Richard Dawkins: Atheists should be more like Anglicans

Richard Dawkins has denied being an aggressive atheist.Reuters

Atheist campaigner and scientist Richard Dawkins has denied being an aggressive atheist and urged "rationalists" to "take on some of the gentle decency of the Church of England".

"Rationality ought to be polite and humorous. Aggressive atheism is sometimes attributed to me, but I think wrongly," he told the The Times.

In a wide-ranging interview, Dawkins praised efforts by the government to crack down on hate preachers and criticised what he said was a reluctance to confront Islam. 

"Incitement to violence is the one case where freedom of speech should be curtailed," he said. "I think there's a tendency to turn a blind eye specifically to Islam."

He said: "People are terrified of being thought racist. There's an awful confusion in many people's minds. They think Islam is a race, which of course it isn't. If you're seen to criticise Islam you are often accused of racism, which is absurd. I'm all for offending people's religion. I think it should be offended at every opportunity."

He condemned what he said was a failure to prosecute some so-called "honour killings", describing it as "deeply wrong". He also criticised segregated seating at political meetings or university events for Islamic religious reasons, saying: "There's a tendency among liberals in the West to bend over backwards because they're terrified of being called racist. Islam gets a free pass."

On faith schools, Dawkins said: "I would like to see them abolished or at least the faith element removed. It's important to teach children about religion, but I'm against schools that indoctrinate children in a particular religion."

He also called for the immigration system to be biased in favour of atheists, saying: "In the case of immigrants from Syria and Iraq I would like to see special preference given to apostates, people who have given up Islam. They are in particular danger."