Renowned atheist Richard Dawkins has provoked controversy after tweeting Thursday that “all the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”
The author of “The God Delusion” defended his comments against accusations of racism, Islamophobia and making an irrelevant comparison, later tweeting that he was “simply stating an intriguing fact.”
Muslims “aren’t a race. What they have in common is a religion. Rather than Trinity, would you prefer the comparison with Jews? Google it.”
Twitter users and journalists were not convinced.
Dawkins “is the worst thing that ever happened to atheism,” wrote one Twitter user.
“Yes, it is technically true that fewer Muslims (10) than Trinity College Cambridge members (32) have won Nobel prizes,” Nesrine Malik wrote in British daily The Guardian.
“But insert pretty much any other group of people instead of ‘Muslims’, and the statement would be true. You are comparing a specialised academic institution to an arbitrarily chosen group of people,” she added.
“Dawkins is really trying to say… that Muslims as a unit throughout history have done nothing since the Middle Ages,” Malik wrote.
“The whole process of trying to parse the painfully obvious fallacy reminded me of the task of arguing against extremist Muslim clerics when they try to denigrate non-Muslims… The same opinion with an agenda dressed up as fact,” she added.
Even writers who are usually firm supporters of Dawkins were embarrassed by his tweets.
He “has gone from criticising the religion itself to criticising Muslims, as a vast bloc,” assistant comment editor Tom Chivers wrote in The Daily Telegraph.
“Would Dawkins have tweeted another fact, which is that Trinity also has twice as many Nobel prizes as all black people put together? It’s just as true, but presumably he doesn’t believe that it’s because black people aren’t as clever. Yet he is willing to make the equivalent inference about Muslims, without further evidence,” Chivers added.
Atheist Alex Gabriel wrote on his blog Heresy Club: “Asserting that because Islam is a religion and not a race, one can never discuss it (or treat its followers) in racist ways makes about as much sense as saying that because ballet is an art form not a sexual identity, it’s impossible to say anything homophobic about male ballet dancers. Hip-hop musicians and immigrants aren’t races either, but commentary on both is very often racist – or at least, informed and inflected to a serious degree by racial biases.”
However, some on Twitter agreed with Dawkins, or were unimpressed by the public outcry.
“It’s embarrassing [sic] that we live in a society so irrational that even the observation of basic facts can result in outrage,” wrote one Twitter user who was retweeted by Dawkins.
“Why do people shriek ‘racist!’ when Islam is criticised even though Islam isn’t a race? It WORKS; it shuts us up. We must stop being cowards,” tweeted another.
Dawkins is no stranger to controversy. He provoked a similar reaction in April in a tweet about Muslim journalist Mehdi Hasan.
The New Statesman magazine “sees fit to print him as a serious journalist,” even though Hasan “admits to believing [the Prophet] Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse,” wrote Dawkins.
He brought up the issue again on Tuesday by tweeting Hasan to question why someone “of his intelligence” believed in Islam.
The New Statesman writer had previously called Dawkins out for retweeting a piece written about him by an alleged English Defence League supporter.