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US radio station pulls Richard Dawkins event over 'abusive speech' against Islam

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has defended his comments on Islam [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 July, 2017

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Renowned biologist Richard Dawkins has been forced to deny using "hurtful speech" against Islam after a radio station cancelled a book event featuring the scientist.
Renowned scientist Richard Dawkins has been forced to deny using "hurtful speech" against Islam after a California radio station pulled a book event with the biologist. 

Dawkins, whose bestselling study of evolution, The Selfish Gene, was named the most influential science book of all time by the Royal Society last week, was lined up to speak about his memoir A Brief Candle in the Dark at an event hosted by Berkeley’s KPFA Radio in August.

But the station pulled the plug, citing Dawkins' comments on Islam.

"We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn't know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam – so many people. KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech," said KPFA in an email to ticket holders, which Dawkins later published on his website.

"While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologise for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins's views much earlier. We also apologise to all those inconvenienced by this cancellation."

Dawkins called the decision "truly astonishing", and a "matter of personal sorrow". 

"My memory of KPFA is that you were unusually scrupulous about fact-checking. I especially admired your habit of always quoting sources," he wrote to KPFA in an open letter he shared on his website. "You conspicuously did not quote a source when accusing me of 'abusive speech'. Why didn't you check your facts – or at least have the common courtesy to alert me – before summarily cancelling my event?"

Dawkins said that he had "never used abusive speech against Islam", adding that while he has called Islamism "vile", Islamism is not the same as Islam.

"I have criticised the appalling misogyny and homophobia of Islam, I have criticised the murdering of apostates for no crime other than their disbelief. Far from attacking Muslims, I understand – as perhaps you do not – that Muslims themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism, especially Muslim women," wrote the author in his response.

"I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?"

He called on the radio station to find examples of abuse, and said that when it "fail[ed] to discover any", he would expect a public apology.

In a report about the cancellation, KPFA said it had been contacted by activists who had described Dawkins as "a very well-known Islamophobe" who had vilified Muslims.

The radio station cited tweets from Dawkins including one that read: "I think Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today" and pointed to a recent Telegraph article in which Dawkins was quoted as saying that "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".

The station did not include the full Telegraph quote, in which Dawkins continues: "It's terribly important to modify that because of course that doesn't mean all Muslims are evil, very far from it. Individual Muslims suffer more from Islam than anyone else."

KPFA general manager Quincy McCoy said he decided to cancel Dawkins's appearance when the academic's statements were brought to his attention.

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