A defense of Dawkins by Andrew Sullivan

by Greg Mayer

Jerry has written a number of times about Richard Dawkins’s deplatforming by radio station KPFA, and others (here, here, here, here) have come to Dawkins’s defense as well. In his weekly diary in New York magazine, Andrew Sullivan has also come to Dawkins’s defense. This might surprise some, since Sullivan is a fan of religion and a devout Catholic. But Sullivan is also a staunch secularist, who coined the term “Christianism“, in analogy with “Islamism”, to decry the theocratic aspirations of right wing Christians. Sullivan would doubtless contest some of Dawkins’ criticisms of religion in general and Christianity in particular, but he accepts that much evil has been done in the name of religion: “History is replete with horrors of all religions when abused by fanatics.”

He goes on in his diary to quote in full Dawkins’ remarks on the evil of Islam, including “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.” Sullivan mocks KPFA, dryly remarking “KPFA couldn’t read that far?”

Having highlighted the ecumenism of Dawkins’ critiques of religion, he finishes by explaining why a “progressive” radio station would take offense at Dawkins:

I fear that the truth is Islam has become an untouchable shibboleth for some on the left. What they lacerate in other religions, they refuse to mention in Islam. Sexism, homophobia, the death penalty for apostasy … all of this is to be rationalized if the alternative is Islamophobia. Why, one wonders? Is it because Muslims are a small minority? But the same could be said for Jews. My best guess is simply that, for the far left, anything that is predominantly “of color” is preferable to anything, like Judaism and Christianity, that can usually be described as “white.” That’s how “intersectionality” can be used to defend what would otherwise be indefensible. The preoccupation with race on the far left is now so deep, in other words, it’s becoming simply an inversion of that on the far right.

For an earlier post on Sullivan’s view of “intersectionality”, see here.

31 Comments

  1. DrBrydon
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    “KPFA couldn’t read that far?” I think he’s being generous to assume that they read or listened to anything other than the complaints. These types of charges don’t need to be proven. The fact that someone feels that a person has transgressed is evidence of the imputed crime.

  2. jaxkayaker
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Sullivan is on the correct side of this topic. Also happens to correlate with the right-wing side, by some measures. I suppose even a blind hog occasionally finds an acorn.

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      I’ve pretty much given up on attributing opinions to the Left or Right on issues where it’s more important to distinguish Right from Wrong.

    • Kurt Lewis Helf
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      The column is a textbook case of false equivalency and both-siderism. The right elected a wholly incompetent, man-baby con man to the most powerful position on the planet and that’s arguably a bad thing. But look over here: the “left” de-platformed Richard Dawkins’ speaking engagement so both sides are bad. What a crock.

  3. BobTerrace
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Judaism is white? Jews with a Sephardic background would disagree. Judaism is a religion, not a race.

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Thus Sullivan’s qualifier “usually”.

    • fizziks
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Judaism is a religion but Jews are a people.

      Assuming a Sephardi/Ashkenazi ethnic divide is the result of mis-applying contemporary American racial categories and obsessions to peoples and historical periods where they are inapplicable. Properly, these only describe certain ritualistic differences. There can also be considered to be a much narrower definition of Sephardim, specifically only those Jews who trace their ancestry to expulsions from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, but these people would by any fair assessment be considered “white.” There are Jews from Yemen, Ethiopia, and India who would probably be considered non-white when seen through an American racial lens, but as I stated that lens is pretty irrelevant within the Jewish people.

      Anyway, there is no doubt that the intersectional left perceives Jews as “white” and therefore bad, and no amount of familiarity with Ethiopian Jews will change that, because the intersectional left is neither rational or intelligent.

      • ploubere
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        One can convert to Judaism, no?

        • fizziks
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

          Yes, because Judaism is a religion.

          But since one can be an atheistic Jew in a way that one cannot be simultaneously an atheist and a Christian, then Jews cannot be defined as a religious group. Jews are a people.

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      If Jews are Jews (in Israel) only if their mothers are/were Jews, than those children are whatever “race” their mothers are/were. And has been noted, Jews are from all over the world, a “group of many colors”.

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Well said Greg, and Andrew Sullivan of course.

  5. mrclaw69
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    “…My best guess is simply that, for the far left, anything that is predominantly “of color” is preferable to anything, like Judaism and Christianity, that can usually be described as “white.”…”

    But, of course, only ~900,000,000 of the world’s 2.4bn Christians live in the USA, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, etc. The majority of the world’s Christians live in Africa, South America, etc. And even then, a non-neglible proportion of the Christians in the West would be classed as ‘non-white’.

    So, if the argument is that criticism of Islam is ‘covert’ racism (because most Muslims are non-white), then the Left is required to mount the same defence of Christians as they do of Muslims. The majority of Christians are non-white, so criticism of the doctrines of Christianity is racist – by their logic.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_by_country

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Sullivan is an American, writing for a primarily American audience and referring to the perceptions of that audience.

      • mrclaw69
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps you mistake the resaon for my comment. I’m not arguing with Sullivan here; merely making the additional point that the claim is often made by the Ctrl-Left that criticism of Islam is ‘racism’ because Muslims around the world tend, on average, to be non-white.

        Those making that claim will frequently be happy to criticise various Christian churches/doctrines in every possible way (and quite rightly) for their various crimes/ethical codes.

        My argument is that this ‘racism’ defence of Islam is fatuous since *exactly* the same argument can be deployed to shield Christianity from criticism. By the Ctrl-Left’s reasoning *they* should not be criticising Christianity because Christians around the world tend, on average, to be non-white too.

        • nicky
          Posted July 30, 2017 at 9:13 am | Permalink

          Muslims are predominantly non-white. Is that really so? Ok, there are some ‘black’ muslims in Africa, and many SE-Asian ones in SE-Asia.
          However, there are a lot of muslims in North Africa and the Middle East (from Morocco to Afganistan, from Turkey to Saud) that are basically ‘white’. And, as pointed out above, maybe a majority of Christians are not.
          Apart from that little quibble, Sullivan is spot on.

          • mrclaw69
            Posted July 31, 2017 at 6:05 am | Permalink

            Whether many of those in the Mid-East might be considered ‘white’ or not is a thorny question: just how many races are there?! 3? >30? None at all? If we ditch the idea of ‘race’ and look at defined ethnic groups then the answer currently stands at 148 (according to the Wiki page for ethnic groupings)!

            Most modern ‘racial’ classifications seem to put Mid-Easterners in the broad Caucasian/white grouping. However, it seems clear to me that the political Left in Europe and the USA, when discussing Mid-Easterners/North Africans, would put them in the category of ‘People of Colour’ – regardless of whether they’d be considered Caucasian (or whether racial classification is that useful at all).

            Nevertheless, Mid-East/North Africans only account for 315,322,000 of the world’s 1.8bn Muslims. The vast bulk are in South/Southeast Asia (particularly Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) and Nigeria, etc.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_by_country

    • Harrison
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      It makes sense if you consider that regressives in the US are supremely parochial and cannot see past their own doorsteps.

      To them Christian churches are full of white people (nevermind those black Southern Baptist and Methodist congregations). The local mosque, if they have one, seems so much more colorful.

      US regressives are, in their own odd way, American chauvinists.

  6. Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I’ve seen quite a few defences of Dawkins this time round. Those supporting the ban seem pretty isolated. It seems like the tide is turning.

    • fizziks
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      This certainly does seem like a step forward, but it is in the midst of several months of many steps back (e.g. Berkeley, Middlebury, and Evergreen SJW riots, even more fawning over Linda Sarsour, and now a conservative journalists being banned from Patreon, etc)

      • Harrison
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        Sarsour got careless and attempted to whitewash the term “jihad,” which didn’t go down smoothly even with her usual crowd. At least some liberals are starting to realize she’s a liability.

    • Zach
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      It seems like the tide is turning.

      I’m not so sure. The comments under that article were remarkably confused and angry on the subject of Dawkins/KPFA. As far as I can tell, the de facto prohibition against dissing Islam still holds sway in most quarters of “polite” society.

  7. Jenny Haniver
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I read that Dawkins will be coming to Marin, Co. to speak at an independent bookstore. http://religionnews.com/2017/07/27/richard-dawkins-shunned-by-berkeley-finds-new-venue-nearby/ Sure glad Book Passage stepped up to the plate.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Andrew Sullivan has come storming back into regular journalism with a fire in the belly, you ask me. His is a welcome and refreshing voice to have back in the mix.

    As Orwell observed, to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. It’s often émigrés like Sullivan who offer the keenest insight into the American scene.

  9. YF
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it’s not race (color), but simply fear that leads the regressive left to defend Islam?

    After all, Islam, out of all current religions, is the most likely to cut your head off or blow up your buildings if you dare to insult it. Hence we ‘give it a pass’ lest we suffer violent consequences.

    • fizziks
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

      There is some of that, probably, but the main reason is still that they perceive Islam as the ultimate “non-white” thing* and therefore in the current intersectional zeitgeist it is the best thing.

      * This is their parochial perception, and whether that perception aligns with reality is irrelevant.

  10. Ned
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I think the simple “enemy of my enemy is my friend” is, in practice, part of intersectionality — the American right wing and Islam are mutual enemies and the primary enemy of the SJW left is the American right wing.

  11. Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    “My best guess is simply that, for the far left, anything that is predominantly “of color” is preferable to anything…”

    I find merit in Nick Cohen’s analysis, (in the book What’s Left), that it has its roots in the fall of communism and the rise of Islamism as the most powerful opponent of the hated Western neo-colonialism. (I guess the antisemitism is just an added bonus.)

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Also, this after quoting Dawkins on the Old Testament, is an excellent point:

      “Why is he Islamophobic and not also obviously anti-Semitic?”

  12. Brian Salkas
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Judith Rich Harris: The Nurture Assumption. The book is a refutation of pretty much everything we have been taught about parenting. All the author does is take the null hypothesis in reguards to parenting (she assumes that parents have no effect on the personality of a child) and explaines why genes, culture and peer groups are what really matter when it comes to our childrens development. I give it at least an 8 out of 10 although I am not even half way done.

    • Brian Salkas
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Ohhhh… ignore that comment, meant to post that in the conversation about great books we read recently….

    • Brian Salkas
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Ohhhh… ignore that comment, meant to post that in the conversation about great books we read recently…. gotta figure out how to delete these things


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