A Poor Excuse For Rationalists

As an atheist, secularist and rationalist I should be within the ideal catchment area for the Rationalist Association.

I should be, but I am not.

Having read their recent contributions to the discussion over Richard Dawkins’s conflating Islam with Muslims as a bloc, and studiously avoiding the issue of why he retweeted material from an EDL sympathiser I am less than impressed at their rationality.

I don’t mind a polemic. But to be oblivious of racism in Britain, not to understand the nature of the English Defence League and to reflectively defend Richard Dawkins is not rational, even for the Rationalist Association.

Daniel Trilling’s moderate piece on how we need to get beyond Richard Dawkins has set the cat among the pigeons and brought out some rather irrational rationalists.

Not good.

Update 1: A reminder of what a self-confess Dawkins fan said:

“Because Dawkins has gone from criticising the religion itself to criticising Muslims, as a vast bloc. They’re not individuals with names, they’re “these Muslims” or “some Muslim or other”, undifferentiated, without personhood. They haven’t managed to get very many Nobel prizes, presumably because they’re stupid, or brainwashed into zombiehood by their religion.

Yes, it’s only a “fact”, but in different contexts, the same fact can have different meanings. For instance, would Dawkins have tweeted another fact, which is that Trinity also has twice as many Nobel prizes as all black people put together? It’s just as true, but presumably he doesn’t believe that it’s because black people aren’t as clever. Yet he is willing to make the equivalent inference about Muslims, without further evidence.“[My emphasis.]

Update 2: I was probably a bit harsh, not all at the Rationalist Association are purblind to racism.

Paul Sims wrote a good piece in 2011, Demonising Muslims: When does criticism of religion cross the line into racism?

“Whatever the debates over terminology, it seems clear that there is a serious problem with anti-Muslim prejudice in Britain and, indeed, beyond. “All across Europe we have seen right-wing extremists moving more and more to using attacks on Islam as a way of using fear to win people to their cause,” says Sam Tarry, a campaign organiser at the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate. Of the extremist groups tracked by Tarry and his colleagues the most high-profile in recent years has been the English Defence League, which emerged in the aftermath of a protest in 2009 against homecoming troops in Luton by the extremists of Islam4UK, the now-proscribed group led by Anjem Choudary. Drawing on pre-existing networks of right-wing extremists and football hooligans, the EDL positioned itself specifically in opposition to what it called “militant Islam” and organised street demonstrations in towns with large Muslim populations, drawing attendances of up to 2,000 by the spring of last year.

While EDL leaders maintain that their concern is with Islamic extremism, Tarry says their marches target a far broader section of society. “They’ve actually hardened their position over the last two years,” he explains. “Now they are pretty much saying they are against Islam itself as a religion, that it’s evil, that it’s incompatible with the West, and this feeds into a whole other set of arguments that they make about the general Islamification of Britain.” Hope Not Hate estimate that the demonstrations, which have frequently descended into violence, have cost the taxpayer as much as £25 million in policing and have caused serious damage to community relations. “I was there in Leicester [in October 2010] when they managed to break through police lines,” says Tarry. “Around 500 managed to rampage through the city centre and attack a halal fast food restaurant, smashing windows and storming it. In terms of victimising a particular community in this way, we haven’t really seen this kind of behaviour since the days of the National Front.” “

Storify, Richard Dawkins Problem With Muslims

Just started using Storify as a quick and easy platform for relaying exchanges on Twitter. It is not too bad, when it works. Storify seems to have an issue on Chromium with “This webpage has a redirect loop”. Hope it is a teething problem. Nevertheless, these particular stories may enlighten readers:

Holocaust Denial at Anonymous

Richard Dawkins, Insensitivity And the English Defence League
anon2a
A few observations, as I found a great similarity in these variations of racism:

The highlighted Anonymous accounts and their allies would probably claim that they are merely “anti-Zionists”, which could be true but they also have a strong line in disseminating antisemitism.

Whilst I do not believe that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, it is not coincidental that rantings involving antisemitic themes are found in proximity to anti-Zionism. Nor is it mere chance that many strident “anti-Islamists” around the periphery of English Defence League are found to have a connection to the British Far Right or worse.

Equally, when looking at the background to Richard Dawkins’ foolish mistake of re-tweeting from one EDL sympathiser, there were parallels between fanatical “anti-Zionists” and maniac “anti-Islamists”.

Both of these creeds as exercised by these extremists are, almost, inoculated against spotting racism.

Whereas “anti-Islamists” of this order rarely perceive any racism towards Muslims, their compatriots within the sphere of anti-Zionism find it incredibly hard, next to impossible, to spot modern antisemitism.

My research found that “anti-Islamists” had a catalogue of standard arguments which bore a striking similarity to those found on the Far Right. Naturally, few of these themes stood up to any serious scrutiny and had the stench of refried racism from the 1970s.

Studying the crossover on Twitter (an imperfect but readily available sampling) not all obsessive “anti-Islamists” were from the Right of the political spectrum. However, it became very apparent that those not imbued with Hard or Far Right thinking could not spot an EDL sympathiser amongst them, if their life depended on it.

Which is very troubling.

Elsewhere, mainstream anti-Zionists have yet to address with any intellectual competency the question of periodic outburst of antisemitism amongst supposed “anti-Zionists”. Greta Berlin’s eruption of racism was hardly coincidental and only one example.

In short, neither of these political trends can adequately explain the presence and persistence of hardened racism in their midst.
Dawkins2a
Bringing us back neatly to Professor Richard Dawkins. Predictably he went from general antagonistic statements against Islam to swift digs at Muslims in general. A past supporter of Dawkins, Tom Chivers at the Torygraph takes him to task:

Treating all Muslims as featureless representatives of their religion (as Dawkins does when saying things like “Who the hell do these Muslims think they are? How has UCL come to this: cowardly capitulation to Muslims? Tried to segregate sexes in debate between @LKrauss1 and some Muslim or other”) is – well, it may not be directly racist, but it’s certainly not the sort of thing Martin Luther King would admire. The content of their character, and all that.

Because Dawkins has gone from criticising the religion itself to criticising Muslims, as a vast bloc. ” [My emphasis.]

The Guardian provides two reflective articles on Professor Dawkins’ unhealthy discharges:

Richard Dawkins criticised for Twitter comment about Muslims.

Richard Dawkins’ tweets on Islam are as rational as the rants of an extremist Muslim cleric.

Martin Robbins at the News Statesman argues:

” “Islam isn’t a race,” is the “I’m not racist, but. . .” of the Atheist movement, a tedious excuse for lazy thinking that is true enough to be banal while simultaneously wrong in any meaningful, real-world sense.

Yes, congratulations, you can read a dictionary. Well done.

But it’s possible for a statement to be both true and wrong. “Homeopathy worked for me” is one example (as is its inverse): it may genuinely make people feel better, emotionally or through the placebo effect; but it doesn’t work in any medical sense.”[My emphasis.]

Final thoughts, people need to decide seriously if they are against certain particular forms of racism and rather lazy or ambivalent on the rest?

Do you oppose racism towards Muslims? Do you apply the same standards when Jews are the target of racism? Etc

Are you universally opposed to racism or just selectively?

If the latter, then you are not really an antiracist/nonracist. Whatever else, that is not the company to keep.

Update 1: The Indy covers it too, Richard Dawkins Muslim jibe sparks Twitter backlash.

Nelson Jones makes some sharp points and I imagine this last one will fly over Professor Dawkins’ head:

“A final point. The United States may boast almost as many Nobel Prize winners as the rest of the world put together, but it is also home to millions of diehard creationists. What has Richard Dawkins to say about that?”

Update 2: Professor Dawkins has replied without the restrictions of Twitter and 140 characters. Yet predictably, Professor Dawkins’ arguments do not engage with any intelligent criticism of his previous stupidity:

“…

Twitter’s 140 character limit always presents a tough challenge, but I tried to rise to it. Nobel Prizes are a pretty widely quoted, if not ideal, barometer of excellence in science.

I thought about comparing the numbers of Nobel Prizes won by Jews (more than 120) and Muslims (ten if you count Peace Prizes, half that if you don’t). This astonishing discrepancy is rendered the more dramatic when you consider the small size of the world’s Jewish population. However, I decided against tweeting that comparison because it might seem unduly provocative (many Muslim “community leaders” are quite outspoken in their hatred of Jews) and I sought a more neutral comparison as more suitable to the potentially inflammable medium of Twitter.

It is a remarkable fact that one Cambridge college, Trinity, has 32 Nobel Prizes to its credit. That’s three times as many as the entire Muslim world even if you count Peace Prizes, six times as many if you don’t. I dramatised the poverty of Muslim scientific achievement, and the contrast with their achievements in earlier centuries, in the following brief tweet: “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” [My emphasis.]

Why pick on Muslims? You could arbitrarily pick on plenty of categories of people that have achieved far less than Trinity College, Cambridge

Again, fair point. Somebody mentioned redheads (neither he nor I have figures on redheaded scientific achievement but we get the point). I myself tweeted that Trinity Cambridge has more Nobel Prizes than any single country in the world except the USA, Britain (tautologically), Germany and France. You could well think there was something gratuitous in my picking on Muslims, were it not for the ubiquity of the two positive boasts with which I began. Redheads (and the other hypothetical categories we might mention) don’t boast of their large populations and don’t boast of their prowess in science.”


Update 3: Glad I am not the only atheist cheesed off, Richard Dawkins’ Anti-Muslim Tweets Spark Furor, Even Among Atheist Supporters:

“Even some of his admirers were disgusted, as Tom Chivers published a blog on the Telegraph titled, “Please be quiet, Richard Dawkins, I’m begging as a fan.” He makes the point that Dawkins has strayed from providing critiques of religious beliefs and practices grounded in logic to blindly attacking faiths as monolithic groups, manipulating facts to further an agenda.

The Atlantic published “A Short History of Richard Dawkins vs. The Internet” that thoroughly chronicles Dawkins’ long history of anti-Islamic speaking and writing, as well as his admiration for Geert Wilders, the notoriously far-right and anti-Muslim Dutch politician.”

This is worth reading on its own, A Short History of Richard Dawkins vs. The Internet.

UKIP, Casual Racism And BBC’s Bias

UKIP Election Poster 2013

If you ever wanted to understand bigotry in Britain then this UKIP poster from South Shields is a fine example.

It sums them up nicely, scaring people and putting out a simple xenophobic message.

Logan Smith wrote an intelligent piece on casual comments and racism.  I think it has a wider application in society and in particular relationship to UKIP:

“It’s that the people I retweet – the vast majority of which appear to be teenagers – genuinely don’t understand whether they’re being racist. It’s a generation that never had to grow up during the times of Jim Crow, civil rights marches or apartheid, and has never been confronted by the institutional racism that older generations saw on a daily basis. As a result, many teens seem to think racism simply means active hatred of another race, and not the apparent prejudices and stereotypes displayed by the people I retweet. “

Speaking of prejudice, the BBC’s has not helped itself over the years, when it comes to the Jewish community, according to a recent poll:

“36% – The proportion of Jews who believe BBC news coverage is “heavily” biased against Israel, according to the report

14% – The number who say that the corporation reporting is “balanced” “

Bowen and Gaddafi
Over the years I have watched Jeremy Bowen display an unsophisticated vista of the Middle East, so I am surprised the 14% figure is that high.

The full report is here, Jews and the News: News consumption habits and opinions of Jews in Britain. Some 79% of those sampled replied they felt the BBC is biased against Israel. That is a lot, for one community to perceive the BBC’s way of reporting the news.

A reminder of where such prejudice leads, murder in Eltham.

Finally, Doreen Lawrence’s words.

Update 1: A reminder of Richard Dawkins’ stupid words from 2007:

“”When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous, I am told – religious Jews anyway – than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.”

Such views are common on the Far and Extreme Right. This essay explains the antecedents of such beliefs, What are “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”? I do wish that Professor Dawkins would educate himself on these issues and not assume he knows everything.

Update 2: Any Richard Dawkins’ supporters who can not see the possible racist connotations here should examine the evidence and come to some reasoned conclusion.

Finally, try and work out why neo-Nazis would proffer such views?

Update 3: Apparently, UKIP banned extremists from its ranks, good first start but did not seem to inform its lay officials, Stand for Peace explains:

“Evidence has emerged that a senior UKIP figure, the Chairman of UKIP Hillingdon, Cliff Dixon has links to the English Defence League (EDL), a far-Right group with a long history of attacking Muslims.

Dixon, formerly involved with the English Democrats party, boasted on his blog, in 2011, that he has ”joined my friends from March for England to tag along on the EDL Tower Hamlets demonstration.”

Colin Cortbus, a Stand for Peace fellow, notes: “If Mr Dixon thinks extremists should get off our streets, perhaps he should lead by example.”

Mr Dixon’s blog also records his attendance at a number of nationalist marches, mainly through the relatively small ‘March for England’ group. One event was co-organised by the British Patriots Society, which is described by anti-extremism campaign Hope not Hate as “a tiny splinter of the English Defence League”.

One photo shows Dixon posing with EDL leader Kevin Carol and other EDL and BNP figures.”

Q:Can any of my readers suggest why UKIPers might be found associating with the neofascists in the English Defence League?
Continue reading

EDL In The News

The English Defence League are a pile of thick neofascist thugs, that should be plain enough to anyone with the intelligence to read a newspaper:

“MEMBERS of a race hate ‘mob’ have admitted taking part in a violent showdown with Asian rivals in an East Lancashire town.

Supporters of the English Defence League descended on Brierfield last July and were involved in a series of flashpoints with locals.

And 12, including a man previously convicted of causing a serious brain injury to a pubgoer, have now confessed to their roles in the public disorder.

Earlier that day an EDL ‘flash mob’ had also surrounded the Simonstone home of north-west Euro MP Sajjad Karim, with his wife and children trapped inside, police said.

The Conservative MEP said his family, wife Zahida and their two young children Bilal, and Rabia, were left terrified as the mob assembled outside.

Later a 25-strong contingent became involved in a series of incidents in the Colne Road area of Brierfield, police said.”

Don’t Forget The English Defence League

Others have shown how the EDL is stuffed full of ex-British National Party members or odd ball neo-Nazis, but we shouldn’t forget how their members like violence.

EDLers like fantasizing about attacking ethnic minorities as their entries on Facebook show.

More recently, at least two of their followers were involved in a racial attack as the Sunderland Echo reports:

“TWO former English Defence League members are beginning year-long jail sentences after racist attacks at a mosque and two Asian-run businesses.

Steven James Vasey and Anthony Donald Smith launched their offensive after incidents at a war memorial in Luton on Armistice Day last November, where poppies were burnt by extreme Islamic groups.

On the eve of Muslim festival Eid, the masked men, along with an accomplice, climbed a fence at the Nasir mosque in Hartlepool.

The letters “EDL” and “NEI”, for the North East Infidels, were sprayed along with “no surrender” and images of poppies and the St George flag.

Prosecutor Chris Baker told Durham Crown Court that a taxi seen in the area at the time was similar to a vehicle spotted later in Potto Street in Shotton Colliery, where an upstairs window of the Milco store was smashed with a brick.

Similar graffiti to that left on the mosque was sprayed on the shop and the nearby Albert Guest House, which are both owned by an Asian businessman.

Mr Baker told Recorder William Lowe there was an irony that the store was selling poppies when the attack was carried out.

He said taxi driver Smith, 24, of Rydale Court, Trimdon, previously of Neptune Way, Easington Colliery, was arrested the next day.

Messages on his mobile showed planning with then-girlfriend Charlotte Christina Davies and Vasey and included claims they were going “Muzzy bashing” and were going to give the mosque a “makeover”. “