Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins sink to new lows: Trolling a child in the name of Islamophobia is not "passion for truth"

When you and Sarah Palin share similar views on Ahmed Mohamed, it's time to reconsider

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published September 21, 2015 5:23PM (EDT)

  (HBO/Janet Van Ham/Reuters/Chris Keane/Photo montage by Salon)
(HBO/Janet Van Ham/Reuters/Chris Keane/Photo montage by Salon)

Let's say you want to be a narrow-minded bigot but you think far too highly of yourself to be lumped in with the trucker-hatted hoi polloi. You, after all, know the meaning of hoi polloi. You do the Saturday Times crossword puzzle in ink. You're not some dumb hick. You're an arrogant troll because you're smart. That's why you love Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher, because they make having terrible ideas seem boldly intellectual!

Over the weekend, both Dawkins and Maher eagerly leapt to question the motives of Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas teen who was handcuffed and arrested for suspicion of bringing “a hoax bomb” to school when he showed up with a homemade clock. Mohamed's story — one in which a school system that already had a history of questionable sentiments toward Islam had an overreaction to a scientifically Muslim curious kid — has become an international news story, culminating Mohamed receiving an invitation from the president to the White House. But where some have seen an outpouring of support for an inventive 14 year-old kid, others have wondered if there isn't something a little more… suspicious going on here.

First, Bill Maher, who's already clearly stated that "Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas," asserted on Friday's "Real Time" that "This kid deserves an apology, no doubt about it. They were wrong. But could we have a little perspective about this? Did the teacher really do the wrong thing?" He drew applause when he said that the clock "looks exactly like a f__king bomb" and demanded that "Someone look me in the eye right here and tell me, over the last thirty years, if so many young muslim men… haven't blown a lot of s__t up around the world.... It's been one culture that's been blowing s__t up over and over again." Just a reminder: cultures don't blow s__it up; extremist members of cultures do.

Then, full time crap-stirrer Dawkins took time out from retweeting fawning accolades from his fans on Sunday to just, know, ask some questions, posting a link to a YouTube clip from Thomas Talbot claiming Mohamed's "a fraud" who didn't invent or build the clock in question. The 74 year-old Dawkins didn't dispute that it was wrong to arrest Mohamed, saying, "The real scandal is that he was denied his RIGHT to call his parents when being interrogated. The police violated the law." But he did seem concerned about the alleged "fraud." "If this is true," he asked, "what was his motive?"

Dawkins went on to speculate, "If [the YouTube clip is] right, Ahmed didn't build a clock. He simply took one out of its casing. Did he deliberately want to be suspected of making a bomb? Did he want to be arrested, to be seen as a victim of 'Islamophobia'? If so, Texas police played right into his hands and most of us (including me) fell for it." 

Dawkins argued, "He disassembled & reassembled a clock (which is fine) & then claimed it was his 'invention' (which is fraud)" and asserted, "True, Johnny Smith would not have been arrested & Ahmed should NOT have been. But his motives remain questionable." What motives, you ask? Dawkins explained, "Possibly wanted to be arrested? Police played into his hands? Anyway, now invited to White House, crowdfunded etc."

But for the great kicker, Dawkins then humble bragged, "Sorry if I go a bit over the top in my passion for truth." Well, when you put it like that, it's not vague character assassination of a 14 year-old, it's downright noble. Just like Gamergate is really about "ethics in gaming journalism." You tell it like it is, Dawkins!

Skepticism and curiosity are vital and sadly lacking nutrients in our daily public discourse. But it's unfortunate that an intellectual who once had the power to provoke insightful, challenging debate has in recent years turned into a sour crank, eager to leverage his brand as a prominent atheist as an excuse to go big on Islamphobia and congratulate himself on his horrendous views on sexual assault. And it's pathetic that Maher and Dawkins are wrapping themselves up not in the rigorous quest for knowledge they claim to stand behind but their own petty prejudices and fears — and they're basically the same baseless, dumb crap you could get from a doofus like Sarah Palin. The difference is that their schtick has its following not among the "Duck Dynasty" watchers but the C-Span ones. And even as they peddle ignorance, they have the arrogance to believe themselves incapable of it.

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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Ahmed Mohamed Aol_on Bill Maher Richard Dawkins Sarah Palin Twitter