Richard Dawkins, ‘Islamophobia’ and the atheist movement

This piece does not argue whether ‘Islamophobia’ is a valid term, but how atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have been confused, inconsistent and blundering in their attempts to talk about Muslims. Sam Harris’ writings last month contained a retrospective clanger that very few people picked up on. In a recent article Harris attempted to deconstruct the idea of Islamophobia:


“[Islamophobia] is, an ‘irrational’ and ‘disproportionate’ and ‘unjustified’ focus on Muslims. But the only way that Muslims can reasonably be said to exist as a group is in terms of their adherence to the doctrine of Islam. There is no race of Muslims. They are not united by any physical traits or a diaspora. […] The only thing that defines the class of All Muslims – and the only thing that could make this group the possible target of anyone’s “irrational” fear, “disproportionate” focus, or “unjustified” criticism – is their adherence to a set of beliefs and the behaviours that these beliefs inspire. So ‘Islamophobia’ must be – it really can only be—an irrational, disproportionate, and unjustified fear of certain people, regardless of their ethnicity or any other accidental trait, because of what they believe and to the degree to which they believe it.”


Sam Harris who wrote in defense of profiling barely a year ago, an article in which he suggested: “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.” In response to an avalanche of criticism, he elaborated further: “To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, traveling companions, behaviour in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest.” The author makes a point of showing the irony of this in that Muslims are the most racially diverse religious group in America.


Whatever you choose to call this phenomenon, it’s clear that there’s a line between criticism (and/or ridicule) of Islam, and bigotry against Muslims. Yet as the author describes, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have blundered into that line with an alarming degree of recklessness. None of that alters the point that inflammatory, irrational and blundering attacks by privileged white male atheists against Muslims of all stripes achieve little more than book sales.