There is currently increasing journalistic scrutiny of the atheist British scientist Richard Dawkins and his ally Sam Harris’ statements about Islam and Muslims writes Jai Singh. In December 2012, the Guardian published an excellent article highlighting the acclaimed physicist Professor Peter Higgs’ accurate observations about Dawkins’ pattern of behaviour when it comes to religion in general; Professor Higgs (of “Higgs Boson particle” fame) has forcefully criticised Dawkins. More recently, superb articles by Nathan Lean in Salon (focusing on Dawkins), Murtaza Hussain for Al Jazeera (focusing on Dawkins, Harris etc) and Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian (mentions Dawkins but focuses predominantly on Harris; also see here) have received considerable publicity. Readers are strongly advised to familiarise themselves with the information in all of these articles.
Before I address the issue of Richard Dawkins, it is worthwhile highlighting some key information about his ally Sam Harris. As mentioned in Glenn Greenwald’s extensively-researched Guardianarticle, Harris is on record as a) claiming that fascists are “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe”, and b) stating “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim”. Furthermore, bear in mind the following paragraph from a previous Guardian article about Harris: “…..But it tips over into something much more sinister in Harris’ latest book. He suggests that Islamic states may be politically unreformable because so many Muslims are “utterly deranged by their religious faith”. In another passage Harris goes even further, and reaches a disturbing conclusion that “some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them”.”
Richard Dawkins’ “atheist anti-religion” agenda has noticeably become increasingly focused on Islam & Muslims; his online statements (recently including his Twitter account ) have now become so extreme that a great deal of them are essentially indistinguishable from the bigoted, ignorant nonsense pushed by the English Defence League leadership and the main US-based anti-Muslim propagandists such as Robert Spencer etc.
In fact, as Nathan Lean’s Salon article mentioned, the following very revealing information recently surfaced: It turns out that Dawkins has publicly admitted that he hasn’t even read the Quran even though (in his own words) he “often says Islam is the greatest force for evil today”. Mainstream Islamic theology (including the associated impact on Muslim history) is not based solely on the Quran, of course, but Dawkins’ admission is indicative of a number of major problems on his part. So much for the credibility of Richard Dawkins’ “scientific method” in this particular subject. It goes without saying that this also raised questions about exactly which dubious second-hand sources Dawkins has been getting his information on Islam and Muslims from, if he hasn’t even taken the normal professional academic steps of reading the primary sacred text of the religion he has also described as “an unmitigated evil”. Not to mention the question of Dawkins’ real motivations for his current fixation with Islam and Muslims.
Well, it appears that some answers are available. It certainly explains a great deal about Richard Dawkins’ behaviour. In the main part of this article beneath the “Summary” section below, I have listed 54 anti-Islam/anti-Muslim statements posted by Richard Dawkins on the discussion forum of one of his own websites. (The list of quotes also includes embedded URL links directly to the original statements on Dawkins’ website).
Summary of Richard Dawkins’ actions
1. There is a direct connection to Robert Spencer’s inner circle. As confirmed by the URL link supplied by Richard Dawkins in quote #11, Dawkins has definitely been using that cabal’s anti-Muslim propaganda as a source of “information” for his own statements; Dawkins specifically links to the “Islam-Watch” website, which is a viciously anti-Muslim site in the same vein as JihadWatchand Gates of Vienna (both of which were the most heavily cited sources in the terrorist Anders Breivik’s manifesto). More pertinently, as confirmed by this affiliated webpage, the core founders & members of that website include the currently-unidentified individual who uses the online alias “Ali Sina”. This is the same fake “atheist Iranian ex-Muslim” who is a senior board member of“SIOA”/“SION”, an extremely anti-Muslim organisation whose leadership is formally allied with racist white supremacists & European neo-Nazis and has even organised joint public demonstrations with them. “Ali Sina” himself was also cited by Breivik in his manifesto.
Note that the SIOA/SION leadership inner circle includes: a) AFDI and JihadWatch’s Robert Spencer, an ordained Catholic deacon who has been proven to have repeatedly made false statements about Islam & Muslims and has publicly admitted that his actions are heavily motivated by his (unilateral) agenda for the dominance of the Catholic Church; b) AFDI and Atlas Shrugs’ Pamela Geller, who is now on record as advocating what is effectively a “Final Solution” targeting British Muslims, including mass-murder; c) the English Defence League leadership; and d) David Yerushalmi, the head of an organisation whose mission statement explicitly declares that its members are “dedicated to the rejection of democracy” in the United States. Furthermore, Yerushalmi believes that American women shouldn’t even have the right to vote.
Extensive details on “Ali Sina” are available here. Quite a few of the quotes in that article are horrifying. Bear in mind that this is the person whose website Richard Dawkins has publicly cited and promoted. “Ali Sina” is on record as making statements such as the following:
“Muhammad was not a prophet of God. He was an instrument of Satan to divide mankind so we destroy each other. It is a demonic plot to end humanity.”
“I don’t see Muslims as innocent people. They are all guilty as sin. It is not necessary to be part of al Qaida to be guilty. If you are a Muslim you agree with Muhammad and that is enough evidence against you.”
“Muslims, under the influence of Islam lose their humanity. They become beasts. Once a person’s mind is overtaken by Islam, every trace of humanity disappears from him. Islam reduces good humans into beasts.”
[Addressing all Muslims] “We will do everything to save you, to make you see your folly, and to make you understand that you are victims of a gigantic lie, so you leave this lie, stop hating mankind and plotting for its destruction and it [sic] domination. But if all efforts fail and you become a threat to our lives and the lives of our children, we must amputate you. This will happen, not because I say so, but I say so because this is human response. We humans are dictated by our survival instinct. If you threaten me and my survival depends on killing you, I must kill you.”
“Muslims are part of humanity, but they are the diseased limb of mankind. We must strive to rescue them. We must do everything possible to restore their health. That is the mission of FFI [“Faith Freedom International”, “Ali Sina’s” primary website]. However, if a limb becomes gangrenous; if it is infected by necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease), that limb must be amputated.”
[Addressing all Muslims] “But you are diseased. You are infected by a deadly cult that threatens our lives. Your humanity is destroyed. Like a limb infected by flesh eating disease, you are now a threat to the rest of mankind…..Islam is disease. What does moderate Muslim mean anyway? Does it mean you are moderately diseased?”
“But there was another element in shaping his [Muhammad’s] character: The influence of Rabbis. Islam and Judaism have a lot in common. They have basically the same eschatology and very similar teachings…..These are all secondary influences of Judaism on Islam. The main common feature between these two faiths is their intolerance. This intolerance in Judaic texts gave the narcissist Muhammad the power to do as he pleased…..How could he get away with that? Why would people believed [sic] in his unproven and often irrational claims? The answer to this question is in Judaism. The Rabbis in Arabia had laid the psychological foundations for Islam among the tolerant pagans…..The reasons Arabs fell into his [Muhammad’s] trap was because of the groundwork laid by the Rabbis in Arabia.”
“Muhammad copied his religion from what he learned from the Jews. The similarity between Islamic thinking and Judaic thinking is not a coincidence.”
“By seeing these self-proclaimed moderate Muslims, I can understand the anger that Jesus felt against those hypocrites whom he called addressed, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
“In Christianity, it wasn’t the religion that needed to be reformed but the church. What Jesus preached was good.”
“The image portrays the words of Jesus, “the truth will set you free.” That is my motto…..After listening to this rabbi, I somehow felt sympathy for Jesus. I can now see what kind of people he had to deal with.”
2. After Nathan Lean and Glenn Greenwald published the aforementioned Salon and Guardianarticles, both “Ali Sina” and Robert Spencer rapidly wrote lengthy articles on their respective websites defending Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. It would therefore be constructive for Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to publicly clarify if they welcome or reject “Ali Sina” & Robert Spencer’s support. It would also be constructive for Dawkins and Harris to publicly clarify the nature and extent of their involvement with “Ali Sina” & Robert Spencer.
3. Richard Dawkins’ anti-Islam/anti-Muslim narrative (including the stereotyped caricature and his own convoluted strawman arguments) is essentially identical to the hatred-inciting, theologically-, historically- & factually-distorted/falsified propaganda promoted by Far-Right groups such as the English Defence League and especially the owners of JihadWatch and Gates of Vienna. This is clearly not just a coincidence, considering Dawkins’ online sources of [mis]information.
4. Richard Dawkins is now on record as making a series of extremely derogatory statements in which he bizarrely refers to Islam (a religious belief system) as though it were a conscious, sentient entity (see #5, #32, #36, #49). The nature of those statements suggests that Dawkins is actually referring to Muslims. (Also see #7).
5. Richard Dawkins is now on record as repeatedly defending Sam Harris, including Harris’ claims about Muslims and Islam (see #42, #43).
6. Richard Dawkins is now on record as enthusiastically praising the Dutch Far-Right politician Geert Wilders (see #50).
7. Richard Dawkins is now on record as publicly claiming that “communities” has become code for “Muslims” (see #18) and that “multiculturalism” in Europe is code for “Islam” (see #19).
8. Richard Dawkins is now on record as repeatedly praising & defending Ayaan Hirsi Ali (see #20, #26, #50). Hirsi Ali has been proven to have fabricated aspects of her background/experiences (asconfirmed by the BBC). Hirsi Ali is also on record as revealing the full scale of her horrific beliefs, including the fact that she sympathises with Anders Breivik and blames so-called “advocates of silence” for Breivik’s mass-murdering terrorist attack.
9. Richard Dawkins is now on record as repeatedly promoting the Far-Right conspiracy theory that British police avoid prosecuting Muslims due to fears of being labelled “racist” or “Islamophobic” (see #1, #24, #28, #45). Robert Spencer & Pamela Geller’s closest European allies, the English Defence League leadership, are amongst the most vocal advocates of this ridiculous conspiracy theory.
10. Richard Dawkins is now on record as explicitly describing himself as “a cultural Christian” (see #54).
11. Richard Dawkins is now on record as proposing what is basically an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” strategy, specifically in terms of Christians vs. Muslims (see here and here. Also see #16). This raises questions about exactly how much support Dawkins has secretly been giving to certain extremist anti-Muslim individuals/groups, or at least how much he is personally aware that these groups are explicitly recycling Dawkins’ own rhetoric when demonising Islam & Muslims.
12. Richard Dawkins is now on record as exhibiting very disturbing attitudes towards the British Muslim Member of Parliament Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and the British Muslim Independentjournalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, including repeatedly making highly offensive claims that they are “tokens” with zero qualifications for their respective jobs and are in positions of seniority/influence solely because they are “female, Muslim and brown/non-white” (See #25, #29, #30, #31, #35, #53). Dawkins clearly shares the EDL leadership’s noticeable hostility towards Baroness Warsi in particular; furthermore, note Dawkins’ sneering “open letter” to Baroness Warsi (see #29), and also note the fact that the EDL leadership recently published a similar “open letter” to Baroness Warsi on their main website, written by an unidentified anonymous author.
13. Richard Dawkins has published a lengthy diatribe by Robert Spencer/Pamela Geller/EDL ally/SIOE co-founder Stephen Gash.
14. Richard Dawkins has enthusiastically republished a large number of viciously anti-Muslim comments originally posted on the discussion thread of a Telegraph article written by Baroness Warsi. Dawkins claimed that the only reason he was reproducing these comments on his own website was “because the Telegraph is apparently censoring them”.
15. Despite the claims of Richard Dawkins’ defenders that he is an “equal opportunity offender” in terms of his criticisms of various organised religions, the aforementioned 54 quotes speak for themselves and Dawkins’ real pattern of behaviour is self-evident. Amongst other things, it raises the question of whether Dawkins was already perfectly aware that the anti-Islam/anti-Muslim propaganda he is basing his statements on originates in members of Robert Spencer’s extremist inner circle and their respective hate websites (which would have very nasty implications about Dawkins himself), or whether Dawkins has been astonishingly incompetent about researching his sources of “information”.
Examples of statements by Richard Dawkins: here:
Scientific racism, militarism, and the new atheists
Leading figures in the new atheist movement are heirs to the disreputable scientific racists of the past, argues author Murtaza Hussain, a Toronto-based writer and analyst focused on issues related to Middle Eastern politics.
Scientific racism is a term seldom used today but which has a long and ignoble history in the modern world. In the late 18th century, the renowned scientist and philosopher Christoph Meiners published his famous treatise The Outline and History of Mankind. Central to his analysis was a qualitative comparison of peoples by race – a comparison which his own popularly-accepted findings claimed revealed a clear hierarchy.
Drawing in large part on the now-discredited science of Phrenology (the measurement of human skulls), Meiners described whites as being endowed with clear superiority to all races in both their intellectual as well as moral faculties.
About blacks, his scientific analysis was far less generous – finding them not only to be inferior to whites in every mental capacity but in fact “incapable of any mental feeling or emotion at all“, as well as “unable to feel physical pain“.
As influential as it was, Meiners’ work was par for the course in the institutionalised science of racism of the age. Famous philosopher Voltaire – whose works were among the most significant of the French Enlightenment – wrote of his empirical research on those humans who possessed dark skin:
“They are not men, except in their stature, with the faculty of speech and thought at a degree far distant to ours. Such are the ones that I have seen and examined.”
While they wore a veneer of disinterested scientific analysis in their conclusions, in the context of their times it can be seen that such proponents of scientific racism had the specific goal of legitimating certain policies. With regard to those of African descent, the intention of then-contemporary scientists was often – implicitly or explicitly – to report findings which could be used to justify the socio-political institutions of slavery and colonialism against African societies.
Alongside routine characterisations of blacks in scientific analyses as naturally childish and in need of patronage from “superior races”, were outright claims regarding the scientific necessity for slavery as a natural phenomenon. While the prominent American physician Josiah Nott wrote that “the negro achieves his greatest perfection, physical and moral, and also greatest longevity, in a state of slavery”, others such as Samuel Cartwright diagnosed aversion to slavery among blacks as a full-fledged disease unto itself.
Calling the purported malady “drapetomania“, Cartwright wrote that it was a legitimate mental defect which could be treated by visiting corporal punishment upon blacks – up to and including amputation.
We rightly recoil with horror today at what we know to be the false claims and methodologies of the pseudoscience of the past. The level of institutional racism masked under scientific study reached a particularly horrific apex at Paris’ infamous “human zoo” – where peoples of different races lived their lives for both scientific observation as well as the enjoyment of the general public.
Viewed in proper context it can be seen that the crudest racism has often been cloaked in the guise of disinterested scientific inquiry. Those claiming this mantle have often felt licence to engage in overt bigotry using science as a smokescreen, and yet far from being a relic of history, many celebrity-scientists of today show startling parallels with their now-dishonoured predecessors.
In the present atmosphere, characterised by conflict with Muslim-majority nations, a new class of individuals have stepped in to give a veneer of scientific respectability to today’s politically-useful bigotry.
At the forefront of this modern scientific racism have been those prominently known as the “new atheist” scientists and philosophers. While they attempt to couch their language in the terms of pure critique of religious thought, in practice they exhibit many of the same tendencies toward generalisation and ethno-racial condescension as did their predecessors – particularly in their descriptions of Muslims.
To be utterly clear, Islam itself does not denote a race, and Muslims themselves come from every racial and ethnic grouping in the world. However, in their ostensibly impartial critiques of “religion” – and through the impartation of ethno-cultural attributes onto members of a religious group – the most prominent new atheists slide with ease into the most virulent racism imaginable.
That this usefully dovetails with government policies promoting the military subjugation of Muslim-majority countries is telling with regard to what purpose these contemporary scientist-philosophers serve.
While one could cite Richard Dawkins’ descriptions of “Islamic barbarians” and Christopher Hitchens’ outright bloodlust towards Muslims – including lamentations of the ostensibly too-low death toll in the Battle of Fallujah and his satisfied account of cluster bombs tearing through the flesh of Iraqis – these have been widely discussed and are in any case not the most representative of this modern phenomena.
Indeed, the most illustrative demonstration of the new brand of scientific racism must be said to come from the popular author and neuroscientist Sam Harris. Among the most publicly visible of the new atheists, in the case of Muslims Harris has publicly stated his support for torture, pre-emptive nuclear weapons strikes, and the security profiling of not just Muslims themselves, but in his own words “anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim”.
Islam is not a race
Again, while Islam is not a race, those who are identified with Islam are the predominantly black and brown people who would be caught up in the charge of “looking Muslim” which Harris makes. Harris has also written in the past his belief that the “Muslim world” itself lacks the characteristic of honesty, and Muslims as a people “do not have a clue about what constitutes civil society“.
His sweeping generalisations about a constructed civilisation encompassing over a billion people are coupled with fevered warnings – parallel with the most noxious race propaganda of the past – about the purported demographic threat posed by immigrant Muslim birthrates to Western civilisation.
Harris’ pseudoscientific characterisations of Muslims dovetail nicely with his extreme right-wing views on military intervention in Muslim-majority countries. As he has said:
“It is time we admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.”
This belief in the need to fight open-ended war against Muslims has extended to both his steadfast support of the Iraq War, as well as to the conflict between Israel and Palestine which – ironically enough for one in his position as a scientist – he sees in strictly religious terms. About this issue he has written:
“Liberals ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder non-combatants, while we and the Israelis seek to avoid doing so. Muslims use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause… there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground.”
Citing “Muslims” as a solid monolith of violent evil – whilst neglecting to include the countless Muslims who have lost their lives peacefully protesting the occupation and ongoing ethnic cleansing of their homeland – Harris engages in a nuanced version of the same racism which his predecessors in scientific racism practiced in their discussion of the blanket characteristics of “Negroes”.
Inside Story – What now for Muslim-Western relations?
Indeed he argues in his book that the only suitable form of government for Muslim people is “benign dictatorship“, an echo of the 19th century social theorist George Fitzhugh who argued in favour of slavery by saying:
“The Negro is but a grown up child, and must be governed as a child.”
Finally, dismissing the possibility that Muslims may have legitimate objections to being subjects of torture, murder, and – as he’s advocated – wholesale nuclear genocide,Harris helpfully states:
“The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns.”
A statement of deeper myopia and more emboldened ignorance would be hard to produce. However, what is nearly certain is that Harris’ nightmares about, in his words “dangerous and depraved” (not to mention monolithically terrifying and foreign) Muslim hordes aided him in making it.
What Harris and those like him represent is the time-honoured tradition of weaponised racism in the guise of disinterested scientific observation. When Harris – as a scientist – claims to observe the innate dishonesty, violence and intellectual inferiority of Muslims, he gives his own scientific approval to the propagation of the most heinous violence against them as a people.
Indeed he makes the case for this violence explicitly, putting him in class with the worst proponents of scientific racism of the 20th century – including those who helped provide scientific justification for the horrors of European fascism.
Far from being a hyperbolic characterisation of his views, Harris has stated that the correct policy with regard to Western Muslim populations is in fact that which is currently being pursued by contemporary fascist movementstoday. In Harris’ view:
“The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”
Given the recent murders and threats to turn Muslim immigrants “into soap” by the most prominent of these fascist movements, this statement leads to understandably troubling questions about what Harris finds attractive and “sensible” about openly racist and genocidal far-right political movements.
The right to atheism – as well as the right to criticize Islam or any other religion as a system of belief – is as fundamental as the right of any religious adherent to practice their faith. Islam as an intellectual movement is not above scrutiny any more than any other religious tradition, and attempts to shut down legitimate debate using the charge of Islamophobia should be rejected.
However, what is being pursued today by individuals such as Harris and others under the guise of disinterested observation is something far more insidious. By resurrecting the worst excesses of scientific racism and its violent corollaries, Harris is heir to one of the most disreputable intellectual lineages in modern history.
Where once scientific racism was trotted out to justify the horrific institution of slavery, today it is produced to justify the wars of aggression, torture and extra-judicial killings of the 21st century. Scientists in the service of power, who once employed Phrenology to “prove” the racial inferiority of blacks, now enthusiastically push forward the belief that Muslims as a people lack basic humanity.
While those individuals who have provided the intellectual ammunition for the excesses of the present era will inevitably find themselves as dishonoured as their racist predecessors, in the present they should nonetheless be recognised as the dangerous ideologues which they are.
Just as it is incumbent upon Muslims to marginalise their own violent extremists, mainstream atheists must work to disavow those such as Harris who would tarnish their movement by associating it with a virulently racist, violent and exploitative worldview.
Murtaza Hussain is a Toronto-based writer and analyst focused on issues related to Middle Eastern politics. Follow him on Twitter: @MazMHussain .The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
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