Atheist Professor Dawkins, Turkey’s pious PM Erdoğan and a fuss over Nobel

Atheist Professor Dawkins, Turkey’s pious PM Erdoğan and a fuss over Nobel

Using Nobel metaphors “to make a point” suddenly, and yet again, became trendy late last week with two antagonistic figures – totally unaware of each other – making controversial remarks manipulating the prizes for their ultimate targets of criticism.

The first blitz came from outspoken neo-atheist Professor Richard Dawkins whose 140-character “well-designed and enlightening” comparative model contrasting the number of Muslim Nobel laureates with laureates from Cambridge University’s royal Trinity College sparked an outrage bringing accusations of racism on the academic. “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though,” Dawkins tweeted, supposedly meaning to say that Islam kept the Muslim world from progressing since the Dark Ages.

After a wave of salvos lashing out at the author of “The God Delusion” for racist and Islamophobic remarks, the professor, whose website was once banned in Turkey, still appeared defiant, insisting that he was “simply stating an intriguing fact” and also argued that his remarks cannot be counted as “racist” since “Muslims aren’t a race. What they have in common is a religion.” Explaining the motivations behind choosing Muslims as target, Dawkins said, “Because we so often hear boasts about (a) their total numbers and (b) their science.”

While the online controversy via Twitter mounted, less interesting but as bizarre as Dawkin’s remarks have been tweets about Nobel committee and two Muslim Nobel laureates by the Turkish prime minister with far different motivations than the atheist professor. Engaging in a fresh round of condemning the military takeover in Egypt, Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this time aimed at Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel-winner vice president in the military-backed Egyptian interim government, while questioning the wisdom of the Nobel committee for awarding him. He also said while ElBaradei “has sided with coup plotters,” another Nobel laureate, Tevekkül Karman – Turkish citizen of Yemeni origin – was not allowed to enter Egypt.

Erdoğan’s comparative Nobel model failed to lure global attention comparing with the worldwide fury – as well as support – following Dawkin’s tweets, but the two antipole figures have found something in common regarding the manipulation of the prize as leverage in attacks against their real targets. (A quick note must be made that Dawkins later suggested that he should have had “subtracted the Peace Prizes since they are controversial.” But his offer makes things even worse since it’d mean a lower score for Muslim side.)

Dawkins has long been in the eye of the storm for his neo-atheist approach, which is accused of vilifying particularly Islam and legitimating the Crusade-like campaigns against Muslims after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. In March, the professor confessed that he haven’t read the Quran, surprising fans and critics alike for not having a clue about the book of Islam. He was also defiant and said: “Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read the Quran. You don’t have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about Nazism.”

Although criticism on Dawkins for his Islamophobia proved to be true to some extent, it would be unfair to crucify him for having a solely anti-Islam stance as an outspoken scholar on religion. He had sparked controversies by attacking the Church and pope in the past. However, what he has been insisting on not realizing is that Muslims have been put on the target in the post-Sept. 11 era not only for their religious beliefs or practices but also just being in or from “the other side” of the world.

In his defense against the recent racism accusations, Dawkins said he used a comparison with the Trinity College because he “judged [it] less offensive to Muslims than the even more dramatic comparison with Jews (who have garnered an ASTOUNDINGLY large number of Nobel Prizes).” Even this statement pointed out that his criticism, or even war, against religion is becoming single-sided on Islam, considering the fact that many Jewish Nobel laureates have no weaker ties with their religion.

Returning back to our little world in Turkey, the offensive remarks by the prime minister on the Nobel committee and its judgment in honoring hopefuls would contribute no less to a Huntington-model divide than the atheist professor. In other words, if the professor provides legitimation to Islamophobia and right-wing neo-con policies on Muslims, (looking from here he does), the Turkish premier has seemed to engage in a somewhat “Westernophobia” that would drag his country to more solitude.