Why would two grown men attack a 14-year-old boy for seemingly no reason at all?
Last week evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and US comedian Bill Maher both took aim at 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed.
Ahmed, if you remember, was the kid arrested in Texas after his teachers thought that a clock he had made was a bomb. Ahmed’s story received international attention and even an invite to the White House from US President Barack Obama.
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
But that wasn’t good enough for Dawkins and Maher, who both came out within the last week to question Ahmed’s motives. Dawkins questioned whether he had actually ‘invented the clock’, claiming Ahmed “wanted to be arrested”. Maher went even further by saying school officials “absolutely did the right thing” in calling the police on the child.
These are the sorts of attacks you may expect from the reactionary, and racist, right. Coming from Dawkins and Maher however seems potentially more surprising. Unfortunately though, it highlights a serious problem with a growing movement some call “New Atheism”.
The proponents of New Atheism have often come under attack for being racist. Dawkins and Maher have a long history of attacking Islam, both labelling it “inherently violent”. This often results in a neo-colonialist approach that you often wouldn’t expect from so-called “left wing” commentators.
Yet the attacks on Ahmed highlight something even more sinister. New Atheism is not just an attack on organised religion, but the very idea of religious and spiritual thought as a whole. And while that may seem benign, it is anything but.
Richard Dawkins in particular is the epitome of this type of thought, but it permeates many scientific and progressive communities. Within this belief system rational science takes precedence over all other forms of spirituality. Anyone who has any spiritual or religious beliefs is therefore “anti-science” and deserves to be criticised. Simple as that.
If this is true, what was his motive? Whether or not he wanted the police to arrest him, they shouldn’t have done so 杭州桑拿,杭州夜生活,/LtOFAAmVxK
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) September 20, 2015
Here, we can see a really hallow, and dangerous, form of ideology.
This is not just a system that tries to educate and promote science, but enforce it as well. New Atheism is a political ideology based on nothing more than imposing the idea of an “objective truth”. It is about proving that science is “right” without ever questioning the potential reasons why some have religious and spiritual beliefs, and what benefit they may bring.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with promoting science and science education. I would be the first, for example, to say that we should be teaching evolution in school, and not creationism. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the spiritual and religious ideas existing in our society. For many, religion plays an important role in providing community, hope, and support during difficult times. I cannot blame people for seeking these things as they make their way through life.
New Atheism fails to recognise this, mocking people for being “irrational” just because they don’t follow full scientific dogma. In turn it has become an entirely intolerant theology of its own, one no better than the religions it is supposed to be criticising. As Hamad Dabashi argues, the manner “in which Dawkins and his coreligionists preach and practise their atheism is not much different than the manner in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi preaches and practises his Islam, or John Hagee confesses his Christianity, or Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan his Judaism.”
In doing so New Atheism has nothing to do with creating a better world, or even challenging the power or organised religion. It is all about “being right”, even if that is at the expense of living in a more tolerant and accepting world.
This is how two grown men ended up attacking a 14-year-old over his claim that he “invented” a clock. It is the logical extension of a theology that is all about moral and intellectual superiority. Running out of adults to attack, it makes sense Dawkins and Maher would soon pick on a child. In doing so though they’ve highlighted the extremely hollow nature of their ideology. For that we can thank them.
Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer and blogs at The Moonbat.