Dawkins: cheered for hating Christianity, banned for hating Islam

KPFA, a radio station in Berkeley, California, has cancelled an event with scientist and author Richard Dawkins because it disapproved of his controversial views on Islam. Dawkins had been scheduled to speak in August about his memoir, A Brief Candle in the Dark. ‘We had booked this event based entirely on [Dawkins’s] excellent new book on science’, KPFA informed ticket-holders. ‘We didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam – so many people.’

Dawkins, an avowed atheist, has fiercely criticised Islam, particularly its blasphemy laws and sanction of murder for apostates. In his book The God Delusion, he laments the sentencing to death of a man in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity. ‘Did he kill anyone, hurt anybody, steal anything, damage anything? No. All he did was change his mind.’ One tweet of his from 2013, cited in KPFA’s statement, reads: ‘I think Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today. I’ve said so, often and loudly.’

Sure, Dawkins’s arguments can be blunt and dogmatic. But it’s hard to see why criticising extreme religious practices, or expressing dislike for a particular religion, should be deemed so harmful. There’s also a glaring double standard here. Dawkins is just as scathing about Christianity, and about all faiths, as he is about Islam. And yet it is only his criticism of Islam that has got him in trouble.

In response to the ban, the American science writer and founder of the Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer, pointed to this hypocrisy. ‘[Apparently] it is acceptable to criticise Christianity and Judaism but not Islam’, he said. This is all particularly galling given that people risk far more speaking out against Islam than they do speaking out against Christianity. Critics can risk not just their reputations, but sometimes their lives as well.

Even if you deplore Dawkins’s views, he should be allowed to freely express them. Strangely, KPFA has extended an invitation to Dawkins to talk about his views on air, rather than at the event. It’s unlikely he’ll take up the offer, following this ridiculous snub. But it’s a shame that, yet again, free exchange has been shut down to the end of protecting people from offence.

Hardeep Singh is a writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter: @singhtwo2

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