In the latest Berkeley controversy over what speakers may talk about, the progressive radio station KPFA has canceled an Aug. 9 on-stage appearance by the scientist Richard Dawkins.
KPFA had invited the British scientist to discuss his newest book, Science in the Soul: Collected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist, which it termed “excellent.” But on Thursday the news organization canceled the event, citing concerns about the tone of some of Dawkins’ tweets about Muslims.
“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 said in an email sent to ticket buyers. “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.”
Dawkins challenged KPFA’s interpretation of his tweets through a press release issued by the Center for Public Inquiry. In 2017, his Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science merged with the Center for Public Inquiry and Dawkins holds a board seat.
“The idea that I have engaged in abusive speech against Islam is preposterous, which even the most rudimentary fact-checking by KPFA would have made clear,” Dawkins is cited as saying in the press release. “I have indeed strongly condemned the misogyny, homophobia, and violence of Islamism, of which Muslims — particularly Muslim women — are the prime victims. I make no apologies for denouncing those oppressive cruelties, and I will continue to do so.”
Dawkins later wrote an open letter to KPFA and posted it on his website:
“I have called IslamISM ‘vile’ but surely you, of all people, understand that Islamism is not the same as Islam,” Dawkins wrote. “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.”
A perusal of Dawkins’ recent tweets shows that he comments often about Islam, but he also comments about other religions. Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, is an atheist. In his 2006 book, The God Delusion (which he spoke about in Berkeley) Dawkins criticizes religious faith as a delusion and says a supernatural creator does not exist.
Dawkins has sent out tweets and made statements that are critical of extremist Muslims, the female genital mutilation practiced by some Muslim societies, and the requirement that women must wear burkas.
In November 2015, when Dawkins was a guest on Bill Maher’s HBO show, Dawkins said Islam was often given a “free pass” for some of its practices because liberals were afraid of not being politically correct, according to The Express, a British newspaper.
Then he said: “Well, to hell with their culture,” the newspaper reported. “There’s this notion Islam and Muslims are this protected species. That if we talk about them at all or criticise at all, it’s somehow hurting or humiliating Muslims. It’s a ridiculous idea.”
Dawkins told his friend, Jerry Coyne,a professor at the University of Chicago, that KPFA did not notify him before the station canceled his talk. Coyne criticized KPFA for its action on his own website.
“KPFA, like so many, is guilty of confusing free speech with ‘abusive speech,’ banning a talk, and thus depriving people of the chance to hear Richard – and probably ask him questions or even criticize him,” Coyne wrote. “Here’s the station’s inevitable ‘but’: ‘While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech.’ Give me a break! Criticism of ideas is not criticism of people, nor is it ‘abuse.’ Shame on KPFA for not realizing this, and for their craven behavior in canceling the talk.”
“You’re a homophobic misogynist.”
“But I’m a Muslim.”
“Oh, SORRY, I didn’t mean to insult your culture.”https://t.co/8fQYmYGwLb
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) July 10, 2017
OK, it’s the NY Post: https://t.co/83vhm3oRhx But it happens to be true. Sadly, very true. And utterly disgraceful.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) July 1, 2017
KPFA could not be reached for comment.
In recent months, Berkeley has been the focus of a national debate about free speech. Most of that has centered around attempts by the UC Berkeley student group Berkeley College Republicans to bring conservative speakers to campus, and the university administration’s insistence that they could not provide security for the speakers. KPFA has covered that controversy closely.
Now the radio station is canceling a talk because it does not agree with what the speaker might say, according to its email.