Promoting isn’t starting

There’s a comment on The racism of the white wolf who cried Islamophobia that suddenly clarified for me what is probably a widespread misconception.

Interesting post, I’m a little bit disheartened by your suggestion of Harris & Dawkins as racist. I know at times they have not provided the nuance on Islam we would all like to see (something especially hard on twitter) but they have at least started a discourse which really did not exist from the liberal perspective circa 10 years ago.

No. That’s seriously wrong.

They have helped to draw attention to that discourse, but they certainly did not single- or rather double-handed start it all by themselves. The two of them did not create or start the discourse ex nihilo. It’s really pretty insulting to say they did – insulting to all the other people who contributed to starting that discourse long before Dawkins and Harris played any part, and with more inside knowledge about it. I mean, obviously, all the ex-Muslims and secular Muslims and liberal reformist Muslims who did. Ibn Warraq, Taslima Nasreen, Tarek Fatah, Homa Arjomand, Southall Black Sisters, Irshad Manji, Maryam Namazie – all were active well before The End of Faith and The God Delusion. Yes, Harris and Dawkins wrote best-sellers, but that doesn’t mean that they started the discourse, and they didn’t start it. (To be fair, I think they would say the same thing.)

Give them due credit, by all means, but don’t give them more than their due.


  1. Shatterface says

    I think the idea they,’started’ the debate is very much overstating the case – but it was in response to claims they are raving Islamophobes so little hyperbole is possibly justified.

    It seems at times that criticism can be made of Dawkins or Harris but any defence has to be qualified – or ‘nuanced’ – into non-existence.

  2. Shatterface says

    Also, while they might not be creating discourse ex nihilo Dawkins at least is a writer writing in the context of a considerable body of work with themes that have developed over time: He didn’t just wake up one morning with a grudge against Islam, he was a scientist who became a writer and who found himself increasingly forced into dealing with Christian fundamentalism first of all and who inevitably got dragged into debates with Islam.

  3. says

    Shatterface – it also seems that Dawkins can do no wrong and his critics are all evil scum who should be kicked in the cunt, so what’s your point?

  4. RJW says

    “I’m tired of a certain faction of Western liberals, especially white guys, Westsplaining about how anti-Muslim bigotry and Western colonialism and imperialism and international geopolitics provide *essential context* for understanding the sources of Muslim problems, ” So Am I.

    Yes, it’s definitely insulting, you don’t have to be a media star to see the bleeding’ obvious, even a basic understanding of history is informative. The reason that Western imperialists were able to colonise majority Muslim countries was that they were already technologically backward and dysfunctional.

    The terms ‘nuanced’ and ‘nuance’ should be given a rest for a while.

  5. says

    Shatterface @ 1, that was. Ditto @ 5 – sure, but I didn’t say anything incompatible with that, so again, what’s your point? You seem to be arguing with phantoms in this one.

  6. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    “The reason that Western imperialists were able to colonise majority Muslim countries was that they were already technologically backward and dysfunctional.”

    It’s a bit more complicated than that, RJW. Muslims were able to successfully colonise western Christian countries for a long time. The two even overlapped, with the Ottomans expanding into eastern Europe while the Portuguese established themselves in the Arabian sea and India. The explosion in western technological superiority came after western expansion began, and the European countries concerned were internally pretty dysfunctional too.

  7. RJW says


    Yes, I understand that Muslim-Western conflict all didn’t start with the Crusades and that the Ottomans were still a significant military threat to Europe until the 18th century. So I agree with your comments, although, to some extent, the rapid development of technology and expansion were simultaneous–eg the Portuguese expanded into India and the Arabian Sea because the Moslems didn’t have the firepower to stop them.

    ‘..the European countries concerned were internally pretty dysfunctional too.”

    Well, to some extent, however, it was ‘creative dysfunction’. During the period of continuous European internal conflict, the political, social and economic institutions, particularly the nation-state, that characterise Western civilisation today were evolving. During the same period Islamic cultures stagnated relative to the West, I doubt if Egypt in 1800 would have been much different in to Egypt in 1500.

    Somewhat OT, however it’s an interesting subject and it’s relevant to the whine that the present desperate state of most majority Moslem societies is all due to the impact of Western imperialism.

  8. Decker says

    It’s a bit more complicated than that, RJW. Muslims were able to successfully colonise western Christian countries for a long time.

    I disagree. The Ottomoan empire eshewed the printing press as a sinful innovation until the 1600s, some two centuries after it was invented.

    And The Ottoman Empire’s colonisation of Christian countries, particularly in Orthodox Europe, was facilitated by the military and financial support of Britian and France as in the Crimean War, for example.

    You should read about how the French captured Algeria by wheeling out Houdin, an illsuionist, who wowed local tribal elders with a couple of cheap, standard ‘magic’ tricks. Like the one where you ‘catch’ a bullet with your teeth…

    By the early 19th century the Islamic world was incredibly backward, mired in superstition and ignorance.

  9. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    A more important aspect of muslim resentment, I think, is the way that expansionism is inherent to islam. Even the most perceptive muslims seem to think that the failure of islam to expand across Europe and European expansionism must be the result of satanic plots or god’s punishment for their sins.

  10. johnthedrunkard says

    I’m uncertain about Harris, but Dawkins’ anti-Islamism goes back at least as far as valentine’s day of 1989. We seem to maintain our cultural amnesia better than we do our moral compass.

    When Khomeini put a hit out on Rushdie, it was the political RIGHT that cringed and shuffled and made excuses for the Poor Little Dears. Because oil, because Afghanistan. In 2001, with near perfect Orwellian symmetry, the LEFT became champions of the professionally ‘oppressed’ and ‘offended.’ Because Bush, because Cold-War Russian anti-semitism.

    In the parochial bickering of western left/right, we are repeating a pattern of self-sabotage and moral compromise perhaps unmatched since the fall of France in 1940.

  11. quixote says

    Don’t you think at least part of the resentment is the blatant, visible, and extreme sexism? I know you’re not supposed to say that because women don’t count. But a lot of people (not only women) have to be quietly thinking to themselves, “I do *not* want to live in The Handmaid’s Tale.” I know the Chinese were appalling, before they got a kick in the pants from the Communists, and Indians have heinous practices, and there’s plenty of misogyny to go around in the West, and on and on and on. But those all at least pretend they wouldn’t do those things. Nobody else now puts women in bags, says they have no freedom of movement by law, arrests them for driving, and acts like that’s normal.

    If all that is irrelevant to anti-Islam feelings then, well, then I don’t know what to do. If it’s just pure, 100% tribalism, where do I put in my petition to withdraw from the human race?

  12. says

    Except for all the Christians (for an example, see the quiverful movement) who also want what amounts to Sharia law, just with a different symbol on the package.

  13. Shatterface says

    Shatterface – it also seems that Dawkins can do no wrong and his critics are all evil scum who should be kicked in the cunt, so what’s your point?

    Where the he fuck did that come from?

  14. says

    You made a random generalization that didn’t make much sense @ 1, so I offered a similarly random one making the opposite point, by way of asking what you were trying to say.

  15. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Post 12 is a reply to RJW’s post 10.

    Decker @11: the Crimean war had nothing to do with Ottoman icolonisation- the Ottomans had been on the retreat for nearly a couple of centuries then. The Russians had annexed the Crimea itself and large chunks of the muslim-inhabited Caucasus by then. They’ve still got problems with them.

    As for the Robert Houdin anecdote, while there are questions about its verisimilitude, some contemporary muslims really do think magicians like Penn and Teller or Darren Brown use djinns for their work and pretend it’s trickery, and that there really are schools like Hogwarts, though they’re actually run by Satan…

  16. RJW says

    @11 Decker,

    Yes, after the Napoleonic invasion some Egyptians visited France in the mid 19th century, they were unable to comprehend Western technology and assumed it was magic, it seemed irrelevant, their attitude was so different from the contemporary Japanese.

    @12 sc,

    Agreed, unlike the East Asians, most Muslims don’t seem to understand, they seem to think more Islam is the solution.


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