An Interview With Armin Navabi, Founder of Atheist Republic
I recently spoke with Armin Navabi, a former Muslim from Iran and the founder of Atheist Republic, an organization with millions of followers worldwide and best-selling author of “Why There Is No God: Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God”. We talk about his opinion on the topic Islam versus Nazism, the reason why both can’t be compared, and his message to Muslims.
Scott: Why can’t people compare Islam and Nazism, according to them, and why do you think they’re wrong?
Armin: Their argument is at a time when you have the rise of the alt-right in the West, when people are discriminating against Muslims, when people who look like Muslims are being targeted and harassed in the streets. Comparing Islam to Nazism is not helpful and fueling hate. It’s helping more people demonize Muslims.
Scott: In my opinion, empowering the wrong people is a bad idea, such as the ethnic nationalists and the people that are neo-fascists. Islam is not people but a set of ideas -- or more precisely a set of ideas plus suggested practices in which people practice in certain degrees and believed in certain degrees. What I think is you can make a comparison if you’re talking about ideas plus suggested practices in a similar way National Socialism or Nazism does have a set of ideas and likely suggested practices.
I suspect that the inclination behind a lot of people are saying is looking at not only a set of ideas as neutral but a set of ideas as bad and then making comparison as both ideas are bad. You can’t compare two ideas that are bad.
When people want to protect those who believe Islam but not those who believe in Nazism, they don’t want to make a comparison in what they want to protect and in what they consider a bad set of ideas, ordinary Muslims and Nazis respectively. However, if you do look at the ideologies and suggested practices, you can make comparisons.
The question that follows from that comparison is, “What is the judgment? What is the ultimate value of either particular claims and the ideologies at large”?
For Armin, the judgment is already there when you compare Islam and Nazism because when you compare two things, you are suggesting that they are the same.
Armin: My response to that is something that would make them hate me more, which is [that] I don’t think Islam is as bad as Nazism. I think Islam is worse than Nazism. They think, “Okay great job, Armin, you just gave the best narrative to the alt-right and white supremacists. You just said that Muslims are worse than Nazis”. I never mentioned Muslims, never mentioned Nazis. I said Islam. You should know that as this is coming from people who criticize Islam and they say we’re criticizing Islam, not Muslims. And when I say Islam is worse than Nazism, they’re suggesting I’m demonizing Muslims, which I’m not. They will say "you’re simplifying it". To that I respond, You’re only listening to my conclusion instead of my entire argument.
Scott: How could you say Islam is worse than Nazism?
Armin: First of all they tell me "you can’t even compare them since they’re apples and oranges. They’re not in the same category." To that I respond, they’re both ideologies. When I compare Christianity with Islam, nobody says anything. When I compare Communism with Nazism, nobody says anything. But when I compare Islam with Nazism, everybody loses their mind.
To be fair, I think most Nazis are way worse than most Muslims. Most Muslims are great people. And this is the problem with Islam. The problem with Islam is that it does better job taking advantage of good people to sell its evil. Nazism doesn’t have the sugarcoating required for you to take advantage of enough good people for it to spread enough.
Religions like Islam and Christianity are destructive, but they also come with these sweet messages like “Love thy neighbor”, “Take care of the poor”, “Be kind to your parents”, “Take care of the elderly”. Stuff that people already did and would have done without religion.
In fact, these simplistic morality messages within these religions were already discussed in way more advanced and nuanced way by ancient philosophers thousands of years ago before the Bible and the Quran.
So it wasn’t their invention and people would have come to this conclusion because people in general are nice. On average, people are more sympathetic to their other fellow human beings. But the Bible and Quran take the credit for this. And by taking credit for it they have an easier job to spread.
If you have an ideology talking about how you are the superior race and how Jews are evil and how everybody else is disgusting, if that’s your main message, it’s really hard for you to sell this and spread it because you have to rely on certain kind of people to spread this.
If I have a poison pill that tastes like shit and kills you right away, it’s really hard to spread this poison. But if I have a poison pill that is sugar coated and doesn’t kill you right away, then it’s easier for me to start selling this poison and spread it far and wide.
I think that’s the genius of Christianity and Islam. It’s not genius by design; it’s genius because these are memes that survive, just like we have the natural selection for genes. It’s the ideologies that can survive longer spread farther and infect more people.
Scott: How can you say that Islam is even close to what Nazis did?
Armin: Granted, Nazism is way more harmful per year in power. By harmful I mean has more victims. Per year in power, Nazism is way more harmful. But, Nazism cannot survive for long in power. It was in power as a government only in less than one generation. It’s not fully defeated but how many Nazi regimes do we have right now? Zero. How many Islamic regimes do we have right now? More than zero. Islamic regimes last longer. They had victims for the past 1400 years and still have victims today.
People tell me, “How can you say this right after what happened in Charlottesville? You have to adjust what you’re saying and take the political climate into consideration and adjust accordingly for you not to fuel hate.”
And I tell these people, “You’re being very selfish because you’re only looking at the political climate around where you live.”
That woman dying in Charlottesville was an absolute tragedy, but you have to understand while that one person died in the hands of Nazis, there are hundreds of people dying in Yemen because of the religiously-fueled Sunni-Shia-divided Yemen.
I hate Islam because I care about its victims which are mostly Muslims. Being anti-Islam is being pro-Muslim because the main victims of Islam are Muslims. This is not anti-Muslim hate. In fact, you cannot be anything but anti-Islam if you care about Muslims.
If you don’t stand against Islam you’re abandoning Muslim women, Muslim homosexuals, Shia Muslims under Suni regimes, Sunni Muslims under Shia regimes, Baha'i Muslims, Sufi Muslims, Ismaili Muslims etc. Not enough people talk about Yemen because it doesn’t serve the Muslims narrative because these are Muslims killing Muslims. It doesn’t serve U.S. narrative because U.S. gets a shitload of money selling weapons. This is a war crime.
You think we’re being islamophobic? Saudi Arabia is bombing mosques in Yemen. How many people are dying by the hands of Nazis today? They ask me, "what’s the point of comparing Islam to Nazism?" The point is to show people’s priorities. Because people don’t care about their fellow human beings. People care about just what’s happening in their own backyard.
Consider this: which one is worse? The atomic bomb or the Kalashnikov?
Scott: Probably Kalashnikov in the hands of people over a long time.
Armin: Number of people who died by the Kalashnikov is way more than the atomic bomb.
People are more afraid of plane crashes than car accidents. Even though car accidents have way more victims. It's the same with Nazism and Islam. Nazim, when it came to power, managed to destroy many lives in a short amount of time. But If you look at the larger impact of Islam, it should scare us more.
The leftists accuse us of being Islamophobic and we’re trying to tell them that no, we are criticizing ideas not people. My suggestion is forget the leftists, because what’s the point of criticizing Islam? A lot of people who criticizes Islam, they’re trying to warn the West. But Islam is coming and you can’t stop it. Unless you actually talk to Muslims. And more importantly, what you're afraid might one day happen to your Western country, is already a reality for many Islamic countries. We need to stop playing defense. We need to reach out to Muslims in Islamic countries.
The best way to fight Islam is to reach out to Muslims. And the best way to reach out to Muslims is to befriend Muslims. Trying to convince Westerners and non-Muslim Westerners that are afraid, that’s not going to stop anything because this is an ideology and it will continue spreading unless you talk to the people that believe it.
In fact, the more people see Muslims themselves as the threat, the more people will victimize Muslims. The more you victimize Muslims, the more it helps Islam to grow. Religion feeds on being the victim. The only way to stop Islam is try to reach out to people. You can’t stop it by force. You have to actually try to convince people out of it. That’s the only way you can fight Islam.
The people we need to warm [about] Islam are Muslims. To be able to talk to Muslims [about] how bad Islam [is], we have to try to convince them that us being against Islam is not us being against Muslims. That’s a very hard thing to do but not as hard as most people think.
The reason why it’s very difficult is because most Muslims see Islam as part of their identity. But I think Muslims are much more than just Muslims just like an atheist is way more than just an atheist and a Christian is way more than just a Christian.
As an atheist, I’m a husband, I’m a humanist, feminist, Game of Thrones fan. I think every Muslim is more than just a Muslim. But we have to acknowledge that many Muslims see Islam as a major part of their identity. Our attack on Islam is not intended as a personal attack. Even when they see it a personal attack. We should invite them to take our intentions into consideration when they’re judging us. This is very important for Muslims because we are all looking for allies.
I tell Muslims that they might find things we’re saying offensive. But it’s better to be offended than to be discriminated against. We will challenge your ideas, but we will stand with you against those who challenge your rights. We will fight your ideas but we will defend your rights.
So you have to see us as allies because you need allies. We need you as our allies because the bigots are not just your enemies, they're our enemies as well.
You also have to see that the left is not helping you. Not all of them but many people in the left that are saying “Don’t say these things”, “these are offensive”, "you’re attacking Muslims." You must understand that they are the ones being bigots because they’re suggesting that you can’t take criticism. That you are like children who need protection from these Westerners. You can’t handle criticism of your ideas.
They don’t react to us when we criticize Christianity, only Islam. So you have to see that it’s a kind of bigotry because they’re suggesting that maybe Christians are mature enough for us to disagree with them. You must fight that.
What I’m waiting for is the day that some Muslims show the world that they are tolerant, that they’re not sensitive little "snowflakes" by opening their mosque to ex-Muslims speakers. Imagine if your mosque was the first mosque that invites an ex-Muslim speaker. Be that first mosque. Show the world that you can handle criticism.
My main point is we need to reach out to Muslims instead of the left. If we try to challenge Islam, Muslims should be our target.
It might feel like a personal attack but it’s not our intention.
I usually ask Muslims if they disagree with Christianity and the answer is always “yes”. Are you a Christianophobe or anti-Christian? Do you hate Christians? And they usually say “no”.
That’s just a very simple example to show why disagreeing on an ideology is not the same as hating them because they do it themselves. Every Muslim disagrees with Christianity but most Muslims won’t say they hate Christians or they’re anti-Christian.
Sometimes I hear some Muslims say it’s okay to criticize Islam but just don’t ridicule it. First of all, we must be able to ridicule what we want but whether that’s productive or not, I would tell you that I know a lot of Muslims that came to our page because they found something offensive and they stayed on our page, the Atheist Republic page, long enough for them to eventually doubt their beliefs. It was the offensive things that attracted them until they eventually left Islam.
Second, when we ridicule Islam, we’re not coming to a mosque and ridiculing Islam, we’re not going to a Muslim page and ridiculing Islam, we’re not going into your living room and telling you that your god is fake.
We are doing this on atheist pages, atheist websites, atheist twitter accounts. So if you’re seeing these contents you don’t like, you either don’t know how to block people that you don’t like or you’re actively looking for it. If it’s the first one, I suggest a search on YouTube on how to block a page. It’s either one of those things or if you’re curious, then you can’t tell us to stop because you’re the one on our platform.
If I were to defend mocking Islam when I’m talking to a Muslim, I tell them this:
“When I was a Muslim we used to make fun of other religions. Like I ask a Muslim, “Don’t you find it ridiculous that god could have a son?”
Every religion makes fun of other religions. If it’s okay for Muslims to make fun, then it’s okay for atheists to make fun of Islam.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Armin.