Richard Dawkins has said that burqas personally offend him, spoke out in favour of Palestine and said that the Islamic world had "stagnated" since the Middle Ages.
However, the God Delusion author added that his personal opinions shouldn't make a difference to how other people choose to behave.
"I’m not in favour of a burqa ban, it seems to be a violation of individual liberty," Dawkins during a Newsnight interview with Evan Davis. "When I see a woman in a full burqa with just a slit [motions to eyes] I feel personally offended. But it’s an important part of what I believe that what I personally feel is irrelevant – it doesn’t matter what I feel. Nobody else should abide by what I feel, and that applies on the other side as well."
Setting out his stall on how he believes society should function, the evolutionary biologist said: "The rules of the game are that you should be allowed to believe anything you like and of course that’s right, but that you shouldn’t impose your beliefs on other people. And so any creed that thinks it has the right to say: 'Not only do we believe this, but you’ve got to believe it too or else'... that is a very very serious violation of everything that democracy stands for."
Continuing on the topic of Islam, Dawkins, whose Twitter feed is laced with what many believe are anti-Muslim ideas, said he thought that the "Islamic world" had "stagnated". Having been told that 20-25 per cent of Nobel science prizes had been won by Jewish people, Dawkins compared the two religions.
"Islam has stagnated in the scientific field since the Middle Ages," he said. "And the best comparison to make would have been with Jews, and then I thought: 'Oh no I cant do that because that will really upset people, because of Palestine.' And I’m very sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people in Israel."
When probed by Davis on whether this was a sensible thing to say, Dawkins batted away criticism. "It’s just a fact," he said. "Whether it upsets people is less important to me than the dramatic nature of the fact which ought to be looked at – somebody ought to be saying 'why?'"
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