Newsweek Europe does a rather silly interview with Dawkins.
With no good evidence whatsoever, I sense in him the potential for great anger.
“Other people have said that. I don’t believe it. Anger isn’t the right word.”
“No. I do use ridicule a lot.”
“Waspishness” is how it strikes me. He gets irritable easily, and it manifests as waspish retorts – or, as he says, ridicule.
Ridicule is tricky, especially for someone like him. That’s why Dear Muslima was so odd: it apparently never crossed his mind that that level of waspish irritable ridicule of someone way below him in the pecking order might be not so much ridicule as bullying. By “someone like him” in this case I mean someone with his level of fame and, in many quarters, adulation.
Ridicule is tricky even between equals with no fame or adulation. Ridicule can wound, annoy, humiliate. It’s not to be used lightly. It’s not to be used of people “a lot” – yet he says he does use it a lot. That…well, that says a lot about him.
Dawkins has never shied from controversy. In 2013 he provoked considerable outrage on Twitter after tweeting that “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though”.
“That,” he concedes, “was a mistake. Lalla [his third wife, the actress best known as Romana, companion of her former husband Tom Baker in Doctor Who] and I had been to dinner with the then chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. About 20 leading Jews were there.”
He was informed that “between a quarter and a fifth of Nobel Prizes had been won by Jews. We also learned that the total percentage of Jews in the world is below 1% [and that] only one or two Muslims had ever won a Nobel Prize”.
“They were boasting?”
“Yes but with good reason.” The number of Muslims in the world, Dawkins says, “Is gigantic compared to Jews. I wrote a tweet about it, then I thought, I can’t send that. So I crossed out ‘Jews’ and I put ‘Trinity College Cambridge’.”
Um…oh gawd. Where to begin. He did manage to notice that he’d said something he couldn’t say – because it was a shitty thing to say. But he didn’t manage to notice all the ways it was shitty, so he simply dropped one word and substituted a Cambridge college. That explains so much, and yet so little. Why can’t he expand “then I thought, I can’t send that” to cover more of what he says?
Richard Dawkins is a kind of equivalent, in the digital age, of the professor who can’t be trusted to post a letter. He described Nadia Eweida, the British Airways check-in clerk who was fired for wearing a crucifix as having “one of the most stupid faces I have ever seen” and observed that “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse”.
What was he thinking of?
“I don’t remember that [last indiscretion]. I don’t think that these are interesting topics.”
He doesn’t remember it??? He wrote a long post about it! There were hundreds of comments on it! It was a row that went on for days. How can he possibly not remember it?
And as for not thinking these are interesting topics – then why does he keep talking about them on Twitter?
Could such episodes have fostered the misunderstanding that he is aggressive?
“Clarity,” he believes, “can be mistaken for aggression. Maybe I’m a bit impatient”.