Richard Dawkins, the biologist who has become one of the world’s most prominent atheists since the publication of the secularist manifesto The God Delusion, received a curious phone call last Friday. Recording the incident on his website, Dawkins explained that a Sunday Telegraph journalist called Adam Lusher had phoned him in order to say: “We’ve been researching the history of the Dawkins family, and have discovered that your ancestors owned slaves in Jamaica in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. What have you got to say about that?” Dawkins responded that the journalist’s own forebears were likely slave-owners too.
The journalist then suggested that Dawkins should pay reparations, because the Dawkins family estate had been purchased on the back of slavery. Dawkins wrote that the “estate” is actually “a small working farm struggling to make ends meet”. Dawkins, writing on Saturday, said that he assumed the Sunday Telegraph editor would have spiked the patently absurd story.
Yet the Sunday Telegraph indeed ran the story, with the headline Slaves at the root of the fortune that created Richard Dawkins’ family estate. “Richard Dawkins, the secularist campaigner against ‘intolerance and suffering’, must face an awkward revelation: he is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune partly created by forced labour”, the story reads. Giving the history of Dawkins’ family, the journalist then claims: “He is now facing calls to apologise and make reparations for his family’s past”.
Dawkins concluded his side of the story by saying: “I can’t help wondering at the quality of journalism, which sees a scoop in attacking a man for what his five-greats grandfather did.” DM
Photo: British author Richard Dawkins speaks at the annual Literature Festival in Jaipur, capital of India’s desert state of Rajasthan January 24, 2012. His family have now been accused of building their family estate on the misfortune of slaves. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain.
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