Dawkins and liberal racism

Dawkins and liberal racism

Some quick comments on the latest 'shit Dawkins says on Twitter' row.

Some of you may have noticed the row over Richard Dawkins' latest comments on Twitter, where he took an arbitrary swipe at the achievements of muslims (all of them):

His comments, and subsequent defence of them, have been hammered by everyone from The Telegraph to the New Statesman to the post-nihilist ultra-left. I don't have much to add in terms of debunking his comments. Rather, I want to pick up on Dawkins' claim racism is limited to claims of an "innate inferiority of intellect" of some group.

By coincidence, I've been reading David Theo Goldberg's 'The Racial State'. I'm only part way through, but there's an excellent historical account of the emergence of racial thought which illustrates the current example well. Goldberg argues that in the history of racial thought, which emerges more or less with modernity in general, and the modern state in particular, there have been two main currents: naturalism and historicism.

Naturalism refers to the idea of inherent biological differences between 'races'. Typically these would be hierarchical, with 'whites' at the top, though there are some dubious variants of 'different but equal' knocking around parts of the far right. This is what Dawkins, and pretty much everybody, recognises as racism. When people say 'I'm not racist, but', this is usually what they're disavowing.

Historicism refers to the idea of cultural superiority, of more advanced civilisations. In principle, backwards, uncivilised people could attain civilisation if they abandon their backwards culture and adopt the civilised standards of the West. No claim to innate superiority/inferiority is made here.

Goldberg illustrates this with an argument between Thomas Carlyle and John Stuart Mill, in essays - originally published anonymously - on 'the negro question'. Written in the mid-19th century, Carlyle typifies the naturalist position, while JS Mill critiques him from the historicist one.

The point here is that there's a long history of enlightened, paternalistic, liberal racism, to which Dawkins' comments are endogenous. His bluster about 'sociologists' arrogantly defying the dictionary1 therefore only reveals his ignorance of the history of 'race', which has always been a social category bound up with state formation and colonialism, in both its historicist form and when it's had scientific, naturalist pretensions.2

  • 1. LOL, Dawkins appealing to an infallible textual authority rather than reasoned argument.
  • 2. e.g. see Mr Enlightenment himself, Immanuel Kant.

Posted By

Joseph Kay
Aug 11 2013 08:55

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  • There's a long history of enlightened, paternalistic, liberal racism, to which Dawkins' comments are endogenous.

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Mark.
Aug 11 2013 09:34
Mr. Jolly
Aug 13 2013 16:55

Now Im not one for supporting dumb ass Professor Yaffle Dawkins, but his interlocutor on this particular Twitter tiff was fellow posh boy Hasan, who every liberal and leftist has run in defence, has said pretty much the same thing, wrapped it up in 'community' and preached with millinerain gusto, as if all muslims are some homogenous historical entity outside the context of other forces.

"I watched this programme [“Science and Islam”, BBC4] and I really enjoyed it: a well-made programme, presenter very good…and yet I watched it with a sense of despair and a sense of sadness. Because this programme was pure history, every contribution was from the past, and the elephant in the room is the current Islamic contribution to knowledge and science and learning. Where was that in the series of programmes? It wasn’t there because fundamentally there isn’t one. That is the tragedy of our community today."

"It is no surprise then that when you look at the Muslim world you see that we 1.2 billion Muslims have just 10 Nobel prizes to our name….and our Jewish brethren who we spend so much time fighting and arguing with, 12 million Jews in the world, they have 150 Nobel prizes to their name….We are not under-armed, we are under-educated."

- Mehdhi Hasan.

ecosophy
Aug 11 2013 14:32

There's a difference between racism and Islamophobia. Races don't come with a certain set of beliefs; Islam does. And so, if Dawkins is criticizing Islam for a lack of intellectual achievement (recently, at least---note that he tips his hat to previous Muslim acheivements) his claim could be about the effect the belief system has and not the effect being of a certain race has. Indeed, if Dawkins' comment about Muslims is racist, then what race is he talking about? Arabs, Persians, Indonesians (there are more Muslim Indonesians than there are Muslim Arabs), Africans, Caucasians, etc.? Clearly, to conflate attacks on Islam with an attack on a particular race is itself a mistake that reveals an underlying Islamophobia---or, at least, Islamo-ignorance. Most of the criticisms of Dawkins on this point (including the above) have neglected to recognize this distinction and are thus confused and misleading, reinforcing an erroneous idea about the nature of Islam.

jonthom
Aug 11 2013 16:25

funny how some people are more interested in quibbling over the definition of "race" than in addresding what Dawkins actually said. frankly "course I'm not racist, Islam isn't a race!!!" is the sort of shit Ild expect from the EDL.

Dawkins' comments are reactionary drivel targetted at a group who are already the targets of all sorts of shit from the media, legal and political establishments. zoning in on the definition of "racism" is missing the fucking point.

snipfool
Aug 11 2013 17:06

Just want to be clear on something. So I get that race is an effect of racism, but what is the distinction which allows certain criticism of culture, practices, ideas, ideologies to effect a 'race' and therefore be considered racism? When it is "bound up with state formation and colonialism?"

Please take this in good faith: how can one be critical of Islam when it is the subject of state racism, without being a racist too? Or is it simply not possible? Does the content of the criticism make a difference, or is it simply the case that you are a racist mouthpiece of the state if you choose to be a vocal critic of a particular group at a moment in history when it's the subject of state racism? Please help clarify.

factvalue
Aug 11 2013 17:17

Well I'm not sexist but I'm sure there must have been more male Nobel-Dynamite-and-Arms money laureates than female ones mm-mm-mm which just goes to show you mm-mm doesn't it mm? Eh? Of course there is one essential difference between races and sexes which would have given dull-witted Dawkins (a confused crypto-vitalist who dreams he is a materialist) an even better loophole, in that races don't actually exist as natural kinds. But who takes establishment a-holes and their confirmation bias seriousy anyway FFS?

As Shlomo Sand, professor of history at Tel Aviv Uni said in The Invention of the Jewish People: To account for the popularity of race theory in the centers of Western culture, we must consider the European sense of superiority' based on rapid industrial and technological development in the West and center of the Continent, and how this was interpreted as reflecting biological and moral ascendancy. Furthermore, the progress made in the developmental sciences gave rise to comparative fantasies linking the life sciences with social studies and history.

I think it's fair to say that historically more Jews have been well placed to take advantage of the dynamite money than Muslims. And it's mostly given for scientific efforts, so here we have another in the endless series of iterations of a materialist dogmatist (who has not himself won any dynamite money and is never likely to) persecuting some heretics for not committing themelves fully enough to the new scientific world religion. He reminds me of Ian Paisley.

Joseph Kay
Aug 11 2013 17:41
snipfool wrote:
Please take this in good faith: how can one be critical of Islam when it is the subject of state racism, without being a racist too? Or is it simply not possible? Does the content of the criticism make a difference, or is it simply the case that you are a racist mouthpiece of the state if you choose to be a vocal critic of a particular group at a moment in history when it's the subject of state racism? Please help clarify.

Fair questions. I think there's several things here.

1. Dawkins wasn't even making a criticism of Islam (on the face of it), he was doing a dog whistle swipe at 'the world's muslims' at large. So if you want to criticise Islam, be specific about practice X or belief Y. Afaik when Dawkins lays into Christianity, he tends to do close scriptual readings and the like

2. Still then, there's the issue of timing. It's remarkable how many people (e.g. random workmates with no direct interest) have suddenly taken an interest in Russia's LGBT record. Now, that's not to say you can't be genuinely critical here, but it's funny how it crescendos at the peak of the Snowden row, when a few years back when we were about to bomb Iran everyone was going apeshit about homophobia in Iran (Jasbir Puar is good on this). Ditto the fascination with vague, ill-informed swipes at "all the worlds muslims" in the wake of like 30 odd firebomb attacks on mosques, a big government push to up racial tensions, and a minor far-right resurgence.

3. So I think the best rule of thumb would be to support specific, concrete struggles on the ground. That would solve a lot of the problems straight off by bypassing the whole speaking for others thing. So where there are workers movements being repressed by Islamists, or feminist/queer activism in the Islamic world, highlighting those struggles and draw out the criticisms they make.

4. I think this might reflect a general problem with new atheism, which attacks the symptom (religion) and not the cause (a heartless world), and often therefore ends up being a cheerleader for that world. James Butler's good here: www.piercepenniless.tumblr.com/post/57779541776/marx-contra-dawkins

Joseph Kay
Aug 11 2013 17:56

On the 'muslims aren't a race' thing, this has been done to death elsewhere. As others have said:

(1) It ignores the main point of how dogwhistle racism works. 'Pakis' aren't a race (an abbreviated nationality), nor are 'immigrants' (a residential status) or 'asylum seekers' (a migration status). I'm sure we're all familiar with racism aimed at those groups.

(2) Dawkins' statement is so arbitrary as to be incomprehensible as anything but this kind of dogwhistle swipe. e.g. (a) he's comparing an elite academic institution to a general population, (b) he's not controlling for education level or GDP or any number of other variables, (c) he's arbitrarily selecting the time period where (historically) Christian countries have dominated world affairs (the previous 500 years would have been Islam, Qing China etc), (d) he's arbitrarily choosing a culturally and historically specific measure of success (the nobel prize) which itself only covers 20% of the period he's allegedly interested in etc etc. It's really quite amazing how many logical leaps and flaws he crammed into 140 chars for someone so interested in reason and logical thought. So much for "a simple fact"1

(3) The 'muslims aren't a race' thing has a whole implicit theory of race which is just wrong. Essentially it relies on the premise that racism is a response to the fact of race, rather than 'race' being an effect of racism.

(4) There's also a problem here with treating 'all the world's muslims' as a bloc, which echoes the whole 'clash of civilisations thesis' (which incidentally has been torn to shreds by academics in the field but has proved enduringly popular in the media and popular discourse). This is a more subtle thing though and i'm mentioning it as an afterthought.

Edit: Anyhow, my main point here was to link this to Goldberg's analysis, which imho makes a convincing case that racism has always been more than simply claims to innate inferiority.

  • 1. This faux-naivety seems disingenuous. If I were to publish Dawkins' home address, route to work, timings, and advise as to techniques of disabling and immolation, would these be just simple facts? Or would there be a menace there, present not in the facticity but rather the selection of those particular 'facts' in that particular context etc etc?
ecosophy
Aug 11 2013 18:28
Quote:
funny how some people are more interested in quibbling over the definition of "race" than in addresding what Dawkins actually said. frankly "course I'm not racist, Islam isn't a race!!!" is the sort of shit Ild expect from the EDL.

Dawkins' comments are reactionary drivel targetted at a group who are already the targets of all sorts of shit from the media, legal and political establishments. zoning in on the definition of "racism" is missing the fucking point.

So, instead of actually engaging the actual point made (by myself and others), you claim that it sounds like something someone from the EDL would say. First, that is just an ad hominem argument that fails to address the point (see below). Second, people from the EDL are probably not bright enough to draw a distinction between racism and Islamophobia.

More importantly, you fail to actually engage the argument. The argument is that it is not helpful to discuss Dawkins' comment as a racist comment since to do so reinforces the very misrepresentation of Islam that is so common in the West. This misrepresentation is the identification of Islam with being Arabic. But anyone that knows about Islam knows that this identification is erroneous in both directions. There are Muslims that are not Arabs (in fact, there are more non-Arab Muslims than there are Arab Muslims) and there are Arabs that are not Muslim.

Moreover, your claim that this point "misses the fucking point" is itself left completely unsubstantiated. And your claim is shown to be incorrect by the fact (already pointed out) that there is a substantial difference between racism and having prejudice against people of a certain religious tradition. The difference is that races don't have beliefs; but religious people do. And that is a substantial difference. Being Muslim is about having certain beliefs (an ideology); being Arab (or Persian, or Indonesian, or African, etc.) is not. The upshot is that if you criticize Dawkins for being racist with his comment, then your criticism is a straw man. Smart people will see that you are not being careful enough and they will dismiss you. It's better to criticize a view for its actual content rather than employ a haphazard mischaracterization. I really do expect better from the authors at (and the readers of) libcom; but perhaps my expectation is just too unrealistic.

Agent of the In...
Aug 11 2013 19:07

@ecosophy

Are you defending Dawkins?

Because whether or not he is a racist, he has nothing to offer on the subject of religion, or Islam in particular.

ecosophy
Aug 11 2013 19:21
Quote:
(1) It ignores the main point of how dogwhistle racism works. 'Pakis' aren't a race (an abbreviated nationality), nor are 'immigrants' (a residential status) or 'asylum seekers' (a migration status). I'm sure we're all familiar with racism aimed at those groups.

It is true that there are terms that are not strictly racial, but that have the same basic effect, when they are used. 'Pakis' or 'immigrants' clearly are used in a way that is virtually identical with racist terms. But it doesn't follow from this that 'Muslim' or 'Islam' have the same effect. To identify someone by their religion is (usually) to identify them by their beliefs. And this contrasts with identifying them by some characteristic that they don't have any control over (like skin color, nationality, geographical origin, sex, etc.). People can be held responsible for their beliefs and they should be so. But people cannot and should not be held responsible for their skin color. So, your point 1 falls flat, logically speaking. Your premise is correct, but it doesn't entail the conclusion you draw, since it is a false analogy.

Quote:
(2) Dawkins' statement is so arbitrary as to be incomprehensible as anything but this kind of dogwhistle swipe. e.g. (a) he's comparing an elite academic institution to a general population, (b) he's not controlling for education level or GDP or any number of other variables, (c) he's arbitrarily selecting the time period where (historically) Christian countries have dominated world affairs (the previous 500 years would have been Islam, Qing China etc), (d) he's arbitrarily choosing a culturally and historically specific measure of success (the nobel prize) which itself only covers 20% of the period he's allegedly interested in etc etc. It's really quite amazing how many logical leaps and flaws he crammed into 140 chars for someone so interested in reason and logical thought. So much for "a simple fact"1

So, here you claim that Dawkins' comment is clearly a "dogwhistle swipe". I take it that by this rather loose language you mean to say that Dawkins' use of the term 'Islam' is really more like the EDL's use of the term 'Pakis'. Your reason for this is that Dawkins' claim "is so arbitrary". It is arbitrary for 4 reasons, which I believe constitute good criticisms of Dawkins' tweet without having to play the racism card at all (which is a straw man for reasons, I have already given). Your first point is that he's comparing an academic institution with a general population. I agree with you that this is an unfair comparison. Your second point is that his comment is not based on a scientific sampling. In a way, this is really the same as the first point since the reason that the comparison is unfair is that it is comparing apples and oranges and that is a problem with how the samples have been gathered. Your third point is the same, from a logical point of view, since it is again about how he selected his samples on which to draw his conclusion. Your fourth point is different since it questions the value placed on the target characteristic (nobel prize winners). But that's also a substantial criticism, from a logical point of view. What this all boils down to is that you are criticizing Dawkins for not taking a proper scientific approach with this particular claim. And that's a great criticism of Dawkins in this case.

But instead of leaving it at that, you use the above (stand alone) points to substantiate the claim that Dawkins was being careless in his language and intended his use of 'Islam' to be (like) a racial slur rather than a term for identifying a religious group. Given all of Dawkins' concern with religious belief, it seems much more plausible that he intended to identify and criticize Islam the religion with his tweet. And it seems much more plausible to criticize him (as you do above) for being unscientific than it does for him being racist.

Quote:
(3) The 'muslims aren't a race' thing has a whole implicit theory of race which is just wrong. Essentially it relies on the premise that racism is a response to the fact of race, rather than 'race' being an effect of racism.

This is an interesting point and it seems basically correct to me. Race is surely a social construction. And as such, sometimes religious group become an ethnicity (Jews, Catholic and Protestant in N. Ireland, etc.). But that has not happened with Islam, at least not at a global level. As with Catholicism and Protestantism in N. Ireland, perhaps this racialization happens in certain locations, where social identities and religious belief line up very closely. But, generally speaking, those that have studied Islam would not be happy with the idea that Islam could be identified with one race, since the fact of the matter is that there are many different ethnicities that have embraced this global religion. And there is a lot of internal diversity in Islam. To be sure, one of Dawkins' fatal errors in his criticisms of religion is that he doesn't take into account its diversity. But by conflating Islamophobia with racism, you make a similar mistake. And your argument ends up being a straw man.

Quote:
(4) There's also a problem here with treating 'all the world's muslims' as a bloc, which echoes the whole 'clash of civilisations thesis' (which incidentally has been torn to shreds by academics in the field but has proved enduringly popular in the media and popular discourse). This is a more subtle thing though and i'm mentioning it as an afterthought.

Yeah. That's my point. Islam is a very complex and diverse religious tradition. This is why the New Atheists' critiques are all straw men. So, let's be better than they are and make substantial arguments (as you do in point 2 above) rather than repeating their mistake.

ecosophy
Aug 11 2013 19:31

I would not defend Dawkins on the subject of religion. I agree that his comment was irrational and unethical. My point is that those that claim that the problem with Dawkins' comment is that it is racist are wrong. The problem is that it is Islamophobic. And to conflate Islamophobia with racism against a certain group, is to misunderstand the nature of Islam. Hence, such a conflation is itself a manifestation of Islamophobia. Also, and more importantly, pulling the racial card here is just a straw-man argument that critical thinkers will dismiss out of hand.

Now you might think that it doesn't matter what the argument is, if we agree on the conclusion. I would disagree. The argument matters just as much as the conclusion. If we give fellow radicals a pass on their poor arguments or sloppy thinking just because we agree with the conclusion, then sloppy thinking will become the norm.

factvalue
Aug 11 2013 20:36

ecosophy, I’m interested in precisely why you think Dawkins was being unethical.

Quote:
People can be held responsible for their beliefs and they should be so.

In your opinion, should Dawkins be held at least partly responsible for the responsibility the UK State has taken upon itself for ‘holding people responsible’ for their Islamic beliefs?

Quote:
Given all of Dawkins' concern with religious belief, it seems much more plausible that he intended to identify and criticize Islam the religion with his tweet.

Does ‘Islam’ not include Middle Eastern Muslims? Is Dawkins’ reference to ‘Islam’ somehow explicitly NOT about a grouping which, like it or not, most people living within the current Western propaganda system would automatically identify as Middle Eastern in origin? Or was it somehow the point of Dawkins’ latest ‘emission’ to draw attention to and to correct this? Given that same genocidal propaganda system, it is, to say the least grossly irresponsible for a public figure to attack the religion of those who are being slaughtered. Presumably if you’d had a popular public platform in the 1940s say, you would not have used it to attack the Jewish religion even though you realised that you weren’t being racist, technically?

Quote:
And to conflate Islamophobia with racism against a certain group, is to misunderstand the nature of Islam. Hence, such a conflation is itself a manifestation of Islamophobia.

This is sloppy, since logically it does not necessarily follow that misunderstanding or ignorance with respect to an issue is a manifestation of an irrational fear or hatred of it, unless you mean that people confusing racism with Islamophobia are doing so because of the effects of propaganda, in which case I agree with you.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 11 2013 20:50
Quote:
those that have studied Islam would not be happy with the idea that Islam could be identified with one race, since the fact of the matter is that there are many different ethnicities that have embraced this global religion.

Yeah, but come on, really when the vast majority of Britons and Americans picture a Muslim, they're picturing an Arab. And the right plays on this: "Oh, we're not racist, we're opposed to radical Islam. We're not anti-immigrant, we're anti-Shariah law..."

It's not that I don't think you're making some good points in an academic sense. Of course our analyses we shouldn't conflate race with religion. Of course Muslims are a very diverse group of people.

But don't you think someone like Dawkins should have the common sense to try to make sure that his comments don't feed into the sort of sentiments referenced above? A failure to do so--especially from someone who claims to have his interest into rationality and objectivity--seems to me to reflect an underlying racist sentiment, especially compared to how he approaches his criticisms of other religions, Christianity in particular.

Serge Forward
Aug 11 2013 21:07

Aye. Dorkins is a clever cloggs. He knows exactly what he's up to and he knows exactly how his comments will be taken and used by any racist fuckwit who happens to read his shit on twitter. His Middle Ages caveat won't wash either.

Agent of the In...
Aug 11 2013 21:45

'New atheism' is disgusting. More like a new brand of fascism. This is a group that includes Sam Harris, who suggests 'we' (Western civilization) may have to nuke the entire Middle East in order to save our lives.

Fleur
Aug 11 2013 22:20

Forgive my cynicism about Dawkins but I remember him when he was just a superstar academic, one of the rent a smart geezer to talk about science on the TV set. I seem to remember his vociferous objections to religion - which he may well have had already - started when budget cuts to academia denuded his own departmental budget and he started railing about funding for apparently "useless" study, such as theology and Medieval French poetry. Obviously the pro and anti Medieval French poetry lobbies were never very vocal. Where my cynicism really kicks in is my suspicion that he makes far more money and is far better known as a professional atheist than as a professor at Trinity. Not to mention the extreme ego stroking he must get as the Alpha Dog of militant atheism. I expect he's quite relieved that Hitchens is dead and he no longer has to jostle for that position.
Dawkins is undoubtably a clever man and, as far as I know, does nothing to distance himself from or challenge the rabid racist and sexist behaviour of some of his followers, which is almost cult-like in their adoration of him. I've found myself on the receiving end of abuse by his followers on twitter, who've come at me as response to a snarky comment - the irony apparently lost on them that they were defending his words (to the effect) that Islam is barbaric to women by threatening me, a woman, with various acts of barbarism in order to get my thinking straight.
He knows what he's doing and when he makes comments on Islam, he may well play with words and say that he's not being racist, merely criticizing religion, but he knows full well that he's feeding into wider racist sentiments. And then Dawkins is back in the newspapers, which I imagine sells a few more copies of the God Delusion, a few more T shirts and his appearance fees go up a bit more.

Mr. Jolly
Aug 12 2013 08:57

All of this argument is wet twitter bollocks.

*** Drunk Response ***

ecosophy
Aug 11 2013 23:52
Quote:
ecosophy, I’m interested in precisely why you think Dawkins was being unethical.

I have already answered this question implicitly in previous posts. My claim is that Dawkins' problem is not racism, but other aspects of his position. First, as Joseph points out in his comment on his own piece, Dawkins' claim is a wildly unscientific one, and as such it is both unsubstantiated as well as misleading. This is why his tweet was irrational.

Second, Dawkins' claim manifests a misunderstanding of the nature of Islam, since he misidentifies it as the cause for the lack of the lack of Nobel Prizes in predominantly Muslim countries as compared to Cambridge. This is the fallacy of false cause since the cause could very well include socio-economic conditions, as most leftists would point out. But Dawkins' willingness to attribute this lack of scientific achievement to Islam (rather than other conditions) arises from the fact that he believes it to be an anti-intellectual and anti-scientific tradition.

However, a reading of Islamic history shows that this is just not true. Islam has a very deep and and sophisticated intellectual tradition. There is nothing inherent to Islam that makes it inimical to the scientific enterprise. This is true of Judaism and Christianity as well, although Dawkins would have us believe that all Christians are like the Westboro Baptist Church. Dawkins makes the same mistake here that he makes elsewhere: he doesn't really understand Theistic belief. Many religious studies scholars and philosophers of religion have rebuked him concerning his straw-man characterizations of religion (Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith and Revolution is one example). And yet, he persists with the straw-man argument. This is not just irrational, but unethical. It's not a fair treatment of the religion.

Quote:
In your opinion, should Dawkins be held at least partly responsible for the responsibility the UK State has taken upon itself for ‘holding people responsible’ for their Islamic beliefs?

I'm not sure what this question is about. And I certainly don't believe that 'holding people responsible' for their beliefs has anything to do with the State. What I mean when I say that we can hold people responsible for their beliefs is that (when they are adults) they decide what to believe (or, at least, they could decide what to believe) and so they are responsible for their beliefs in a way that they are not responsible for their race, sex, sexual orientation, etc. And so, when fundamentalist Christians claim that they don't believe in evolution or human caused climate change, they are responsible for this belief. If the belief is evidently incorrect, they should be roundly criticized in the public forum. But people should never be criticized for their race, sex, etc. So, being a member of a group with a certain belief system is quite different than being a member of a group based on race, geography, sexual orientation, etc. This is the one thing that I agree with the New Atheists on: religious belief should be criticized when it is manifestly irrational (e.g., Creationism). But allowing public criticism is one thing and having the State do something about it (shutter) is quite another.

Quote:
Does ‘Islam’ not include Middle Eastern Muslims? Is Dawkins’ reference to ‘Islam’ somehow explicitly NOT about a grouping which, like it or not, most people living within the current Western propaganda system would automatically identify as Middle Eastern in origin? Or was it somehow the point of Dawkins’ latest ‘emission’ to draw attention to and to correct this? Given that same genocidal propaganda system, it is, to say the least grossly irresponsible for a public figure to attack the religion of those who are being slaughtered. Presumably if you’d had a popular public platform in the 1940s say, you would not have used it to attack the Jewish religion even though you realised that you weren’t being racist, technically?

Of course, Islam includes people that live in the Middle East. But not everyone that lives in the Middle East is a Muslim. There are quite a few Christian Arabs (and Druze etc.). Moreover, there are more Muslims in Indonesia than there are in the Middle East. Islam shouldn't be identified with being Arab. When you conflate Islamophobia with racism, you conflate the two. Moreover, the fact that the "Western propaganda machine" identifies 'Islamic' with 'Middle Eastern' is no reason for people on the left to perpetuate that misunderstanding. As for why Dawkins said what he said, I am not sure why and I haven't defended his comment. I have only attacked the lack of intellectual rigor in the facile arguments attacking him. To attack a bad criticism of a position is not to defend the position.

Quote:
This is sloppy, since logically it does not necessarily follow that misunderstanding or ignorance with respect to an issue is a manifestation of an irrational fear or hatred of it, unless you mean that people confusing racism with Islamophobia are doing so because of the effects of propaganda, in which case I agree with you.

Yes, I do believe that the conflation of Islam with a race is a result of "the propaganda machine" (to use your words). And this conflation is a mistake, as you seem to agree (perhaps). But I would also say that Western Islamobia is based on misrepresentations of the nature of Islam. Among those misrepresentations would be the fact that people equate being Muslim with being Arabic. This is not the only misrepresentation, but it is one that is part and parcel of typical Islamophobia. So, while it is true that one can misunderstand something without having irrational fear of it (indeed, one might misunderstand something that is dangerous as actually being safe), in the case of Islam, misunderstanding has played an important role in perpetuating Islamophobia. The New Atheists have perpetuated that misunderstanding. But this forum perpetuates the misunderstanding as well by repeating, yet again, the inaccurate identification of Islam with race.

Fleur
Aug 12 2013 00:56

Oh for fuck's sake. And it's backed up with a quote from the High Priest of New Atheism himself.

Agent of the In...
Aug 12 2013 01:39

Dawkins is probaby the only person's works he/she has ever read. That Dawkins quote applies very much to the poster him/herself. The 'one particular book' being one of Dawkins own.

Devrim
Aug 12 2013 01:57
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Yeah, but come on, really when the vast majority of Britons and Americans picture a Muslim, they're picturing an Arab.

I would imagine that the vast majority of people in the UK picture Pakistanis when they picture a Muslim.

Devrim

radicalgraffiti
Aug 12 2013 02:30
ecosophy wrote:
So, instead of actually engaging the actual point made (by myself and others), you claim that it sounds like something someone from the EDL would say. First, that is just an ad hominem argument that fails to address the point (see below). Second, people from the EDL are probably not bright enough to draw a distinction between racism and Islamophobia.

you know nothing ecosophy, they've been saying "we're not racist, we just oppose militant Islam" the whole time, literally since they where founded

Pennoid
Aug 12 2013 03:18
Quote:
This is an interesting point and it seems basically correct to me. Race is surely a social construction. And as such, sometimes religious group become an ethnicity (Jews, Catholic and Protestant in N. Ireland, etc.). But that has not happened with Islam, at least not at a global level. As with Catholicism and Protestantism in N. Ireland, perhaps this racialization happens in certain locations, where social identities and religious belief line up very closely. But, generally speaking, those that have studied Islam would not be happy with the idea that Islam could be identified with one race, since the fact of the matter is that there are many different ethnicities that have embraced this global religion. And there is a lot of internal diversity in Islam. To be sure, one of Dawkins' fatal errors in his criticisms of religion is that he doesn't take into account its diversity. But by conflating Islamophobia with racism, you make a similar mistake. And your argument ends up being a straw man.

The process of world power centers culturally, violently, and physically forcing a group bound together by one arbitrary characteristic is the creation of a race as a social phenomenon. This is why the Irish became a distinct race, historically, and then transformed in some major capacities again, (into whiteness) because their identities, through their own actions and the actions of many millions others, gave them social power, degrees of control, etc. So Dawkins' and many others, ignorant ass "dog-whistle" swipes (what a term!) are the same kinds of processes that seek to "line up" a set of beliefs with a social identity.

(As a minor note, it wasn't because all the people who held Jewish beliefs got together and said let's be a race. It's because society in many ways and places, in those same kinds of centers of power, associated that particular religion with innate qualities. Kind of like how Dawkins is saying Muslims don't win Nobel prizes, and are tearing at the fabric of our civilization, kind of like how many people from Ford to Hitler felt the Jews were a parasitic conspiracy bent on destroying capitalist-democracy/the third reich).

You're almost there, look a little closer.

Auld-bod
Aug 12 2013 05:58

Serge Forward wrote:

‘Aye. Dorkins is a clever cloggs. He knows exactly what he's up to and he knows exactly how his comments will be taken and used by any racist fuckwit who happens to read his shit on twitter. His Middle Ages caveat won't wash either.’

Well the above follows my own train of thought on the subject (though I seriously don’t give two hoots for Dorkins or his opinions).

However I am not comfortable with ‘I hear what you say – but I know what you really mean’, which I think runs through some of this discussion. This surely is the same line pushed by apologists for Israel who claim all criticisms of the state are motivated by covert racism?

Kureigo-San
Aug 12 2013 08:07

Dawkins is a man that eagerly accepts his role as the good old uncle of New Atheism, while ironically behaving like a dogmatic religious fanatic at every opportunity, maligning 'the other' as a matter of course, that, to his mind, if they ceased to exist or just knuckled down and behaved as a good, practical white man then the world could exceed tenfold in logic come next Tuesday.

He views extremists and people who pretty much just 'do' religion for the sense of community, as the same thing - which is easily as problematic as any fundamentalist's ideas.

It feels like the anarchist/communist groups get themselves in a knot about how to think about these things properly because they too to some degree have accepted a great deal of antitheist views in the rush to challenge the wackier sides of the religious scope. Please, do criticise Dawkins for being a horrible racist, no one is going to doubt your 'No Gods no Masters' enthusiasm for doing it.

Mr. Jolly
Aug 12 2013 08:56

The OP premise that Dawkins 'racism' is based on the historic rather than the essential. Is that the case? He also thought 'wonderful' a presentation that Stephen Pinker did about high IQ's of Ashkenazi Jews linking it very much to a genetic component and some wild and wonderful reasons for that being the case.

Mr. Jolly
Aug 12 2013 09:13
Kureigo-San wrote:
Please, do criticise Dawkins for being a horrible racist, no one is going to doubt your 'No Gods no Masters' enthusiasm for doing it.

Interesting that actually anarchists don't seem that arsed about religion anymore as a malevolent force. Probably because it has little power in the countries/communities they speak from.

factvalue
Aug 12 2013 14:30

ecosophy, although I don’t quite see how any of us are absolutely free to choose our beliefs (capitalism, patriarchy, etc. can be quite persuasive in constraining them) I am in broad agreement with you on the subject of people being held responsible for their beliefs and the effects they have on the world around them. This is why I asked:

Quote:
In your opinion, should Dawkins be held at least partly responsible for the responsibility the UK State has taken upon itself for ‘holding people responsible’ for their Islamic beliefs?

In this question I am simply suggesting that you take into account the domestic and international context in which we are having this discussion. I am asking: Do you believe that Dawkins’ repeated public effluvia add intellectual respectability to or in any other way support the genocidal and (Nuremburg) aggressive policies of the NATO powers in the so-called Middle East? I could also ask if you believe that Martin Heidegger’s support for Hitler added academic respectability to the Nazis, even though he didn’t openly espouse biological racism, since the parallels are glaring. And if so, could not a logical argument be put forward that because of this, Dawkins’/Heidegger’s position could reasonably be considered de facto racist? Would an historian one hundred years from now give Dawkins the benefit of the doubt (probably in a footnote) given the soft, warm mountain of millions of dead Muslims he is standing on very ‘rationally’ pointing his finger and shaking his little fist at what a bad idea Islam clearly is in terms of promoting rational, scientifically creative behaviour?

What do you mean by ‘race’?

mikail firtinaci
Aug 12 2013 14:05

I think criticizing dawkins on the basis of an alleged racism is missing the point. Whenever you do that, people like ecosophy will criticize you with stretching the word's meaning and in fact rightly so.

What is strange to me is that so many people have missed the inherent imperialism in Dawkins claims. It is the old "white man's burden" claim a la Kipling from 19th century... Imperialism is legitimate because these muslim societies are brutal, violent and ignorant so, they are inferior - and hence deserve to be ruled by a civilizing western state. Of course this is only one step from the racist eugenic politics but it is yet NOT racism itself; it is pure and simple imperialism.

Does that mean that Islam is innocent? This is also a false question. Islam does not create violence but the nationalist reaction to imperialism in the Middle East does. If the middle eastern nationalisms are reacting and organizing their military-state apparatus behind an islamistic facade it is because they are weak and incompetent - unable to produce a new vision but increasingly clinging on to old formulas from faded away ages; it is because those political movements/parties like AKP in turkey or MB in Egypt are responding to a crisis which destroyed the credibility of secular bourgeois alternatives ranging from Kemalism to Stalinism against the US/Europe hegemony in the middle east. In one word, the middle eastern regimes -borders of which are drawn by the "rational" english and french imperialisms- are desperately hopeless to preserve their increasing meaninglessness in the face of growing social-political-economic crisis.

But if Islamism as a political movement is backward surely Dawkins also is backward: he belongs to that 19th or 18th century apologism of imperialism "imperial college" rationalism. Crude evolutionism of a crude pre-eugenic.