Michael Nugent is the head of Atheist Ireland (and a playwright), and works tirelessly for secularism in Europe. He’s also known for always wearing a red polo shirt, even when meeting heads of state. (I once emailed him why but got no reply.) But in a more serious vein, he’s just written a long email to Berkeley station KPFA that he’s posted publicly on his website, “Why KPFA radio should reconsider breaking its agreement with Richard Dawkins“. It’s a long article, as is customary for Michael, but it’s thorough, and even has a preliminary outline (Michael’s words are indented throughout):
In this letter I will address:
- The problem with your current approac
- Why your original decision was unjustifie
- Your profiting from Chris Hedges and Christopher Hitchen
- The word Islamophobia and the demonising of Richard Dawkins
- Summary of what I am requesting
It’s a good letter, but there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that KPFA will respond, and I think Michael knows that. It’s more an attempt to provide a centralized resource for rebutting this species of criticism of Richard. For instance, there are many links to articles Michael has written about why we should discard the word “Islamophobia”, and articles about why Dawkins has been demonized and mischaracterized for his views on religion.
Since KPFA has now invited Richard back to clarify and explain his views (I doubt that will happen unless, as Richard has requested, KPFA first apologizes for the de-platforming), Nugent asks the central question:
But if you are prepared to host Richard talking about Islam on your station, why can you not honour your agreement to host him talking about science at the originally planned event?
You can read the rest of the piece, but I want to point out two instances of KPFA’s hypocrisy about de-platforming invited speakers. This shows, more than anything, that it’s Islam, not free speech or everyone’s feelings, that it’s protecting, perhaps out of fear of reprisal or of giving offense to particular “people of color” who adhere to an oppressive faith. And it has no desire at all to protect the feelings of Jews! But that’s what we expect of Regressive Leftists.
In a news item justifying your behaviour, you interviewed Lara Kiswani, Executive director of the Bay Area based Arab Resource and Organizing Center. She said that she had contacted ‘her partners in the station’ when she heard of the event. You also allowed her to make unchallenged defamatory allegations on air, including that Richard is ‘a well-known Islamophobe’.
But Lara herself, at an event in UC Berkely, is reported here as saying that ‘bringing down Israel will really benefit everyone in the world and everyone in society,’ and she told a student who questioned her that ‘as long as you choose to be on that side, I’m going to continue to hate you.’ She has also expressed other controversial views.
How could you consider whatever Richard has said about Islam to be so hurtful that you could not even sponsor him talking about science, while justifying that decision by interviewing somebody who has explicitly said that she hates people because of their beliefs?
To be clear, I fully support your right to interview Lara Kiswani about her views, within the limits of defamation law. However, based on the criteria that you used to break your agreement to host Richard, and assuming that you have the same concern for Jews as you do for Muslims, you should not agree with your station hosting Lara.
3. Your profiting from Chris Hedges and Christopher Hitchens
Can I ask you to compare and contrast your approach to this problem with your approach last October to the launch of Chris Hedges’ book Unspeakable, and to your profiting from $300 pledges for a media archive that includes a debate with Christopher Hitchens?
Chris Hedges is also a controversial author whose writing can hurt people. Indeed, he was disinvited from a peace conference in the University of Pennsylvania in 2014, because he published a column comparing ISIS to Israel.
Despite this, you (rightly) hosted a similar book talk last October for him. Ironically, you hosted it in conjunction with Project Censored, and the full book title was ‘Unspeakable: on the most forbidden topics in America.’
You also currently advertise an offer on your station whereby, for a pledge of $300, listeners can get a Chris Hedges media archive collection, which includes a debate between Chris and the late Christopher Hitchens.
Here is a link to an article by Christopher Hitchens titled ‘God fearing people: why are we so scared of offending Muslims?’
Here is a link to an article in which he said ‘But at the moment, it’s very clear to me the most toxic form that religion takes is the Islamic form… The whole idea of wanting to end up with Sharia with a religion-governed state — a state of religious law — and the best means of getting there is Jihad, Holy War, that Muslims have a special right to feel aggrieved enough to demand this is absolute obscene wickedness and I think their religion is nonsense, in its entirety.’
Why are you happy to host and profit from a book event for Chris Hedges, and to profit to the extent of $300 a pledge for a media archive that includes a debate between Chris Hedges and Christopher Hitchens, but not happy to host and profit from a book event about science by Richard Dawkins?
By your own criteria for breaking your agreement on this event, it just doesn’t make sense. You should either reconsider your decision regarding Richard, or else remove this pledge offer from your website.
KPFA’s hypocrisy, then, is twofold: it allows speech that is equivalent to genuine hate speech, so long as it’s directed against Jews and Israel (I reiterate that I don’t think such speech should be banned); and in the past it’s sponsored and profited from criticism of religion that’s just as strong as Richard’s.
But there’s much more in Nugent’s “J’Accuse” letter, so go have a look.