Radio station cancels Richard Dawkins appearance over Islam tweets

'While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech'

Greg Wilford
Saturday 22 July 2017 15:46 BST
The evolutionary biologist has in the past called Islam the ‘greatest force for evil today’
The evolutionary biologist has in the past called Islam the ‘greatest force for evil today’

A US radio station invited Richard Dawkins to speak about his latest book, and then cancelled the ticketed event over his tweets about Islam.

The evolutionary biologist was due to discuss Science in the Soul: Collected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist at a benefit event for KPFA, a listener-funded station in Berkeley, California.

Tickets were snapped up ahead of the anti-theist’s planned talk on 9 August – but KPFA cancelled the event on Thursday, claiming it had recently discovered that his comments about Islam had upset people.

“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 told ticket buyers in an email.

“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.”

Mr Dawkins, an avowed atheist who has criticised religion publicly for decades, has previously appeared at KPFA benefit events as recently as October 2015.

The Kenyan-born ethologist said he was “astonished” to be no-platformed by a station broadcasting in the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, a student protest that took place at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) in 1965.

He published an open letter in response to the cancellation, which stated: “The idea that I have engaged in abusive speech against Islam is preposterous, which even the most rudimentary fact-checking by KPFA would have made clear.

“I have indeed strongly condemned the misogyny, homophobia, and violence of Islamism, of which Muslims — particularly Muslim women — are the prime victims. I make no apologies for denouncing those oppressive cruelties, and I will continue to do so.”

Mr Dawkins often takes aim at religion on Twitter, and has called God “the most unpleasant character in all fiction”.

He has been branded “Islamophobic” by those who have taken offence to his remarks about the world’s second largest religion, which he has called the “greatest force for evil today”.

But he insists that his opinions about religious texts and “ridiculous pseudoscientific claims made by Islamic apologists” are not driven by bigotry towards Muslim people.

He told KPFA: “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.”

The free speech row in Berkeley comes after a series of right-wing commentators including Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos cancelled talks at UCB amid fears of riots.

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