Muslim Panic, Satanic Panic?
Are New Atheist authors and leaders trying to pull the same awful crime that Neopagan authors and leaders tried back in the late 1980s?
Despite what Stuart Whatley wrote for The Baffler today, I don’t think that it’s at all coincidental that the latest anti-Muslim hate crime was by someone who self-identified, online, as a Dawkins-style “New Atheist.” Whatley is complaining about a Washington Post article that said that the Chapel Hill murders were emblematic of the ongoing fight between the New Atheists and Muslims. Whatley’s annoyance at this, and his attempted refutation, can (I think) be entirely fairly summed up as “no true Scotsman” crossed with “#NotAllAtheists”.
To that end, all I can say is the same thing that so many of us were taught last year in the brilliant feminist response to the #NotAllMen twitterstorm: #YesAllWomen. Not all atheists are bigoted anti-Arab, ant-Islam wannabe hate killers, but yes all Muslims have to fear New Atheists. After the New Atheist communities’ most prominent authors have spent the last half dozen years or so beating this drum, I don’t see how anybody can call the New Atheists anything but an anti-Muslim hate group. These are people who can’t be distracted from their message of anti-Muslim hate by oppression or violence from any other religious community, whether it’s the veto on public policy the Ultra Orthodox hold in Israel or the anti-gay secessionist rhetoric of Alabama’s fundamentalist Chief Justice or terrorist acts by Christian Identity groups or anti-abortion groups or anti-Islam terrorism by Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Nope. Try to bring any of that up, and they change the subject back to, “the Muslims are coming to kill us all!”
But there’s something in the WaPo/Baffler argument that makes me wonder if I know what that’s all about, something even more awful than ordinary bigotry or the lazy intellectual sin of falling for your own country’s war propaganda. Because I may have been through this before.
Remember the Satanic Panic, the great “Satanic ritual sex abuse” conspiracy theory, the claim that occultists were raping tens of thousands of children per year, and making those children murder tens of thousands of babies per year, with cover-up help from all levels of government, in order to create an army of brainwashed assassins for the anti-Christ? Remember the resulting police and media panic, of the mid ‘80s through the early ‘90s? I certainly do; I was one of the lesser victims of it.
Well, during the Satanic Panic I was directly or indirectly contacted by five different NeoPagan leaders, all of them much more prominent than me: Ar nDraiocht Fein’s Isaac Bonewits, Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s Pete Pathfinder, Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox, and Church of All Worlds’ Otter & Morning Glory Zell, all of them demanding that I stop publicly questioning the evidence in the Satanic Panic scare and that I get on board with it, or they would do whatever they could to ruin me. Bonewits and Pathfinder were very explicit about why, too. They said that they didn’t care if the Satanists were guilty or not. They both said that they saw this as their opportunity to convince Christian America that we weren’t their enemy, by piling on a common enemy.
I told each and every one of them off, over the phone or in person or in writing. I told them that I was going to keep standing publicly with, and using my prestige as a board member of the Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions and as the founder of MagickNet along side of, the few Neopagan groups that were standing up for truth and justice, like Covenant of the Goddess and the Wiccan/Pagan Press Alliance. (I know I’m forgetting one, I always do.) For one thing, truth matters; seeking to get innocent people jailed (or worse) to protect your own skin is morally despicable behavior. Almost as importantly, the fact that so few of the persecuted victims of the Satanic Panic were even Satanists, or any kind of occultist, that so much of it was based on coerced testimony framing them for being Satanists, showed the folly of this idea: if they hate us, they’re not going to accept us as their allies, period; any Satanic Panic you feed will just eventually be used against you when they get around to destroying you.
So now it occurs to me to wonder. Because atheists are, in America, the single most hated belief group, with approval ratings on par with or maybe even below religious extremist terrorist groups. (Which, I have to say, strikes me as nothing less than deranged, but that’s not the point.) And atheists live in America, and Britain, two countries that have had thirteen and a half years of anti-Muslim war propaganda on almost every TV channel and radio station. How much of Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ and the rest of the New Atheists’ anti-Muslim hate is real and how much is opportunistic?