Richard Dawkins attacks Muslim bigots, not just Christian ones. If only his enemies were as brave

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Jerry Coyne also discusses this article in his blog, Why Evolution is True

It’s August, and you are a journalist stuck in the office without an idea in your head. What to write? What to do? Your empty mind brings you nothing but torment, until a thought strikes you, ‘I know, I’ll do Richard Dawkins.’


Dawkins is the sluggish pundit’s dream. It does not matter which paper you work for. Editors of all political persuasions and none will take an attack on Darwin’s representative on earth. With the predictability of the speaking clock, Owen Jones, the Peter Hitchens of the left, thinks the same as Craig Brown, Private Eye’s high Tory satirist. Tom Chivers, the Telegraph’s science blogger, says the same as Andrew Brown, the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent. The BBC refuses to run contrary views. It assures the nation that ‘militant’ atheism is as fanatical as militant religion — despite the fact that no admirer of The God Delusion has ever planted a bomb, or called for the murder of homosexuals, Jews and apostates.

Sharp operators could sell the same piece a dozen times without changing a word. Read the papers, and you will suspect that is exactly what sharp operators have done.

Cultural conservatives have always hated Dawkins for challenging traditional Christian beliefs. The liberal-left is fine with knocking Christianity, but it hates Dawkins for being intellectually consistent and tweeting — yes, that’s right, tweeting — against Islam too. Many of the charges against his inappropriate tweets are extraordinary. Jones denounces Dawkins for tweeting ‘Who the hell do these Muslims think they are? At UCL of all places, tried to segregate the sexes in debate’. If Jones can’t see what is wrong with segregation, then not even an equality course for beginners can save him.

Written By: Nick Cohen
continue to source article at spectator.co.uk

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  1. Tagging your screed with a more significant name than your own is standard journalistic practice. So much easier to direct personal abuse at Dawkins than to discuss his ideas. So satisfying for hot-air journalists to be condescending and bilious, demonstrating, according to their lights, how much smarter they are than their target.

    • It is all very well atheists saying that religion is not the same as race, because you are free to decide what god if any you believe in, but cannot choose your ethnicity. But try telling that to the persecuted Christians, Shia and Sunni of the Middle East. Their religious persecution is no different from racial persecution.

      I’d argue that the Muslim-Christian, Buddhist-Muslim, Shia-Sunni etc. conflicts are almost identical to the conflicts between fascists and communists of the 20th Century; they’re primarily (or nominally) ideological, in the sense that religion is an ideology, but often have a strong element of racism welded on, either by design or in practice.

      Perhaps Cohen is emphasising that the nature of the persecution is the same, even if the motivation is different? But this seems to be a pretty irrelevant argument, as I don’t think anyone is arguing that persecution of religious people is legitimate.

  2. One day there will be a reckoning. One day, thousands who have suffered genital mutilation, religious threats and forced marriages will turn to the intellectual and political establishments of our day and ask why they did not protect them. The pathetic and discreditable reply can only be: ‘We were too busy fighting Richard Dawkins to offer you any support at all.’

    Excellent and correct.

  3. I liked Cohen’s comment that you don’t have to be a race to be the target of racism.

    It is all very well atheists saying that religion is not the same as race, because you are free to decide what god if any you believe in, but cannot choose your ethnicity. But try telling that to the persecuted Christians, Shia and Sunni of the Middle East. Their religious persecution is no different from racial persecution.

  4. If Richard and his efforts aren’t being hurt by the constant negative attention then I hope it continues. It’s always an opportunity to present another view of the issues, and it is almost certainly better than being ignored.

    Of course I can say that partly because I’m not convinced that other more important issues are overlooked because writers prefer to go after Richard.

    edit: Just adding the thought that it is almost certainly better than being ignored by the people you think most need to interact with your ideas.

  5. Right on the mark. So many of my fellow liberals, feeling a certain amount of appropriate guilt regarding the imperialism of our progenitors, get stuck in this Star Trekian prime directive mentality and lose sight of the importance of the basic principles that lie at the heart of our liberal traditions. When religion and culture violate our principles, that is the time to stand for those principles. When someone like Dawkins has the intellectual courage to stick to these principles, attacking him shows moral cowardice and poor reasoning.

    • In reply to #8 by Obi wan kolobi:

      When someone like Dawkins has the intellectual courage to stick to these principles, attacking him shows moral cowardice and poor reasoning.

      You’re being too generous. I think it’s just the moral cowardice in most cases.

  6. I bought the Private Eye issue No. 1346 that satirises Prof. Dawkins’ tweets. I was not particularly surprised as the Editor, Ian Hislop, has long been keen to soft-pedal religious issues. In his defence, Mr. Hislop would no doubt point to the many jokes, cartoons and column inches given over to religious issues in which religions get a rough ride.

    That’s the problem with the verb soft-pedal, it’s all about definitions.

    To see a more obvious (because it is so crude) example of this see Alex Gabriel’s blog Yes, Richard Dawkins, your statements on Islam are racist. Because Alex lacks a journalist’s experience he exposes the weaknesses in the ad hominem approach far better than Nick Cohen.

    Nick Cohen is surely correct: We must all focus on Prof. Dawkins’ example and be as consistent as possible.

    Cohen’s mid-column conclusion:

    … generalising about Muslims can incite racism. It is all very well atheists saying that religion is not the same as race, because you are free to decide what god if any you believe in, but [you] cannot choose your ethnicity. But try telling that to the persecuted Christians, Shia and Sunni of the Middle East. Their religious persecution is no different from racial persecution.

    … is offered without supporting evidence.

    The nature of the persecution may not be different – and the motivations may be so similar, viewed from 30,000 feet, that it may be difficult see the differences. Like seeing two green patches from a real distance of 30,000 ft. and judging them to be two fields – then landing your aeroplane and driving out to see that one is a lake full of green algae – such an approach is simply nonsense when considering political options.

    This is classic news media over-simplification that obscures the real issues.

    Applying the policies used to counter racism in order to tackle religious fascism is like ordering a herd of cows to graze in the green lake – setting yourself up to fail.

    This is the classic mistake of the popular democratic socialist parties of Europe, they think they’re conflating two forms of bigotry into a single – one size fits all – policy response, they think they’re getting two bites at the anti-fascist vote.

    What they’re actually doing is throwing fuel on the fires of sectarianism and handing a Get out of Jail free card to far right wing god-botherers that make racist groups look like a bunch of Girl Guides selling cookies.

    Very much not impressed, Mr. Cohen.

    Peace.

    • In reply to #9 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

      The nature of the persecution may not be different – and the motivations may be so similar, viewed from 30,000 feet

      Come down to earth and all will be clear.

      Judaism is a religion. Islam is a religion. Islamophobia is racism. Anti-Semitism is racism. Got it?

      • In reply to #14 by aldous:

        Hi aldous,

        Come down to earth and all will be clear.

        That is exactly my point – Cohen is flying too high to see the details – you know, the bit where the Devil resides …

        Judaism is a religion. Islam is a religion. Islamophobia is racism.

        A phobia is, by definition, irrational. Fear of Islam is rational: 9/11, 7/7, Richard Reid, etc., for how much longer … ?

        Anti-Semitism is racism.

        Yes: Jews are a race (as per Stafford’s definition, #17 – although as DArcy points out, #16, it is slippery concept at best), regardless of whether they are also followers of Moses.

        Got it?

        Yes. Thank you for pointing out that I’m right.

        Peace.

  7. I follow God on Twitter (@TheTweetOfGod he delivers hilarious one-liners daily).
    When he was interviewed by The Friendly Atheist, Hermant Mehta, this is was he answered when asked about Islam: “I’m not going there. Islam is great. I have great respect for Islam.” At least this David Javerbaum atheist guy is honest: he freely confesses that he is afraid of criticizing Islam for fear of personal consequences.

    Those who will not criticize Islam for fear of personal consequences should AT LEAST shut up and refrain from attacking those who will!

    • In reply to #10 by Fouad Boussetta:

      Those who will not criticize Islam for fear of personal consequences should AT LEAST shut up and refrain from attacking those who will!

      And who would you be criticizing then? Would you just continue shouting into the ether? I suspect that if you need to pick a fight then you can hardly hope for a better result, besides a sudden and miraculous change in your opposition to your way of thinking, than some retaliation. (I’m not saying all retaliation is equally good or what you hope for.)

  8. The comments on the Spectator are very odd. It’s an article than mentions Richard Dawkins, and nobody is attacking Richard Dawkins! His name is barely mentioned. This is unprecedented, I’m sure.

  9. Not only does R D have to put up with personal attacks for his rational world view, but is constantly having his discipline undermined by ignoramuses.

    Christopher Hitchens got it right when he criticized Dawkin’s fellow scientists for not rallying round him.

    I’ll support him any day!

  10. aldous:

    Islamophobia is racism. Anti-Semitism is racism. Got it

    Er, no I don’t get it. Please first define the term “race”, and good luck with that one. The scientists can’t do it. Oh and please bear in mind that the country with the most Muslims in it is Indonesia, not Saudi Arabia. Different “race”, different culture, same delusions.

    IMO there is no way that, from what I’ve read, Richard’s views about religion, could be considered “racist” or even “hate speech”. The man speaks the truth about religion, and that’s why he is picked on.

    • In reply to #16 by Mr DArcy:

      aldous:

      Er, no I don’t get it. Please first define the term “race”, and good luck with that one

      So, are you saying that there is no such thing as racism? Incidentally, I think Prof Dawkins’ tweets about Islam were great fun and the reaction they produced from sanctimonious atheists was quite hilarious .

  11. Aldous # 14:

    Religion is elective race is not.

    Where you live is elective where you are born is not.

    Get it?

    Nice point Mr DArcy # 16: “Different “race”, different culture, same delusions.”

    S G

    • In reply to #17 by Stafford Gordon:

      Aldous # 14:

      Religion is elective race is not.

      You make it sound as if there was a big religious supermarket where you browsed around till you found something that suited you. The reality is that children are born into a religion; Muslim children are brought up as Muslims and, since the penalty for leaving Islam is death, there’s a tendency to stay in the fold in Islamic countries.

      You state confidently that you can’t choose your race. Could you give some examples of human races? It is claimed that Jews are not a race but they are certainly the target of anti-Semitism and Muslims are not a race but they are the target of Islamophobia. It should go without saying that both these terms can be misused and accusations of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia may be false, or not.

      • You make it sound as if there was a big religious supermarket where you browsed around till you found something that suited you.

        There is.

        The reality is that children are born into a religion

        It’s like politics, then. People are born into families that may have a particular political tradition. You decide as an adult whether you agree with it.

        Yes, Islam has a repugnant stance on ‘apostasy’, but that doesn’t mean one should humour it, which is what you’re doing, in effect. The fact that people are pressured to stick with it is wrong. It’s also a consequnce of under-education, that people are not able to challenge it with confidence.

  12. The first part of Cohen’s excellent article can be reduced to a formula (slightly amended), which I have posted before:

    From the Book of Lazy Journalism (21stC Edition), a formula for publication:

    1) Think of an article or topic

    2) Write the article

    3) Consider the article’s (a) merits and (b) demerits

    4) If 3(b) is greater than 3(a), add the name Richard Dawkins

    5) Send for publication

  13. aldous #19:

    I take your point about children, but I think that goes without saying; that’s the tragic thing. But that situation is not immutable, there remain choices which can be exercised albeit with great difficulties attached; again, tragic.

    With regard to race, I agree, the word/term has become redundant, and it was lazy of me to employ it; it’s now no more than a linguistic convention, but will doubtless take a long time to drop out of use entirely.

    S G

  14. aldous :

    So, are you saying that there is no such thing as racism?

    I am saying that you are highly unlikely to define “racism”. Now I’m not a complete idiot and I am aware that there are plenty of groups of people who discriminate against other groups of people based upon their physical characteristics, often the colour of their skins, but also upon a multitude of other perceived characteristics. Now as far as I’m aware the term “race” refers to physical characteristics, but no-one, so far has been able to nail it down. You show me a Jew with a bent nose and I’ll show you an Arab with the same. You show me a black man with curly hair and I’ll show you a Norwegian with the same. You show me a Muslim with a dark skin and I’ll show you one with a light skin. You show me two Irishmen, one a Protestant and the other a Catholic, both of the same “race”, and they have no need of “race” to discriminate against each other. In the case of Ireland, the British ruling class deliberately set out to foster the religious hatred for their own particular aims when they had control over all Ireland. But to call such discrimination “racism” is a mistake. Apart from “race” there are 1001 differenr forms of discrimination, politics, nationality, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, etc. etc.

    There is no way that Richard Dawkins sets out to discriminate against any group of people. What he does is to attack their ideas as silly and irrational, a view with which I happen to agree.

  15. Grouping: A (genetic) B (beliefs / ideology)

    Action: 1 (Attack individuals based on grouping) 2 (Attack characteristic which defines group)

    *1A: Racist-prejudice “you’re stupid because your skin is…”;
    *1B Ideological-prejudice “you’re stupid because you believe…”;
    *2A (?);
    *2B: Criticising beliefs, rational thought “this idea doesn’t make sense because..”;

    The problem for Dawkin’s is that many people infer 1B from 2B, if someone holds onto a belief which has been shown to be ridiculous what conclusions will that person and others make? A common mistake identified by social psychology is to underestimate situational factors (like being told you’ll be put to death if you don’t believe) and instead mis-attribute beliefs to personal disposition. In other words, in many situations 1B can NOT be inferred from 2B.

    nb – 2A is a weird one, it’d be like criticising Africans for not producing enough Vitamin D in cold climates, true but completely non-nonsensical in anything outside a strictly scientific context.

  16. Good, although Nick is wrong to see it as a right/left thing (that’s one of his pet issues). I’m on the left, and have no problem whatsoever with opposing oppressive religions of all and every kind. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it goes with the territory. I was concerned to note that Daniel Trilling, the incoming editor of the ‘New Humanist’ magazine has written in the Sept-Oct issue that “Some ‘criticism’ of religion is racist” and fudges around the idea of criticising Islam because of “the wider context of Islamophobia”. I’ve written to the magazine, saying I hope it’ll give Richard a chance to reply, and:

    “A repeated refrain from some Christians, when criticised for their religion-inspired misogyny and homophobia, is, “You daren’t say that about Islam.” Well, some of us, being even-handedly opposed to all theisms, do so – only then to be accused of ‘racism’ by people whom we had believed to be allies. Islamic religious attitudes towards women and LGBT people, and to people wishing to leave the religion, are disturbing: to point this out is not ‘racist’. Ammianus Marcellinus wrote, “no wild beasts are such enemies to mankind as are most of the Christians in their deadly hatred of one another”: it is equally true of Christianity’s younger brother, Islam. Religion is like politics, not race: people may be brought up in a particular ideological (political or religious) tradition, but it is not an innate characteristic.”

    and

    “… I only discovered New Humanist a couple of issues ago, and was delighted that it existed. I should hate to have to abandon it if it is going to treat some religions with kid gloves. It’s bad enough that The Guardian’s Belief section seems to have a deliberate anti-Dawkins policy, “I’m an atheist, but…” and taking the mealy-mouthed view that people having a ‘faith’ is a good, regardless of whether it is true. It’s not as if there are any other publications with which a humanist atheist can feel reasonably ‘at home’.”

  17. I’m not a fan of twitter but I’m glad for the opportunity to comment on this because it has been used by many in a gross misrepresentation of Dawkins.

    Firstly Islam is not a race nor the word of a God or prophet. It is an idea that somebody once had, like all religion. Muslims are not a race they are a group of people clinging desperately to that particular old idea that someone once had – whether by choice or indoctrination or even by mistaking it for something else. We all know that and we all know Dawkins knows and means that. That is his starting point.

    Secondly ideas are interesting but are of their time and place. Some are good ideas and steps towards progress even if shown to be wrong or not quite right at a later date. Ideas are fluid and we go with the best we have at a certain time. I don’t know if Islam was an improvement on what went before or not, I guess it might have been. It did for example give us algebra and alchemy. Alchemy like Islam was a good idea in its time in that drove forward early science. But the bits that were good survived and became chemistry the rest was discarded as mumbo jumbo.

    But that was a long time ago and it Islam isn’t a good idea now. Nor a forward looking one. We know more and knowledge has led to greater tolerance.

    Lastly anyone clinging to an outdated idea, no matter how clever they are, will be held back. It will limit their abililty to move on and see and accept new ideas. That isn’t race or anything else. It is allowing your thinking to be held back by someone elses idea from an earlier age. And it is not a problem for all religious people, some do compartmenatlise.

    Now every single journalist reading a Dawkins tweet will see it in those contexts and understand it in the greater context. They will know exactly what his tweets mean. Yet all those journalists are choosing to misunderstand and take out of context! It is lazy journalism because twitter is a gold mine for taking things out of context and lazily ignoring what is really meant even when blatantly obvious.

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