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.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?

myth of muslim tide

The Myth of the Muslim Tide is a timely, sober and exhaustively researched book. British-Canadian Globe and Mail journalist Doug Saunders clearly and effectively debunks a number of irrational yet widely circulated demographic and historical claims by drawing on popular political literature, quantitative data and opinion polls. The short book is a useful tool with which to counteract the heightened post-9/11 notion of an imminent avalanche of Muslim immigrants bent on taking over Western countries from within, a goal parallel with that of the Euro-Islam network.

These ideas matter because they are not solely the fodder of extremists. Saunders frames the book around his experience of reading Anders Breivik’s manifesto, but we know these beliefs are foundational for political leaders like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, parties that have anti-Muslim-immigration agendas in Scandinavia, the National Front in France and so on.

My own anthropologically-based work with Muslims outside of Paris,in the Greater Toronto Area and in St. John’s, Newfoundland has led me to findings similar to Saunders’: that public debate and, at times, governmental and legal policies are marked by misinformation about the population, birth rates and lack of extremism among the majority of Western Muslims.

While my work is qualitative, Saunders’ data are dryly and dispassionately accurate and say a great deal about disparities between influential conservatives’ claims and the realities of European and North American Muslims (who I find he sweeps together a bit too easily). Saunders’ claims that, “The truth about Muslim communities is not found in scripture but in action” (7) is on the mark and one with which many social scientists would agree.

To my mind the book’s strengths lie in the latter half of the book where he shows how Catholics in the US in the 18th and 19th Centuries and Jews in Europe in the early 20th Century were perceived with some of the same tone and racist scaremongering as Muslims today. There is, in sum, precedence for this discourse and history is a useful tool to show these trends.

 

Lastly, while Saunders’ overview of the privatization of religion is a bit too facile, his observation of how “Muslimness” is increasingly used as a trumping marker and identifier of peoples who have a number of other identifiers (as parents, immigrants, workers, siblings, of specific ethnic groups) is accurate . “The Muslim People” or ummah are catchalls that are also increasingly used by Muslims who find them politically unifying and theologically expedient. Saunders makes clear that the sheer variety of Islamic ways of life escape easy categorization.

There are two elements of the book I felt could have been further developed. Firstly, I wished Saunders had further developed the emotional quotient of these “tides.” He alludes to this feature in the opening of the book when he describes his visceral response to the changing so-called ethnic shops in his London neighborhood, his babysitter’s religious conversion and in a short section on “Self-Hating Westerners” that suggests that some Europeans see themselves at fault for this “tide” in becoming spiritually and morally bankrupt (20).

It seems to me that the emotional element in encountering difference is far more complex than charting fertility trends and speaks to why, for instance, autobiographies of Muslim women experiencing intimate partner violence are bestsellers in Western Europe and North America when we know that women of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds experience abuse. As a side note, when Saunders says in his introduction that he aligns himself with popular “Enlightenment fundamentalist” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I became worried. Social scientists like Saba Mahmood and Sherene Razack have effectively shown how Infidel (2007) does more damage in presenting an Orientalist homogenized patriarchal package than some of the authors Saunders critiques like Orianna Falacci or Mark Steyn. Fortunately this early appreciation does not lead Saunders to adopt Hirsi Ali’s neo-Orientalist positions.

Getting back to the emotional equation, I wished Saunders had more clearly articulated and considered the language of encounter. In my own work I have critiqued the French policy and legal arms of the Sarkozy government’s treatment of hijabs (2011), but I appreciate that a significant portion of the 2010 644-page government report that prefaced the so-called “burqa ban” treats the emotional experience of engaging with someone whose face is covered and who has different eating habits, beliefs and sexual politics.

Saunders recognizes the anxiety of the “politics of the neighbor” but his purely logical analytical response does not capture how one might feel if one’s child’s kindergarten teacher wears a niqab in the classroom. Granted, there are few niqabis in Canada – there are an estimated 25 in the province of Quebec where a bill has been recommended to ban them from public services  –  but while I might know that she is not intent on promoting Sharia in the criminal code, I might still wonder how I should address this teacher. This book does not deal with this pervasive affective issue, which is essential.

Secondly, I think it’s worth thinking about the intended audience for the book.  Saunders reflexively shares his own anxieties and fears, questioning his own responses, imagining his readers to be in the same boat. This tone allows for an openness and lack of judgment. Readers, like Saunders, might have major concerns when their babysitter converts (or reverts) to Islam but don’t want to be bigoted or racist in their responses.

However, his appeasement-filled language on the one hand and extensive use of “us” (the readers) and “them” (the Muslim immigrants) on the other is confusing. It effectively maintains “them” as outsiders, which appears to counter his primary goal. We must also consider the possible effects of focusing on a lack of threat  from Muslims in particular. Can reading this book actually shift a discursive stratagem away from the notion of Islamic threat or does this book participate in the construction of a global and decontextualized Muslim other by insisting that Muslims are largely benign?

In sum, as Saunders himself noted at a Big Thinkers’ Event at the University of Victoria in June 2013, “I wrote this book for that uncle”. The book is intended for a wide general audience. Academics may find it a useful reference for undergraduate students; policy makers and journalists will find the data in this well-researched book useful and compelling.

Muslims and Evolution in the 21st Century: A Galileo Moment?

Early last month, a conference was held in London, entitled “Have Muslims Misunderstood Evolution?” under the auspices of The Deen Institute, an organization which aims at promoting engagement between the Islamic tradition and modernity. The event sparked off a debate on social media and op-ed columns regarding the place of evolution in the Islamic worldview.

The conference, whose lectures were recently published online, brought together scientists like Prof. Ehab Abouheif and Prof. Fatimah Jackson with theologians like Dr Usama Hasan and the prominent Shaykh Yasir Qadhi. Also invited was Dr. Oktar Babuna, representing the hardcore creationist ideas of Harun Yahya, who is deemed by many Muslim scholars to be a charlatan. Sadly, by the end of the day, Babuna was reduced to such a laughing stock that even Qadhi distanced himself from him.

Some commentators have described this conference as marking a Galileo moment for Muslims. I would argue that this isn’t quite the case, as Islamic religious authority is decentralized, and there is no formal ‘religious establishment’ that has binding authority over Muslims. With even the historic center for Sunni learning, al-Azhar University, and influential scholars like al-Qaradawi accepting that Muslims could believe in evolution–though neither seems to–it doesn’t seem like this is a serious issue in theology. Rather it seems to be so only in the popular Muslim consciousness. As Muslims continue in the path of learning, as encouraged by the Prophet, I hope that a more nuanced attitude to this issue will emerge at a popular level, and then we can focus on more important discussions like that of climate change or alleviating poverty. This conference was an important step in that direction.

Celebrating Darwin: Religion And Science Are Closer Than You Think

The MIT Survey on Science, Religion and Origins, which we’re officially publishing today in honor of Charles Darwin’s 204th birthday. We found that only 11 percent of Americans belong to religions openly rejecting evolution or our Big Bang. So if someone you know has the same stressful predicament as my student, chances are that they can relax as well. To find out for sure, check out this infographic.

So is there a conflict between science and religion? The religious organizations representing most Americans clearly don’t think so. Interestingly, the science organizations representing most American scientists don’t think so either: For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science states that science and religion “live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of many scientists.” This shows that the main divide in the U.S. origins debate isn’t between science and religion, but between a small fundamentalist minority and mainstream religious communities who embrace science.

So is there a conflict between science and religion? The religious organizations representing most Americans clearly don’t think so. Interestingly, the science organizations representing most American scientists don’t think so either: For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science states that science and religion “live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of many scientists.” This shows that the main divide in the U.S. origins debate isn’t between science and religion, but between a small fundamentalist minority and mainstream religious communities who embrace science.

Muslims are trying to coming to terms with Evolution Theory

9 January 2013

 

The Deen Institute held a major event in London to bring together the views of various Muslims on the theory of evolution. Muslim scholars and scientists asserted their own opinions on the theory in order reach an agreement regarding compatibility of the theory with Islam. The participants also debated on Islam’s compatibility with science.

Islamophobia in the West: Measuring and Explaining Individual Attitudes

Since the late 1980s, growing migration from countries with a Muslim cultural background, and increasing Islamic fundamentalism related to terrorist attacks in Western Europe and the US, have created a new research field investigating the way states and ordinary citizens react to these new phenomena. However, whilst we already know much about how Islam finds its place in Western Europe and North America, and how states react to Muslim migration, we know surprisingly little about the attitudes of ordinary citizens towards Muslim migrants and Islam. Islamophobia has only recently started to be addressed by social scientists.

With contributions by leading researchers from many countries in Western Europe and North America, this book brings a new, transatlantic perspective to this growing field and establishes an important basis for further research in the area. It addresses several essential questions about Islamophobia, including:

  • what exactly is Islamophobia and how can we measure it?
  • how is it related to similar social phenomena, such as xenophobia?
  • how widespread are Islamophobic attitudes, and how can they be explained?
  • how are Muslims different from other outgroups and what role does terrorism and 9/11 play?

Islamophobia in the West will be of interest to students and scholars of sociology, religious studies, social psychology, political science, ethnology, and legal science.

The integration of Islamic people

Giovanni Sartori, considered one of the most important political scientists specializing in the study of comparative politics in Italy and internationally, has suggested that Islam is impossible to integrate.

He gives historical examples to support his thesis: the Moghul Empire that dominated India from the XV century for two hundred years, the recent Islamization of Turkey and Indonesia, all demonstrate that Islam, unlike Buddism (considered pacific and “pacioso”) and Induism ( polytheistic, hence more open to diversity) is a theocratic monotheism, that has just reborn and inflamed.

For this reason, as shown by the English and French case, trying to integrate Muslims by “Italianizing” them is a political mistake that Italy doesn’t have to make.

The truth about Arab science

In regards to the medical case of British citizen Hannah Clark, who has survived the first “piggyback” heart transplantation and has now fully recovered, author Khaled Diab questions the relationship of Arab science and the Islamic religion. The doctor who undertook this surgery, Magdi Yacoub, is an Egyptian who did not find his success in his own country but in Britain, where he is now one of the most esteemed heart surgeons and researchers and where he furthermore obtained both citizenship and knighthood.

Diab holds Arab countries responsible for hindering scientists to make a career and for science in general to spread, and it is not surprising that the Western world is far more advanced. While he affirms that the Quran can be interpreted in line with some modern science, he warns that other proved scientific aspects are rejected for moral reasons, such as confusing homosexuality with illness. Finally Diab calls for more investment of the Arab states into science, but also to hold universal truths over religious “truths”.

Turks in Europe: Culture, Identity, Integration

This volume provides the most comprehensive picture of Turks in Europe and offers cutting edge ideas, analyses and recommendations on a wide range of challenges that modern European societies cannot avoid paying closer attention. Drawing on original research, Turks in Europe brings together sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and experts in educational and cultural studies to address issues such as identity, culture, religion, integration and relations between Turkey and the European Union.