16 April 2014

At risk of being labelled an Islamophobe...

I find it interesting that there is, seemingly, this complete oblivion in the atheist community about when statements made about religious practitioners are unfair generalisations.
We had a look at Richard Dawkins a little while ago. In his case, I concluded that whilst he’s been hanging out with the wrong crowd he is in all likelihood, not evil. But he does appear to have made some new friends who are not quite right. Unsavoury, even.
At the time, I compared Dawkins to Sam Harris, who is prone to gaffs, except in Harris’ case, it just seems to be his own case of peculiar logic. I also consider Harris to be largely benign, although Harris lost a lot of his own cred when he tied himself in knots over racial profiling.
Where Dawkins and Harris have it most wrong though, is on the subject of Islamophobia. They're not the only ones: I know of quite a few in the atheist community who think that Islamophobia does not exist.
It's also a worrying trend that I'm seeing in that normal rational people are now pre-emptively saying stuff like, 'I'll probably be labelled an Islamophobe for that.'  
To which I would ordinarily say, 'Wake up to yourself!' but instead, I'm writing this blog post.
The most concerning part of this is that it is clear that there are ordinary, rational, intelligent, bright human beings who just don't get it: You don't generalise, full stop.  That's what this post is about.
Last time, one of my complaints about Dawkins, was that he appeared to be saying that religious bigotry is OK, because religious groups are not a 'race'.  I'm not going to go back over the straws that he clutched at in that exchange.  (I say this as an unashamed Dawkins fan who has enjoyed his books to date.)
Certain commentators often hide behind arguments such as this, which I'm now referring to as "the Dawkins technicality".  But it's far clearer that, unlike Dawkins, these commentators do it quite deliberately.

This time around, though, I'm interested in looking past Dawkins to the true lunatics.  Like Pat Condell.
Pat Condell is a colourful character, who Dawkins is on record as endorsing. This sort of thing is becoming a worry, because Dawkins previous missteps have also included endorsing Geert Wilders, the bleach-blond Dutch politician who is definitely on the shoddy side.
One hopes that Dawkins doesn’t now latch onto other European right-wingers, now that the right-wing revival is in full swing across Europe. 
Condell has been repeatedly exposed as a racist, including by a plethora of pro-science and pro-freethinking bloggers, and really what would you expect? His modus operandi (which Wilders and a growing number of others also use) is to say statements that ostensibly target muslims, but are really both a smokescreen and a dogwhistle for statements where he really means to say “brown people”.
There are two reasons why someone might wish to hide behind a less racial term than "brown people":
  1. You get to use the Dawkins technicality to defuse any concerns about bigotry and no one (least of all our completely ineffectual media) will call you on this; and
  2. You reach an audience of bigots, racists, ultra-nationalists and neo-nazis for whom the the term "muslim" actually means "brown people".
In addition, Condell does not appear to be in any hurry to distance himself from entities like UKIP and Wilders – on the contrary, he seems to embrace them.  This should set off alarm bells across not just the atheist community, but everywhere as well.

But what I find interesting about Condell, is that his star appears to be rising across the atheist community, due in no small way to his series of YouTube videos that he does to trot out his mix of hackneyed atheist cliches and muslim-bashing, as well as memes featuring allegedly witty quotes of his.
But Dikkii, some of you are wondering, don’t atheists bash muslims and everyone else who is religious all the time?  And don't they think they're witty to boot?
It is worth at this point having a look at the contents of his bashing. PZ Myers probably did it best when he took him apart in this post, although Alex Gabriel’s post is also extremely good.  Gabriel, by the way, did another wonderful number on Condell here.

In case you didn't notice from the superb job that Myers and Gabriel did: You don't get your point across with unfair generalisations.
Condell should not only have no cred at all: The atheist community, which these days tends to include agnostics such as myself, should be trying to drive him back to the hole that he emerged from.
Condell's kind of generalisation is not at all good.  Myers and Gabriel have probably spelled it out the best, but simply put its this:
Not every muslim is responsible for the really heinous shit that the vast minority do.
OK, so how do we recognise what is responsible and meaningful debate, and what is plain, ordinary bigotry?
Let's use this rather choice snippet of intellectual dialogue from teh interwebs as an example:

At least this fellow is under no delusions as to whether he is a bigot.  And it most likely is a he.  Although he has gone out on a limb with the generalisation.  Can you see where it is?

I like to use a variation on the Steinem test. Gloria Steinem’s test, you might recall, is an easy way to determine if something that someone has said is sexist. You just look to see if they’d say the same thing about a male.
In this case, I look to see if someone is unlikely to have swapped "muslims" for someone else, and @walabytrack is a good example.  Presumably, the comments of @walabytrack relates to the fact that some (again, not all) muslim males thinking that it’s acceptable to marry and then have sex with children.
This is somewhat controversial – and probably should be as controversial as the well-documented cases of Roman catholic priests (and other clergy) thinking that it’s OK to sexually abuse children.

So let's call him out on this.  After wondering aloud whether he'd apply this line of thinking to catholics as well, we got this in response:
You can see that where our friend above appears to enjoy defaming an entire religion as kiddie-fiddlers, if you call him out on this, he appears to express some reservations about turning on catholics, instead going for the rather more specific "priests" instead.

The media do this a lot.  You can see it elsewhere too: White, Christian guys who go on shooting sprees in the States are never called "terrorists".  You can almost hear the baited breath as reporters race to type "Islam" into their search engines at the next shooting, exhaling only when nothing or something different comes up.

Leaving aside the issue of whether or not a fascination with kiddie sex might be projection (I don't, for the record, support anything that Freud had to say about anything) or whether the "Walaby (sic) Track" really does run through Malmsbury, it's obvious in some cases that we might just have a 24 carat, A-grade Islamophobe.  One who may even stash guns in his four wheel drive just in case of the great unhinging.

To sum up: Looking like an Islamophobe is avoidable.  But generalise unfairly and you will get caught and probably made an example of somewhere.

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