For quite awhile now, I have had this abstract sense of a connection between militant atheism and white supremacy, especially given that the public vanguard of the former is populated entirely by white people – like Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. Certainly there are atheists of color, but they do not seem to often go on record as being so anti-religious. I am inclined to think that for atheists of color, their opposition to religion is more philosophical than political, in contrast to the Islamophobia sweeping through Europe and popular amongst white Americans.
But still, what is the connection between anti-religionism and white supremacy? I think Marx involuntarily offers us one possible explanation (emphasis added):
The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. 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.
White supremacy is all about power and privilege, for white people, at the expense of, to the detriment of, and built upon the oppression of people of color. In spite of the legitimate quandary of why black people in particular would embrace the religion of their oppressors, the religion used at different times to justify their oppression, the fact is that Christianity can and has for many provided a sort of opiate effect to counter the experiences of racism, discrimination, marginalization, and enslavement. Those who suffer most in this world are more inclined to turn their gazes towards the next in search of repose.
Those who have not experienced oppression do not have as much of a need for an opiate. So it only makes sense that more white people, as the benefactors of white supremacy, would be more inclined towards atheism than people of color, and specifically towards anti-religionism. Furthermore, when we consider that anti-religionism is often just a generic facade for Islamophobia, as it is in much of the Western world, and take note of the fact that people of color comprise the great majority of Muslims, the connection becomes even more clear.
Marx regards religion as “a protest against real suffering”. At the same time, any honest examination of terrorism, which is often falsely attributed to religion rather than the political undercurrent which actually inspires it, has to consider the fact that terrorism is most often reactive, not proactive, meaning that it is a response to something else. In the case of terrorism coming out of the Middle East, it is not an extension of Islam, but rather a response to American Imperialism, rendered through the deaths of countless innocents. In Chechnya it is a response to Russian imperialism, in the Philippines and Indonesia a response to ethnic discrimination and political marginalization.
And what is “protest”, if not a response to injustice? If you think the connection between protest and terrorism is a dubious one, then simply take a moment to consider the response to both by those in power – power the misuse of which is at the very heart of the response. Both are answered in almost all cases with violence, ironically under the pretext of “defense” or “neutralization”, as if the balance of power were ever skewed against those who possess it.
It is no coincidence that Representative Peter King (R-NY) has suddenly decided to include black prisoners in his witch hunt against Muslims. Black prisoners are a representative cross-section of the oppressed in the United States, and if religion – in this case Islam – becomes for them a means of protest, then again it presents a challenge to the establishment, that is, white supremacy.
The same was true during the Civil Rights Era, with the liberation theology of Dr. Martin Luther King – which it is important to note was also anti-Imperial – and the revolutionary views of Malcolm X which found their inspiration in the Nation of Islam and were refined through Sunni Islam. King and X were not killed for their religious beliefs, but for the political threat they presented to both American Imperialism, and the white supremacy from which it extends.
Black Muslims today as a group are more likely to possess counter-establishment views than other African-Americans, who as a voting bloc reliably support the Democratic Party. The Democrats, of course, are comfortable within the status quo (i.e. white supremacy), so as long as black people support them, they are not a threat. This in turn enables the discussion to be turned towards religion rather than race, which some people would have you believe is a non-issue as of the very instant of Barack Obama’s election.
So is anti-religion really even about religion when we look at who invokes it and why it is invoked – most often for political reasons? Is it strictly a coincidence that religious protest is launched mostly by people of color in opposition to ostensibly white power structures, and in turn it is mostly white atheists who take the vitriolic anti-religion tack? Or that white people of other faiths adopt Islamophobia at a time of heightened immigration of people of color – many of whom happen to be Muslim – into their countries, which poses a threat to their majority and therefore a threat to their supremacy?
The answer should be an obvious and resounding “no”.