For those not well-versed in the various strands of contemporary atheism, this is a weird turn for the discourse surrounding a tragedy to take—do that many atheists hate Muslims? And is there so much Islamophobia being preached by prominent atheists that they deserve to be blamed for Hicks’s actions?
For starters, we should define “New Atheism,” which Bruenig calls “the contemporary phenomenon of aggressive disbelief coupled with a persistent persecution narrative.” Essentially, New Atheists aren’t just satisfied in not believing in God or gods, they want everyone to lose their beliefs as well. The four most prominent New Atheists—Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, sometimes called the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”—have written books about how God doesn’t exist and debated priests and rabbis on the topic. Hitchens is dead, but the remaining three are extremely combative public intellectuals who have a history of saying nasty things about Islam.
Their critics—who have multiplied in the past few years—say their intellectualism is just a dressed-up excuse to be an asshole. For instance, when Harris argued we should “profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim”—people were like, Yeah, that sounds pretty racist. The next year, when Dawkins called Islam “one of the great evils of the world,” people similarly raised eyebrows. It doesn’t help that these guys, and most of their fans, are the whitest of white dudes.