Following my post about Dawkins’ strange take on what constitutes racism, a friend asked me why Islam was a major target of New Atheists. The answer is strangely complicated but, fortunately, overlaps with one of my projects to map out a history of New Atheism.
Before jumping to the complicated answer, we have to show why we should reject the simple answer: Islam is a major religion; New Atheists criticise all religions; so therefore New Atheists criticise Islam.
Of the four largest world religions, Islam and Christianity are the two which are routinely attacked by New Atheists. The next two largest religions, Buddhism and Hinduism are rarely mentioned. This isn’t an equal opportunity hosing down of religions. There’s something else that is making Islam and Christianity the major targets.
Christianity is easiest to explain: historically, it is the religion which has attracted the opposition from atheists. Indeed, it’s difficult to understand the centuries-long history of atheism without reference to Christianity. (SPOILERS: By the end of this blog post, we’ll see that New Atheism isn’t actually engaged in this history.)
But Islam doesn’t have a similar history. From the example of Christianity (the reasons are socio-political and historical), we should expect the reason for New Atheism’s response to Islam.
To uncover that reason, we need a solid understanding of what New Atheism is and how it works. We can then see what features of Islam cause it to be of particular interest to New Atheists.