By Nesrine Malik, Thursday 8 August 2013 13.13 EDT
Today is the first day of Eid, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. I took the day off, as Eid on your own at work without family can be a rather bleak affair, and was surprised to find that when I logged on to Twitter (not a nice place over the past few days) there were lots of genuine Eid messages from non-Muslims and Muslim fasters, luxuriating in their first morning teas in a month. Even David Cameron’s “Eid Mubarak” registered quite low on my cynicism scale. I posted my own Eid greeting, and proceeded to bask in the unfamiliar good will of the morning.
Then Richard Dawkins, like a guest arriving too drunk to a polite and civil party, crashed into Eid. His tweet, apropos nothing at all, jarring with all the rest stated:
All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.
Now, some are accustomed to Dawkins being a bit of a troll. But this, in its deliberately obtuse (say what you like, but Dawkins is not a stupid man) baiting, was a new low.
Most on Twitter engaged with his logic on its own terms, pointing out that he himself had earned fewer Nobel prizes then every single Muslim who has, that more Muslim Premier League players had scored more goals than all Nobel prizewinners put together, that Hilary Mantel had sold more books than someone who had sold none. All statements as valid and as nonsensical and as inconclusive as his original tweet.
To wearily engage with his logic briefly: yes, it is technically true that fewer Muslims (10) than Trinity College Cambridge members (32) have won Nobel prizes. But insert pretty much any other group of people instead of “Muslims”, and the statement would be true. You are comparing a specialised academic institution to an arbitrarily chosen group of people. Go on. Try it. All the world’s Chinese, all the world’s Indians, all the world’s lefthanded people, all the world’s cyclists.
Secondly, if one is to try to address what Dawkins is really trying to say, which is that Muslims as a unit throughout history have done nothing since the Middle Ages, and that is clearly attributable to their stupid religion, then one must point out that a Nobel prize is not by any means a suitable or universal enough criterion. It has only been going for a little more than a hundred years, the prizes it awards are for excellence in academic research which is far superior in western scientific and academic institutions due to the socioeconomic development of the north, rather than due to any inherent cultural-religious deficiency in the south – which, should be pointed out, is made up not only of Muslims.
The whole process of trying to parse the painfully obvious fallacy reminded me of the task of arguing against extremist Muslim clerics when they try to denigrate non-Muslims, the same momentary sense of helplessness and not knowing where to start. The same opinion with an agenda dressed up as fact. But one usually takes academics and scientists more seriously and tries to engage. With this latest salvo, I am afraid that we must consign Dawkins to this very same pile of the irrational and the dishonest.
Illustration by naderi. http://naderi.deviantart.com/art/Atheist-Richard-Dawkins-94653269