If you haven't read it yet, go back to see the article "Interview with Allie Jackson – CEO, Atheist Republic Part 1" by clicking here.
Jacobsen: If we’re looking at Atheist Republic, what are we looking at in terms of demographics?
Jackson: Not surprisingly, mostly male, I do look at the demographics that follow our page. We have ~70% men to ~30% women. It is uneven there. What I find is most of our followers are probably ex-Muslim, we have a huge American, Canadian, European following.
Jacobsen: Since they are mostly men, younger, and ex-Muslim, are these the countries that the ex-Muslim men, not necessarily flee to but, get away from the dominant Islamic culture?
Jackson: It always starts off with that is what they think is going to happen. However, it’s something very emotional for me. A family, an entire family, had to flee Pakistan over a man saying, “Atheists might not be that bad,” on social media. People ransacked his house.
They had to take his children and flee to an island north of Australia, which they got to them. Their asylum there. Then they had to go to the Philippines. Mostly, it is what you can afford. If you look at the atheist community, there are not a lot of groups that help with asylum.
Asylum costs money. People need to get to these countries. They need lawyers. If no lawyers, they are taken advantage of. There was an Iranian atheist I was helping. He got a lawyer that had no idea. He had no clue about these kinds of processes.
One of the letters he wrote cost this man his asylum. The wording he used cost him his asylum. When it was all submitted and the lawyer said, “I am sure it will be fine. He is scared to go back home,” no there was a video of an Islamic video describing the beheading they were going to give him when he returned to Iran.
That is not scared to go home. That is not, “I am scared someone might hurt me.” There are people actively trying to kill him. You must be so careful about what you say in these cases. People take advantage of these cases, take their money.
The Atheist Alliance International is one of the few atheist groups that they do help with this. So, everything I know about asylum, everything that I gather is from experience. I learn from one case at a time.
When I am constantly bombarded with people saying, “I need asylum. These people are going to kill me. These people found a letter I wrote. These people saw a text message I sent to somebody. They are going to kill me. My dad and family are going to kill me,” you can only sit there and listen to that as an emotional shoulder for so long.
After that, you must get your hands into this. You must start mapping out ideas for asylum. So, I hit the books. I mean non-literally [Laughing]. I hit Google. I started getting contacts and figuring out: What is the process? What can help?
Jacobsen: Who can help them?
Jackson: That is a hard question.
Jacobsen: Let’s say, within North America, if not necessarily help, then give guidance. Should they contact some branch of Amnesty International or another organization like that?
Jackson: The UNHCR, I have worked with them the past couple of months. We have been dealing with a couple reports on what they will do for asylum seekers, and for people from Islamic countries that are atheists seeking help, because many will not talk to me.
They won’t tell me what is going on. Although, I have sent letters to one of their clients, but they will not respond to me. Finally, I got letters from their legal department, reminding me that they won’t talk to me.
I have been considering them, asking, “What will you do for these people?” The Pakistani family – that I told you about – that after he had been denied, after I sent in a letter from Atheist Republic describing what this person was going through, and that it was a verified story.
The person called them and said that they had to leave and had 90 days. I began to cry. He said, “I can’t bring my family back to Pakistan. They are going to kill me. I committed blasphemy.” If they are going to work for ex-Muslims, or for people who are seeking refuge in another country because atheism is deadly in Islamic countries, they need to know this is an issue.
I said, “Who can I talk to so I can file a report, to help you guys help people? Do you know what atheists face in Islamic countries?” I have been getting little help by the legal department. It is difficult to tell people, “You can go to this or that person because they can help you.”
I feel as if I am doing that I am passing the buck. In this case, it is somebody’s life. I can’t live with that. It has been hard. We get so many cases flowing in. Once they contact this or that organization, often, they get denied. Those organizations have 50 people coming to them per day.
It is not that they don’t care. They do. But finding an organization that is big enough and can handle the load that needs help, I don’t think it exists.
Jacobsen: I think of two cases or themes. We both know women especially in religiously dominated countries – where religion and government are one and the same – that women are functionally or effectively second-class citizens.
Bearing in mind, the religion is mixed with the government. So, if it is costing money, as you noted, to take on these cases or to travel to another country and then pay for the legal assistance, if you’re a woman that is poor, it doesn’t even come out as an option.
It might explain some of the first waves of this, into more secular societies, being men, possibly. Men will have the finances to do so. I think of another case, not from that perspective, but internal to North America.
There are issues for non-believing women who – it is a sensibility, so it is not a firm argument – must work through the arts over decades to get some manner of influence. I think of Margaret Atwood.
Where she takes real cases, in parts, compiles them into a narrative, in some near-future dystopia, with the most famous example being The Handmaid’s Tale, which is coming out, I guess, in some television series, do these seem like possible trends – not from argument, but more from sensibilities and so very loose perceptions of things?
Jackson: It is hard for me. I think of women who are trapped in religion. I think of women who break out of religion, and why. In my time of doing what I do, I am not talking about the Atheist Republic work; I am talking about the one-on-one support group.
I met three women in two years, who have come out wanting help. People ask, “Why? Why is that?” I can only speak by what those few have told me. They understood that they were a slave. They understood where they were.
They said that their dream of becoming free was too great. To know there is a way to get out, and not pursue that dream, they would rather kill themselves. One woman was being abused by her husband.
Our communication didn’t get far. She said she lost faith in Islam. She had two children. Her husband beat her and her kids, and treated her terribly. The last communication I got from her said, “He found our communications. I have to say, ‘Goodbye.’”
I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she ever got out. More than likely, she was probably killed trying to leave her husband, leave Islam. It is not a kind world to women. It is frustrating because, on the one hand, everyone has a right to an opinion. But on the other hand, I think people should want to become more educated on topics to hold the right opinion because when it comes to women in countries, it is heartbreaking. It is so heartbreaking what they must go through.
There are women who have taken Stockholm Syndrome. We know women who are captured by men. People who are captured by other people will begin to identify with their captors. But, I’m sorry. When I see some women get up and say, “This is freedom for me,” I can’t help thinking of the women who felt that was slavery for them.
So, it is one of the things we were talking about earlier. We can’t block people. We can’t say, ‘All Muslims. All Christians.” I can’t say, “All women.” But I can say, ‘One woman’s freedom is another woman’s slavery.’
I think people who want to speak out against women being forced to wear a burqa. They don’t want to wear a burqa. I think that is perfectly valid. I think that we in America, and the West, need to stop looking at the burqa as a form of liberation.
It may be a form of liberation for some women, but let’s not block women. Let’s not put them into a block and say, “This is freedom for you. Take it.” It makes no sense. It is a contradictory statement [Laughing].
“You wearing that is a signal of your freedom.” It is hard.
Jacobsen: Going back to some of your Baptist roots, when you were in interaction as a very strong believer – Fox News, Baptist with father from an Abrahamic tradition, what was your perception of those that were out-and-out atheists – who were outspoken, articulate, and bold?
Jackson: I didn’t feel they existed. I didn’t believe. My dad would tell me about these people who didn’t believe in God. I though they may live in the jungle in a tribe, so that was why they didn’t believe. I didn’t think they existed.
Who wouldn’t want the love of God? I couldn’t even comprehend it.
Jacobsen: If you look at statistics, America has a prominent level of belief in angels, efficacy of prayer, demons, heaven, and so on. Did you see what you deemed “evil” behavior as influenced by a real devil, a real Satan?
Jackson: Absolutely, I thoroughly believed in demons and Satan. I thought that, maybe, I had been possessed by a demon, who was taking over my thoughts or allowing me to focus on ungodly things and wants and desires.
I thought that could happen. When I was a child, my mother constantly talked about demons and hell. She put a huge fear of demons in us. I remember not being able to sleep because I was praying to God to keep me safe. I thought I did something bad, and so a demon would come.
My mom said we were possessed when I was a baby. She was recording babble when I was a baby. Obviously, it showed she wanted to hear the recording for some reason. It said, “Come with me mama, the baby wants you to go to hell.”
So, she had our preacher come by and exorcise the house, bless the house, if you will. Now, that I look back at the story and all the things she claimed would happen, such as doors opening and closing shut all at once in the house – cabinets would open and close all the time.
When I look back at what had to have happened because she gave the tape to my dad and her pastor, who said that to the recording? Demons aren’t real. I know that. I know demons aren’t real. It is amazing when you stop believing in demons how all that fear goes away.
No more possession and fear of possession. What lengths do people go to keep their beliefs? Is it really to the point of faking a tape, so that your preacher will come to the house and bless it? I looked at the things I did as well, to keep my faith.
The various positions I would take and try to rationalize how God allow rape and slavery. I would rationalize these things in my head, to make it okay for me to keep my belief. People will go through very strange rituals to prove what they believe is real. Scary.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, and the openness to express sensitive issues.
Jackson: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about the issues and get a chance to tell people what we do at the Atheist Republic.