In 2006, if you had asked to any self-professed rationalist/atheist who was the person he or she admired the most, 2 out of 3 the name Richard Dawkins would have surfaced. That same year Wired magazine published an article titled 'The Church of the Non-Believers', in which Dawkins was listed among Sam Harris & Daniel Dennet as one of the undisputed leaders of a growing secularist movement, commonly referred nowadays as the nu-atheists.
Fast forward to 2013, and things have changed dramatically. The author of 'The God Delusion' is not only frequently accused of bigotry & sexist views by the opponents of nu-atheism, but he has even managed to become a public embarrassment to many people who share his distaste for religion. Last Thursday Dawkins wrote this on Twitter:
The 'logic' being here, I assume, that Muslims have nothing to show for themselves in the last thousand years or so after they gave us algebra, since obviously a Nobel prize is the most rigurous way to gauge contributions to society; also, that the scarcity of Muslim recipients of the prestigious award must be somehow directly correlated to the nepharious influence of Islam –never mind the myriad of different economic, social & political circumstances that might stiffle a nation's support to scientific research. Cogito Ergo BUM!
And like an ancient biblical plague, the backlash came in hard & fast: "As an atheist and a secularist who wants religion to be a private matter, I despair of Richard Dawkins being a figurehead for non-believers," wrote columnist Owen Jones on his Twitter account. He followed up at his column on The Independent:
As a non-believer, I want the atheist case to be made. I want religious belief to be scrutinised and challenged. I want Britain to be a genuinely secular nation, where religious belief is protected and defended as a private matter of conscience. But I feel prevented from doing so because atheism in public life has become so dominated by a particular breed that ends up dressing up bigotry as non-belief. It is a tragedy. And that is why it is so important that atheists distance themselves from those who undermine our position. Richard Dawkins can rant and rave about Muslims as much as he wants. But atheists: let's stop allowing him to do it in our name.
Yet Dawkins, following the usual tactics he relies on when being challenged, keeps insisting his Tweet was not fueled by bigotry but by "exasperation at hearing boasts of (a) how numerous Muslims are in the world and (b) how great is their science." And his (still many) sympathizers have gone out on his defense claiming he was 'only stating a fact' –It's another fact that Mexico has less Nobel Prize winners than Trinity College(*) as well; no doubt Dawkins would blame the Virgin of Guadalupe for that.
But is that fact(oid) the proper way to support rationalism & the defense of the separation between church & state? or is it more likely the latest example of the current Islamophobic trend sweeping Europe, where aging white citizens are watching with dread the non-stopping influx of young immigrants, arriving every day to France, Germany & Spain from poor countries in Africa & the Middle East? Something which has prompted the re-emergence of far-right ultranationalist movements –read: Fascists— the likes of which might be all too happy to have someone like Dawkins on their side –they sure hate burkas as much as he does!
Whatever path the nu-atheists decide to take in order to improve their image & move away from the polarization provoked by their most vocal spokespersons, one thing is for sure: With those kind of Tweets, Dawkins will not be receiving a Nobel Peace Prize any time soon.
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(*) Hmmm, I wonder what that college's name stands for…