I hadn’t heard there was a thing about a tweet of Dawkins’s (another one? yes another one). Now I have, courtesy of Fidalgo’s
Daily Morning Heresy. There was a thing, and as a result Dawkins wrote a piece saying he said it wrong.
First he gives the background.
Yesterday, on Twitter, I wrote of the British journalist Mehdi Hasan’s belief that the Prophet Muhamed flew to Heaven on a winged horse. It is a belief at least as silly as Doyle’s belief in fairies, and it merits the same “It’s a rum do” comment on the paradox that Mehdi Hasan is simultaneously a very good journalist and political editor, who writes penetrating and sensible articles on current affairs and world politics. That such an effective critical intellect should simultaneously be capable of believing in winged horses seemed to me to merit some sort of wry comment, comment of the “It’s a rum do” variety: isn’t it odd, what a paradox, like Conan Doyle or Dowding and the fairies.
Ok first of all, sigh. “Yesterday, on Twitter” – sigh. You know what’s coming. Yes, Richard, on Twitter, as keeps happening. Can you not figure out that provocative tweets on large subjects tend to backfire?!
He may be beginning, just beginning, to figure it out.
Unfortunately, I phrased it poorly. Instead of saying “Isn’t it quaint that such a successful journalist can simultaneously believe something so daft”, I wrote, “Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist.”
I cannot deny that this sounds horribly like a call for New Statesman to sack him, and it is not surprising that it was taken in that way and became controversial as a freedom of speech issue. Even worse, some respondents went overboard and thought I was saying that no Muslim should ever be employed as a journalist, or even that no religious person should ever be employed as a journalist.
I certainly never intended any of those meanings. Twitters’s 140-character limit is notoriously inimical to nuance.
Bingo! He’s figured it out!! Then again that “notoriously” seems to indicate that he’s known all along…so then, Richard, why do you keep making provocative tweets on large complicated subjects? It’s not a good medium for discussion of large, complicated subjects! It’s really, really not.
But never mind that. There’s a bigger thing here. “Unfortunately, I phrased it poorly.” Does that remind you of anything?
It reminds me of something. “Dear Muslima.” “Zero bad.” Unfortunately, he phrased those badly too.
Why can he admit bad phrasing in the one case and not in the other? Why can he amend what he said about one person and refuse to amend what he said about another? Why can he see in one case that he was pointlessly belligerent and refuse to see it in another?
I would seriously, seriously like to know. That’s all the more true because we get blamed for the damage that he did, and I frankly resent that.
His correction of the tweet suggests that he understands that he has the power – the popularity and ardent fans – to do a lot of damage, and that he ought to use it responsibly. So why now but not then? Why withdraw the one but not the other?
I would love to know.