Fuck Richard Dawkins: calm reflections on an idiot and a racist.
by Arran James
Richard Dawkins is an idiot. Despite his knowledge of evolutionary biology and attempt to produce a new theory based on the same (memetics). Despite his Phd and his ability to write science texts to acclaim. Despite being Richard Dawkins, saviour of secular society against the crushing tsunami of the religious forces of evil. In the blackest depths of the deep ocean of faith that we are drowning in, Richard Dawkins captains the rescue sub
christened named the S.S Rationalism. Be it in his books, newspapers, the radio, television or the internet, Dawkins is waging a tireless crusade mission effort to save our souls remind us of the stupidity and evil of religion. While he’s known for attacking Christianity, lately Dawkins has turned his righteous fury on Islam. Dawkins tends to do most of his work on Twitter, where he regularly causes all kinds of offence to Muslims and other religious people and, in turn, gets a well deserved dose of trolling. He also receives a good degree of criticism. I don’t intend to go over the debates over the value of religion and atheism in this post, for two reasons: Firstly, because I find the atheism v. religion to have become boring and, secondly, because phrasing the debate that way has always been unnuanced, uncritical and mutilating to both positions. Here, I want to deal specifically with some of Dawkins’s own claims. In particular, his latest claim that
All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.
This tweet has been met with anger across Twitter but also in the mainstream media and with Novara Media’s James Butler providing a reminder of the kind of nuance that Dawkins is quick to leave out. What struck me was how similar this claim is to one made just a few years ago by former talk show host and ex-Labour Party MP Robert Kilroy-Silk. In a 2004 article entitled “We owe Arabs nothing” Kilroy-Silk heavily implies that Arabs have contributed nothing to civilisation. This article killed the already offensive Kilroy-Silk’s media career, but similar comment only swells Dawkins’s loyal fanbase. While Dawkins doesn’t go quite as far as that, he is making the no less stupid claim that “they”- ie. all Muslims- have contributed nothing of worth to civilisation since the end of the 15th century. There is a lot wrong with this offensive and racist assertion, so let’s examine Dawkins’s idiocy for a moment by looking at the important structural units of what he’s claiming.
“All the world’s Muslims”: Richard Dawkins is telling us that the sum total of Nobel Prize winner from one of the world’s most prestigious and highly respected Academic institutions has produced more Nobel Prize winners than exist than exist among all the Muslims in the world. Wow. I’m sure we’re all shocked by this. Given that people who attend Cambridge are pursuing Academic research and careers, whilst the majority of Muslim people are probably not; that many of “the world’s Muslims” are probably not in any material position to pursue Nobel Prizes because, y’know…things like war, poverty, disease, brutal regimes, much of which the rational West has made no small contribution to. Dawkins. We might feel compelled to suggest that Cambridge also had more Prize winners than all the world’s Redheads. Someone put this to Dawkins over Twitter. He responded to this idea on his blog by stating that
You could well think there was something gratuitous in my picking on Muslims, were it not for the ubiquity of the two positive boasts with which I began. Redheads (and the other hypothetical categories we might mention) don’t boast of their large populations and don’t boast of their prowess in science.
So, in Dawkins thinking its legitimate to claim that “all the world’s Muslims” have done nothing since the 15th century because ‘“There are 1.6 billion Muslims, nearly a quarter of the world’s population, and we are growing fast”‘, a quoted claim with which he opens his defence of his offensive assertion. Putting aside that google searching this claim returns no source for this spurious quote, it still doesn’t make much sense to suggest that sheer weight of numbers has anything to do with aspirations or material conditions conducive to securing Nobel Prizes. Dawkins combines this invented quotation with claims about Muslims suggesting that Islamic science either predicted later developments or that it kept the ‘Greek flame of learning alight’ during the European dark ages. Dawkins puts two and two together to ask why it is that “they” haven’t generated a mass of Nobel Scholars. Except that the claims to Islamic science that he is putting forward have nothing to say about contemporary or even recent historical science, both of them referring to eras prior to 1901 and therefore preexisting the founding of the Nobel Prize. The invented quote is followed by one from Houari Boumédienne, former president of Algeria, supposedly issued to the UN in 1974, and Dawkins reproduces it as
“Le ventre de nos femmes nous donnera la victoire” (the belly of our women will give us the victory).
The problem with this is that, depite being reproduced on a plethora of racist websites and in some texts, there is no solid source that these words were spoken by Boumédienne. The attribution and the wording appear apocryphal. If they do bear any relation to something Boumédienne had said, it should be born in mind that in he 1970s Algeria was still newly independent and he would more likely be using the rhetoric of a dictator (such as he was) to display his strength in the face of former colonial powers. It also ignores that fact that Boumédienne’s regime defined itself as socialist and built links to Algeria’s Communist party and in the climate of the 1970s would be sabre rattling against Western capitalist states. But I suppose disregarding historical context and making sure you’re quotations exist and/or are well evidenced shouldn’t stand in the way of justifying a racist swipe on “all the world’s Muslims”. That this is his identified target- all the world’s Muslims, all of them, each and every single Muslim in the world (its unclear if he means those long dead as well, though he must for his complaint to make any sense, so actually he means all Muslims ever)- partakes of the same kind of logic as claims about “the Jews” does. Its not a new observation but it never hurts to repeat it. In making claims about all Muslims ever Dawkins is suggesting that there is something essentially wrong with Muslims or Islamic societies. I’m sure he would say that its not Muslims as people, but Muslims as followers of Islam. It is Islam that does some essential perversion to the intellectual prowess of Muslim the world over, in all times and places. Again, Dawkins does not consider the vast differences between the various schools of Islam, ignoring the historical hostilities between them, and ignoring anything that might shape different receptions of Islam from a Muslim woman in Britain and a Muslim woman in Iran. Indeed, as Dawkins appears to be suggesting some historically invariant power of Islam over Muslims it would seem that he is also ignoring any differences in belief between a Sunni Muslim living in Scotland in the 21st century with a Shia Muslim living in what is now Morroco in 985AD. Two things come to mind here. Firstly, it is difficult to see whether Dawkins is saying “Islam makes you stupid” (unlikely given his happen to appreciation of the ‘great things’ that emerged from Islam in the past), or whether it is simply that Muslims as a transhistorical collectivity happen to be stupid. It is here, in the dismissal of people across time and space as inferior because they belong to a specific group that defines Dawkins’s racism.
Of course, Dawkin’s parries accusations of racism by telling us that ‘race is controversial in biology’ and that any attempt to speak about racism as a social phenomena outside of biology is merely a case of ‘sociologists who choose to redefine words to their own purpose’. Firstly, Dawkins conflates claims to the empirical existence of distinct biological human types (races) with claims to the empirical existence of the socioeconomic and political oppression and/or structural discrimination of people based on the history and continued belief in and logical that human beings can so be divided. This isn’t just stupid and racist, it is also bordering on an apology for such oppression. It says to the black population of the USA that is disproportionately imprisoned that it must be something to do with them as individuals that they have ended up in prison; or any other example you’d care to choose, its not like they’re in short supply. I’d recommend that Dawkins refresh his memory of Oxbridge’s own history of not accepting people from non-white ethnicities, for an example.
In reminding his faithful followers that Islam is not a race (a strategy used by many anti-Muslim bigots) Dawkins would no doubt tell me that what I’m talking about in relation to black people isn’t the same thing that he is partaking in by relentlessly expressing anti-Muslim opinions. I would be just one more sociologist choosing to redefine words to suit my own purpose. Except I’m not a sociologist, I’m a nurse; I’m not redefining racism to suit my purpose but using it in the same way that many Muslims use it to express the hatred that is hurled at them. If Dawkins’s argument isn’t directed at Muslims because he considers them a distinct biological type of human being he nonetheless targets Muslims as a whole based on claiming a group of human beings is inferior qua belonging to a distinct community. Its not that Muslims are inferior because they all support genital mutilation (they don’t) or because they all wish to see Sharia law established across the UK (they don’t) or because they are all have barbaric social attitudes (they don’t), but simply because they are Muslims.
Dawkins would also know doubt want to claim that he is not against Muslims but Islam; he would say that he was not spitting hatred at Muslims but critiquing Islam or Islamic regimes. Except that’s not what he’s doing, as today’s tweet makes clear. It isn’t a doctrine or a body of thought or a historical tradition that Dawkins considers to be ‘greatest force for evil [nice use of a religious concept] in the world today’ but Muslims themselves, regardless of the content of their beliefs and actions. I’ve also pointed to how Dawkins ignores the material condition of many Muslims throughout the world (oppressed and impoverished rather than oppressing crusaders). With this brilliant ability to ignore the basic constitution of the reality behind his claims about Islam and Muslims, its remarkable that Dawkins would dare to suddenly become concerned about semantic accuracy and sociologists ‘impose their new definitions’ on others.
He also attempts to refute that he is racist because while Muslims may be have ‘brown skin’ so to do Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists and he doesn’t have a problem with those groups. So Dawkins critiques Christianity and Islam, but no other religion? Presumably this is because these other religions are peaceful and also presumably because Dawkins is as adept at ignoring the nonviolent strands in Christianity and Islam as he is at ignoring the fact that many Muslims are black Africans. The real problem with this line of defence though is that while Dawkins is able to differentiate between these groups his followers and many people further to the right than them aren’t able to. Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists have all been on the receiving end of anti-Muslim violence because of the idea of what a Muslim looks like and hey, guess what!, it isn’t white. Its not just racist thugs, be they individuals of members of organisations like the EDL or the BNP, who target people they might consider to be “Muslim looking” but also the British State and its agents of enforcement (racist van, UKBA, police and all…soon Landlords will be added to that list). Dawkins’s arguments to the contrary aside, his campaign against Islam acts as a respectable face of the same logic and intolerance. So even if Richard Dawkins wasn’t the racist he patently appears to be, he’s certainly providing an apology for those who are.
If Dawkins expects anyone to believe that he ‘certainly didn’t, and don’t, imply any innate inferiority of intellect in those people who happen to follow the Muslim religion’ then he might want to re-examine his own defence of this and other tweets. Claims to the effect that ‘all Muslims are x’, backed up by ‘simple facts’- as if facts appeared outside of context, didn’t require any engaged work of construction, or were never used by people ‘to their own purpose’- are hard to read as anything but racist. That Dawkins also draws on known racist organisations and makes regular anti-Muslim statements that are indistinguishable from more obvious racists who don’t hide behind a ‘calm’ veneer of being a detached scientist (see here) is hardly evidence to the contrary. Its more similar reasons as why ‘facts’ aren’t merely facts that a racist and an idiot is not simply a racist and an idiot, and why it is no time for ‘calm reflections’ at a time when Muslims are being stabbed and bombs are being planted in Mosques across England.
Fuck Richard Dawkins and fuck his presumption that Nobel Prizes are a measure of what people should aspire to. Fuck his vulgar atheism. Fuck his condescension and stupidity. But mostly, fuck his racism.