The problem with “no platforming” Richard Dawkins

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that, to paraphrase Belle & Sebastian, me and Dr Dawkins don’t see eye to eye on a number of things. Politically he is too liberal for me (that is to say, not left-wing enough) and philosophically I find him utterly woeful. That’s not to say there are no credible Atheistic philosophers, Antony Flew was a masterful philosopher, it is just to say Dr Dawkins is not one of them. Then, of course, there is our divergent conclusions on the existence of God and the virtues of Christianity.

Nonetheless, Dawkins’ has every right to feel aggrieved at his recent “no platforming” by Berkeley’s KPFA Radio. He was due to speak about his memoir, A Brief Candle in the Dark, at an event hosted by KPFA Radio in August. However, a few days ago, the station put out the following statement:

KPFA cancelled a book event with Richard Dawkins when members of our community brought our attention to Dawkins’ abusive speech against Muslims. The speech we reviewed included assertions during his current book tour that Islam is the “most evil” of world religions, Twitter posts denigrating Muslim scholars as non-scholars and other tweets.

We serve a broad and diverse community, including many Muslims living under threat of persecution and violence in the current political context. Islamophobic rhetoric stokes that threat. While Mr. Dawkins has every right to express his views, KPFA has every right not to sponsor and profit from an event spreading them. That is what we’ve done.

KPFA’s events organizers notified Mr. Dawkins’ publicist at Random House when we first started considering cancellation of his event, and again once we made the final decision to do so, which was before notice was sent out to ticket holders.

We have since extended an offer to Mr. Dawkins to discuss this matter on KPFA’s airwaves, a forum where his assertions can be engaged and challenged, but KPFA will have no financial stake in promoting them. He has not yet responded.

The statement is, of course, utterly disingenuous.

For a start, the opening paragraph rather suggests that KPFA were ignorant of Dr Dawkins’ comments on Islam until such time as ‘members of our community’ brought them to their attention. This reading is supported by the comments they sent out to ticket holders in which they stated:

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Apparently they ‘didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people’. Unless they have been living in a box for the last 20 years, it is entirely unclear to me how they could not know this? Anybody familiar with any of his popular writings, speaking engagements and general public persona knows full well his comments are often ‘offensive’ and ‘hurtful’ to those who don’t share his views. Nobody can seriously believe he was booked for this event without the organisers being well aware of his polemics. That is, indeed, why he is well known at all.

Particularly insincere is the line, ‘we apologise for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier’. The language that KPFA have deemed ‘abusive’ is precisely the same language Dr Dawkins has been directing at all religions for many years. His popularity and name have been made on such assertions. It is simply inconceivable that KPFA did not know about this at the time of booking.

Dr Dawkins has written a response to KPFA (which you can read in full here). Two lines of response are of particular note. First, Dawkins seeks to distinguish his supposed ‘abusive’ comments on Islam from comments on Islamism:

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.

This is disingenuous on Dr Dawkins’ part. He may well use the word Islamism but there is no denying most of what he attacks is mainstream Islam. It is simply untrue that his ire is saved purely for militant, fundamentalist Islamism. Though he has every right to voice it, there can be no doubt that mainstream Islam is very much the target of his critical comments.

However, his second line of defence is also worth noting:

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?

Here, he is on much firmer ground. Not only is Dr Dawkins a well-known and frequent critic of Christianity, his comments have long been cheered on by the kind of liberals who now decry his language toward Muslims. So long as his comments were about the Christian religion and conception of God, he was encouraged and spurred on by the same liberals who now deem his language ‘abusive’ because it is directed toward a group they deem worthy of special protection. Dr Dawkins is quite right to note the hypocrisy. Either his critical comments are permissible against all religions, or they are not permissible against any.

As I argued here and here, KPFA Radio – as a private organisation – are entirely within their rights to offer a platform to whomever they will. But their hypocritical approach to whom they will give a platform must be noted. You may not like Richard Dawkins’ views but he is entitled to state them. KPFA have no obligation to grant him a platform but they clearly were happy to offer him one as a critic of Christianity but are not willing to offer him one as a critic of Islam. This is rank hypocrisy on KPFA’s part.

Nonetheless, as Stephen McAlpine rightly points out, Dr Dawkins is merely reaping the fruit of his longstanding Atheistic campaign. He notes that ‘the only worldview that gave [Dawkins] the space in its own backyard, to kick and spit and foam about it was the Christian one’. McAlpine states:

The only difference between Berkeley and Dawkins is that the institution jettisoned all liberal pretension quicker than he did. When it came to jettisoning the Christian God Dawkins was an amateur, well behind the curve. And now?  Now all that the likes of Berkeley has left is the deep unbending dogma of the godless religion that Dawkins spent the better part of the last twenty years promoting. A dogma that shuts down inquiry, patronises favoured religions while pretending to protect them, and that offers hand-wringing gnashing of teeth about supposed hate speech.

Ultimately Dawkins was deluded about the fact that you cannot remove the framework of the Christian gospel from the culture without removing the freedoms it afforded him. And now all he can do is splutter ineffectually on the sidelines.

And Berkeley?  Their need to protect Islam is merely the patronising self-righteous self-preening of elite liberals who are confident they stand above all religions and therefore are the arbiters of which ones should be afforded their favour and protection at any one time.

I am clear that Richard Dawkins should have the right to be able to hold and advance his Atheistic worldview. It is, after all, the freedom of religion upon which all other freedoms hang. We should be clear, however, it is the Atheistic Secularist removal of God from the public square – now largely adopted across the Western world – that ironically means Dr Dawkins can be “no platformed” over his Atheistic polemics. In the Atheistic Secularist worldview, there is no god but the self. Rights are merely whatever we decide they are. Therefore, anything that hurts feelings or undermines self-worth is tantamount to blasphemy against the only god that exists, namely me.

It is the Christian worldview that uniquely underpins the classical liberal values that permits Atheists to advance their cause. The form of progressive liberalism we see today, that pits rights against one another, is determined by the patronising whim of the ruling elites. If self is the only god, then rights can only be grounded in that which gives esteem to self. Anything that undermines the honour and glory of self – such as mockery, or belittling of view – must be stopped. That is, of course, unless it is the Christian God, in which case you can have at it. This is simply the extension of a ‘rights culture’ that has no God, and no imago dei, in which to ground them.


  1. I agree with your main thrust, but not everything you say. Clearly he thinks mainstream Islamic teachings are wrong, but I don’t think Dawkins has ever called it vile; that he reserves for islamism.

  2. I sense he is being a little disingenuous in hiding behind the term Islamism when, it is quite clear, he views Islam in precisely the same way as any other religion. You will note I never said he called Islam (or Muslims) “vile”. But he has clearly said ‘Islam is the most evil religion in the world’. He may (or may not) be right about that and he certainly has every right to voice his view on it but I think he is being a tad disingenuous hiding behind Islamism. I think he, and anybody who cares to follow his writing/speaking, know exactly what he thinks of Islam.

  3. I don’t think he has been abusive to Islam, or muslims although I dare say he may have offended some. He probably should choose his words more carefully.

  4. Abusive was just KPFA’s word, not mine. I certainly don’t think he’s been any more ‘abusive’ to Islam than any other religion, for sure. Inevitably, he will have offended some. I was going to say ‘since when has that been a basis for this’ but it is sadly becoming increasingly so.

    It would be my view that people/organisations should be very careful before deciding to remove somebody’s platform for speaking (especially if they have been invited in the full knowledge of their views!) I also think we need to push against this insidious, creeping limitation on free speech based on hurt feelings and offence. I don’t think he should have to choose his words more carefully. That is why I think this is wrong – they’ve basically decided some folk are upset by the words he used and thus “no platformed” him despite undoubtedly knowing about them beforehand. It’s a combination of cowardice and the sad, creeping reality that speech is increasingly not free at all.

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