Facing uncomfortable truths
In a recent Al-Jazeerah interview, Richard Dawkins was asked his views on God. He argued that the god of "the Old Testament" is "hideous" and "a monster", and reiterated his claim from The God Delusion that the God of the Torah is the most unpleasant character "in fiction". Asked if he thought the same of the God of the Koran, Dawkins ducked the question, saying: "Well, um, the God of the Koran I don't know so much about."
How can it be that the world's most fearless atheist, celebrated for his strident opinions on the Christian and Jewish Gods, could profess to know so little about the God of the Koran? Has he not had the time? Or is Professor Dawkins simply demonstrating that most crucial trait of his species: survival instinct.
To answer the question, it is worth considering recent events in Denmark. In Copenhagen, on 5th February, a well-known critic of Islam - in the same way Professor Dawkins is a critic of Judaism and Christianity - narrowly survived an attempted assassination.
Lars Hedegaard is a journalist, historian and founder of the Free Press Society. After the worldwide uproar caused by the Danish Mohammed cartoons in 2005 he became the foremost defender of the rights of Danish writers and artists to express their opinions without fear of intimidation and murder.
Since the cartoons affair there have been numerous plots by Islamist extremists to kill politicians, editors and others. On New Year's Day 2010, one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, was visited at his home by a Somali-trained Islamist who attempted to ritually decapitate him with an axe. Westergaard escaped to the "panic room" which the security forces had installed in his house.
This month it was Hedegaard's turn. A ring at his front door bell revealed a "Muslim-looking" immigrant dressed as a postman. The young man fired at the 70-year-old's head from less than a yard. The bullet missed. Hedegaard punched his opponent who dropped his gun, picked it up, aimed and fired again at his head. The gun jammed and the man ran off.
The attack was fleetingly mentioned on the BBC's website, by the Associated Press and a few other outlets. But otherwise there was silence. That is, apart from the Scandinavian media who have in substantial parts - especially in Sweden - managed to blame Hedegaard for the attack. Hedegaard was repeatedly described simply as "a critic of Islam". So he brought it on himself, you see. Should have known better. Ought to have learned the cartoonist's lesson. One Swedish paper - sounding more Saudi or Iranian than Swedish - even called Hedegaard "an enemy of Islam". Who knew that this was already a crime?
Professor Dawkins is not an enemy of Jews or Christians. He is a critic of their religions. Lars Hedegaard is not an enemy of Muslims. He is a critic of aspects of the Islamic religion. If Professor Dawkins were murdered tomorrow by an Orthodox Jew the world would be unlikely to ignore the event. And I suspect that they would be unlikely to blame the victim rather than his assailant.
But of course nothing will happen to Professor Dawkins because from the tree of anti-religious knowledge he picks only at the easiest and lowest-hanging fruit. Hedegaard - and a few others - have tried to deal with a harder and more globally pressing issue. In the reaction and lack of reaction to that fact, the vitriol and the silence, much can be told about the state of our times. This is now the norm in Europe. Blaming the victim or pretending they had it coming is our easiest defence mechanism. Because doing so means we can avoid facing uncomfortable truths. Or think we can. For the time being.
Douglas Murray is associate director of the Henry Jackson Society