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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

What I’ve Learned About The Atheist Community In The Past Week

During this past week, I have been consumed with the Free Mubarak campaign. I have been desperate to find help with this cause because of my significant lack of skills, expertise and experience in this area. I have never tried to rescue an atheist from the clutches of sharia law. When Mubarak contacted me, I had no idea what to do.

Luckily, I was not alone. Mubarak had also contacted several other people. The problem, however, is that most of the people he contacted had no more experience than I did. We really had no idea what to do.

I myself, had never conversed with Mubarak prior to him contacting me on this occasion, but a quick look at his timeline on Twitter proved to me that he had been a long-time active member of the atheist community on the social network. I could see him conversing with many of the people I’ve gotten to know since starting Godless Mom. This went back for months and was enough for me to feel I could not ignore his cry for help. I was further convinced after speaking with many Twitter users who had engaged with Mubarak.

At this point, I realized that I still didn’t know enough to be sure that it was actually Mubarak, though. I had no way of confirming who was speaking to me, and whether or not this person had really been beaten, drugged and detained. The only things I knew for sure, were:

  1. No money had been requested.

  2. Mubarak was known in the atheist community online.

  3. I had been asked to help someone whose life may actually be at stake.

I was raised by two devoted humanists, who spent their entire careers committed to bettering the lives of others. In my father’s case, he’s saved thousands of lives in his career. It simply was not in me to ignore this plea for help.

I have a job. I have kids. I need to make ends meet somehow (not easy as a freelance writer working at home with two kids all summer). It would have been a hell of a lot easier to just ignore this. Especially on that Sunday night when I received his first message. I was literally on my way to bed, barely able to keep my eyes open after a long day at the lake. I could have just gone to sleep. My life would have gone on like normal, copywriting for corporations and sitting at the lake with my babies. I couldn’t though. I kept picturing being locked up in a psych ward by my own family for denying god, with no one on my side. It turned my stomach and squeezed my chest.

Maybe this is a scam, I thought. I couldn’t think of what the scam was, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t one.

After conversing with @QuranifyMe, who had also received Mubarak’s email, we agreed that it still seemed fishy, but we could not ignore it.

In Mubarak’s original email to me, he requested that I publicize what had happened to him. I did that here. I made it very clear in that post that the situation had not been confirmed.

Shortly after this post, Mubarak made contact again and requested that we limit publicizing anything until his own doctor is able to see him. The idea was not to anger anyone just yet, in case his own doctor intended to have him released. We agreed to hold off, and waited for close to a week.

Mubarak Bala Nigerian Atheist

The original roll call to collect email addresses.

It was at this point that I released the meme asking for human rights supporters. I wanted to collect a list of emails to blast and ask them to start tweeting when and if it came time to do so. It worked. I collected over 100 emails of atheists and theists and no-so-sure-ists and don’t-really-care-ists.

Halfway through this week of waiting, we got another email from Mubarak making it very clear, if we did not hear from him by the end of Friday, to do everything it took to get him out of the hospital.

On Friday, Mubarak himself gave us the go. We scrambled to get all the info together and by now @virtuarat was an integral cog in the #FreeMubarak campaign. We blasted through the emails, asking them to tweet all the big names they could think of about this and within 20 minutes, my web site had crashed from too much traffic. @virtuarat helped me out by mirroring the content.

Through the Twitter blast, we got the help of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) who quickly located a trusted activist, Bamidele Adineye (@deezer234), in Lagos, Nigeria. Both IHEU and Bamidele had been in contact with the doctor who was clear that there was absolutely nothing wrong, physically or mentally, with Mubarak.

Bamidele worked very hard to find a lawyer willing to go visit Mubarak. When the lawyer did, he was able to confirm the whole story. We started a petition, continued tweeting and pressing the publicity.

We have successfully brought this story to the attention of the world. We have had it reported in most major news outlets, and IHEU is being interviewed by another as I type this.

Throughout this process, I have come to be aware that the average atheist is eager to help a fellow human being. I have also learned that there are religious people who are willing to work to save the life of an atheist. I learned that so many people are good, caring and compassionate people.

Mubarak Bala Atheist Nigeria

Thank YOU!!

I have also learned that there is handful of people out there, who feel being 100% certain about things is far more important that anything else. They have refused to help us over and over, engaging us in arguments as though their approval of what we were doing should be a top priority to us. At times, it appeared they were looking for literally anything to poke a hole in the story, as though they just didn’t want to believe.

Many of these people are prominent atheists with recognizable names. Some of whom actually tweeted in public unkind words about me and the rest of the people working on this campaign. To these people, certainty comes above all else. It reminds me of the mantra I hear from so many theists, “God above all else”.

I chose to jump in, without 100% certainty because being wrong about it and looking like I trust too easily was a far better option than not doing something and being wrong about it. That option would have surely ended up with blood on my hands.

Today, we got confirmation on the hospital letterhead, signed by the administrator. The story is no longer in question, on the very day it has become viral.

Andy, you are an amazing man and one day we will have beers together.

Bob, you were so calm and rational through this whole thing and I am honoured to have “met” you.

Bamidele, your character was attacked on several occasions and you kept cool. Your interview on BBC last night was awesome. You have put yourself at risk, and done all of the legwork. You are someone I am proud to know… AND I love how you greeted me as “Godless Mommy” on Skype!

Nancy, you are determined and hard working and doing most of this from your car. I have no idea how you did it, but you’re tops, too.

Deana, the atheist terminator, did not stop for anything.

Quranify Me, you stuck by us even though you had some doubts, too. Thank you.

Everyone on Twitter who shared this, you were key in getting this viral. Pat yourselves on the back, too.


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