No, gay marriage won’t fucking well stop HIV »« Do Muslim international students want segregation? Polling on ISocs, religiosity and gender mixing

In support of Priyamvada Gopal

A new coinage of mine is ‘Rorschach text’ – a body of writing read necessarily according to prior sympathies. Scripture is, of course, the best example, but secular texts are just as liable to work this way, and we’re all as guilty of partial interpretation as each other. Yesterday, the Rationalist Association published a piece by the New Left Project’s Priyamvada Gopal, entitled ‘The Right may have hijacked the issue of gender segregation, but that’s no reason to ignore it’.

After a backlash from recent footsoldiers against the practice – Ophelia, the atheists of LSE, the British Council of Ex-Muslims, Left Foot Forward’s editor James Bloodworth and others – the headline was amended to the vaguer ‘Even if you’re suspicious of the campaign against gender segregation in universities, that’s no reason to keep silent’. I’m not sure this helped: the campaign, singular? There’s been more than one, from separate factions of British politics, since March’s infamous Krauss-Tzortzis debate put segregation on the mainstream media map. I’m fairly sure by ‘the Right’, Gopal didn’t mean the names above or last week’s Tavistock Square demonstration. Personally I liked the post – my reading of it at least – and I agree with her.

‘Ours is not an easy moment’, Gopal writes, ‘at which to practice [sic] a simultaneous commitment to anti-racism, equality and social justice. It’s a particularly testing time for progressive people who affiliate in some way to Britain’s ethnic and religious minority communities, among whom Muslims are under unprecedented attack. For us, it is especially difficult to practise a commitment to gender equality and social change in a context so heavily shaped by an intolerant Western “liberalism” passing itself off as “secular”, “enlightened” and more knowing-than-thou.’

Check.

Hello, Pat Condell – co-opting, distorting and outright inventing Islamic human rights concerns to feed an anti-Muslim, anti-migrant animus.

Hello, English Defence League – loved by Condell, posing as a liberal human rights organisation, lifting arguments near-verbatim from the One Law for All group while packed to the brim with neo-Nazi violence and theocratic Christian nationalism.

Hello Douglas Murray – pushing the clash-of-civilisations view that animates these monsters, calling the EDL an ‘extraordinary phenomenon’ and ideal ‘grassroots response by non-Muslims to Islamism’, arguing with spectacular obtuseness that to keep it at bay we need a reinvigourated national(ist) identity – that is exactly what we don’t need.

Hello David Cameron – parroting Murray’s rhetoric, the gentrified form of the EDL’s, demanding ‘muscular liberalism’ in a push for ‘British’ and ‘Western values’. Being at odds with the West, for fuck’s sake, is Islamism’s main selling point – condemning it for that is the perfect way to market it.

When the segregated Krauss-Tzortzis event made (inter)national news, Student Rights – contained and funded by Murray’s think tank, the Henry Jackson Society – was among the first sources to cover it, and the outpouring of recrimination since, both in the pages of papers like the Spectator, Telegraph and Daily Mail and recently by figures like Cameron, Vince Cable and Michael Gove, has come in large part from those Gopal cites as ‘so-called “muscular liberals” (generally, in fact, deeply conservative white males with a commitment to the idea that West is Best)’.

‘The battle lines were drawn once again’, she argues, ‘between [them] and defenders of the rights of minorities to their own customary or traditional practices. Those of us committed to both anti-racism and feminism must ask, however, whether we are really constrained to make our choices within this exhausted binary.’ It’s the same case Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters – endorsed in Gopal’s past work – makes in her speech at the Secularism 2012 conference, that presenting orthodox, patriarchal religious practices as culturally essential (as both the ‘muscular liberal’ right and apologists for segregation on anti-racist grounds are prone to do) empowers conservative religious authorities at minority-ethnic women’s expense.

To use Patel’s examples, playwright and Sikh woman Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti was forced to cancel plans and enter hiding in 2004 when production of Behzti, a story of murder, rape and abuse in a Gurdwara angered the Sikh right, who later claimed they’d have used the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 to suppress the play had it existed then; likewise, the treatment of bodies like the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal as the Muslim population’s representatives in matters of race relations and ‘community cohesion’ ignores and disenfranchises its female and feminist critics in that population. The ‘exhausted binary’ Gopal describes emerging from these issues’ cooptation by right wing elements like those namechecked above, where one either exploits religious sexism to ostracise minorities or treats them as ‘“harmless symbols” of community identity’ required for those minorities’ protection, silences the ‘many Muslim women and men, individuals and organisations [who] have also long queried such practices’.

Hers isn’t an argument that anti-segregation action is right wing by nature or should be abandoned – it’s an argument for the opposite, and specifically for anti-racists and ethnic minority women to support it vocally rather than be put off.  ‘The fact that the issue was hijacked by conservative newspapers and politicians does not mean that the issue itself is irrelevant or cannot be addressed through nuanced and historically informed debate’, she writes. ‘I grew up in a context where gender segregation in many public spaces is common and ostensibly voluntary but far from making me comfortable with custom, it caused me and others concern. It did not take the proverbial “decent, nice, liberal” Europeans to get us to ask what segregation meant in both ideological and institutional terms.’ ‘It is at our peril that we, particularly women who come from non-European communities, cede or suppress [opposition to to such things] in the cause of anti-racism, vital though the latter is.’

I don’t mean to reproduce her manuscript with annotations or parse it condescendingly, but I am aware its critics have stressed its alleged impenetrability. (To me it seems perfectly readable: one hopes they never need Judith Butler’s help.) I understand the frustration of the Tavistock Square organisers at seemingly being called white, male and rightist – with central participants like Patel, Maryam Namazie and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown no less – but given her apparent ignorance of their demonstration at the time of writing, it seems clear she referred to Murray, Cameron and figures like them.

Some, Ophelia in particular, have charged her with ineptitude for not knowing about a demonstration ‘that got major media coverage and thus the attention of politicians who then firmly rejected gender segregation’. I didn’t know about it myself before it happened, and only then because colleagues including her mentioned it. It had, in her words at the time, ‘a small turnout, which was disappointing’; it wasn’t widely reported in mainstream media, except on Channel 4’s site. I can certainly believe it influenced the politicians’ comments that followed – though so might any of the previous pressure from the Telegraph or Speccie – but the coverage of those comments over the protest itself, if it did, exemplifies the very prioritisation of conservative white voices Gopal describes.

I don’t agree with her every line; not, in particular, with her characterisation of Student Rights, who she pointedly notes ‘[have] not addressed greater gendered problems on campus, such as the pay gap or sexual violence’. While I think there’s a time and place for noting inconsistencies, the group is a counter-extremist body: these aren’t issues that fall within its remit. It has, however, opposed Christian fundamentalism at some length as well as the far right’s presence on campuses. Their individual staff are a mix of conservatives who take after Murray and the HJS and centre-left progressives like Rupert Sutton, who does most of the group’s day-to-day work. Similar scenarios exist elsewhere – I know of at least one officially centre-right think tank most of whose staff are dramatically left of it due to its lax recruitment practices – and I suspect that, as with Sarah Brown at Harry’s Place, the centrality of Student Rights’ role as an HJS-sponsored group symptomises more than anything a lack of receptiveness to these issues on Britain’s left. Broadly, I’m glad of their existence and their work.

Perhaps my view of the piece or interpretation of it will change. For now, I’m with Gopal.

Comments

  1. Maureen Brian says

    Er, no, Alex. Have you checked out recent updates at Butterflies and Wheels about what Gopal did and didn’t know when the piece was written and some abusive behaviour on Twitter?

    (By all means delete this after you’ve checked. I will not throw a wobbly.)

  2. maudell says

    @1
    You might want to read the OP before criticizing it (your comment is incidentally making Alex’s point)… You’ll find that your questions are clearly addressed.

  3. Nick Gotts says

    Unfortunately, there’s not a clear distinction between supposedly left/liberal opponents of gender segregation and Islamism, and the racist right. Anne Marie Waters, until last month prominent in OLFA and the Labour Party, and still a spokesperson for the National Secular Society, appears to have had considerable contacts with the EDL, and is a fan of the racist ranter and UKIP supporter, Pat Condell. See here. “Passion for Freedom”, which is affiliated to OLFA, is quite happy to have Douglas Murray as a panel discussant at one of its events, alongside Waters and supporter of the invasion of Iraq Nick Cohen – and astonishingly, to invite Tommy Robinson to that event as a “surprise guest”.

    (Maryam Namazie, while undoubtedly of the left, is also explicity against democracy, following the line of the ludicrous sectlet to which she owes allegiance, the “Worker Communist Party of Iran”.)

  4. says

    I think her point is being misunderstood by many people because they’re not seeing who’s the audience of the piece. Gopal says “It is at our peril that we, particularly women who come from non-European communities, cede or suppress that capacity in the cause of anti-racism, vital though the latter is.” It’s evident that she’s addressing this community.* Her argument, it seems to me, is that they shouldn’t let the rightwing use of this issue to stir anti-Muslim or racist fear and bigotry dissuade them from speaking out against segregation. It’s an important argument. Theirs is an extremely difficult position in which they’re trying to speak out against both Islamists and the European Right without being exploited by either (and facing constant accusations of being so exploited), all in the context you describe in your post (and which I talk about here).

    I don’t really understand why people on the Left fighting the gender segregation wouldn’t appreciate this argument. The only major issue I can see is her implication that all of those in the campaign against the UUK decision are rightwing or ignoring Muslims who share their opposition. But really, I think the campaign should be going out of their way to reach out to and feature these voices rather than worrying about such implications; because the exploitation of issues like this by the Right as part of their larger agenda is very real.

    *That’s the only way the title makes sense.

  5. says

    Hers isn’t an argument that anti-segregation action is right wing by nature or should be abandoned – it’s an argument for the opposite, and specifically for anti-racists and ethnic minority women to support it vocally rather than be put off.

    Yes, this exactly. I’m perplexed by some of the responses.

  6. says

    Some of the comments at Ophelia’s are doing a good job of illustrating precisely the problem/context they deny exists.

    peterh asks:

    Are Britain’s Muslims “under attack”? Or have they brought attack (real and/or imagined) upon themselves?

    Shatterface offers:

    [quoting from Gopal:] There is no doubt that both racism and xenophobia is on the rise, with Muslims and Islam singled out for attack. It is essential to fight back

    It doesn’t take long for the Islamists to start issuing threats.

  7. says

    In reading her article again, I think the main problem is that it’s badly written.
    But it is actually problematic in other ways:
    She doesn’t take any stand on the issue. At least none that is easily detected.

    It’s a capacity that allows us to ask whether, say, women’s colleges are a useful defence against a wider institutional sexism contexts while simultaneously debating whether there’s anything to be maintained or gained by men and women sitting apart when addressed by religious speakers who demand it, even if voluntarily and non-hierarchically.

    This is for me the most problematic part.
    For one thing it co-opts a different discussion, the one about women’s colleges and pretends as if those discussions were equally estabished in forms of arguments and even data. I ultimately disagree with those who champion seperate education, but I can acknowledge that they are usually arguing with the goal to advance girls and women.
    And yes, she treats segregation as if it were up for debate. As if there could be reasonable, non-misogynist arguments for such a segregation.
    And she, like others, pretends that there is such a thing as voluntary, non-hirarchical segregation at the request of a speaker. It’s an oxymoron and I expect somebody who teaches English to know that.
    And she acts as if that segregation could ever be anything else but the reinforcement of misogynist views about women. It’s not something you can disconnect from history and the connection is especially clear when this happens in the context of a religious speaker requesting things.

    I understand part of her argument. The european right has happily exchanged its terminology and now uses “muslim” as a dogwhistle. But it’s important to notice that the religious right has learned, too. they are using the language of liberation, of progress and yes, feminism. I’ve just been in a twitter discussion with an islamist about this. He uses the exact same points:
    -No forced segregation, this is freedom!
    So, what about the guys they tried to remove from the Kraus debate?
    -They forced themselves on muslim women!
    Their language is uncomfortably familiar, resembling language I have used many times before when defending women’s rights and spaces.
    Yes, and while we must be careful not to fall for the western right-wing talking points because they smell of freedom we must also not fall for those of non-western right wingers because they smell of freedom.

    Lastly, the fight for non-segregated public speheres in the western world was that of western feminists, of western women. And its a fight that took place within living memory. As a woman I’m not overly inclined to let the clock roll back on this. My grandma didn’t fight for my right to move within the public sphere wherever I want so that I can watch my daughters being seperated from the boys again. If we talk about cultural sensitivities, these are mine. Not as a dominant westerner, but as a woman in a still very patriarchal society.

  8. says

    @Salty Current (#4 & #5)

    ‘Practise’ as a verb, ‘practice’ as a noun – like ‘advise’/’advice’.

    Yes, that’s what I found out at the link I provided @ #5. As it notes there, in the US we use “practice” for both. I thought you all used “practise”* for both, so when I saw your “[sic]” I thought you were considering the US spelling to be an error.

    * Hee – autocorrect is trying to “correct” that to “practice.”

  9. says

    I’m fairly sure by ‘the Right’, Gopal didn’t mean the names above or last week’s Tavistock Square demonstration.

    On the basis of what, are you fairly sure?

    She certainly didn’t explicitly not mean them (us), and she pretty strongly implied that the whole “campaign” was run by the types she was excoriating.

    If her point was simply that there are plenty of people and groups who oppose Islamism and/or gender segregation for reasons for akin to racism than to universalism, then she should have said that.

  10. says

    @Ophelia Benson (#15)

    On that last point, I think I’ll just link you to my comment on Sarah Brown’s post, which somewhat addresses it.

    Why am I fairly sure ’the Right’ doesn’t mean the people involved in the Tavistock Square demo and related plans? Well…

    1. As you’ve noted, she wasn’t aware of that demo on writing the post.
    2. As you’ve noticed, it was largely the work of people who very conspicuously don’t fit her characterisation of ‘so-called “muscular liberals” (generally, in fact, deeply conservative white males with a commitment to the idea that West is Best)’.
    3. She’s endorsed the work of Southall Black Sisters in the past, and calls for ethnic minority women to take issues like segregation by horns, exactly as they, the CEMB and other groups you suggest she labels rightists currently are – without, in my view, getting great amounts of traction or recognition.
    4. Her reference to the ‘muscular liberal’ right refers explicitly to ‘conservative newspapers and politicians’.

    Without meaning to dismiss important work, I think you might be in danger of overestimating the impact and visibility specifically of the protest last week and the people behind it compared with the (largely male, largely white) right-leaning political establishment – Cameron, Murray, Cable, Gove, to a certain extent Nick Cohen, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Spectator, Condell, UKIP, the EDL. Those are the factions who overall I’d think of as the powerhouses of public indignation on segregation issues – I don’t think that makes being indignant about it bad in itself, of course. Neither does Gopal. That’s her point.

    Again, see my comment to Sarah Brown.

  11. says

    Obviously I know that protests don’t normally have anywhere near the impact of the Telegraph (let alone of Cameron – I hope you don’t think I’m that clueless!). But in this particular case that appears to be the chain of causation: channel 4 reported on the protest, then other big media did, then Straw and Cameron et al. spoke.

    If her point is as you say then she made it stupidly, and without giving a shred of credit to people she ought to see as allies.

  12. says

    @Ophelia Benson (#17)

    Maybe – but I don’t think she deserved the amount of backlash/recrimination she’s had. Some of the readings (‘Apology for segregation’, indeed) are outright bizarre. And she’s confirmed to me more than once that my reading’s what she intended.

    How much did ‘other big media’ actually cover last week’s protest, after Channel 4 did? Searching for it in the three days afterward, I only see blogs in medium-sized arenas – Harry’s Place, Left Foot Forward etc. – and passing mentions of it in opinion columns at major papers. I can certainly believe this had brought some momentum to bear on Cameron and his colleagues, but I also think it happened in a broader context of outrage, much of it right-leaning.

  13. says

    I remain perplexed.

    So she was unaware or insufficiently aware of the involvement of the Left/woman/anti-racist contingent in this campaign. In context, why is this some big deal? It seems to me that it’s our job to make an effort to distance ourselves from rightwing rhetoric and organizations (and to ensure that our actions don’t contribute to or encourage bigotry, even inadvertently) and to work not to marginalize voices like hers (and especially not to suggest that their feminist history doesn’t exist or that they need our tutelage). It’s similar, I think, to the sort of responsibility that atheist organizations owe to women facing sexism and misogyny in the community. (Incidentally, isn’t one of the people going after Gopal one of the harassers? Or am I confusing names?)

    She’s calling on other women in her situation and on antiracists generally to try to overcome (reasonable) suspicions about this campaign being exploited by the Right/bigots and to get involved. The least we can do is to try to understand where she’s coming from and be charitable with our interpretations of her words. This doesn’t mean necessarily agreeing with her on every point, but the hostile interpretation and hostility in general are surprising and odd.

  14. says

    Alex – the BBC did. It was on Today. Today phoned government people but they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) take part, but Jack Straw could & did. It was also on PM, and BBC News. Also the Telegraph. Also the Guardian and the Observer and the Times. Not passing mentions, coverage.

    Also, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown did a channel 4 interview about it. She also had a piece in the Independent the day before the protest, and then she was at the protest herself.

  15. says

    @Ophelia Benson (#22)

    Okay, yes – seeing those stories now. (Though again, they tend to frame the protest in a broader context, e.g. Chuka Umunna’s comments.) Should Gopal have taken more notice? Yes, perhaps – it would have been nice to see her mention this kind of action as an example of the tendency she wants to spur on – but I’m not going to throw her under the bus.

  16. A Hermit says

    I appreciate what Gopal was trying to do but her failure to find out what was actually going on first kind of had the effect of throwing Maryam and others under the bus. Be nice if she’d clarify instead of digging in and fighting her allies.

    On the other hand when I see the likes of the execrable Richard Sanderson popping up in the comments to accuse her of siding with the segregationists and subject her to the same kind of shit and abuse he usually reserves for feminists I’m inclined to cut her some slack…

  17. says

    Not to belabor the point, but…

    It’s strange that people are so focused on the involvement of people and organiz/sations that she doesn’t mention rather than the involvement of those that she does mention (which no one has contested). I know I’d be wary of a campaign in which misogynistic people or groups were involved even if they weren’t controlling it or the sole participants Is it really that difficult to relate to the complexities faced by people fighting both misogyny and racism, especially when they’re victims of both? She could have said nothing about this campaign; instead, she argued that people should involve themselves despite the difficulties posed by a bigoted and arrogant culture.

  18. says

    I was on the demo in Tavistock Square. Not being an avid follower of so-called think tanks, I had heard neither of the Harry Jackson Society nor of Student’s Rights before reading Gopal’s article. I heard no mention of these two august bodies either in Tavisock Square or in the pub afterwards so I suppose that many other participants would be in the same boat. As far as I am concerned, the views of such organisations are, at best, irrelevant; they inform my actions in no way whatsoever. But then I’m a dinosaur, an aging lefty left over from the student protests of the late 60’s, and am not in the habit of following any authorities whatsoever.

    On the other hand I do know what I am for and what I am against, and I am definitely against gender segregation in public meetings. For the record, I’m against gender segregation in almost any other context. In any particular case I am quite willing to listen to a rational argument for it,[1] but the argument that some dude thinks the Angel Gabriel dictated a book to someone and the book mandates such segregation strikes me as the very opposite of rational. Even if this nonsense were true, it would still be a poor excuse for misogyny as it would mean abandoning the ethical imperative to be rational and to, as far as possible, make one’s judgements oneself, on the basis of this rationality, and not to blindly follow arbitrary authority. But one of the things I can’t help noticing about these demands for segregation is their immense childishness. It’s as if a group of four year olds threw a tantrum because I didn’t want to join in their game of “Masters and Slaves,” but this is a bit unfair of me because the four year olds probably know it’s all pretend. If consenting adults wish to play “Masters and Slaves” in private that is their own affair, but to claim the “right” not only to play the game in public but to force others to join in is somewhat on the completely bonkers side of bat-shit crazy.

    Footnotes:
    [1] There are times when it can be justified. For instance, it would be absurd to screen women for a disease that affects only men.

  19. Maureen Brian says

    Alex @ 10, I apologise. I was reading too fast and with too much steam coming out of my ears.

  20. Maureen Brian says

    But, if I may, on your 18 – the story was on BBC Radio 4 Today three days running and not tucked away in the just after 6 or just before 9 slots. It has been on Newsnight and, at least twice, on the World Service. NEWS 24, or whatever it calls itself these days, has had regular mentions of it. Plus two goes at it on Channel 4 News

    In addition, we’ve had Nick Cohen’s 2 full-length pieces in the Spectator. All of those constructive analyses – not the usual, “What silly buggers these students / Muslims / women are!” Then when the Observer caught up a good and long editorial and Catherine Bennett’s piece this last Sunday.

    In addition – quality starts to fall off here – Huffington Post had a couple of goes at the story, as did Spiked, as did the Telegraph through the medium of Brendan O’Neill’s blog.

    The bits I don’t know are what the Times and the tabloids were up to – vague memory of seeing something on the Mirror site but I could be wrong – or London local radio. (I’m in Yorkshire.)

    The Labour Party was slow off the mark and the Tories plus Vince Cable bandwagon-jumping. So, what’s new?

    Not up to royal baby or corrupt cabinet minister levels but more than many a “minority interest” story can often get.

    What I now remember is probably not the whole story but it is a fair amount of coverage.

  21. says

    @Maureen Brian (#27)

    Fair enough – much of this coverage seems just to’ve passed me by. On the other hand: Nick Cohen in the Speccie? Brendan O’Neill at the Telegraph? Tories plus Vince Cable? Are we spotting a pattern here? :P

  22. says

    I’m not sure what the point of all of this discussion about how much coverage the demo received is. I looked through Gopal’s Twitter feed and it’s pretty evident that, whatever coverage it had received, she didn’t know about it or who was involved with it. She seemed genuinely confused about what people were referring to when they brought it up. The link originally in her post was probably inserted without noticing that it wasn’t about the people and groups she was talking about. It had to be something like that, because she supports some of the people involved in the demo. Talking about them would have strengthened her case about the possibilities for simultaneously fighting for equality and social justice and against bigotry.

  23. A Hermit says

    I’m not sure what the point of all of this discussion about how much coverage the demo received is. I looked through Gopal’s Twitter feed and it’s pretty evident that, whatever coverage it had received, she didn’t know about it or who was involved with it.

    Yes, and once it was brought to her attention she should have taken a step back and re-read her own article in that context…

    The link originally in her post was probably inserted without noticing that it wasn’t about the people and groups she was talking about.

    Which was sloppy and careless and had the effect of making it look as if she was lumping those protesters in with the “muscular white Liberals” she was deriding. Acknowledging that error and correcting the misperception (as I’m sure that wasn’t her intention) might be a better idea than getting defensive and lashing out at those who objected to being so casually and carelessly marginalized.

  24. says

    Yes, and once it was brought to her attention she should have taken a step back and re-read her own article in that context…

    It didn’t make any difference to her central thesis, which was that antiracists should (continue to) be involved with these campaigns despite their opportunistic use and sometimes hijacking by people and organizations they have no interest in allying with. As I’ve pointed out, it helps her case. And the fact that the demo happened and involved the people and groups it did and received some attention doesn’t erase the involvement of conservative politicians and publications, which is significant for antiracists (especially when they’re victims of racism) and therefore should be a major consideration for the campaign.

    Which was sloppy and careless

    It was a post. It happens. We occasionally insert links that we haven’t looked at thoroughly enough.

    and had the effect of making it look as if she was lumping those protesters in with the “muscular white Liberals” she was deriding.

    Once again, people could simply have asked for a clarification and provided the information, rather than going on the attack. The response seemed overly aggressive, uncharitable, and self-important, and was joined by some flagrant misreadings of her post. I think her response to that was reasonable.

    The message this sort of response sends to people like her is “We want to talk abstractly about your disagreement with the policy but don’t really want to hear any of your criticisms or concerns or dilemmas. And if you raise those issues, or make any errors, you’d better be prepared for an angry onslaught.” She wrote a piece encouraging people struggling against racism to continue the equality battles, and people have spent two days bashing her for the great crime of not knowing about an event and therefore characterizing the campaign somewhat inaccurately. It’s strange and depressing, and contributes to pushing people away from campaigns like this.

  25. says

    Speaking of hijacking, has someone seized the LSESU ASH accounts, or are their comments and tweets always like this? Who’s posting that nonsense? They’ve now accused you of being a racist because you linked to a list of 100 UK atheists who aren’t white men. These communications are making the group look incredibly foolish.

  26. A Hermit says

    I won’t deny that some of the response has been over-reaction but deleting the link without noting the error and getting snotty with people who objected to being lumped in with the bigots didn’t help.

    If her goal is to encourage people struggling against racism to continue the equality battles wouldn’t it be more constructive to acknowledge the mistake, apologize and commend those people for doing what she’s advocating?

    Frankly if you’re going to insert a link in a post like that you’d better know what’s in it, and if you screw up because you didn’t bother to find out what you were posting the proper response is to correct the error and apologize of it caused confusion or offense. I don’t understand the reluctance to do that.

  27. says

    I won’t deny that some of the response has been over-reaction but deleting the link without noting the error and getting snotty with people who objected to being lumped in with the bigots didn’t help.

    I agree that deleting the link (whether she or someone else did it) without comment was wrong. I think, though, that her response to the people attacking her was reasonable.

    If her goal is to encourage people struggling against racism to continue the equality battles wouldn’t it be more constructive to acknowledge the mistake, apologize and commend those people for doing what she’s advocating?

    I have to say, I keep hearing something like a replay of the responses of men in the atheist-skeptic movement to women, with the same shunting aside of important points that could help the movement grow and advance in favor of a focus on women’s errors, demands for recognition and deference,* and an insistence on telling women how we should present ourselves so as not to alienate our (in many cases so-called) allies, and with this last occurring in a context in which women are facing a wave of attacks and mischaracterizations. In Gopal’s case, I wouldn’t be inclined to apologize for such minor errors in this sort of context. In fact, I’d be angrier than she seems to be. The misreading of her piece, in some cases to present her as saying the exact opposite of what she actually said, is infuriating and it’s still going on. Moreover, people are blaming her writing – which is not at all opaque – for their own motivated misreading. There’s a continuing reluctance to engage with or even acknowledge her basic argument, which should have met with a positive reaction. This all creates an inhospitable climate, not just for her to get her point across, but, again, for others like her who might consider getting involved with the campaign. It’s really unfortunate and I wish people would stop digging in.

    Frankly if you’re going to insert a link in a post like that you’d better know what’s in it,

    This is a very high standard that I don’t think many bloggers want to hold people to – that we never make a mistake and use a misleading link or one to a dubious or bad source (bloggers here have on occasion inadvertently linked to hate sites). It happens, and in this case was obviously a simple error as you acknowledge and without harmful or dishonest intent.

  28. A Hermit says

    I have to say, I keep hearing something like a replay of the responses of men in the atheist-skeptic movement to women, with the same shunting aside of important points that could help the movement grow and advance in favor of a focus on women’s errors, demands for recognition and deference,* and an insistence on telling women how we should present ourselves so as not to alienate our (in many cases so-called) allies,

    Are Ophelia and Maryam men? Did I miss something? The objection here seems to be coming from the women whose hard work fighting this segregation issue was being conflated with the “muscular white liberal men.”

    And I don;’t think it’s unreasonable to expect someone who’s posting a link to support their argument to have some idea of what’s in it, or to acknowledge an error. I’m sure it was, as you say, an honest simple error with no ill intent. So why not just own up to it? Is it too hard to say “Oops! My bad! Sorry…”

    I think there’s been an over-reaction on both sides.

  29. Nick Gotts says

    Further to my #3, and the second link therefrom, to the description of the “Passion for Freedom” event at which Anne Marie Waters, Nick Cohen and Douglas Murray all spoke. I hadn’t fully read my own link; it reports that the event was a film festival at which the anti-Islamist film Silent Conquest received second prize. Silent Conquest is closely linked to Frank Gaffney, the American neocon, one-time acting Assistant Secretary of Defence, current Washington Times columnist and far right conspiracy theorist (he’s a birther, and accuses Obama of “embracing Shariah” and advancing the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda). Gaffney is apparently the main “talking head” in the film, and it’s described in several places online as his documentary, although it’s owned by a mysterious organization called “Sanctum Enterprises”. Among other far-right luminaries appearing in the film are Mark Steyn; U.S. Rep. Allen West; Geert Wilders, Member of the Dutch Parliament; Baroness Caroline Cox, Member of the British House of Lords; ACT! for America founder Brigitte Gabriel; and Daniel Pipes. Given that “Passion for Freedom” is a project of One Law For All, it appears that the line between some supposedly leftist, anti-racist opponents of Islamism – including an FtB blogger – on the one hand, and the conspiracist far right on the other, is worryingly thin.

  30. says

    Are Ophelia and Maryam men? Did I miss something?

    Yes, you missed the fact that I’m talking about the dynamic. Gopal’s post, it appears to me at least, was addressed primarily to the audience of “progressive people who affiliate in some way to Britain’s ethnic and religious minority communities,” particularly women and particularly those who are committed to anti-racist activism. But it also has a message for the people leading the campaign, which is that the context (including within many of these campaigns themselves and how they play out in the media) of bigotry, paternalism, selective attention, marginalization, arrogance, hostility, and violence* might be making those people less likely to join or actively support these campaigns even when they agree on the essential points.

    That’s something important for the people leading the campaign to recognize and address if they don’t want to contribute to the problem and want to make their movement the best it can be. It’s similar, in my view, to atheist women speaking out about similar problems in our movement, or Sikivu Hutchinson’s blistering criticism of the movement in her book. And many of the responses from men and white people bear a similarity to what’s happened to Gopal. Honestly, if I were one of the people in her intended audience watching this play out – especially seeing the misrepresentations and the insults about her writing – I don’t think I’d be rushing to support this campaign. The angry, kooky commentary from LSESU ASH alone would put me off.

    I’m sincerely frustrated by this reaction to Gopal’s piece. Even if you think she was careless and should acknowledge the error (which makes no fundamental difference to her argument in any case) even when she’s being swarmed and treated unfairly, this wounded dwelling on it to the exclusion of her actual argument is something I think people should just get past already. It seems counterproductive and selfish.

    And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect someone who’s posting a link to support their argument to have some idea of what’s in it, or to acknowledge an error. I’m sure it was, as you say, an honest simple error with no ill intent. So why not just own up to it? Is it too hard to say “Oops! My bad! Sorry…”

    I think I’ve made my case about this as well as I can, but I think we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns, so I’ll let you have the last word.

    *And I’m surprised people don’t seem to see the comment by Nick Gotts @ #3 as significant here.

  31. says

    I think Rupert Sutton’s response is pretty good. He acknowledges and doesn’t misrepresent her argument, but respectfully takes issue with misrepresentations he sees. He doesn’t touchily demand an apology, but seeks to set the record straight (as Gabriel did here in the OP). My primary criticism would be that in celebrating the broad political spectrum represented in the campaign it loses sight of the meaning of the involvement and influence of people and organizations of the Right and the message that sends to many people in minority communities, especially given the context described in the OP. Also, it pretty much ignores the “worryingly thin” line referenced above.

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