Atheists on Dawkins: Not in (some of) our name

Atheists are a diverse bunch, ranging from the zealous and proselytising (‘militant’ really isn’t the right word) to ‘faitheists’ like Chris Stedman.  Here’s a useful article which highlights how much dislike and distrust atheists attract, and also points out that atheists come in different categories – not all can be described as anti-theists.  And here’s a link to some really striking poll results in the US – nearly half of all Americans would disapprove of their child marrying an atheist. As I noted here, atheists may not want to be treated as a monolithic block – and some of us don’t accept the views of our self-appointed community representatives.

This week two atheist bloggers have written related posts about their disagreements with Richard Dawkins.  The first, Alex Gabriel, begins by noting that he doesn’t want this to be seen as a personal attack, but as a critique of some of Dawkins’ views and statements.  A focus of his concern is Dawkins’ endorsement of Pat Condell and Geert Wilders.

Condell says this of the nationalist, Christian theocratic, anti-immigrant English Defence League: ‘I went to their website and read it quite carefully, looking for racism and fascism of course, because the media keep telling me that they are far right, but, well, I’m a little puzzled because [all] I can find is a healthy regard for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Not a whiff of racism or fascism and not a whiff of far right politics of any kind.’ He describes Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who supports the government banning of the Qur’an, the deportation of Muslims and the taxing of women who wear hijabs without a €1000 licence, as a hero.

(I agree very much with a lot in this post although I am not sure about this particular characterisation of the EDL.)

The same point is then picked up by John Sargeant:

Has Dawkins really not had the time to find out more about Wilders? In 2008 we found out from our friends in the Council of Ex Muslims the problems with Wilders’ politics. The comments thread in 2010 makes clear the issues and I invite Dawkins to read them again especially beyond his last comment.

I hope Dawkins does and quickly regarding finding out about the politician Wilders and not the film maker Wilders. But to save time here is an up to date critique of Wilders.

As The Economist noted this month:

“in July Geert Wilders, a far-right politician known for calling on the Netherlands to ban the Koran and exit the euro, wrote them a piquant epitaph. Mr Wilders announced he would hold talks with right-wing parties in other countries about forming an anti-Europe bloc in the European Parliament elections this autumn. He has since spoken with Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, a party similar to Mr Wilders’s Freedom Party in many ways, and with the Lega Nord in Italy. Having shattered the multi-cultural Netherlands, which once brokered the integration of Europe, Mr Wilders is now proposing to undertake Europe’s dismantling.”

Far right wing – is that not enough for you to denounce Wilders now Richard?

Here is a link to a third post on Dawkins – with some very reasoned criticisms of his comments about Muslims and Nobel prizes, and a judicious assessment of the charges of racism levelled against him:

His usual technique is to say something pointlessly provocative, wait for the inevitable backlash (the traditional response, playing on his well-known love of grammar, is “Your a dick”) and then express innocent bafflement that anyone could possibly object.  As often as not these days, his target is Islam and/or Muslims; a predeliction that seems close enough to an obsession to have attracted accusations of racism.  I don’t believe that myself, but I do suspect that being accused of race-baiting has only increased his determination to push things.

Returning briefly to Alex Gabriel’s post – he makes it very clear that he pulls no punches when it comes to criticising any religion, and then adds:

But there are still ways to say these things that have racist subtexts and ways that don’t. There is nothing inevitable in facing a barrage of indignation from sensible people when you talk about Islam-related things.

Here’s what seems to me a bad way to talk about ‘Islam-related things’, and it comes from one of Gabriel’s own targets, Pat Condell.

When did we all become so afraid of the truth? When we realized that the truth offends Islam and that, when Islam is offended, violence is never far away. This is why we’ve trimmed our rights and freedoms so that we can no longer even speak our mind without fear of being arrested. We’ve twisted ourselves like pretzels to accommodate an aggressive, supremacist, religion that despises everything we stand for. Not that we stand for much any more, because all our values have been turned inside out. What’s right is wrong, what’s wrong is correct, what’s correct is right. We don’t know if we’re coming or going any more, and that is a symptom of a condition: the condition of people who don’t really believe in anything because they have no reason to and who have never had to defend anything of value in their lives, who wouldn’t know how.

I quoted Georg Christoph Lichtenberg at the beginning of this post, and find it applies well to Condell. “The most dangerous untruths are truths moderately distorted.” He reports some factually correct information and says some things I agree with. But he then spins and twists his material in a way which distorts the truth, the subject of this particular monologue.  ‘Islam’ cannot be offended, as it is not a person.  Yes there is censorship and self-censorship connected to Islam, but this is not the fault of all Muslims, some of whom expressly oppose such steps, sometimes in contexts (for example Pakistan or Iran) which make speaking out dangerous.  I do sympathise with Condell’s experiences with DDOS attacks, but not all Muslims (or ‘Islam’) were behind them, or would approve them.