Berkeley’s KPFA Radio was scheduled to host an event with author and biologist Richard Dawkins next month. The event was suddenly canceled a few days ago over Dawkins’ past comments about Islam. People who had purchased tickets to the event received an email explaining that KPFA did not support “abusive speech.” Dawkins published the text of the email on his site:
We regret to inform you that KPFA has canceled our event with Richard Dawkins. We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t
know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people.
KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech. While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier.
There are several problems here, starting with the fact that KPFA claims to support free speech and then, in the same sentence, says it does not support “abusive speech.” There is no separate category of speech which is universally deemed abusive, which is why it’s best to leave these decisions to individuals. There’s no reason to think Dawkins was going to address Islam at this event, but even if he did so, all one would have to do to avoid feeling abused is not buy a ticket.
Another problem with this explanation: It doesn’t offer any specifics. KPFA has decided you should not hear from Dawkins because…well, just take our word for it. Dawkins himself points out that KPFA doesn’t seem to have fact checked this claim:
If you had consulted me, or if you had done even rudimentary fact-checking, you would have concluded that 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 criticised the ridiculous pseudoscientific 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 criticised the appalling misogyny and homophobia of Islam, I have criticised 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…
You say I use “abusive speech” about Islam. I would seriously – I mean it – like to hear what examples of my “abusive speech” you had in mind. When you fail to discover any, I presume you will issue a public apology…
To put an even finer point on this, Dawkins has been attacking Christians and Christianity for years and no one seemed inclined to deem that speech abusive enough to justify canceling his speaking gigs. It was only when he began criticizing Islam that the left took offense. Dawkins raises this point himself:
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 criticise Christianity but not Islam?
Let his comment about never being de-platformed for criticizing Christianity sink in. How many hundreds or thousands of speeches has Dawkins given attacking Christianity over the past decade? It’s the difference in how the two faiths are being treated that is the real story here.
As for Dawkins’ question about why Islam gets a free pass, one reason is the constant use of the bogus term “Islamophobia” which invites people to engage in a category error, equating criticism of Islam to racism. Indeed, not surprisingly, that’s at least part of what happened here. From the NY Times:
Henry Norr, a former KPFA board member, criticized Mr. Dawkins in a July 17 email to the station. “Yes, he’s a rationalist, an atheist and an advocate of the science of evolution — great, so am I,” Mr. Norr wrote. “But he’s also an outspoken Islamophobe — have you done your homework about that?”
Islam is a religion, not a race. And unlike race, religion is a mutable aspect of an individual’s existence. Those who feel as Dawkins does about religion should be free to encourage people to abandon it, just as those who believe in a given faith should be free to encourage others to join them. What no one should do is demand the other side not be given space to speak on the grounds that hurt feelings could be the result. And that’s especially true when only one faith is receiving this sort of protection from criticism.