Race/Ethnicity

Richard Dawkins, Racism, & Islamophobia

Back in February, prominent atheist and dipshit (in my opinion) elevated to the status of secular humanist superhero, Richard Dawkins, went off the deep end with a racialized term on Twitter. And I don’t mean that he simply posted a tweet containing an offensive word and then conceded that he made a mistake, using the same word in his sloppy apology, because he hasn’t apologized. He defended his use of the term and continued to apply it frequently while people continued to flood to his page to inform him that what he had done was egregiously offensive to people of colour—but especially to people of African heritage and to many Muslims. It is only now that the atheist community is responding to his defence, apparently unaware of exactly how offensive Dawkins himself is willing to be, in light of three articles on “new atheism” and Islamophobia. Here is a link to the third (focused primarily on Sam Harris), which contains links to the previous two.

And if you’re looking for evidence of what I’m talking about, scroll through for screen shots (trigger warning: racism, Islamophobia). Here’s the one that started a whole series:

Screenshot from 2013-03-03 11:45:55

I’m fairly certain we can all agree that poaching elephants is heinous. What I don’t understand is why he felt it necessary to drag a racialized word like “barbarians” into the statement. Clearly several other people couldn’t understand it either, because he was immediately called on it, as anyone looking at this screenshot can see in the first two replies. I actually hadn’t seen this until his reply somehow appeared on my own Twitter feed:

Screenshot from 2013-03-03 11:45:33

This is the tweet that made it into my Twitter feed, and I replied to both Dawkins and the person defending his racism, demanding to know whether they mutually agreed that language exists in a vacuum or if either of them has heard of the term “racialized”. I tried to leave it at that, having called it out, but I didn’t fully realize how deeply this had actually effected me until at least a couple of weeks later. Now for the record, I am a white person. I am a settler living on the occupied territories of the Coast Salish peoples, who are indigenous to this land. I am regularly participating in indigenous culture and learning about their traditions from the radical grassroots resistance among their communities, as well as indigenous elders (many of whom are survivors of attempted cultural genocide on their own territories, while I was being raised by white trash rednecks with a chip on their shoulders about being poor—on the occupied indigenous territories of the Cree, Blackfoot, and Nakoda peoples). I am an anti-racism and anti-colonialism activist, regularly applying what privileges I have inherited as a white person to confront, challenge, and resist racism and colonialism. I am also a Slavic Jew (by ethnicity) who is here on these territories because my blood family fled attempted genocide during World War II; and when we got here, that part of my identity was buried beneath several layers of white privileges, cultural and linguistic assimilation, internalized racism, settler privileges, colonial labels describing the other aspects of my heritage (erasing the fact that this has all happened to us before, because we have simply accepted it and embraced our new reality), and absolutely heinous trans-generational abuse. I am also the grandchild of a man who I deeply suspect was a Nazi sympathizer during the occupation of Denmark, for the evidence is undeniable. In other words, my history with racism — both individual and institutionalized — runs several layers deeper than the colour of my skin alone.

But what does Dawkins have to say to his defence, when he has made the error of making a racist remark? A slightly—and I mean very slightly—more nuanced “NO U.”

Screenshot from 2013-03-03 11:45:08

Now we observe Dawkins responding to continued call-outs on his racist comments, by feigning ignorance of how the word “barbarians” is racialized and has been for several centuries, and then nonchalantly grinding his choice in jagged language deeper into the open psychological wounds of everyone who has ever had this term hurled at them as a racial slur—the living descendants of peoples who had this term hurled at them by invading white colonists; who then subjected the colonized peoples to genocide, slavery, occupation of their territories, and colonization of their very minds. These are crimes against humanity not forgotten soon enough to make Dawkins’ decision defensible in any manner; and which have been repeatedly followed with re-colonization, re-occupation, attempted eugenics, cultural genocide, re-enslavement, and the widespread destruction of their lands for the extraction of resources running beneath their feet.

But no, Dawkins disagrees, and he thinks he’s equally as entitled to using the internet as a platform for his ideas about where the word “barbarians” comes from as anyone calling him out for airing them. In his mind, all ideas are of equal value when he says they are, which is not when people who are targeted by the racism he promotes are demanding social justice.

Screenshot from 2013-03-03 11:44:42

It is absolutely remarkable to me that of all people, an evolutionary biologist should be so unfathomably ignorant about colonial history and the role of systemic racism in keeping it perpetuating. Maybe he really just needs some help wrapping his head around it, or maybe he allies himself with the eugenicists who would happily corrupt his life’s work to make a case for their life’s work. I’ve just finished publishing this really long entry on “colonialism 101″ to give everyone who finds this page a head start to understanding the scale and magnitude of what Dawkins currently thinks is just banal. And it is precisely because I finally finished writing that piece, as well as the continual atheist/secular movement knee-jerk reaction to virtually any challenge of their favourite self-appointed superheroes, that I am now publishing this one. If we fail to understand the role of colonialism in the social inequalities we spend all our time fighting against, we will repeat all of it, even as we’re convinced we’re “liberating” oppressed peoples. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the reason promoted as the primary principle behind continuing the war in the Middle East. Or at least that’s what we’re being told on the nightly news, when we’re not being told about how Israel is entitled to defend itself—with genocide.

Screenshot from 2013-03-03 11:34:52

It is also utterly astounding to me that an evolutionary biologist treats the social construction of race as a biological fact, if and when it suits him, to continue defending his own racism. This is generally referred to as race realism, and the next logical step in this thought process is to go off on a diatribe about how racism “doesn’t exist” because the differences between races are “real”. I’ve already mentioned the role of ideologies like these in the advancing of eugenics several times in this blog post. Before anyone starts hand-wringing or concern-trolling on this very point, the relationship between racist ideologies—such as race realism—and eugenics is not a slippery slope argument. It’s a historical fact that is written into my very blood as a person of Jewish ethnicity and embedded in virtually every aspect of Canadian and US settler society in its current state. Unless you are also a Holocaust denier or in denial of the several genocides attempted against the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (North America) by colonial state powers, you know that this is not a slippery slope argument. I will not answer anything of the sort any further, or even publish a sentiment along these lines if it should manifest on the comments section of this post.

Lucky for the rest of us, we finally get to see, momentarily, something completely different come out of Dawkins. While still not an apology and then followed immediately by further bullshit, it provides an opportunity to further elaborate what some of the fundamental differences are between providing a mere criticism of a belief system (a legitimate exercise) and engaging in colonial oppression by frosting our criticisms, and particularly those of Islam, with a thick icing of racism and Islamophobia.

Screenshot from 2013-03-03 11:33:13

A fundamental difference between Catholicism in Canada and the US, and Islam in the Middle East, is their relationship to place. While both are Abrahamic faiths, and both have played significant roles in perpetuating colonization of several parts of the world, Islam is indigenous to the Middle East while Catholicism is an import to Canada and the US. Though Islam is arguably a colonial corruption of pre-colonial spirituality that existed for centuries in the area prior to the rise of Islam, that is virtually never part of the criticisms being offered by North American and European atheists criticizing the role of Islam as an integral aspect of an entire network of interdependent oppressions. Over its relatively short history, Islam has become an equally integral aspect of many Middle Eastern cultures. When criticism of Islam is coupled with racism and Islamophobia, the immediate and long-lasting effect of this obvious repetition of colonial history is to further radicalize Islam and all its adherents. Even the millions of non-violent adherents. After all, we have been blowing their countries up for the past ten years and telling them how they need to run their governments — as if we have that worked out so well, spectacularly exemplified in front of a global audience as indigenous peoples rise up from the squalor and plight we have systematically condemned them to, to demand they be treated with inherent respect and dignity for the first time in our nations’ very short histories. We have been mass-murdering their civilians for over ten years to show them how badly they need a proper Western “democracy”. And then we come along and tell them that all the stereotypes that come from our history textbooks about when we tried to “civilize” them are true, while we criticize an integral aspect of the culture that unites them in anti-colonial resistance? What, are we really this fucking obtuse?

Meanwhile, Catholicism is directly culpable for several attempted genocides against indigenous peoples in Canada and the US, right alongside the Anglican church and our respective governments — who helped enact Catholic colonialism into our laws, constitutions, and treaties. Catholicism continues to advance several critical threats to and assaults against the rights of women and LGBTQs in our own countries as well as many more. And though Catholicism exists in Canada and the US embedded into a largely secularized society, its sway as an arm of our respective colonial governments gives it a might equivalent to that of any multi-billion-dollar corporation. Do not even pretend to not know exactly what that means, with the newly appointed US ambassador to Canada being a former agent of Goldman-Sachs. In Canada and the US, a militant opposition to Catholicism almost makes sense—if it weren’t missing multiple other structures that play equally important roles in the same problem, when that is the only militant opposition one harbours as a citizen of either nation. And Catholicism is racialized here as much as Islam is in the Middle East, but because of its import status, it isn’t racialized in the same way. Thus, it isn’t racist to criticize Catholicism in Canada and the US, because it is equivalent to criticizing systemic white settler privilege stemming from genocide.

Of course, Dawkins doesn’t seem to get the message, and neither do a majority of his devout followers—a so-called humanist movement that idolizes someone who promotes racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and when it suits him, race realism.

Screenshot from 2013-03-03 11:46:33

Oh, hahaaha! Hahahahaha! Haha! Oh! Ow! Hahahaha! Oh, your unapologetic racism is so funny! Hahahaha! My sides hurt from laughing so hard at how racist you are! Hahahahahaha! It’s funny because it’s racist!

Update: It’s only been two hours since I published this post. Already, more than one atheist has come forward with the exact same argument to defend Dawkins’ use and repeated defence of racialized language. That argument is that Dawkins didn’t use the word “in bad faith” (see also: bonus points for irony).

In light of this, and due to the fact that I do not know of a quantitative measure by which one can express exactly how obtuse one would need to be to use this argument to defend Dawkins, I hereby propose the “Dawkins” as that unit of measure of exactly how obtuse a person is being.

I also cordially invite all those who are willing, to join me in my existing boycott (of several years’ duration) of Richard Dawkins. Stop buying his books, stop giving him credit for his arguments, and stop promoting his hatred. The only way to tell him that his racism, xenophobia, sexism, and Islamophobia are all unacceptable to you is to stop throwing your money and compliments at him.

17 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins, Racism, & Islamophobia

  1. I think I agree with much of what you say.

    One thing I have often talked about on my show(shameless plug = http://www.radiofreethinker.com ), is the need to be self-reflective, to pick our battles and to focus of the target. In this case, and my complaint with many of the recent ‘New Atheist’ critiques is they are picking the wrong battle (atheism vs. neo/colonialism), they are losing focus by picking on semantic of some while losing target on the true bigot. And some (but not all) have used disingenuous attacks to attack those they claim are using disingenuous attacks (Lean’s implication Dawkins supported the war in Iraq and GW Bush’s imperialism).

    I think most people of the “west” or “European” culture (definitions are loose) and there needs to be a lot of consciousness raising. Although, as a white male, I tread lightly…it is difficult to impossible for me to truly understand racism, but it a historical fact that must be dealt with.

    My comments should not be construed as a “full throated” defence of Dawkins nor do I intend to be a “Dawkins” apologist; but merely an attempt to share focus…or not; we all travel our own paths.

    So, much of your posting is about colonialism and not Dawkins (not really). Yes, he is old and is British (Hall-of-Famer colonial power) and he a man of privilege. Sure…got that. My grandfather used terms that would…well, just not used in polite company. He did not suffer from the Twitter, so it was a family embarrassment.

    It’s not an excuse nor should we not bring it up, but I suspect Dawkins REALLY does not understand some issues (many even)…how could he. To him “barbarian” is not colonial nor racial but simply “uncivilized”…as in NOT Greek. He technically is right and someday he may realize that words have more meaning than you can find in a dictionary…but is he rally the problem?

    You stated that “Islam is indigenous to the Middle East while Catholicism is an import to Canada and the US.”, well that depends on how far back you look. Let’s not forget that Islam (under the profit…er, prophet and successors) conquered the Middle East, North Africa and parts of South Asia and Europe. IT was the Britain of the 14th century. It is no more indigenous to Egypt than Pentecostalism is to Nigeria or North Hampton.

    “Colonial history and the role of systemic racism in keeping it perpetuating”, as you say, He’s a biologist not a historian. What ‘history’ he does do (professionally) would better be called archaeology…paleontology.

    So, I have found in my travels that YES people are that thick, and when you try to explain to them history/sociology…they just (literally) don’t see it. Again, as a man, how could I understand sexism? As white, can I really understand racism? I may have a slight insight as a homosexual into how it feels to be discriminated…hated, in a culture, but are they coequal?

    I would not cut him some slack in WHAT he says, but understanding where he is coming from will help formulate the best way to reach him. Calling him an imperialist jerk for using “barbarian” is not going to reach him.

    Explaining that “religion was imported to colonies as a way of stripping the ‘locals’ of their identity/history and thus ‘barbarian’ is a moral judgement often used by missionaries to subjugate the ‘inferior’ population…well, using that term may be a bad idea…especially with regards to Africa.” Which is important, being right or changing minds?

    You posted “I’ve just finished publishing this really long entry on “colonialism 101″ to give everyone who finds this page a head start to understanding the scale and magnitude of what Dawkins currently thinks is just banal” Does he? You show no evidence (beyond a word) that he thinks colonialism was a blip…or historical oddity now to be forgotten. Again, (to be repetitive) he has baggage, but I do not believe, and you have not shown, that he thinks Slavery was banal.

    Focus leads to effectiveness.

    Islam is an expression of “anti-colonial resistance” but historically, Islam (in the same way as Catholicism in Europe) was mechanism for autocratic rule…so, it only recently (in opposition to capitalist imperialism) been “anti-colonial” in the same way (one could argue) as (imported) catholic liberation theology was for Latin America.

    Okay, this is enough for a “comment”, to end on a positive, I love this last part…could not have said it better.

    “When criticism of Islam is coupled with racism and Islamophobia, the immediate and long-lasting effect of this obvious repetition of colonial history is to further radicalize Islam and all its adherents. Even the millions of non-violent adherents.”

    (PS: do you agree with the idea that moderates create the ‘intellectual’ or cultural space for the radicals? If moderate evangelicals were not accepted in the US as a valid belief system, then where would the ‘abortion bombers’ find a safe home?)

    • To take a wall down, you have to chip at it from several angles. I saw people chipping away at Dawkins, and he responded by defending his racism and repeating it–repeatedly. I do not think this is a person who thinks about colonialism when he is using and defending terms like he did. Just like I do not think this is a person who thinks about how viscerally traumatizing it actually is to experience childhood sexual abuse when he says an imaginary torture land called Hell is worse:

      An Open Letter To Richard Dawkins: Check Your Penis, Please (Dated November 28, 2012)

      To answer your post-script, I believe radicals cut out the space for moderates, not the other way around. I take the risk of overstating thing because if I danced around it as much as other people do, the conversation would never get to the point where it is openly acknowledging the problem. That is precisely the problem I see of, for example, CFI & Co.’s open letter to the secular community, urging the “benefit of the doubt”, or “not in bad faith” argument”, and promising to enforce that exclusively through tone-policing.

  2. As a former Muslim and survivor of Muslim tyranny and Muslim theocracy, FUCK YOU for your shamless defence of Islam and your ignorant playing of Islamophobia card against the critics of Islam.

  3. I’ve written on Islamophobia elsewhere, so I’ll just drop my two cents here:

    “Given that I find all religion intellectually dangerous, what reason should there be to single out Islam for emphasis? In light of the current state of the world, Islam seems ripe for intellectual dissection. While international events may be a consequence of the long-ago-sown seeds of Western imperialism, Western capitalism, or the creeping encroachment of Western cultural norms into new areas, the nations of the world that are predominantly Muslim are also those that are undergoing the most profound changes. The Arab Spring, worldwide jihadi military networks, Islamic terrorism: these are all things that are heavily influenced and informed by Islamic beliefs and teachings. To deny this would be to deny the history and cultures of these nations. I can attest to how fervently many Christians in America value and espouse their religious ideology. What reason would I have to say Islam elsewhere is not as motivating as Christianity here at home? With well over a billion adherents, it seems Islam is doing something right in terms of gaining and keeping members. If Muslims truly hold to the tenets of Islam, then it seems that they would be influenced by its teachings.

    So far, I think I have not said anything that unfairly singles out Islam, or which can be said to be racist (or something akin to it). If this is the case – if we admit that Islam is relevant to the world today on a global, regional, and personal level – and if Islam seems more likely to negatively impact the lives of people around the world, then I think it deserves special attention. Note that this is not a claim that Islam must be, but rather it is the claim that there exists a state of affairs where it may be given certain conditions.

    In light of this, I think Islam deserves more attention based on problems that are demonstrably large and particularly relevant in the world as it is today. One cannot argue that many of the great conflicts, political upheavals, and cultural clashes are taking place in countries that are heavily dominated by Islam. Every day brings news of sectarian clashes in Iraq, protests against the Islamist regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, Taliban attacks on school children in Afghanistan, and so on. While there are certainly many factors that feed into these events, you cannot deny that Islam and its teachings are playing an important role.

    The plus side for Muslims is that whether Islam should be singled out is effectively an empirical question. If it’s shown Islam isn’t especially harmful, or that another religion is a greater threat to human well-being, then it makes sense not to single out Islam after this has been brought to light. Islam-apologists have the capability to defend their faith against intellectual criticisms, but I believe that the onus is on them to do so given the current state of our world. If this is the case, Islamophobia is a meaningless charge unless it can be demonstrated that the assault is driven by intellectually dishonest motives, such as racism, Western imperialism, ethnicism, and the like. For those who decry the negative impact religion has on the world, Islam seems to be a particularly large and pertinent target and I suspect our focus on it will continue for some time.”

    Dawkins might be crass, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t ultimately right. That’s an empirical question we can discuss as a culture, but I think too often people cry foul prematurely, especially if what I’ve said above is accurate.

    • Are you an American or Canadian citizen, and if so, what are you doing in terms of political resistance against the sway of the Roman Catholic church over your government?

      When you’re actually willing to engage in this issue sincerely, then maybe I’ll take you seriously.

      • As an American, I exercise my right to vote for politicians that defend against the religious encroachment on the public sphere (though here the problem is Protestantism, more so than Catholicism for obvious historical reasons) . I also manage my own website dedicated to atheism, secularism and skepticism in the face of religion of all stripes. I’m vocal in my opposition to religion and aim to help fellow secularists acquire the tools necessary to combat theism and its foibles. Is that enough?

        • No. It’s not. You’re completely ignoring the motivation groups like the Taliban have, in constant resurgence, because your government is constantly dropping bombs on them, trying to “save” the Middle East like a gang of white saviours.

          You’re completely ignoring the role your government plays in directly radicalizing Islam, while you are also completely ignoring the vested interest your government has in continuing to force-feed you — and the entire American population — a caricature of Islam that looks suspiciously like Osama Bin Laden, no matter which way it’s spun.

          You’re also completely ignoring the role you are playing in the perpetual colonization of the lands on which you live, and as a direct result, the living descendants as well, of the people whose ancestral territories those lands are.

          Your responsibilities extend far beyond expressing yourself on a ballot once every four years and publishing your gripe with whichever denomination of Western Christianity grinds your gears from one week to the next on a blog online. What you’re doing is not enough. You have a hell of a lot more to learn than you have to teach, and until you recognize that and act appropriately, what you’re doing is not going to be enough.

          • Your attempts to obfuscate the issue at hand with a largely irrelevant response aside, I acknowledge the myriad motivations that Islamic terrorists and radicals give in the article I pulled from when they justify their actions. You failed to acknowledge the fact that religion is and has been a powerful motivating factor for people because of the stakes of the game religious persons are playing. When Islamic militants justify their actions with their faith, who are you to deny their motivation?

            I am sure it is fun to play the perpetual finger-pointer, but the simple fact is haven’t addressed the core philosophical concepts here and are focused entirely on geo-political/cultural forces. These are important, and hugely so. But so is religion and it affects as much as it is affected by those other forces. Until you recognize that fact you will be perpetually blind to the motivations other people have when confronting religions, Islam included.

              • You seem desperate for a fight, but I’m not taking the bait. Accusing me of perpetuating colonialism for being born in a country that was founded as a colony IS irrelevant to discussing Islamophobia. Catholicism in my country is also irrelevant to a discussion on Islamophobia within the context I provided in my original comment.

                I’ll also point out that you have yet to answer anything I wrote. Ad hominem attacks and name calling are proof positive of a weak counter-argument. They are also something I won’t engage with, so consider this my last word here. I’m sure you’ll have an snarky or bitter reply.

                Enjoy the last word if you must have it. Your responses here are actively alienating people who took the time to read your work. Congratulations on your Pyrric ‘victory’.

                • You seem to be writing about yourself here. The conversation you want is one in which you define the terms of what is on the table for discussion, where the issues you want to prioritize magically exist in a vacuum separated from an intersectional reality, so as not to challenge you or your social privileges. I lost interest before your last response, in case it wasn’t clear. This is what cutting to the chase and calling you asshole was short for, yet you took the bait you deny interest in. Cue slow clap.

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