On my Friday night foray into twitter, I noticed that the renowned scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins had applauded, with vigorous conviction, the “parody” account Jihadist Joe. The account had been recently suspended but was now back up, and was then subsequently met with effusive appraisal from Dawkins. I disagreed with the suspension of the account. In order for a compelling case to be made for an account to curtailed, explicit evidence for incitement of violence has to be shown. In my opinion, this account does not contain such evidence. Notwithstanding whether or not the account should or shouldn’t be banned, let us shift focus into the content of the account and why Dawkins was very silly to endorse it.
All religious beliefs should be subject to scrutiny, debate, and in some instances, contempt. I should also make it clear that I don’t subscribe to the Reza Aslan/Owen Jones school of apologetics; where they argue Islam has nothing to do with the behaviour of violent Islamists. This is plainly wrong. Although saying Islam necessarily entails jihadism is itself incorrect, it is clear that Salafi-jihadism is an interpretation of Islamic texts, and so retrogressive beliefs, extrapolated from particular scriptures, ought to be challenged and reformed to cohere with modernity. In this sense, I find Islamic orthodoxy-the view that Islamic scripture is infallible- a view that should be met with vigorous challenge. Jihadist Joe doesn’t do that. Or I should say he doesn’t do just that, because although his account certainly traduces ideas within Islam, it also denigrates Muslims indiscriminately and assumes innate maleficence in their character. This is blanket bigotry. Assuming, a priori, that being Muslim entails you engage in rape or you’re equivalent to Nazis is not a legitimate critique of Islamic ideas, it is blanket bigotry. And saying so doesn’t make me an apologist for Islam, or islamophilic , it simply suggests I find bigoted views contemptible and sufficient for obloquy.
The attitude of Dawkins’ defenders has highlighted very starkly that cognitive dissonance isn’t peculiar to religious people. Some have said the account isn’t focused on Muslims, but Islam, and seeing as Islam is a set of beliefs, the account therefore doesn’t qualify as bigotry. This syllogism is dishonest, asinine and pathetic. Dishonest because people know fully well that Jihadist Joe is generalising negatively about Muslims. Asinine because negatively generalising about Muslims is bigotry and nothing less. And pathetic because, whether they notice it or not, the proponents of these apologetics inevitably defer through strawman or descend into execrable invective.
In a different instance, a soi-disant atheist philosopher argued that when one is hostile to bigoted views, one is animated by a totalitarian impulse. After I said about roughly a billion times that I don’t want Jihadist Joe to be banned on twitter, he responded by saying: since there isn’t an objective basis for morality, one should, therefore, assume a morally libertarian attitude to Jihadist Joe’s propaganda. He was, in essence, recycling an argument steeped in cultural relativism; why is it anyone’s business that Jihadist Joe spews virulent generalisations about cultural groups? Well, I said, if we allow cultural relativism to determine our normative interactions, what would be the point in combating racism in the world? Or combating misogyny? Or combating homophobia? What would be the point in combating all forms of bigotry and supremacism, if, by corollary of his reasoning, all bigoted views should just be accepted in civil society, and remain accepted. What would be the basis whereby we invigorate progressive values such as antipathy to bigotry, if such values carry equal moral validity to values commensurate with bigotry itself? Let me repeat, a soi-disant atheist philosopher was recycling the arguments of cultural relativism, in the name of uncritically supporting Richard Dawkins, and prostrating himself to rhetoric indistinguishable from the BNP. This is irredeemably dire. It is vitally important that religious ideas be critiqued in instances, and vigorously so. It is also vitally important that those who go beyond these critique, and assume Muslims pose an existential threat, are not curtailed from speaking. The secular principles here should not, however, preclude anyone from repudiating Jihadist Joe’s toxic comments. In fact, it should energise it. Just as freedom from religious belief should inform an attitude that dispassionately subjects religion to critique, the converse should be paramount. Freedom of religious belief should inform, not curtailment of bigoted views, but implacable repudiation of said views; On the basis that bigotry is objectively contemptible, what is objectively contemptible should be challenged in civil society, and so Jihadist Joe’s views therefore shouldn’t entail moral indifference in civil society. The fact that Richard Dawkins is not even indifferent to Jihadist Joe, but is actively supportive of him, is an enormous shame for someone who has contributed so immensely to the secular humanist movement.
PS: see Kenan Malik’s brilliantly pithy response to that secular humanist I mentioned in the piece; the desperation he shows, because his ‘abstruse‘ Philsophical arguments are not being appreciated, is deliciously juxtaposed with the fact he is fucking senseless. And his demand that I read Orwell and Paine was deliriously funny (can anyone point to anything written by Paine or Orwell that has contributed to the riveting pantheon of relativism?)
This is further evidence that the Pseudo-scientific relativism of my secularist friend wasn’t the only one I encountered .
And these group of tweets form the basis for this blog.
By Tom Owolade