Anyone who has followed the free-speech wars in America over recent years will know that by now, basically, nobody can speak anywhere. Especially at centres like that one-time home of free speech, Berkeley, California, you now cannot speak in public if you’re a man or a woman, if you’re gay or straight and if your skin is white or not. Now to the great list of categories of people who should not be allowed to speak in America we can add scientists.
Richard Dawkins is, by any standards, one of the most famous scientists on the planet. His books have brought writing about science to a world-wide audience. One recognition of this achievement is that just this week his book ‘The Selfish Gene’ was voted the most inspiring science book of all time in a public poll commissioned by the Royal Society.
However it is important that the gentle denizens of a city like Berkeley be prevented from hearing from such a person. There were to have an opportunity next month, when KPFA in Berkeley were due to host an evening centred around Professor Dawkins’s new book ‘Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist. But people who had booked tickets for this event have just received the following email:
Dear Richard Dawkins event ticket buyers,
We regret to inform you that KPFA has canceled our event with Richard Dawkins. We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt - in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people.
KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech. While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier. We also apologize to all those inconvenienced by this cancellation. Your ticket purchases will automatically be refunded by Brown Paper Tickets.
KPFA Radio 94.1 FM
If I were one of the recipients of such an email I would not just spit on my Brown Paper refund, I would (hoping that Professor Dawkins might forgive the allusion) turn my back on KPFA and Berkeley and shake the dust from my feet.
What is this nonsense? We didn’t know that a distinguished scientist who we are lucky enough to have been hosting has expressed his views on earlier occasions? We are sorry that one of the world’s most famous atheists turned out to have expressed views on religion? We are sorry that one of the world’s most famous atheists who we were about to host has ‘blasphemed’ Islam when we had assumed he was just a good old blasphemer of Christianity and every religion except Islam? I do sometimes wonder why the Ayatollah’s advance guard in places like Berkeley don’t just move to Qom and be done with it.
Anyhow – for his part Professor Dawkins is well rid of these people. Who would have wanted to have slipped through the modern censor’s net only to find yourself speaking to an audience of bed-wetting morons who have a problem sitting through any event where they have to listen rather than jabber? People who think they know the difference between ‘serious free speech’ (any speech they themselves might venture to utter) and ‘non-serious free speech’ or ‘abusive speech’ (speech uttered by the rest of the world – because they say so).
As I say, Professor Dawkins is well rid of his ignorant hosts. But does anyone else sense that the territory on which people are allowed to actually speak freely is narrowing these days?