Friday, Dec 15, 2017
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EDITORIAL

Confrontation of ideas should not be shut down

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Richard Dawkins

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Recently, evolutionary biologist and celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins was disinvited by the Berkeley, Calif., radio station KPFA for the “abusive speech” he allegedly has directed at Muslims.

“We had booked this event based entirely on [Dawkins’] excellent new book on science,” the station explained, “when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt — in his tweets and other comments on Islam — so many people.”

First, some clarification: The University of California at Berkeley did not organize the event and was not responsible for Mr. Dawkins’ “de-platforming.” While based in Berkeley, the radio station KPFA is independent from the school.

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So “Berkeley” did not disinvite Mr. Dawkins.

But the radio station does share the university’s progressive spirit, afflicted of late with an aversion to dialogue with people who say the wrong unacceptable things.

What did Mr. Dawkins say? Well, among other things that “Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today.”

Even if that is offensive to many, so what? Let the man speak. If he had said “Catholicism is the greatest force for evil in the world,” or “bestiality is a lifestyle choice,” the gig would still be on.

Mr. Dawkins wrote to the station: “I have never used abusive speech against Islam. I have called Islamism ‘vile’ but surely you, of all people, understand that Islamism is not the same as Islam. I have criticized the ridiculous pseudo-scientific claims made by Islamic apologists (‘the sun sets in a marsh,’ etc.), and the opposition of Islamic ‘scholars’ to evolution and other scientific truths. I have criticized the appalling misogyny and homophobia of Islam, I have criticized the murdering of apostates for no crime other than their disbelief. Far from attacking Muslims, I understand — as perhaps you do not — that Muslims themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism, especially Muslim women.

“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 criticize Christianity but not Islam?”

Why indeed?

Actually, KPFA’s discovery of Mr. Dawkins’ “abusive speech” was an opportunity to confront the man and to debate him.

A commitment to the free exchange of ideas, particularly upsetting ones, is one a radio station and a university should share.

And far from causing “harm,” the confrontation of ideas is precisely what feeds the individual mind and the free polity.

Individuals have rights. We all have the right to believe, or not believe, in religion and to opine on religion. But no religion has the “right” not to be criticized. Criticizing a system of beliefs like Islam, or Christianity, is allowed in the United States of America. Indeed, the right to do so is our first freedom.

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