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Dear Professor Dawkins,

I was at your presentation at the Global Atheist Conference in Melbourne last month. To be honest, it wasn’t a great talk. There were a number given with greater skill, with a passion that ignited the audience. There were people who presented an opposing view worth hearing, or simply a perspective I hadn’t thought much about.

But where you lost me was that slide referring to ‘militant disabled people’.

In the past, you’ve spoken of how the phrase ‘militant atheist’ is a joke. Because we don’t go flying planes into buildings, or blow up abortion clinics, or murder our daughters when they marry non-atheists. We may be outspoken, but outspokenness doesn’t make you militant.

Threats and harm do.

So I was interested in what makes a disabled person ‘militant’. And according to you, it’s opposing abortion of a disabled fetus.

Now, forgive me if I’m wrong, but in the past you’ve used a scale of offence to tell us what we should be concerned about. For instance, you famously said a western woman has nothing to object to compared to a woman actually experiencing life under Islam. To me, this use of logic also says that someone living a disabled life has more to say about the value of disabled lives compared to someone not disabled. If it’s all about degrees of experience, then I can’t really see how you can argue one in one direction and the other in a different one.

So, professor, where are these militant disabled people? Which abortion clinics have they blown up? Which gynaecologists have they threatened or murdered?

Or are they militant simply because they have a view you disagree with, and they have the temerity to argue it?

Sound familiar?

When you do this kind of thing you weaken your own arguments and lose respect from your audience. We all have prejudices and blind spots, but labelling a community with your prejudice is a particularly unpleasant one. There are many disabled humanists, atheists and sceptics. Like you, they have a right to speak out without being slapped down as militant.

I’d be grateful if you would give this some thought. I’d be happier if you removed that offensive slide from your presentation, and understood why it was necessary to do so.

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