I feel that I too often encounter a positive reaction to a pronouncement by the brilliant Dawkins alongside an admonition of his character and his method of operation.
This is rather a shame, in that those who admonish really should be allied with the man. My first theory for this reaction related the pitch and tone of his voice – I proposed that a few cigarettes a day could have provided him with the more general affection which is gathered by Christopher Hitchens’ purr. My latest theory is that Dawkins suffers from the British Martin Amis effect. That is, Dawkins is able, successful, right, rich, and is doing what a lot of us want to do, so we hate him for it.
Martin Amis’ astounding writing ability rewarded him with renown and wealth (for those who haven’t read him, I commend ‘Money’). He enjoyed this status for a while, then many in the British press began to suffer envy at the young man’s glittering career, some reacting with something like moral indignation at his being paid a £500,000 advance on The Information, and generally hating on him in most areas of his life. In some ways also, it could be said that Amis is someone who one would want to be – charm, voice, wit, smoking-style. Amis then moved to America, a country far more tolerant of extremes, such as size and wealth, where people actually accepted his success as a product of the economic system which most of his critics support. Everyone is invited to this British pastime, such as when the tiresome Shirley Williams denounced Salman Rushdie’s knighthood because he had offended Muslims (a reprimand which sparkled with envy at his success), and when the more interesting Terry Eagleton accused Amis of Islamophobia.
Islamophobia, which Eagleton as a literary critic and a man of words should boycott, returns us to Dawkins. So, when I hear someone say that they agree with what Dawkins says but that they don’t like him, I often conclude that they wish that they had published a string of lovely books and had influenced as many people and had earned as much money as he has. When they call him strident, they wish that they wish that they had written The God Delusion when he did.
The above remained in my drafts for several months, and I was convinced to resume it by the irrelevant reaction to Dawkins’ Islam tweet. I’ve chosen the first article in the Google results page for ‘Dawkins’, and a New Statesman piece quite representative of its new Masochistic-Left output – the article has one interesting sentence, the last, and at that an adaptation of Oscar Wilde.
The author states that there is actually nothing factual in the tweet. While I don’t hold the committee which gave a prize to Obama as being an exemplar for sound judgement, it is at least partially representative; Dawkins’ equation, while crude, is interesting. Of course, the scientific output of a nation is due to an almost innumerable number of factors – is it at least plausible to say that among them could be the nature of the beliefs of people, specifically whether they believe that one book is the true, final and unalterable word of a deity? Or even that there could be an antagonism between faith and science? Many Muslim countries (distinct, of course, from ‘Muslims’) are rapidly developing their scientific output, I look forward to seeing this trend continue – of course, it will necessitate that Muslims will have either to stop believing the Koran or to partition (as Francis Collins does) their religious and scientific mindsets. In addition, I think that the link between religion and distress (and distress and religion) is quite compelling, specifically such that as the most religious countries permit more education so will their religiousness decline, permitting even more education, and so fourth.
He continued to state that Dawkins’ tweet was racist, doing so with a gallery of vague analogies which weren’t quite a non-sequitur, but nor were they an argument. So far as I can tell, he said that the tweet was racist because Muslims are predominantly from a certain geographic area. I may have totally missed our author’s point, but this line of reasoning is absurd – identifying a group of people through one factor and for that grouping to be crudely concurrent with another factor cannot be regarded as identifying them according to the second factor. If people do so, that’s their problem, not Dawkins’.
The New Statesman’s author neared, but didn’t mention, the difficult situation which presents on questions of Islam – those who can’t differentiate between people of Middle-Eastern descent and an adherent of Islam are noisy and destructive currently; simultaneously, people who really believe in the book are attempting to run countries according to it, children are attending British schools which are essentially Islamic (I oppose any official religion in school) while Hamza Tzortzis, whose leaflets on Science and the Koran were handed out at Liverpool University some months back, considers that the punishment for apostasy should be beheading with a sword. It would be quick, he observed, and I suppose that I would choose it before the gas chamber or the electric chair. The objective is to discuss these questions politically, scientifically and philosophically – to react like this author is to fail at this imperative. Finally, it is necessary that all criticisms of religion don’t have to address every religion, and true that all religions aren’t equally destructive.
I’m also rather perplexed by the question of whether Islam can be confused with an ethnic group. The major Muslim populations are in North Africa, the Middle-East, in India and in Indonesia; while I’m bored by ‘races’ and questions of ethnic ‘groups’, clearly this list describes a particularly diverse population. So, let us not tiptoe around those who can’t tell a Muslim from someone of Middle-Eastern origin. Rather, when one hears talk of these groups as an ‘ethnicity’ or of Islam as synonymous with Middle-Eastern, one should correct the speaker. Particularly, to adjust one’s critique of religion because of a common misapprehension is failure.
Richard Dawkins is often called patronising. Firstly, this title is frequently awarded frivolously (I gained it by citing a dictionary definition for ‘oppression’). Secondly, when someone uses the term patronising, it is often an inversion of the truth – when Lord Winston called Dawkins’ God Delusion patronising because of the word ‘delusion’, his argument was backwards; people reserve their most honest criticism for the people they respect, the watery acceptance and silence is designed for the creepy racists who lurk on public transport, longing to chat. Dawkins respected all those who he addressed in that book a great deal, most of all the believers who he didn’t fear or didn’t wish to condescend to – he wrote his mind, reminding us that there is no factual distinction between the belief that Elvis is still alive than that Christ is still alive. Dawkins truly broke ground here, these beliefs and the people who want to base policy on them or have them taught to our children have far less impunity than pre-God Delusion times. Dawkins is responsible for a great deal of that progress and he made a lot of money and gained a lot of influence in doing so, and people’s envy has become mean.