Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

  • Welcome to Radio Freethinker!

    Radio Freethinker is a radio show/podcast that promotes skepticism, critical thinking, and secular issues.
  • Follow Us!

  • Posters past and present

  • Categories

  • Archives

Manufacturing Islamophobia

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 4, 2013

The false equivilancy of New Atheist and Islamophbia

The Hatcket Job on Dawkins

I came across an article just the other day that pointed out that some members of the New Atheist were…how shall we say, a little Islamophobic

We have talked before about Sam Harris, who I would say is not a little but almost a proud Islamophobe. And we have already discussed this. We also talked about how Christopher Hitchens, at least at the start, was a republican hawk.

However, the main target of the piece seemed to be Richard Dawkins, which struck me as odd.

The.Colbert.Report.2009.09.30.Richard.Dawkins.PDTV.XviD-FQM.avi_000132765Don’t get me wrong, Dawkins is an elderly very English academic who does have the air of befuddlement whenever the topic at hand moves away from his specialty genetics or pure atheism. A man of many failures but Islamophobic?

This latest attack by Nathan Lean, who has made a career, and not in a bad way, of calling out what he sees as Islamophobia.  He is the author of The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims. We have talked before about how the right-wing conservatives, especially in the USA and Western Europe, use the ‘threat’ of Islam to promote their conservative agenda. From my research, I did not find Lean a controversial figure but after this post that may change.

The genesis of this article refers to a couple of tweets…well as Lean puts it “Dawkins, served up a hostile helping of snark this week aimed at followers of the Muslim faith”. And he tries to draw a connection between criticisms of Islam to Islamophobia.

four horsemenHe heaps false praise on them, he lumps together Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and once Daniel Dennett as the New Athiest…he praises the new atheist for being knowledgeable and intellectual giants but he then claims their fame and the rise of the New Atheist movement was because of 9/11. It is strongly implied Dawkens et al; along with evangelical pastors owe their success to this one event which they have inflated into a crusade for their own personal profit.

He states that a number of evangelical “pastors were jolted to rock star–like status” and created Magachurches…but megachurches were a 1990’s phenomena culminating in the election of GW Bush…a misinterpretation. It is true, and irrelevant to Dawkins, that the evangelical and republican type used anti-Muslim sentiment to promote their own interests. There is no evidence that, beyond the fact its profile had risen in the western media, that Dawkins (in particular) specifically targeted Muslims over other faiths.

However, contrary to Lean’s assertions, the vast majority of the efforts of the atheist movement (new or not) in the USA and Canada is directed against evangelical Christians.

He comments that:

Four days after the tragedy, Dawkins could barely contain his intellectual triumphalism. “[The terrorists] were not mindless and they were certainly not cowards…On the contrary, they had sufficiently effective minds braced with an insane courage, and it would pay us mightily to understand where that courage came from. It came from religion.”

He then goes on to say that Islam did not figure greatly in the Atheist movement until 9/11:

 Emboldened by their new-found fervor in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the New Atheists joined a growing chorus of Muslim-haters, mixing their abhorrence of religion in general with a specific distaste for Islam

However, it is not racism or Islamophobia that elevated the profile of Islam in the west, it was the largest act of terrorism in US history…EVERYONE was talking more about Islam.

imagesHe points out that Hitchens’s book God is not Great is a direct insult to Muslims…and one must assume only Muslims…because of the common Islamic phrase ‘Allah Akbar’ (God is great). Fair dinkum on that but if you read the book[1], Hitchens goes to great lengths to focus on extremist of ALL religions…in fact he is one of the few to mention ‘terrorist’ type atrocities perpetrated by Buddhist.

So the tweet ‘Rant’ as Lean put it said this:

“Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter and verse like I can for Bible. But [I] often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today.”

To which, Lean adds the comment, I will assume sarcastically, “How’s that for a scientific dose of proof that God does not exist?”

The other half of the Rant was Dawkins reply to criticism he had not read the Quran but still criticises Islam by tweeting:

“Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read the Qur’an. You don’t have to read “Mein Kampf” to have an opinion about Nazism”

Lean’s comment on this was to criticise Dawkins for not doing research to substantiate his beliefs…that this is a hallmark of the New Atheist to “insisting on a conclusion before even launching an initial investigation”

This is a popular canard that is often used against atheist and scientific skeptics in general. ‘If you haven’t learned everything about subject X then you can’t make any comments about it’. This is a fallacy.

There are some criteria one must reach to have an opinion and others to be ‘authoritative’. I can have an opinion on life on Mars but I should first read a book/article about xenobiology, and maybe check out a text book about Martian geology, and perhaps a journal paper on the findings about the conditions on Mars. My opinion may be not ‘authoritative’ but provided I have used authoritative sources, I think I not only have the right to an opinion but can do so with a degree of confidence.

Of course the authoritative sources should be the people who have done the exhaustive leg work. To return to Islam you would want to talk to people who have studied Muslim culture, Islamic nations, or even read PARTS of the Quran. Provided we are willing to adjust our opinions based on the evidence and continued confidence in our authoritative sources, we are not putting conclusion before investigation. To imply that Dawkins has not done this is just an ignorant mischaracterization with ill intent.

By Lean’s standards, until you have read the US constitution and all its laws, you cannot have an opinion about USA politics because you lack the “initial investigation…BULL!

Imaginary-friend-atheism-1330191-387-405There is another bait and switch here; atheists in general are neutral with regards to the ‘text’ of religion…as seen as literature. Their criticism arises not from the books but the religion that claims to be based on these texts (often tangentially or at times contradictory). It is not that the Yahweh in the Old Testament told people to stone their children but that some people actually follow this today.

If someone began to follow the Iliad, atheist would not condemn the Iliad as a book but would condemn the religion (and its practices) that people invent out of it.

Dawkins has ‘studied’ the practices of Islam, and thereby can state an opinion without (necessarily) being labelled an Islamophobe. If he only condemns Islam while ignoring or apologizing of other religions atrocities…maybe a bigot but he has consistently condemned Catholics, Jews and others for their ‘evils’.

Where is the source evidence that he is not equally against religion in in all its forms and ONLY saves the special wrath, as Lean claims, for Islam?

Now, I am unsure of the belief system of Lean, but he does have signs of intellectual dishonesty.

He makes a point of stating that some ‘detractors’ call Dawkins a fundamentalist; followed by the comment that:

Noam Chomsky is one such critic. Chomsky has said that Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens are “religious fanatics”… and then quotes Chomsky as saying “they have actually adopted the state religion — one that, though void of prayers and rituals, demands that its followers blindly support the whims of politicians”

I checked the quote…it was a Q&A from one of the mean talks Chomsky has given. This comment was in response to a question about how people like Sam Harris, as a New Atheist, used secularism as a justification of for an aggressive foreign (US) policy; Chomsky’s response was with regards to US Foreign policy…. Chomsky was referring to Harris and Hitchens…no reference to Dawkins…and their strong support for the war in Iraq.

For the record, Dawkins condemned Tony Blair’s craven support for the Iraq war. Dawkins stated that the Iraq war was wrong and “bizarre. It is pure racism and/or religious prejudice”

He then states “Dawkins’ quest to “liberate Muslim women and smack them with a big ol’ heaping dose of George W. Bush freedom”where the hell does this come from? In the same posts mentioned above, Dawkins states that “I am passionately anti-Bush” and has many times denigrated US Foreign policy. This is a week-willed intellectually-bankrupt attempt at ‘guilt by association’ and one where the alleged association does not exist…contrary to the facts!

What was a slightly slanted view of things has exploded into a hatchet job.

He then points out that Dawkins was upset when he believed mandatory segregation of the genders was to be enforced…well Lean called it by the less offensive term “gender-separate seating” then goes off about how Dawkins did not get offended when during a Violin concert by Itzhak Perlman in New York was segregated or Israeli airline once forced re-seating to accommodate orthodox Jewish beliefs…

Then he states Dawkins probably didn’t know about that. So why bring it up?

He is implying that when ‘Muslim wrong-doing’ is afoot, Dawkins is quick to pounce on the opportunity to condemn Islam while giving other religions a pass. Bullshite!

bullshit detector 1

IN the first instance it was a religious debate with Lawrence Krauss…He knows Lawrence and they are friends. It is quite likely Dawkins was invited to attend the debate. If he was invited to a Pearlman concert, he would, I am sure, have been equally upset about segregation.

The article slips even deeper into disgrace when he adds the line:

“Where exactly Dawkins gets his information about Islam is unclear (perhaps Fox News?).”

tumblr_m3qlkwXHrj1qg5btqo1_500The implication is that Dawkins is a far right-wing neo-con…which plays well into Lean’s narrative but the fact Dawkins is a Liberal Democrat (socially left, economically right) denies this image. In fact one begins to wonder what Lean has against Dawkins or what he hopes to gain by attacking him in this way.

He then claims that “Dawkins references a site called Islam Watch” but himself provides no reference and I could not find any.

He implies that Dawkins gave a full throated endorsement of Geert Wielder’s racist bigoted views. He quotes Dawkins as saying:

“I salute you as a man of courage who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy”

While ignoring the line just prior:

“If it should turn out that you are a racist or a gratuitous stirrer and provocateur I withdraw my respect”

Now, Dawkins comments are on Geert’s film “Fatni” alone…so maybe not a complete absolution. And Dawkins in the past as confused his anti-thiest views with other ‘nut jobs’ like Bill Maher

He then says “Dawkins rhetoric is taken nearly verbatim from the playbook of the British Nationalist Party”. Again with no references.

everyone-is-or-was-born-an-atheist-21590774He claims Dawkins “spins wild conspiracy theories” about multiculturalism is really ‘Muslim’. Again a willful twisting of the facts. Dawkins does condemn Muslim schools (especially those that teach creationism)…but he equally decries the building and funding of any religious school (again especially teaching creationism…be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim or even Norse creationism as science and not literature/mythology). To claim this is an attack on Islam and thus Islamophobia is making the same disingenuous and malicious conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. 

atheist-cartoon_thumbWhat makes Dawkins and others easy targets is there is some crossover. If your culture is also your religion…and your religion tells you to do something horrible like mutilate the genitalia of your daughters…well, if you decry this are your being a bigot or Islamophobia? Or are you just a sane human? (And no, I am not saying ALL Muslims or even most believe in this practice.  Must I be willfully ignorant and pretend that it is not part of the Islamic tradition in some parts of the world? Am I forever denied to decry this atrocity for fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobia if I do?[2])

He criticises Dawkins for the comment:

“Religion is also the underlying source of the divisiveness in the Middle East, which motivated the use of this deadly weapon in the first place.”

How is this not true? The major source of instability in the Middle East is Israel…Israel, by its own claims, is a Jewish or religious state. Its major antagonist in the region is Iran, also a religious state but of the Islamic flavour.

He concludes with the rant:

“How the New Atheists’ anti-Muslim hate advances their belief that God does not exist is not exactly clear… Proving that a religion — any religion — is evil, though, is just as pointless and impossible an endeavor as trying to prove that God does or doesn’t exist. Neither has been accomplished yet. And neither will.”

Let me conclude by reiterating that just because you claim (or are) an atheists (new or otherwise) does not mean you cannot also be a racist, sexist or Islamophobe. I have mentioned (and written about) Sam Harris who I think IS an Islamophobe…but this is not because he is an atheist but because he is a nationalistic right-wing conservative.

In the same way that not all Muslims are anti-Semitic, it is true there are some. It is also true that some bigots use the cover of atheism to voice their racism…but these can be easily weeded out by checking on the consistency, verbosity and vitriol of their comments.

Lastly, Dawkins is no saint…there are a number of things you could complain about his attitudes. We have (and not exclusively) discussed his ‘apparent’ misogyny…he is known for making inappropriate comments…he is an apologist for ‘non-religious’ churches (he likes the Anglican hymns). He’s an old white guy of privilege…and really, the only straw man you could find is he thinks Islam is evil…what a limited mind you must have.

 


[1] Note: You don’t have to read the book to share this opinion if you believe that I or another trusted person has read it and is providing accurate commentary that you now use as the bases of your opinion.

[2] And yes, the practice of circumcision, although not as horrific, is just as wrong if done for religious reasons.

4 Responses to “Manufacturing Islamophobia”

  1. Further on Harris:
    http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/03/sam-harris-muslim-animus

    And some blatantly racist quotes from Dawkins’ Twitter feed, dated Feb 10:

    “If you think I’m racist because I use the word ‘barbarians’, it’s you when are racist. Elephant poachers are barbarians whatever their race”

    (see: racialized language, colonial history, and a dictionary definition doesn’t erase the daily lived experiences of people of colour—who have this crap among many others hurled in their faces as a racial slur, every single day)

    And February 22nd:

    “Once and for all, attacks on Islam are not racist. Islam is not a race. Indonesia has largest Muslim pop. Pakistan second. Same race? Egypt?”

    (see: Islam does not exist in a magical vacuum, separated from colonialism. Neither does criticism of the same. Yes, you can criticize Islam without being a racist about it. No, “Islam is not a race” is not a defence for criticizing Islam while being blatantly racist about it.)

    And Feb 11th:

    “‘Pope’s views on AIDS are barbaric.’ What? How dare you insult all white males! And don’t you dare mention his histrionic taste in clothes.”

    (see: O, what fun ’tis to pretend that the word “barbaric” has ever been applied to white people, when in fact, it has been one of several words hurled by white men at people of colour while they invaded indigenous peoples all across the world, continued to occupy their lands for centuries, enslaved them, perpetrated cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing against them, and finally left, only to come back and exploit them as wage-slaves or blow up their countries.)

    Feb 10th again:

    “I was falsely accused of calling Muslims barbarians. Now it’s Africans, again falsely. Actually I was only calling BARBARIANS barbarians.”

    (Do I really need to expand upon this, or is the existing string of tweets and my further comments on it — none of which fit in a 140-character space –enough to suffice?)

    Finally the original tweet itself, dated Feb 10th:

    “Greedy barbarians slaughtering African elephants. bit.ly/YPia5O Sign the petition to help kill the ivory market bit.ly/ZR0zcf”

    (see again: racialized language — several people immediately brought this to his attention without saying who the offending word targets, and rather than doing a single thing about the fact that he has just flung racialized language into cyber space as if it doesn’t mean a thing, he starts a diatribe about how it’s not racist to criticize Islam because it’s “not a race”.)

    Feb 10th again:

    “Africa? Adverbs? Apostrophes? Oh dear, I was forgetting to check my privilege.”

    (see: “I don’t give a flying turd about how white I am or how my choices might be oppressive to people who aren’t white.”)

    These are out of order because so are my screen shots. This is just one recent example of beating-us-over-the-head racism and Islamophobia.

    • So, I don’t think i would argue with you that Dawkins is an old white man who had a socially conservative upbringing in a ‘protected’ environmental. That comes out in his language, mannerism and some of his views. He is a misogynistic (although i think a passive one). He uses language “Correctly” and not ‘colonially’ from his perspective (hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but yes we should keep trying). To him the actual term “barbarian” is someone who does not speak Greek…he was taught that in school.

      If you think, to use the example at hand, shooting elephants is a ‘not good thing’, what term would you call those people? If you wanted to imply that anyone who did such an action was not a member in good standing of a civilized society?

      Likewise, Islam is not a race, so (in his mind) you cannot call “islamophobia” racism, but he would call it bigoted.

      Lastly, my point was not that Dawkins is a saint (he ain’t) nor that there are not areas he should be called out on (he should) but the implication of the article was that in his spare time Dawkins goes to Birmingham to shoot brown people because he wants to give them “a big ol’ heaping dose of George W. Bush freedom” . That’s Harris’s job.

      Dawkins is not Harris, our criticism should appropriate or we become the bellicose phobic demagogue we profess to disdain!

      • There’s no such thing as a gentle or “passive” racist. Racism is systemic violence. Apathy is a weapon of mass destruction. The same goes for all forms of systemic inequality.

        Islamophobia is often coupled with and functionally inseparable from racism. This is a fact that, to ignore, only complicates the problem — both in the manner in which we respond to the problem, and in our very conceptions of the problem.

        If you need an example, pretend for a moment that you are a woman, and are a new immigrant from Iran to Kentucky of all the unfortunate places in the world you could have landed. Pretend that to you, wearing a veil over your hair is not only an exercise of bodily autonomy, but a significant symbol of your relationship to your body, which preserves it as a sacred place and which makes your relationship to your loving husband that much more sacred, as the only other person or entity you share your body with is your creators (your female blood family members including your mother, and your God). Then read this article on a recent FEMEN protest called a “topless Jihad” and try NOT throwing up in the back of your throat:
        http://jezebel.com/5993775/muslim-women-shockingly-not-grateful-for-topless-european-ladies-trying-to-save-them

        You will probably recognize that this narrative I have provided (about the veil) is distinctive in several key areas, from that which is generally promoted either in mainstream media or among communities who discuss what they perceive to be problems in religious communities they are not a part of. However, it is not an uncommon one, and is more or less the exact content of what one Muslima shared with me, unprompted, about why she covers her body in clothing that does not reveal her shape to other people (even though she does not wear a veil). Though I am not a woman of colour and never will be, and though I am not an immigrant to the country I live in (but I am an import), and though I a not a Muslim, I fully appreciate how she must feel invisible and silenced by dominant narratives about Muslim women’s relationships to their own bodies and to the veil.

        I understand that in some places in the Middle East, this narrative may not inform a lot of women’s decision to put the veil on, such as in Tunisia. But there are many places in the Middle East where this narrative would not be uncommon, whether or not the veil was legally enforced.

        The point is that the issue of Islamophobia is complex, and almost always steeped in several other structures of colonialism, including racism. These are forms of bigotry that deserve to be recognized for what they are, and that is anything but passive or gentle.

  2. Oh, pardon my autocorrect. He said “it’s you who are racist”, not “it’s you when are racist.”

    PS, he seems to think it’s white people running around slaughtering elephants, when it is in fact whites who are buying the parts of poached elephants, and people of colour who are doing the poaching. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to conclude what that means about who he’s calling “barbarians”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s