18 May 2016

Spreading the word

Richard Dawkins's 2006 book The God Delusion is perhaps the most powerful single attack on religion ever written.  Along with the writings of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and others, it helped launch the New Atheist movement in the Western world, bringing a new militancy and intellectual ferocity to the struggle against religion.

But what about other places where the message is even more desperately needed?

At some point apparently around 2008 an Iraqi atheist named Bassam al-Baghdadi (who, fortunately, lives in Sweden) translated the entire book into Arabic and posted it on the internet as a downloadable PDF.  By November 2014 it had been downloaded ten million times, with the number of actual readers probably being somewhat larger since downloaded files can be shared around in various ways, including to people who do not have internet access.  It appears that Dawkins doesn't object to this, and indeed there may not be an official Arabic translation at all, since the note at the bottom of the cover (shown above) says "the book forbidden in all Arab countries" (not "in all Islamic countries" as most English-language articles on this topic claim).  The fact that millions have accessed a book banned by their governments illustrates how censorship and control of information are becoming ever more difficult in the internet age.

The Arabic language is the fourth-ranked language in the world by number of native speakers (after Mandarin, Spanish, and English).  It is prevalent over a vast stretch of the globe from Oman to Morocco, an east-west span one and a half times that of the continental US.  And Arabic-speaking countries include some of those in which the mental sickness of religion is most entrenched and most dangerous.  The importance of spreading such a powerful atheist message in Arabic cannot be overstated.  There is abundant evidence that atheism and questioning of religion have recently been growing more common in the Arab world, and works like The God Delusion have undoubtedly played a role, just as they have in the West.  Many Arabs chafe under Islam's strictures and feel revolted at the brutality of groups like Dâ'ish (ISIL), just as anyone else would, and are willing to at least think about alternatives.

There is an interesting nuance in the Arabic title of the book.  The word "god" is translated as ilâh, the common noun for "a god" in a general sense, not as Allâh, the proper-noun name for the specific Judeo-Christian-Islamic God -- a distinction normally made in English only by whether the word "god" is capitalized or not.  This emphasizes that "delusion" applies to all deities, not just a specific one.

There is apparently also an online Persian translation of the book.

Islam seems so pervasive (and violent) in the Middle East that most Westerners believe it can never be uprooted or even significantly weakened in the region.  But Christianity in Europe would have given the same impression in the age of witch-burnings and the Thirty Years War, and ideas can spread much faster in today's educated, internet-savvy world.  The time will come when the lands where civilization began are freed from this centuries-old blight.


Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

This is an amazing story. I read The God Delusion when it was first published and given it as a gift to many family and friends. Let's hope this comes true sooner rather than later:

"...ideas can spread much faster in today's educated, internet-savvy world. The time will come when the lands where civilization began are freed from this centuries-old blight."

19 May, 2016 07:14  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

Here is how I see this ending: You are right that nothing we can do seems to quench the flames of religious hatred, bigotry and plain stupidity. Luckily, religious people seem to be doing the job for us. In my lifetime, I have seen "Christianity" transformed by Evangelicals from a relatively benign (well, except for Catholics) phenomenon into a monument of ugliness. Then these "Christians" wonder why people are falling away from their faith in droves, never once considering the real cause: they have created a religion that no decent person would want to be associated with. In the meantime, a similar phenomenon has occurred in Islam. Admittedly, they didn't have as far to go, since hatred between Sunnis and Shiites never really vanished, but now it has morphed into an ugly spectacle even worse than what is happening here.

They are destroying the legitimacy of their own religions, and are being rewarded with a gradual descent into irrelevance. Too bad they can do so much damage on the way down, but Christianity and Islam (as well as the small number of Jews who share their vicious attitude) are busy carving their own tombstones.

19 May, 2016 16:53  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: It will happen. The very violence and hysterical quality of the hard-liners' reaction shows how worried they are about the way things are going.

Green: Exactly. In both cases the extremists have made themselves the face of the religion, the most repulsive face possible. They've turned Christianity and Islam into engines of rejection of modernity, and most people will choose modernity.

And yes, one mustn't forget the Jewish religious extremists who are similar in character, tiny though their numbers are (most Jews in the ethnic sense being non-religious or at least secular).

20 May, 2016 06:19  
Blogger jenny_o said...

Despite the negative aspects of the internet, I am thankful for its many other positive uses, such as you have mentioned here - the spread of information in countries previously cut off from it.

29 March, 2019 17:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It's been a tremendous liberating force for people in areas that formerly tended to be cut off from views and information different from the local mainstream -- including some such regions within the US.

29 March, 2019 18:50  

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