Richard Dawkins criticised for Twitter comment about Muslims

The outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins was involved in an online Twitter row on Thursday after tweeting: “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

 

As users piled in to criticise him, the scientist continued: “Why mention Muslim Nobels rather than any other group? Because we so often hear boasts about (a) their total numbers and (b) their science.”

 

However if one looks at what Dawkins is really saying, that Muslims as a unit throughout history have done nothing since the Middle Ages, and that is clearly attributable to their stupid religion, then one must point out that a Nobel prize is not by any means a suitable or universal enough criterion. It has only been going for a little more than a hundred years, the prizes it awards are for excellence in academic research which is far superior in western scientific and academic institutions due to the socioeconomic development of the West. Nesrine Malik for the guardian commented “The whole process of trying to parse the painfully obvious fallacy reminded me of the task of arguing against extremist Muslim clerics when they try to denigrate non-Muslims, the same momentary sense of helplessness and not knowing where to start. The same opinion with an agenda dressed up as fact. But one usually takes academics and scientists more seriously and tries to engage. With this latest salvo, I am afraid that we must consign Dawkins to this very same pile of the irrational and the dishonest.”

 

With the debate escalating, Dawkins, who has more than 777,000 followers, said: “Many are asking how many Nobels have been won by atheists. Needs research. I’d love to know. I suspect the proportion is v high, and growing.”

 

Owen Jones, the left-leaning commentator and author of Chavs, told Dawkins: “How dare you dress your bigotry up as atheism. You are now beyond an embarrassment.” Legal blogger Jack of Kent added: “Following @RichardDawkins tweet, Trinity Cambridge has presumably also produced more Soviet-supporting traitors to the UK than Islam.”

 

The row also drew in historian Tom Holland and Channel 4’s economics editor Faisal Islam who commented: “I thought scientists were meant to upbraid journalists for use of spurious data points to ‘prove’ existing prejudgements”.

 

@jptoc chipped in: “A similar (and infuriating for Dawkins) ‘fact’ is that Islam has more recipients of Nobel Prizes than Dawkins. It’s bad scientific method.”

 

But some users appeared more forgiving. @Chriss_m, said: “Dawkins spent the best part of 10 years attacking Christianity and not raising an eyebrow. He now turns that same eye on Islam and uproar.”

 

Trinity College, Cambridge, has 32 Nobel laureates, as against 10 Muslims listed in Wikipedia. When the Guardian contacted Dawkins by email to ask whether he was surprised by the uproar, he replied: “Prompted by exasperation at hearing boasts of (a) how numerous Muslims are in the world and (b) how great is their science.

 

Channel 4 to air daily Muslim call to prayer during Ramadan

Channel 4 is to air the Muslim call to prayer live every morning during the month of Ramadan. The broadcaster said it was an act of “deliberate provocation” aimed at viewers who might associate Islam with extremism. The headline-grabbing move will see Channel 4 broadcast the three-minute call to prayer at about 3am for 30 days from the start of Ramadan on 9 July. Channel 4 will also interrupt programming four times on the first day of Ramadan to mark subsequent calls by means of a 20-second film to remind viewers of the approaching prayer time. After that date, the channel will air the 3am call to prayer on live TV, and the other four prayer times will be broadcast on its website.

 

Ralph Lee, Channel 4’s head of factual programming, said: “The calls to prayer prompt Muslims to carry out quiet moments of worship, but hopefully they’ll also make other viewers sit up and notice that this event is taking place.

 

“Observing the adhan on Channel 4 will act as a nationwide tannoy system, a deliberate ‘provocation’ to all our viewers in the very real sense of the word.”

 

The Muslim Council of Britain supported Channel 4’s move.

 

The film, made by production company Watershed, will “feature a range of voices, from imams to architects, feminists to a former rock chick, each providing some serious Ramadan food for thought”.

 

But it is not without discussion from within the community:

 

Nabil Ahmed: ‘This is an opportunity to learn’. There could not be a better time to try to understand Islam than during Ramadan. Muslims believe that Ramadan is primarily about one’s relationship with God, and the effort to live in accordance with a divinely ordained order. It is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, which Muslims believe is God’s final revelation to mankind. It is thus also the month in which Muhammad was sent to warn humanity of future dangers, as a bringer of glad tidings and as a conduit of God’s mercy. TV should be a medium in which we share our understanding of faith in Britain. Ramadan seeks to reawaken our consciousness of God, but also teaches us to give to the poor and to practise self-discipline in relation to our ego and with material temptations. Fasting is a means, not an end, to reconnect with our divine purpose by not relying on food and drink. Channel 4’s approach is an opportunity for all of us to learn – and to put aside preconceived ideas.

 

Nesrine Malik: ‘To reduce it to a media gimmick is exploitative’. Apparently, there is an urgent need, post-Woolwich in particular, to show that Islam is a religion of peace and sacrifice. This is an inherently contradictory stance. If there is such a charged atmosphere in the UK vis a vis Islam, why “provoke” people by projecting this message even more loudly? It all rather smacks of busy-bodying do-goodery. Even on Arab Muslim satellite channels, only the national ones broadcast the call to prayer, with others merely showing a ticker along the bottom of the screen to indicate sunset and iftar times. Channel 4’s idea might be well-intentioned, but it also seems spurred on by the fact that Islam has become the latest topic of media sensation, to be turned into a spectacle under the guise of “debate” and furthering understanding. The way to do this isn’t to project the call to prayer five times a day in a cultural vacuum. It is instead to resist particularising the Muslim experience by attempting to mainstream it by putting some British Muslim faces in front of the camera as something other than religious curiosities to be examined. Reducing it to a media gimmick is exploitative and an unwise, crude way to promote a sensible discussion.

 

Channel 4 was warned not to give excessive coverage to Ramadan. Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “I wouldn’t object to it as at least it gives some balance to the BBC’s emphasis on Christianity but Channel 4 has to keep it in proportion.

 

Get yourself a proper job

“How much do you get paid?” This is the first question I am asked by many of the A-level students I meet as part of a Muslim mentoring programme for schools in underprivileged areas of North London. Although they ask with a cheeky smirk, in the eyes of many of the students a satisfactory answer would cement my credibility as a mentor. Most are of Somali, Pakistani and Bengali origin, and the mentoring scheme kicks off in their first year of A-level study with the purpose of helping to motivate the students academically by providing successful examples of the fruits of a good education. If they make enough money, that is. Upon closer acquaintance, it appears that most of the students need very little academic motivation. They are second-generation immigrants whose families encourage them to perform and go to university in order to secure a good job and a healthy livelihood. If anything, they need motivation to take up more extra-curricular activities and be more involved with pursuits that would allow them to explore their talents and personal aptitudes. Every single one of the students in the programme was planning to enrol in either a science or maths-based discipline (except one girl, who wanted to study English and asked sheepishly whether an English degree would help her secure a lucrative role in today’s job market). Nesrine Malik reports.