Dawkins’s Accusers and the New “Oriental”

István Aranyosi in the Boston Review:

ScreenHunter_297 Sep. 05 10.27Richard Dawkins is under attack—at least if the recent tide of opinion pieces targeting him is any measure. Accusers allege that Dawkins’s recent tweets exhibit anti-Muslim bigotry.

Now, I am not a fan or follower of Dawkins qua religious or theological thinker, for the simple reason that his writings fall short of the kind of argumentative sophistication that we analytic philosophers are trained for. If I want to read careful atheist thinkers, I read people like Michael Tooley, Graham Oppy, Quentin Smith, or Adolf Grünbaum.

Yet in spite of this and of the fact that some of Dawkins’s tweets are insensitive and crude, the accusation that he promotes anti-Muslim bigotry or xenophobia is misplaced. In fact, I think that a significant part of what such bigotry usually involves—namely, viewing Muslims as a uniform, monolithic block, coupled with an attempt at racializing Islam—is more characteristic of Dawkins’s accusers.

Here is one of Dawkins’s tweets: “Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist.” It is obvious what is wrong with Dawkins’s claim: Hasan’s religious beliefs are irrelevant to his journalistic activities. It is what we call a “fallacy of relevance” in informal logic. Why do some commentators feel the need to also add that it is racist, or Islamophobic, or anti-Muslim? Just because Hasan is Muslim? That would be another instance of the same fallacy, at least if Dawkins were ready to say something similar of a Christian journalist who happens to believe in, say, the Immaculate Conception. And he is. Do the accusers know he is? I assume they should, given that Dawkins has for a long time been a fierce critic especially of the Christian faith.

More here.