The false equivilancy of New Atheist and Islamophbia
The Hatcket Job on Dawkins
I came across an article just the other day that pointed out that some members of the New Atheist were…how shall we say, a little Islamophobic
We have talked before about Sam Harris, who I would say is not a little but almost a proud Islamophobe. And we have already discussed this. We also talked about how Christopher Hitchens, at least at the start, was a republican hawk.
However, the main target of the piece seemed to be Richard Dawkins, which struck me as odd.
Don’t get me wrong, Dawkins is an elderly very English academic who does have the air of befuddlement whenever the topic at hand moves away from his specialty genetics or pure atheism. A man of many failures but Islamophobic?
This latest attack by Nathan Lean, who has made a career, and not in a bad way, of calling out what he sees as Islamophobia. He is the author of The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims. We have talked before about how the right-wing conservatives, especially in the USA and Western Europe, use the ‘threat’ of Islam to promote their conservative agenda. From my research, I did not find Lean a controversial figure but after this post that may change.
The genesis of this article refers to a couple of tweets…well as Lean puts it “Dawkins, served up a hostile helping of snark this week aimed at followers of the Muslim faith”. And he tries to draw a connection between criticisms of Islam to Islamophobia.
He heaps false praise on them, he lumps together Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and once Daniel Dennett as the New Athiest…he praises the new atheist for being knowledgeable and intellectual giants but he then claims their fame and the rise of the New Atheist movement was because of 9/11. It is strongly implied Dawkens et al; along with evangelical pastors owe their success to this one event which they have inflated into a crusade for their own personal profit.
He states that a number of evangelical “pastors were jolted to rock star–like status” and created Magachurches…but megachurches were a 1990’s phenomena culminating in the election of GW Bush…a misinterpretation. It is true, and irrelevant to Dawkins, that the evangelical and republican type used anti-Muslim sentiment to promote their own interests. There is no evidence that, beyond the fact its profile had risen in the western media, that Dawkins (in particular) specifically targeted Muslims over other faiths.
However, contrary to Lean’s assertions, the vast majority of the efforts of the atheist movement (new or not) in the USA and Canada is directed against evangelical Christians.
He comments that:
Four days after the tragedy, Dawkins could barely contain his intellectual triumphalism. “[The terrorists] were not mindless and they were certainly not cowards…On the contrary, they had sufficiently effective minds braced with an insane courage, and it would pay us mightily to understand where that courage came from. It came from religion.”
He then goes on to say that Islam did not figure greatly in the Atheist movement until 9/11:
Emboldened by their new-found fervor in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the New Atheists joined a growing chorus of Muslim-haters, mixing their abhorrence of religion in general with a specific distaste for Islam
However, it is not racism or Islamophobia that elevated the profile of Islam in the west, it was the largest act of terrorism in US history…EVERYONE was talking more about Islam.
He points out that Hitchens’s book God is not Great is a direct insult to Muslims…and one must assume only Muslims…because of the common Islamic phrase ‘Allah Akbar’ (God is great). Fair dinkum on that but if you read the book, Hitchens goes to great lengths to focus on extremist of ALL religions…in fact he is one of the few to mention ‘terrorist’ type atrocities perpetrated by Buddhist.
So the tweet ‘Rant’ as Lean put it said this:
“Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter and verse like I can for Bible. But [I] often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today.”
To which, Lean adds the comment, I will assume sarcastically, “How’s that for a scientific dose of proof that God does not exist?”
The other half of the Rant was Dawkins reply to criticism he had not read the Quran but still criticises Islam by tweeting:
“Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read the Qur’an. You don’t have to read “Mein Kampf” to have an opinion about Nazism”
Lean’s comment on this was to criticise Dawkins for not doing research to substantiate his beliefs…that this is a hallmark of the New Atheist to “insisting on a conclusion before even launching an initial investigation”
This is a popular canard that is often used against atheist and scientific skeptics in general. ‘If you haven’t learned everything about subject X then you can’t make any comments about it’. This is a fallacy.
There are some criteria one must reach to have an opinion and others to be ‘authoritative’. I can have an opinion on life on Mars but I should first read a book/article about xenobiology, and maybe check out a text book about Martian geology, and perhaps a journal paper on the findings about the conditions on Mars. My opinion may be not ‘authoritative’ but provided I have used authoritative sources, I think I not only have the right to an opinion but can do so with a degree of confidence.
Of course the authoritative sources should be the people who have done the exhaustive leg work. To return to Islam you would want to talk to people who have studied Muslim culture, Islamic nations, or even read PARTS of the Quran. Provided we are willing to adjust our opinions based on the evidence and continued confidence in our authoritative sources, we are not putting conclusion before investigation. To imply that Dawkins has not done this is just an ignorant mischaracterization with ill intent.
By Lean’s standards, until you have read the US constitution and all its laws, you cannot have an opinion about USA politics because you lack the “initial investigation”…BULL!
There is another bait and switch here; atheists in general are neutral with regards to the ‘text’ of religion…as seen as literature. Their criticism arises not from the books but the religion that claims to be based on these texts (often tangentially or at times contradictory). It is not that the Yahweh in the Old Testament told people to stone their children but that some people actually follow this today.
If someone began to follow the Iliad, atheist would not condemn the Iliad as a book but would condemn the religion (and its practices) that people invent out of it.
Dawkins has ‘studied’ the practices of Islam, and thereby can state an opinion without (necessarily) being labelled an Islamophobe. If he only condemns Islam while ignoring or apologizing of other religions atrocities…maybe a bigot but he has consistently condemned Catholics, Jews and others for their ‘evils’.
Where is the source evidence that he is not equally against religion in in all its forms and ONLY saves the special wrath, as Lean claims, for Islam?
Now, I am unsure of the belief system of Lean, but he does have signs of intellectual dishonesty.
He makes a point of stating that some ‘detractors’ call Dawkins a fundamentalist; followed by the comment that:
Noam Chomsky is one such critic. Chomsky has said that Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens are “religious fanatics”… and then quotes Chomsky as saying “they have actually adopted the state religion — one that, though void of prayers and rituals, demands that its followers blindly support the whims of politicians”
I checked the quote…it was a Q&A from one of the mean talks Chomsky has given. This comment was in response to a question about how people like Sam Harris, as a New Atheist, used secularism as a justification of for an aggressive foreign (US) policy; Chomsky’s response was with regards to US Foreign policy…. Chomsky was referring to Harris and Hitchens…no reference to Dawkins…and their strong support for the war in Iraq.
For the record, Dawkins condemned “Tony Blair’s craven support for the Iraq war”. Dawkins stated that the Iraq war was wrong and “bizarre. It is pure racism and/or religious prejudice”
He then states “Dawkins’ quest to “liberate Muslim women and smack them with a big ol’ heaping dose of George W. Bush freedom”…where the hell does this come from? In the same posts mentioned above, Dawkins states that “I am passionately anti-Bush” and has many times denigrated US Foreign policy. This is a week-willed intellectually-bankrupt attempt at ‘guilt by association’ and one where the alleged association does not exist…contrary to the facts!
What was a slightly slanted view of things has exploded into a hatchet job.
He then points out that Dawkins was upset when he believed mandatory segregation of the genders was to be enforced…well Lean called it by the less offensive term “gender-separate seating” then goes off about how Dawkins did not get offended when during a Violin concert by Itzhak Perlman in New York was segregated or Israeli airline once forced re-seating to accommodate orthodox Jewish beliefs…
Then he states Dawkins probably didn’t know about that. So why bring it up?
He is implying that when ‘Muslim wrong-doing’ is afoot, Dawkins is quick to pounce on the opportunity to condemn Islam while giving other religions a pass. Bullshite!
IN the first instance it was a religious debate with Lawrence Krauss…He knows Lawrence and they are friends. It is quite likely Dawkins was invited to attend the debate. If he was invited to a Pearlman concert, he would, I am sure, have been equally upset about segregation.
The article slips even deeper into disgrace when he adds the line:
“Where exactly Dawkins gets his information about Islam is unclear (perhaps Fox News?).”
The implication is that Dawkins is a far right-wing neo-con…which plays well into Lean’s narrative but the fact Dawkins is a Liberal Democrat (socially left, economically right) denies this image. In fact one begins to wonder what Lean has against Dawkins or what he hopes to gain by attacking him in this way.
He then claims that “Dawkins references a site called Islam Watch” but himself provides no reference and I could not find any.
He implies that Dawkins gave a full throated endorsement of Geert Wielder’s racist bigoted views. He quotes Dawkins as saying:
“I salute you as a man of courage who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy”
While ignoring the line just prior:
“If it should turn out that you are a racist or a gratuitous stirrer and provocateur I withdraw my respect”
Now, Dawkins comments are on Geert’s film “Fatni” alone…so maybe not a complete absolution. And Dawkins in the past as confused his anti-thiest views with other ‘nut jobs’ like Bill Maher
He then says “Dawkins rhetoric is taken nearly verbatim from the playbook of the British Nationalist Party”. Again with no references.
He claims Dawkins “spins wild conspiracy theories” about multiculturalism is really ‘Muslim’. Again a willful twisting of the facts. Dawkins does condemn Muslim schools (especially those that teach creationism)…but he equally decries the building and funding of any religious school (again especially teaching creationism…be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim or even Norse creationism as science and not literature/mythology). To claim this is an attack on Islam and thus Islamophobia is making the same disingenuous and malicious conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
What makes Dawkins and others easy targets is there is some crossover. If your culture is also your religion…and your religion tells you to do something horrible like mutilate the genitalia of your daughters…well, if you decry this are your being a bigot or Islamophobia? Or are you just a sane human? (And no, I am not saying ALL Muslims or even most believe in this practice. Must I be willfully ignorant and pretend that it is not part of the Islamic tradition in some parts of the world? Am I forever denied to decry this atrocity for fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobia if I do?)
He criticises Dawkins for the comment:
“Religion is also the underlying source of the divisiveness in the Middle East, which motivated the use of this deadly weapon in the first place.”
How is this not true? The major source of instability in the Middle East is Israel…Israel, by its own claims, is a Jewish or religious state. Its major antagonist in the region is Iran, also a religious state but of the Islamic flavour.
He concludes with the rant:
“How the New Atheists’ anti-Muslim hate advances their belief that God does not exist is not exactly clear… Proving that a religion — any religion — is evil, though, is just as pointless and impossible an endeavor as trying to prove that God does or doesn’t exist. Neither has been accomplished yet. And neither will.”
Let me conclude by reiterating that just because you claim (or are) an atheists (new or otherwise) does not mean you cannot also be a racist, sexist or Islamophobe. I have mentioned (and written about) Sam Harris who I think IS an Islamophobe…but this is not because he is an atheist but because he is a nationalistic right-wing conservative.
In the same way that not all Muslims are anti-Semitic, it is true there are some. It is also true that some bigots use the cover of atheism to voice their racism…but these can be easily weeded out by checking on the consistency, verbosity and vitriol of their comments.
Lastly, Dawkins is no saint…there are a number of things you could complain about his attitudes. We have (and not exclusively) discussed his ‘apparent’ misogyny…he is known for making inappropriate comments…he is an apologist for ‘non-religious’ churches (he likes the Anglican hymns). He’s an old white guy of privilege…and really, the only straw man you could find is he thinks Islam is evil…what a limited mind you must have.
 Note: You don’t have to read the book to share this opinion if you believe that I or another trusted person has read it and is providing accurate commentary that you now use as the bases of your opinion.
 And yes, the practice of circumcision, although not as horrific, is just as wrong if done for religious reasons.