From a tweet quoted by The Independent in Richard Dawkins accused of Islamophobia after comparing 'lovely church bells' to 'aggressive-sounding Allahu Akhbar'

As a Christian from a mixed Christian-Muslim country, it is your cultural upbringing. And it only sounds aggressive because you never bothered to learn more than English in your life.

The tweet has 73 retweets, 1917 likes and only 21 replies (so it isn't being "ratioed"), and is by Joey Ayoub, a verified user who describes themself as "MENA Editor @GlobalVoices @IFEX | PhD @EdinburghUni | Writer | Linguaphile | Hufflepuff | Migrant | غداً يوم أفضل Support here https://t.co/DJaqdPbpAQ"

Obviously Richard Dawkins has learnt something in his life, but has he ever learnt any languages other than English?

  • 8
    I didn't downvote but I don't think some guy on Twitter making such an accusation meets the "noteworthy" criterion.
    – user17967
    Jul 19, 2018 at 3:28
  • @KennyLJ I expected that some people would think that, which is why I included it being quoted in the newspaper, being by an academic expert, and being well-received by other twitter users in the question. (And also a reasonably plausible accusation, unlike Elon Musk's recent tweet) Jul 19, 2018 at 4:19
  • 1
    I'm not sure how The Independent works but this looks more like a blog-like post reporting tweets than an article that was published in print. Also, I searched for "Dawkins" on their website's front page (which is pretty long and seems to feature maybe 200 stories) and couldn't find any mention of it.
    – user17967
    Jul 19, 2018 at 4:24
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    Googling I also find that this guy Joey Ayoub is "currently doing a PhD in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh". I don't know if that's enough to call him an "academic expert".
    – user17967
    Jul 19, 2018 at 4:26
  • 1
    This sounds more like a "dis" than a credible statement
    – Sklivvz
    Aug 24, 2018 at 12:28

1 Answer 1


While the image of English-speakers as wilful monoglots is a common one, Dawkins is not one of them. He's learning German, not for practical reasons but as an atonement for the prejudice England has, and wants to avoid English monolingualism. From Attempting to learn German

I like to think of my life as governed by rational decisions, but I have to admit that my attempt to learn German in my quixotic seventies is governed more by emotion—an emotion that might strike some as positively irrational. I don’t specifically need German for my life or my work. No, my motive is almost akin to penance: a personal atonement, however futile, for the pathos-ridden arrogance of my nation. Brexit has made me ashamed to be English. I’m ashamed of the England of Farage and his xenophobic yobs—and of Cameron whose cowardly opportunism gave them their head. I’m ashamed to be English, not British: I’d be proud to be Scottish or Irish today.

Brexit is the obvious recent manifestation of both the arrogance of the English and its ignominious unjustifiability, but it has shown itself for longer in our attitude to the learning of languages. Insofar as we teach languages at school, we treat them like Latin, with no expectation that, having mastered gerunds and the subjunctive, there’s any need to end up actually having a conversation with Johnny Foreigner.

As I remarked in a previous contribution to Prospect, a trip to Amsterdam or Stockholm or even—as I recently discovered, Budapest or Prague—should fill us English monoglots with shame. I suggested that a step in the right direction would be to persude our broacast news media to abolish voice-over translations and replace them with subtitles. In the same vein, I am now watching DVDs of German films. Films like the epic saga Heimat or the deeply moving Das Leben der Anderen are no hardship, but highly enjoyable. I still need the English subtitles, but while reading them I’m making a strenuous effort to pick out as many German words as I can. The idea is to let the language wash through me, to tune my ear to it so that I learn in what’s left, at my age, of the effortless facility of the child brain.

You can see a demo of his speaking German in the Richard Dawkins Foundation facebook group here. I can't speak German, but several people are commenting that he speaks it reasonably well.

  • 3
    Yes it is good, almost too good considering his own description of his skill level. Looking at the structure of his sentences alone, I am pretty confident that he is reading a scripted text off a prompter. That beeing said, his pronounciation is also pretty impressive.
    – Muschkopp
    Jul 19, 2018 at 9:02
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    He also would have been taught French at Oundle School. Jul 30, 2018 at 13:05

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