In Defense of Richard Dawkins


Richard Dawkins (2009) Photo courtesy Wiki Commons

Some of WC’s readers may sensibly think that Richard Dawkins is fully capable of defending himself and doesn’t need any help from sometime-intellectual wannabes like WC. Fair enough. Those readers can take this post as an attack on progressive radio station KFPA and the authoritarian left. Because what happened is ignorant and outrageous, as deeply disturbing as any Trumpism.

Dawkins was invited to appear on KPFA to promote his new book, “Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist,” before an audience of hundreds of paying ticket holders on Aug. 9. The event was a fund-raiser for KPFA.

The radio station bailed. It sent an email to ticket holders on July 20 that praised the book but apologized for not having “broader knowledge” of Dawkins’ views on Islam much earlier. It added that Dawkins had hurt people with “his tweets and other comments on Islam.” Notably, KPFA did not trouble to tell Professor Dawkins; he got to find out from a ticketholder who forwarded a copy of the email to him. Ignorant and rude, KPFA.1

First, let’s be clear that this is not a First Amendment issue. This doesn’t involve government action restraining speech. KPFA is owned by the Pacifica Foundation. While it has certain obligations as a Corporation for Public Broadcasting grantee and as a charitable organization, it’s not a “government entity” forbidden by the First Amendment from restraining speech. So leave the First Amendment out of it; it’s inapposite.

Which takes us to the two issues lurking in this matter that WC wants to address. Is Dawkins an objectionable Islamophobe? And if he is, should that be a basis for canceling his book presentation and fundraiser?

What Dawkins has said:

The idea that I have engaged in abusive speech against Islam is preposterous, which even the most rudimentary fact-checking by KPFA would have made clear. I have indeed strongly condemned the misogyny, homophobia, and violence of Islamism, of which Muslims — particularly Muslim women — are the prime victims. I make no apologies for denouncing those oppressive cruelties, and I will continue to do so.

It’s terribly important to qualify that because of course that doesn’t mean all Muslims are evil, very far from it. Individual Muslims suffer more from Islam than anyone else.

Dawkins challenged KPFA to point to a single statement Dawkins had made that was inaccurate or unfair, or that can be characterized as Islamophobia. No one, not KPFA or its defenders, has done so. Thus, the answer to the first question is, “No.” Dawkins has made a career our of criticizing religion, including Judaism and Chrsitianity (maybe especially Christianity),2 as well as Islam. That doesn’t make him an Islamophobe.

The answer to the second question is even clearer. Part of KPFA’s avowed mission statement is “To promote freedom of the press and serve as a forum for various viewpoints.” Even if Dawkins was an Islamophobe – and it is quite clear he is not; he is an atheist – his voice should be heard. WC doesn’t care if the proposed speaker is Ann Coulter, Richard Dawkins or, Bog forfend, Donald Trump, the viewpoints should be heard. KPFA betrayed its own principles, and did so for a lie.

 


  1. KPFA claims to have notified Prof. Dawkins’ publicist at Random House of KPFA’s intent to cancel the event. No one at Random House seems to have received these alleged notices. It’s a mystery why the station didn’t contact Dawkins directly, and looks like moral cowardice. Which is certainly consistent. 
  2. See The Most Unpleasant Character in Fiction, reviewed here . 
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