The words spoken


Friendly Hemant says PZ gets Ayaan Hirsi Ali all wrong, because she didn’t say that, she said the opposite.

I’ve seen complaints online about how Hirsi Ali was minimizing problems caused by conservative Christians, as if they weren’t as big a deal as those caused by extremist Muslims. PZ Myers called it “fatwah envy” and said Hirsi Ali was suggesting “we should meekly accept the lesser injustice because of the threat of the greater” and trying to “silence those who strive for respect and dignity in their lives.”

But when I watched her speech (because I actually did that instead of relying on a couple of sound bites and tweets), I didn’t get that impression at all.

Well what impression one got or didn’t get isn’t the issue. The issue is what she actually said.

Through her examples, she compared the religious concerns we often deal with on a regular basis with those we may not understand because of our geography. We’re undoubtedly familiar with LGBT-rights issues in the U.S., but she wanted to call our attention to injustices perpetrated by people in the name of Islam — injustices she’s all too familiar with.

It’s a funny thing – that was actually the subject of my talk at the American Atheists Convention in 2013. I spelled it out pretty much the same way. It was on the Sunday afternoon, so one of the last talks, so I started with something along the lines of “we’ve heard a lot about religious bullshit here in the US and I want to tell you about some activists working on religious bullshit elsewhere in the world.” Then I talked about Maryam Namazie and others. But it was an “and” not a “but.” It was meant as an addition to everyone’s understanding of the fight against religious bullshit, not as a replacement of everyone’s understanding with a different understanding. I didn’t say forget your issues, pay attention to these issues instead. I just said here’s some more religious bullshit and some more people fighting it.

A few weeks later I introduced Dave Silverman to Maryam Namazie at Women in Secularism 2, and she was a speaker at the 2014 Convention.

Hemant quoted from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s talk:

I understand, I empathize, and you have my support in fighting religious bigotry. And in Christian America, there’s probably a lot to do. But I want to draw your attention to a different kind of religion. If you become a Christian apostate, the highest price you’ll pay is that your family, your neighbors, your communities will disown you. And trust me, I understand that pain…

Yet given the limited resources we have, the limited time we have, and the potential energy and force and magnitude and resources of the Islamic threat, I wanted to draw your attention to the religion that threatens us the most in 2015.

If you are gay, today in the United States of America, the worst the Christian community can do to gay people is not serve them cake… I tweeted Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, whom I think is very brave by going out there and describing what it is that the LGBT community faces in predominantly homophobic communities. The discrimination is subtle, and it lurks in the shadows. But I just want you to think about being Muslim and gay today. In the worst case scenario, you’ve seen it on television, on YouTube… if you’re accused of being gay, you are marched to the tallest building in town and bullies throw you off that building and there’s a crowd of people waiting there

Emphasis his.

So that’s AHA not “suggesting ‘we should meekly accept the lesser injustice because of the threat of the greater'” according to Hemant.

Really?

I’m sorry but that’s exactly what it looks like to me. Or, at least, to put it less rhetorically than PZ did, it does look to me as if she is saying that because Islam is much worse therefore we should be devoting our limited resources and time to issues related to Islam. It looks that way to me because that’s what she said.

Comments

  1. says

    There’s also the part where she says:

    Let’s stop going after Christians and Christianity. Let’s go after Islam as the most threatening doctrine of our time.

    They have to rescue themselves from that by inserting the word “disproportionately” at the end of the first sentence. They can complain that I commented on a limited number of quotes (because I wasn’t there, and the video hadn’t been released yet!), but at least I didn’t make up words and insert them in her mouth.

    I also disagree with this:

    What I saw was a woman (with a lovely sense of humor, by the way) talking about her own experience, and pointing out the fact that extremist followers of Islam, not Christianity, are a bigger threat to the world at large. And she’s right.

    She’s wrong. The biggest threat to world peace is a collection of Christians in Washington DC who control the world’s largest military apparatus, and are willing to use it to kill civilians who get in the way of their goals.

  2. =8)-DX says

    Yes, if you say people have limited resources and then make a comparison between your particular issue and other peoples problems, while grossly playing down the latter, that is pretty much as close to suggesting everyone drop their issues for yours as you can get.

    I’m not sure though that this *has* to be a problem I mean it’s true that some prioritising of issues does happen (affected mainly by media coverage and popularity), and everyone has the right to promote what they know best and find most important, except:
    A) AHA is using dismissive rhetoric used by single-issue activists everywhere which basically amounts to a rejection of intersectionality, B) a trivialisation of others’ lives, experiences and voices and C) a display of gross ignorance on the part of AHA. Increased suicide risk and homelessness are not mollified by “let them eat cake”.

  3. Hj Hornbeck says

    Myers @1:

    The biggest threat to world peace is a collection of Christians in Washington DC who control the world’s largest military apparatus, and are willing to use it to kill civilians who get in the way of their goals.

    What? No, don’t be daft man. Malaria kills about half a million people per year, more than Christianity and Islam combined. I demand atheists give up on their silly church-state lawsuits and anti-discrimination legislation to shift their resources to the greatest threat.

  4. iknklast says

    What I wonder is if Hemant watched the whole talk, or just the beginning of it. Because what he quoted about the lot of work to do in America was at the beginning. At the end, she very plainly told us to quit going after Christians and focus on Islam. Quit going after Christians – not just to call our attention to the horrors of Islam, but to insist that it is the only thing we should be working on. I was there for the entire talk. She was very specific. Quit going after Christians were her very words.

  5. themadtapper says

    Another thing AHA seems to forget is that the reason things are better here for gays/women than over in Islamic areas is that we continue to fight, because there are countless people just waiting for an opportunity to roll back all those hard-fought gains. If we all took our time and resources and took them over there to focus on Islam, we’d come back home to a country where all the ground we’d won over the last century was gone. We have to have people fighting the fights over here, not just to make more progress but to keep what progress we’ve already made. Christianity only seems like less of a threat because we’ve put so many protections in place against its toxic influence, protections that many Christians would roll back at the first opportunity.

  6. Konradius says

    Another ‘detail’ that AHA glosses over is that it’s not just the amount of resources that is a factor. It’s also how effectively you can use them.
    It’s probably a lot more effective to spend your time doing things to benefit people close to where you live.
    And not just that, once you’ve petitioned the Saudi Arabic embassy for the 3rd time this week, the 4th time may be somewhat less effective as well…

  7. R.A. says

    I don’t often comment here but I wanted to offer my perspective on this particular issue since it ties in with a lot of, for lack of a better word, despair, at the state of our community.

    Having watched the video and having read all the related commentary from the people referenced (PZ, Ophelia, Jerry Coyne etc.), I don’t think the net-message I got from AHA’s speech was to stop all work related to American politics, LGBT rights etc. Yes that precise sentence about Christianity is there at the end of her speech but I think, given the content of the remainder of her speech, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that maybe she misspoke or spoke in a hurry.

    I also didn’t get the impression that she was downplaying the state of injustice present in American society today. I think her point about limited resources and the imminent threat of Islamism deserves attention as the relevant context to that quote.

    Just my opinion

  8. says

    Very good point, madtapper. I’ve been thinking about it all in terms of “the status quo isn’t good enough” but of course you’re right – we’d lose even the gains we have if we stopped paying attention.

  9. R.A. says

    Also further to my earlier comment #7 –

    I’m just curious about people’s opinion here regarding AHA’s argument of “let’s focus our efforts more / entirely on Islam”. On the utilitarian basis of the greatest good for the greatest number, would the strategy she recommends (if that is indeed her suggested strategy) be really that off-base ?

  10. says

    R.A. @ 7 – ok, you’re willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that maybe she misspoke or spoke in a hurry, but my point is that other people are very indignant that not all of us are. I don’t see why they’re so indignant.

    (Unless of course it’s just tribal, but surely that can’t be right. Surely.)

  11. R.A. says

    Ophelia – that’s why my original comment was prefaced with the statement about despair.

  12. themadtapper says

    On the utilitarian basis of the greatest good for the greatest number, would the strategy she recommends (if that is indeed her suggested strategy) be really that off-base ?

    For one, as Konradius pointed out (and many others have mentioned over the years), not everyone can use their time and resources to fight radical Islam, or at least can’t use them well to that effect. Most of the time people are going to make a bigger difference in their own local sphere of influence. Sure, a large organization can take funds formed from smaller contributions and use it for long-distance efforts, but since that requires some hard work on a smaller more focused group supported by smaller contributions from the community at large, that leaves plenty of time and resources on the part of the community at large to focus on local issues. There’s no need to dismiss or in fact even mention efforts to deal with “lesser” issues at home when talking about putting some extra effort into dealing with radical Islam.

    Also, it’s not accurate to paint Christianity as less threatening when the only reason it remains so is the amount of time and resources spent continuing to fight it. And that’s just talking about here in the US. Ask gays in Uganda or Russia which is the bigger threat to them, Christianity or Islam, and see what answer you get. Islam is not uniquely toxic. Christianity manages every bit the same barbarism if it is allowed to flourish in the same kind of environment as Islam. Modern nations have managed civil rights progress in spite of Christianity, not along side it.

  13. R.A. says

    @themadtapper # 12

    Regarding not everyone being able to directly contribute towards opposing radical islam – I agree partially. In terms of raising funds, active campaigning in afflicted areas etc. I completely agree. And I also completely agree that there’s more work to do here at home.

    However, on a day-to-day basis, In terms of raising a voice and spreading/debating ideas however, would you say that out there’s value in prioritizing these issues rather than, as AHA said, Christmas trees on government property etc?

    I also disagree that if we relax our guard, Christianity in America will loom large again. Indiana notwithstanding, I think there’s been an irredeemable shift in the mindset of Americans with respect to LGBT rights etc. such that such blatant idiocies will die out soon on their own accord.

    Completely agree about Christianity in Africa however.

  14. says

    I think it’s a fundamentally pointless project, trying to figure out whether one should drop all one’s local concerns to focus solely on Islam, because it’s just not that simple. It’s not the kind of thing you can figure out with a cost-benefit analysis. It’s the kind of thing people mostly shouldn’t meddle with – saying drop your own projects to work on this other one. I think it’s a bad idea and AHA should stop doing it.

  15. Hj Hornbeck says

    R.A. @9,

    I think I posted a comment here about six months ago that did a quick tally of the cost/benefits, but finding it again is probably more effort than starting from scratch.

    Let’s compare the monetary costs for just one aspect of things feminists argue against, domestic violence.

    In the U.S., 24 percent of adult women and 14 percent of adult men have been physically assaulted by a partner at some point in their lives. It is the most common cause of injury for women ages 18 to 44. And it leads to an increased incidence of chronic disease: Abused women are 70 percent more likely to have heart disease, 80 percent more likely to experience a stroke and 60 percent more likely to develop asthma.

    Nearly a quarter of employed women report that domestic violence has affected their work performance at some point in their lives. Each year, an estimated 8 million days of paid work is lost in the U.S. because of domestic violence.

    Domestic violence costs $8.3 billion in expenses annually: a combination of higher medical costs ($5.8 billion) and lost productivity ($2.5 billion).

    Addressing this issue could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

    OK, now how much damage does Islam do to the American economy?

    That’s maybe a bit unfair, as we should consider the costs involved in fixing things. With domestic violence, we can take a big chunk out of it by early education, a stronger social safety net, and revising the court system. I figure that’s about a hundred million or so.

    Now, what would it cost for us to combat Islam? You Americans have sunk a few trillion military dollars into the Middle East, and so far just made things worse. Maybe if we shipped Dawkins and a few other Thought Leaders over there in jet planes, they could enlighten those impoverished savages for a lot less.

    Colour me skeptical, though.

  16. R.A. says

    @Hj Hornbeck #15

    I’m not referring to the cost-benefit analysis solely on the basis of the amount of money it would take to solve an issue or how much it affects the economy – although that’s a good question by itself. If that’s your measure then I would also urge you to consider the economic cost of Islam to places outside the USA that are most affected. On a global basis I would estimate that the issue of Islam contributes vastly in issues of violence, gender inequality, stultification of education etc., in ways that would probably rack up immensely if evaluated just in terms of money.

    However, I guess I’m referring to the amount of energy that we in the community spend in discussing/debating these issues and spreading ideas. This would include I guess a measure of how much these issues play in our minds and affect us on a day to day basis. Let’s say a useful starter metric for that is the number of tweets sent out about each issue, weighted roughly by the number of followers one has. I am tremendously saddened by the amount of this “energy” that I consider wasted due to both the “deep rifts issues” involving people I respect tremendously, and other matters I consider relatively minor like the Christmas tree thing.

    And I’m not saying for a second that we don’t do enough with regards to Islam already – indeed I have unending respect for Ophelia since coming across her work about Charlie Hebdo, Kenya etc. I guess I just want to say “Can’t we all just get along :)

  17. carlie says

    No, don’t be daft man. Malaria kills about half a million people per year, more than Christianity and Islam combined. I demand atheists give up on their silly church-state lawsuits and anti-discrimination legislation to shift their resources to the greatest threat.

    That was along the lines of what I was going to say. If you’re going to play “whoever has the most dire problem wins”, then child death by starvation and easily treatable diseases is the thing that really comes out on top right? When it comes right down to it, most people will say that the callous death of a child is morally worse than the callous death of an adult. So, stop yer whining about who gets killed because of Islam, because there are children dying of malaria and malnutrition out there.

  18. John Horstman says

    Further, radical Islam is a far less serious threat to people in the USA than, say, our own police forces, which kill between 1,000 and 2,000 people every year (going back to the year 2000 in order to count the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, our own police have killed more people in that timespan than Islamists, even if we include all people diagnosed with cancer as a possible result of aerosolized carcinogens resulting from the attacks, putting the count around 14,000 – our police have killed closer to 20,000 USA citizens in the past 15 years). So if Hirsi Ali really wants to play Oppression Olympics USA, she still loses. Even if we include casualties from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we’re only looking at a USA body count on par with that our own police caused. Since Washington is as much a factor in the continuation of those wars as our enemies, if not moreso, the fact remains that our own government is a greater threat to all of us here in USA than any foreign group.

  19. John Horstman says

    That should really be “Oppressor Olympics USA” in my previous comment. Also, if I’m including cancer cases resulting from the 2001/09/11 attacks, I should probably also count deaths in USA penitentiaries on the police side, which swings the balance back solidly in the (dis)favor of the police. As PZ already noted, USA is arguably a bigger threat to people in any Islamic nation than Islamists are; for certain particular countries, that doesn’t hold true (though we support the governments of most of the countries for which that doesn’t hold true, so…).

  20. melanie says

    R.A.

    You’re sounding dangerously like a neocon.

    Anti-Muslim bigotry is where the Christian Right and New Atheism meet.

  21. arthur says

    There is certainly an impression that Hersi Ali is calling for action that would consciously diminish domestic opposition to injustice. OK, maybe she could clarify her comments later etc, but I don’t believe PZ’s interpretation of the speech was unreasonable, uncharitable perhaps, but the central complaints are justified.

    The reaction against PZ’s blog post reminds of the the counter attack during the Michael Shermer “It’s a guy thing…” fiasco. Ophelia’s complaints about Shermer’s comments then, like PZ’s response to Hersi Ali now, were not unreasonable. Not unreasonable by any stretch. And it was astonishing that certain people thought they were.

    This nonsense almost makes me believe there’s something else at play. Other agendas. I just read Michael Nugent’s blog post where he describes PZ’s “latest smear that Ayaan Hirsi Ali”. Later, in a list of PZ’s “hateful and violent rhetoric”, Nugent includes PZ’s avowed “contempt” for Ronald Reagan , the “attorney Debbie Schlussel” and Fred Phelps. The whole thing is absolutely fucking nuts. What is the matter here?

  22. themann1086 says

    Arthur @22:

    No way. The Nuge proves pz is Evil because he said mean things about schlussel and phelps?!? I want to go see it for proof but I don’t want to give him pageviews…

  23. R.A. says

    @John Horstman #19 and #20

    I guess I’m asking for a wider perspective beyond the USA regarding your comment in #19.

    And regarding your broader point – I’m not making the claim (nor I think are AHA et al) that Islam is uniquely the worst thing on the planet at the moment vis-a-vis human flourishing. Of course there are several banes on our existence both at the local level (police brutality, systemic racism etc.) and the global level (cancer, poverty etc.). I think the point is that humanity as a whole has to fight, and indeed continues to fight against these.

    I think the point is that as the atheist movement, we subsume the fight against all these, but perhaps we are in a unique position to also be able to raise our voices against bad religious ideas and their effects

  24. themann1086 says

    RA: I’m not making the claim (nor I think are AHA et al) that Islam is uniquely the worst thing on the planet at the moment vis-a-vis human flourishing.

    AHA: Let’s stop going after Christians and Christianity. Let’s go after Islam as the most threatening doctrine of our time.

    I think, RA, that you’re defending what you wish she had said, not what she actually said.

  25. Hj Hornbeck says

    R.A. @16:

    On a global basis I would estimate that the issue of Islam contributes vastly in issues of violence, gender inequality, stultification of education etc., in ways that would probably rack up immensely if evaluated just in terms of money.

    Speaking of which, I found that old comment of mine, which was aimed at Dawkins and covered more than just the economic argument (huh, and I forgot Benson converted it into a guest post! Now I’m flattered all over again).

    I’m not referring to the cost-benefit analysis solely on the basis of the amount of money it would take to solve an issue or how much it affects the economy – although that’s a good question by itself. If that’s your measure then I would also urge you to consider the economic cost of Islam to places outside the USA that are most affected.

    Saudi Arabia and Turkey are not only in the top 20 of richest countries in the world, they beat out other bastions of freedom like Australia and the Netherlands. If there’s a cost, it must be slight. Still, I’d like to see your numbers there.

    I am tremendously saddened by the amount of this “energy” that I consider wasted due to both the “deep rifts issues” involving people I respect tremendously, and other matters I consider relatively minor like the Christmas tree thing.

    Ditto. But I strongly agree with Greta Christina’s take on this:

    Let’s look at the history of other social change movements: the LGBT movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the labor movement, the environmental movement. Every single one of them has been bitten on the ass by this issue. Every single one of them failed to deal with this issue in their early days of becoming visible and vocal and activist. And every single one of them now desperately wishes that they could find a time machine, go back in time, and tell their early leaders to freaking well get this right… before bad habits got entrenched, before bad feelings had decades to fester, before vicious circles and self-fulfilling prophecies got set into a groove, before this turned into a minefield.

    I’ve said this before, and I will no doubt say it many more times, and I’m going to say it again now: As frustrating as these conflagrations are, as upsetting as they are, the fact that we are having them now gives me enormous hope. It means that in ten years, twenty years, fifty years, we won’t have to hash these issues out. Or at least, we won’t have to hash them out as much, and the hashing out won’t be as ugly. If we learn nothing else from history… we can learn that.

  26. R.A. says

    @themann1086

    Sorry I don’t know how to use the blockquote thing. You said
    “AHA: Let’s stop going after Christians and Christianity. Let’s go after Islam as the most threatening doctrine of our time.”

    Precisely – the most threatening doctrine. Not the most threatening thing overall.

    Anyway apart from that one quote which I guess you could take either way – wouldn’t you say that given the venue, the audience and the context of her giving the keynote speech, my interpretation is likely to be accurate? I mean you wouldn’t expect her to say to that audience that listen – cancer, and poverty are what we must fight against

  27. says

    R.A. @ 13: I’m much less optimistic (I’m tempted to say naive or Pollyannaish) regarding the anti-LGBT bigotry in the U.S. Probably bolstered by the fact that tonight my city just repealed our recently passed ordinance extending anti-discrimination to LGBT people. And as wide-spread as transphobia especially is. No, i think there’s still a lot to fight, and will be for quite some time. Marriage equality is only one, if relatively visible, facet.

  28. themann1086 says

    RA @27:

    Like PZ said higher up, I don’t agree with that contention, and her insistence that we stop dealing with ideologies that are more damaging and focus on her issue is annoying at best.

  29. ema says

    … and other matters I consider relatively minor like the Christmas tree thing.

    Relatively minor, like the Christmas tree thing, and the religious prohibition on uterine containers’ access to proper medical care. The Christmas tree thing, the religious prohibition on uterine containers’ access to proper medical care, and the state enforced increase in morbidity and mortality of pregnant containers. The Christmas tree thing, the prohibition on uterine containers’ access to proper medical care, the state enforced increase in morbidity and mortality of pregnant containers, and the soon-to-be enacted religious prohibition of teaching standard of care Ob/Gyn to medical students.

  30. says

    This isn’t the first time Hemant has taken the position that Atheist Thought Leaders should not be questioned and those who criticize them are unreasonable. IIRC, he did this over Dear Muslima, and about Harris, and about Dawkins’ other comments, etc. etc. etc. Maybe it’s because he clearly hopes to be one of those Thought Leaders; he’s no longer a math teacher.

  31. Helene says

    I’m entirely with you, R.A. And being a Muslim-born woman, I see the horrific effects of Islam every day on people I know, especialy women and children. Not in the Middle East but right here in America (I’m actually in Canada). The horrors of Islam affect millions of us in the west (though perhaps worse in Europe than the US and Canada). FGM, “honor” crimes, underage and forced marriages, polygamy (yes, it exists surreptitiously), rape and domestic beatings, forced Sharia, curtailed education for females, coerced wearing of niqabs and hijabs, etc. We may not be as bad off as our sisters in Africa and Asia, but I would have loved to have had my non-Muslim girfriends’ problems growing up.

  32. Kilian Hekhuis says

    We have limited time and energy. If I can make relatively small contributions to the wellbeing of the generation of my children by pointing out sexism and homophobia in my sphere of influence, which is neither influenced by, nor directly threatened by, Islam, I will, without giving a seconds thought to the horror that is caused by or in the name of Islam. There is absolutely no way I can do anything to influence the atrocities that take place elsewhere in the world; what the likes of Dawkins and Hirsi Ali are suggesting is that in that case, I do nothing at all, which I think is extremely selfish (of them).

    Also, I think that Ayaan greatly downplays the danger that is Christianity. Didn’t she hear of the anti-gay laws in e.g. Uganda, a predominantly Christian country?

  33. veil_of_ignorance says

    “Also, I think that Ayaan greatly downplays the danger that is Christianity. Didn’t she hear of the anti-gay laws in e.g. Uganda, a predominantly Christian country?”

    Isn’t Uganda just a place elsewhere in the world , outside of our sphere of influence and in consequence none of our business? I don’t think so. I think that we can influence the politics of Uganda in the negative (hello American evangelicals!) and in the positive. And similarly, we in the West can have an influence on Islamism and conservative Islam.

    We live in a world which is as interlinked – both physically and intellectually – as it has never been before in history. And just as Islamism is a transnational network, the secular and liberal response to Islamism can and must be trans- and internationalist. And there is a lot what people in the West can do to support secular, liberal, socialist, feminist and humanist voices in the Muslim world and in the Muslim diaspora in Western societies: challenge the identitarianism, communitarianism, culturalism, postmodernism and relativism which is virulent in modern day academic thought. Call out all the relativist, anti-imperalist and “postcolonial” lefties and feminists who argue that LGBT rights are Western moral imperialism and that secularism and “Western” feminism is for white people only. The power that Western academia has in global discourse is immense. It is impressive how often you – figuratively – hear Foucault or Said speaking at the UN, at transnational NGOs etc. Amplify secular voices and support (financially, intellectually) secular, humanist and feminists groups, organizations and parties in the Muslim world. Amplify the voices of ex-Muslims and liberal Muslims in the Western world who are systematically delegitimized and silenced in the current discourse about Islam. Support Western parties and politics which challenge theocratic regimes in the Muslim world. The lack of solidarity with Margot Wallström, not just from the Right but also from the Left, was disappointing to say the least. Challenge Islamophobia: not by appropriating the narrative of the Islamists, not by beatifying every Muslim reactionary but by de-essentialising Islam, by underlining the political and historically contingency of Islamism, by pointing out the extreme heterogeneity of opinion in the Muslim world, by celebrating the many liberal, secular and feminist thinkers and movements which existed in the Muslim world.

  34. yaque says

    Uh, of course there’s that tea-bagger christianist climate-change denialism blocking the government of the US from any real action.
    Which has the potential of trashing a 7+ billion civilization into a 100 million paleolithic remnant.
    Which trumps anything Islamists might aspire to.
    And kicks over the table and shoves it down the stairs.
    :(

  35. says

    arthur @ 22 – I know, right? He also includes Rush Limbaugh and Dinesh D’Souza. How dare anyone say sweary things about Rush Limbaugh!!? It’s an outrage!!

  36. says

    I’ve noticed this about defenders of Harris and Ali: an annoying tendency to declare “My hero really meant to say this” , and then happily rewrite their words to evade any criticism. It really gets old fast.

    Why don’t you all just admit that they’re shitty writers and terrible communicators who are totally unable to say something intelligible without an army of fans to edit their words after the fact?

  37. says

    Ooh, ooh, you know who else gets that treatment? Michael Shermer! I had so many people telling me what he ACTUALLY meant that time he said it’s more of a guy thing…along with people saying I misquoted him, which was a flat-out lie.

  38. Pierce R. Butler says

    Hirsi Ali’s Let’s stop going after Christians and Christianity. Let’s go after Islam as the most threatening doctrine of our time. misses the point on multiple levels.

    She doesn’t seem to notice that Christianism and Islam are (a) both religions, and freethinking and human welfare generally are better served by cutting at the root of superstition rather than whacking at one branch and ignoring the rest; and (b) both Abrahamic religions, spawned from the same patriarchal and tribal primordial ooze, with much more in common than in opposition. (Though that opposition certainly provides an excess of venom – very much like the intra-family feuds that injure and kill so many cops compared to, say, drug gangs.)

    More generally, AHA’s advice adds up to “focus your work on distant problems on which you can have minimal effect and ignore those where you can actually make a difference” – an invitation to complete disempowerment, the sort of patronizing “assistance” by which the powers-that-be have tried to neutralize reform for generations. After offering which, they always take great sniffy offense at being told where to shove it and proclaim themselves the last defenders of civilization against uncivil barbarians – the words “shrill” and “strident” always come in handy at this point.

  39. R.A. says

    @PZ #38

    All I can speak for is the message I gleaned from listening to AHA’s talk and the related commentary. I repeat that in my opinion, judging the net content of her speech did not give me the impression that she was saying “do nothing about problems in the USA – the middle-east is the only thing worth worrying about”

    Sure, I’m willing to be convinced otherwise that AHA maybe really does believe exactly that – in which case I would disagree with her, but I remain unconvinced at the moment. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt just as I’m willing to give Sam Harris and others the benefit of the doubt regarding a lot of their statements and views that are in contention. I fully recognize that a lot of what he says can be taken to be incredibly inflammatory but having listened to his interviews and read his writings over the years, I’m not convinced that he’s a bigot or war-monger etc.

    I disagree with certain specifics of the things he, AHA, Dawkins etc. have said in the past and I fully agree that at times they don’t communicate their ideas well. I think a lot of this has to do with people learning to deal with the new social-media landscape – something Dawkins in particular is not good at – and this ends up in a vicious cycle of everyone saying stupid things.

    But I think I still see the net content of their character and their contribution to the community as very positive.

  40. Kevin Schelley says

    I’m always at least irritated when people tell others what they must fight against. Regardless of what may or may not be the greatest threat to secularism, human rights, etc. in the world it doesn’t mean that everyone feels they can make an impact against that threat precisely because it is such a large threat. I have no illusion that I have much of any way to make an impact against Islamic extremism in the middle east. I can make a difference on local things, smaller problems that don’t make me feel overwhelmed by their sheer scale and give up on doing anything whatsoever.

    I also think that many who side with people like Harris and AHA subconsciously use their words to make them feel they don’t have to do anything to fix things where they are, since things are so much worse somewhere else. If you’re using the excuse that someone else has it worse somewhere else to do nothing where you are then you’re just lazy in my book.

  41. says

    R.A. Why do you keep making this all about your “impressions” and what you “take” from AHA’s talk? As I’ve said more than once, she said what she said. I’m not talking about my “impression”; I’m talking about what she said.

    It gets annoying being told or urged to be more charitable etc etc by people who want to substitute “impressions” for what people actually said.

  42. says

    And the making a virtue of it is annoying too. “I take the charitable view because I’m nicer than you.” But she still said what she said, and I’m not mean for saying so.

  43. R.A. says

    Ophelia – I agree that she did indeed speak those words. I’m only speaking of the net message I took away from the talk. My opinion might be charitable to a fault and again, I’m willing to be convinced otherwise but haven’t as yet come to the same conclusion as you.

    And I apologize if I seem to be coming off as “holier than thou”. That isn’t my intention

  44. says

    That’s ok; I’m grumpy.

    I do however think it’s charitable to a fault to brush off what she actually said in favor of a “net message.” But then I hate watching videos so I haven’t watched the vid of her speech yet; maybe if I did I would see your point.

  45. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Hemant and Nuge should get together and share notes on how to best be a “useful idiot.”

  46. says

    I haven’t watched the video yet, so but it seems worth observing that while the struggles that AHA is talking about obviously do deserve our solidarity, solidarity with someone else’s struggle does not require that we give up our own struggle. And in calling for solidarity, it seems to me to be hypocritical to denigrate the struggles of those you are asking for solidarity from. It should be mutual. If AHA is calling for more attention and resources to be committed to the issues she is talking about, then I agree with her. If AHA is condemning those on the left or among feminists who show no solidarity on the issues she is talking about, then I agree with her.

    I am reminded of the Spanish revolution/civil war/fascist coup (depending on your political perspective) in the 1930s. I don’t know whether the strategy changed, but certainly early on, when pro-Republicans were touring other European countries drawing attention to what was happening, they were not telling people that they had to drop everything and go and fight Franco, or that what was happening in their own countries was as nothing compared to what was happening in Spain. They were telling people to do what they could at home to support them, to engage in the struggle in their own countries, not least because they understood that the fight against fascism was an international struggle: the same struggle.

    They didn’t turn up in a dingy hall in London or Glasgow and berate their audience for not being in fear of their lives and demand to know why everyone wasn’t turning all their attention to Spain instead of piddling about on little local disputes all the time.

    The bravery and sacrifice of the International Brigades, of course, is generally honoured (Stalinism notwithstanding). But we don’t say they are the only people worth celebrating.

    I might have overused the word “struggle”, sorry.

  47. governmentman says

    “We need to stop spending our money on military and police and start spending it on education.”
    “He wants to eliminate the whole military and all police! It’s exactly what he said!”

    This is a terrible straw man. Pretending that you think AHA wants everyone everywhere to stop any advocacy they’re doing that isn’t anti-Islamic is ludicrous on its face and the kind of thing you can only do in an echo-chamber like this, because if she were sitting across the table from you PZ’s “fatwah envy” and this thread would be rendered irrelevant in 10 seconds of clarification.

    Charitable reading isn’t hero worship, it’s part of all conversation. And something like this isn’t even charitable interpretation, it’s just failing to be intentionally obtuse. You all know exactly what she means and hiding behind “Well that’s not precisely what she said.” is absurd. You all know that language is subjective and ambiguous. You know that people making speeches use analogy and hyperbole. You know that anyone can find some quote to read out of context if they want to. You wouldn’t accept this this kind of obfuscation in a host of other contexts. Stop doing it.

  48. says

    “We need to stop spending our money on military and police and start spending it on education.”
    “He wants to eliminate the whole military and all police! It’s exactly what he said!”

    There’s a phrase missing from your strawman here that would actually make your “charitable” reading accurate: “so much.” We need to stop spending so much of our money on military and police and start spending it on education.

    We keep hearing all this about charitable readings and giving people the benefit of the doubt when the people in question have given no indication that they deserve it. Regardless of whether or not she meant the actual words that she said, her claim about the “worst thing that can happen” to a gay person in the US is insultingly, dismissively false. There is literally no reason for her to so blatantly distort the actual situation for gay people in the US to make her point, because the death penalty as actual policy is worse whether American gays are being denied cake or being denied employment. The same is true for her comments about women’s rights. Why dismiss these issues if your point isn’t to say that we need to switch our focus to the real problems? Which, again, is what she actually said.

    It’s the same bullshit Patricia Arquette was peddling a few months back, it’s the same bullshit intersectional feminists and civil rights activists have been talking about for ever. Some outside observer sees that a civil rights movement has made some high-visibility victories and declares that the war is over, so now we can focus on the issues that really matter (to me).

    Maybe it’s uncharitable to read the words as they were actually said. I suggest that Ali’s comments about the “worst thing that can happen” to gays are far less charitable. At least our reading has a basis in reality.

  49. says

    Funny how charity and benefit of the doubt never go both ways. Ali apparently wasn’t writing her speech thinking “gays in the US still spend a lot of time lobbying and campaigning for rights reforms. Maybe they do have worse things to worry about than Christian bakers.” No, it was all “they must not know about how bad it is in Iran. I need to tell them how silly this cake nonsense is by comparison, and then they’ll totally see it my way.”

  50. R.A. says

    @#52

    I guess that’s where consideration of the other parts of her speech could be useful. Where she does speak towards empathising with the struggles of the LGBT movement and that the struggle isn’t over

  51. says

    Member of neocon think tank tells people to stop paying attention to problems caused by Christians and start focusing on Muslims.

    Now why doesn’t that surprise me one bit?

  52. says

    @RA #53:

    Where she does speak towards empathising with the struggles of the LGBT movement and that the struggle isn’t over

    Which is hard to reconcile with her repeated statements that gays are a wallet away from equality and the worst thing that can happen to them is being denied cake. “I empathize with you” is easy to say, but turning around and minimizing your struggle in a way that either says “your current issues are trivial” or “I can’t be bothered to find out if this is actually the case” makes it pretty clear that your “empathy” is little more than empty words.

  53. R.A. says

    I think the cake denial thing was in the context of the current legal status of LGBT people in the majority of America. Not in the context of the social environment.

    I guess “both sides” of this argument can be carried on fairly, but there is a simple way to settle it. One could ask her this question directly instead of us speculating about her intentions

  54. says

    R.A.

    I think the cake denial thing was in the context of the current legal status of LGBT people in the majority of America. Not in the context of the social environment.

    It was ignorant and dismissive even in the context of the current legal status of LGBT people. It’s not like Indiana’s RFRA law is restricted to cakes.

    But yes, we should withhold any assumptions until we can ask Ali herself. It’s only fair that we do the relevant research before spouting off in public. A shame she didn’t bother.

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