Richard Dawkins accused of Islamophobia for tweeting about “aggressive” call to prayer

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The renowned evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist, Richard Dawkins, has sparked controversy after tweeting ‘Listening to the lovely bells of Winchester, one of our great mediaeval cathedrals. So much nicer than the aggressive-sounding “Allahu Akhbar.” Or is that just my cultural upbringing?”[1]

Responses to the tweet, which included those who are fans of Dawkins’ writings, accused Dawkins of Islamophobia and racism[2]. One Twitter user commented, “The bells of Winchester sound glorious, as does the call to prayer by a muizzen. The only aggressive, unpleasant sound is the prejudiced tweet as I read the words in my head”. Others accused Dawkins of ignorance of the significance of the call to prayer[3].

Linking Dawkin’s comment with his outspoken atheism, which had been the subject of a number of his books, including The God Delusion, another Twitter user commented, “As a number of people said at the time The God Delusion was published, Dawkins’ atheism is intellectually flawed and often simply a vehicle for a suburban conservatism that is run through with a dangerous and aggressive Islamophobia that he passes off as a neutral ‘reason’”[4].

More widely, Dawkins comment has caused a debate an atheist debate on Islam as much of the debate surrounding his tweet centres around whether Islam is given preferential treatment in comparison to other religions. Twitter user, Max Waterman, tweeted, “He merely states he dislikes something because [it] sounds aggressive to him. That’s his liberty. It’s not prejudice. It’s criticism. Or are you suggesting that people are obligated to like religion?”[5]

This is not the first time Dawkins has been accused of Islamophobia. Last year, the US radio station KPFA Radio in Berkeley, California cancelled his appearance after tweets of his resurfaced which KPFA Radio said included “abusive speech against Islam”. One such tweet from 2013 called Islam “the greatest force for evil in the world today”. The station said, “While KPFA emphatically supports free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologise for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier”[6].

In response, Dawkins issued an open letter to the organisers in which he denied the allegations and said that his harsh comments were directed as Islamism rather than Islam. He said, “I have criticised the ridiculous pseudoscientific claims made by Islamic apologists … and the opposition of Islamic “scholars” to evolution and other scientific truths … 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 Muslim themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism, especially Muslim women”[7]. Dawkins also remarked the Islam is the “most evil” religion in the world to a crowd at the Cheltenham Science Festival last year[8].

Dawkins perhaps tried to link his comments with Islamism rather than Islam when he tweeted later in response to the criticism, “The call to prayer can be hauntingly beautiful, especially if the muezzin has a musical voice. My point is that “Allahu Akhbar” is anything but beautiful when it is heard just before a suicide bomb goes off. That is when Islam is tragically hijacked by violence”[9].

Continuing he said, “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 not Islam?”[10]

[1] Hodge, 2018; Osborne, 2018.

[2] Hodge, 2018.

[3] Osborne, 2018.

[4] Osborne, 2018.

[5] Fearnow, 2018.

[6] Mortimer, 2018; Osborne, 2018.

[7] Mortimer, 2018.

[8] Fearnow, 2018.

[9] @RichardDawkins, 2018.

[10] Mortimer, 2018.

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Sources

Fearnow, B. (2018) ‘Richard Dawkins accused of bigotry over ‘Allahu Akhbar’ tweet, prompting atheist debate on Islam’. [online] 17 July. https://www.newsweek.com/richard-dawkins-bigotry-allahu-akhbar-tweet-prompts-debate-atheist-islam-1028487. [Accessed 20 July 2018].

Hodge, M. (2018) ‘MOSQUE SNIPE ANGER: Scientist Richard Dawkins sparks fury after claiming church bells sound ‘much nicer’ than Muslim call to prayer’. [online] 18 July. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/6804124/richard-dawkins-claims-church-bells-nicer-muslim-call-prayer/. [Accessed 20 July 2018].

Mortimer, C. (2018) ‘Richard Dawkins hits back at allegations he is Islamophobic after Berkeley event is cancelled’. [online] 26 July. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/richard-dawkins-islamophobic-berkeley-event-cancelled-islam-muslim-uc-university-california-a7860281.html. [Accessed 20 July 2018].

Osborne, S. (2018) ‘Richard Dawkins accused of Islamophobia after comparing ‘lovely church bells’ to ‘aggressive-sounding Allahu Akhbar’’. [online] 18 July. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/richard-dawkins-allahu-akhbar-church-bells-criticism-religion-a8451141.html. [Accessed 20 July 2018].

@RichardDawkins. (2018) Tweet. [online] 18 July. https:// twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/1019566464569892866. [Accessed 20 July 2018].