Last week, AAI lodged a serious, urgent complaint about one of my articles.

That complaint turned out to be petty and specious.

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The AAI Files, Part Six

On January 27, I wrote an article about the recent Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) held by Atheist Alliance International (AAI). In this article, I named names.

On January 28, early in the morning, AAI contacted me, asking that I redact a particular name from the article. Let’s call him Sharif. The authorities in Sharif’s country are looking for him, they said. His country is one of the places where being an atheist is dangerous. They told me I was endangering Sharif’s life. 

Maybe the goons at AAI think I’m an emotionless superman. Maybe I have encouraged this view with the whimsical tone of my articles about AAI. I am not. If something I wrote for any reason were to hurt someone, I would feel bad. If something I wrote contributed in any way to someone’s murder, that would break me. I am a writer and a human.

Half-awake, I immediately snapped out of bed, logged onto OnlySky, and redacted Sharif’s name. I also told AAI about my source for this information, a publicly-available PDF of EGM slides on their own website which also showed Sharif’s face. Later, others informed AAI about more places where this information appeared.

Other places

One of those places was a video by Youtuber Godless Scummer (Geoff) which criticised the same EGM. Some slides with Sharif’s name were shown. The slides were taken from the same publicly-available PDF on the AAI website.

On January 29, late in the night, I was a guest on the Free Thought Prophet podcast to discuss the issue. During this podcast, Michael Nugent came into the live chat. He is the chair of Atheist Ireland and the target of much vitriol at the AAI EGM. Nugent revealed that the offending PDF on the AAI website appeared on the first page of Google results for “[Sharif] + atheist”. You can see my real-time reaction to this information where I’ve linked to the timestamp here. I was not happy.

On January 30, Geoff published a “challenge to the board of Atheist Alliance International”. In this video, he asked AAI to contact him directly to remove references to Sharif. No one contacted him.

They are actively putting Sharif’s life in danger.

On January 31, in the afternoon, AAI uploaded a new PDF with Sharif’s name and photo redacted. This was three and a half days after the urgent message to me. However, the original PDF is still online and publicly available. Any links posted to the original PDF (i.e. all of them) will still show the full name and photo.

Abominable AAI actions

If Sharif is in danger, AAI have acted abominably in having his photo and full name on their website. It’s still there, more than a week after a sense of urgency compelled them to contact me. Not only is this ostensibly fatal information still publicly-available, it’s one of the first hits on a Google search. It’s been there so long, the Wayback Machine has archived it. It’s there. I checked. They are actively putting Sharif’s life in danger.

In this case, they have further acted abominably in unnecessarily drawing attention to their mistake. Anyone with any media training will know the Barbra Streisand Effect. An attempt to suppress or censor true critical information will often magnify its reach.

If something awful happened to Sharif, AAI would have been perfectly happy for me to believe that I had something to do with it. When that information is the first hit on Google (and otherwise available). They would have just let me think that. It’s not just cynical or opportunist or passive-aggressive. It’s bloodthirsty and censorious.

However, if Sharif is not genuinely in danger, AAI have acted abominably in weaponizing the very real danger atheists face all over the world to intimidate and silence valid and justifiable criticism.

Good news

Regardless, the only conclusion is that AAI has no problem with the public availability of Sharif’s identity. They have a personal problem with me.

We can take some comfort. The goons at AAI presumably combed through all my articles and that’s all they could find. We can infer that everything I’ve said in those articles is accurate.

Don’t worry, OnlySky readers! I’m fine. If this cruel plot was designed to intimidate me into silence, it will not work.

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Barry Purcell lives in Ireland and writes about religion, philosophy, psychology, politics and language for a variety of paper and online publications. He has been involved in campaigns to counteract the...