G: And why do you think it’s on the rise?
HN: Why is it on the rise? Well if I had to put forward what I see as the most pertinent reason, it would have to be the internet and social media. We are connected like nothing else. A boy in a small town outside Lahore can watch a lecture by Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Christopher Hitchens. Ten years ago it wasn’t that easy.
Another reason is the fact that Pakistanis are obsessed with trying to prove to the world that Islam is right. When people like that go to online forums to debate other people they get asked questions that, as a born Muslim, they don’t ask themselves…
G: How much of this trend is attributable to political events and the rise of Islamist militancy in the region?
HN: The rise of Islamist militancy has made more ‘closet’ atheists ‘come out’. Has it made more people in Pakistan become atheist/agnostics? No it hasn’t. It has in some cases put people on the path to questioning their own faith but not to abandoning it. I find that almost all people abandon faith because of scientific and philosophical arguments rather than geo-political events.