Faith

Berkeley Event With Richard Dawkins Cancelled Over 'Hurtful Speech' About Islam

A radio station in Berkeley, Calif. which had scheduled an event featuring notorious atheist scientist and author Richard Dawkins, abruptly cancelled the event on Friday, arguing that it would not endorse Dawkins’ “hurtful speech” about Islam.

“We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt — in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people,” the radio station, KPFA, said in a letter to ticket buyers. “KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech.”

“While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech,” the station added. “We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins’ views much earlier.” The station also apologized for any inconvenience, and promised to refund the ticket cost.

The event, scheduled for August 9, was to promote Dawkins’ new book Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Realist. The author — who had not been warned prior to the cancellation — responded with an open letter, denouncing the radio station and declaring that he had never engaged in “abusive speech” about Islam. He also hit the station on its hypocrisy in attacking him for his comments on Islam but never for his statements about Christianity.

“I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that,” Dawkins wrote. (His most notorious book, The God Delusion, sparked the “new atheist” movement, which firmly denounced all faith.) “Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?”

Dawkins got personal in the letter. “I used to love your station when I lived in Berkeley for two years,” he wrote, adding that he listened to KPFA almost every day and he “regularly contributed to your fundraising drives.”

“My memory of KPFA is that you were unusually scrupulous about fact-checking. I especially admired your habit of always quoting sources,” the author noted. “You conspicuously did not quote a source when accusing me of ‘abusive speech’. Why didn’t you check our facts — or at least have the common courtesy to alert me — before summarily canceling my event?”

Dawkins insisted that “rudimentary fact-checking” would have disproven KPFA’s assertions of “hurtful” and “abusive” speech about Islam.

“I have called IslamISM ‘vile’ but surely you, of all people understand that Islamism is not the same as Islam,” the atheist declared. He then listed many things he has attacked involving Islam, but never the religion itself.

“I have criticised the ridiculous pseudoscientific claims made by Islamic apologists (‘the sun sets in the march’ etc), and the opposition of Islamic ‘scholars’ to evolution and other scientific truths,” Dawkins wrote. “I have criticised the appalling misogyny and homophobia of Islam, I have criticised the murdering of apostates for no crime other than disbelief.”

“Far from attacking Muslims, I understand — as perhaps you do not — that Muslims themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism, especially Muslim women,” Dawkins concluded.

The atheist noted to KPFA, “You say I use ‘abusive speech’ about Islam. I would seriously — I mean it — like to hear what examples of my ‘abusive speech’ you had in mind. When you fail to discover any, I presume you will issue a public apology, which I would of course accept in a spirit of gratitude for what KPFA once was. And could become again.”

This cold but powerful conclusion emphatically ended Dawkins’ letter.

The atheist has indeed been rather critical of Islam on Twitter. Last month, he declared, “Christianity was the world’s most evil religion. Now massively overtaken by Islam. And Muslims are the main victims, especially women.”

In another tweet, Dawkins criticized the Left’s apologies for Islamism. His tweet had a mock conversation between a liberal and a Muslim. “‘You’re a homophobic misogynist.’ ‘But I’m a Muslim.’ ‘Oh, SORRY, I didn’t mean to insult your culture.'”

In other tweets, the atheist attacked liberal blindness on the horrific issue of female genital mutilation and declared, “Liberal hypocrites refuse to criticize vile Islamism, so leaving the field to rightwing xenophobes.”

While it would have helped his case if Dawkins had always only criticized Islamism as opposed to Islam (as he wrote in the letter), many Americans might not understand the difference.

Islam is a religion that elevates the prophet Mohammed and his book the Quran. It has many sects that disagree, and some Muslims have found ways to reconcile the faith with modern Western freedoms.

Islamism, however, is “a forward aggressive offensive ideology, an evangelical movement that seeks to destroy countries that are free,” M. Zudhi Jasser, founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), told PJ Media. His use of “evangelical” was not meant to connect Islamism to evangelical Protestantism, but to emphasize the aggressive evangelizing of Islamism.

Like Jasser — who is himself a practicing Muslim, but nevertheless an American patriot who believes in the separation of sharia (Islamic law) and state — Dawkins said he was attacking Islamism, not Islam. While a few tweets did not make the distinction, even this anti-religious atheist clarified that his intent was to attack the oppressive ideology, not the whole religion.

More fundamentally in this case, however, is that Dawkins’ comments critical of Islamism could not be “abuse” because abuse involves criticism of specific people.

Jerry Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago, responded to KPFA’s statement that while the station “emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech.” To this, Coyne responded, “Give me a break! Criticism of ideas is not criticism of people, nor is it ‘abuse.’ Shame on KPFA for not realizing this, and for their craven behavior in canceling the talk.”

By canceling the talk without approaching Dawkins first — or even notifying him the event would be cancelled! — KPFA followed the same pattern of rejecting free speech which has branded the University of California Berkeley synonymous with intolerance and censorship. (Conservative author Ben Shapiro was denied a venue at UC-Berkeley just this past week.) By attacking allegedly “abusive” speech, the station surrendered to the social justice warrior mentality of elevating feelings over ideas.

Perhaps ironically, Dawkins found himself on the side of the “rightwing xenophobes” and the Christians he had condemned — on the outs with the babying Left. PJ Media’s Bruce Bawer argued that the Left had chosen “Muslims over gays.” Now it seem they have chosen Muslims over atheists.