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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Required Reading: Hitchens on Your Black Muslim Bakery

posted by on August 7 at 13:52 PM

Christopher Hitchens—remember how much you loved him for speaking ill of the recently-deceased Jerry Falwell?—writes today at Slate about the shooting of a newspaper editor in Oakland, California.

Chauncey Bailey’s newspaper, the Oakland Post, had been writing about a neighborhood business called Your Black Muslim Bakery. A long string of crimes had been tied to the bakery over the years—including the harassment of reporters with the temerity to write about the place—but the police didn’t do anything until Bailey was gunned down on his way to work. Says Hitchens

Now, again, I am just asking, but what if this racket had been named the White Christian or Aryan Nations Cookie Parlor? (Motto and mission statement: “Don’t F*** With Us.”) I think that Oakland’s mayor, Ron Dellums—who I was startled to find was still alive—would have joined a picket line around the store (as would I). The same would doubtless have been true of Rep. Barbara Lee, in whose district the YBMB was situated. But instead, in its role as a “community business,” the YBMB enjoyed warm support and endorsement from both the mayor and the congresswoman. And the guns for past and future slayings were inside the store….

Residents have been complaining for a long time about the atmosphere of hatred and violence—and about what some have called the YBMB’s attempt to “cleanse” the neighborhood, either of godless liquor stores on the model of jihadism or simply of business rivals and journalistic critics. What were the police doing all this time, and why did Chauncey Bailey have to be murdered before they could be moved to act? Perhaps they were doing what they do best: confiscating marijuana and rousting whores so as to painlessly improve the crime statistics. I called Bob Valladon, the extremely rude and graceless head of the Oakland police union, but I didn’t even get to put my question before receiving a large flea in my ear. Other California law-enforcement officials were adamant in refusing to be quoted in any way. I can’t say I blame them: Thousands of their voters and citizens are living in Third World conditions of fear, with a “no-snitch” policy openly enforced at gunpoint, and they cannot be troubled to do anything about it.

This official apathy—amounting to collusion—is undergirded by a culture that cringingly insists on “respect” for any organization, however depraved, that can masquerade as “faith-based.” If I had stood outside that hideous bakery with a sign saying “Black Muslims Are Racists and Fanatics,” I think the cops would have turned up in a flat second and taken me into custody. I might well have been charged with a hate crime. As I have written before and am sure I will write again: This has to stop, and it has to stop right now, before sharia baking comes to a place near you.

RSS icon Comments


He does know that the Nation of Islam isn't the kind they have in the Middle East, right?

Posted by flamingbanjo | August 7, 2007 2:02 PM

Christopher Hitchens--remember how much you loved him for speaking ill of anti-war advocates back in 2003? Oh, wait. Curious, Dan, how in approvingly citing Hitchens here you paper over that uncomfortable association and play up the easy Falwell bit.

It's pretty obvious Hitch knows nothing about this specific case and is just using it to hawk his broad anti-Muslim position. The whole "This would be racist if white people did it" canard is tired, no matter how witty its proponent.

Posted by Ben | August 7, 2007 2:08 PM

He knows full well what the Nation of Islam is (he referred to them in God Is Not Great as "the heretical black-only 'Nation of Islam'"), and as long as they go around telling others what to do (never mind actually doing violence) in the name of religion, he's not about to let them do it quietly.

Posted by Levislade | August 7, 2007 2:10 PM

Whoops: "There is no official connection between YBMB and Louis Farrakhan's ... Nation of Islam, though it seems that Yusuf Bey Sr. did convert to some form of Islam under that sinister organization's auspices.)"

My bad. The bowties confused me. Still, this seems to be a thoroughly American form of Islam. Having about as much to do with Wahhabism as Jehovah's Witnesses have to do with Catholicism.

Thought somebody should point that out, just in case Hitchens is trying to use this incident as a case study to support his broader "the Islamo-fascists are coming!" mantra. Not that he would be that disingenuous.

Posted by flaminganjo | August 7, 2007 2:12 PM

He should stick to bashing God, Faldwell, and mother Theresa. I mean it, she was a world class bitch. Read his book The Missionary Position. He can keep most of his other views to himself as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by muckfetro | August 7, 2007 2:12 PM

What a bunch of fucking hypocrites you are. You're all for bashing Christians all you want (I'm not a Christian btw) but keep your hands off the Muslims.

Posted by elswinger | August 7, 2007 2:20 PM

Ron Dellums has done more for the inner city youth and the residents of Alameda county than Cristopher "fat ass war supporter" Hitchens will ever do. So what if he is atheists? He is still a conservative douche bag.

He drops Dellums' name as if Dellums has anything to do with the nation of Islam or their silly religion or the bakery. That is just plain racist and offensive. Dellums' name is dropped because he is a progressive black mayor. What racist crap. Im surprised Savage cant seem to get over Hitchen.

Dellums happens to be the mayor of Oakland and a damn good one just like he was a great congressman back in da day.

Yes its great that he trashed Falwell, yes the nation of Islam is a silly stupid religion, but just because he is an eloquent atheist does not mean he is not a conservative douchebag.

Did anybody catch his stupid limey ass on Bill Maher giving the finger to the audience who booed his pro war positions.

Posted by SeMe | August 7, 2007 2:29 PM

elswinger: Are you on crack? Sloggers and Stranger writers bash Muslims constantly.

The whole "This would be racist if white people did it" canard is tired,

Why, exactly, is that canard tired? I saw it just the other day floating around in Lake Washington and it looked a hell of a lot healthier than that inbred domesticated "only white people can perpetrate acts of racism," thing engineered by YT Gilt Farms.

Posted by Judah | August 7, 2007 2:31 PM

I used to pass the bakery after work every day. Hitchens aside, it's super scary. Also, I believe the "leader" was arrested for child rape.

Posted by FinishTag | August 7, 2007 2:34 PM

We've been bashed for bashing Muslims. And Christians. And Scientologists. It's pretty much the Jews we leave alone.

Posted by Dan Savage | August 7, 2007 2:36 PM

And the eleven Jews in Seattle thank you for it, Dan.

Posted by JC | August 7, 2007 2:41 PM

@ 5
It takes a world class bitch to get done all Mother Theresa got done.
World Class bitches are awesome!

Posted by mj | August 7, 2007 2:48 PM

Overly sensitive today. Sorry.

Posted by elswinger | August 7, 2007 2:51 PM

It also takes a world class bitch to deny her "followers" pain medication and modern medical treatment (both of which her foundation could afford) & then to seek out the top specialist for her own heart problems.
Taking $$ from Papa Doc is also a bit bitchy.
You are right though some bitches are awesome. I amend my original statement. Mother Theresa was a cunt.

Posted by muckfetro | August 7, 2007 2:52 PM

The Nation of Islam are a bunch of rightwing seperatist nutjobs.

Posted by Yikes! | August 7, 2007 2:58 PM

Judah, lovely play on the two meanings of the word "canard." And I agree, it's not true that only white people be racist. Happily for me, I never said otherwise. Lovely false dilemma you've given us.

Posted by Ben | August 7, 2007 3:01 PM

@10 He would bash the Jews, but we made sure the Elders of Zion had incriminating pictures of Tim Keck. Now dance for your Hebrew masters!

Posted by Gitai | August 7, 2007 3:03 PM

Ben: Yeah, lovely job you did of using a dictionary and ignoring my question. Why don't you just impress me some more and clarify your point.

Posted by Judah | August 7, 2007 3:05 PM

Shari'a baking? I wasn't aware that black Muslims support shari'a.

Anyway, after conducting a simple Google search, it looks like Your Black Muslim Bakery is more of Your Average Neighborhood Crime Front, not the jihadist conspiracy that Hitchens claims.

Posted by keshmeshi | August 7, 2007 3:10 PM

Sounds like a money laundering front. They are probably a non-profit organization as well. Maybe the only reason the police aren't doing anything is because they already have undercover agents infiltrating the organization.

Posted by think for a moment | August 7, 2007 3:16 PM

Judah, I actually did really like your bit about canards. I apologize if the sincerity of that comment did not come across.

It simply seemed to me that Hitchens's claim that this business would be shut down were it called White Christian or Aryan Nation bakery was trading in a very sloppy way of thinking about racism in this country. I agree, white people are not the only people capable of racism. But it is also true that the phrases "black power" and "Black Muslim" are not demonstrated to be racist by pointing out that "white power" and "White Christian" would be racist if used in their place.

Posted by Ben | August 7, 2007 3:25 PM

According to ABC news, police have arrested a nineteen year (19!)old for the murder of Chauncey Bailey -- a good guy shot in broad daylight in downtown Oakland. Seven murders (!!!) have been committed in Oakland since Bailey was shot, 5 days ago. This is so sad, and so far from something that Ron Dellums can change on his own. They are at 109 murders for the year so far -- a ridiculously high number-- and 3.5 times the national average. Oakland cops are faced with an IMPOSSIBLE task -- and I'd imagine that Dellums is focused on that. This bakery is just one small corner of their problems. As an Oakland native it is heartbreaking -- no one can see their way through it.

I like that Hitchens is writing honestly, but as far as I can see the best comment on violence, race, and drugs in this country is HBO's The Wire. By far.

Posted by Emma | August 7, 2007 3:41 PM

"Maybe the only reason the police aren't doing anything is because they already have undercover agents infiltrating the organization."

dude, you're giving the oakland police WAAAAAAAAAAY more credit than they deserve. the only thing they're capable of infiltrating is a box of donuts, and i don't think they sell those at YBMB.

Posted by brandon | August 7, 2007 3:45 PM

Wait, there's another Ben that posts here?

Which one of use was here first?

Posted by Ben | August 7, 2007 3:45 PM

@ 23,

I imagine if they were suspected of possible jihadist activities the feds/supposedly pros, would be infiltrating, not the local cops.

@ 24,

Use an initial or something.

Posted by thought for a moment | August 7, 2007 3:52 PM

Religion is not special however sometimes the people who follow it are.

Posted by Giffy | August 7, 2007 3:57 PM
It simply seemed to me that Hitchens's claim that this business would be shut down were it called White Christian or Aryan Nation bakery was trading in a very sloppy way of thinking about racism in this country. I agree, white people are not the only people capable of racism. But it is also true that the phrases "black power" and "Black Muslim" are not demonstrated to be racist by pointing out that "white power" and "White Christian" would be racist if used in their place.

I think Hitchens' point was that the terms "black power" and "Black Muslim" are as racist on the face of it as the terms "white power" and "Aryan Nation." Aryans for constitute an historically legitimate ethnicity which includes people from North India, Iranians and, possibly, Germans. Essentially they're Indo-Europeans. The term was in use a long time before Hitler got his hands on it and fictionalized it -- in much the same way that Islam existed for more than a thousand years before Elijah Muhammad came along and fictionalized it into a form of violent racist nationalism. The mythology of Islam promulgated by Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam is every inch the African American reflection of the racist pseudo-histories of the Third Reich. While the term "aryan" has fallen out of popular usage because of its association with Nazism, has too many other connotations to be bound exclusively to the American Nation of Islam. Nonetheless, the term Black Muslim is commonly taken to suggest the Nation of Islam and its racist ideology.

Likewise the term "white power" is derived explicitly from the "black power" slogan popularized by Stokely Carmichael and others in the 1960s. "White power" is, pretty much by definition, exactly as racist as "black power."

In conclusion, your inference that the terms "Black Muslim" and "black power" are politically neutral in a way that "Aryan Nation" and "white power" aren't is completely unsupported by the history of those terms and the organizations and political movements associated with them.

Posted by Judah | August 7, 2007 4:11 PM

Couple of typos up there. I guess the main one is that: "Muslim" has too many other connotations, etc.

Posted by Judah | August 7, 2007 4:14 PM

I think the whole race, religion thing etc. etc. is a distraction from just the standard racketeering that is going on. And the fact that, in the inner city, there is little anyone can do about it with the whole anti-snitching thing.

If I stop to think about it, and try to get my thoughts in order. Back in the day the nation of Islam was the thing for all of critisizm of being anti-white was keeping black neighborhoods FUNCTIONAL. (And they shot Malcom X too... right?) Building businesses, improving the economy. They were quite constructive and influential in the black community. They get their money, and their means of life, and they move out of the old community and into the rest of American society (whoever is left!). Now as an outside observer, it doesn't seem like the Nation of Islam gives much of a shit about what goes on in inside of the old neighborhood, it seems to be an organization more like your campus fraternity empowering blacks with knowlege and enough rage to improve their life but it doesn't make it out of a college campus, an intelectual discussion, or a lawsuit. I would NEVER put them in the same catagory as normal muslims, the fact that they are muslim is completely arbitrary. It's a means of empowerment in serious need overhaul.

Why Oakland PD refuses to coment on it? I would guess that there is no comment to be made. They were unable to undermine a scary racketeering enterprise ... with scant racial and religious overtones.

Posted by OR Matt | August 7, 2007 4:17 PM

I don't know where this bakery fits into the picture, so I don't know if the phrase "sharia bakery" is applicable or not, but there is nothing Islamic about the Nation of Islam. Their version of Islam is retarded and unrecognized even as an apostate sect by any real Muslims. They read a translated Quran, for starters. There's more to Islam than putting the word "Islam" in your name.

Posted by fnarf | August 7, 2007 4:47 PM


The Nation of Islam aren't real muslims? I don't really buy that, it's like someone interpreting whether mormons are real christians. It's sort of a bull shit label and it really matters only to the person that postures them the most.

My folks once got into a MAJOR disagreement with one of the priests (raised catholic). Seems there was some funny stuff going on with alter boy schedual. I basically sat outside the rectory while my folks got crosses waved at them while they screamed and hollered that the priest was being a douche (which he was). My Dad told me that before he was a priest, he was a man. Regardless, the YBMB are crooks before they are muslims.

Posted by OR Matt | August 7, 2007 4:55 PM
The Nation of Islam aren't real muslims? I don't really buy that, it's like someone interpreting whether mormons are real christians.

Uh, no. The differences are much more profound than the differences between Mormons and mainstream Christians.

Posted by Judah | August 7, 2007 5:08 PM

The Nation is Islam is a bizarre offshoot/bastardized from of Islam. Nothing they believe (mad scientists creating the white race, etc.) has anything remotely to do with Islam. I would likewise contend that Mormons aren't exactly Christians in any conventional sense either- an offshoot for sure, but there are certain Mormon beliefs that would be considered heresy or alien across the board by any Christian sect.

A lot of NOI members end up leaving the NOI for traditional Sunni Islam- a lot of "black Muslims" are actually Sunni Muslims that happen to be black- in NYC, "black Muslims" often work with other Muslims and frequently share the same mosques. The NOI was actually moving towards a specifically Sunni orientation in the 1970s, but was steered back into the realms of insanity by Farrakhan once he consolidated power.

The idea of black Muslims is not inherently racist, it's more descriptive. The NOI, on the other hand, is explicitly racist and separatist in orientation- which I should point out is not compatible, at least officially, with the "catholic" aspirations of the faith. I think at the time they appeared, they had legitimate reason to promote separatism, as they lived in a blatantly racist society, one in which they were gravely exploited. But their belief system, even by the standards of the Jim Crow era, was and remains pretty kooky.

Posted by Jay | August 7, 2007 5:18 PM

Splitting hairs ... nonetheless help me out on this one. I'm willing to give the Mormans and the Christians some credit ....

The Mormons have their own book in addition to the bible ... The Church of later day saints

They have this sort of perpetual prophet ... a John Smith/Bringham Young for all the generations to recieve guidance (revelations) from god.

And the most tiered out afterlife imaginable that rivals the catholics in convulution.

Am I missing anything else obvious. Whereas @30 tells us that the Nation of Islam just reads a translated Koran.

Maybe it's the nihilist in me, but I'm not really thinking any of this matters so much as it's fascinating in details.

Posted by OR Matt | August 7, 2007 5:20 PM

religion in general tends to inevitably head in the direction of extreme, violent, and absurd. religion is perhaps the only area of adult discussion in which there is no intellectual accountability what-so-ever; simply state that faith is at work and you get to slide, no matter what you believe. this lack of rational diligence can lead a person anywhere, and given enough time will probably lead to violence of some sort as we have all seen, whether it's christian, muslim, hindu, or fucking heaven's gate. i think this is part of hitchens point: religion as a whole is a problem, yet certain religions get kit glove treatment in some circles (islam) while others get greater scrutiny (christianity, or vise versa). i personally think that a rational and logical approach to the world is a much better foundation to build from than any faith based view point.

Posted by douglas | August 7, 2007 5:22 PM


I don't think religion is the problem. It's the whole notion that there is only one universal truth, and I'm going to cram it down your throat until you believe me or die. I have no qualms with angry people finding inner peace. I just wish people would accept that what makes one person happy won't make another person happy. I like being a vegetarian, yet I don't advocate that life style for everyone. I am accepting of the fact that other people do not think 311 is a great band. I enjoy them, and am very happy to do so and occasionally enjoy the company of others that do the same. Much the same, if being a biggot black or white works for you, that's great it's a free country. Not everyone get's the same truth.

Posted by OR Matt | August 7, 2007 5:32 PM

Well, you can go around and around with "who's a real Muslim" -- and every Muslim sect does. But the Nation of Islam don't really have ANYTHING to do with Islam. They don't know or care anything about the Quran, which is pretty critical; every other, and I mean EVERY other Islamic denomination is founded on the word of Muhammad in the Quran, and the many hadith, even as they disagree about what counts as a legit hadith. The NOI is fundamentally ignorant of all that scripture. And they don't know any Arabic, which is an absolute requirement of every real Islamic denomination Sunni or Shi'a.

Of the various precepts of Islam, in all of its many varieties, the NOI understands none of them.

In addition, they have a heretical belief that their founder WD Mohammad was the Messiah and the returned Mahdi. This is completely against all Islamic teachings in every other sect. No Muslim believes God has appeared on Earth -- Muhammad was not divine, he was a prophet, like Abraham, Jesus, etc. That's a pretty massive difference, and it is absolutely unique.

A Mormon, in constrast, believes his book is another book in the Christian tradition, and knows his Christian Bible well.

Basically, the Nation of Islam owes nothing whatsoever to real Islam except some of the names. It's cod-Islam, created out of whole cloth by people who did not actually have any knowledge of Islamic beliefs or practices. None of their theology resembles Islamic theology at all; they're not just apostate but completely ignorant of it. Embarrassing, really. It's all about the conflict between (satanic) whites and (holy) blacks.

You and I could start a religion called the "Slog of Islam" and make up a bunch of rubbish about rabbit costumes and the Sacred Compact Flourescent Bulb and it would be as much "Islamic" as they are.

Posted by Fnarf | August 7, 2007 5:36 PM

The NOI's bullshit is particularly apparent when you consider that its most famous exponent, Malcolm X, became a Sunni Muslim and denounced the teachings of the NOI altogether.

Posted by Jay | August 7, 2007 5:42 PM

Hey, thanks for the education everybody! I'm learning all kinds of interesting stuff. Tremendous!

Posted by christopher | August 7, 2007 5:46 PM


That was a hell of a lot more informative and discriptive than what you previously put down. Very very interesting, and sadly, at times comical. Still, the mormans ... not everyone is cool with the Mormans, many neo-cons are warry of their new allies, and this is one of reasons why Mitt Romney desperately tries to downplay his mormanism.

You say that NOI doesn't even read the Quran or Arabic. I'm not aware of any sect that has added a holy book to Christianity and made it main stream since the gnostics. I think the bible has been largely condensed since the middle ages. Adding, loosing books ... it's trivial. As for the whole notion of language, that is only controvercial to the catholics. The whole second coming of god thing, is a fun passage in revalations, but the perpetual coming .... that is a little out there, kind of makes me think of god pharoah.

I'm sorry, it's still splitting hairs, Mormans aren't exactly real Christians either, but at least they're NICER about it.

They aren't inflaming racial sensitivities of this nation. Outiside of Utah, they seem to be reasonably humbled and accepting of how the rest off the country lives their lives. It's like, I get the impression they do their two years of service to spread the word of morman, and then they are more than satisfied that their neighbors are going to hell ... at least until they vote.

Posted by OR Matt | August 7, 2007 5:55 PM

@36, i agree that tolerance is very good, and that the dogma of universal truth is problematic. however, my point is that until religion is held to the same standard of reason as every other human endeavor, (i.e. prove your claims before they are taken as fact), there is no stopping people from believing whatever they fucking have "faith" in, which will include universal "must be enforced upon others" truth. and, since religion tends to function outside the boundaries of reality, it will never be accountable to a rational intellectual standard. thus, religion is, in and of itself, a bit of a problem.

Posted by douglas | August 7, 2007 5:56 PM

You want my honest interpretation ... Why mormans claim to be christians, why NOI claims to be muslims, why Scientologists claim to not be a religion at all ...

It's to instil legitimacy in the world and trust into potential followers.

Posted by OR Matt | August 7, 2007 5:58 PM

More importantly, the Mormons didn't start their religion with the express purpose of using someone else's religious tradition to cover their own program of race hatred. Their beliefs may seem kooky to non-believers, but it's a real religion. NOI is just gibberish outside of the context of hate. They literally believe that black people are divine and white people are devils -- literally devils. The rest of it is cobbled together with as much attention to reality, consistency and detail as any other hate group, like Aryan Nation or Christian Identity.

They also gain from their program of obfuscation, confusing the issue of Muslims who are black versus Black Muslims, which makes casual observers think they're just another kind of Muslim, and that American Muslims like Dave Chappelle support them.

Posted by Fnarf | August 7, 2007 6:07 PM

@ 41

I'm sorry to say, to you think most people are capable or want to make their own decissions? We're all lazy, and well ... understanding everything is hard. Genetic engineering, computers, and since education is lagging, people would rather pray to find some sanctuary.

I'm not actually against this ...

There are so many things that happen in our lives that defy reason, freak accidents lost loved ones that some people NEED some semblence to justify it ... religion is one or those things. You and I, maybe we are just angry people, bight the bullet and take it on ourselves ... I don't know. But saying god took my right hand for reason is much more comforting for some.

Not exactly a bad thing ...

Then there are just some things in this world where the rational explanation isn't exactly comforting. Karl Marx's notion of religion may be the opiate for the masses, but opium feels good.

But I'm not trusting it either, yet I don't expect most people to follow my lead. It's issolating sometimes whene you feel the universe is a vacant meaningless place.

Posted by OR Matt | August 7, 2007 6:10 PM

@41, having a scientific approach to the world does not inherently make the world vacant, or meaningless. other people will always exist, and it is in other people that true meaning in this world can be found.

i do understand the comforting effect of a higher power and the opiate-like effect of religious belief, however, i do not think this is a good thing, nor do i think that it should be fostered or encouraged. delusion will not lead to anything positive in the long run. for example, say global warming causes massive flooding in some area of the world. we could say, "well that's what god wanted" and all feel comforted in divine wisdom, or we could figure out what caused the flood and come up with solutions that will help prevent future disasters. i choose the latter option.

additionally, belief in god and a rational, logic based view point are not mutually exclusive. you cannot disprove that god exists, thus god is an idea on the shelf waiting for some backing, fully in the realm of the possible. however, one also cannot say that god does unequivocally exist and thus one's use of god as a justifier is limited or eliminated, as it should be.

Posted by douglas | August 7, 2007 6:29 PM

oops, i meant @44. i wasn't being very scientific there.

Posted by douglas | August 7, 2007 6:30 PM

Hitchens isn't saying it's a jihadi front. Only that it was given a wide berth because it claimed to be a religious... uh... bakery. And we give religious-ish groups and individuals the benefit of every doubt. Until someone's dead.

Posted by Dan Savage | August 7, 2007 6:32 PM

Who cares whether they are "real" Muslims or not? It's like arguing what is real astrology and what is not. Hitchens is right that these guys were given way more latitude than they should, only because we have been taught to "respect their beliefs" regardless of how obnoxious and kooky they may be.

Posted by Tiffany | August 7, 2007 6:41 PM

i agree with dan and tiffany.

Posted by douglas | August 7, 2007 6:50 PM

No Communists in my car! No Christians either! -Bud

Posted by Big Sven | August 7, 2007 6:53 PM

also, dan, religious people and groups are given the benefit of the doubt after people are dead. this shit has been killing people for centuries; respect for religion is given greater weight than human life, and for what? so we don't offend people's "deeply held beliefs". i say fuck religion. that may be pretty extreme, but i'm sick of people hiding behind fairytales and demanding respect for beliefs that haven't earned it.

Posted by douglas | August 7, 2007 6:56 PM

Most of the ideology people subscribe to is faith based. Politics rarely have anything to do with rationality. There are whole belief systems this country relies on to keep getting up every morning that have no basis whatsoever in anything other than simple belief. That's the problem with the Dawkins/Hitchens line: it assumes that religion is unique in its ability to inspire people do do stupid or awful things. I disagree wholeheartedly. In order to enter into this idea, we either have to expand the meaning of religion to broadly mean any irrational ideology (half our political "values" would go out the window under this criteria) or concede that religion is one specialized area of thought among several competing, but equally unfounded and/or stupid ideologies. Capitalism has killed people, communism has killed people, liberalism has killed people, sectarians have killed people, socialists have killed people, anarchists have killed people, imperialists have killed people, nationalism and fascism have killed people, tribalism has killed people, clan warfare has killed people, science has killed people, pseudoscience has killed people, agrarianism has killed people, familial bonds have killed people, honor has killed people, altruism has killed people, greed has killed people, etc. And usually, not for very good reasons, or for misguided reasons. The belief in progress that progress that characterized the 19th century led into the bloodiest century yet, the 20th, which was characterized by a number of secular ideologies brutalizing each other for some vague idea about the "future."

Posted by Jay | August 7, 2007 7:16 PM

OK Jay we get your point. You think that irrationality is swell.

Posted by Tiffany | August 7, 2007 7:24 PM

I'm not saying all these ideas are equal, but that each of them have been used as the pretext for mass slaughter or moral grandstanding at one time or another. At some point, almost every ideology has claimed for itself the role of religion.

For example, I consider neo-liberalism a kind of secular religion- it's an ideology many people support based on vague ideas about society and the role of the individual in it, and people act on it whether the policies work or not, even when those policies are outright destructive. Leninism was the same way- it was a series a thoughts people decided they wanted to believe in and then was imposed as a state religion. Faith in Marxism or faith in the free market have the veneer of rationality, but for most of these ideology's supporters, belief in them has nothing to do with rationality.

Posted by Jay | August 7, 2007 7:27 PM

Yeah, Tiffany that's it! It really sounds like your idea is really well informed historically! I mean your uncompromising, vindictive, and stupid view of religion and belief sure is rationally thought out and developed!

I'm an atheist myself, but I find self-righteous atheists to be generally awful people with humorless dispositions who take for granted the "logic" of their position. If you think human society is about rationality, you're as deluded as the Mormons.

Posted by Jay | August 7, 2007 7:31 PM

Oy. Am I the only one here who can harness the awesome power and mystery of Google? Behold.

According to that article, YBMB has had a long history in that community, most of it good.

The group has deep roots in Oakland's life and politics, and for decades it played a positive role in Oakland's black community, said Cal State East Bay professor Benjamin Bowser, a sociologist who has chronicled the city's history.

The group served as an example of upward economic mobility in an impoverished community, and its members tried to serve as a buffer against the rising drug trade, Bowser said. The bakery has also long provided ex-convicts with one of the few places they could work after being released from prison.

There's no evidence that these guys are religious fanatics, despite what Hitchens says:

Now, I'm just asking, but: rape, polygamy, intimidation, torture, murder, all these actions emanating from one address and some of them performed in the name of a fanatical ideology. What does it take before the police decide to raid the premises? Should we wait until unveiled women are attacked on the street or until honor killings or female circumcision take hold?

There's no reason, aside from Hitchens' raging paranoia, to think that YBMB advocated for violence against women.

This official apathy—amounting to collusion—is undergirded by a culture that cringingly insists on "respect" for any organization, however depraved, that can masquerade as "faith-based."

Bullshit. The Oakland PD had been conducting a year-long investigation into the organization. Besides, this is fucking Oakland. Has Hitchens ever been there? Violence and crime, and police inaction, are par for the course.

This group is made up of common thugs and criminals. There's nothing to indicate that their actions are related to religion. There's nothing to indicate that they're fundamentalist, fanatic Muslims. They were protected by the organization's past positive history and by the intimidation of victims and neighbors, not by some sort of knee-jerk "respect" for religious organizations.

Posted by keshmeshi | August 7, 2007 7:33 PM

Thanks keshmeshi. Seriously. We live in hyperbolic times when arguments like Hitchens' are allowed to spin way out of control.

Posted by Jay | August 7, 2007 7:37 PM

jay, i see what your saying, but religion is unique among virtually all ideologies. only religion has no requirements for evidence, reason, or any intellectual discipline of any kind. it is a type of thinking in which what is believed is accepted as right simply because it is believed. other ideologies at least have to justify some semblance of reasoned argumentation. religion is treated like a child whose belief in santa is ever so important. i mean, yeah you "believe" in gravity, but that doesn't make physics a psudo-religion, there's a line of reasoning and evidence going on there.

furthermore, the ills of the last few centuries, and the search for progress that caused many of them have been caused by booming populations which in turn were caused by the agricultural and industrial revolutions. in other words, extremely complicated factors too big to control and impossible for people in the midst of them to foresee. it's grossly over simplistic to state that the "belief in progress that characterized the 19th century led to the bloodiest century yet."

Posted by douglas | August 7, 2007 8:12 PM

Ideology is a huge component in the miseries of the 20th century- it was the match that lit the powder keg of the demographic, economic, and social trends/forces you mentioned. That said, I agree that religion is unique among belief systems since it posits far more unfalsifiable ideas than secular belief systems- secular belief systems are discredited and we move on, religion though has more of a stranglehold on the imagination.

But religion isn't without its traditions of logic and reason. Christians, Muslims, and Jews all enjoyed periods of tremendous intellectual output- religion isn't all throwing one's toys; there are areas within all the major religions where theological issues are discussed vigorously and reasonably.

I think the problem with religion for me is the claim to universal truth someone mentioned above, the belief in salvation and an afterlife (which tends to cheapen life and prevent positive change), and the generally dogmatic approach much of it takes towards regulating everyday life. But I'm not inherently offended by someone believing in somewhat irrational ideas like good and evil or universal love- it's when these ideas are institutionalized into a political force that it becomes a problem.

Posted by Jay | August 7, 2007 8:37 PM

I'm kind of with J ... and as a scientist (maybe an organic chemist) we are all at fault for the ills of the world. I'm not going to deny that global warming is happening or the major causes of it, but there are some things we really don't understand yet. It's not that the science is bad, it's just that well ... we don't know. Frenology was a great pseudo science that led to a LOT persecution over the ages, science has killed people in the halocaust. Religion is ... the god's honest trust, it's more of a microcommunity than a connnection to god. Or a spiritual connection. People do what they do to loose face with respect to the community. When you leave your faith, the hardest thing to do is to leave your family and your community. Fanatical muslims maybe are brain washed to preserve their lifestyle.

Religion is different, the Europeans invented it as we know it, and it's sort of a microgovernment. Yeah I'm an aethiest, but that is my choice, my life has left me here to this truth ... at least for now ... who knows.

If there is one truth, it's probably that there is none, there is always going to be conflict, there is always going to be war, disagreement, injustice, and there are always going to be people to try to make the world better and worse, and things run in waves. Whatever the force is... it just is. And we all wake up every day and some of us are gifted enough to live in a country where we go to school, think way too much and post this crap on the internet.

Don't just be hating religion.

Posted by OR Matt | August 7, 2007 9:41 PM

Hitchens seems to have some good points, particularly about the problems with what kind of policework is rewarded in this country, but his context-free comparison of "Black Muslim Bakery" and "White Christian Bakery" is as disingenuous as a white liberal complaining that black people can say nigger and he can't. A majority population threatening to wipe out a minority community is different from a minority population threatening to wipe out the majority, although neither should be treated as admirable. The difference is, one is backed up by numerous historical (and ongoing) examples.

Posted by Kiru Banzai | August 7, 2007 10:53 PM

"Religion is different, the Europeans invented it as we know it"

This is not true.

Posted by fuck the truth | August 8, 2007 6:16 AM

By the way, no one has really addressed why we are talking about this, because they have bloody hands in numerous killings. I still say it's a front for the mob. The Italians and Irish have been doing this shit for years, the are just taking a page from the playbook.

Posted by ftt | August 8, 2007 6:22 AM


Yeah, the Europeans kind of took religion to a new level. It gets jumbled. If you go to China, they practice certain aspects of spirituality, worship their ancestors, buddhism, yet they never really submitted themselves to one gospel in the mannor that Europeans did. When the missionaries arived in China, and tried to save their souls. Something funny happened, they never really bought it. Europeans were befuddled, they had a this huge civilation lasting for so many years yet they had no central moral authority?

What causes their wars? Natural resources, regional pride, etc. etc. desire for power. Restoring order for the greater good.

Religion/spirituality .... the whole notion is so poluted and tainted in that it's impossible to discuss in a rational manor. In one sence your defining a community, and taken to the extreme you are defining a cult. In the other sense you are seeking a grand meaning to it all.

Arguing against religion is like arguing against gun control. It's too fricken hard, and there are smarter people than you or I that can do it effectively ... because then you basically do the same religion tries to do. Homogonize and subjugate people into one doctorine ... and I have a hard time with it.

Guns don't kill people, people use guns to kill people. Religion doesn't kill people, people use religion to kill people. Get it?

Posted by OR Matt | August 8, 2007 10:08 AM

"Arguing against religion is like arguing against gun control. It's too fricken hard, and there are smarter people than you or I that can do it effectively"

I agree that you are not equipped to argue this issue effectively, and I humbly request that you stop doing such a poor job of it in such a public way. Thank you.

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