The strange case of Richard Dawkins' no platforming
WORDS BY RICHARD DAWKINS
Richard Dawkins’ name is synonymous with atheism. Ever since he appeared in a South Park episode as the person responsible for eradicating all religion, and creating warring factions of atheist groups, he has cemented his reputation as that smug, British public intellectual that has never had anything nice to say about religion. This is is exactly why KPFA radio’s decision to no-platform the evolutionary biologist based on ‘abusive speech’ about Islam makes almost no sense.
While in their original announcement KPFA gave no example of Richard Dawkins being ‘abusive’ to Islam, subsequently their general-manager, Quincy McCoy stated that the radio station’s decision was based on Dawkins’ assertion in a 2011 program that he regarded ‘Islam (as) one of the greatest evils in the world’. What is strange about KPFA’s decision is that they must have known of Dawkins’ attitudes towards religion and indeed every religion. He famously described Christianity as a “mental illness”. Had they read Dawkins closely, they would have known that his statement could not possibly be regarded as abusive. In fact it is the opposite.
In his 2006 book, The God Delusion, which popularised ‘New Atheism’ as well as prompted the rise of the sceptic community on the internet, Dawkins described the Christian God as a “vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser , a misogynistic, homophobic racist, an infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”. Yet his diatribe against Christianity, has not been received by the same opprobrium as that generated by his comments on Islam. Of course, bigotry against any group should not be tolerated. But in this case, Dawkins is describing ideas within Islam, specifically ideas some Islamists subscribe to, as one of the ‘greatest evils in the world’. The irony, is that in doing so Dawkins is being an advocate for many Muslims that are subjugated by radical interpretations of Islam.
Dawkins has, on countless occasions, criticised ideas found within the Quran, such as the death penalty for apostasy, in the same way he has criticised elements of Christianity that are at odds with pluralistic, secular societies, such as commandments of homophobia.
I’m sure that in Dawkins' perfect world he would eradicate Islam, but he would also eradicate Christianity because he believes that religions are conducive to regressive attitudes towards science, tolerance and freedom. The fact that Dawkins regards Islam as a ‘greater evil’ than Christianity is only because he is more “optimistic about the demise of Christianity in America and Europe” and therefore its propensity to influence communities and public policy. Richard Dawkins hates religion, not Muslims.
What’s more concerning about KPFA’s decision to no-platform Dawkins is that it is also an admission that you can be “abusive” to an idea. The quote that KPFA used as evidence to justify Dawkins’ ban was not a racist remark, it was a remark based on his attitude towards ideas contained within Islam. Specifically, the elements within Islam that are anti-liberal. He has said just as much about anti-liberal elements of Christianity.
If we accept that you can be abusive towards an idea, then we also accept that criticism of anything can be rejected on the grounds that it is “offensive”. There is no idea beyond criticism.
In the words of Dawkins himself, “let’s be open minded, but no so open minded that our brains fall out”.