R. Joseph Hoffmann has kept his arrogance under wraps for a while, but this week it erupted again in a spectacular display of ignorant accommodationism. In his latest piece at The New Oxonian (oy, what a title; should I change the name of this site to “The New Harvardian”?), “Deja vu: how tone deaf atheists and blockheaded Muslim haters cost lives”, RJH accuses me, P. Z. Myers, and Eric MacDonald for being the species of god-hating Islamophobes named in his title.
I’m not sure what inspired this, except for our earlier refusal (a year ago!) to countenance severe treatment, including arrest, for the odious Florida pastor Terry Jones. Jones, you may recall, is vociferously anti-Muslim, burned copies of the Qur’an in both 2011 and April of this year, and, when the new movie Innocence of Muslims came out, promoted it vigorously (though he didn’t screen it) and then burned yet another copy of the Qur’an.
There’s no evidence that Jones’s latest shenanigans had the slightest effect on instigating last week’s riots in the Middle East, or on the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya (apparently a preplanned attack), though word of Jones’s burning of Qur’ans in 2011 ignited riots in Afghanistan that led to the death of at least 30 people.
At that time, P. Z., Eric, and I all decried Jones’s stupidity and rancor, but refused to say that he should be punished. We have freedom of speech, and if it leads to murder then that is the fault of the murdering thugs and not the Qur’an burners. Further, such cowardice, in which we abstain from criticizing Islam because it offends the tender feelings of Muslims and makes them even more prone to riots and beheadings, only empowers vile Muslim extremists and makes their faith the only one immune from criticism.
Pastor Jones is a religious nutcase, and I have no respect for him. He’s nearly as nuts as Islamic extremists, though I doubt that Jones will be killing anyone. But he did nothing illegal or, I think, immoral. I agree with [Sam] Harris’s conclusion, which is that we need more criticism of Islam, not less. And not just Islamic extremists, either, but criticism of those Islamic “moderates” who, by refusing to speak up against the violence and insane hypersensitivity of their coreligionists, create a climate in which Islamic extremism is tolerated.
Hoffmann seems to be one of these coddlers too. Nowhere in his post will you find him indicting the murderers themselves for the murders! He spends all his time blaming Pastor Jones instead. In fact, he spends more time criticizing atheists (he just can’t resist that) than criticizing the kind of faith that makes people kill.
Hoffman is back again with the same opinion, even though, as far as I know, virtually no atheist has written about Jones’s latest shenanigans. Never mind; Hoffman manages to rekindle his hatred of atheists—even though he is one:
But religion-haters come in different flavours these days. The Florida cracker flavour is matched by the piquant sophistication of new atheist Islam haters–even Christopher Hitchens was one. The atheist tack, of course, was that the “greater principle” of free speech was at stake in this struggle, and that no matter how obnoxious Jones is (very), his right to be obnoxious, even dangerously obnoxious, was absolute. Of course, the fact that Jones’s views about Islam happened to coincide directly with the views of the hate-mongers was of no consequence: it was ONLY about the sanctity of the First Amendment.
–The blockheaded response from atheist heavyweights like Jerry Coyne and P Z Myers was immediate: “Hoffmann coddles Muslim”. Eric MacDonald, in a singularly ill-informed piece, wondered out loud if I hadn’t paid attention to the “cartoons controversy,” evidently missing the fact that I had written extensively on the topic in 2008 and had conditionally defended the right of Free Inquiry magazine, where I was an associate editor, to publish the cartoons in the US.
Past is prologue and now we see how history can surprise us. The hyperactive Rev. Jones could not slumber forever, not when a man who likes a mirror thinks he can influence a presidential election–which is fact is what this trick is all about.
Jones promised he would do better, and he has: this time with deadlier consequences, through one of his more media savvy, Muslim-hating accomplices.
I have just one question for PZ: What are you thinking now? God save the First Amendment?
Let us first recognize that Jones had nothing to do with the making of the film, and nobody has adduced any evidence suggesting it. He did promote the film, but apparently didn’t even screen it. So he’s responsible for the riots in the Middle East and the death of the ambassador? I don’t think so. Hoffmann is raising the spectre of guilt by association.
So are we now to suppress free speech against all religions? Or is it okay to criticize Jews, Hindus, and Christians (viz., “The Life of Brian”) but not Muslims? What, exactly, would Hoffmann have us do? We already, all three of us, have disassociated ourselves from Jones’s stupid activities and ill-advised Muslim-bashing, but we all defend strongly his right to criticize Islam however he wants. If the rights of fringe minorities like those including Jones aren’t protected, then the rights of all of us are endangered. That is precisely why freedom of speech and religion are written into America’s Bill of Rights.
And yes, Ceiling Cat save the First Amendment! If it’s to mean anything, it means that all criticism of faith must be protected, even if ill-advised or motivated by hatred or bigotry. Let a million stupid criticisms blossom, including accusations that Jews murder Christian children to make crackers from their blood. (More on that in a day or two.)
It’s curious that Hoffmann, who is, as I noted, an atheist, says absolutely nothing about the rampaging, murdering Muslim thugs. No, he’d rather go after the atheists who defend free speech, as if we were somehow complicit in murder. Does Hoffmann recognize who wields the guns and knives, and who purveys only words? Does he think Muslims have the right to kill when they’re offended? On these issues he is silent.
As Eric noted in his latest take on RJH’s views, “Hoffmann loses the thread of the story all over again“:
Religions shouldn’t be protected in this way. If Islam is a religion of peace, let them show us that that is what it is, and not go on rampages every time someone, no matter how foolish, insults what to them are holy things. They will be just as holy to them, though others despise them. PZ “desecrates” what Catholics think of as the body of Christ, but he thinks of as crackers, because Catholics pilloried a young man, and sought to endanger his future, because they believed he had desecrated something they hold sacred. This was not tone deafness; it was a justified response to what PZ considered to be a silly belief that should not be allowed to ruin lives. People are going to be offended, and sometimes hurt, when this kind of thing is done, but the harm will be done by the religious, until they grow thicker skins, and recognise that what an unbeliever does has no bearing on what they consider holy. The same goes for offences against Islam. Muslims need thicker skins. Every time someone denies that Muhammad was a prophet and avers that he did not receive a revelation from a god, they are being offensive to Islam. Of course they are. And being able to think and say such things is a right we should be willing to stand up for and defend. And that is why I said, and say again, that Hoffmann seems to have lost the thread of the story all over again.
And Hoffmann needs to have some new ideas instead of endlessly recycling his shopworn criticism of atheists. Underneath it all, which you’ll recognize if you’ve had the stomach to read The New Oxonian, is Hoffmann’s deep-seated fear that his scholarly views have been unduly neglected, and that some New Atheists, lacking that scholarship, are undeserving of their fame.