The New York Times covers Dawkins’s deplatforming

As we all know, radio station KPFA in Berkeley decided to withdraw its sponsorship of a book talk by Richard Dawkins, cancelling the fundraising even; the reason, they said, was that Dawkins had insulted Islam (see my coverage here and here).  As they explained, “While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech.”

That’s ridiculous, for criticizing a faith is not “abusive”. KPFA’s de-platforming was an unconscionable breach of free speech, especially by a Left-wing station that has, over the years, broadcast a lot of what could be seen as much worse “hate speech.” As I’ve noted, this wasn’t an explicit violation of the First Amendment, as KPFA is not a government-run station nor has anything to do with the University of California, but free speech goes far deeper than the Constitution. It’s a tradition—a sine qua non—of progressivism, and to do what KPFA did violates that tradition and erodes an underlying principle of democracy.

And, of course, we all realize that it’s Islam that caused it all; as Dawkins said in his response,

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?

Well, we all know the reason for that, and I needn’t dwell on it here, except to say that it’s the racism of low expectations—at least that’s what I took from what a KPFA announcer said yesterday. And, of course, Muslims often threaten violence when their faith is publicly criticized, so fear of reprisal is also a factor.

Remember, too, that this was a talk about Richard’s new collection of essays, not Islam. KPFA, it seems, has deemed Dawkins un-hearable for eternity—for criticizing the Religion of Peace.

Today’s New York Times finally got wind of the issue, and published the article below (click on screenshot to go there).

It’s pretty much a straightforward account of the controversy, and adds that Dawkins was informed of his de-platforming only by a ticketholder who received the station’s ticket-cancellation email. KPFA didn’t even have the guts to tell Richard themselves, and have not, as far as I know, responded to his email. The station continues to waffle about this:

Bob Baldock, the events coordinator for the station, said in a phone interview on Saturday that he could not recall in his three decades at the station any other live event it hosted being canceled because of its content.

The decision was made by the station’s management, and Mr. Baldock said he lent his support, but he called the cancellation a “fraught decision.”

“I could probably do my best at defending Dawkins,” he said. “I’m very fond of him. I’ve liked his books.”

He added that Mr. Dawkins’s unscripted remarks and social media posts gave him pause. “He has said things that I know have hurt people,” Mr. Baldock said.

So? All meaningful speech about controversial issues “hurts people”. Is that the standard for de-platforming someone now? If so, KPFA shouldn’t give any air time to politicians, no matter which party they’re from, or anyone who takes a stand on issues like Israel, abortion, immigration, or religion.

And here come the Islamic exceptionalists:

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?” [JAC: I have!]

Lara Kiswani, the executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which is based in San Francisco, also emailed the station last week. She said Mr. Dawkins’s comments give legitimacy to extremist views.

“KPFA is a progressive institution in the Bay Area, and an institution that reflects social justice,” she said in a phone interview on Saturday. “It isn’t required to give such anti-Islam rhetoric a platform.”

No, it’s not required to give criticism of Islam a platform. But is criticism of Islam now “extremist”? Are the tenets of Islam totally beyond questioning? Progressive have been criticizing Catholicism for years for its retrograde stands on women, gays, abortion, and its views on contraception that led to the death from AIDS of millions in Africa. Why, indeed, does Islam get a pass?

And finally we get the free-speech buttery:

Quincy McCoy, the station’s general manager, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. In a KPFA news broadcast on Friday, he said the station “emphatically supports free speech.”

He added, “We believe that it is our free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful or hurtful language against a community that is already under attack.”

This is laughable. McCoy, who seems to be deeply confused, of course has a right to de-platform someone that he doesn’t agree with. And I suppose you could consider that “free counter-speech” in the form of action. But Dawkins is no provocateur or deliberate offense-giver: his views are considered, deeply passionate, and well worth discussing in today’s society. There’s a good case to be made that Islam is the world’s most oppressive and hurtful religion (as Richard said, its main victims are Muslims), and if we suppress people from expressing that view, and related critiques of other faiths, then we are truly lost.

The Muslim community has done well in painting themselves as victims whose faith cannot under any circumstances be criticized, and liberals, sad to say, have bought into this. But ideas are not people, and ideas have no rights. It’s time we stop being cowed, as was KPFA, by fear of offending people who adhere to harmful superstitions. We should speak up for our right to speak up.

What KPFA should do now is bring on Richard on for a radio discussion, and to answer listeners’ questions. I’m sure he’d do that, and there’s every reason for a good station to do that, but perhaps he’s so beyond redemption that even sending out his voice on KPFA’s airwaves is “abuse.”

h/t: Greg Mayer

36 Comments

  1. Steve Gerrard
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    The New York Times, Newsweek, The Guardian, The Blaze. De-platforming produces a bigger platform. The Streisand Effect in action.

  2. dd
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne writes: “It’s time we stop being cowed, as was KPFA, by fear of offending people who adhere to harmful superstitions.”

    Dr. Coyne, I think you may be have misinterpreted this. Is the cowing, in other words, due to the fear of violence?

    • Kevin
      Posted July 24, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      I think ‘they’ are acting cowardly because they fear violence. Both the station and some of their listeners.

      There is no past evidence that a public engagement would cause fear of violence from something Dawkins would say.

      Reminds me of Trump supporters. So many of them fear ‘the other’. They look to Trump to protect their emotions. And he protects them with his authority. He promises to keep rapists and murders and god-less folk from from stealing their livelihoods.

      Trump is the ultimate pacifier for the cowering public. He makes them feel safe. Just as KPFA wants to keep their listeners safe.

      • nsmike
        Posted July 25, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        The NYT article clearly calls out pressure from donors.

        • Kevin
          Posted July 25, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

          I did not read the article, but that would be economic fear.

          I call it the Zuckerburg Monetized Coward Policy: Minimize hurt feelings to maximize profit.

  3. Randy schenck
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Hey KPFA, Intimidation is an ugly thing from where many of us sit and not justifiable.

  4. Colin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I like the quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes:

    “Truth is tough. It will not break, like a bubble, at a touch; nay, you may kick it about all day, like a football, and it will be round and full at evening.”

    The hair-trigger and manufactured offence claimed by the religious is telling and revealing of its untruth, and not a few Muslims have a black-belt in this offence-claiming tactic.

  5. Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Every time this issue comes up and voice that happens to be edged, speaks and plops down in the middle of the conversation an idea or point that is extremely difficult to refute, as Dr Dawkins does, and the apologists jibber and jabber without success, I’m reminded of the scene in Tombstone, where Kilmer’s Doc Holiday delivers le coup de grâce to Biehn’s Ringo. Unfortunately, it seems there’s always another Johnny to replace the one so recently dispatched.

  6. Colin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

  7. alexandra Moffat
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    are all atheists islamaphobes for ceiling cat’s sake? That’s the effect of all this censoring….maybe “our side”should complain to the universities, radio stations etc to object that we atheists are being maligned by islamaphilial ideology.

    • Posted July 24, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Given this survey, if you are frightened of Islam i.e. Islamophobic, I think you have pretty good justification, especially if you are gay or a woman.

  8. Jenny Haniver
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Here’s a just published video of Dawkins addressing the KPFA de-platforming https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gct4KpDjLUM

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      And here’s what the Discovery Institute has to say about all this, quoting heavily from “The College Fix.” https://evolutionnews.org/2017/07/dawkins-banned-in-berkeley/

      And check out this paragraph: “Fellow atheists are in an uproar, including one past holder of our Censor of the Year award. Well, boo hoo, but Dawkins has fallen into a trap that he and his pals helped set. Why do I say that?” Guess who Censor of the Year is? Answer here: https://evolutionnews.org/2016/06/for_lack_of_sel/

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      And here’s a good post from the Friendly Atheist: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2017/07/24/kpfas-reasons-for-canceling-a-richard-dawkins-event-are-worse-than-we-thought/

      • darrelle
        Posted July 24, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        The old quoting out of context trick. I’m not quite sure of the exact mechanism but it is always amazing to me how many liberal leaning and even science oriented people dismiss and despise Dawkins. When you point out to them that the quote they are using as an example of his vileness is out of context and provide them with the missing context it does no good. They simply rationalize it away with a “yeah, but . . .” argument that they are still right even though they are very literally wrong.

        Dawkins haters are guaranteed to pop up at any mention of Dawkins even on tightly policed science sites that aggressively stomp out any hint of politics or anything else other than mainstream science. It’s either about ludicrous Selfish Gene issues or his habit of speaking uninhibitedly about religion.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 24, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the links.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    “Baldock … called the cancellation a ‘fraught decision.’”

    Of all the weaselly BS. So was the decision to send King George a missive declaring the colonies independent.

  10. sang1ee
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    “We believe that it is our free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful or hurtful language against a community that is already under attack.”

    Pathetic. Completely dismissing the multiplicity of voices within that community that are already struggling to be heard. Are these the people that purport to stand for minority rights?

  11. Fernando Peregrin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile, we are suffering a terrible epidemic of Venezuelan populism in many municipalities in Spain
    ___________________

    The government of the mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau has proposed to include the manifestations of Islamophobia as a new infraction in the Ordinance of Coexistence in Public Space, whose reform foresees to have approved within a year. Jaume Asens, the Deputy Mayor for Citizenship, Participation and Transparency of the Barcelona City Council, revealed the municipal plan to fight against Islamophobia, which has been drawn up by the municipal government and is a pioneer in Spain.

  12. Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    “…he could not recall in his three decades at the station any other live event it hosted being canceled because of its content.”

    Dawkins’ talk wasn’t canceled because of its content. It was canceled because of the crazy idea that Dawkins’ tweets were “hurtful.” If criticizing a religion or idea is suppressed because it is hurtful to its proponents, then all criticism of religion and ideas can be suppressed. KPFA’s criticism of Trump’s politics is hurtful to his supporters. It should cancel itself.

    KPFA can go to hell.

    • Harrison
      Posted July 24, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      As someone who hasn’t gotten around to reading his new book, how much Islam-bashing does it contain? Any at all?

      I ask because the presentation he was slated to give was to be about his book and nothing else. Maybe a Q&A at the end could broach some broader topics.

      But if Islam wasn’t even on the agenda at this talk, then the station’s shot itself in the foot yet again by making it the main focus of much of the media attention this story is getting.

    • Posted July 24, 2017 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      “Dawkins’ talk wasn’t canceled because of its content. It was canceled because of the crazy idea that Dawkins’ tweets were “hurtful.” If criticizing a religion or idea is suppressed because it is hurtful to its proponents, then all criticism of religion and ideas can be suppressed. KPFA’s criticism of Trump’s politics is hurtful to his supporters. It should cancel itself.”

      If this is the case, TOTUS (Tweeter of the U.S.) T-Rump should also be de-platformed. He is a disgraceful blabbermouth.

  13. Kevin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Why did KPFA invite the speaker in the first place? Didn’t they know that he would hurt the feelings of some of their listeners?

    • Tom
      Posted July 24, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Be reasonable, as a progressive radio station they had to ban somebody. It’s all the rage! It enhances their street credibility and best of all its up on the world net in glorious headlines.
      Who outside Berkleley ever took much notice of this station before this blew up?

  14. Posted July 24, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    If “Islamophobe” means what it should logically mean, and if fear of Muslim reprisal is a factor in KFPA’s decision, then it’s they who are the Islamophobes, not Richard Dawkins.

  15. Posted July 24, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  16. YF
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    “Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?”

    Because Islam will cut your head off!

  17. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    The Guardian goes through the story including support from Pinker and CFI (now conjoined with Richard Dawkins Foundation). The article ends:

    “The Center for Inquiry, which merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science last year, and on whose board of directors Dawkins sits, called the cancellation “unconscionable [and] baseless”. KPFA responded to the Center on Twitter and said that it “exercises its free-speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful language against a community already under attack”.

    Follow
    KPFA Radio @kpfa
    KPFA exercises its free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful language against a community already under attack. https://twitter.com/center4inquiry/status/888428294944718848
    9:02 PM – 21 Jul 2017
    16 16 Retweets 31 31 likes
    Twitter Ads info and privacy

    In a report about the cancellation, KPFA said it had been contacted by activists who had described Dawkins as “a very well-known Islamophobe” who had vilified Muslims. The radio station cited tweets from Dawkins including one that read: “I think Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today” and pointed to a recent Telegraph article in which Dawkins was quoted as saying that “if you look at the actual impact that different religions have on the world it’s quite apparent that at present the most evil religion in the world has to be Islam”.

    The station did not include the Telegraph quote in its entirety, in which Dawkins continues: “It’s terribly important to modify that because of course that doesn’t mean all Muslims are evil, very far from it. Individual Muslims suffer more from Islam than anyone else.”

    KPFA general manager Quincy McCoy said he decided to cancel Dawkins’s appearance when the academic’s statements were brought to his attention.”

    [ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/24/richard-dawkins-event-cancelled-over-his-abusive-speech-against-islam ; links and images removed.]

  18. Posted July 24, 2017 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    What i can’t believe is how KPFA can sell tickets and promote a show and then not even have the curtesy to tell the invited guess speaker… eh, its off. Sorry about that.
    There is some sort of sickness in some in the Berkeley area, they have missed the real oppressed and sided with the ‘hurt’ oppressed, masquerading as victims of speech and tweets.
    These excuses given are just more of the same, the pathetic circus surrounding criticism of Islam.

  19. Posted July 24, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    After some contemplation, I think it a mistake to phrase this as a “freedom of speech” issue. Though it is certainly a disappointment for the ticket holders that they cannot listen to what Dawkins has to say, that, too, is negligible in the grand scheme of things.

    What really is the problem is what might be called “smearing through deplatforming”. Everyone can not invite Dawkins to their party, or decide not to listen to him, or not to buy his books. Their loss.

    But by inviting, and then rescinding the invite, the Regressives have found a way to signalize that some people should not be invited at all, effectively keeping a public blacklist.

    This modus reminds me strongly of the internet trenches where it is absolutely typical of these fascists to trade high level opinion and metaconceptese: something is “problematic”, “abusive”, “hate-speech”, “harassment” and so on; or someone is a “misogynist”, “islamophobe” etcetera. But you often never learn why exactly, or ten people give eleven different mutually exclusive reasons.

    Educate yourself cis scum!!!111! and every individual social justice warrior is “filling in” what they think fits the accusation. This opens the gate to confirmation bias and other cognitive distortions.

    In this sense it is a “conclusion first”, (rationalisation second) mindset — which they have in common with religious people. The “conclusion first” is usually tied to tribe and certain ends that need justification. For example, being against Dawkins is a tenet in the social justice church, and belongs to then as fondling children is typical of Catholicism.

  20. Ken Pidcock
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I think Communism is the greatest force for evil in the world today.

    Not abusive, right? Wrong kind of ideology, I guess.

  21. kelskye
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    On my Facebook feed today, someone was agreeing with the deplatforming, accusing Dawkins of being a straight-up bigot when it comes to Muslims. What it later emerged wad that it didn’t really matter what Dawkins’ intent with any comment actually was, it’s glow it’s taken by others. And evidently the political left has taken Muslim to mean brown person (his words) so any statement against Islam is a statement against brown people by a while British privileged person. And it turns out that only Muslims should be able to say things about Islam (by which I shine he means a brown person given his earlier distinction).

  22. Dale Franzwa
    Posted July 25, 2017 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    I am so disappointed in KPFA’s actions here I can hardly express my feelings. KPFA and its sister stations in the Pacifica Network invented the entire concept of listener supported broadcasting as a free speech alternative to commercial sponsorship of broadcasting. Their stations were bastions of free speech when first founded. The concept of listener/viewer supported broadcasting was picked up as the bulwark of Public Broadcasting in its initial founding back in the late 1960s. While Public Broadcasting (PBS & NPR) can no longer rely solely on audience donations, the idea originated with Pacifica.

    I first started listening to KPFA’s sister station KPFK (from Los Angeles) as an undergrad back in the 1950s. They had the guts to oppose the House Un-American Activities Committee and McCarthyism in general back then because they could rely on listener donations instead of commercial advertising to stay on the air. I was glued to KPFK back then because of their guts.

    When I began my teaching career in New York in the late ’60s, I tuned in to WBAI (I believe those were the call letters) and continued to follow the hard-hitting journalism of Pacifica Radio through the turmoil of the ’70s and early ’80s. Somewhere in that period, the stations appeared to lose the focus of their founders (becoming too radicalized) and I stopped listening.

    Today, I can’t pick up the signal of any Pacifica station. But today’s KPFA seems to be run by a bunch of cowards compared to their founders.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 25, 2017 at 5:01 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the background info.

      • Dale Franzwa
        Posted July 26, 2017 at 12:32 am | Permalink

        You’re welcome.

  23. Boldbrothers
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Islamophobia does not exist. Being scared of a medieval political ideology is the most legitimate fear I can think of. The left has continuously disappointed me.


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