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Don’t be a Dickhead: fisking Nick Cohen’s defence of Richard Dawkins

Earlier this month I wrote a blog post called ‘Yes, Richard Dawkins, your statements on Islam are racist‘. Currently, it’s the most-read thing I’ve ever published.

The post argues Dawkins uses racialising, xenophobic language (‘alien rubbish’, ‘Islamic barbarians’ etc.) to mount a clash-of-civilisations critique of Islam(ism) – a misguided one which empowers the neocon right and the racist far-right; that we have to read this language in the context of his praise for figures like Geert Wilders and Pat Condell; that he homogenises ‘Muslims’ as a whole into a single hyperdevout, hyperconservative mass; that he singles out Islam in specific contexts where there’s no good reason to; that there are better ways we can discuss it, including critically.

It does not argue, at any point, that Dawkins is at heart ‘a racist'; it does not argue Islam is a race, or all criticism of it racist; it does not judge anyone ‘guilty by association’. (What it says, on the last count, is that if people like the EDL retweet you – if what you say can be so easily co-opted by such people – you should rethink your rhetoric.) I know for a fact that he read it shortly after it went up, then, making all the above complaints, returned to tweeting the same kind of material with added fervour.

That’s when things got busy.

Tom Chivers, at the Daily Telegraph, cited my post in an article called ‘Please be quiet, Richard Dawkins, I’m begging, as a fan‘.

Nesrine Malik, at Comment is free, wrote that ‘Richard Dawkins’ tweets on Islam are as rational as the rants of an extremist Muslim cleric‘.

Nelson Jones, at New Statesman, asked ‘Why do so many Nobel laureates look like Richard Dawkins?

Martin Robbins, also at NS, said ‘Atheism is maturing, and it will leave Richard Dawkins behind‘.

Owen Jones, at the Independent, asserted ‘Dawkins dresses up bigotry as non-belief – he cannot be left to represent atheists‘.

Then, finally – after these and probably a good few other salvos I managed to miss – Dawkins published a piece called ‘Calm reflections after a storm in a teacup‘, which near-epitomised the idea of doubling down. (It also persistently attacked the claim Islam is a race – a straw argument none of his critics here made, which most of us explicitly disavowed.)

Throughout all this, I heard regularly from the Dickheads – an army of online devotees who will never, ever hear anything critical of Dawkins said, no matter how nuanced or moderate. They accused me of hating freedom, being morally relativist, being left wing and long-winded (fair enough), dividing the atheist movement, knowing nothing about Islam, being racist, being PC, being ‘young and naïve’, being an ‘offensive little shit’, being in league with Mehdi Hasan. (Mehdi Hasan and I have no association whatsoever. We do not know each other. We have exchanged perhaps four or five tweets in the last year, such is the depth of our alliance.)

It’s as dehumanising to deify someone as to demonise them, and it’s one thing to like Dawkins while not thinking he’s perfect, but another to reject or try to silence anything negative said in relation to him. Secularity is not strengthened by being uncritical or unscrutinising of its press-appointed leaders, and the foremost of those deserve more scrutiny, not less. This is why Nick Cohen’s recent Spectator column, ‘Richard Dawkins attacks Muslim bigots, not just Christian ones. If only his enemies were as brave‘, which I’ve seen shared enthusiastically all over the place, grated on me – to the extent I thought it deserved a fisk.

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.

It’s certainly true much critique of Dawkins has been lazy and irrelevant – the charges, for example, that his views on religion must be invalid since he couldn’t recite to order the full, almost-never-used title of The Origin of Species (analogous, apparently, to Christians not knowing which book opens the New Testament), or because his ancestors at one time owned slaves. This does not, however, mean any critique of his rhetoric is worthless, and it seems extraordinarily self-defeating for atheists and secularists to dismiss it from the off. (See also Tom Chivers’ own response to Cohen.)

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.

Yes. I’ve read it. It’s a boring, neither-here-or-there piece. But the arguments against Dawkins’ tweets on Islam aren’t about how he’s shrillstridentaggressive or any of the usual things. They’re about his language being counterproductive and enabling racists’ agendas. Most of the people who’ve rebutted it most strongly – Chivers, Martin Robbins, Alom Shaha – are out-and-out movement atheists with vested interests in taking religion, including Islam, to task. They just want to do it better.

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.

Certainly, many parts of the British left (not usually the liberal parts) fail to acknowledge the Islamist far-right or counter it. This is a problem – but it doesn’t mean that when opposing things like segregated debatesanything goes. Owen Jones isn’t defending separate seating for men and women, he’s objecting to the phrase ‘these Muslims’ with its ring of xenophobia, as in ‘all these Muslims, taking our jobs’. Object to Islamism; object to Hamza Tzortzis; object to his so-called Islamic Education and Research Academy. But call them that, referring specifically to them, rather than conflating them with ‘Muslims’ as a whole. (Cohen, in fact, seems next to acknowledge this issue…)

But let me try to be fair. Dawkins has also tweeted against all Muslims — not just sexist god-botherers at University College London. I accept that 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 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 would go further and concede that Dawkins’s critics had other arguments that weren’t wholly asinine, were it not for a telling detail. They never stick their necks out and defend real liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims who are being persecuted in Britain right now.

Yes we do. I do, Alom does, Owen Jones does – in fact, most of the people I know who’ve criticised Dawkins’ comments more than anyone else and shared my post with particular enthusiasm are ex-Muslims.

They stay silent because they are frightened of breaking with the crowd, of the faint threat of Islamist retaliation, and of absurd accusations of racism. Journalists want the easy life. They want targets who cannot hurt them. Dawkins has never hurt a fly, so he’s all right. Looked at in a certain light, however, the enemies of Nahla Mahmoud might not be.

I signed the petition to protect Nahla Mahmoud. [Edit: I signed it, in fact, three and a half weeks before Nick Cohen did (the same day he responded to this post).] So should you, if you haven’t heard about her being threatened. This does not mean I have to shut up and marvel at everything Dawkins says – especially on Twitter.

I have picked on her, not because her case is unusual, but because it is so typical. She is a Sudanese refugee who became a leading figure in the British Council of ex-Muslims. Earlier this year Channel 4 gave her one minute and 39 seconds precisely to talk about the evils of Britain’s Sharia courts in Britain. In these institutions, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, a man can divorce his wife by simple repudiation, and women who remarry lose custody of their children. One minute and 39 seconds may not sound long enough to list their vices. But it is one minute and 39 seconds longer than the BBC has ever given her.

Nahla described how she grew up under Sharia. She was ‘always dealt with as a second-class citizen, always bought up to believe that I am an incomplete human being [who] needed a man as a guard.’

She was shocked to find the same system here in her land of refuge. ‘Muslims have been living in Britain for hundreds of years and never needed sharia courts,’ she concluded. ‘Everyone should have equal rights and live under one secular law.’

She and her family have suffered for her simple moral clarity. Salah Al Bander, a leading figure in the Cambridge Liberal Democrats, went for her. (I was going to write, ‘who, surprisingly, is a leading figure in the Cambridge Liberal Democrats’ — but given the Liberal Democrats’ awful attitudes towards women and Jews, nothing they do surprises me anymore.)

Al Bander posted an article in Arabic on the Sudanese Online website (one of the most widely read sites in Sudan and throughout the Sudanese diaspora). He called her a ‘Kafira’ (unbeliever) who was sowing discord. These are words with consequences — particularly when Al Bander added, ‘I will not forgive anyone who wants to start a battle against Islam and the beliefs of the people…’ After mosques and Sudanese newspapers took up the campaign against her, religious thugs attacked her brother and terrified her mother. Nahla told me she is now ‘very careful when I go out’.

I understand that the Cambridge Liberal Democrats have had an inquiry and decided that Al Bander’s words were misinterpreted. My point is that women like Nahla are being terrified and abused every day in Britain. I have seen Richard Dawkins speak up for them as a matter of honour and a matter of course many times, but have never heard a peep of protest from his opponents.

Well then, listen more closely. Clearly this is a terrible, stupid turn of events that needs addressing – but attention to problematic things is not a non-renewable resource, which can only go toward one thing or the other. It’s possible to fight the Al Banders of the world while also pursuing better discourse around them on our own sight; useful, in fact, I’d say. (Also, Dawkins doesn’t help matters for moderate Muslims, especially moderate Muslim women, by erasing them – referring to all who practice their religion in blanket terms as violent, fundamentalist, abusive theocrats.)

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.’

Not so – but I care less about ‘one day’ than the here and now, and here and now my feeling, to paraphrase Phil Plait, that no one in this movement is beyond critique or above reproach. Don’t be a Dickhead.

Comments

  1. says

    ftr, anyone who talks about ‘the evils of sharia courts in britain’ is a massive fucking hypocrite unless they also oppose arbitration services based on the Jewish and Christian faiths. That’s all they’ve got.

    And yeah, Dawkins’ defenders are fucking legion. Every god damn criticism of him is just treated as coming from someone who doesn’t like his atheism. No, that part is fine. Hell, being an asshole to believers doesn’t bother me. Doing or saying racist or sexist shit is going to annoy me regardless of your particulars; And he is a racist and sexist at heart, I’ll go further than you. Probably averagely so, the evidence indicates, but who isn’t at least somewhat racist and sexist ‘at heart’?

    Really, though, Dawkins’ defenders frankly struck me as people who converted (or deconverted, whatever) for the wrong reasons and are just bringing that cult of personality bullshit elsewhere…

  2. says

    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.’

    Oh jesus did I miss this. No. Emphatically not. This will never happen outside of your dreams. Putting aside we oppose all that shit, marginalized people have better things to do with their time than wish a specific brand of white person will save them. Really, a grand total of ‘nobody’ is looking to be ‘saved’ by people who only see them as a useful cudgel against Islam (Or Christianity or w/e)

  3. piegasm says

    The liberal-left is fine with knocking Christianity, but it hates Dawkins for being intellectually consistent

    That actually made me laugh out loud. Intellectual consistency is definitely something I don’t hate about Richard Dawkins. Because he’s not.

  4. coelsblog says

    Dawkins doesn’t help matters for moderate Muslims, especially moderate Muslim women, by erasing them – referring to all who practice their religion in blanket terms as violent, fundamentalist, abusive theocrats.

    Can you give a cite for him saying that all who practice Islam are “violent, fundamentalist, abusive theocrats”?

  5. coelsblog says

    anyone who talks about ‘the evils of sharia courts in britain’ is a massive fucking hypocrite unless they also oppose arbitration services based on the Jewish and Christian faiths.

    I don’t see anything inconsistent in the idea that some arbitrators one might appoint would be fair and equitable, whereas others would not be. Further, it is not inconsistent to suppose that the level of community and family coercion, over choice of arbitrator, might be higher in some communities than others.

  6. says

    For what it’s worth, all uses of the Arbitration Act in this context are exploitative from what I understand – the Act was designed for international commerce, not disputes in religious communities.

    Also, Jewish and Christian uses of it in this manner simply aren’t a problem on the scale of Sharia courts.

  7. says

    See the link above to his “All Muslim women everywhere every second of every day are terrified of their husbands beating them” implicature – also, how he refers over-broadly to Hamza Tzortzis as “some Muslim or other”, his organisation as “these Muslims” and so on.

  8. Walton says

    Cohen is so wrong on several points. Firstly, I dislike the way he lumps all of Dawkins’ critics together, tarring the intellectually serious critics with the same brush as the pot-stirrers and reactionaries, as a convenient way to avoid bothering to engage with the substantive criticisms of Dawkins’ position. In this case he isn’t being criticized for being too “militant” or “shrill”, he’s being criticized for failing to fully appreciate the social and political impact of his statements about a specific minority group.

    Secondly, while it’s true that his attacks on Christianity don’t attract the same criticism from the secular left that his attacks on Islam do, there are good reasons for that. There is a meaningful contextual difference between attacking Christianity and attacking Islam, because in Western societies Muslims are a marginalized minority, and tend in practice to be associated with particular ethnic and cultural minorities. Some factions of the racist far right in Britain and elsewhere use Islam as a bogeyman to stir up hostility and fear about immigration, and advocate repressive measures to push expressions of Muslim faith out of the public square. None of these observations are true of Christianity, which is the historically-dominant majority religion in Western society, which enjoys considerable institutional privilege in most Western countries, and which is not, in our culture, particularly associated with an oppressed ethnic minority. Neither Cohen nor Dawkins seem to understand the gradients of power and privilege involved at all.

    None of this means we should not criticize Islam, and I have never suggested that it does (and nor did Alex, or Tom Chivers, or any of Dawkins’ other reasonable critics). But it does mean that we ought to be careful not to perpetuate stereotypes about Muslims, or to say things which play into racist and xenophobic tropes, lest we inadvertently give ammunition to bigots who have an agenda of their own The litmus test for atheist commentators should be this: if the provocative thing you are planning to say about Islam is something which could be repeated uncritically by a UKIP or EDL supporter, then don’t fucking say it. It does not matter how pure and non-racist Dawkins’, or anyone else’s, intentions are. What matters is whether their words are capable of being used to reinforce bigotry. If they choose to wade into a debate as racially-charged as this one, they have a responsibility to distance themselves from racists.

    What Cohen seems to miss, in his anecdote about Nahla Mahmoud, is that plenty of refugees in a similar plight don’t get asylum in the first place, and are locked up in hellish places like Yarl’s Wood – and if the far-right anti-immigration lobby gets their way, this will get worse still. Anti-Muslim rhetoric is regularly employed by right-wingers promoting tougher restrictions on immigration, policies which directly hurt the very people Cohen claims to care about protecting. Not to mention the wave of xenophobic hate crimes against Muslims. When white atheists like Dawkins go on tirades about Islam, it’s all too easy for the right wing to coopt those ideas for their own purposes. This is something Cohen and Dawkins seem to have missed entirely – Dawkins is either completely naive about this or doesn’t care, as evidenced by his endorsement of right-wing racist figures like Pat Condell and Geert Wilders.

    (Sorry for hte rant!)

  9. Great American Satan says

    BUUUUUURRRRRRRRNNNNN! Yeah.

    That Cohen article was offensive as fuck. Thanks for taking it apart.

  10. CaitieCat says

    It’s not even so much the being racist/sexist. It’s the purblind refusal to even acknowledge that this is so, and to insist that if anyone sees bias in what he’s saying, then it’s all in their head. He’s holding himself up as some sort of immaculate being, above the fray, and totally incapable of acting out of bias, which is such an incredible level of unawareness as to beggar belief that it’s sincere.

    Lots of people I like to read and listen to are racist/sexist/transphobic et c.. Including me. It’d be near-miraculous to grow up in a human society as currently constructed and not be those things. But I can read and enjoy those people’s work as long as they’re willing to recognize those biases within themselves, listen when someone tells them they’ve overstepped, and admit when they’ve done something overly influenced by them. Dawkins never does this, and it’s why I won’t buy or recommend his work. There are plenty, PLENTY, of other great thinkers out there, writing about atheism. I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing, making my best effort to get those other great thinkers better known, pushing for more diversity in con panels and anthologies, pushing for equal treatment within the movement, pushing for an end to actions based in prejudice. Always pushing. Always wanting more, because this fight will not be over in my lifetime (I’m 47, about halfway through my family’s normal uninterrupted lifespan).

    Great post, Alex, thanks.

  11. says

    I don’t see anything inconsistent in the idea that some arbitrators one might appoint would be fair and equitable, whereas others would not be.

    Then you have to demonstrate that on the basis of an individual. Remember that arbitration is required to stay within legal bounds; to the extent the law regulates equitable use.

    Further, it is not inconsistent to suppose that the level of community and family coercion, over choice of arbitrator, might be higher in some communities than others.

    Not a matter of legal action – that’s where you set up support networks and oppose the coercion.

    For what it’s worth, all uses of the Arbitration Act in this context are exploitative from what I understand – the Act was designed for international commerce, not disputes in religious communities.

    I do not give one tiny damn if you oppose them categorically, as that isn’t an inherently racist position.

    Also, Jewish and Christian uses of it in this manner simply aren’t a problem on the scale of Sharia courts.

    I’ll grant I’m not british, but I’ve only ever heard about it as a problem from white people. If this is actually the case, and not a matter of white people’s voices being the ones that carry across the Atlantic, then it’s very unlikely you can present a reasonable case for wanting to remove them that isn’t racist.

  12. Edward Gemmer says

    The arguments seem kind of corny. Richard Dawkins hates religion. So if someone is going to take shots at Islam, we sould expect it of him. It’s not like he is going on about how great other religions are. A lot of times it feels like he is getting criticized for promoting the very message that atheists in the United States want to promote, which is (1) We don’t believe or care about your fairy tales and (2) We value women and (3) if you don’t go fuck yourselves. Going on about his particular language is the definition of tone trolling.

  13. says

    The arguments seem kind of corny. Richard Dawkins hates religion. So if someone is going to take shots at Islam, we sould expect it of him.

    ….

    . Owen Jones isn’t defending separate seating for men and women, he’s objecting to the phrase ‘these Muslims’ with its ring of xenophobia, as in ‘all these Muslims, taking our jobs’. Object to Islamism; object to Hamza Tzortzis; object to his so-called Islamic Education and Research Academy. But call them that, referring specifically to them, rather than conflating them with ‘Muslims’ as a whole. (Cohen, in fact, seems next to acknowledge this issue…)

    Going on about his particular language is the definition of tone trolling.

    No, going on about tone is the definition of tone trolling. If his particular language is racist, then it’s not really a matter of ‘tone’. It doesn’t matter how nicely he refers to the muslim hivemind, only that he does, in fact, refer to the muslim hivemind.

  14. KC4 says

    “There is a meaningful contextual difference between attacking Christianity and attacking Islam, because in Western societies Muslims are a marginalized minority, and tend in practice to be associated with particular ethnic and cultural minorities.”

    And this constantly trotted out Eurocentric argument ignores the fact that Islam is the worlds second largest religion, is followed by 1.5 billion people. It is the majority religion in dozens of countries where it is also a major/dominant social and political force. This important “context” is often forgotten by Dawkins’ critics. Yes Dawkins could occasionally choose his words more carefully (i.e. “these Muslims”) but they hardly embolden the far right racists. Furthermore criticism of Dawkins is arguably worse in that it makes criticism of Islam taboo and thus emboldens conservative Islamists who want just that.

  15. Jacob Schmidt says

    Heads up: gendered slurs of any kind are often dislike around here. There’s no consistent hate towards “dick,” but, on certain blogs, the commentariat will have reactions ranging from gentle rebuking to passionate contempt. I personally have no real problem with it, but I avoid it for consistency’s sake.

    As for Dawkins defenders: I really don’t get it. The man has done some great work, but the twisting his defenders do to fight the criticism seems less like “missing his flaws due to bias” and more like “purposeful ignorance.” Cohen somehow missed every single aspect of the criticisms.

  16. says

    Is Dawkins really so popular in Britain that the last passage you quoted can be written with a straight face?

    Seriously, what sort of white-god-complex of epic arrogance is necessary for *criticism of some author guy* to be equated with not protecting people from horrendous oppression?

    I mean, it just is amazing that so many don’t see the inherent hypocrisy in constantly talking about the focus of other people’s efforts and time not being spent properly if they write about a certain thing; as if they didn’t just do that themselves.

    I mean, the author essentially said – don’t waste your time debating other people’s tactics, it’s not a good tactic.

    *blink*

    I mean it reads like a convoluted re-hash of the famed “Dr. Muslima” thing.

    At any rate, U.S. folks get the same criticism as well – that we don’t bash Muslims enough. This was my response to that (not quite as thoughtful as yours, but perhaps an okay read): http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/islamtime/

  17. coelsblog says

    One of the most vocal opponents of sharia courts in the UK is FTB blogger Maryam Namazie. E.g. http://www.theguardian.com/law/2010/jul/05/sharia-law-religious-courts

    My own attitude to the Sharia courts is not from personal experience of them, but mostly from reading Maryam Namazie and others (with the protests originating from those who are close to and who care about the relevant communities).

    As for “Christian courts”, I have literally never heard of a single instance of such a court. As for “Jewish courts”, again I confess I know little about them, but there aren’t voices speaking up and saying that they reach inequitable decisions or that people are coerced into submitting to them; if there were I’d be happy to oppose them.

  18. coelsblog says

    It seems to me that Dawkins critics are doing exactly what they accuse Dawkins of, namely making over-general and sloppily worded attacks. Referring to the Krauss’s debating opponent as “some muslim or other” is indeed dismissive and a bit derogatory (Dawkins is like that to religious spokesmen, he’s said worse about the last Pope for example). And “who the hell do these Muslims think they are” is dismissive, but the “these Muslims” is surely the specific Muslims who were organising that debate and insisting on the segregation, and isn’t being dismissive and derogatory towards *them* fair enough?

    None of this gets any where near Dawkins saying that *all* who practice Islam are “violent, fundamentalist, abusive theocrats”. If critics want to complain about Dawkins making over-broad and sloppily worded and dismissive attacks, shouldn’t they ensure that they don’t do so themselves?

  19. says

    No, it’s not “tone trolling”. It’s about substance, not tone. It’s calling out language which, in context, reinforces racist and xenophobic tropes, and potentially gives ammunition to the anti-immigration far right. Like I said above, if the provocative things you’re saying about Islam could be repeated uncritically by a UKIP or EDL supporter, then you’re doing it wrong. Atheist commentators, like everyone else, have a responsibility to avoid reinforcing bigotry, and to distance themselves from bigots.

    No one is saying Dawkins shouldn’t criticize Islam at all. Plenty of other people, including ex-Muslims, manage to criticize Islam without being racist or xenophobic. But it is the substance of some of Dawkins’ attacks on Islam which is objectionable – coupled with his friendliness with out-and-out racists like Condell.

  20. tiberiusbeauregard says

    “They’re about his language being counterproductive and enabling racists’ agendas”

    Flatout idiotic.

    You, or anyone else, have no saying in what is productive and what is not and even if you had, it still wouldn’t matter because not every piece of opinion is required to serve your imaginary sense of productivity.

    You, or anyone else, have no saying in who applauds you and who doesn’t. It’s well possible that 2 people come to the same conclusion, based on entirely different rationales, one of them for all the right reasons, the other one for all the wrong reasons. We all know that and to pretend otherwise, is dishonest to the bone.

    They accused me of […] being morally relativist […]

    If you can’t bring yourself to call a spade a spade, chances are you are infact a moral and/or cultural relativist.

    If you strip Islam of its idiotic supernatural claims, all you have left is a violently fascist political ideology. Do you give all subscribers of all bad ideologies the benefit of a doubt, about their reasons for being voluntary members and their individual responsibility for what the group does as a de-facto societal unit ? Like no snowflike is ever responsible for what the avalance does ? I seriously hope you don’t.

    But if you do, and if you do it only in terms of religion, you are applying a double standard. You can claim to be an ex-muslim for all I care, but if you still have a false respect for religions, knowing full well how much time they had to develop their nefarious ways of infiltrating and undercutting ever aspect of public discourse, you are still a member of their armed forces.

    his praise for figures like Geert Wilders and Pat Condell

    Jelly ? People like Condell or Wilders maybe polarising, but challenging the status-quo protecting, cowardish mainstream idiocy the way they do it, risking their own well-being in the process, requires the sort of strengthened backbone, that any chair-farting slacktivist can only hope to grow one day.

    Good day.

  21. says

    One of the most vocal opponents of sharia courts in the UK is FTB blogger Maryam Namazie. E.g. http://www.theguardian.com/law/2010/jul/05/sharia-law-religious-courts

    Trivially false. Even with doing searches of FTB regularly, google doesn’t think it relevant to point me to her work on page one without putting her name on the search. She very well could be the best understanding one, but she is most certainly not ‘the most vocal.’ Reading her article gives me a fair bit more confidence, but Maryam Namazie is also not the empress of Muslim (or ex-muslim in this case) immigrant feminists, and is insufficient on her own.

  22. says

    “You, or anyone else, have no saying in what is productive and what is not and even if you had, it still wouldn’t matter because not every piece of opinion is required to serve your imaginary sense of productivity.” No, but when public rhetoric on a certain subject does more harm than good, and in my view hinders the critical discussion we need to have, I’m allowed to say so.

    “You, or anyone else, have no saying in who applauds you and who doesn’t.” Actually, yes I do. When I’m writing about Darwin, I make sure what I say can’t be quote-mined by creationists. When I’m writing that I don’t think there’s a “homosexual condition”, I make sure ex-gay “therapists” can’t use what I say to buttress their homophobia. When I’m writing about Islam, I make sure people like the EDL can’t use what I say to further their goals. Writers have a responsibility for how what they write can reasonably be interpreted – especially professional writers, especially world famous, influential professional writers.

    “If you can’t bring yourself to call a spade a spade, chances are you are infact a moral and/or cultural relativist” – what am I not calling a spade, then?

    “If you strip Islam of its idiotic supernatural claims, all you have left is a violently fascist political ideology” – ermmmm no, not necessarily. Violent Islamism and Islamic fundamentalism of the kind you imply are not “the true forms of Islam” (there are no true forms of Islam), left at its core when all else is cut away. They’re just as much the products of 20th century politics as scripture. Also, please do not compare Muslims as a whole with fascists in my comments section.

    “Do you give all subscribers of all bad ideologies the benefit of a doubt, about their reasons for being voluntary members and their individual responsibility for what the group does as a de-facto societal unit ? Like no snowflike is ever responsible for what the avalance does ? I seriously hope you don’t.” I’m not of the view that all individual Muslims bear collective responsibility for everything ever done in the name of Islam, no.

    “But if you do, and if you do it only in terms of religion” – nope…

    “You can claim to be an ex-muslim for all I care” – er, I don’t claim to be an ex-Muslim.

    “If you still have a false respect for religions, knowing full well how much time they had to develop their nefarious ways of infiltrating and undercutting ever aspect of public discourse, you are still a member of their armed forces.” Well, I’m an atheist blogger, so…

    “People like Condell or Wilders maybe polarising, but challenging the status-quo protecting, cowardish mainstream idiocy the way they do it, risking their own well-being in the process, requires the sort of strengthened backbone, that any chair-farting slacktivist can only hope to grow one day” – their backbone does not impress me if its sole use is racist xenophobia, which I find pretty spineless in the first instance.

    “Good day.” It was, yes.

  23. says

    I don’t think my critique was overly broad or sloppily worded. I think it was precise and careful. And I think, again, that if you’re going to talk about Hamza Tzortzis or IERA, use their names. Muslims have individual identities.

  24. coelsblog says

    Maryam Namazie is the leading spokesperson of the “one law for all” campaign, the main pressure group opposing sharia tribunals in the UK, and yes, “one law for all” does come on the first page of google searches for opposition to sharia in the UK. I also said “one of the most vocal opponents”, not “the most vocal”.

  25. says

    “Criticism of Dawkins is arguably worse in that it makes criticism of Islam taboo” – no it doesn’t.

    “Dawkins could occasionally choose his words more carefully (i.e. “these Muslims”) but they hardly embolden the far right racists” – yes, they demonstrably do.

    “This constantly trotted out Eurocentric argument ignores the fact that Islam is the worlds second largest religion, is followed by 1.5 billion people. It is the majority religion in dozens of countries” – Yes, but Dawkins’ criticisms and others (Condell’s, Wilders’) are often aimed specifically at Islam in a European or British context. Also, his discussion of Islamic theocracies is generally not very good either.

  26. coelsblog says

    You’re right, Muslims have individual identities, they don’t all think alike and we shouldn’t tar them all with the same brush. But then how about wording such as:

    I heard regularly from the Dickheads – an army of online devotees who will never, ever hear anything critical of Dawkins said, no matter how nuanced or moderate. They accused me …

    Doesn’t this group individuals into one, tar them all with the same brush, and use derogatory language about then? Similarly, perhaps we should agree to differ on whether this:

    Dawkins doesn’t help matters for moderate Muslims, especially moderate Muslim women, by erasing them – referring to all who practice their religion in blanket terms as violent, fundamentalist, abusive theocrats.

    is fair, “precise and careful” or overly broad, unfair, and not what he has actually said (especially since the tweet you link to certainly doesn’t suggest that Muslim *women* are all violent, fundamentalist and abusive).

  27. coelsblog says

    Is Dawkins really so popular in Britain that the last passage you quoted can be written with a straight face?

    It was *obviously* a tongue-in-cheek writing style! (I’m unsure whether such would be less common in the US.) But it does raise a relevant point about what critics choose to write about. Yes, one can indeed criticise more than one thing at once — but the question Cohen asked was whether the UK media is too focused on Dawkins and style and not enough on the issues, issues which Cohen highlighted in his article. It does seem to be the case that Dawkins-bashing is a quick route to mainstream-media attention.

  28. Ben says

    In this case yours Sir. The over-long opining about what people accused you of being, the straw-man characterisation of invalid criticisms of Dawkins (when Cohen was referring to the laziness behind ‘arrogant, shrill, strident, militant’ etc…all of which apply to the article to referenced at the outset) & then a trite conclusion – do you really not see that ‘one day’ is indeed today (or ought to be) when it comes to our answering to those victims of clerical fascism we failed to condemn – all suggests an article written merely to have written about, rather than contribute to, a discussion.

    The only interesting part is your agreement with Cohen that there are situations where religious and racial discrimination overlap. Even here I wonder why you think ‘…these Muslims…’ is overly general? Simple English suggests that ‘these’ implies merely those specific one (i.e. these Muslims X & not those Muslims Y) else he would have said:

    ‘Muslims believing they have the right to enforce gender segregation is beyond the pale.’

    Finally, when Jones, Hassan or indeed yourself contribute substantially to the defence of ex-Muslims (even if only by using whatever influence you have as commentators to raise awareness – as opposed to providing an oblique shield to their attackers) then your thoughts about appropriate tone & politeness will carry proper weight. Until then its just words in the wind.

  29. says

    Wow – it seems that Dawkins does have a large crew of blow hard ready to ponce on anyone who dares point out that he puts his foot in his mouth occasionally.

    Of course, if anyone’s paying attention in the atheist blogosphere, this became extremely clear a little over 2 years ago.

    Maybe all those religionists were right; and there is a sub-set of people who simply cannot function without gods and heroes.

  30. says

    It suggests the version of Islam practiced and lived under by Muslim women is always violent, fundamentalist and abusive. And I don’t think I am tarring a varied group with a broad brush, I think I’m reasonably clear about how the group I’m derogating is defined.

  31. says

    Right, that was the saving grace of the article quoted, that he did bother to mention the issues in reasonable detail that he wished to highlight.

    Perhaps, if I give him a great deal of credit, he was using the current spat to give some traffic to those issues.

    However, the annoyance is misplaced – it’s the mainstream media attention that should prioritize.

    I think it’s very important for us (as in movement atheists) to write criticisms of those who have become extremely popular; because they act as our defacto representatives.

    Dawkins is not the only one that steps into ethnocentric or racist or sexist language and attitudes – but the late Hitchens and Harris as well; even Ali has opinions about some topics that many atheists on in strong disagreement with.

    ALL of them have done great work. There is a reason they are popular. I get it.

    However, why would Dawkins be a go-to person for criticizing Islam?! He should be standing behind Namazie; not beside her and certainly not in front of her.

    But “New Atheists” in general, do not have a good track record for being humble enough to learn from those that know better than they do.

  32. says

    You, or anyone else, have no saying in what is productive and what is not and even if you had, it still wouldn’t matter because not every piece of opinion is required to serve your imaginary sense of productivity.

    “Enabling racists” does not care about ‘productivity’. It’s wrong, period.

    If you can’t bring yourself to call a spade a spade, chances are you are infact a moral and/or cultural relativist.

    That’s your defense? That you’re just telling the unvarnished truth when you say all muslims are barbarians? Right, I think we can just call you a racist and ignore your claims of ‘MORAL RELATIVIST”

    If you strip Islam of its idiotic supernatural claims, all you have left is a violently fascist political ideology. Do you give all subscribers of all bad ideologies the benefit of a doubt, about their reasons for being voluntary members and their individual responsibility for what the group does as a de-facto societal unit ? Like no snowflike is ever responsible for what the avalance does ? I seriously hope you don’t.

    Fascist – n. The state of being the second most liberal primary scripture a major religion has on the planet (third if we count the Jains, I guess). It’s not that Islam is great shakes here, it’s that every holy book is fucking horrible. I don’t see you banging on about how the Christians a uniform mass trying to kill us all though.

    People like Condell or Wilders maybe polarising, but challenging the status-quo protecting, cowardish mainstream idiocy the way they do it,

    Being a racist xenophobe isn’t mainstream jackassery now? What planet are you from?

  33. says

    do you really not see that ‘one day’ is indeed today (or ought to be) when it comes to our answering to those victims of clerical fascism we failed to condemn – all suggests an article written merely to have written about, rather than contribute to, a discussion.

    Ahahaha, wow, nice. White people, if you are under the impression that anyone else wants you to call them a monster because clerics that share a complexion with them are horrible, let me just disabuse you of that notion right fucking now. To the extent that non-white people suffering under strict rules or oppressive laws want your help, it is not ‘moral condemnation’ of their oppressors that is generally demanded – Even less so when that ‘moral condemnation’ targets them too (As Dawkins’ inevitably does). And they want that EVEN LESS when everyone else is already condemning them as monsters. What they want is actual fucking help.

    Finally, when Jones, Hassan or indeed yourself contribute substantially to the defence of ex-Muslims (even if only by using whatever influence you have as commentators to raise awareness – as opposed to providing an oblique shield to their attackers) then your thoughts about appropriate tone & politeness will carry proper weight. Until then its just words in the wind.

    Wow, that was irony central dude.

  34. says

    Jelly ? People like Condell or Wilders maybe polarising, but challenging the status-quo protecting, cowardish mainstream idiocy the way they do it, risking their own well-being in the process, requires the sort of strengthened backbone, that any chair-farting slacktivist can only hope to grow one day.

    Condell is a right-winger whose work is often disturbingly racist. To offer just one illustrative example: in Condell’s video Goodbye Sweden, he says “no country has done more to embrace the multicultural nightmare… I mean dream… than Sweden”; accuses the Swedish government of trying to “wipe their culture clean out of existence”, fearmongers about the imagined danger of Sweden becoming “the first European Islamic state”, and asserts that it is “now unconstitutional to uphold Swedish values in Sweden”. He goes on to allege that immigrants are responsible for an increase in rapes in Sweden, saying that Sweden is now “the rape capital of Europe” and explicitly linking this to “immigrant Islamic culture”, and argues that “[w]hen you allow millions of people to immigrate from places where they mutilate their daughters as a matter of course, where they kill them in a heartbeat over some twisted sense of honour, and where rape victims are treated as criminals, it doesn’t take a genius to know that you’re going to be importing these values and attitudes as well, wholesale, unless you take steps to prevent it.” This is, virtually verbatim, the kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric we hear from xenophobic movements such as the British National Party and the English Defence League. And, not coincidentally, Condell supports the right-wing nationalist UK Independence Party. Condell’s rhetoric plays straight into racist tropes which portray immigrants from foreign cultures as “barbaric” or “savage”, and which portray “our culture” as being under threat from a foreign influx – exactly the kind of rhetoric that has sparked outbreaks of nativist violence throughout history.

    The problem is that people like Condell and Wilders have an anti-immigration agenda. They are using fear and hatred of Islam as a means of stirring up opposition to immigration. And that agenda has terrifying consequences. Most Western countries already treat asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants horribly, and hate crimes against Muslims (and against people wrongly perceived as Muslim) are already widely occurring.

  35. says

    Maybe all those religionists were right; and there is a sub-set of people who simply cannot function without gods and heroes.

    If the people who pride themselves on not needing heroes and gods desperately defend their heroes even in the face of all evidence to the contrary about them, it would appear likely that this is true, yes.

  36. Ben* says

    Hardly, Dawkins makes a poor hero for exactly the same reason he makes an easy target…in practice he is quite mild mannered & respectful. Indeed it takes barrel scraping semantics, of the sort practised here by Mr. Gabriel, to imply anything resembling a generalised bigotry against Muslim (and even then only in the minds of ‘dickheads’).

  37. CaitieCat says

    Agreed; further, it’s transparently fallacious to assume that Muslims will bring those same horrific values to be found in places like Saudi and the Emirates and so on; is it not vastly more likely that the reason they emigrated from those countries was, at least in part, because they didn’t value the theocratic life?

    If they wanted a theocracy, they’d have emigrated to one. They didn’t. They emigrated to liberal democracies, where they hoped they’d be able to praise their sky daddy in the way they prefer, the one that doesn’t automatically condemn their female relatives to the second class, et c., et c.. Do I think their sky daddy is just as stupid as the other ones? Yes. Do I think that makes Muslims any more slavishly adherent to the literal words of their holy book than the hundreds of Christians I’ve met? No. It’s thoughtless xenophobia, and it’s embarrassing to the atheist movement to have such sloppy thinking from one of our supposed bright lights.

  38. Ben* says

    Wut…I couldn’t give a proverbial fuck about someone’s skin colour when it come to ensuring their human rights are protected. Neither do I care about the skin colour of their oppressors. Neither should you.

  39. Ben* says

    Sure, you prefer ‘Alex’ or ‘the author’? It’s kind of weird to have specific etiquette requirements & not make them known in advance.

  40. says

    Wut…I couldn’t give a proverbial fuck about someone’s skin colour when it come to ensuring their human rights are protected. Neither do I care about the skin colour of their oppressors. Neither should you.

    Right, I should ignore how institutional power works because you say so? Pass.

  41. Ben* says

    What you want to know my ‘ethnic heritage’? KK – My maternal grandfather was an Indian soldier (I think) who had an illicit affair with my grandmother which resulted in my mother’s conception. I say ‘I think’ because the shame of the whole affair was such that my grandmother refused to speak about it & took whatever the facts were to her grave…this is the version my mother believe to be true. The man who later married my grandmother (my ‘Grandfather’) was a white working class man with a huge heart who loved my mother as his own. Britain in the 60’s was less understanding & life was pretty difficult for my mother.

    I am ‘fortunate’ that I have little obvious signs (though I tan olive & have rather dashing brown eyes & an epic propensity for body hair :-D ). My sister though is very obviously ‘mixed-race’ and has suffered some jibes on occasion. The world is a nicer place today though so broadly speaking all is well & I can’t claim too much first-hand knowledge of racism.

  42. coelsblog says

    However, why would Dawkins be a go-to person for criticizing Islam?! He should be standing behind Namazie; not beside her and certainly not in front of her. But “New Atheists” in general, do not have a good track record for being humble enough to learn from those that know better than they do.

    A couple of points. First, the richarddawkins site has re-posted 22 articles by Maryam Namazie in 2012/3, thus bringing her work to a large audience. See http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles?author=Maryam+Namazie

    Second, Dawkins has made tweets such as: “The wonderful Maryam Namazie has posted twice … on the disgraceful UCL sexual apartheid incident” (again, bringing her writings to his large twitter following).

    Third, if you read what Maryam Namazie herself says about Dawkins and Mehdi Hasan, it is fairly critical of Hasan and overlaps significantly with the article that Alex has criticised Dawkins for merely re-tweeting. See http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2013/04/24/dawkins-hasan/

  43. Ben* says

    I don’t even know what you think this means.

    My position is clear; there are victims of horrendous abuse who are suffering in silence because criticism of their abusers is being stifled by those on the popular left (Owen Jones is the case in point but really anyone who says we can’t criticism the Saudi laws on rape until our own courts are perfectly gender equitable, is equally guilty). That these self-same people also are the most vocal critics of Dawkins merely reveals their own myopic worldview, else their own moral cowardice.

  44. Ben* says

    BTW it seems fair that I ought to question yours now [Alex]. What stands you in good stead to lecture on the forms racism takes?

  45. coelsblog says

    Well, since I’ve been defending Dawkins here let me respond. Is he a “hero” of mine? Well, yes, to some extent. Is he fallible, does he make mistakes? Why yes, as do all humans. For example I thought he was completely in the wrong in defending Josh Timonen long before he himself realised his error.

    Do I support his tweeting? Well, I’m ambivalent. I think he’d make a far better blogger than a tweeter, for example I think his “calm reflections of a storm in a teacup” is much more appropriate than the original tweet. Maybe he gets a bigger audience on twitter so chooses that mode, though he could perhaps use twitter to link to blog posts.

    Dawkins is far from perfect (who isn’t?), but I still think that a lot of the condemnation of him is unfair. I also think that he does a better job than his critics of criticising ideas rather than people. Cohen’s article defending Dawkins actually spent half of its space pointing to the problems of Sharia law, a more important issue than Dawkins himself. Most of the articles that criticise Dawkins have less merit in that all they do is criticise Dawkins. If people think they can do it better than Dawkins, then it’d be great if they both try and succeed!

  46. says

    Right – I’m speaking about mainstream coverage. As somehow Dawkins is the savior of the Muslim – the last paragraph we were talking about.

    As well as you and me – we should care less what Dawkin’s thinks of things he has little knowledge about compared to others.

    And yes – of course we should not conflate religious belief (the ideas) and respect for human beings. We should also not conflate “Islamist” and “Muslim”.

    Dawkin’s word choices, FEEDS that conflation; it does not diminish it.

    This isn’t a criticism of Dawkin’s views, but his choice of words.

    In the U.S., there are anti-Muslim racists Christian theocrats who do not make distinctions and are so offensively stupid that hate crimes (including a mass shooting) have been committed against Sikhs by Anti-Muslim ultra-nationalists.

    It is very difficult to walk a line – where making valid criticisms of religion and specific cultural practices of an embattled group – is weighed against feeding a hate mob.

    In that environment – it IS important to choose words very wisely.

    It is important that the distinctions are made MORE clear; not murky. This also protects against the people who will accuse someone of “racism” when ideas are what are being discussed. You can then counter with – that is not what I said – I said “[this]” without their argument against you being stronger in the retelling of your own statements.

  47. tiberiusbeauregard says

    No, but when public rhetoric on a certain subject does more harm than good

    … said every distractor of people who challenged the status quo. Ever.

    Writers have a responsibility for how what they write can reasonably be interpreted

    Hah. Without even knowing it, you’ve hit the nail straight on its head.

    It’s about what can be REASONABLY extracted from someone’s writing – And still, quote mining, deliberate misinterpretation and hidden motivations will ALWAYS be at the very heart of any distractor’s own scribble, no matter how unreasonable it really is. Why do I even have to say this ? You employ a part of these tactics as well.

    In the end, all you have accomplished, is limiting yourself to broadcasting cautiously worded almost-truths, for the fear someone could misuse or outright abuse what you’ve written. Why someone would deliberately render himself to be irreleveant, is beyond me.

    Violent Islamism and Islamic fundamentalism of the kind you imply are not “the true forms of Islam” (there are no true forms of Islam), left at its core when all else is cut away. They’re just as much the products of 20th century politics as scripture

    Ok, this IS funny. The elusive “Islamism”, although Islam already is, by definition, its own -ism … what a beautifully worded self-betrayal.

    A short quote from a righfully revered late ex-anti theist should correct the picture…
    As to the center versus the fringe, I get this all the time, “Don’t judge religion by its fundamentalists and its extremists.” No, why should I? I don’t have to. I judge it by its foundational texts and I judge it by the statements of its authorities.

    If you do that, you’re presented with a clusterf*ck of superstition, hate and violence.
    And the notion that this is common to most religions, doesn’t really alleviate the pain, does it ?

    If you really cared about how others use your writings, you would finally admit to yourself, that your kind of relativist appeasement is infact nothing but a protective cloak for the extremists. But you seem to be fine with that. That’s why I think you’re a part of their armed forces.

    their backbone does not impress me if its sole use is racist xenophobia, which I find pretty spineless in the first instance.

    Will I endlessly lament how utterly empty the accusation of “racism” has become or why all the carefully constructed propaganda phobias are just imaginary ? No, I won’t.

    Just this much:
    The contempt for holding a particular faith, and the personal and cultural ignorance that goes along with, and presupposes it (because that’s what concentric causal circles love to do), is not race-bound – in either direction. Remember these fuzzy-bearded convert clowns with their holier-than-anyone attitude?

    If at all, it’s a good reminder of what is wrong with a culture’s conveying of values, including our own.
    And even if you think it’s unfair to paint entire societies with such a broad brush, that’s still no excuse for being silent.

    I’ll prefer the broad brush approach over the sreaming silence of the appeasers at any given day.

  48. coelsblog says

    I’m speaking about mainstream coverage. As somehow Dawkins is the savior of the Muslim

    It’s not the case that mainstream media in the UK portray Dawkins as “the saviour of the Muslim” and it’s not the case that Dawkins portrays himself as such. Nor is it the case that he is the “go-to person for criticising Islam” in the mainstream media. It seems to me that you are misjudging all of this through not being British.

  49. says

    Whether you (or Dawkins) “could give a proverbial fuck about someone’s skin colour” is completely irrelevant. We live in a world where racism exists. He may very well intend no racist implications when he attacks Islam, but intent is not magic. What is important is whether his words actually reinforce existing patterns of racist oppression.

    As I’ve pointed out elsewhere in this thread, there is a vocal right-wing anti-immigration lobby – not just in the UK, but across Europe and North America – for whom Islam serves as a convenient bogeyman, a pretext for opposing immigration. The anti-immigration lobby supports racist and xenophobic ideas which increase oppression, and which stir up hatred and hostility towards immigrants and members of racial minorities. And Dawkins’ thoughtless and intemperate rhetoric about Islam is all too capable of being used by the anti-immigration lobby to push its agenda. I’m sure Dawkins doesn’t intend that; I don’t think he’s really thought about it. But by getting into bed with the likes of Condell, and saying things which can be and are repeated uncritically by anti-immigrationists, he’s effectively lending support to the anti-immigration movement, whether he intends to or not.

  50. says

    That very well may be. Ironically, that may be why I could take the last paragraph as potentially being literal.

    Simply put: In a context where ignorance and violence is being visited on a group who you are criticizing; it’s irresponsible to stumbling on the talking points of those perpetuating that ignorance and violence; if possible.

    One reason is to try to avoid valid criticisms against them being used against you.

    I hope we agree.

    Also, that activists who are most knowledgeable and affected by the focus of that activism, should take center stage as much as possible.

    I think we agree on that too.

    As far as my perspective on the broader topic:

    At least in the U.S. (where his tweets are read too), any language that feeds anti-Muslim sentiment is inappropriate. Muslims in the U.S. have no political power to speak of; and proud bigots win elections.

    The Muslim with the highest political office in the U.S. is a liberal who helped win marriage rights in MN; he is a representative of an area near where I live.

    On the other hand, Christians with political power are the ones eroding individual rights, while waiving the flag of “Freedom” (to oppress).

    So, that is the lens I have.

    This is a place where Sikhs are confused with Muslims – because they both wear some-what similar head gear. Any indication that “Those Muslims…” are doing something alarming bring another wave of stupidity and fear.

    My students know that when there is a news story critical of “Muslims” for any reason, from any country, of any stripe at all – THEY will be targeted for another round of vandalism to their homes.

    I think it is a small request that Dawkins – or anyone else – use names – not just “Muslim” to be clear who they are fighting against. Make those who are toxic to secularism and freedom of conscience and the dignity of human beings; be held accountable as individuals.

    To many people in the U.S. – there is no such thing as an individual Muslim.

  51. Walton says

    Wrong. People on the left are not actually saying that we shouldn’t criticize the violence perpetrated by oppressive regimes, Muslim and otherwise. Indeed, as someone who’s worked with asylum-seekers, I would argue strongly that we should be doing more to help people who have suffered under those very regimes – by getting rid of our racist and brutal immigration laws, under which many people who come here from those very countries to seek asylum are held in detention and victimized a second time. (I’m talking about Britain because it’s where I and Dawkins both happen to live and work, but exactly the same remarks apply to the US, Canada, Australia and most European countries.)

    The reason I criticize Dawkins is, as I have repeatedly said, that his thoughtless rhetoric about Muslims runs the risk of reinforcing bigotry. There is a vocal right-wing anti-immigration lobby – not just in the UK, but across Europe and North America – for whom Islam serves as a convenient bogeyman, a pretext for opposing immigration. For anti-immigrationists, the favourite talking point is that “our culture” is being “swamped” with Muslim immigrants who have “barbaric” customs: it’s a coded way of expressing racist hatred. The anti-immigration lobby supports racist and xenophobic ideas which increase oppression, and which stir up hatred and hostility towards immigrants and members of racial minorities. And Dawkins’ thoughtless and intemperate rhetoric about Islam is all too capable of being used by the anti-immigration lobby to push its agenda. I’m sure Dawkins doesn’t intend that; I don’t think he’s really thought about it. But by getting into bed with the likes of Condell, and saying things which can be and are repeated uncritically by anti-immigrationists, he’s effectively lending support to the anti-immigration movement, whether he intends to or not.

  52. Ben* says

    Jeez dude how slow is your hand clap…my reply has been ‘awaiting moderation’ for ages now.

  53. Ben* says

    So…can we call the practice of forced marriage, sharia courts & sanctioned domestic violence barbaric? What about state execution of homosexuals & huge prison sentences for blasphemy? Murder & arson over the writing and printing of books/cartoons/comics? They are barbaric of course & they are also disproportionately represented in the belief system of one monotheism in particular (NB: this says nothing about the beliefs of individual Muslims).

    I understand that this can be used by people who say: ‘Prof X criticises Islam, Islam is a religion of predominantly brown people, I dislike brown people – ergo I ‘support’ the professor (or rather ‘the professor supports me’)’ but the only part of this you can control is the first step & if you capitulate here you are exactly the kind or myopic coward I described previously (for you sentence the victims to suffer in silence).

    Now I agree that a person has a duty not to endorse racist attitudes & not to feed them, but one isn’t responsible for the liberties other duplicitous people take with their words. Had Dawkins ever allowed ‘brown’ as a substitute for ‘Muslim’ I would agree with you 100% he was out of order…but he hasn’t (and wouldn’t because he isn’t racist). I might also add that at the last anti-EDL rally I attended (quite recently as it happens) nobody from the EDL was chanting ‘We’ve got Dawkins on our side’.

    If I can return the question, what DO you think we ought to say about those practices I mentioned earlier? How ought we ensure that the relevant authorities are equipped & enabled to deal with these and protect vulnerable people?

  54. Walton says

    So…can we call the practice of forced marriage, sharia courts & sanctioned domestic violence barbaric? What about state execution of homosexuals & huge prison sentences for blasphemy? Murder & arson over the writing and printing of books/cartoons/comics?

    […]

    If I can return the question, what DO you think we ought to say about those practices I mentioned earlier? How ought we ensure that the relevant authorities are equipped & enabled to deal with these and protect vulnerable people?

    There is actually a great deal we can do about these practices. For one thing, when LGBT people, forced marriage survivors, FGM survivors, apostates and other people who have suffered under Islamist regimes seek sanctuary in the UK, we should give them unconditional support – rather than locking them up in places like this, subjecting them to a biased, intrusive and humiliating asylum claims process and accuse them of lying about their experiences, and threatening them with deportation to the very countries where they were abused. For another, we should listen to the actual survivors of abuse, and to grassroots organizations such as the Movement for Justice, rather than talking over them and imposing our own view.

    What we should not do is offer offensive generalizations about Muslims, Muslim culture, or Muslim countries which can be misused in the hands of the far right to promote bigotry. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about and campaign against abuses perpetrated in the name of Islam. It does mean we should go out of our way to distance ourselves from the racists. I can think of many examples of activists who criticize Islam, often in very strong terms, while also distancing themselves from racist bigotry – including Maryam Namazie, who has distanced herself from right-wingers like Douglas Murray and stood up for people held in immigration detention, and Johann Hari, who wrote a sensitive piece about homophobia in Muslim communities while also acknowledging bigotry against Muslims.

  55. says

    My position is clear; there are victims of horrendous abuse who are suffering in silence because criticism of their abusers is being stifled by those on the popular left
    Bullshit. To the extent they suffer in silence, it’s because their abusers have them cowed. You think their lot will magically improve when we deport them? Because that’s the racist end game, and unthinkingly tarring all muslims with the brush of ‘barbarians’ takes us one step further towards that. Criticize individual practices – when they’re being criticized by the people suffering under them. It isn’t ‘moral cowardice’ to play second fiddle to the people you allegedly want to help.

    That these self-same people also are the most vocal critics of Dawkins merely reveals their own myopic worldview, else their own moral cowardice.

    Yeah given your inability to characterize our arguments I have approximately zero faith you’ve characterized anyone else’s.

  56. says

    I apologize for some of my typos. I hope the intent was clear.

    Avoid the talking points of “group X” so that valid criticisms against “group X” aren’t also used against you.

  57. Ben* says

    …racist against who exactly. You know that words lose their meaning if you abuse them enough…if you actually care about racism then stop bandying the term about with no justification.

    In fact it’s idiots like you who legitimately strengthen the EDL’s hand. Tell people that criticising Islam is racist (or whatever the fuck you think I’ve done here) & all you do is make them less shy of being actually racist. Your faux-outrage & half-witted self-righteousness actually makes the lives of BAME people harder. Good job, why don’t you go polish your good-guy badge.

  58. Ben* says

    You’re an idiot but w/e. Firstly, nobody is talking about deporting people, not Dawkins, not Cohen & not me. If you think you can trace a link from ‘Fewer Muslim Nobel prize winners than winners from Trinity’ to ‘Get brown people out of our country’ then you are as daft as any EDL member who sees the same thing.

    Secondly, THERE ARE MUSLIMS ASKING FOR OUR HELP. In every single theocratic hellhole there are people clamouring for a secular space, a free politics, some semblance of a private life etc. Whether it’s ex-Muslims, or merely secularists, liberals & trade unionists (and of course women from all walks of life) people want freedom & you betray them with blather about ‘playing second fiddle’.

    Lastly, in case you missed it:

    ‘They are barbaric of course & they are also disproportionately represented in the belief system of one monotheism in particular (NB: this says nothing about the beliefs of individual Muslims).’

    ‘NB: this says nothing about the beliefs of individual Muslims’

    So tell me more about how I’m ‘unthinkingly tarring all Muslims with the brush of ‘barbarians’.

  59. atheist says

    It’s not even so much the being racist/sexist. It’s the purblind refusal to even acknowledge that this is so, and to insist that if anyone sees bias in what he’s saying, then it’s all in their head.

    It is as if Dawkins lacks a certain kind of awareness. He doesn’t see how people exist within culture, and are creatures of culture. He seems blind to the way he’s falling into a xenophobic worldview, a worldview that has deep roots in his own culture.

  60. atheist says

    Dawkins’ attacks on Muslims are not only bigoted, they are counter to the interests of Secularism and Skepticism. These ideals do not benefit from becoming weapons used in a civilization war. They should be beacons for all of humanity, not weapons in the arsenal of the West. For an example of Secularism used as a political weapon, consider the way that Egypt’s military coup is now using accusations of “Islamism” to crack down on any form of dissent.

    It is not that I consider Dawkins too “uncivil”. It is that I truly fear and detest the thought of Secularism and Skepticism used to harm the very people they should be helping. I don’t know if Dawkins uses this bigoted language out of naivete, or stubbornness, or actual hatred. I don’t know his mind, all I know is the probable effect of his words.

  61. coelsblog says

    You are of course entitled to see things differently from how I do, but I don’t see Dawkins’s tweeting as either “bigoted” or counter to the interests of secularism or skepticism. I also see it as pretty much inevitable that there will be clashes between ideals of secularism (church/state separation) and theocracy.

  62. atheist says

    I don’t see Dawkins’s tweeting as … “bigoted”

    What is this tweet *, then? A bad joke?

    * @RichardDawkins: “@ToddKincannon I think Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today. I’ve said so, often and loudly.What are you talking about?”

  63. atheist says

    Look at it this way: Dawkins is taking a human struggle and trying to make it about his tribe. If his struggle is with Islam then this is now a tribal conflict. The problem is that tribal conflict is inimical to Skepticism.

  64. coelsblog says

    What is this tweet *, then? A bad joke?

    I consider it a reasonable and measured opinion.

    Dawkins is taking a human struggle and trying to make it about his tribe.

    I’m not sure what you mean here. If you mean that he is setting atheists and secularists against theocratic religion, then yes he is.

  65. atheist says

    I consider it a reasonable and measured opinion.

    Really. And what do you think about the next logical step in this thought process, “Since Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today, we must do whatever is within our power to eradicate it from the Earth.” Is this next logical step a good one do you think? Is that something that Skeptics should take up?

  66. coelsblog says

    And what do you think about the next logical step in this thought process, “Since Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today, we must do whatever is within our power to eradicate it from the Earth.”

    I don’t agree that that is in any way “the next logical state”. Have you heard the expression “the cure is worse than the disease”?

    Is this next logical step a good one do you think?

    Your logic is faulty. That’s what I think.

  67. atheist says

    Yes, the next natural thought upon being told that “Islam is the greatest force for evil”, is, “we must eradicate this evil somehow!” Coelsblog, I guess I can believe that your mind doesn’t take that path, but if you are going to live on this Earth among your fellow humans, you should realize that when you call X “the greatest force for evil”, most of them are going to think: “Oh no, how can we eradicate X?”. Evil is a fighting word.

    And what does it say about Dawkins’ status as a thought-leader, that he’s either so clueless that he can’t make that connection, or so disconnected that he doesn’t think it matters, or perhaps so angry that he doesn’t care? Whether he likes it or not he is pointing a direction for Skepticism, and I don’t think we should go that way.

  68. coelsblog says

    No, my mind does not take that course. To leap from Dawkins’s tweet to “therefore we need to eradicate it” is ridiculous, it simply doesn’t follow, and I don’t accept that most people would think like that. Dawkins himself is not thinking about “eradication”, he is all about persuasion. Would Dawkins like to reduce this “evil” by persuasion, yes. Has he ever advocated “eradication” or anything remotely resembling that? No. And nor is he “clueless”, “disconnected” or “angry”.

  69. Tenebras says

    For someone who once “clapped his hands raw” when a professor gracefully admitted to having been wrong, Dawkins seems quite incapable of doing it himself, on any subject. As a former member of his former forums, this has long since stopped surprising me, I can’t even be bothered to get angry about it anymore. The only thing that pisses me off about him now is that anybody still considers him a spokesperson for any of us.

  70. says

    …racist against who exactly.

    Against near-eastern immigrants. Why are you pretending this is a question with no answer? Actually, it’s probably ‘every marginalized race’ seeing as you aren’t a magical unicorn who grew up free of your culture, but the relevant thing is where you’re spreading it now.

    You know that words lose their meaning if you abuse them enough… if you actually care about racism then stop bandying the term about with no justification.

    Okay, “You are contributing to the structures that marginalize a group on the basis of their race” is pretty much the definition of ‘racist’, so I’d say I’m fine. If you think it only goes to the EDL or KKK you’re sorely mistaken.

    telling people that criticising Islam is racist

    Read. The fucking. Post.

    Your faux-outrage

    Tell yourself whatever you need so you can pretend it’s not on you dude.

  71. says

    , not Dawkins, not Cohen & not me.

    UKIP is. EDL is. Sure, those voices aren’t listened to much NOW. The more you spread bullshit about how ‘barbaric’ muslims are, the more strength you lend those voices.

    Secondly, THERE ARE MUSLIMS ASKING FOR OUR HELP. In every single theocratic hellhole there are people clamouring for a secular space, a free politics, some semblance of a private life etc.

    I didn’t say stop helping people who ask. I said, specifically “Play second fiddle”. Follow their lead. You are explicitly not when you call all muslims horrible.

    you betray them with blather about ‘playing second fiddle’.

    Bullshit. Every time white people have tried to overtake a movement in the past, we have told them to stay the fuck back and only help. If you expect me to believe those suffering under horrible Islamic regimes specifically want white people to take over, you’d better give me a reason to. What it means is, “STOP TRYING TO CO OPT THEIR MOVEMENTS YOU PIECES OF SHIT.” It still does.

    ‘They are barbaric of course & they are also disproportionately represented in the belief system of one monotheism in particular (NB: this says nothing about the beliefs of individual Muslims).’

    Are you laboring under the belief that I care about boilerplate that comes after 10 posts? I don’t.

  72. atheist says

    At first I was annoyed by Dawkins’ strawman-attacking exercise meant to prove that Islam is not a race, (as if someone thought it was). But now, I’m starting to enjoy this shirt-re-tucking exercise of his. If I can learn to enjoy right wing bullshit as an entertainment source, why can’t I enjoy the same kind of arguments when made by Skeptics? Bullshit is definitely a burgeoning genre!

  73. coelsblog says

    Dawkins seems quite incapable of doing it himself, on any subject.

    I can think of several instances of Dawkins accepting that he was wrong, and retracting and re-stating. But just because you think he’s wrong (and just because a lot of the sort of people who post on FTB think he’s wrong) doesn’t mean that he is wrong. People are entitled to see thing differently, it doesn’t need to be a monoculture with one voice, one line. Complain about him if you wish, but I suspect that he does and will amount to more than his critics.

  74. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    a lot of the sort of people who post on FTB

    *raises eyebrow*

    I’ll just highlight this bit there so everyone can see that.

  75. CaitieCat says

    Yeah, geez, you’d think he could use our formal name: The benevolent and Protective Order of Ilks.

  76. coelsblog says

    I’ll just highlight this bit there so everyone can see that.

    Thanks for doing so! It’s true, when this sort of issue gets discussed on some FTB blogs the majority of commenters tend to be critical of Dawkins, whereas on other atheist blogs that I read, such as WEIT, the majority tend to be supportive of Dawkins. Is there something wrong in pointing this out? It’s hardly news, is it?

    Personally I think it’s a pity that atheist blogs are somewhat Balkanised like this. Perhaps things would be better if people were less focused on finding fault with each other, and, as part of that, if people adopted the principle of a charitable reading more, rather than criticising the least charitable reading of what has been said. As said above, one of the good aspects of Nick Cohen’s article is that it did spend much of its space raising necessary issues.

  77. says

    I don’t really care about being charitable: I respond to the reading of something I feel is most accurate. And what your point about FtB and WEIT suggests to me is just that different writers find different audiences.

  78. coelsblog says

    Out of interest. As well as referring to Islam as the most “evil” religion, Dawkins has also repeatedly referred to Roman Catholicism as the “second most evil” religion. How do you react to that?

  79. coelsblog says

    The point about a “charitable reading” is that it often is the most accurate as to the author’s intent. And I agree with your suggestion about different audiences, which is really what I was saying.

  80. CaitieCat says

    The “it’s probably not from bad intent” is a variant on the “it’s worse to be called a bigot than to engage in bigotry” meme, one which privilege loves to use to defend itself. We are always supposed to assume that those who swim in privilege (like, say, upper-class Oxbridge-educated hetero white cis men) are acting out of only the best principles of noblesse oblige, and that any bigotry they happen to indulge in is surely just youthful high spirits, boys will be boys, I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm, why are you being so oversensitive?

    What possible “good intent” is there in declaring 15% of the world to be the greatest evil facing humanity? “Maybe our genetics will be better once we glass over everywhere Muslims live”?

    Why is it so hard for his followers to recognize that even if he’s pretty good at some things, he sucks at recognizing his own privilege and deeply conservative cultural biases? Do we really still need to know that no oneno one – avoids having feet of clay? Is it such a desperate insult now, to suggest that someone drenched in privilege might not be completely unbiased, and might actually be helping some pretty revolting people out, whether he means to or not?

  81. coelsblog says

    They’re about his [Dawkins’s] language being counterproductive and enabling racists’ agendas.

    As in that quote, a large part of the criticism of Dawkins’s language is how it might be used by others, by racists. The suggestion is that he needs to avoid anything that sounds racist or could be taken as such.

    OK, that’s a fair point. But this attitude can also be over-done. Some estimates are that tens of thousands of British girls are “at risk” of having FGM inflicted on them (I don’t know how many actually have it done to them, and likely no-one else knows either). Yet, there has never been a single prosecution for inflicting FGM in the UK. There have been prosecutions in France, and there are reports of French girls being shipped to the UK because they can get away with doing it here (see link below).

    Why has there not been a single prosecution for this? Isn’t a large part of the reason the strong desire in the UK to avoid “sounding racist”? To even suggest that this is occurring in some communities in the UK, and that British girls are at risk, “sounds racist”, it’s the sort of thing that racists would say, to denigrate those communities.

    Thus, the British authorities have long preferred to just *assume* that it isn’t happening, and so not have investigations into it, not have special units assigned to countering it, etc. Ayaan Hirshi Ali said much the same thing when she raised the issue in the Netherlands, that people refused to consider the issue, refused to consider that girls in some communities might be more at risk, because that assumption would be “racist”. Thus the avoiding “sounding racist” idea can be overdone.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18900803

    http://www.theguardian.com/law/2012/nov/13/female-genital-mutilation-prosection-uk

  82. says

    That’s not overdoing it; that’s doing it wrong. If you think it’s impossible to say “female genital mutilation is a disturbingly widespread problem in Britain that needs to curbed” without invoking racist or xenophobic narratives, you’re not very imaginative.

  83. atheist says

    Personally I think it’s a pity that atheist blogs are somewhat Balkanised like this.

    It is a sign of the maturation of atheism/skepticism. For a long time the focus was on showing contradictions in the Bible, fighting for separation of church and state, and similar things. Atheism was fighting for the right to exist. These battles went well for atheists, and so after a while the focus shifted. For all their faults, the “New Atheists” (Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett) have helped to revitalize atheism and its associated movements (Humanism, Skepticism, etc.).

    But since our movement has become revitalized, we have also had our situation complicated. We have to deal with political questions:
    -What is the relationship between feminism and skepticism?
    -Does skepticism have a sexual harassment problem? If so, how can it be resolved?
    -What is the proper attitude of skeptics toward warfare? Is it useful to take sides in wars?
    -How can skepticism reach out beyond its white middle-class base?
    These questions are inherently polarizing, but they are also unavoidable for a movement that wants to be effective. They have to be worked through.

  84. atheist says

    Dawkins has also repeatedly referred to Roman Catholicism as the “second most evil” religion. How do you react to that?

    Initially I’m less worried simply because nobody’s declaring a global war on Catholicism, and there is not currently any nativist movement trying to purge their homeland of Catholic influence. Upon reflection, though, I have to admit that the same problems are brought up by this as by the Islam example. I think that it’s counterproductive.

  85. coelsblog says

    Hi CaitieCat,
    First, when the accusation is “bigotry” intent really does matter, since the accusation of bigotry is about state of mind.

    Second, he didn’t declare “15% of the world” to be the greatest evil, he called *Islam* the greatest evil. He called evil the idea system, Islam, not the people, Muslims.

    Suppose that during Stalin’s purges someone had called communism the “greatest evil” in the world, would that have been “bigoted” and “racist”, would it have been calling *people* evil as opposed to calling an ideology evil? Ditto if someone, today, were to call “capitalism” the greatest evil in the world today (some people do think that). Isn’t that a legitimate opinion, regardless of whether we consider them wrong?

    What is it about criticisms of religion that they always get interpreted as attacks on people, and thus disallowed, when attacks on political ideologies or similar do not?

    Lastly, as for “why is so hard for his followers to recognize …?”, I’d reply, why is it so hard for his critics to recognise that they are not always right, and that other people can genuinely and properly think and see things differently?

  86. coelsblog says

    So why, in your opinion, have we not seen even one prosecution for inflicting FGM in the UK in the 27 years that it has been illegal, given that estimates are that tens of thousands of such crimes have occurred in the UK, and that they are ongoing with 24,000 British girls “thought to be at risk”?

    If the answer is not “people have been afraid to raise the issue for fear of sounding racist”, what is it?

  87. says

    I think that’s probably a major factor. But the fact we can identify one instance of something being found racist which isn’t doesn’t mean we can extrapolate that no description of anti-Islam commentary as racist can ever be sound.

  88. atheist says

    All great points Catiecat. To me the real head-scratcher is why Dawkins feels he can make political arguments without getting political counterarguments back. Perhaps he still doesn’t understand that the landscape has shifted, and that issues he’s bringing up are politically hot. Maybe he assumes that attacking Islam is just like attacking acupuncture, but he’s in a different zone now.

  89. coelsblog says

    The two “sides” seem to be strawmanning each other over the “anti-Islam commentary is racist” idea.

    One strawman is “any criticism of Islam is inevitably racist” and the counter-strawman is “no criticism of Islam can ever be racist”. I think we can quickly agree that neither of these holds, and perhaps we might also agree that neither of these are being claimed.

    It is quite possible for criticism of Islam to be racist and possible for it not to be. Whether or not Dawkins’s comments are then has to be argued on the particulars.

  90. coelsblog says

    Or maybe he is happy with encountering counter-arguments, and thinks that things are going just fine? Afterall, it’s not as though his twitter following is plummeting as people desert him in droves, it’s going markedly up.

    It’s easy to level accusations of being “counterproductive” (people like PZ and Dawkins get accused of that all the time), it’s much harder to discern what exactly the effect is and whether it really is counterproductive, since we’re somewhat lacking in control experiments.

  91. atheist says

    Jelly ? People like Condell or Wilders maybe polarising, but challenging the status-quo protecting, cowardish mainstream idiocy the way they do it, risking their own well-being in the process…

    No, we’re not jealous of neo-fascist whackjobs. It’s difficult enough to feel compassion for such people. Usually the best I can muster is disgust.

  92. atheist says

    Keep in mind that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has unsavory connections and has repeatedly made extreme statements about Islam *.

    * “Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Sympathizes with Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik”, at Loonwatch website, March 22, 2012 by Garibaldi.

    sample:

    I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.

  93. coelsblog says

    Alex, out of interest, where did Dawkins say that about your post (private email?).

    I had read it, by the way, though haven’t said anything about it (it seems full to strawmen and uncharitable readings to me, but I accept that people can interpret things differently).

  94. coelsblog says

    Well, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has vastly more experience of Islam and living under Islam than I do. That statement is indeed fairly extreme, seeing Islam as an “enemy” that she wants to “crush”, but her opposition to it is understandable.

    By the way, that cite you linked to is hardly objective, nothing in what it reports has her “sympathising” with Breivik, what she is saying is that it wasn’t people criticising Islam who inspired his acts.

  95. atheist says

    nothing in what it reports has her “sympathising” with Breivik, what she is saying is that it wasn’t people criticising Islam who inspired his acts.

    She is saying that the “advocates of silence” caused Breivik to kill. Apparently, if people stand in the way of her war against Islam, then we can expect violence. This is the argument of a thug.

  96. coelsblog says

    She is saying that the “advocates of silence” caused Breivik to kill.

    No, she is saying that *Breivik* *claimed* that the “advocates of silence caused Breivik to kill”. That is very different, and a distinction lost on whoever wrote that site (suggesting that that site is too biased to be taken seriously). What she is saying is presumably in response to suggestions that speaking out against Islam caused Breivik and she is saying that, no it wasn’t.

  97. says

    Which is more likely: That a man who makes a great living communicating science and atheism is so incapable of speaking his thoughts clearly that he needs to be ‘read charitably’ to put his thoughts forth properly, or that he’s being a jackass?

    FFS.

  98. coelsblog says

    Rutee, How about “not read un-charitably” rather than “read charitably”? I’m usually amazed by how people construe his remarks. An example is the “greatest evil” idea, which commenters on this thread consider to “logically imply” that we must do everything in our power to eradicate it. I’m fairly sure that Dawkins had nothing such in mind.

    I guess it’s the same with ideas such as the “selfish gene”. To many his meaning is entirely straightforward and clear, yet many insist on misinterpreting it, willfully I suspect (though perhaps not).

  99. coelsblog says

    And while we’re on, if someone, criticising the organisation of an event at UCL, had said “who do these people think they are?”, then “these people” would obviously be taken as the event organisers, not everyone in the world. In the same way, if it’s “these Muslims” then it’s *still* the event organisers being referred to, not all Muslims worldwide.

    And if one talks about a library “destroyed by Islamic barbarians” then “Islamic” is a modifier of “barbarians”, thus “barbarians who are Islamic”, not “all Muslims are barbarians”.

    But people do try hard to read these things uncharitably.

  100. says

    I’m usually amazed by how people construe his remarks. An example is the “greatest evil” idea, which commenters on this thread consider to “logically imply” that we must do everything in our power to eradicate it. I’m fairly sure that Dawkins had nothing such in mind.

    Yeah, the guy who wants no religions to exist most certainly doesn’t want to eradicate Islam. Try ‘violently’, that’s at least more believable.

    And I realize you’re a naïve little snowflake, but that doesn’t mean your naivete (Or just an unwillingness to believe your hero did something wrong) is correct. People usually say that to also mean they want to end the evil. Sometimes, that’s a fine thing – if someone says “World hunger and poverty are the greatest evils the world faces today” (BTW, Islam isn’t even fucking close to the top of the list of ‘problematic shit that needs to end’ on the planet. I doubt it’s on the top ten facing Britain) I can be confident they, you know, want to STOP it. They’re not just saying it for the sole purpose of vocalizing it*. In this case, and in this climate, saying it is awful.

    And if one talks about a library “destroyed by Islamic barbarians” then “Islamic” is a modifier of “barbarians”, thus “barbarians who are Islamic”, not “all Muslims are barbarians”.

    And why should I care? Bigots don’t. It enforces bigotry just the same. Why should I be okay with reinforcing bigotry just because you feel it’s ‘uncharitable’ to care? I care about effects. Now, I might not necessarily think too poorly of Dawkins if, in his history, he recognized this, and at the least TRIED to keep himself from being co-opted. FAilure’s human, and If I expected perfection, I’d kill myself. What Dawkins instead does is, well, what he’s doing here: He insists all problems are on the end of his critics, that he’s done nothing wrong, and that he will continue to do nothing wrong, etc etc etc. In the face of that, * ALONG WITH HIS WORDS THEMSELVES*, I have no trouble accepting that the natural conclusion (that he means something roughly along the lines of what he actually fucking said) is the correct one.

    But people do try hard to read these things uncharitably.

    Statement assumes facts not in evidence. I gave him and Hitchens far more rope than I usually extend to Noted White Men. They hung themselves with it.

    *Although their actions may go no further than that, there’s a message they want to convey about themselves -usually, ‘I deserve a cookie for opposing terrible things’, if they do no more.

  101. says

    I’m also unclear on how it’s ‘charitable’ to assume that Dawkins is okay with the greatest evil in the world existing. That implies a great deal of apathy and acceptance for outright evil.

  102. coelsblog says

    Hi Rutee,

    Persuasion is not “eradication”, let alone “eradication by any means possible”. Dawkins would indeed like to *persuade* the world to be non-religious; but he is not about “eradication”, and such suggestions are just silly twisting of his words. When that is resorted to it suggests that perhaps his words *as stated* were ok.

    Also, poverty and hunger are not “forces” (as in Dawkins’s “forces for evil” tweet) in the way that ideologies such as Islam and Catholicism are.

  103. says

    One thing: having come from a welfare-dependent, previously homeless single parent family and being Oxford-educated myself, it isn’t helpful when people use ‘Oxbridge-educated’ to signify privilege. Obviously, getting there is often made possible by pre-existent privilege, but I think ‘public school educated’ is better. (Oxford and Cambridge, unlike their U.S. counterparts, being no more expensive than most other universities and in Oxford’s case cheaper for many people.)

  104. says

    Persuasion is not “eradication”, let alone “eradication by any means possible”. Dawkins would indeed like to *persuade* the world to be non-religious; but he is not about “eradication”, and such suggestions are just silly twisting of his words. When that is resorted to it suggests that perhaps his words *as stated* were ok.

    You’re, again, trying to ignore the ridiculously racist context in which Dawkins exists. If you want to avoid being co-opted by racists, YOU HAVE TO GO ABOVE AND BEYOND IN YOUR CRITICISMS TO MAKE SURE RACISTS CAN’T CO-OPT YOU. This is granting Dawkins FAR more credit than he deserves though, given that he supports Condell and Wilders.

    Also, poverty and hunger are not “forces” (as in Dawkins’s “forces for evil” tweet) in the way that ideologies such as Islam and Catholicism are.

    Poverty is most certainly a socio-economic force, it’s just not an organization. And considering that poverty is a force that is fostered by organizations that are far more centralized than Islam, it strongly suggests that either Dawkins hasn’t thought this through, or is an uncaring asshat who considers the primary problems of the world to be religion, which is utter jackassery.

  105. CaitieCat says

    Apologies, Alex; good point. My family left the UK because of the complete lack of opportunity for the working class when we were there (in the early 70s); it is easy to forget that this has changed somewhat. I was the first person ever in our family to go to post-secondary education – hell, the first one to finish secondary education – so obviously my experience had been different. And the list of, shall we say Eton-Harrow types?, who’ve looked down on me for my raised-in-a-caravan start has been…lengthy.

    I take your point, though, and will adjust in future.

  106. Ben* says

    I know Alex said not to call you an idiot…but if the fucking glove fits…

    Right, sorry…what’s your fucking experience of racism you massive hypocritical shit! How dare you fucking say I am making life difficult for my brothers & comrades when you post inane drivel about how we should capitulate to their oppressors.

    You have no justification for your outrage…you just want a badge to polish. Tell me how you have struggled against stereotypes & explain how people sheltering you abusers fucking helped with that! You’re full of shit brother, piss off!

  107. says

    Right, sorry…what’s your fucking experience of racism you massive hypocritical shit!

    Being Latin@ in the USA. Unlike you, I entirely look the part of my heritage, and have a nervous fear of the cops because of what they do to people like me.

    How dare you fucking say I am making life difficult for my brothers & comrades

    Well, that just begs the question of why you call your comrades barbaric.

    when you post inane drivel about how we should capitulate to their oppressors.

    I said nothing of the sort; particularly since, if you’re in Britain, white people are going to number principally amongst your oppressors… although within a community or monkeysphere, it’s certainly true that a patriarchal immigrant imam could be your biggest oppressor.

    you just want a badge to polish.

    I for one can’t imagine any other motive for a latin@ to intercede on behalf of oppressed immigrants, no.

    bro

    Wrong gender. Also, not in solidarity with me.

  108. says

    In addition to what Alex said, Islam is the dominant religion in countries the West pushes around, which changes the dynamic somewhat. In the most extreme cases, when you’re being bombed for your skin color anyway, the extremists look a lot more attractive.

  109. John Phillips, FCD says

    Walton, QFFT, I have recently again been ashamed of being British after reading how we were planning to return known tortured LGBT people back to where they were tortured and where they will suffer the same or worse if returned. Sadly, that is not the only reason for shame with regards to our handling of immigrants and refugees.

  110. says

    Dawkins published a piece called ‘Calm reflections after a storm in a teacup‘, which near-epitomised the idea of doubling down.

    The title also neatly sums up the mindset of the upper-class twit he is: saying incredibly stupid shit that makes others justifiably angry, then looking down his nose at the reaction and pretending he’s the only rational one in the room.

    This is the last thing the atheist movement needs: the secret love-child of Madeline Murray O’Hair and George W. Bush.

  111. says

    But let me try to be fair. Dawkins has also tweeted against all Muslims — not just sexist god-botherers at University College London. I accept that generalising about Muslims can incite racism.

    In other words, this guy just admitted that Dawkins’ critics were right to attack him after all. Argument over.

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