Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, had a recent book tour appearance in California canceled because of past insensitive remarks about Muslims. It fanned the flames of misunderstanding about ‘free speech’ as a concept. No matter how many times it’s explained, some people refuse to understand. It also doesn’t help when a freethought group tries to make some money on that misunderstanding.
I thought it was cute to get a fundraising email from the Center for Inquiry (CFI) last week complaining about Dawkins having his free speech blocked by a California radio station. It seems that the station came across some abusive comments Dawkins has made over the years about Islam. The weird neo-con/alt-right/Christian conservative/angry atheist intersection showed how easy it’s for people, including those who should know better, to get the “free speech” concept wrong.
As you can see, Richard is a kind man, even in the face of unfounded criticism. However, kindness cannot deter us from fighting as hard as we can against this severely troubling action by KPFA. Who will be unfairly painted with bigotry next?
It is through questioning and unfettered debate that humanity has made the advancements we value.
KPFA’s stance is like the justification nations use to defend their blasphemy laws. Yet, as we know, blasphemy laws around the world serve two basic purposes: to insulate bad ideas and backward ideologies as well as persecute nonbelievers or a minority faith. Here at CFI, we have spent more than forty years fighting blasphemy laws while promoting the core values of reason and science. When we criticize religion, we don’t criticize nonviolent religious people. We also don’t criticize religious people who don’t try to forcibly impose their views on others. The victims of religious dogma are often people of that same faith, and we unfailingly champion their equal rights.
Now it’s time for all of us to stand up for Richard Dawkins. Please join me in supporting CFI and its important work, which, as you probably know, now includes the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science.
I should point out that CFI and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDF) merged recently so the email I got isn’t a third party objective view of the issue. Notice the high shrill wording like “against this severely troubling action by KPFA” and comparing the cancellation to blasphemy laws. What??? Sure, I expect that tone coming from the home of the person who was canceled.
A few points:
1. KPFA is not a public park or lawn of a court house or a city side walk. It can and does decide EVERYDAY what goes out on the air. It does suck to have an event canceled at a late date but KPFA is allowed to do it as a PRIVATE entity (yes even if people call it ‘public’ radio – that just means it pays the bills with donations). It did offer to have Dawkins on at another time outside their fundraising period to discuss his “abusive” views toward Islam. CFI also provided their media person to speak to the station and answer questions.
2. Richard Dawkins is on a book tour. The appearance on KPFA was ONE stop on that tour. He also has not been kept from responding to the situation nor has he been forced to do anything against his will. His book might be a good book and he’s still selling it.
3. I agree with Dawkins’ views on religion in general, but singling out Islam as the “worst” doesn’t help. It’s one thing to say that Islam is bad but another to say it is worse than all the other religions. It’s plain lazy thinking.
As PZ Meyers writes:
Somehow, a minority community in America that is threatened with deportation by the government, is routinely condemned by talk radio and the likes of Breitbart, and that lives in fear of good Christian citizens who vandalize mosques and threaten violence (and sometimes, carry out violence) gets accused of having a “free pass”. That’s precisely the kind of blinkered nonsense that I can understand KPFA objecting to, so Dawkins is not helping his case at all. It’s also denying the fact that the New Atheists have been particularly specific in denunciations of Islam; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the newest member of the “four horsemen”, has recommended converting Muslims to Christianity, so there clearly is a hierarchy of religions with Islam at the bottom, deserving special contempt. And Sam Harris, of course, is all about anti-Islamic sentiment, going so far as to suggest that using torture and nuclear weapons against them might be justifiable. Let’s not play the wide-eyed innocent, “what, me abuse Muslims?” game. Let’s not pretend that Dawkins has never made any hurtful, regressive comments on his twitter feed, or on my blog.
If you want to say Islam is a bad religion, I’m with you and will support your efforts to make reasonable arguments about it and all the other thousands of religions out there. BUT, if you then say, Islam is so terrible that we much single out adherents for special treatment and not treat them as our equals, then I’m off the bus and I won’t buy your books either.
It also doesn’t help your cause when it aligns with the neo-con/alt-right/Christian fundamentalist factions. These people want to see Islam destroyed either by legal or military methods. Nice bed fellows for someone demanding their free speech rights from a private company.
Just last year Dawkins retweeted a video that equated some feminists with ISIS and included a character based on a real woman who has been the subject of constant harassment and death threats online. When the concern was pointed out he didn’t delete it or apologize – he wanted to “debate” whatever thing he thought the video represented.
I won’t be donating money to CFI to “support Dawkins” because I don’t have an issue with KPFA canceling the event. I doubt I will support CFI in the future except for a local chapter which a good friend of mine runs.
I hope to see CFI spending as much time and energy to support free speech for marginal groups here and around the world instead of profiting off a manufactured outrage that happened to get a lot of national press because the “celebrity” slighted happened to be the star face of the group. (Think Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology)
*Side Note* While researching this post I wanted to read some of the Dawkins tweets KPFA linked to in their statement on the matter and found the following:
So the “martyr” to free speech doesn’t really want “questioning and unfettered debate” of his own views. It is funny to me that Dawkins means so little to me as an atheist that I didn’t even know I was blocked by him until today.
Also published on Medium.