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The Unlikely Bigot

One of the most disappointing things to happen whilst researching for my blog was confirming my suspicions that someone I respected and admired was as intolerant and ignorant as the religious literalists he’s so critical of. I’d heard others accuse him of arrogance, and being too confrontational and militant. I always found him to be fairly reasonable, softly spoken and even a little timid in his television appearances. This could be because what he was saying articulated what I was feeling at the time. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to be objective. I still find him a fascinating person to read or listen to in his areas of expertise, but I’ve lost a great deal of respect for him. Disappointment is the overwhelming feeling I have.

I’m referring to Richard Dawkins. Celebrity atheist and evolutionary biologist. His 2006 book The God Delusion is his most popular and controversial to date, is an international best seller and was my introduction to his work. As I’ve blogged previously, already being an atheist, this book illustrated my attitude to religion perfectly. Not only that, but it consolidated and exacerbated it. I say exacerbated, because I believe that an extreme intolerance of anything is unhealthy. Particularly if it’s clouded by a lack of knowledge or understanding. In hindsight, this is where I was. But it wasn’t directed at any one in particular, just organised religions in general.

I’ve also explained how and why my attitude has softened over the last couple of years. I believe this has enabled me to see the issue from a different perspective, more compassionately. As a passionate scientist I get the impression that Dawkins takes personal offence from people’s devotion to religion. There’s a condescending overtone and mocking nature to much of what I hear from him now. A few years ago I would have approved, but now I just find it infantile and unnecessary.

He’s also a secular Humanist, and is Vice President of the British Humanist Association. I also consider myself to be a humanist of some description. I support and agree with much of what they believe in and campaign for. For instance, a reform of Religious Education so that “all pupils in all types of school should have the opportunity to consider philosophical and fundamental questions, and that in a pluralist society we should learn about each other’s beliefs, including humanist ones”.

Their campaign for the repealing of the blasphemy law, their support of human rights and free speech, their pro-choice stance on abortion and defence of stem cell research. A quick scan of notable supporters reassures me that my lefty credentials are intact. Stephen Fry, Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, Ed Byrne, Prof. Brian Cox, Jon Ronson and Robin Ince are all present.

Their Wikipedia page also states the following:

The British Humanist Association campaigns for a number of causes. It campaigns for legal provision against discrimination on grounds of religious belief or sexual orientation. It has called for unification of existing anti-discrimination legislation and has contributed to the Discrimination Law Review which developed the Equality Act 2010.

How could anyone representing these values possibly be smeared as a bigot? The same way as anyone else can be bigoted despite being well intentioned. Through a lack of knowledge, understanding and empathy. Woah! Who am I to question the knowledge of a fellow of New College, Oxford, and former Professor for Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford? Doubt the understanding of the inventor of the concept of the meme, and a winner of countless honours and awards?

Good point. My argument is; he’s only human. He’s not immune to having blind spots caused by prejudice, or exempt from negative human traits such as stubbornness, or arrogance. My opinion is that his militant atheism, his distrust and dislike of organised religion, is clouding his otherwise brilliant mind. His refusal to make any attempt to appreciate and understand the complexity of certain religions, and only look for reasons to condemn them is shameful and embarrassing.

I first became aware of the unlikely bigotry sometime last year. I heard that he’d been extremely critical of Islam, but thought it’d probably been taken out of context or someone was being hyper-sensitive. Why would an atheist single out one particular religion, and surely someone like Dawkins would be intelligent and perceptive enough to not jump on the bandwagon?

Whilst looking for information for one of my posts, I stumbled across the website. I decided to browse the site out of curiosity and became both confused and angry. I must stress this isn’t Dawkins’ personal website, it’s run by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, of which he is the founder, but it is official. He does contribute to it, and is aware of its content. As well as articles by Dawkins and other regular contributors, the bulk of the site consists of items from the global media that are considered newsworthy for atheists, secularists and humanists. Some are truly fascinating pieces about nature, science, and the human mind. But a huge portion is dedicated to articles cherry picked to highlight the dark side of religion, or rather the dark side of people or organisations claiming to represent religion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m passionate about exposing the crimes committed by Catholic priests, the abuse of human rights that exist in Wahabist Saudi Arabia, the persecution of homosexuals in Uganda, Zionist expansion into Palestine and the variety of unpleasant views expressed by religious extremists. But to use them as examples of why religion is inherently ‘bad’, as if the crimes are committed by religion and not people, is missing the point entirely in my view.

Some of the names that crop up on a regular basis on the website will be quite familiar to keen followers of Islamophobia. People that are lauded by the websites readers as robust and brave critics of Islam, but in reality are nothing more than agenda driven right-wing bigots. Just two of these people are Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Pat Condell. Ali is an Islamophobes wet dream. A female Somali ‘ex-Muslim’ who fled her native country to escape from an arranged marriage and honour killing, to become a born again atheist and radical anti-Muslim.

Pat Condell is a UKIP supporting, BNP and EDL approved ‘comedian’ who at one time was fairly even-handed in his criticism of religions, but seems to have focused 100% of his vitriol on Islam recently. He perpetuates misconceptions and myths for laughs whilst his supporters applaud him for ‘telling it like it is’. Which to me translates as ‘using the privilege of free speech to be tactless and offensive, whilst using gross generalisations and exaggerations’.

To concentrate on Condell for the time being. A number of people actually complained about his YouTube monologues being posted on the website. This was the reply from Dawkins:

“I believe Pat Condell deserves a hearing. He may sound extreme, but that could just reflect the extremes he is fighting against. I don’t know the corresponding figures for America, but polls in Britain suggest that an alarmingly high percentage of young British Muslims support the terrorists of 9/11 and 7/7, and some 40% of Muslims want Sharia Law introduced into Britain. Disquietingly high percentages supported the death sentence against Salman Rushdie and the threats of violence against the Danish cartoonists. Even ‘moderate’ Muslim leaders support the principle that apostasy deserves the death penalty, even if they are too nice to carry out the sentence themselves. I think it is well arguable that Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today. Pat Condell is one of the few with the courage to say so.”

It reads like a more eloquent version of any number of EDL rants. I’m not going to get side tracked by pointing out the inaccuracies and untruths in his statement, but the fact he’s using much the same well-worn clichés parroted by right-wing extremists speaks volumes. Here’s another sycophantic gushing from Dawkins:

“Pat Condell is unique. Nobody can match his extraordinary blend of suavity and savagery. With his articulate intelligence he runs rings around the religious wingnuts that are the targets of his merciless humour. Thank goodness he is on our side”.

Depressing. I won’t go into an in-depth analysis of the content of Condell’s diatribes; I’m hoping that my series on Islamophobic misconceptions will do that job in due course.

The story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is far more exciting than that of a grumpy, middle-aged bigot. She’s exotic, intelligent and articulate, with a colourful history. But she also has some extremely unsavoury friends, and is a growing presence on the Islamophobic circuit. Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu and moved between Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya with her politician father. She claimed political asylum in Holland in 1992. Her asylum application was based on her claim that her father was forcing her into a marriage with a cousin, and would face an honour killing if she refused. She also claimed to have fled the Somalian capital to escape the civil wars she had witnessed, and was forced to live in refugee camps. Her family denies all accusations made against them, and she herself admits to lying in order to gain asylum. In the meantime she had earned a master’s degree in political science and forged links with the centre-left PvdA party.

She later suffered a crisis of faith and eventually renounced Islam in 2002. She wrote her first book criticising Islam shortly after, and began receiving death threats. She also wrote a screenplay for a short film called ‘Submission’ which controversially depicted the abuse of a Muslim woman at the hands of her husband, and seemed to infer this behaviour was encouraged by the Qur’an. In 2004 the producer of this film Theo Van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch-Moroccan member of a terrorist cell. A five-page letter was pinned to Van Gogh’s chest with a butcher’s knife that amounted to a fatwa on Hirsi Ali, forcing her into hiding. During this period Hirsi Ali had become an elected member of Dutch Parliament as part of the VVD party, where she became a colleague of Geert Wilders.

In 2006 her admission of making a fraudulent application for asylum forced her resignation from politics, and her Dutch citizenship was nearly revoked. Since then she has been working in the USA for a right-wing think tank and earning a pretty penny playing the martyr and cozying up to the A list of the Islamophoberatti. During this time her anti-Muslim comments have been prolific, here is a small collection:

Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars…. you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
Reason: Militarily?
Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.
Reason: You’re in favor of civil liberties, but applied selectively?
Hirsi Ali: No.
Reason: In Holland, you wanted to introduce a special permit system for Islamic schools, correct?
Hirsi Ali: I wanted to get rid of them. …
Reason: Well, your proposal went against Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution.
Reason: Here in the United States, you’d advocate the abolition of—
Hirsi Ali: All Muslim schools. Close them down.
Hirsi Ali: There is no moderate Islam.

“It is a totalitarian method. The Nazis tried it using women as incubators, literally to give birth to soldiers. Islam is now doing it.”

On women who chose to wear the niqab: “They are the female equivalent of the radical young men who travel to Pakistan and come back wanting to blow up trains.”

“The Prophet would have not have disapproved of 9/11, because it was carried out in his example.”

“Muhammad is, seen by our Western standards, a pervert”

There’s also the standard fare of comparisons between Islam and Nazism.

While Dawkins and other people who should know better have been, or still are fawning over Hirsi Ali, progressive Muslim scholars and thinkers have challenged her, the Dutch Muslim women were happy to see the back of her, and she’s been exposed as a died in the wool neo-con. The scale of her hypocrisy and double standards are laughable. Despite being a Muslim refugee that was granted asylum on a false premise she went on to represent a political party that would have denied her application, and seeks to persecute Muslims. She also proposes the following measures for the EU:

Admission of immigrants on the basis of their contribution to the economy. The current system “is designed to attract the highest number of people with truly heartbreaking stories”.

Diplomatic, economic and military interventions in countries which risk causing large migrant flows.

And like many atheists she doesn’t seem to offer a bad word for any religion other than Islam. In fact she goes out of her way to be complimentary about some of them. It comes as no surprise at all then that her views on the Israel-Palestine issue aren’t entirely balanced or sympathetic.

In perusing Dawkins’ website I also discovered a new name. Yet again his story fitted exactly what I’d come to expect of this strange breed of humanists. Sam Harris is another secular atheist that reserves particular disdain for Islam. The article below contains pretty much every generalisation and misconception you could ask of from an Islamophobe.

The only future devout Muslims can envisage—as Muslims—is one in which all infidels have been converted to Islam, politically subjugated, or killed.

In Islam, it is the moderate who is left to split hairs, because the basic thrust of the doctrine is undeniable: convert, subjugate, or kill unbelievers; kill apostates; and conquer the world.

They must tolerate, advocate, and even practice ethnic profiling. It is simply a fact that the greatest predictor of terrorist behavior anywhere in the world (with the exception of the island Sri Lanka) is whether or not a person believes that Allah is the only god and Muhammad is his prophet.

The outrage that Muslims feel over U.S. and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands—no matter how well-intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant.

It is time we admitted that we are not at war with “terrorism”; we are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.

The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a dangerous fantasy—and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for moderate Muslims to indulge.

The arrogance, condescension and ignorance are almost too much to put into words.

On the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’:

But the margin between what is legal and what is desirable, or even decent, leaves room for many projects that well-intentioned people might still find offensive. If you can raise the requisite $100 million, you might also build a shrine to Satan on this spot, complete with the names of all the non-believing victims of 9/11 destined to suffer for eternity in Hell.

Equating Islam with Satanism? Nice. Hang on what’s this?

Harris was raised in a secular Jewish home by a Jewish mother. Harris also defends Israel and its military actions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and is critical of liberals who do not:

“For instance, [liberals] ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal. Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict.”

Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right.

In the article below he espouses support for Geert ‘The Most Dangerous Man in Europe’ Wilders.

Are these really the words of a humanist liberal? Let’s look at some quotes from Dawkins himself.

“I do feel visceral revulsion at the burka because for me it is a symbol of the oppression of women.”

He calls the burka the “full bin-liner thing”.

“It is possible to see Europe as a haven of civilisation, with the pincer movement of Islam on one side and the US on the other.”

“This is historically a Christian country. I’m a cultural Christian….  I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history. If there’s any threat to these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists.”

“The Government could do more but it doesn’t want to because it is fanatical about multiculturalism and the need to respect the different traditions from which these children come.”

“It seems as though teachers are terribly frightened of being thought racist. It’s almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country because if you do you are accused of being racist or Islamophobic.”

‘Because we are all brought up to respect faith, it leaves open a gap through which fanatics can charge’

“The young men whom you call ‘radicalised Britons’ and ‘extremists’ are just honest Muslims who take their scriptures seriously.”

There is precious little difference between these comments and those we hear from the likes of the EDL and other right-wing bigots preceded by the caveat “I’m not being racist but….”

Elsewhere on the site the articles are reproduced from their source uncritically. There’s no moderation with regards to the accuracy or bias. Take this one for example. In an obvious attempt to discredit someone they view as an ‘Islamic apologist’ they unwittingly side with and give credence to British nutjob Anjem Choudary.

Recently, Christianne Amanpour hosted a panel discussion meant to explore the misunderstood delineation between moderate and extremist Islam.

She likely sought to support the notion that Islam is peaceful, and to advance the belief that only a small contingent of radicals corrupts the faith. To those ends, she enlisted guests of Christian and Muslim backgrounds for her panel.

It’s the standard stuff that tends to make Christians look intolerant and Muslims look misunderstood.

When Amanpour addresses the ideas of Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary, she has the audacity to question his ideas about Islamic domination.

Then, in an effort to convey that Islam can live in peace with the Western world, he concludes, “We do believe as Muslims that the east and the west will one day be governed by the Sharia. Indeed we believe that one day the flag of Islam will fly over the White House.”

So a Muslim woman in the panel decided to take Choudary to task for his reckless and inflammatory statements, and she went on to instruct him that Islam is a faith of pluralism, and that it provides an allowance of other faiths to exist in a state of equal importance.

But my guess is that she forgot that she was speaking with someone who had given far more study to the Quran and Hadith than most Christian theologians.

To her assumption of Islamic tolerance of other faiths and legal systems, Choudary simply suggests that she knows nothing of what Islam desires or requires.

He even makes the comparison that she is a Muslim in the same way that a person who occasionally eats beef burgers is a vegetarian.

This exchange reveals that cleric Anjem Choudary practices fundamental adherence to Islam in an effort to live in reflection of and submission to the prophet.

While it is important to note that moderate Muslims do exist, it is imperative that we keep that fact within the proper global context.  Amanpour and liberal pundits the world over can host hundreds of panels comprised of thousands of Muslims that have embraced Western culture, and that will not change the fact that such voices are irrelevant in the Islamic worldThe millions and millions of Muslims that share Choudary’s literal belief in fundamental Islam are ultimately compelled to achieve the goal of universal Sharia, or die trying.

I their haste to discredit someone who clearly has the intention of portraying a balanced and positive image of Muslims, they have assumed that a leader of a proscribed group who supports terrorism is the voice of Islam. Someone who is regarded as a joke and a nuisance among the 2.5 million Muslims in the UK. A brief scan of the ‘About’ page of the blog reveals:

The right to exist and the survival of the State of Israel are of great importance to us.

Sigh. Ignorance? Coincidence?

The Dawkins website also had a Bad Faith Awards in 2010. Predominantly made up of figures that had made distasteful comments, or were at odds with atheism. But in 8th place was Lauren Booth who had converted to Islam. The rationale?

8th place: Lauren Booth (286 votes)

Perhaps readers viewed Cherie Blair’s sister’s very public conversion to Islam as an act worthy of ridicule rather than the Bad Faith Award.

Another minor quibble that, whilst being relatively trivial, is another indication of Islam’s special place in the websites crosshairs, is the fact that it has its own search tag. Islam has only 5 pages of search results whilst ‘Religion’ has 132. Take the Islam related articles out and you have 128 articles associated with other religions, yet none are singled out with their own tag. As I say, it may seem pedantic, but hints at an underlying prejudice which becomes more apparent on closer inspection.

There seems to be an attitude among atheists whereby the urge to criticise religion is so overpowering, they abandon their propensity for critical thought and prefer instead to believe the propaganda and lies peddled by Neo-cons, Zionists, Islamophobes and racists. Instead of being allies in the battle against bigotry, the militant atheists and secularists seem to have chosen to use their rational thought process to do the opposite.


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