This is truly getting ridiculous. The Independent has published a story claiming that atheists face an Islamophobia backlash, and the first thing I have to do is take exception to the premise. A “backlash”? Seriously? Dawkins has been hit with this “backlash” nonsense from the day The God Delusion hit the stands in 2006; he has had a colony of fleas (like this one, for example) leaping on his coattails and announcing that the great backlash has begun from the very beginning. I daresay there was a “backlash” on the day the first hominin looked at the rock his tribe was worshipping and grunted, “it’s just a rock” — of course, the backlash then was more like a backswing with a handaxe, but it was the same sentiment.
When the popular culture has been howling for centuries in protest at any expression of the idea that there is no god, you don’t get to use the word “backlash” any more, OK? You don’t get to pretend that this nonsense is something new. It’s just a “lash”, yet another in the commonplace droning torrent of complaint. And they don’t have a single original idea in that complaint, either.
This is the crux of their disagreement.
The opening broadside began earlier this month with a polemic from Nathan Lean on the Salon.com website. Lean, a Washington DC native and Middle East specialist who has recently written a book about the Islamophobia industry, was prompted to pen his attack following a series of tweets last month by Professor Dawkins attacking Islam in snappy 140 character sound bites.
“Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today,” the Cambridge evolutionary biologist wrote on 1 March.
For a man who has made a career out of academic rigour the admission that the author of the God Delusion hadn’t studied Islam’s holy book surprised many and led to a flurry of responses from both fans and critics alike. Three weeks later – in an apt illustration of Godwins’ Law (the idea that as an online discussion grows longer the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one) – Dawkins added: “Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur’an. You don’t have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about Nazism.”
Richard Dawkins hasn’t read the fucking Koran. He hasn’t read every word of every hadith, either, neither Shia nor Sunni. He isn’t an Islamic scholar. He doesn’t know Arabic, so he hasn’t read the text in the original language, either, which purists will insist is the only way to study it…and if you study it, the purists will also insist that you are not allowed to criticize it. Once again, atheists are getting hit with the Courtier’s Reply, and it is rank bullshit.
The holy books of any religion are just collections of rationalizations, inconsistent and incoherent, with only the weakest relationship to the religion as it is practiced. Most of the practitioners of a religion have not dedicated their life to studying the texts, either; they have lives to live. You can get a better idea what a religion is about by studying what the believers actually say and do, and what practices are current in their culture: Christians, Jews, and Muslims all claim to be built on the Abrahamic foundation of the Old Testament, but studying that text isn’t going to allow you to predict what each of those religions are doing. Sunni and Shia both claim to be following the Koran; Quakers and Catholics claim to follow the Bible. Somehow they’ve built completely different faiths from the same starting point. If I am concerned about priestly pedophilia in the Catholic church or female genital mutiliation by some followers of the Koran, it is simply a distraction to tell me to go read their holy books — they won’t have anything to say about the subjects.
I can condemn pedophilia and FGM without knowing a word of Arabic or Aramaic, without spending a few years in a seminary, without receiving detailed interpretations from a sanctified religious authority. To imply that not reading those worthless books is a failure of academic rigor is sleazy and dishonest, because the atheists in question are not making a critique of the text, but of the politics and behavior of individuals and culture.
Even if I hadn’t read any of the Bible, I could still castigate the violence and oppression carried out by so many good Christians, in the name of their lord, against gays or women or Muslims or anyone different or foreign. Similarly, without reading word one of the Koran, I can categorically reject honor killings and terrorism and misogyny.
In addition, if I’m confronted with a strong claim made from a holy book, I can compare the specific argument with reality; I can have the believer explain to me what it means to him or her, and then address that interpretation directly. For example, without reading the whole of the Koran, I could discuss a 58 page exegesis of Muslim embryology by a true believer, and critique what he said, what his translation of the text said, and what he claimed were direct predictions of his interpretations. Are you going to tell me that I really needed to learn Arabic and read the whole of the Koran to do that?
Because that’s exactly what the gullible faith-heads want to tell me to do, too. When I criticized the two sentence summary of all of embryology from the Koran (shouldn’t it be enough to point out the necessary poverty of such a brief explanation?), one blithering believer told me my problem was that I couldn’t read the rich and very expressive language of the Koran…so rich and expressive, apparently, that an entire modern biology text fits into a few lines of poetry.
Knowing both languages; Arabic and English, I clearly understand why Hamza Tzortis needed to use many dictionaries to explain the meaning of this verse in such a script. The Arabic language is rich and very expressive. The translation can never give you a clear picture. From having a first language education in Arabic, I can tell you that the words in the Quran are not as simple as a “drop of fluid” but do need this much explanation that he provided to make the words’ meaning be shown. Having an advanced study in Biology, I can directly relate and fully agree that the words of the Quran are an exact match to embryonic development stages in humans. Furthermore, I can assert that the knowledge from the Quran extends beyond this to all stages of human life and after death and describes in great detail the stages of the first creation of man which was different from the usual process of reproduction, thereby superseding the current level of scientific knowledge.
That’s simply goal-post shifting and dishonesty: I don’t believe for one minute that the author of that excuse had any advanced knowledge of biology.
As for the Mein Kampf argument, I consider it totally appropriate and a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Does anyone really need to read Hitler’s manifesto before they can honestly decide whether the Holocaust was a good thing, or a bad thing? Is it OK if I think right now that starting a global war that led to 60 million casualties is an unforgiveable evil, or are you going to tell me that somewhere in Mein Kampf there might just be a cunning justification that will cause me to change my opinion? Only if I read it in the original German, of course.
Spare me. Yet another unoriginal whine from the tens of thousands we’ve gotten from the faithful in the last decade, not one word of which addresses the source of the conflict between atheist and theist, leaves me cold and unimpressed.
But I’ll tell you what. Show me one scrap of reasonable scientific evidence that this Allah character actually exists, and I promise I’ll read the whole of the Koran. If it’s really convincing I’ll go off and study Arabic. But until then…telling me to waste a big chunk of my life reading another collection of pretentious babbling mythology is not going to be a good enough excuse to stop me from rejecting the stuff you actually say and do and believe in the name of an imaginary ghostly ape in the sky.