Richard Dawkins may not have too many fans within the ranks of Christianity. Throughout his public career he has been free with his criticism of creationism and intelligent design, and in his book The God Delusion he makes the claim that religious faith is a delusion. If his own faith in that idea helps him sleep at night, then good luck to him. Dawkins has made a career out of his atheism and his views shouldn’t be news to anybody that invites him to speak at a public event.
So when Dawkins was invited to speak at an event hosted by a radio station in Berkeley, California, called KPFA, it can be assumed that his invitation was due in part to his atheist credentials. What made news however is that KPFA subsequently cancelled his appearance. Their reason? His past comments about Islam have hurt and offended some people. In their statement to the press KPFA said that ‘while KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech.’
A useful hermeneutic rule of thumb is that ‘everything before the BUT is a lie.’ In this instance KPFA claim to be defenders of free speech BUT not when it comes to abusive speech. If you’re not prepared to stand for abusive speech, hate speech or speech that you just hate, then you do not support free speech. Once you start making caveats for ‘abusive speech’ or ‘hate speech’ you’ve lost your right to declare you’re any kind of free speech champion.
Yes, the KPFA are within their rights to deny a platform to anyone they please. The principle of free speech doesn’t necessitate that a person has a right to a platform that may otherwise be denied them. And yet it does require that speakers be free to address willing audiences, without people who disagree with them running interference campaigns and agitating for talks to be cancelled on the basis that they are offended.
There is more at play here than KPFA wanting to censure an opinion they don’t like by refusing Dawkins a platform. They invited him originally, because they wanted him to speak about his latest book. Clearly what followed is that somebody or a group of somebodies contacted KPFA and alerted them to the fact that Dawkins may have offended people with his remarks about Islam. Instead of investigating the claims, which would have revealed that no ‘abuse’ had taken place, KPFA’s first response was to assume the worst and to submit to the demands of the mob.
Imagine for a moment that a group of creationists or intelligent design proponents, offended by Dawkins’ often derisory criticisms of their views, phoned into KPFA to express their discontent at his appearance. True, it is hard to imagine, because over the course of Dawkins’ public career, this has never actually happened. What’s not hard to imagine is the response they would likely receive from KPFA.
Why is criticism of Islam considered by KPFA to be so much more offensive than any other criticisms Dawkins has made about all forms of organised faith? Of all the criticisms he has directed at religion, only his comments about Islam have been deemed to be beyond the pale and ‘abusive’. In a strange juxtaposition of ideology, the progressive Left, champions of the rights of women and the LGBT community, have embraced Islam, a religion that is inherently misogynistic and homophobic. They now classify Muslims as an oppressed minority group worthy of a place on their totem pole hierarchy of reverse privilege, and this means that anyone criticising their religion is, ergo, an abusive racist. This stance is evident in the backlash from the Left against high profile proponents of Islamic reform Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz, both listed by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as ‘anti-Muslim extremists’. The SPLC say they are an organisation ‘dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society’, exactly the kind of fight Ali and Nawaz are engaged in.
In cancelling Dawkins, the KPFA claimed that their ‘free speech right’ is ‘not to participate with anyone who uses hateful language against a community already under attack.’ Never mind their blatant mislabelling of their act of censure as a ‘free speech right’, KPFA are indulging in the soft bigotry of low expectations. To them, Muslims are so much less resilient and unable to withstand intellectual attacks on their faith than are Christians or Jews. They mustn’t be as civilised as their Western religious counterparts who can cop a bit of criticism on the chin without resorting to the silencing of well-known atheists. To them, criticism of Islam must mean the Muslim community is ‘under attack’. When Dawkins says that Islam is one of the great evils of the world, does he inflict more damage on Muslims than he does on Jews when he says that the Old Testament God they worship is a megalomaniacal, malevolent bully? According to KPFA, Muslims are so weak in spirit that they must be protected by virtue-signalling, benevolent radio station saviours.
As Dawkins eloquently pointed out, none of his remarks about Islam or Islamism could even vaguely be described as ‘abusive’. He has repeatedly attacked Islamism, that is fundamental interpretations of Islam, not Muslims themselves, and rightly reminds us that it is Muslims who are most vulnerable to the misogyny and homophobia inherent in the religion. Using the word ‘abusive’ in such an hyperbolic manner to describe measured criticism only serves to water down the meaning of an important word, and to demean people who have experienced real abuse.
And after all, can it be said that the actions of KPFA in kowtowing to complaints and cancelling Dawkin’s speech will help any Muslim people at all? It’s doubtful. Their statements reveal their own bigotry and once again reveal offence-taking Muslims as special case pleaders, incapable of withstanding robust critique of their system of faith. But in all the media attention this story has received, Richard Dawkins has come out on top, and once again a spotlight has been shone on the hypocritical, censorious, pro-Islam appeasement stance of the social justice warriors on the Left.
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