Richard Dawkins and the unbearable smugness of tweeting

For some time I've been expecting to see a particular secularist conceit expressed in a particular way - and late last month, Richard Dawkins finally came through, writes Scott Stephens on ABC Ethics and Religion Online. Without any direct provocation that I can see, apart from whatever bad feelings remain from a bruising encounter late last year on al-Jazeera, Dawkins tweeted, on April 21:

"Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist."

Dawkins's views on religion are by now extremely well-known, to the point of cultural saturation thanks to the media's fixation with him. Dawkins makes for good copy - that's why journalists love him.

But the dogmatic assertions and withering dismissals that made Dawkins a media-darling and The God Delusion an international bestseller lend themselves particularly well to the anarchic medium of Twitter, where his unjustifiable claims can shrug off any residual requirement for justification. At the hand of his hundreds of thousands of followers, who rehash and #hashtag with a well-nigh evangelical fervour, Dawkins's tweets take on the force of a Delphic pronouncement.

This echo-chamber seems to have had a peculiar effect on Dawkins, however. His Twitter stream has become increasingly septic of late; it is almost as if, egged on by his acolytes, he has become a caricature of his own public persona.

The chink in the amour of Dawkins's rhetorical brilliance and aggression - as his critics have long pointed out - is his theological illiteracy, but he now seems to have fully embraced a brazen ignorance of anything beyond the basest (mis)understanding of religious belief, as though being thus ignorant was intellectually virtuous or the self-evident manifestation of a superior mind.

Take, for instance, his smug quip, on March 1:

"Haven't read Koran so couldn't quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam greatest force for evil today."

And again, on March 25:

"Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur'an. You don't have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about nazism."

The wilful ignorance capable of making such statements is not just dangerously uncritical, to the point that it can nestle comfortably alongside the vilest forms of bigotry and anti-Islamic sentiment; it is also inexcusably ahistorical. It evinces a deliberate effacement of the role played by Islam in the formation of modern science and the intellectual foundations of western civilisation as a whole.

Moreover, it ignores the productive dynamism evident throughout the development of Islamic jurisprudence, as well as the complexity, and even beauty, of its formulations concerning gender and the constitution of a good and just society.

But acknowledging the history and profound humanism of the Islamic tradition - the belief that the realisation of goodness, beauty and peace on earth is indissociable from the true worship of God - is not a way of side-stepping the actual evil so often committed in the name of Islam.

It is, rather, the only way of grasping where the real struggle lies today: not between devout Muslims and the sneering secularism of Dawkins and his atheist confreres, but between those supremacist idolaters who have arrogated to themselves the authority to speak in the name of God, and those Muslims who humbly remain on al-sirat al-mustaqim, the righteous path.

In other words, the real struggle today lies within Islam itself. And as Khaled Abou El Fadl has repeatedly demonstrated, the resources for self-criticism inherent to Islam are far more radical, and efficacious, than anything on offer from the imperious pseudo-humanism of the militant atheists.

FULL STORY Richard Dawkins and the unbearable smugness of tweeting (ABC)

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