At this year's Texas Freethought Convention (co-sponsored by Atheist Alliance of America...though if you hear the AAA's president talk it's the other way around) I made a new friend who was also raised muslim, let's call her "I." Through the miracle of "the internets" these two friends of mine, old and new, have "met" through me on Facebook. That interaction led to a recent IM comment from "S".
"So I'm like super intrigued by your ex-Muslim atheist friend, "I". She's really the only one I've ever known to come out and openly express her views. YOU GO GURL!!"I started off thinking I'd give him a quick reply about how I met "I" at this year's TFC and what I've seen so far...and I just kept going. So since I wrote a bunch (and haven't posted much to the blog lately) I figured I'd share some of what I wrote back to "S" with you all. Here's what I wrote:
Hiya "S". Yeah, "I" is really out and proud. I met her a couple weeks ago at the Texas Freethought Convention (co-sponsored by Atheist Alliance of America). After the conference (or maybe because of the conference) she was inadvertently outed to her mom, family, and others. Her mother, and others online, have not been kind to her lately. I'm really proud at how she's stuck to her convictions. I've seen her stand up to haters on public facebook conversations and, unflinchingly, criticize islam and religion in general.Compare that to another Texas muslim woman (whose name escapes me at the moment) I met at last year's Texas Freethought Convention who I took a picture of with skeptical musician and podcaster George Hrab. After I snapped the shot she asked me what I was planning on doing with the picture. I said that I might post it to facebook or something like that, thinking she'd want a copy. She told me she was not "out" to anyone, in any way, and knew it could be harmful to her if the wrong people saw the pic. I promised not to do anything with it and gave her my card if she wanted a personal copy or anything. Having grown up in a liberal north-eastern U.S. christian family, this kind of fear is unimaginable to me.Not that this is unique to muslims. There are a LOT of christians who are just as afraid to 'come out' for fear of losing their family, friends, marriages, jobs, and even their lives. I know that I've been lucky not to have to face that fear. I'm able to be "out" as and atheist with impunity. I can be that example of a guy who's a non-believer, but isn't angry, defensive, or pushy about it because I haven't had to. But we also need atheists like "I" who are comfortable enough in their non-belief to be able to push back when they are in tough situations like it sounds that she's in. Our 'movement' needs both the "friendly" and the "firebrand" atheists in order to fit all situations and show that we're as varied as any other sub-culture....plus "I" is a awesome, friendly person.People ask me "What the hell (ha, ha) do atheists do at conventions or meetups? Just sit around saying 'There is no god' over and over?" Sigh. No. It's great to see presentations and Q & A's with authors, intellectuals, activists, and personalities, but meeting and networking with new people gives you insight into others' situations, new ideas, and a renewed energy to stand up for what you believe. I learn just as much from the chatting with a 20-something neurobiology grad student as I do from a elder-statesman author or an executive of a national secular organization. It's great to meet a woman like "I" who can teach me something new about the human experience....plus there's dancing and karaoke.