It is the great question of our age as to which group of people are the most persecuted, vilified, and oppressed in our society. Some people say it’s Christians. Some people say it’s indigenous white people. Some people say it’s heterosexuals, and some people say it’s all of the above. Dawkins knows, though. It’s atheists.
In Britain in 2012, all of those ideas are about as ridiculous as each other, but it’s that belief - the kind of upside-down ideas about persecution that gives us the Tumblr community and Mens Rights activists, that Dawkins tapped into to give a legion of man-children the belief that time spent saying “Oh really! Well, why not Zeus, or Thor, or Ba’al!” to teenage Texan baptists on the internet was time well spent, fighting for a noble and just ideological cause.
It’s the coming together of all the worst things of British middle-class culture - or ‘British culture’ as they sometimes call it. Not only the assemblance of the media class and the inability to think beyond the confines of Kensal Rise Liberalism, but also the contrarianist game of chicken that British journalism has become. You know who the REAL racists are…you know who the REAL persecuted minority is….greed that has gone so far that it’s progressed beyond material and wants to enviously confiscate the only thing that a lot of people have left: the feeling that they’ve been hard done-by.
And indeed, you’ll find a significant overlap in “militant Dawkinsian atheists” (to borrow a line from Johann Hari which he used to describe himself) and Mens Rights Activists and outright racists. For the MRA’s, you can see the reasoning in Dawkins’ "well, I’m sorry you were abused but in some countries you wouldn’t be allowed to drive, so really what harm’s been done here" logic. The racism is slightly more complicated. Racism is a bit like rap, in that there are three clearly-defined eras: Old School (hating Jews), Golden Age (hating black people), and New School (hating Muslims.) What you can see from that is that we’ve regressed, somewhat - bring back the days of good old skin colour, I say! None of this confusing ethnoreligious stuff.
Although the old antisemitism has a long, long history, you can’t really talk about proper racism until later on, when people started using it as an outright ideology. The Romans and medieval Europe might’ve hated the Jews’ guts, sure, but that was when you hated everybody who lived over the next hill from you as well. It’s not until it was used as a reason for Germany to exist that you can start talking about it with relevance to today, and the fact it was religious as well marked it out as being something different - well, it had to, golden-era racism wouldn’t have registered then. It was in the middle of the Scramble for Africa, and white people made up 40% - 40%! - of the world’s population.
Later on, you had the golden age, trying to simplify things, boil them down into pure skin colour. Now, we’ve got the ethnoreligious stuff back, and just as people were unwilling to say they were racists back then because it wouldn’t have registered, people are unwilling to say the same now because it’s considered Not On. So they cloak it behind more creative language and ideas, and Dawkins’ religious schtick is used to clobber the ethnic part. “I don’t hate their race, I just hate the religion that 99% of their race practices.” It’s like saying you don’t hate black people, you just think rap music has no artistic merit. Because god knows we’d all be able to identify that racist trope if it showed up in the print media.
It’s his Twitter account that makes you realise how little thought Dawkins is putting into this schtick. The ‘Innocence of Islam’ story was his real breakthrough in this department. To do the sample tweets early again, a truckload of inanities accompanied it, from “Somebody in New Zealand insulted Thor. Quick, burn the Peruvian embassy and behead the Italian ambassador” to “they feel humiliated because their culture is such a conspicuous failure – in science, engineering, medicine etc”.
Now, I could point out the obvious and numerous inventions and advances owed to the Muslim world, and I could point out the fact that they’re probably quite annoyed about the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq and the drone strikes everywhere from Yemen to Pakistan too, rather than just being pissed off about the film. Someone did make that latter point to him, to which he responded by suggesting they should adopt a more rational approach and make it clear they were protesting about the drone strikes. Of course, you can’t really fault him there. Say what you like about old, white, rich, male professors who don’t go to bed wondering if their house\livestock\kids are going to be a pile of chunks at the end of their driveway in the morning, rationality and clear-headedness comes pretty easy to them. Which is to their credit, considering they’re the most persecuted group of people in Britain today.
I could point out both of those things, and many others. But just this once, let’s leave it and assume that any adult with a brain looks at that and takes about 3 seconds to think “Dude, that’s extremely racist.”