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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Comments

snipfool
Aug 12 2013 15:02

Thanks for your reply to my questions, Joseph. Sound.

mikail firtinaci wrote:
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.

What use is this distinction? Why don't you see those justifications for imperialism as racist justifications?

jonthom
Aug 12 2013 15:15
Mr. Jolly wrote:
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.

point 10 of the AF's aims and principles would seem to suggest that some anarchists, at least, are still pretty arsed about religion..

ocelot
Aug 12 2013 15:31

First, lets get something out of the way:

Trinity Nobel laureates

Chinese Nobel laureates

Those Chinese, ey? What's their excuse, huh?

Seriously, the assertion that a self-selected bunch of white, christian, mostly male Scandinavians prefer to give prizes to mostly white, mostly male and mostly christian recipients is proof of anything in particular, seems to me to be absurd. Of course we need to add into the picture the respective institutional power of different educational institutions (all the Chinese science laureates based in US or UK & France for e.g.) and the concentration of capitalist enterprises willing to fund research, but still the very idea is absurd.

snipfool wrote:
mikail firtinaci wrote:
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.

What use is this distinction? Why don't you see those justifications for imperialism as racist justifications?

Mikail's post links well with Pennoid's imo. Imperialism instrumentalises racism, not the other way around. If you tried to follow the logic of the Irish becoming a race apart ("white negros") and then becoming later (post US Civil War) "white", through the internal logic of racism alone, you'd never make sense of it. As soon as you put it in the context of the instrumental needs of either imperialism or the local decomposition of the class along ethnicised or racialised lines, the underlying logic becomes obvious.

mikail firtinaci
Aug 12 2013 15:49
Quote:
snipfool wrote:

mikail firtinaci wrote:

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.

What use is this distinction? Why don't you see those justifications for imperialism as racist justifications?

Because I think a debate on racism is tucking us in a futile debate on whether race and religion are compatible categories or not. It is clear that Dawkins is condemning people on the basis of their beliefs -which can change- rather than genetic qualities attributed to them. The problem is, this does not make Dawkins more acceptable - at least for communists/anarchists. His assumptions are directly in line with the general imperialist vocabulary of the British type and imperialism does not have to be racist at least directly. It can of course denigrate the subjected people. However as the 19th century imperialism liked to justify itself, this denigration can be on paternalistic terms. "We as the advanced nation of the world ruled by the science are destined to rule over thy nations for the sake of your further evolution" was the traditional imperialist argument of the 19th century.

As democracy lose its credibility especially with the rise of technocratic governments all over europe there is a parallel trend of rising popular islamist parties all over the middle east. This process of gradual deterioration of the post-1945 political discourse is leaving nothing but military might and technocratic rulers as the sole source of power. Look Italy and Greece for instance. For months during the most intense periods of the crisis those countries were ruled by technocratic governments. And even in Germany similar debates on the necessity and virtues of technocracy are coming to surface: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/08/12/germ-a12.html

So as the Bourgeois self-confidence is shaken to its foundations day by day, we can see the signs of return to those old fears of "ultra-democracy" or "radical mindless masses". Remember how the bourgeoisie was scared of the masses and their "fanatical instincts" in beginning of 20th century and 1920s especially. So it is not shocking that for a lot of "respected" bourgeois liberals the idea that even if the governments are not democratic they should at least be "reasonable" or scientific and logical.

Is not it ironic that some of the most popular governments in the Mediterranean basin are those of islamic ones securing electoral victory continuously? So we should not be surprised by the way Dawkins' counterpoised fanaticism (read "Islam") versus the science. This is by now almost an ancient dichotomy first developed by the British conservatives like Burke against the "fanatical" radicalism of the french democracy. Of course I am not suggesting that Islam is "better"; of course movements like AKP or MB are counter revolutionary. My point is as the facade of bourgeois democracy crumbles we see that there are simply two alternatives inside this system: a lunatic popular government or a technocratic unpopular one, both clearly imperialist by their orientation. I think Dawkins style "atheism" and furor over his shit is merely reflecting this situation. Racism is simply to narrow a term to discuss that.

Kureigo-San
Aug 12 2013 16:05
Mr. Jolly wrote:
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.

In my experience, many many people calling themselves anarchists have adopted the popular atheism Vs religion shtick. You don't have to look very far to see it. Including entire organisations as well, like AF: (principle number 10)

"We oppose organised religion and cults and hold to a materialist analysis of capitalist society. We, the working class, can change society through our own efforts. Worshipping an unprovable spiritual realm, or believing in a religious unity between classes, mystifies or suppresses such self-emancipation / liberation. We reject any notion that people can be liberated through some kind of supernatural force. We work towards a society where religion is no longer relevant."

The use of the paradigm that 'something isn't real if it can't be measured by scientific means' is a telling sign of this org very much buying into the notion that science is diametrically opposed to religion and that it is its natural enemy. This attitude is really very prevalent and is at the core of our friend Dawkins' espousals.

radicalgraffiti
Aug 12 2013 16:03
Auld-bod wrote:
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?

i think that Dawkins is not criticizing Islam, he is insulting Muslims, when people do the same with israel it definitely tends to antisemitism

snipfool
Aug 12 2013 16:08
ocelot wrote:
Mikail's post links well with Pennoid's imo. Imperialism instrumentalises racism, not the other way around. If you tried to follow the logic of the Irish becoming a race apart ("white negros") and then becoming later (post US Civil War) "white", through the internal logic of racism alone, you'd never make sense of it. As soon as you put it in the context of the instrumental needs of either imperialism or the local decomposition of the class along ethnicised or racialised lines, the underlying logic becomes obvious.

I don't know enough about that history of Irish racism, sorry. I'd find it useful if you expanded on this example, but you don't have to of course. Nonetheless I appreciate that imperialism and racism must be historically bound and that imperialism uses racism - that is what you mean by "Imperialism instrumentalises racism", right? I don't mean that racism exists coherently and independently, and then imperialism takes place in light of it- rather that that 'old racisms' can be abandoned and 'new racisms' created in order to help aid imperial goals.

What I don't see is how it makes sense, or why it's useful, to talk about imperialism as 'only one step' from 'full' racism as if they're clearly delineated, nor how one can say that the example reasons given to 'legitimise' imperialism (these muslim societies are brutal, violent and ignorant so, they are inferior) aren't simply racist.

I don't buy that Dawkins is not a racist but an imperialist. Something of worth might be added by noting that he's an imperialist, but doesn't that just make him a racist imperialist? Either I'm just not getting it and don't know what I'm talking about, or I'm splitting hairs. But I thought it was mikail that was splitting hairs originally.

edit: seen your reply mikail, will look later, cheers.

mikail firtinaci
Aug 12 2013 21:33

anipfool,

I think what I want to say bottom line that simply saying Dawkins is a racist also collapses into that same liberal trap of "unethical" vs "ethical". There is no common ground between a communist and bourgeois stand point so they can not be reconciled in an "ethical" common ground. In my opinion there is no acceptable and sound liberal possible.

The problem with Dawkins then must be looked for not in what is "ethically" unacceptable, but what is acceptable for the wide public in his discourse. In today's term what is acceptable in Dawkins is the way he argues FOR "reason" against the "fanaticism". This is an old riddle of bourgeois society only exacerbated today in multitude of forms. Islam is bad for liberal democracy because it is fanatical. scientific technocracy and moralism is good because it is pragmatic and civil for some.

As revolutionaries we can not let fanaticism go under so easily smile Neither give up science for a blind and obscure religious dogmatism. And the problem is not that these are not reconcilable in a coherent revolutionary practice/theory. In my opinion the problem is this fake duality represents only the practical duality of the current imperialist tensions and the lack of self-confidence on the part of the ruling class. So the problem in islamic societies is not that muslims are irrational. The problem is that islam in current politics can nothing but a pure imperialist venture - irrational in one sense since it does not and can not offer any future except death and extermination. So Dawkins is partially right when he says historically islamic intellectuals had great achievements. But what he don't understand is his atheism is also irrational in the political sense, that it offers nothing but submission to the "genius" of imperial academy. - I think it is fair to say that the great western academy is born into and fed by imperial conquest and pillage. This heritage was once something the western states claimed buried but it seems it is rising its head again with the deep crisis of the states everywhere.

Just look at the stupid and crazy historiography recently developed -or regressed - on "Empire". There is definitely a barren romanticism for old formulas even in US! Of course I don't want to imply that Dawkins is a secret admirer of King George III but basically, we see a desperate effort to build a coherent political world view on the part of the elites and a revival of long dead crude materialism -just like islamism of the 19th century type- may be an expression of the bankrupt state of imperialism and the capital.

factvalue
Aug 12 2013 23:37

I don’t know if racism has always been essential to imperialism, even in regard to slavery. It certainly seems to be central to western capitalist imperialism, with the pseudoscientific and nationalist associations etc that Mikail referred to.

But I don’t think racism is an unnecessary distraction from real concerns. I think there is enough time to discuss it in the way we have been, including the silencing effect it still seems to have in left libertarian circles. But I think the issue of 'which came first imperialism or racism?' is really a distraction from the current need to disrupt the psychological support given to imperialism by the racism of the populations in the imperialist centres. While it’s obviously essential to historically and globally connect the dots, from the perspective of those Muslim communities now under attack, in the UK at any rate, I don’t think finding the correct anti-imperialist analysis is the most pressing issue in terms of local organising atm. I think there are better ways we could engage with ethnic struggles.

Anyway fuck Dawkins. He discharges bile and vitriol in the most irresponsible way for profit. Imperialism and racism are both founded upon a fundamental indifference to other people. And so is Dawkins.

mikail firtinaci
Aug 12 2013 23:58

factvalue,

I understand your immediate concerns and I respect that. But coming from a middle eastern country, a muslim family, and living in the west, I can say that the importance of the issue requires a deeper analysis for a firmer position. For instance, moderate islamists in Turkey have just imprisoned hundreds and killed five during and after the Gezi revolts. What to do with that? Look at Egypt if you want to see an even more complex question.

Unfortunately there is no immediate easy solution to this problem - I fear simply discrediting the Dawkins and excluding him from the bubble of legitimate political atmosphere will not help the muslims living in the west - though I am not against that: we need to go way further than that.

factvalue
Aug 13 2013 00:36

hey mikail,

Coming from the background I came from trust me I understand how essential sound analysis is for orientation, empowerment in struggle but the Mosque and community centre near me were burnt down recently and the Muslim people that I know here are concerned about defending themselves in the immediate present. They see challenging white supremacists while living alongside the invisibility of white racism to most whites and protecting their families in their local area to be of greater tactical concern than connecting with the world historical moment right now. Libertarian communist activist outreach is not really on the agenda here, although I have pushed my take on anarchist communism as much as possible in the past, of course.

Mike S.
Aug 13 2013 00:38
KarlJohanson wrote:
If more Muslims took time away from rioting and killing people over cartoons, blowing up their daughters for marrying an unapproved person, lashing and imprisoning people for speaking out for equality (http://www.atheistrepublic.com/news/saudi-web-activist-sentenced-600-las...), holding down their daughters and hacking up their genitals, physically abusing women who don't wear burqas, killing or imprisoning apostates, trying to kill people for writing unapproved books, throwing acid at or shooting girls for trying to get an education, and committing violence against anyone who dares to suggest that "religion of peace" isn't necessarily the most accurate description for the meme, then... then they would have more time for pursuits that could lead to Nobel prizes.

Jesus christ man. So about 25% of the worlds population are barbarians? If this were truly the case I might join the EDL tomorrow from across the pond. Of course religious fundamentalism of any stripe is reactionary but do you really think this is the "norm" for anyone practicing Islam? In the west when religion/Christianity had control of society (the "dark ages" as some people call it) the atmosphere was quite repressive. The middle east in general didn't experience the enlightenment so obviously when religion/superstition is in control of the state or when Sharia Law is enacted it's going to look like the west when Christianity had it's way with society. In my opinion the organized structure of Islam is more reactionary than Christianity because unlike Christianity much of the teeth of fundamentalism are still in tact. Most notably the teeth of state enforced "morality" based in religion and codified patriarchal relations. Many Muslims are held captive by this just as the Christian population were held captive by the church's dogma centuries ago and to some extent, in the west, still are to this day.

Muslims in Iran are doing a good job of fending off the sort of atmosphere you see in Saudi Arabia but even then it's being done in a more bourgeois manner. Lets not forget capitalism's role in pushing Islamic fundamentalism to fight democratic movements which threatened capitals interests. It's all very complex. There are millions of Muslims who are seeking to "modernize" Islamic culture and there are indeed Muslims who seek to maintain the absolute rule of fundamentalism and then there's capital with its geopolitical motivations which has distorted the picture with coups, proxy war and all out war within Muslim regions.

I can't do the topic proper justice, I'm simply trying to point out why your post is so backwards.

Mike S.
Aug 13 2013 00:43
Kureigo-San wrote:
Mr. Jolly wrote:
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.

In my experience, many many people calling themselves anarchists have adopted the popular atheism Vs religion shtick. You don't have to look very far to see it. Including entire organisations as well, like AF: (principle number 10)

"We oppose organised religion and cults and hold to a materialist analysis of capitalist society. We, the working class, can change society through our own efforts. Worshipping an unprovable spiritual realm, or believing in a religious unity between classes, mystifies or suppresses such self-emancipation / liberation. We reject any notion that people can be liberated through some kind of supernatural force. We work towards a society where religion is no longer relevant."

The use of the paradigm that 'something isn't real if it can't be measured by scientific means' is a telling sign of this org very much buying into the notion that science is diametrically opposed to religion and that it is its natural enemy. This attitude is really very prevalent and is at the core of our friend Dawkins' espousals.

I think it's pointing to the fact we need to use materialist analysis rather than idealism to change the world.

Mike S.
Aug 13 2013 00:51

dp

mikail firtinaci
Aug 13 2013 01:42

factvalue;

I fear that we somehow could not respond each others' concerns. I am not against your sympathies towards your Muslim neighbors. And I would definitely agree that Islamophobia in England and Dawkin's remarks are related. These are very important issues. No doubt. But I still think the issue about Muslims today is not a neo-nazi type of racism on the margins but something central and very fundamental about the contemporary politics.

factvalue
Aug 13 2013 13:49

mikail,

I agree with you about the centrality of racism within western political discourse, it would be hard to miss it. I think it’s more important at the moment to address the immediate consequences of this within Muslim communities than to engage with it mainly by creating theoretical or ideological examinations of the local-global connections. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk to people about the big picture but just that we should make sure we are using our analyses to help people understand what is happening to them, rather than vice versa. We should put forward analyses by addressing the experience of the people most affected rather than by concentrating our efforts on creating a convincing theoretical synthesis while they are being attacked on the street. But yeah, I think you and me are talking past each other a bit here.

Mr. Jolly
Aug 13 2013 17:00
Kureigo-San wrote:
Mr. Jolly wrote:
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.

In my experience, many many people calling themselves anarchists have adopted the popular atheism Vs religion shtick. You don't have to look very far to see it. Including entire organisations as well, like AF: (principle number 10)

I have two friends that consider themselves class struggle anarchists who are christians and a muslim friend who is hard left. Their interpretation of scripture is a personal one and I really see no reason to think that they are fools, nor should anyone else, quite the opposite. It may be hauled up there somewhere in the AF constitution, but it seems from my context, from another time and place, and a rather crotchety point.

memyselfandi
Aug 14 2013 11:56

I keep hearing that not all Muslims are Arabs, and that Indonesia has more Muslims than the middle east. I don't want to totally invalidate this idea, it has importance in many contexts, but I think it misses something big:

Islam is a kind of arabo-philia. If you go to Indonesia you will see that, in general, the more Islamic an area is, or a family claims to be, they more they will try to dress "arabically", the more they will practically worship any kind of consumer products imported from the middle east, "Arabic" fashions, any kind of Arabic foods, and the Arabic language itself. It will be widely assumed that a Muslim from the middle east is more ethical, wise and holy than a black or south Asian Muslim.

Any thing that is thought to be Arabic in origin will be considered more or less elevated or holy or magical among Indonesian Muslims. Keep in mind that god only speaks Arabic, that is the language he made the Koran in. Muslims go on the pilgrimage, the Haj, and guess where that is ? Muslims nationwide consider the Arabic language to more or less be theirs as Muslims, even though most of them don't speak it fluently.

The more strictly Muslim a group is in "moderate" Indonesia, the more they claim to believe that society and personal life should be more organized according to the modes of Arabia, in the time after Mohammed's victory there. In the Indonesian Muslim imagination, the Arab world, when at its "best" is the uncontested embodiment of Islamic civilization and practice.

I would be willing to bet this is not only the case in Indonesia.

Leo
Aug 14 2013 12:01

Regardless of his motives, living in Turkey, I have no issue with the content of what Dawkins said. No matter what we yell and scream, what Dawkins says is, factually, completely correct. Yes, very few Muslims won nobel prizes and yes, throughout capitalism Muslim societies had been quite backwards when it comes to science. And also yes, Muslim societies were scientifically incredibly advanced during the Middle Ages, when the Europeans were burning books, witches and scientics.

Islam isn't a race, it is a religion. Not all Muslims are Arabs, and not all Arabs are Muslims (and I am not talking about a negligable quantity here: the number of Copts, Maronites and other sorts of Arab Christians combined is near 20 million, which makes about 5% of the world Arab population). Islamophobia, however, is a form of racism, because it is directed against certain ethnic groups who are thought to be Muslims, not Muslims directly. A white Muslim in England, for instance, would never be a target of an Islamophobic attack, although a Hindu Indian well might.

Is there anything Islamophobic in what Dawkins said? In the sense that he doesn't directly attack or insult anyone for being a Muslim, or assumes any ethnic or racial groups are Muslims, no. Of course it depends on his motivation - we don't know how he actually thinks. For all we know, he might be a racist wanker, meaning Pakistanis when he wrote that comment.

Although the idea of historicist racism, mentioned in the original post, is certainly a left-liberal idea. The idea that backwards, uncivilised people could attain civilisation if they abandon their backwards culture and adopt the civilised standards of the West had been the single most powerful ideology of capitalism. Why the West? Because capitalism was born there. What did it mean for the other countries to abandon their "backwards culture" and attain "civilization"? It meant abandoning their previous modes of production in favor of capitalism. There is nothing racist here, this is pure and simple capitalism. Why? Because this idea has always been as adoptable by Westerners as it had been by the members of the "uncivilized" peoples, modernizers of the economy, introducers of the bourgeois democratic values and so on and so forth. Cromwell, Jefferson and Robespierre weren't the only bourgeois revolutionaries: there were merely the first. Starting with Toussaint Louverture, certain sections of the so-called "uncivilized" populations started getting politically very active with the idea of catching up with the West and practicing bourgeois democratic values, such as Andres Bonifacio in the Philippines, Enver Pasha in Turkey, Sun Yat Sen in China, Mirza Khan in Iran and many South American leaders such as Jose Marti, Simon Bolivar, Emilliano Zapata etc. This idea has formed the backbone of many 20th century bourgeois ideology in many non-European countries. One stereotypical example is Kemalism, another is Maoism etc. The reason this idea can't be described as racist is because it is compatible with the nationalism as well as the racism of the bourgeois ideologies outside the West as well. This idea is much further in the core of capitalism then ordinary racism.

So what can we say about Dawkins' remarks in the end? That he doesn't question capitalism. Well, yeah, he doesn't, he's a bourgeois scientist.

ocelot
Aug 14 2013 15:01

Come on, this is ridicuous.

Quote:
All the world's muslims are [scientifically illiterate]. THEY did great things in the middle ages though

The very form of the argument - the THEY that not only de-individualises and amalgamates, but transcends time itself - is racist.

Back in the 90's (iirc?) there was some hoo-ha in the US over a track the rapper Ice-T had released called "Cop-Killer" which even made its way into a censorious mention in one of the then president George Bush (Sr)'s speeches. In a documentary made some time after, the interviewer asks Ice-T whether he's concerned that the president feels such antipathy towards him personally. T laughs and replies - "He doesn't even know I exist, as a person. Bush and the establishment don't see black people as individuals. To them we're all just part of one big nigger with multiple heads and legs and stuff".*

Whether under the label of blacks, women, muslims, whatever, the ascription of individual characteristics to a de-individuated mass-collective Other is in itself racist. Dawkin's tweet makes it very clear that to him "the world's muslims" are all just part of a muslamic "one big nigger". To try and read anything else into the comment is to give the fuckwit too much credit.

---
* from memory, not an exact quote in every detail.

Mark.
Aug 15 2013 18:05
Leo wrote:
Regardless of his motives, living in Turkey, I have no issue with the content of what Dawkins said. No matter what we yell and scream, what Dawkins says is, factually, completely correct. Yes, very few Muslims won nobel prizes and yes, throughout capitalism Muslim societies had been quite backwards when it comes to science. And also yes, Muslim societies were scientifically incredibly advanced during the Middle Ages, when the Europeans were burning books, witches and scientics.

Islam isn't a race, it is a religion. Not all Muslims are Arabs, and not all Arabs are Muslims (and I am not talking about a negligable quantity here: the number of Copts, Maronites and other sorts of Arab Christians combined is near 20 million, which makes about 5% of the world Arab population). Islamophobia, however, is a form of racism, because it is directed against certain ethnic groups who are thought to be Muslims, not Muslims directly. A white Muslim in England, for instance, would never be a target of an Islamophobic attack, although a Hindu Indian well might.

Is there anything Islamophobic in what Dawkins said? In the sense that he doesn't directly attack or insult anyone for being a Muslim, or assumes any ethnic or racial groups are Muslims, no. Of course it depends on his motivation - we don't know how he actually thinks. For all we know, he might be a racist wanker, meaning Pakistanis when he wrote that comment.
[...]
So what can we say about Dawkins' remarks in the end? That he doesn't question capitalism. Well, yeah, he doesn't, he's a bourgeois scientist.

Basically I agree with this, though I very much doubt that Dawkins "might be a racist wanker, meaning Pakistanis when he wrote that comment". Maybe a previous tweet by Dawkins might help to indicate his position (link changed to one that works as Maryam Namazie's blog appears to be down):

Dawkins wrote:
"The politics of the pro-Islamist left is a politics of betrayal." ‪http://bit.ly/12V4T25 ‬ The ever wonderful Maryam Namazie.

In which, amongst other things, Maryam Namazie wrote:

This pro-Islamist Left deems any criticism of Islam or Islamism as racism or Islamophobia. However, criticising a religion, ideology or political movement – far-Right or otherwise – has nothing to do with racism. In fact, Islamophobia is a political term used to scaremonger people into silence.

In some ways, these bogus accusations serve Islamism in the same way that Sharia law serves them where they are in power. It helps to threaten, intimidate and silence criticism and dissent. Charges of offence and Islamophobia are the equivalent of ‘secular’ fatwas. It is a warning by the powers that be of what is acceptable and what is not; of what is sacred and cannot and must not be challenged.

This is of course not to ignore that racism exists. Of course it does. But racism cannot be stopped by silencing much needed criticism of Islam and Islamism...

I don't think anyone here qualifies for membership of 'the pro-Islamist left', but it might be a good idea if people stopped to think about whether they're using some of the same arguments.

Edit: Another tweet from Dawkins:

Dawkins wrote:
"Ignorance and Progress." ‪http://bit.ly/163E8GD ‬ Thoughtful, intelligent article in Pakistan newspaper by Irfan Husain (via ‪@skepticCanary‬)

So Dawkins is being attacked by activists in Britain and defended by secularists in Pakistan.

See also this interview1 with a nuclear physicist from Pakistan:
'Islam and science have parted ways'.

  • 1. Edit: interview taken from a dubious US conservative site - I wouldn't necessarily endorse anything else there - but the interview itself seems reasonable enough.
factvalue
Aug 15 2013 10:17
Quote:
To them we're all just part of one big nigger with multiple heads and legs and stuff".

In the end we are all just a great beast to be tamed. Just recently finished re-reading 'The Many-Headed Hydra',Rediker and Linebaugh's intersectional history of Atlantic resistance. It seems to be in the library but I should put it up on pdf, it's riveting.

Joseph Kay
Aug 15 2013 14:00
Mark. wrote:
Dawkins is being attacked by activists in Britain and defended by secularists in Pakistan.

Right, and in Pakistan political Islam is one of *the* major social forces whereas in the UK 'anti-Islam' is almost exclusively a fig leaf for street-level fascism, racial violence, and groundless paranoia about Sharia law taking over. The problem with Dawkins isn't that he's too critical of Islam, it's that the kind of illogical, homogenising jibes he throws about feed into the far right 'stop Islamification of Europe' type discourse (see his qualified praise of Geert Wilders and EDL members for instance - so he's not unaware of the resonance), while adding nothing to the critique of religion (let alone the society which sustains it).

Mark.
Aug 15 2013 17:09
Joseph Kay wrote:
The problem with Dawkins isn't that he's too critical of Islam, it's that the kind of illogical, homogenising jibes he throws about feed into the far right 'stop Islamification of Europe' type discourse

I'm no great fan of Dawkins and I'd say that's a reasonable argument to make. No doubt he should be more careful about what he says and how it might be interpreted. I don't think that makes his statement racist though, more like evidence of a kind of basic insensitivity.

Joseph Kay wrote:
see his qualified praise of Geert Wilders and EDL members for instance

Fair enough to criticise that then.

Joseph Kay
Aug 15 2013 21:02

Well that's kinda the main point I was getting at. Racism tends to get narrowly defined as what Goldberg calls naturalism, i.e. claims of innate inferiority. Hence 'I'm not racist, but *dodgy cultural racism*', David Starkey's 'the whites have become black - but not biologically, culturally' etc. While Goldberg focuses a lot on colonialism (so far, I haven't finished the book), he argues that visceral, violent naturalism *and* paternalistic, condescending historicism together constitute racism. I think he goes on to argue that contemporary historicism takes the form of colourblindness (i.e. race is now in the past, the people mentioning race are the real racists). I've found this analysis quite helpful so I wanted to draw attention to it. Dawkins is the most topical foil.

Mark.
Aug 15 2013 21:50

Yes, I assumed the Dawkins tweet was mainly something topical to hang the argument from - which I don't have any particular issue with - I'm just not sure Dawkins is a great example to use. I'd guess, without being sure, that his main motive here would be supporting secularists in the Muslim world, including that part of the Muslim world that's in Britain, rather than conscious or unconscious racism. Which doesn't necessarily mean that he does this very well. I haven't really followed arguments about Dawkins though, so I'm open to other opinions.

teh
Aug 15 2013 23:42
ecosophy wrote:

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.

Islam has surely been racialized over the past decade or so. Dawkins's certainly does it. His comments make no sense otherwise (What does he know of Indonesian history during the European Middle Age? Does he really think that Indonesia, Iran, and Morocco have the same level-effective education system, levels of investment in technology and scientific research and that they're interrelated by basis of "religion"?) Saying that racializing Islam makes no sense assumes that race itself makes any "sense." Its not like bridging most of Africa and Asia into the Orient has any logic outside of imperialism. What is the Black Race? There is the Mande ethnic group (that's further subdivided into the Mandinka ethnic group or the Dyula ethnic group) or the Hausa or Shona ethnic group each with different current and traditional religions, languages, customs, histories, even facial characteristics, and so on. It can't be their skin color because Sri Lankans and Australian aborigines have dark color and they're not classified as "blacks people." Many African Americans have lighter skin then most people in South Asia or even (non-black) Latin Americans. Dawkins doesn't take into account 'internal diversity' because that's the basis of his Powelite culturalist racism.

Also Islamists themselves want to socially construct and replace "Arab Civilization" and so on with "Islamic Civilization" so the dynamic between the two sides fits quite nicely.

mikail firtinaci wrote:

Because I think a debate on racism is tucking us in a futile debate on whether race and religion are compatible categories or not. It is clear that Dawkins is condemning people on the basis of their beliefs -which can change- rather than genetic qualities attributed to them.

Their beliefs can't change outside of imperialism in his worldview because they are essentialist qualities general to all not subject to Westernization (that is imperialism). Its social darwinism and hence white nationalism and I don't see a reason for this distinction neither. Racism and imperialism are interrelated and theres no requirement to follow the liberals.

teh
Aug 16 2013 00:03
Leo wrote:
The reason this idea can't be described as racist is because it is compatible with the nationalism as well as the racism of the bourgeois ideologies outside the West as well. This idea is much further in the core of capitalism then ordinary racism.

This is individualizing racism. The dominant ideas of society are those of the dominant class. In a white supremacist world it only made sense that national bourgeoisie of the colonies would internalize white nationalist concepts and thought even if they then used it for their own purposes.

Mark. wrote:

So Dawkins is being attacked by activists in Britain and defended by secularists in Pakistan.

There is nothing unusual about Dawkins being defended by a Pakistani "secularist" any more then that, as was mentioned, one of Dawkins's top Muslim critics said the exact same thing about Muslims and the Nobel prize as Dawkins. These are educated Westernized upper class persons and its no more unusual then a Soviet educated technocrat living a friendly or neutral country in "third world" during the Cold War saying that the Soviet system is the height of modernization that is to be emulated. Pakistan is on the precipice economically and socially and US militarism has further destabilized it politically so just as the Imperial professor fears the great fanatical mass so does this well-off journalist (who frames the class conflict in terms of religion because thats the current political discourse in the country) have legitimate cause for concern.

teh
Aug 16 2013 00:10
fleurnoire-et-rouge wrote:
Oh for fuck's sake. And it's backed up with a quote from the High Priest of New Atheism himself.


"-Since when have you turned away from the holy book?"
"-Ever since I learned to read this here book. [LENIN]"

Choccy
Aug 16 2013 12:44

Decent response from incoming New Humanist editor
http://rationalist.org.uk/articles/4271/beyond-dawkins