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Vicariously Offended: The Dawkins Controversy and the Absence of Muslim Voices


Vicariously Offended: The Dawkins Controversy and the Absence of Muslim Voices

Amir Ahmadi Arian

The cancellation of public speeches due to the fraught views of speakers on sensitive issues has become a staple of our daily news. We appear incapable of addressing the problem in a meaningful, straightforward way, and the negotiations over the line that separates hate speech and criticism so often fail. This time, the controversy emerged around the cancellation of Richard Dawkins’s speech at a live public radio event in Berkeley, due to his tweets and comments about Islam.


There is a phenomena of the modern world where we have millions of people making a living from being public personalities, pundits and the press among them. The author cites the concept of ‘disinterested leadership’ but it is a more widespread phenomena than that. Pundits including many of the progressive pundits here on CD and elsewhere but also innumerable commenters rant and rail at us with the same mindset - the fervent telling of others what they need to do! Pundits always say >>> ‘We should…!’ but they really are saying the words >>> ‘You should!’.

Never before in human history have so many competed for making a living from telling other people what they should do. Sure there were earlier examples but they were relatively few in number until the age of electronic media. Now none of us can escape someone somewhere taking a self appointed leadership’s voice. Now one person can ‘speak’ to literally millions of fans each time! They get so very used to telling people what they should do!

Or whom to hate!


The first goal for Muslims is to completely and utterly disassociate themselves from violence and intimidation. It is not progressives who put Molly Norris, Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others under security protocols. It is Muslims themselves. CAIR has been sued for engaging in legal harassment of average citizens and I have no doubt that they were behind de-platforming Richard Dawkins.

Until that stops, I don’t see Muslims making much headway in repairing their public relations problem with the US public.


You demand an end to something you assume without evidence. How could all Muslims possibly disassociate themselves from that? And you don’t identify yourself enough for anyone to know from whose violence and intimidation you may need to disassociate yourself. You did not hear Arian’s point.

And @Wereflea, in newspaper days, it was known as “the editorial We.”


The “violence and intimidation” that most concerns me in the U.S. is that of the police against people of color. Second to that, I worry about the violence and intimidation threatened by every red-blooded American carrying firearms in public. Look at the recent spike of gun use in road rage incidents! Way down the list, based on relative risks, is the fear of terrorist violence from anyone claiming inspiration from Islam.


Well said. Brilliant article. Thanks


I watched Dawkins town hall discussion at Oxford University which not only included Muslims but the host was Muslim as well. I really liked it from a secular perspective. At least Dawkins is fair enough, he considers all religions irrational. He stated that if you can compel someone to do something based of belief without proof, you can get them to do anything and he is actually right about that.


Dawkins doesn’t just critique Islam solely for it being a religion, he states : “Haven’t read Koran so could not quote chapter and verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam greatest force for evil today.” (Source: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5273633 ).

Very anti-scientific, Western-centric given facts such as: the hundreds of thousands killed in their US terror wars, the US drone killing program, the US use of algorithms to target and kill crowds of unknown people, then US development of Lethal Automonous Weapons Systems, then US allocation of one trillion dollars for nuclear weapons modernization, the US continuing contribution to climate change, etc.


I’m not sure what you want me to take away from that. I think it is very easy to take a tweet out of context (I don’t do it myself) and Dawkins usually has a pretty lengthy explanation concerning his position. The U.S. was founded on spiritual freedom to believe or not believe. It is the politicization of religion where there is no separation between church and state that is the question or maybe not. You are correct of course our war mongering is horrid.


If Dawkins needs more context than 140 characters, he shouldn’t tweet. That’s the medium.


Dawkins acknowledged that he hadn’t read the Koran, yet still cited Islam
as the greatest force of evil. I’m sure he’d support his anti-scientific,
and western centric propaganda with flowery language and use the classic
racist claim that he is counter factual claims are justified.

As an atheist, and scientist, I encourage all atheists and scientists to
denounce Dawkins attacks against Islam.


Probably true, but people that are offended by them don’t have to read them either.


Ok, I support your right to feel as you do. I don’t think he hates Islam or would want anyone else to either and I would look for more information than a tweet.


I glanced at some of the twitter responses (https://twitter.com/richarddawkins/status/307369895031603200?lang=en) and I agree with the notion that you can easily criticize Islam without reading the entirety of the Koran as Dawkins says you can do with Nazism without reading Mein Kampf (I liked the analogy that you can understand evolution without reading Darwin’s original works better, but similar idea). I’ve read parts of the bible and that is painful enough - I would never make that a requirement for someone to comment on religion. Now that doesn’t mean that someone like Maajid Nawaz (who has read the whole Koran and memorized a good chunk of it) isn’t going to be a more interesting speaker on the topic - I find him much more interesting myself (Dawkins is OK, not my favorite). But the idea of banning Dawkins from speaking? That’s something we should never tolerate. One of the very few great things about this country is freedom of speech - I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it get drowned quietly.


I read the piece at the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/24/richard-dawkins-event-cancelled-over-his-abusive-speech-against-islam), and I have a little better background. I’m still annoyed, but I view KPFA as a more ‘private’ group than say University of California. I think they showed very poor judgement but it isn’t quite the quash of free speech as some other cases I’ve heard about. Makes me lose ‘faith’ in Pacifica though - they should have just brought up their concerns with him on the radio.

From the Guardian piece:

Pinker said that the move “handed a precious gift to the political right, who can say that left-leaning media outlets enforce mindless conformity to narrow dogma, and are no longer capable of thinking through basic intellectual distinctions”.



I agree that Dawkins should have been allowed to speak. That does not
imply that, because he was not allowed to speak, there should be no
critique of his anti-scientific, Western-centric propaganda.

It is a false equivalence to argue that Dawkins’ critique is Islam is on a
par with critique is Nazism, or comprehension of evolution. Dawkins goes
beyond critic of those who use Islam to justify violence; without knowing
what Islam is, and in given the knowledge of how Christianity has been used
to justify slavery, genocide, oppression of women, and the knowledge of the
massive worldwide crimes against humanity of the US, Dawkins identifies
Islam, itself, as the greatest evil and claims that his critic is
scientifically based, objective, and not racist.

With respect to free speech being a ‘great thing’ about this country,
perhaps this is a right for those in the mainstream, but not so much for
activists and folk of color. Look at how the government has sought to
silence speech through programs like Operation CHAOS, COINTELPRO, carpetas
in Puerto Rico, prohibiting protests to ‘free speech zones’, the material
support for the enemy law, etc.


You go first.

As Martin Luther King said (you know, before the violence of white America got him), the USA is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.


Getting harder to do in the information/social media age. But speech is also getting more stovepiped, and it’s harder to determine the reliability of what’s said. At least Dawkins used some of his 140 to acknowledge that his opinions had no basis in information.


While Dawkins’ popular science books are well written and informative, since he got on the anti-Muslim kick, he has been remarkably narrow, strident and intolerant. (He has been equally obnoxious re Christianity but there’s less publicity on that subject) The problem is that he sets up a straw man for a given religion, avoids all nuances, and attacks that image as if it were a true picture of complex cultural systems involving vast numbers of people. He ends up little better than a third rate imitation of Ann Coulter. Even so, he should be allowed to speak and to d evens his simplistic notions.


His attempts are also demonstrably pointless, as nobody I know of ever got talked out of religion by someone else’s disdain.