Sunday, April 11, 2010

Clash of Civilizations or Cultural Jihad?

Richard Dawkins wants to reach out to the Muslim world. The question is: how will he do it?

While copies of his books like The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth (the former about atheism and the latter about evolution) routinely come off book store shelves in the western world, Richard Dawkins acknowledges that there is one place where his books don't sell nearl as well:

The Muslim world.

“To be a bestseller in a Muslim country would be a personal triumph,” he muses.

“I would like to see my books translated into Arabic," Dawkins insists. "They haven’t been. They are all translated into Hebrew. Persian, I’m not sure. My books are translated into Turkish and they regularly get censored and suppressed.

“The experience of my Turkish publisher of The God Delusion was that he was threatened with arrest for blasphemy," Dawkins continues. "He may even have been arrested, and my website has been banned in Turkey. I feel amused really. There’s something to be said for being suppressed, it makes people want to read you.”

Dawkins doesn't merely blame Islamic thought for hostility to the teaching of evolution in the Muslim world -- he also blames it for increasing hostility to the teaching of evolution in Britain.

“I hear that from colleagues at the coalface of teaching," Dawkins insists. "There has been a sharp upturn in hostility to teaching of evolution in the classroom and it’s mostly coming from Islamic students."

“It is nothing like as serious as it is in America, where the hostility comes from Christians, but the consequence can be very poor scientific education," he continues. "When I go to schools, as I occasionally do, I do get depressed when I see children coming out as evolution deniers. I don’t think they would have 30 years ago.”

Yet if Christianity has truly rendered the United States hostile to Dawkins' work, one may wonder how it is that his book spent three weeks as a New York Times bestseller. Compare this to Turkey, where Dawkins' website is banned and his publishers have been intimidated.

If Richard Dawkins intends to reach out to the Muslim world, an important question presents itself.

How, precisely, will he reach out? Will he reach out in good faith -- as he has failed to do with Christianity -- or will he reach out in hostility?

By his own rhetoric, Dawkins' choices seem to be firmly limited to "clash of civilizations" or "cultural jihad".

While Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis has often been used to justify hostility to the Muslim world, this is not necessarily anything that is inherent in its text. Rather, it's been a choice made by those who have interpreted his work and put it to its most popular use.

Meanwhile, there is a deeply-inherent hostility in provoking a cultural jihad. As noted from Dawkins' approach to Christianity, this seems like it would more likely be Dawkins' choice -- one that will be every bit as damaging to his actually-laudable goal of promoting the theory of evolution in a portion of the world where it seems sorely misunderstood.

As the creators (and re-publishers) of the infamous Prophet Mohammad cartoons can attest, perceived hostility to the Muslim world draws quite the reaction from it. It isn't an approach that will win Richard Dawkins many converts.


  1. At last, the Christian and Muslim establishments can finally join hands in a common cause: hating Richard Dawkins!

    At the end of the day, the various religions of the world have far more in common with each other - and with authoritarian political movements the world over - than they recognize. They are extremely, narrowly provincial in their thinking; worship at the altar of conformity; fear and despise even the barest dissent; censor and ban unofficial thinking; and are willing to do whatever they can to warp minds and survive. Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao, and a long line of Christian Popes would instinctively understand and appreciate the efforts of the Muslim world to keep out Richard Dawkins. It is, quite simply, pathetic.

    By the way, speaking of being provincial, censorious, and pathetic, did you have certain bloggers in mind as you posted this piece?

  2. Heh.

    Not really. I've said almost the full extent of what I have to say about the censoriousness of those particular individuals. I have one final point to make about the way they treat reasonable dissent.

    As it pertains the similarities between authoritarian religion at its extremes -- it's impossible to argue that point, actually.

    It is possible to point out that these are extremes.

    It seems another pertinent point to mention is that, excluding possibly Rome (it is, after all, a sovereign state) there are no more Christian theocracies in the world -- thus the power of Christian extremists to censor is far more constrained than those of Muslim extremists.

    This excuses nothing in terms of that pathetic, provincial censorship. It just places it in a key context.


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