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Atheist champion Richard Dawkins has managed to halve his fan base in a matter of days with some comments he’s made this week. The brouhaha started innocently enough, with Skepchick blogger and co-host of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe Rebecca Watson’s anecdote about being propositioned in an elevator at 4am during an atheist conference.

“So I walk to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me and said, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?’

Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and–don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner…”

This minor opinion took on a life of its own, and soon escalated into a bit of a confrontation between a few skeptics/atheists, as P.Z. Myers explained at Pharyngula. The legitimacy of Watson’s complaint provoked plenty of hot-tempered debate in the comments section to Myers’ blog post…when all of a sudden, Richard Dawkins turned up and posted the following ‘imaginary letter’ aiming to point out the discrepancy between Watson’s encounter and the kind of situations faced by oppressed Muslim women:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so…

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Most commenters were unwilling to believe that this was the real Richard Dawkins posting (“Does anyone seriously think that the Richard Dawkins posting here is actually Richards Dawkins?”), but Myers soon confirmed that it was indeed he. Dawkins then went on to jump from the rather warm frying pan into the blazing hot fire by posting two follow-up comments, the first of which compared the complaint to Catholic complaints about P.Z. Myers defiling a communion cracker, while his second comment noted his surprise at the fiery reaction to his entry into the debate.

I’m not going to get into the entire debate…the comment threads at Pharyngula alone are on the larger side of a thousand – so if interested, follow the links and get reading. However, following are some of the responses from various prominent skeptics: