Walker’s views and comments and ramblings represent him alone and not necessarily Chris or any of the other NonProphet Status panelists. In fact chances are he himself will have changed his position by the time he gets around to posting this.
I didn’t realize it would ever be necessary to question the efficacy of a bunch of American and British guys taking to the internet to try to win over the hearts of “moderate Muslims” by linking their particularly peace-inspired worldviews to a set of values that don’t look anything like their own. I also didn’t realize they’d employ the defense of “it’s a critique of Islam, not an attack on Muslims”–a sister justification to “love the sinner, hate the sin”. It’s almost as if the mantra of “intellectual consistency” doesn’t actually universally characterize the freethought movement.
Of the Four Horsemen, Sam Harris is most often featured as the greatest purveyor of this islamaphobic Wisdom. But whereas folks like Sam Harris have recently taken to using their fame as a public atheist as sufficient credentials to start writing about largely unrelated questions of pop-philosophy, Richard Dawkins has rather decided to represent the United Kingdom on their Olympic Brick Throwing team. His earlier targets included women who aren’t big on being sexually harassed. He has since decided to refocus on the religious–from a platform almost exclusively accessible by the overwhelmingly non-extremist Muslim populations in the US and Britain.
This bigotry (Vlad characterized it as subtle, I’m not so sure I’d give it that consolation) isn’t that new for Dr. Dawkins. Hell, even in his outstanding first foray into the world of being a sexist affluent white dude (written in a blog comment thread, the El Dorado of intellectual discourse), he addressed his sarcastic note of apology to “Muslima”—a term coined by deeply religious Muslim women to refer to one another. This is probably ancient history to most–his underlying point was the (offensively) utilitarian notion that the tribulations of some women should be ignored since that which others face are worse. But something that largely slipped below the radar amid the Elevatorgate hurricane was Dawkins’ weird underlying implication that apparently all religious Muslim women suffer every conceivable violent consequence from a literal interpretation of Quranic law. And need us educated atheists to parachute in and save them from oppression.
So when he came across a bit of Pew Research Center data analyzing public opinion in a host of Middle Eastern nations that included a handful of less-than-charming extremist views w/r/t Sharia Law, he didn’t hesitate in adding the data to his arsenal in his crusade against Muslims who don’t share these opinions and spend most of their time doing, you know, basically the same things that most people without extremist views spend their time doing.
The Pew research indicated, among other things, mixed support for militant resistance groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and largely minuscule support for al Qaeda. Also analyzed was what Richard Dawkins (or whoever proxies for him on the internet) considered to be the coup de grace to “moderate Muslims”, the notion that a majority of Muslims in places like Pakistan and Egypt support stoning adulterers and executing apostates.
Which is all, I’d like to make clear, very blatantly and obviously a whole bunch of repugnant cruelty.
But barring the also very-blatant-and-obvious fact that extrapolating from a poll of Muslims in a select few culturally radical countries the views of “most Muslims” is akin to extrapolating from Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica the quality of the entire show proper, this polling data isn’t even that telling at all. If you polled most Americans on whether we should employ capital punishment, you’d probably end up with a figure in the vein of two-thirds. State-sponsored capital punishment, incidentally, is one of the arguments used by some conservative Europeans against accepting Turkey as an EU member state, as indicative of their “barbarism”. I’m not arguing for moral relativism here: I’m arguing that cultural mores are naturally going to warrant support among those who have been raised entirely within a particular cultural bubble, particularly if that culture inspire fear in dissenters. The results of this Pew poll might as well have just said “people in Pakistan are largely cool with Pakistani culture”.
Again, I’m not apologizing for what is, taken literally, a clearly unethical system. I’m highlighting how idiotic it is to flail tension and violence in impoverished countries as an obvious indication of how a complex set of values and practices naturally lead to violence. Religions do not exist in a vacuum. Culture, scientific discovery, poverty, community—there are a tremendous set of interrelated facets that all evolve simultaneously and alongside one another, affecting change and inspiring each individual to have a unique experience. And, thereby, a unique identity. It is utterly counterproductive to, from a platform in the West, flaunt the particular views of those in faraway societies as inspired or maintained by those who happen to identify in a similar way worldwide, no matter where either draws their inspiration from.
Ultimately, Richard Dawkins seems to be entirely blind to his privilege, and how he abuses it: a wealthy, traditionally successful, white man living in Britain who has taken to using his extraordinary platform to stab at those affected by sexual harassment, or members of a constantly maligned (and overwhelmingly peaceful) religious minority in the West. No, the issue is not that criticisms of Islamic dogma should be censored. No, the issue is not that anyone thinks violence in the Middle East (if it can indeed be said to be caused by a Youtube video) or pedophilia should for any reason be vehemently defended. The issue is to know one’s audience. And to know when that audience is already suffering, and warrants our support and compassion, rather than an extension of the existing cultural distance between us.
Walker Bristol woke up this morning and realized, to his dismay, that he is the President of the Tufts Freethought Society and the Director of Communications for Foundation Beyond Belief. This is especially peculiar considering he grew up as a high school wrestler-pianist in North Carolina and intended to become Luke Skywalker for an undisclosed period of his life, eventually settling for a Star Wars tattoo. The Tufts Political Science and Religion departments suffer his enrollment. He writes about social activism and art in the Tufts Daily, and about religion in the 2012 election for The Unelectables. His diet consists of hummus. Mostly, though, he tweets nonsense on all these fronts @GodlessWalker.