Friday, 30 August 2013

The Richard Dawkins Tweet

Richard Dawkins's infamous Tweet that the entire Muslim world has had fewer Nobels (10) than Cambridge University's Trinity College (32) has invited both support and opposition. Political correctness might dictate that he should not have spoken, but as an atheist whose scientific/socially liberal viewpoints line up with popular sentiment his tweet is pointed out as one example of Western irreverence towards religion. The coin has a flip-side too; we live in a world where Islam is feared and Muslims are vilified. It is easy to target Muslims and get away with it.

Dawkins is not alone in attacking Muslims for their lack of achievements; I know many  Muslims who share the  same critical view of themselves. At the present time, Muslims do not export their cultural achievements well. We live, at best in a nostalgic past. Our human rights records, as an example, is little more to be proud of than our list of Nobel honours and more Muslims are dying at the hands of other Muslims in a kind of fratricidal in-war than directly at the hands of Western interventionist forces. Elsewhere, Muslims are caught up in a loop of blame, low achievement, bad governance, cultural destruction and self-pity. In summary, we're on something of a downer. Something is deeply wrong and for Muslims this requires some deep and sober appreciation.

The low ebb for Muslims sits within a much larger context (of power, control and prejudice). For a start, Dawkins could have easily substituted 'Muslims' in his Tweet for any other group or demographic. According to the Christian Monitor, other large (billion-plus) religious, gender and ethnic groups have won even fewer Nobels than the ten won by Muslims. Hindus have won four, the Chinese have won eight and Africans have won nine. Note also that women have only won 44 Nobel Prizes, compared with 791 for (mostly) white men. Frankly, Nobel Prizes are a largely Western affair - all the more grating since one of four people in the world are Muslim.

The Nobel Prizes were inaugurated in 1901 at a time when Muslims were still under the long shadow of colonial rule. Alfred Nobel (inventor of dynamite) may have emphasised recognition of scientific and technological discoveries and inventions, but since its launch, the awarding of the prizes have never truly been a universal affair. They can't be. What do the committees who offer the Nobel Prizes measure, except a particular (socially skewed) view of scientific achievement? 

Not everyone can consume or pollute at the rate of the US and Western Europe and the number of nuclear bombs discovered, developed and used by the West outweighs the number used by the entire planet. Money talks. Muslims may not have invented nuclear weapons - but when there are other pressing matters, should Muslims put all their energies and focus into winning Nobel Prizes?

Logically speaking, if Muslims do not lead in the inventiveness that creates weapons of mass destructions that devastate the planet, then the flip-side is they don't lead in the responsibility for the overall damage. Dawkins, like many atheists and agnostics falls into a trap of targetting Islam under the impression that their scientific credentials put them above simplistic prejudice. There are agendas dressed up in 'facts' underlying deeper prejudices are masked by pseudo-rationalism.

Read more at Religion Dispatches and the Guardian.

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