For those who know me, it’s clear I’m a fan of Richard Dawkins the way I’m a fan of Al Jazeera. I like both a lot but not for the reasons you might think. Richard Dawkins, for example, has accomplished what many would call amazing feats in his chosen field, such as being named the world’s Top Thinker in the 2013 polls. He also is one of the world renown ‘Four Horsemen’ of New Atheism. That is to say he is kinda like the fundamentalist evangelist for Atheists and I reckon he’s proud of that.
Note: A new atheist is usually a person who isn’t just an atheist, but also an anti-theist.
I’ve read almost all his books, I’m a regular (but I don’t comment) on his website, and of course, the ultimate sign of dedication: I follow him on Twitter. All these avenues have given me a glimpse into his life and the kind of person he is, and many times I daydream of meeting him, talking to him, or just hugging him. I love him for many reasons, some of which I have already mentioned, and just in case I haven’t said it elsewhere, I think he’s adorable – well, I generally think old people are adorable.
Richard Dawkins is known for many things, but one thing I personally know him for is being rude on twitter. Much to the shock of myself and countless other people, this educated, widely recognized man, sometimes displays the most heinous, distasteful language when talking to people he doesn’t agree with. The occasional ‘vulgar soup’ that’s dished out when people argue isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but Every. Single. Time. I see him arguing with someone, especially if this person is religious, whether this person is wrong or not, Professor Dawkins unleashes a vocabulary that I do not think is fit for a human being. Many times I read his conversations and if I didn’t know better, I’d think I was reading the tweets of an angry teenager. Of course he defends his misconduct by saying that all he does is criticize. The problem with this is that, it’s one thing to offer criticism, it’s another thing to be an arsehole; and judging from a lot of his tweets, he tends to be the latter. Now, he’s never really replied my tweets, but I see the way he picks those he replies to and how he replies the unfortunate victims of his ‘scholarly’ wrath. The principal example for the sake of this blog post, is the minor fiasco with Mehdi Hasan that happened not too long ago. The gist:
- Mehdi Hasan is a Muslim and a journalist
- Mehdi Hasan interviews Richard Dawkins on Al Jazeera
- They discuss many things, religion included, a few zingers are dropped
- Richard Dawkins rants on twitter about Hasan’s religion, the interview
- Richard Dawkins says in colourful language that Hasan shouldn’t be taken seriously as a journalist because of his religion
- All hell breaks loose
- Richard Dawkins writes an ‘apology‘ on his website, blames it partly on Twitter’s 140 characters
I think our beloved Professor needs to be re-educated on one minor issue – respect. Not respect based on what a person can or can’t do, not respect based on what a person believes or doesn’t believe, but respect based on the fact that a person is a human being. This is the respect that you give people REGARDLESS of what they have done or said et cetera. This is the respect displayed when we decide to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev nicely. This is the respect displayed in a person who is described as ‘civil’. This isn’t about respecting the person’s belief/non-belief, or about respecting his/her right to said belief, but about respecting the PERSON. This respect is not the kind that is earned, rather it is the basic fundamental respect you give to every human being by default, simply because YOU are a human being and they are as well. This is the respect that is most often displayed in the way we talk to others, especially in the heat of an argument. This respect is borne out of love for your fellow man. This respect does not hinder free speech. If anything, it cultivates it. No doubt Richard Dawkins isn’t the only person who needs to be schooled on this, but for a person of his prominence, he is in desperate need of a tutor.
The reason I called respect a minor issue – though I just wrote a whole paragraph on it – is because I believe it is a symptom of a bigger symptom, of the biggest condition (Allow my pathetic play of words please). I’ll explain this towards the end of this post. Anyway, back to the gist:
After RD’s apology, a lot of the commentators wrote down their thoughts and most supported him. However, a few who didn’t fully support him said something like this:
One commenter said:
Most important take-home message is that you need to be very careful what you tweet. I am an Atheist , follow you on twitter. I have great respect for you but on twitter sometimes I wonder if you are same person whom I admire so much. Thing is its not you but twitter being a medium where you can not present one argument with nuance and context that sometime it requires. I would prefer you to just tweet normal stuff , anytime you are trying to be cheeky or controversial you need to think for a moment if you can actually make the comment in 140 characters , anytime you will need to justify your tweets or present several more tweets just give out context of your original tweet , you are actually defeating the purpose of your original intention to tweet.
Yes twitter is great medium to make witty comments , some thought provoking conversations can be had but it would suit you more if you would actually write even a small post like this one and then share using twitter, because u will have reach of twitter but space of putting your thoughts and arguments coherently.
Applause for you apologizing but it was embarrassingly naive of you to think people would let you comment something so innocent but with potential of as much spin as possible. Hopefully you learnt a lesson. You get annoyed when people quote mine you but on twitter you are presenting them with gifts so easily that they don`t even need to read a book , watch your debate or read a lengthy blog to find quotes to twist them to their own meanings.
And with this new Atheist bashing bandwagon thats in fashion these days , you can not keep of giving them ammunition to present “new Atheist” as Islamophobic ones.
Professor, let’s not play weasel words here. Medhi Hasan never asked you to respect his beliefs and that is not what this controversy was about. It was perfectly obvious what you were insinuating and you took us for idiots in your subsequent tweets in denying what was there for all to see, which is a bit rich for somebody who espouses an evidence-based approach. Let’s be clear here, you have played space invaders with a good man’s livelihood simply because he is Muslim. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. It’s the tweeters who challenged you who deserve your gratitude not the ones who uncritically supported it, because otherwise I doubt you’d have retracted. I’m glad you apologised, albeit with a series of excuses, and I hope this doesn’t happen again.
But then you start to see some of the real reasons for RD Supporters’ grievances. One supporter/commenter wrote:
Prof, you have nothing to apologise to Mehdi Hasan for. This is the same chap who refers to atheists as “cattle”, he should have been sacked long ago.
Nobody likes being called “cattle” you know. You also begin to understand that many of them (new atheists/supporters) are genuinely bewildered at the concept of religious belief. They simply can’t get their heads around it. Another commenter wrote:
Well Richard you are making a statement that has always puzzled me! Some gifted people remain resolute in their belief in religious nonsense. A very gifted gastroenterologist with an almost genius ability on diagnosis is irrevocably tied to Catholicism . How that occurs has me gasping!
You see, to RD and many atheists, the typical religious person i.e. the typical Christian* is a gun-toting, Bible-thumping, scientific illiterate incapable of intelligent thought or worthy contribution. So for this bewildered fellow, a gifted Catholic gastroenterologist is an oxymoron; an inexcusable affront on everything he believes a Catholic is. In his world, it is simply unthinkable, and when he is faced with the obvious reality that such Catholic gastroenterologist unicorns do exist, he is forever puzzled, and understandably so.
Now, you might ask, “what does this have to do with Jael loving RD?” Well like I said earlier, I love RD for many reasons. He remains for me, a reminder of what I believe is a telling symptom of the human condition; which is a tendency for us to become the very things that persecute us – the very things that we survive. Or in other words, we tend to repeat the mistakes of others. I’ve noticed that almost every prominent person, movement, nation, or culture (that I am aware of at least), exhibits this symptom. Some examples are Stalin, the practice of Capital punishment, the nation of Israel, and my personal favourite, the New Atheist movement.
I believe we all have an inborn desire for justice and in many cases, “an eye for an eye” may be the initial reaction. The innate urge that the offender must feel the wrath of the offended. This is why I completely understand the intense animosity new atheists feel towards religious people and just about anyone who is ‘deluded’ enough to not be in their camp. I believe that they are more a reactionary movement than anything. They feel that many of these ‘faith-heads’ are not worthy of the basic respect you should give a person, because of the typical view many have of religious folk (as described above), and the fact that they’ve been mercilessly criticized and persecuted for centuries (right now in Bangladesh – a Muslim majority country – there is growing support for putting atheists to death). And I’m not saying that atheists are the only persecuted group, but as far as I know, for a long time, atheists were the socially accepted ‘persecutable’ group in America, so I guess that’s a major reason why many of them seem hell-bent on making religious people, a socially accepted ‘persecutable’ group as well. This is evident in the last few lines of Richard Dawkins’ explanation/apology:
The difference, of course, is that Doyle’s ridiculous belief was not protected by the shield of religious privilege. And perhaps that is the most important take-home message of this whole affair.
“Religious Privilege” is the point of that whole essay (the apology) according to him.
To paraphrase, he’s basically saying, “What makes Hasan’s deluded view so special? Why is Hasan and his Islamic belief still socially accepted? Why can’t I do to him what his kind has done to us for centuries? And this is even more ridiculous because Hasan and his kind, are WRONG.” Or something along those lines. This is what really got to him, and I admit seeing it from his perspective, it’s a bit frustrating. This is one reason why I want to hug him. To him, and many New Atheists, the acceptance of religion and faith is a great injustice. Many of them may have had nasty experiences with religion and so they vehemently fight against religion being seen in anything but a negative light. This is where the conflict lies and this is where understanding is greatly needed. This is also the reason I find loving Richard Dawkins and new atheists in general, almost irresistible.
So yea, I love Richard Dawkins, though he is old and sometimes rude (lol, the two are never really a good combination). I don’t pity him because I’m not in any way better off. I love him. I love him because he is human, loves to be human, and thrives on being/acting human. He probably has a favorite song, dances in the shower, and obviously stands up for a cause dear to him. He reminds me of many people, myself included – we’ve all been persecuted in some way,we all want retribution but we also need to understand that this cycle has to stop somewhere. Nelson Mandela is praised to this day, and in some circles, seen as Superhuman, simply because he lived a command that has been whispered for a millennia. That command is, “love those who persecute you”. It may be hard to do at first, but like many difficult tasks, starting is always the hardest part – everything becomes a little easier afterwards.This isn’t a message to just Richard Dawkins (he is only the example for the sake of this blog post), this is a message to everyone including myself.
I believe that years down the line, our descendants will read their history books and see that what plagued this current generation, was Misunderstanding. A Misunderstanding about who we are, and what we should be to each other – Family. A family where though we may momentarily hate each others guts, we respect and love the other as family.
Love you grumpy old Uncle Richard!
* Side-note: I’ve noticed that many American atheists are more antagonistic towards Christianity than other religions, or are generally against Christianity as opposed to all religion. I think this is because many of them are former ‘Christians’ themselves, so naturally, Christian-bashing and Christian horror stories should be common. Also, ‘Christianity’ is the most visible religion in America – at least for now, so atheists would naturally be more vocal about it. This is a natural progression of events and not the result of some diabolical agenda, like some people argue.
Lol, of course, I assume this post is the last thing a new atheist will want to see, because it will be perceived as a pity story for atheists or something like that. But for the sake of those who will say I didn’t say so, I’m saying it now, It’s not. Also, I wrote a paragraph on a certain kind of respect but that really didn’t do it justice, so please expect a whole blog post dedicated to Respect, and ‘the West’s’ irrational fear of the words “obedience”, “submission”, and “authority”.