KPFA, a public radio station in Berkeley, California, cancelled a planned public event featuring scientist Richard Dawkins, due to protests over past comments he had made regarding Islam.
Richard Dawkins is a prominent evolutionary biologist and author. He is particularly well-known for his outspoken atheist views. Dawkins was scheduled to participate in a live discussion and book signing, organized as a fundraiser for the radio station, part of the Pacifica network. He would have been promoting his new book, “Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist,” a compilation of 42 of his essays concerning scientific thought and inquiry.
In 2013, Dawkins tweeted, “Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for the Bible. But often say that Islam greatest force for evil today.” In an article published in The Telegraph on June 11, 2017, Dawkins expanded on this sentiment, saying, “If you look at the actual impact that different religions have on the world it’s quite apparent that at present the most evil religion in the world has to be Islam.” He added that he does not believe all Muslims are evil; rather, they “suffer more from Islam than anybody else.”
The New York Times reported that KPFA received messages criticizing Dawkins’ planned appearance. A former KPFA board member complained that Dawkins is an Islamophobe. Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, wrote to the station that Dawkins’ comments “give legitimacy to extremist views.”
In an email to ticket-holders, KPFA wrote that it had booked the event so Dawkins could discuss his new book; station representatives said they “didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam – so many people.” While the station supports free speech, the email said, it does not support “abusive speech.” It apologized for not having known of Dawkins’ comments before inviting him. Bob Baldock, the events coordinator for KPFA, told the Times he supported the decision to cancel, but described it as a “fraught decision.” He also said he could not think of another station event that was cancelled because of content in the thirty years he had worked there.
In an interview with the Times, Dawkins said of the cancellation, “Many people are saying this is a freedom of speech issue, and of course it is. But it’s actually more a freedom of listening issue. People bought tickets because they wanted to hear me.”
Richard Dawkins writes open letter in response to cancellation, requests apology
In an open letter, Dawkins criticized KPFA’s decision and asserted that if the station had done “rudimentary fact-checking,” it would have “concluded that [he has] never used abusive speech against Islam.” He said he had criticized the “pseudoscientific claims” of “Islamic apologists” and the “appalling misogyny and homophobia of Islam,” and that he thinks “Muslims themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism.” Dawkins also pointed out that he has criticized Christianity, too, but has never been “de-platformed” for that. He concluded the letter with his expectation of a public apology from the radio station.
Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18
January 5, 2018