Richard Dawkin’s Islamophobia: A Black Muslim Response

 

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Richard Dawkin’s Islamophobia: A Black Muslim Response  pt.1

Along with Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennet, and Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins is known to be one of the four horsemen of the contemporary neo-atheist movement. Their criticisms of Islam generally evoke secular enlightenment discourse from whence their worldview of secular humanism emerges.

At the core of Dawkins belief is the perception that Islam is archaic and at odds with modernity. Within his writings and public statements, Dawkins seeks to inculcate the viewpoint that Islam is a uniquely violent religion and the foremost impediment to peace.

Neo-atheist discourse  often attributes profound social problems in the Muslim world not to colonialism but the failure of the Muslim world to undergo an enlightenment.

Yet, Dawkin’s romanization of the secular enlightenment as a progressive period in history and his discourse which seeks to make a hyperbolic threat of Islam does a profound injustice to Black Muslims. In the article, we will offer a Black Muslim critique of Richard Dawkins.

The World’s Great Evil! 

 In an interview, Richard Dawkins states that,” I regard Islam as one of the great evils of the world.” When asked why he believed Islam was more problematic than Christianity, Dawkins states,”There are people in the Islamic world who simply say we are right and we are going to impose our will. In a way, I think we are being too nice.”Contrary to Dawkin’s ahistorical assertion, however, it is more often than not, the white western world which has sought to impose its will upon Islamic world.

In Overthrow: America’s century of regime change from Hawaii to Iraq, Stephen Kinzer writes,”The United States has not hesitated to overthrow governments that stood in the way of its political and economic goals.” In fact, mainstream theories of international relations which have their origins in the secular European enlightenment thought have frequently been utilized by white politicians to impose their will upon Muslims.

As an example, the Democratic Peace-Keeping is a theory of international relations which has its origins in the worldview of Immanuel Kant. Kant believed that war would dissipate with the spread of liberal democracy as human beings developed institutions to resolve conflicts through reason and rational.

In Race and Racism in International Relations: Confronting the Global Colour Line, Aneveas describes the various implications that this theory leads to, “that powerful, civilised states have the capacity to lift weaker, primitive states out of the heart of darkness and into the light of democratic peace.” In Kantian ethics, two democracies will not go to war based upon the ability of actors to use liberal institutions to resolve conflicts through reason.  A major disadvantage of this theory is that it can be utilized to justify wars against non-democracies in order to impose democracy.  The war on Iraq was a key example of democratic peace keeping being utilized to justify war. 

 Secular enlightenment thinkers held the non-white world to be in an inherently anarchic state. This gave rise to the very radical idea of the hegemonic stability theory. This theory states that the international arena will become more stable when there is a single nation-state who is the governing world power.  The nation-state that achieves the status as world hegemon is then tasked with imposing rules and regulations upon other state-actors to keep them in line.

As a result of this theory, numerous Muslim societies have been denied the right to self-determination. During the cold war, the U.S imposed its will upon Muslims in Somalia by propping up Mohammed Siad Barre who became a brutal dictator in the regime. The U.S government was also directly involved in a coup det’at in Iran in which they ousted the democratically elected leader Mohammad Mosaddegh in order to impose the dictator  Mohammed Shah. Despite all of this, Dawkins actually believes that the western world is being to nice to Muslims in their foreign policy.

In Myth  of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict, William Cavanaugh  exposes a grotesque double standard about the portrayal of violence committed by those proclaiming to be Islamic verses violence committed by white western nation states. Cavanaugh writes, ”Their violence is seen as fanatical; our violence is seen as rational and peace making.” Dawkins is a prime example of this way of thinking.

In his assessment of the world’s greatest evils, Dawkins ignores the violence perpetuated in the name of theories solidified by the European enlightenment.  Dawkins does this in order to promote the notion that it is those Muslim boogeymen who are seeking to impose their will.

 White Male Saver Complex

The secular enlightenment resulted in an attitude of cultural superiority among Europeans. Europeans began to see themselves as superior to other cultures due to their ability to apply reason and rationality to shape the world. This superiority complex facilitated by the European enlightenment has led to an absurd situation in which white secular males portray themselves as authorities on Muslim women unaware of basic facts of history.

In a textbook case of this, Dawkins writes, “Islam needs a feminist revolution,” oblivious to how a Black Muslim women named Nana Asmau is lauded throughout Africa, as the precursor to African feminism due to her tireless efforts in working to expand education to women.

Throughout her literary works, Nana Asmau routinely describes Islam as the impetus behind her educational endeavors. The historian Jean Boyd notes that in Islamic West Africa the education of women was treated as a religious obligation. Boyd goes as far as to say that to deny women the ability to cultivate educational opportunities was seen as a violation of God’s will.

It was within this environment that a pioneer of African-American literature, Phyllis Wheatley grew up within. This strong emphasis on the education of women would have a momentous impact on Phyllis Wheatley. According to literary researcher, Will Harris,”the slave child’s rapid progress in learning to read, write, and speak English was likely the result of nominal instruction in language acquisition she already obtained in an Islamic school system before being kidnapped into slavery. “ In the early Americas, black people were systematically prohibited from even learning how to read. However, a notable exception occurs from a black woman whose early Islamic education enabled her to overcome the odds and pursue literary endeavors which generally were not available to black women.

Yet, Dawkins does not refuse to acknowledge how Islam could have contributed to the empowerment of women nor can Dawkins conceive of how secular enlightenment ideals could have detrimentally impacted the education of women.

The Alliance of Ayaan Hiri Ali and Richard Dawkins 

In order to further inculcate this narrative that Islam mandates the oppression of women, the four horsemen of neo-atheism place the narrative of Ayaan Hirsi Ali on a pedestal. At the Celebration of Reason: Global Atheist Convention organized by Richard Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsli Ali discusses how she was oppressed under Islam in Somalia prior to coming to the enlightened west to experience the joys of the secular enlightenment.

Though Ali narrative has been discovered to have numerous fabrications, Ali’s experience with Islam is seen as representative by Dawkins although one can just as easily find counterexamples.

In her memoir The War Before: The Life Story Becoming A Black Panther Keeping Faith in Prison, Safiya Bukhari discusses the brutalities of growing up under Eurocentric Law in America. Bukhari describes her conversation to Islam as a source of empowerment enabling her to fight oppression.

Why is Safiya Bukhari’s narrative not given equal weight in such discussions? The western exceptionalism emanating of the secular enlightenment is so dangerous that it is capable of discarding entire narratives of women’s oppression and co-opting and commodifying others to fit into an agenda.

Far from being genuine attempt to counter the oppression of women, women’s rights discourse emanating from secular enlightenment discourse often becomes simply a farce to promote western exceptionalism juxtaposed against a backward Islamic world.

The Reality of Dawkins

Dawkins arguesthat Islam is one of the world’s greatest evils without ever acknowledging or repudiating the oppression that resulted from the ideals solidified from the European enlightenment. The reality is Dawkin’s perception of Islam has been severely clouded and distorted by the very white supremacy emanating from the European enlightenment.

About Hakeem Muhammad

Hakeem Muhammad is an African-American Muslim thinker and activist from Chicago. He has has taught African American philosophy and Critical Race Theory at Spartan Debate Institute at Michigan State University and Cal State debate and Speech Institute at UC Berkeley. As an advocate for social change, Hakeem has delivered workshops on protest rhetoric for Harvard Debate Council and has worked in the African-American Male initiative at West Georgia tutoring in political science, history, and English. He is currently a 2016 MUSLIMARC Fellow.