Sunday, September 20, 2015

New Atheist Spokesmen Look Like Jerks, Part One Million

Perhaps I would stop bashing the New Atheist movement if only they would stop giving me so many reasons to do so. Let's start out with some background: Ahmed Mohamed, a fourteen-year-old Muslim in Texas, brought a home-made digital clock to school to show a teacher. He was treated with suspicion, as faculty thought it might be a bomb, and ended up in handcuffs even after it was determined not to be, on the grounds that it was supposedly a hoax bomb. Since then, people from President Obama to Mark Zuckerberg to the folks at NASA have come to his defense.

For many like myself, Ahmed's arrest is a reminder of the unfair prejudices against anyone brown-skinned and/or Muslim in the United States. Predictably, other people have had different reactions. The ever-vapid Sarah Palin and her equally brainless spawn have both weighed in with predictably idiotic responses that are not worth anything more than a brief mention here. No, my purpose here is to focus on a couple people who should know better.

Ahmed Mohamed (LM Otero/AP)
First, Bill Maher. We'll give him some credit: he says Ahmed deserves an apology, which is worth something. That's overshadowed a bit by the fact that he absurdly claims this has nothing to do with skin color and then justifies profiling Muslims on the basis that young Muslims all over the world are "blowing shit up." Maher states that "for the last thirty years, it's been one culture that has been blowing shit up over and over again." That's right, it's just one, apparently. Nevermind the fact that right-wing terrorists have actually killed significantly more people than jihadists in the US since 9/11, the person in the last thirty years who killed the most people in the US by "blowing shit up" was Timothy McVeigh, a lapsed Catholic, and the US government has been pretty busy blowing shit up in the last thirty years, too. Maher conveniently ignores (or is unaware of) the fact that Ahmed was arrested after it was clear his clock was not a bomb. 

More heinouswas Richard Dawkins's response. For starters, Dawkins accuses Ahmed of fraud for claiming to have "invented" the clock when, according to Dawkins, he just reassembled it from already existing parts. 

He also insinuates that maybe Ahmed was trying to get arrested. Right. Because clearly a fourteen-year-old Muslim in Texas would just think "Hey, I bet if I bring a clock into school, they'll mistake it for a bomb, arrest me, and then a bunch of people will rally behind me." Really, who hasn't had that thought before?

He then caps it off with this absurd pseudo-apology:

 Gee, humblebrag much? Since I've started writing this post, he's doubled down with tweets like this one:

And then, ridiculously, commented:
This shows how thoroughly anti-Muslim animus permeates Dawkins's and Maher's minds, and is yet another illustration of how farcical the claims that they're not Islamophobic are. To be honest, I don't know how much I can actually say here because I don't know what needs to be said. Sadly, though, if you look at the responses to Dawkins's tweets and the comments on the articles I've linked, many of them are supportive of Maher and Dawkins.

On a positive note, not every voice in the New Atheist community echoed these gross sentiments. Popular YouTuber TheAmazingAtheist put out a video supportive of Ahmed and criticized Dawkins and Maher via Tumblr:

Indeed. It's pathetic to see people tripping over themselves to justify how Ahmed was treated, and particularly disgusting to see an esteemed evolutionary biologist make a spectacle out of himself by accusing a fourteen-year-old of fraud for calling a clock his invention, and insinuating that he actually wanted to be arrested (I'm sure that was such a great experience for him and his family). 

And since I brought up Maher, I'll take the opportunity to make a note here that I've wanted to for a while. Several times I've said good things about Bill Maher: I've stated that "I like Bill Maher" and that "he's smart, and funny" and "witty and eloquent." I take all of that back now, as I've wanted to for some time. Bill Maher now strikes me as nothing more than a loudmouth who voices his ugliest and most unenlightened opinions in the name of comedy and political incorrectness. He might think he's George Carlin, but the dirt under Carlin's fingernails was a better comedian than Maher. 
Perhaps a bit of good can come out of this, in that intelligent and decent people recognize the shamelessness of Maher and Dawkins and recoil from them in disgust. They've gotten away with petty, immature behavior for a long time, but for Dawkins in particular, this tops it all. Honestly, if this doesn't turn people off of Dawkins and Maher, I don't know what will. But I'm sure they'll find some way to sink to a new low. They always do. 

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