15 September 2012

Dawkins' Bullseyes, OR Why My Murderous Ideology Is Different

Earlier today, Richard Dawkins wrote on his Twitter that
Some people can't cope with religion being satirised like anything else. The only bad satire is satire that fails to hit the bullseye.
I think after it was misconstrued as approving of The Innocence of Muslims, he deleted the tweet. This was particularly annoying as I'd retwat it along with the following tweet, and it made the sarcastic approval I twat look sincere. It takes some pretty sizeable brass-balls to say the defining quality of good satire is hitting the bull's eye, as you can never again make satirical comments that are that spectacularly wide of the mark in so many ways. But then our Rich is no stranger to basing his smug satirical comments on a complete misunderstanding of the situation.

It's already been carefully explained to him why he might have missed out a few of the roots of Muslim anger. But there's some bonus blinkered hypocrisy in there for anyone who's willing to look.

Charles Darwin was born in 1809. This preceded the independence/unification of New Zealand, Peru and Italy, all three countries Dawkins mentions. In fact, when On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was published in 1859, New Zealand was a self-governing colony and it would be two years before a unified Italian Parliament would sit (in Turin, until 1870 the capital they declared, Rome, still belonged to the Church). This means two of the three countries he uses as examples are actually more recent inventions than evolutionary biology. Richard Dawkins's bullseye satirical tweet relies on the idea that conflating completely separate countries is irrational, when those separations are actually younger than his own academic field. That the protesters might be railing against a Christian/secular West rather than specific states, that religious extremists might divide humanity up according to religious, rather than national criteria, doesn't seem to occur to him. The angry Thor enthusiasts are obviously idiots, despite clear divisions between nation states being no less made-up politicised bollocks than, well, God. If you're struggling to get your head round the geography of this, Italy is actually closer to Peru than Britain (UK) is to the Falklands (UK).

Obviously Dawkins is not the only person to get huffy about how irrational religion is while blithely believing away in some weirdo deity called Countries. Modern Nationalism is generally seen as starting with the famously anticlerical French Revolution. The 1848 Revolutions and largely non-Nazi Kulturkampf consciously and openly fought the old, god-bothering order with liberalism and nationalism. Nation didn't just drift into the void left by faith, it was actively used against it as a weapon and replacement.

We're quick to imagine religious faith tearing the world apart, even if it means ignoring secular patriotism. Theodor Herzl, celebrated in Israel as the founder of Jewish nationalism, identified (as did his successor Max Nordau) as a Free Thinker, considered his movement almost entirely secular, squabbled with all manner of Rabbis and never circumcised his son. Yet Zionism is frequently characterised as a religious mania and Israel-Palestine an entirely sectarian conflict. Sometimes, shifting the blame from the racists to the religious seems a little more deliberate. Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation puts ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia, as tangled and convoluted as it was bloody, entirely down to Orthodox Serbs vs Catholic Croats vs Muslim Bosnians.

Let's not pretend nationalism is all sweetness and light, or even harmlessly innocuous. From Mao to Hitler to Saddam Hussein, people have been slaughtered by secular nationalists with an efficiency, ruthlessness and scale that make amateurs like Osama Bin Laden look like a cross between Father Christmas and the Chuckle Brothers. Religion and nationalism slot scarily neatly together at times, but that lets neither off the hook, and nationalists tend to have more, bigger guns. Even on a more banal level, nationalism creates the illusion that, in increasingly unequal societies, the various economic classes have some kind of shared interest. Those awful Muslims insist we respect their religious taboos even if we're not Muslims, but it's entirely legit for Britain to demand French and Italian hacks respect our royals without even being their subjects.

Just imagine though. Imagine thinking religion was an irrational, murderous and divisive fiction to keep us stupid and docile, and then acting like nations were actually a thing.