By Brendan O’Neill (Telegraph)
Another week, another half-hilarious, half-tragic Richard Dawkins meltdown on Twitter. This time, Dawkins, who prior to becoming a jester of the Twittersphere was apparently a well respected author, used the opportunity of International Women’s Day to blast the “loathsome religion” of Islam. He tweeted a photo of three [Afghan] women in short skirts in the 1970s next to a photo of three [Afghan] women cloaked in the burqa today, alongside the words: “How can anyone defend this loathsome religion?” He means Islam. He always means Islam. He has a real problem with Islam, even more than he does with Catholicism, whose teachings he once described as being worse than rape.
His “loathsome religion” tweet was hotly followed by another suggesting that the ritual slaughter of animals for faith reasons – ie halal and kosher – should be banned. “Many complex considerations should influence our treatment of animals. ‘Sincerely held religious beliefs’ are not among them,” he said. He followed this up with yet another shouty tweet, saying: “‘Beliefs’? BELIEFS!” It seems he doesn’t like belief. Or the idea that society should allow people to hold and act on beliefs that run counter to what the rest of us consider to be normal and decent. Which is weird, considering that the entire Enlightenment – to which Dawkins claims to be an adherent – began from a conviction that men must be free to worship as they see fit, regardless of whether their ideas or behaviour offend the majority. In the words of John Locke, in his 1689 Letter Concerning Toleration, how terrible would it be to put men “under the necessity to quit the light of their own reason, and oppose the dictates of their own consciences, and blindly to resign themselves up to the will of their governors”. Tweet that, Rich.
Dawkins is forever landing himself in hot water over his tweets. He’s tweeted about how few Nobel Prizes Muslims have won, followed by a barb disguised as a compliment: “They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” He’s tweeted his bamboozlement as to why the New Statesman employed a practising Muslim as its political editor. His tweets are generously peppered with exclamation marks and CAPITAL LETTERS and hectoring phraseology, making it pretty clear that we are getting a glimpse into his unedited thoughts, into the inner recesses of his mind, into that part of the human brain that has always existed – the bovine, often prejudiced bit – but which until recent times was not given public expression. We are seeing how Dawkins’s mind works prior to his exercise of thought and self-editing, and it isn’t pretty.