Richard Dawkins Event Canceled Over Past Comments About Islam

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“Many people are saying this is a freedom of speech issue, and of course it is,” he said. “But it’s actually more of a freedom of listening issue. People bought tickets because they wanted to hear me.”

In recent months, the cancellation of speeches on college campuses has stirred debates over balancing free speech and security concerns.

Berkeley has been a particular focus. In February, the University of California, Berkeley, canceled a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing writer and commentator, after a violent demonstration. In April, the university canceled a speech by the conservative author Ann Coulter, citing security concerns. KPFA, however, is not affiliated with the university.

Bob Baldock, the events coordinator for the station, said in a phone interview on Saturday that he could not recall in his three decades at the station any other live event it hosted being canceled because of its content.

The decision was made by the station’s management, and Mr. Baldock said he lent his support, but he called the cancellation a “fraught decision.”

“I could probably do my best at defending Dawkins,” he said. “I’m very fond of him. I’ve liked his books.”

He added that Mr. Dawkins’s unscripted remarks and social media posts gave him pause. “He has said things that I know have hurt people,” Mr. Baldock said.

Some of the first objections to Mr. Dawkins’s appearance came from Bay Area residents. They pointed to his tweets like one posted in 2013 in which he called Islam “the greatest force for evil in the world today.”

Henry Norr, a former KPFA board member, criticized Mr. Dawkins in a July 17 email to the station. “Yes, he’s a rationalist, an atheist and an advocate of the science of evolution — great, so am I,” Mr. Norr wrote. “But he’s also an outspoken Islamophobe — have you done your homework about that?”

Lara Kiswani, the executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which is based in San Francisco, also emailed the station last week. She said Mr. Dawkins’s comments give legitimacy to extremist views.

“KPFA is a progressive institution in the Bay Area, and an institution that reflects social justice,” she said in a phone interview on Saturday. “It isn’t required to give such anti-Islam rhetoric a platform.”

Quincy McCoy, the station’s general manager, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. In a KPFA news broadcast on Friday, he said the station “emphatically supports free speech.”

He added, “We believe that it is our free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful or hurtful language against a community that is already under attack.”

Several of Mr. Dawkins’s comments on social media have drawn criticism in recent years. In 2015, he wondered whether Ahmed Mohamed — the boy in Texas who was suspended after bringing a homemade clock to school that officials said resembled a bomb — wanted to get arrested given that the episode led to an invitation to the White House and crowdfunding. In a Twitter post in 2014, he suggested that people should “always put Islamic ‘scholar’ in quotes, to avoid insulting true scholars.”

“True scholars have read more than one book,” he wrote.

Mr. Dawkins stood by those tweets on Saturday. “I’ve been criticizing all religions for years,” including Christianity, he said. He added that he lived in Berkeley during the late 1960s and was once a frequent listener and supporter of KPFA.

Mr. Dawkins said he objected to the idea that speakers who might be offensive should be turned away from institutions of higher learning.

“I do think that the business of universities is to expose students to all kinds of views,” he said. “If somebody objectionable like Ann Coulter comes on, they should argue with her.”

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