Richard Dawkins, the NECSS, and the Suppression of Freethought

Recently, Richard Dawkins had his invitation to speak at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism rescinded because he chose to retweet a satirical video made by popular YouTube atheist satirist SyeTenAtheist.

Untitled

The video satirizes the similarities between contemporary “3rd wave” feminism and Islamism – more specifically, it lampoons the tactic of declaring any and all criticism of these ideologies to be a form of hate speech. At the time of the retweet, Professor Dawkins was completely unaware that the individuals portrayed in the video were actually caricatures of two real people – YouTuber Dawah Man and Chanty Binx, a.k.a “Big Red”.

Both individuals have gained internet notoriety due to being featured in videos where their own asinine behavior is out on fully display. Dawah Man uploads videos in which he provides some of the most vacuous arguments in favor of theism, particularly Islam, you’ll probably encounter. However, his biggest claim to shame came in 2014 when he uploaded a video called, Would Atheists Drink Their Dad’s Sperm? #AtheistLogic. In the video, he channels the popular theistic nonsense that one must believe in a deity in order to formulate a sense of morality. He then uses this absurd notion to insist that atheists would be willing to drink their own father’s sperm.

Imran ibn Mansur (aka Dawah Man)
Imran ibn Mansur (aka Dawah Man)

Chanty Binx gained her own infamy back in 2013 when YouTuber 18upper uploaded a video called, MRAs and Feminists Arguing at U of T MRA Event. The Canadian Association For Equality (CAFE) had organized a lecture at the University of Toronto, where a couple of lecturers were going to discuss issues that pertained to men. Apparently, Ms. Binx and her associates consider any discussion about these issues to be tantamount to misogyny. In a display of their social authoritarian mentality, they converged onto the event in order to shut it down. They filled the hallways outside of the lecture hall and used bullhorns to attempt to disrupt the lecture. When that didn’t work, one of them pulled a fire alarm, which resulted in the evacuation of the building. Once outside, Ms. Binx and a few of her cohorts began to scream and yell at some of the attendees, which is displayed in the video.

Chanty Binx (aka Big Red)
Chanty Binx (aka Big Red)

As you can imagine, the Twitter feminist brigade was not at all pleased with Professor Dawkins’ sharing this satirical video with his followers, so they proceeded to do what they always do – organize a cyber lynch mob to go after Dawkins. One of the most prominent members of this mob was Lindy West, who would accuse Dawkins of approving of and facilitating death threats against Chanty Binx. Dawkins, of course, rejected the idea and voiced confusion about what she was even talking about. At the time, Dawkins was unaware that Binx and Dawah Man were being caricatured in the video. Once he realized that they were real people, he deleted the retweet and explained why.

This, of course, was simply not enough. For those of us who are familiar with the tactics of the social justice inquisition, we knew that you never placate even the most banal of demands. If you do, it will only whip them into a further frenzy. Once you show them any weakness, it just emboldens them to increase the severity of their attack. It just so happened that Dawkins had been invited to speak at an upcoming NECSS event, so they converged onto the NECSS Twitter feed and demanded that they bar Dawkins from attending. As is now the unfortunate custom, the NECSS complied and released the following statement:

“The NECSS has withdrawn its invitation to Richard Dawkins to participate at NECSS 2016. We have taken this action in response to Dr. Dawkins’ approving re-tweet of a highly offensive video.”

While prominent atheist authoritarians like Rebecca Watson embraced this latest example of censorship, some of us voiced our opposition to the idea that personal feelings should be an excuse to silence dissenting opinions. In response to growing criticism, Steven Novella attempted to justify the NECSS’s decision to dis-invite Professor Dawkins by providing a completely nonsensical explanation. In it, Novella admits that the NECSS was very familiar with the “controversial” aurora that surrounded Dawkins but decided that his contributions to science vastly outweighed any negative reaction that having him attend would generate.

Eventually, Dawkins did something that hurt someone’s feelings on social media, which is certainly not difficult these days, so the NECSS decided to change its mind. The irony is palpable, especially when you consider that one of the S’s in the NECSS acronym stands for “skeptic”. How any organization can claim itself to be a skeptical organization while simultaneously censoring free speech and free expression in order to protect some people from being offended is beyond me.

What is even more maddening is the grotesque hypocrisy that is on full display by many people within the atheist community. Some of the same people who will castigate Richard Dawkins for retweeting an “offensive” video satirizing Islamism and feminism will stand up and applaud Tim Minchin when he sings, “The Pope Songor, quite frankly, any of his other songs. I wonder why do so many “skeptics” and “freethinkers” find it perfectly acceptable to offend theists but not feminists?

Many of us who value the free flow of ideas and opinions have been rightfully troubled over the persistent invasion by the social authoritarians these past few years. Make no mistake, these are people who run counter to the very concept of free thought. They truly believe that their personal feelings should take precedence over any opinion or view that they disagree with or that makes them uncomfortable. And if an opinion or view hurts their feelings, then it must be silenced by any means necessary.

Atheists used to be able to gather at conferences and speak their minds. They used to be able to express their opinions and, if they encountered someone who dissented, would have a conversation about their differences. Those days seem to be behind us, I’m afraid. Today’s conferences are being systematically transformed into Orwellian “safe spaces”, which provide a platform for feminists and other social justice warriors to attend and publicize their own ideas without any dissension.

Now, more than ever, do I miss Christopher Hitchens.


UPDATE: The NECSS released a statement on Sunday, February 14th in which they stated that they had reached out to Professor Dawkins and re-invited him to their event. 

Statement from the Executive Committee

  • Bill Ligertwood

    Hi… I’m the organizer of Canada’s main atheist event, Imagine No Religion. I can honestly say that we have managed to keep these folks out of our convention. We don’t book speakers they like and we don’t care much what they have to say about us, and trust me they attack with the most vile kind of language. We had Dawkins last year and we sold out. He’s a kind and intelligent man who deserves a lot of respect. NECSS has made a huge mistake in my view. It’s time the rest of us stood up to these creeps and I see that starting to happen. Thanks for your article and I hope we will see you at INR6 May 20-22 in Vancouver BC, Canada.

    • The Insidious Faithslayer

      Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend but I very much support your efforts to preserve the free exchange of ideas and speech at your event.

      Keep up the good work!