Yesterday will go down in my memory as the day where everyone took a trip to Bongo Bongo Land, where being bigoted was okay.
We’re getting a puppy. My husband wants to call her Bongo, because of the way the word sounds when he calls it out. So when I heard the word on the radio, I silenced the car and turned up the volume. Imagine my surprise when I heard the story about MEP Godfrey Bloom, who had complained about overseas aid, citing Bongo Bongo land as its recipient. I truly believed, as a society, we were over this kind of nonsense. At least Bloom has been forced to apologise by his party leaders. Even *they* can see that what he said was unacceptable and offensive. However, the apology lacks any credibility since Bloom spent far too many hours arguing that there was nothing wrong with his offensive remarks variously because Bongo Bongo Land wasn’t a real place, and then because its meaning was the land of the antelope. It was one of those news stories where I found myself yelling at the internet, c’mon, yet real!
But, in a way, the worst was yet to come. After all, Godfrey Bloom is a member of UKIP, hardly a group of PC individuals. He has form. It’s his job to espouse right wing views and all he’s done is go a little bit further than usual.
Richard Dawkins, however, is an eminent thinker and scientist. He is someone I used to respect, and whose books and thinking I have enjoyed. He is also a bigot. And because he is a person who right minded people take seriously, this is far worse.
For those who’ve been living in Bongo Bongo Land for the last 24 hours, yesterday Dawkins tweeted:
All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.
This was retweeted 999 times, and favourited 416 times. Ouch.
There are so many things wrong with this statement. Before I even touch on the inherent bigotry, let’s take a little look at the logic. What Dawkins did here was take a Western prize, with all the cultural bias that this entails, and use it to compare a group of people who have in common *only* religion, to an academic institution. Not just *any* academic institution, either. Trinity College Cambridge. A seat of excellent. A place created to produce Nobel Prize winners. Creating Nobel Laureates is Trinity College’s *job*. The statement implies (and it does imply) a significance of the Islamic faith to this fact. It willfully ignores the other factors at play. Social development and levels of poverty, health care and education in many Islamic regions of the world etc etc. Tom Chivers sums it up so well here that I won’t repeat it all. Except, just, no, Dawkins. No!
Dawkins defended himself from attacks about racism and bigotry by the argument that what he had tweeted was a ‘fact’ and that he couldn’t possibly be racist in criticising Muslims, because Islam wasn’t a ‘race’, A familiar argument? If you’ve come across the EDL then, yes, it most certainly is.
Again, Dawkins is letting himself down with this puny argument. It’s unworthy of him. Very few commentators accused him of racism, anyway, and at least one of them was someone with the screen name ‘a troll’. The word used by Owen Jones, and many others, was bigotry. And you don’t have to be racist to be a bigot.
Some Dictionary.com definitions:
On bigotry: Stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own
On discrimination: Treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit: racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.
You don’t have to attack a race in order to be bigoted. In fact, reading the definition, Dawkins could be used as a useful example to illuminate the definition further for those who may be confused.
You don’t have to attack a race to discriminate, either. In fact, the first dictionary definition I came across on the internet uses religious intolerance as one of its examples.
Dawkins, and his supposedly logical atheist supporters, have clung to this statement as their argument. They have clung to the idea that his original statement was merely an intriguing ‘fact’. Except that this doesn’t wash, either. Dawkins is a writer, and a good one at that. He understands subtext and knows how to use it.
In short: there are no excuses.
What’s more, this statement came on Eid, an Islamic festival at the end of a period of fasting. I don’t believe for a second that this was an accident. Dawkins concerns himself with religion. He wouldn’t have missed something like this. ‘Eid Mubarak‘ was trending on twitter when he made his comment. Perhaps this is what provoked him to action.
Another argument I’ve seen is that Dawkins would be the same towards any faith. This isn’t about Islam specifically, or Muslims. No, it’s merely religion per se he’s intolerant of. Well, you can try that one. But compare his Eid tweets with what he sent out last Christmas:
Merry Christmas from this culturally Christian atheist, in the midst of a blizzard in South Georgia.
This isn’t the first time Dawkins has shown his bigotry and intolerance towards Muslims on his twitter account, either. He was criticised earlier this year for this tweet:
Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam greatest force for evil today
His response to this criticism later in the year made me squeal into the screen of my laptop:
To repeat yet again, I don’t need to read Mein Kampf to know that I am passionately against Nazism. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
Of course, I immediately @replied to Dawkins stating Godwin’s Law, because I am of the internets. A sure sign you have lost once you involve Hitler and his cronies imho. (Okay, probably not *that* humble, still…)
But, really, a quote from the King James Bible to defend this position? Seriously? From The Good Book?
The verse Dawkins chose is from Matthew Chapter 7. I refer him to the first verse of this particular chapter:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.