Friday, August 9, 2013

Oh, Dick!

Dick Dawkins is living up to his name again:

Richard Dawkins criticised for Twitter comment about Muslims

The thing is, I really think he doesn't understand why this is racist, because he is unable to understand the social context in which he speaks, one in which most Muslims are members of marginalized racial groups. (What, a Cambridge professor speaking from a perspective of White, western privilege?! Never!) Something doesn't have to racist in intent to be racist in consequence. When he marginalizes Muslims in the UK, he is marginalizing predominantly people with dark skin, whether he meant to or not.

And even if it isn't racist, it's still bigoted. My fellow atheists really need to learn the difference between disagreeing with a belief system and attacking its believers. There is a difference between Islam and Muslims, Judaism and Jews, Christianity and Christians, etc. Bigotry against people because of their religion is wrong, even if you think the religion is a bunch of balderdash.

Part of Dawkins's problem, I think, is that he is a scientist, and he doesn't work well with subtle, often emotionally-turbulent world of human interactions. It's one of my problems with his whole meme theory: he tries to reduce the immense complexities of cultural transmission to the simple algebra of genetics. (Hell, even genetics isn't that black-and-white anymore.) He could benefit from a deeper exposure to the humanities, especially some instruction on the history and varieties of world religions. Unfortunately, that might require Dawkins to check his privilege.


  1. I think Dawkins's comment was a bit unfair and a non-sequitur, but I can't see it as racist or bigoted. I see nothing wrong with "marginalizing predominantly people with dark skin", if the marginalization is due to pointing out intellectual, not racial characteristics. Would anyone have objected to Dawkins's pointing out the paucity of Southern Baptist Nobel Laureates? There is a difference between Islam and Muslims, but it is Muslims that commit terror attacks, not Islam, just like it is Christian Identity proponents who commit terror attacks, not the Christian Identity ideology itself.

    1. Well, to start with, I'm not to comfortable marginalizing a group for "intellectual...characteristics" either. But what you are missing (and most Americans miss) is that, in a racist culture (which both the US and UK remain), you can't just separate out race like that. Things that contribute to systematic racial inequality are racist whether they are explicitly based on race (think about literacy tests to vote, etc.).

      It's not OK, for instance, to disproportionately impose longer sentences on black people just because that imprisonment results from selling crack rather than powdered cocaine, because the entire reason crack cocaine is seen as "worse" is because of racism.

      Southern Baptists are not a marginalized group in this country the way Muslims are in the UK (or here), so they are not as vulnerable to this kind of attack. If he specified, say, NATIONAL Baptists (or African Methodist Episcopalians or another historically-black church), then yeah, I would have a problem, because, intentionally or not, he would be marginalizing a religion strongly associated with a specific marginalized racial group in our cultural context.

      You say "it is Muslims that commit terror attacks," but it is also Muslims who DO NOT commit terror attacks. The vast and overwhelming majority of them don't, so unless you are going to specify specific sub-groups and movements within Islam (as you did, I notice, with Christian terrorists), the point is incoherent.

      If Dawkins wants to have a discussion about the teachings of Islam that he considers problematic, well, the first thing he needs to do is actually learn something about the history and varieties of the faith, because he doesn't demonstrate the necessary grasp of the basics I'd expect from freshmen in my intro class. But he doesn't discuss the teachings. He makes ad gentes attacks against an entire group. You can say it isn't racism, but it's still piss-poor critical thinking and lousy rhetoric. And, from someone in his position, it comes off arrogant and bullying.

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