Richard Dawkins event cancelled over his 'abusive speech against Islam'

Berkeley’s KPFA Radio cancels appearance by evolutionary biologist after learning of his ‘hurtful speech’ against the religion – a charge the author contests

Richard Dawkins has denied using “abusive speech against Islam” after a California radio station cancelled a book event with the scientist, citing his comments on Islam, which it said had “offended and hurt … so many people”.

Dawkins, whose bestselling study of evolution, The Selfish Gene, was named the most influential science book of all time by the Royal Society last week, was lined up to speak about his memoir A Brief Candle in the Dark at an event hosted by Berkeley’s KPFA Radio in August.

But KPFA subsequently informed ticketbuyers that the event had been cancelled. “We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam – so many people. KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech,” said KPFA in an email to ticket buyers, which Dawkins later published on his website. “While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologise for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins’s views much earlier. We also apologise to all those inconvenienced by this cancellation.”

Dawkins, the author of anti-religious polemic The God Delusion, called the decision “truly astonishing”, and a “matter of personal sorrow”. He had listened to KPFA “almost every day” when he lived in Berkeley for two years, he said, and had previously been grateful for its “objective reporting and humane commentary”.

“My memory of KPFA is that you were unusually scrupulous about fact-checking. I especially admired your habit of always quoting sources,” he wrote to KPFA in an open letter he shared on his website. “You conspicuously did not quote a source when accusing me of ‘abusive speech’. Why didn’t you check your facts – or at least have the common courtesy to alert me – before summarily cancelling my event?”

Dawkins said that he had “never used abusive speech against Islam”, adding that while he has called Islamism “vile”, Islamism is not the same as Islam.

“I have criticised the appalling misogyny and homophobia of Islam, I have criticised the murdering of apostates for no crime other than their disbelief. Far from attacking Muslims, I understand – as perhaps you do not – that Muslims themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism, especially Muslim women,” wrote the author in his response. “I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?”

He called on the radio station to find examples of abuse, and said that when it “fail[ed] to discover any”, he would expect a public apology.

Harvard professor and author Steven Pinker came out in support of Dawkins, writing to KPFA that their decision was “intolerant, ill-reasoned, and ignorant”. “Dawkins is one of the great thinkers of the 20th and 21st century. He has criticised doctrines of Islam, together with doctrines of other religions, but criticism is not ‘abuse’,” said Pinker. “People may get offended and hurt by honest criticism, but that cannot possibly be a justification for censoring the critic, or KPFA would be shut down because of all the people it has hurt and offended over the decades.”

Pinker said that the move “handed a precious gift to the political right, who can say that left-leaning media outlets enforce mindless conformity to narrow dogma, and are no longer capable of thinking through basic intellectual distinctions”.

The Center for Inquiry, which merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science last year, and on whose board of directors Dawkins sits, called the cancellation “unconscionable [and] baseless”. KPFA responded to the Center on Twitter and said that it “exercises its free-speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful language against a community already under attack”.

KPFA exercises its free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful language against a community already under attack. https://t.co/nTC1LYQKiG

— KPFA Radio (@kpfa) July 21, 2017

In a report about the cancellation, KPFA said it had been contacted by activists who had described Dawkins as “a very well-known Islamophobe” who had vilified Muslims. The radio station cited tweets from Dawkins including one that read: “I think Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today” and pointed to a recent Telegraph article in which Dawkins was quoted as saying that “if you look at the actual impact that different religions have on the world it’s quite apparent that at present the most evil religion in the world has to be Islam”.

The station did not include the Telegraph quote in its entirety, in which Dawkins continues: “It’s terribly important to modify that because of course that doesn’t mean all Muslims are evil, very far from it. Individual Muslims suffer more from Islam than anyone else.”

KPFA general manager Quincy McCoy said he decided to cancel Dawkins’s appearance when the academic’s statements were brought to his attention.

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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