Monday, 12 August 2013
The reasons why Richard Dawkins has disgraced himself and should rethink the course his professional life has taken in the last decade are outlined in my posts over that period, obtainable by clicking the banner in the list on the right.
Also there you will see the reasons why the backlash he is currently experiencing was inevitable.
Now it is here, however, he must be defended.
Far worse than the silly critique I linked to in my previous post, this is downright obscene.
First, everyone knows that Dawkins talks of all religious believers in what Owen calls "the most dismissive, generalising and pejorative fashion."
If you don't know that, it's a wonder you even know how to spell his name. Ask any Catholic if they think he singles out Muslims or not.
Yet that he does do this is the central and all-defining argument of Owen's screed!
Hard to imagine how it could possibly go downhill from that completely insane non-starting point, but Owen's got it covered.
Just take this paragraph for instance:
Another of his tweets accused UCL of “cowardly capitulation to Muslims” because it “tried to segregate sexes” in a debate between Lawrence Krauss “and some Muslim or other.” There's a good test here: replace “Muslim” with “Jew” and tell me you're comfortable.
Not really the safest question to ask Independent readers at the end, there, Owen, to be honest... but let's take this from the top.
If UCL segregating the sexes was not capitulation to Muslims then who was it capitulation to? Unless Owen thinks it wasn't an act of capitulation, and that a major centre of learning in the western world in the twenty-first century segregating a debate audience by sex is no big deal, and could have happened at any time for any number of reasons, then what does he think happened and why?
It's inexplicable, really, what point he can possibly think he's making.
The last part of the quote I just couldn't believe. I had to rub my eyes a couple of times, look away, and come back with an open mind, to make absolutely sure that this crazed Owen Jones character really was trying it on in the year 2013.
Are serious writers really still trying to do that? That silly semantic trick that everybody knows to avoid if they want to be taken seriously?
Replace 'Muslim' with 'Jew' in that sentence and tell me you're comfortable?
Oh my God, he's calling that "a good test"!
Okay Owen, I'll talk you through it one last time.
You can only replace like with like, if you want it to mean anything. A Muslim is a follower of a religion called Islam: that's all it is and all it can be. A Jew may or may not be a follower of a religion called Judaism, but all it certainly is is a member of a racial group known as the Jews.
So of course it becomes offensive. If you replace a negative description of someone with a particular opinion with the name of someone with a particular genetic inheritance causing offence is pretty much a dead cert, mate.
You'll find that it also becomes uncomfortable if you replace the word 'goldfish' with 'Jew' in the sentence, "The best thing to do with a dead goldfish is flush it down the lavatory"... but why would you do that? And is that really enough to make the original sentence offensive?
And guess what? It goes on!
It goes on. Dawkins has described the burka as being like a “full bin-liner”, and spoken of his “visceral revulsion” when he sees it being worn.
This is because he sees it as a kind of enslavement, and a betrayal of a western bedrock standard regarding the freedom of women. Presumably Owen doesn't see it that way, or maybe hasn't given the matter much thought, which says far more about him than it does about Dawkins. But if he did, or had (and therefore did) would "visceral revulsion" be an inappropriate response?
And now comes Owen's killer punch:
It is in this context that Dawkins' latest contribution is so inflammatory. “All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” (...)
The point Dawkins was making is that this should reflect badly on Muslims: that, as a group, they had done nothing of worth since the 15th century. Nobel Prizes have disproportionately gone to the advanced, developed countries with lots of money for education and scientific research, which tend to be white and Christian. For example, not many Africans – whatever their religious beliefs – have won Nobel Prizes for this same reason.
That's right. The Nobel Prize for science is biased in favour of white Christian countries. "Not many Africans have won Nobel Prizes for this same reason."
The whole continent of Africa is just teeming with scientists, who never get a look in because the Nobel Prize is disproportionately awarded to white Christians. Who knows what they've achieved? Millions, perhaps, of great scientific discoveries, and all unknown to us, because the Nobel Prize is disproportionately awarded to white Christians.
(Actually, if it's disproportionately awarded to anyone, it's Jews, except it can't really be called disproportionate if they actually do keep doing great, amazing life-changing and life-saving science, can it? Surely the word Owen is searching for here is 'proportionate' - always a tricky one to use when there's Jews about, of course.)
None too sure, either, about that bit about the Nobel-winning nations having "lots of money for education and scientific research." I suspect by 'having lots of money for' he means 'spending lots of money on'. Plenty of money to go around in the oil nations, for instance. I'm not sure lack of money is the reason why Saudi Arabia didn't let girls go to school until the 1960s. (What was the rationale informing that, I wonder?)
From hereon I just lose patience, as the piece spirals in tail-chewing lunacy:
In any case, it presumes that race actually exists, rather than being a social construct. Yes, there are different ethnicities, cultures and skin colours: but there is only once race, and that is the human race. There is more genetic variation within what are called “races” than between them. It was in the 19 century, to justify horrors such as slavery and colonialism, that pseudo-scientific theories of “race” became fashionable: for example, the size and shape of human skulls. The Irish were once considered a “race” by their English oppressors. We should simply stop talking about “races” altogether.
As is so often the way with the mad, a lot of this makes a frustrating kind of sense.
We certainly should stop thinking in terms of races. But this nonsense about 'the human race' is just as meaningless, and, indeed, racist. What about the mammalian race? What about the sentient race? What about the earth-dwelling lifeform race?
Wherever you choose to draw the line, you draw it arbitrarily, and you automatically consign whatever lies on the other side of the line to the status of 'fundamentally different'. It's never right or wrong to do that, because you can always point to a reason why they're different: the question is why that reason should be of such complete significance as to draw the line there and not somewhere else.
I may be wrong, because I'd never even heard of him before today, but it's statistically likely (and doubly so if he goes around flinging all that 'human race' nonsense about) that Owen thinks that many of his fellow mammals are sufficiently different from himself to belong on the other side of one of those racial lines, and he probably falls for the old 'difference = inferiority' equation too, and thinks they're so different, and so inferior, that they're actually his, and he can pay to have them killed, so he can eat them.
I know! Unscientific irrationality - you couldn't script it! But fair enough, of course: different strokes for different folks and what have you.
But then, having said all that, he actually thinks he's strengthened, rather than demolished, his 'anti-Islam = racism' proposition, and defends it with this magnificent piece of non-logic:
What is really meant is that while skin colour is not optional, religious conviction is. This is a claim I simply cannot subscribe to. It understates just how powerful and life-consuming beliefs can be – ironically, something that is simultaneously used as a criticism against religion by anti-theists. Personally, I cannot imagine being me without my atheism or my socialism.
Oh, bless him! So one's religious convictions are not optional, and neither is his socialism, because - wait for it - he cannot imagine being without it. Not wanting to put the sweetie bag down is equivalent to the transmission and replication of genetic information. And therefore, in less time than it takes to say "this guy really is out of his bloody tree" it is 'racist' to criticise people on the grounds of their religious convictions. And, presumably, the same would apply to Owen's socialism. If you're anti-socialist, you're just a racist bigot.
How can comments by the likes of Dawkins really be separated from a broader context where Muslims are feared, suspected and even hated? If we were to look back at literature from 1920s Britain, would we look at statements such as “Judaism is the greatest force for evil today” and divorce them from the atmosphere of then-rampant anti-Semitism?
Or, indeed, can we divorce the rampant anti-Semitism of today from the inflammatory rhetoric of the anti-Israel movement? (Who knows, Owen, but if you want to go looking for anti-semitism you're at the right newspaper. But that fact alone suggests to me that, probably, Owen doesn't want to go looking for anti-semitism.)
On the other hand, we do live in days when dozens of daily murder and terror attacks the world over are carried out explicitly in Islam's name and with explicit recourse to its tenets: a fact as inarguable as that no other religion is ever comparably evoked.
The extent to which Dawkins does consider Islam distinct from other faiths in terms of its threat is, of course, the extent to which it is. But try getting someone like Owen Jones to grasp that. He'd have more chance of not being arrested for being an atheist in any Islamic country.