of abuse and exploitation, remain profoundly divided by “the southern way of life” that sword defended. The flag that waved above that sword was just removed from the Alabama capitol–quietly, with no ceremony, in the manner of someone stowing away an embarrassing, brazenly tattered “heirloom” left by a distasteful ancestor. Many are crying out against the flag’s removal.  It’s a “part of our history,” a “piece of our heritage.” It is most certainly a part of Alabama’s history.  I dismiss the wide use of “our” when it comes to describing Alabama’s heritage; there are many stories that the flag fails to tell, and many stories implicit in it that do not deserve pride.  It’s not “our” heritage represented by the Confederate battle flag; there are many Alabamians, who can trace their family’s history in Alabama to the Civil War and before, whom that flag was never intended to represent.  Most obviously, this encompasses the many black slaves whose interests did not concern the Confederacy.  It also includes the many poor, white Alabamians who fought in the Civil War–both for the Confederacy and for the Union. On Sand Mountain, in north Alabama, there is a scattering of small, poorly tended cemeteries dating to the Civil War.  These cemeteries house the remains of the poor subsistence farmers who fought for the Union during the war; they did not feel that the Confederate’s bourgeois planters’ agenda benefited them (they were correct).  These soldiers were rejected as traitors by other Alabamians.  They were betrayed by the Union after the war; they were never paid what the Union promised them, never given soldiers’ stipends or recompense.  Alabama history, a subject all 4th and 9th grade Alabamians must take, failed to mention these little bands of fighters when I was growing up. Ironically, there are Confederate flags all over Sand Mountain.  There have been ever since I was a child.  I do understand it.  It represents a branding of the southern working class, used to sell that class upon a vision of itself that serves the ends of bourgeois law makers.  That brand of southern pride is like a shot of heroin for someone stranded outside in subzero temperatures; it is an opioid dream, a death sentence with a warm and pleasant feeling.  Not all southerners waving the flag are racists.  Many see it as sign of pride in their culture, a culture of poor, hard-working people who are the butt of jokes throughout the nation. They’ve been misled. The pride represented by that flag is a false pride.  In reality, it can only fail to represent the pride of a people who have borne the south’s shame (which by all rights belongs to the southern bourgeoisie) since 1865.  It is a flag that cannot be called upon by a people who have been blamed for the racism and backwardness of this state, while the most dangerous promoters of racist policy sit comfortably in well-appointed homes and law offices.  It fails to warrant the pride of a people who have been used as cannon fodder from one war to another from 1860 until the present. Poor white, southern workers have been unjustly caricaturized by a nation that would rather scapegoat a people who are too beaten down to afford dental care than actually address the issues of racial inequality in this country.  Whether they know it or not, these people are also victims of what the Confederate flag stood for.  The “southern way of life” meant that they were “poor white trash,” a few rungs above black people, but well beneath the heels of the wealthy. The Confederate battle flag has been used to gather poor white southerners into causes alien to their class interests many times.  From the 1860s to the 1960s (when the battle flag enjoyed the renewed attention of southern politicians),  it has  flown in the name of separating the working class white from his black counterpart.  It has been used to summon a pride that depends upon the graces of the bourgeoisie and has nothing to do with the pride white southerners could and should rightfully claim–pride in our unique cultures, language, and music, pride in our work ethic, and most importantly, pride in our revolutionary potential.  That flag does not express our pride, but our shame and degradation at the hands of the wealthy.  It is the threadbare “pride of place” that tells the white worker that no matter how little he has, no matter how dispossessed, he is at least better than his black brothers–what a tragic, destructive lie, for both races. The Confederate flag more aptly represents the boys of Kappa Alpha Order, a fraternity of traditionally well-heeled, bourgeois southerners with chapters on multiple southern campuses.  The fraternity claims to take its inspiration from General Robert E. Lee–an irony, as Lee eschewed Confederate symbols after the Civil War–and has flagrantly used the Confederate flag as a means of intimidating and embarrassing black people on many occasions. During its “Old South” parades in Alabama,  the fraternity once blocked the entrance of black sorority houses while dressed in Confederate battle gear; on another occasion, the fraternity bribed black children to march in the parade while holding small Confederate flags.  This is not a flag that represents our pride; it represents the pettiness, meanness, and spite of the southern elite (Kappa Alpha Order has since seen that flying the flag endangers its members ability to revel their elitism and has issued statements against displaying it publicly). The Confederate flag has no place on Alabama’s capitol building, under whose dome all the state’s citizens should find a voice. It has no place in the yard of a working class white person, any more than it does in the home of a working class black person.   If you are poor, white, and southern, that flag has never once flown for your health, wealth, or betterment.  Its display is a treason, a treason against a working class that should be united.  In that regard, it’s not much different from any other national flag, but with one important exception. the Confederate flag represented a government that relied upon and defended slavery explicitly. Not only did the Confederacy explicitly defend slavery, it was founded to protect the practice. The old “states’ rights” arguments need to die the death they are so long overdue for.  Southern states had no problem advancing laws that denied the rights of other states. They opposed laws that gave escaped slaves sanctuary in other states, for example, as well as laws that forbade rich southerners from using slave labor while vacationing within non-slave states.  The only right they promoted was, in fact, the right to legalize slavery. Those who believe the flag should be flown as a relic of history are on equally tenuous footing; they never suggest that we fly the thirty-five-star flag of the United States, which flew over southern states during Reconstruction.  Reconstruction was a part of our state’s history (in many ways a painful one, in any event, an important one); why not fly that flag, as well?  The City of Mobile’s seal depicts the Confederate flag in an arc along with the flags of the French and Spanish kingdom–but the thirty-five-star and  thirty-six-star flags of the Reconstruction years are notably absent.  Not only do advocates for the Confederate battle flag fail to consider all Alabamians, they fail to consider all of Alabama’s history. The removals of the Confederate flags, overdue as they may be, are mere cosmetic gestures by politicians who don’t mind leaving the inequities the flag represents firmly in place.  These men and women have no scruples; they governed under the aegis of inequality for years, and they will continue to encourage inequality whether it flies or not.  There can be no illusion about that.  Neither can there be any illusion as to the nature of that threadbare bit of fabric, which has flapped on behalf of a bloated, oversized sense of false pride for far too long; within the fabric of that flag, not one thread of real working class, southern pride was ever woven.  Anyone who claims that it was is lying, and the most tragic of liars lies to himself.  Dead Confederates have haunted us for years.  It is well past time for Alabama’s workers refuse to fly their flags and fight their battles.

Welcome to Él Zócalo

On an all-too-brief visit to Mexico in my youth, I found myself in love with the zócalos (town plazas) around which the cities and towns were built.  Here were places for people to gather, to converse, to people-watch, and generally commune with their neighbors at the literal center of their town.  I saw goods being bought, sold, and bartered; I saw elders laughing and smiling at each others’ jokes and at the antics of the young; I saw courtships beginning, and I saw new mothers showing off their babies.  All ages and stages of life were present.

As my visit coincided with Él Día de los Trés Reyes (Day of Three Kings, Twelfth Night, or Epiphany–it occurs on January 6 traditionally), I really got to see the zócalo come alive in Taxco. For starters, there was a huge king cake; it seemed every household and grouping of people had baked a section, and they were linked up on tables in order to make one giant cake that encompassed the square.  There were Los Trés Reyes, themselves, resplendent in costume astride proudly groomed horses.  For a small offering to the Santa Prisca church restoration fund, I got to snap a photo with Melchior, Balthasar, and Gaspar.  I was also given a bag of goodies; cookies, candies, and small toys, wrapped up festively with colourful ribbon, just as if I were a child (I did not mind this in the least).

As is my wont, I became fascinated–obsessed–with the entire concept of the zócalo.  I learned that zócalos were a sort of pluperfect joining of indigenous Central American, European, and Arab (via Spain) influences. The zócalo is the heart and soul, as it were, of a people, and the narrative of the zócalo weaves together the stories of the people it gathers together.

As truly public places in the heart of the cities, they were foci not only of the community celebrations that I had witnessed in Taxco, but also for expressions of public discontent.  One such demonstration occurred in 1968, when some 10,000 students gathered in Mexico City’s Zócalo to protest police repression of universities.  They were fired upon by snipers; by the end of the night, nearly 30 students had been shot dead, and around 3000 people gathered up by the police and detained.  That injustice became part of the Zócalo’s story, part of a people’s story, and it remains a vivid memory, commemorated to this day.  In November of 2014, the same Zócalo gathered in a grieving, angry people as Mexicans demanded justice for 43 disappeared teaching school students.

There is no analog to the zócalo in the US–not to any meaningful extent, at least.  Truly public spaces seem to be shrinking here.  Privately owned spaces–malls, business districts, restaurants–are poor substitutes.  In those places, gathering is predicated upon consumption, the spending of money.  They are therefore contracted and constricted; gatherings such as I witnessed in Taxco’s zócalo would be deemed “loitering” and treated as a crime.  This diminution of public space, in my opinion, is both an expression and a reinforcement of a system in which property rights trump the freedom of assembly.  We are forced to pay for the right to gather.  The town square has become the town economic center, and this erodes the comfortably mundane expressions of community as well as communal expressions of outrage and grief.

Social media have tremendous potential to act as town squares or zócalos today.  Yet these media, too, have fallen prey to the same pressures as the town squares of yore; Facebook constantly seeks more efficient ways of gathering and selling its user’s information, allowing them to be inundated with advertisements.  Google has aided and abetted the US government’s data aggregation efforts, becoming a de facto arm of the security apparatus.

This is what brings me here. I’ve been on Facebook for over five years, yet I have been threatened in recent days with the deletion of my account for the crime of using a name Facebook does not consider to be “authentic.”  If my name is not my authentic name, how shall they sell me out to the government and to their advertisers?  I’ve been informed that I must submit photos of a valid ID in order to maintain my account on Facebook, a demand I find unreasonable and unsafe.

I’ve been told that I should just submit the requisite ID.  It’s not, as some friends have pointed out, as if the government cannot access any information on me it wants or needs, anyway.  This may be true.  In fact, I believe it. That does not mean that I myself should bend to make it easier for them by acquiescing to such a ridiculous request.

This brings me to the second personal significance of “Al Zócalo”.  As someone who struggles with agoraphobia–quite literally, “fear of the gathering place”–social media provided me with the opportunity to expand my social horizons and interact with others in a meaningful way.  Humans need other humans, even if they are afraid of leaving the house.  Social media also helped me cope with this fear in face to face interactions, as well.

This blog represents my attempts to maintain connection with others through the sharing of ideas.  It represents a gathering place.  It represents rising above my phobias.  It represents expansion as opposed to contraction, community as opposed to isolation, and communion as opposed to consumption.  So welcome.  I hope you find something meaningful here, too, and I look forward to hearing your ideas.