As we all know, radio station KPFA in Berkeley decided to withdraw its sponsorship of a book talk by Richard Dawkins, cancelling the fundraising even; the reason, they said, was that Dawkins had insulted Islam (see my coverage here and here). As they explained, “While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech.”
That’s ridiculous, for criticizing a faith is not “abusive”. KPFA’s de-platforming was an unconscionable breach of free speech, especially by a Left-wing station that has, over the years, broadcast a lot of what could be seen as much worse “hate speech.” As I’ve noted, this wasn’t an explicit violation of the First Amendment, as KPFA is not a government-run station nor has anything to do with the University of California, but free speech goes far deeper than the Constitution. It’s a tradition—a sine qua non—of progressivism, and to do what KPFA did violates that tradition and erodes an underlying principle of democracy.
And, of course, we all realize that it’s Islam that caused it all; as Dawkins said 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?
Well, we all know the reason for that, and I needn’t dwell on it here, except to say that it’s the racism of low expectations—at least that’s what I took from what a KPFA announcer said yesterday. And, of course, Muslims often threaten violence when their faith is publicly criticized, so fear of reprisal is also a factor.
Remember, too, that this was a talk about Richard’s new collection of essays, not Islam. KPFA, it seems, has deemed Dawkins un-hearable for eternity—for criticizing the Religion of Peace.
Today’s New York Times finally got wind of the issue, and published the article below (click on screenshot to go there).
It’s pretty much a straightforward account of the controversy, and adds that Dawkins was informed of his de-platforming only by a ticketholder who received the station’s ticket-cancellation email. KPFA didn’t even have the guts to tell Richard themselves, and have not, as far as I know, responded to his email. The station continues to waffle about this:
Bob Baldock, the events coordinator for the station, said in a phone interview on Saturday that he could not recall in his three decades at the station any other live event it hosted being canceled because of its content.
The decision was made by the station’s management, and Mr. Baldock said he lent his support, but he called the cancellation a “fraught decision.”
“I could probably do my best at defending Dawkins,” he said. “I’m very fond of him. I’ve liked his books.”
He added that Mr. Dawkins’s unscripted remarks and social media posts gave him pause. “He has said things that I know have hurt people,” Mr. Baldock said.
So? All meaningful speech about controversial issues “hurts people”. Is that the standard for de-platforming someone now? If so, KPFA shouldn’t give any air time to politicians, no matter which party they’re from, or anyone who takes a stand on issues like Israel, abortion, immigration, or religion.
And here come the Islamic exceptionalists:
Henry Norr, a former KPFA board member, criticized Mr. Dawkins in a July 17 email to the station. “Yes, he’s a rationalist, an atheist and an advocate of the science of evolution — great, so am I,” Mr. Norr wrote. “But he’s also an outspoken Islamophobe — have you done your homework about that?” [JAC: I have!]
Lara Kiswani, the executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which is based in San Francisco, also emailed the station last week. She said Mr. Dawkins’s comments give legitimacy to extremist views.
“KPFA is a progressive institution in the Bay Area, and an institution that reflects social justice,” she said in a phone interview on Saturday. “It isn’t required to give such anti-Islam rhetoric a platform.”
No, it’s not required to give criticism of Islam a platform. But is criticism of Islam now “extremist”? Are the tenets of Islam totally beyond questioning? Progressive have been criticizing Catholicism for years for its retrograde stands on women, gays, abortion, and its views on contraception that led to the death from AIDS of millions in Africa. Why, indeed, does Islam get a pass?
And finally we get the free-speech buttery:
Quincy McCoy, the station’s general manager, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. In a KPFA news broadcast on Friday, he said the station “emphatically supports free speech.”
He added, “We believe that it is our free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful or hurtful language against a community that is already under attack.”
This is laughable. McCoy, who seems to be deeply confused, of course has a right to de-platform someone that he doesn’t agree with. And I suppose you could consider that “free counter-speech” in the form of action. But Dawkins is no provocateur or deliberate offense-giver: his views are considered, deeply passionate, and well worth discussing in today’s society. There’s a good case to be made that Islam is the world’s most oppressive and hurtful religion (as Richard said, its main victims are Muslims), and if we suppress people from expressing that view, and related critiques of other faiths, then we are truly lost.
The Muslim community has done well in painting themselves as victims whose faith cannot under any circumstances be criticized, and liberals, sad to say, have bought into this. But ideas are not people, and ideas have no rights. It’s time we stop being cowed, as was KPFA, by fear of offending people who adhere to harmful superstitions. We should speak up for our right to speak up.
What KPFA should do now is bring on Richard on for a radio discussion, and to answer listeners’ questions. I’m sure he’d do that, and there’s every reason for a good station to do that, but perhaps he’s so beyond redemption that even sending out his voice on KPFA’s airwaves is “abuse.”