The right propelled last year’s ‘segregated seats’ debate – and yes, it matters

‘I am very well aware that journalists, politicians and policymakers alike may have great interest in stories like mine, and may even attempt to use them solely to progress their own agendas, some of which have a distinctly Islamophobic taint to them. That does not mean those stories are not important.

So writes Shaheen Hashmat (alias @TartanTantrum), one of my favourite bloggers, in a post a few days ago. Shaheen is an apostate of Islam, survivor of ‘honour’ violence and a writer on mental health, sex, Scotland and more; she speaks here of difficulty voicing rage at her family’s religion knowing anti-Muslim axe-grinders will hijack it.

I have Shaheen to thank for prompting this post. You have her to blame for it. I’d planned to write it and wavered, resolved then deliberated, recommitted and then shelved it. It won’t be fun writing or defending it – I don’t enjoy being dogpiled by those I respect, as I’ve been the last few days and am sure I will be now. But I’m also sure it’s worth it. This matters. Thanks for the push, Shaheen.

Saturday’s post was a timeline of efforts made last year against gender-segregated seats at universities – mainly at Islamic Society talks, often for guest speakers like Hamza Tzortzis. (See the timeline for exemplary events.) It was written largely to clarify the roles of distinct political camps in opposing it, and especially to illustrate the right’s involvement.

Yes, the right propelled the segregation debate

Priyamvada Gopal was accused of inventing ‘conservative newspapers and politicians’ at the Rationalist Association, criticising how ‘battle lines were drawn once again between so-called “muscular liberals” (generally, in fact, deeply conservative white males with a commitment to the idea that West is Best) and defenders of the rights of minorities to their own customary or traditional practices’. Laurie Penny was accused (by Nick Cohen specifically) of ‘rais[ing] up right wing bogeymen’ in a similar piece at the Guardian.

It’s true both articles gave short shrift to the anti-segregation work of Muslim and ex-Muslim women – Shaheen, Maryam Namazie and the Council of Ex-Muslims, Yasmin Alibhai Brown and British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Sara Khan, Lejla Kurić, Ahlam Akram, Mari Nazmar – as well as that of women and the left at large. (Gita Sahgal, Pragna Patel and Southall Black Sisters, Polly Toynbee, Ophelia Benson, Kate Smurthwaite; any number more.) This work needs visibility: it’s often underfunded, unrecognised and, as Khan writes at the Independent, unaccommodated by existing politics.

It’s also true, however, that Gopal and Penny didn’t invent the Times, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Express, the Week, the Sun, the Standard, the Spectator – papers which dominate 2013’s press coverage of segregated seating. Nor did they invent, as Cohen says, ‘bogeymen’ like Toby Young, Charles Crawford, Graeme Archer, Matthew d’Ancona, Martin Samuel, Brendan O’Neill, Richard Littlejohn, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Vince Cable, David Cameron – nor Douglas Murray and Peter Hitchens, who since the timeline’s end have jumped aboard – to name only white and male and right wing ghouls. It’s not just about mentions per side: the latter voices speak overwhelmingly from bigger platforms too.

It’s a long post – eleven thousand words – that documents this. I thought I’d leave interpreting it, that in mind, to readers. After the response, it seems important to draw out some key points.

First, Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss put this issue on the map. That segregation happens at ISocs’ and other groups’ events came as no surprise last year to Maryam Namazie, prominent campaigners Student Rights (more on them shortly), me or many who’ve followed campus Islamism. Ask about and you’ll hear of it. What made the ‘debate’ at UCL on March 9 the case that caused a national stir, not one of the many prior cases? ‘Had it not been for the furious tweeting of Richard Dawkins’, David Aaronovitch wrote five days later in a column for the Times, ‘I doubt whether I would have heard of this event.’ Dawkins himself (873,067 followers today) tweeted it only because Krauss (63,369) did first.

This matters since their commentary set the tone. Dawkins, in the tweets Aaronovitch describes, accused UCL of ‘cowardly capitulation to Muslims’, exclaiming ‘Who do these Muslims think they are?’ ‘I don’t think think Muslims should segregate sexes’, he added, ‘Oh NO, how very ISLAMOPHOBIC of me. How RACIST of me’, and closed a post on it at RDFRS later cited in the Daily Mail by asking ‘Isn’t it really about time we decent, nice, liberal people stopped being so pusillanimously terrified of being thought “Islamophobic” and stood up for decent, nice, liberal values?’ Speaking to the Telegraph in an article headlined ‘Britons afraid to challenge radical Islam’ (largely regurgitated by The Week as ‘Brits too afraid of “aggressive” Muslims’), Krauss said segregationists ‘feel their cultural norms are not being met’, attacked the notion ‘these cultural norms should be carried out within a broader society that not only doesn’t share them but that is free and open’ and called it their obligation ‘to mesh with broader society, not the other way around.’

This is the ‘clash of civilisations’ standpoint’s racist rhetoric. I’ve chastised Dawkins since for using it. It describes Islam with the language of invasion (compare Dawkins’ ‘cowardly capitulation’ with the EDL’s ‘never surrender’), homogenises Muslims and chides Islamists not with puritanism, polluting a secular public sphere or violating essential rights but with failing to cohere with ill-defined standards of Britishness or ‘Western values’. We see it again as time goes on in the anti-segregation commentary of Anne Marie Waters, Toby Young, Louisa Peacock, James Bloodworth, Chuka Umunna, Richard Littlejohn, Jennifer Selway, Graeme Archer and the Daily Telegraph‘s December 4 editorial, as well as to various implicit extents elsewhere. I don’t think it’s by chance it’s used most by commentators who were never Muslims. The myth of two dichotomised ‘cultures’ at loggerheads, Islam versus the West (or Britain specifically) is the engine of Islamism; it’s what gets ex-Muslims shunned at times as race traitors, pariahs, ‘coconuts’.

Second: Student Rights, as vigorously denied by Nick Cohen and others following Gopal’s post, was instrumental to the anti-segregation push. Between publications, news stories and citations in the press, they’re the ones most often mentioned on the timeline by a comfortably wide berth, twice as much or so as the nearest runners up. ‘Unequal Opportunity’, their May 13 report on segregated events at universities, made headlines across the British press within days of its release and was cited frequently thereafter, particularly following Universities UK’s release of guidance on November 22 condoning side-to-side segregation of men and women. Student Rights (specifically, researcher Rupert Sutton) provided breaking coverage of various segregated events, as it regularly does, including at Queen Mary’s and Northampton Universities, were initial signatories of Maryam Namazie’s petition for UUK to withdraw its guidance, covered the organisation’s response to opposition and covered the December 10 rally outside its headquarters supportively.

Unlike Priyamvada Gopal, I don’t in practice consider Student Rights a right wing group; certainly, I don’t think their work for the most part (the odd Islamist lambasted as ‘anti-British’ notwithstanding) is innately rightist. It is, however, funded and supervised by the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society, whose Associate Director Douglas Murray calls the EDL – whose ex-leader greatly admires him – an ‘extraordinary phenomenon’ and ideal ‘grassroots response by non-Muslims to Islam’ (see the Youtube comments), having infamously said in 2006 that ‘Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition’. Like Shaheen’s righteous rage or the anti-segregation cause in general, Student Rights’ work and Sutton’s personally isn’t discredited by the forces seeking to exploit it, but the latter are concerning. As Chris Moos of LSE’s atheist society, who oddly denied the prominence of Student Rights’ campaign work, wrote at the Huffington Post in May, ‘It is a lamentable fact that it is being left to an organisation with possible ties to a neo-con associated group to highlight what the Left should’.

Third: the loose, broadly left group behind the December 10 anti-segregation rally, many of whose members took credit for UUK’s eventual withdrawal of its advice, were amplified largely by right-leaning media. Their rally in particular gained noticeably greater coverage than similar ones held previously by One Law for All and its associates – I’m doubtful this would have been the case, or that UUK would even have weighed in on segregation, had reports of the UCL event with Krauss and subsequently Student Rights’ report not raised awareness earlier. Apart from the Independent, publications covering UUK’s release tended initially strongly toward the right – objections on the left from people like Namazie, John Sargeant and Rosie Bell were confined to smaller blogs, if very worthy ones. The exception is Polly Toynbee’s Guardian column of November 26, seemingly the paper’s only coverage till December 12, by which time the Telegraph alone had published eight separate pieces on the issue. Once the dispute had been put on the radar, a number of ‘progressive’ or more neutral outlets followed suit, reporting on the December 10 demonstration – Channel 4, the BBC,, Huffpost – but it remains true that beyond the blogosphere, the right set the agenda.

Fourth, last and doubtless most incendiary: I am not wholly convinced December 10’s protest made the difference it’s been thought to have.

Ophelia Benson said that for once ‘making a stink worked’. Maryam Namazie said the rally ‘received widespread coverage, including when Prime Minister David Cameron intervened to oppose sex segregation’. Yasmin Alibhai Brown said ‘Result! In one week, we, a small group of stalwarts, Muslims and non-Muslims, who are opposed to sexual apartheid in our universities, raised the slumbering politicians and jolted gutless academics. Universities UK (UUK) will reconsider its guidelines’. Student Rights called UUK’s retraction ‘a great success for those who have been campaigning on this issue’.

Jim Denham said ‘At first it looked as though we were shouting into the wilderness: a few blogs . . . drew attention to the outrage, and a small demonstration took place; just 8,000 people signed an online petition. It looked as though Universities UK (UUK) would get away with [it]. Then the issue seemed to take off. To his credit, Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umanna declared that a Labour government would outlaw gender segregation’.

Rosie Bell said ‘Student Rights picked [UUK’s guidance] up’, ‘the bloggers you’d expect [Benson, Namazie, Bloodworth] produced angry posts’, ‘mainstream media [Cohen, Alibhai Brown] moved in’, ‘there was a petition and a small demonstration which Channel 4 covered’, ‘the BBC began to thunder’ in discussions on Radio 4 Today and ‘politicians – Chuka Umunna, Jack Straw, Michael Gove, David Cameron – spoke out’, ‘So now the UUK has withdrawn gender segregation from its guidance’.

Denham’s and Bell’s accounts seem in some ways tenuous to me. The TimesTimes Higher Education, the Independent and the Telegraph (twice) picked up UUK’s guidance before any of the bloggers mentioned covered it, and there was a great deal of noise in (again, mainly right-leaning) papers long before the demonstration or Umunna’s comments. There’s also cause, I think, to question the notion in Namazie’s post and various reports that Cameron’s intervention via a spokesperson was what prompted the guidance’s withdrawal. On December 12, before Cameron’s comments hit the press, the Equality and Human Rights Commission had announced via the Telegraph it would ‘help re-write’ UUK’s advice, the story there noting ‘A Downing Street spokesman refused to comment’: Huffpost‘s report the next day, where both Cameron’s statements and UUK’s retreat appear first to have surfaced, mentions only in passing its Chief Executive’s comment, ‘We are working with our lawyers and the EHRC to clarify the position. Meanwhile the case study which trigged this debate has been withdrawn pending this review.’ It seems highly plausible to me then, contrary to what headlines intimated, that Cameron stepped in after UUK retracted its advice and not before.

This blows something of a hole, moreover, in the idea the demonstrators prompted it. Whatever led UUK to seek the EHRC’s involvement, Cameron was still unwilling to comment on December 12, two days after their rally. It’s certainly true it added urgency to the climate of debate, increasing pressure on authorities to act – many media sources used photos of demonstrators or made passing mention of the row having ‘sparked protests’, referring rather generously to ‘a week of protests’ – but that’s a vexed thing to quantify. We know the Telegraph put pressure on Theresa May for comment on December 4, and that the following day she obliged. We know statements followed from Jack Straw, Chuka Umunna and Michael Gove, and that at some point in this time Vince Cable wrote to Universities UK. This seems more like the kind of thing to me that would put Cameron under gradual pressure than a protest by 100 people.

This isn’t to say it and associated actions weren’t worthwhile. They’ve galvanised crucial alliances, developed awareness of the issue on the left and led to plans for future projects. Nor do I think their organisers wrong to celebrate UUK’s u-turn, whatever the cause. I share their relief, and don’t care to rain on their parade – but I do care about this.

Yes, this bloody well matters

You’re not a good journalist if you don’t know who has the most clout in the room. You shouldn’t be a journalist if you don’t care. Likewise it matters in politics, at least as much as who’s in government, which voices hold most sway.

I’ve been told at every turn that who made the difference here is academic, that it matters only that the argument is won and not who wins it. Would we speak that way of an election outcome – of what put and kept Blair’s governments in power, say? James Bloodworth might. But I see the papers cluttering my timeline and recall headlines like these.








If these kinds of press outlets, indeed, these outlets specifically, were instrumental to the anti-segregation pushback – if they were the ones with influence enough to make the difference, for which I find the evidence compelling – do you see why I and others are concerned? It’s all very well not caring who fights the good fight, so long as it gets won, but what happens when the biggest guns turn out to have a fight all of their own, and it isn’t good at all? We cede the debate to kulturkämpfer at our peril.

I am told, additionally, that since I didn’t campaign myself – in other words, blog on the subject – I’m not entitled to complain. I’m flattered on the one hand by the thought my profile’s anything like high enough to’ve made a difference (Penny’s, perhaps), but frankly resent the claim I forfeited my right to comment by not being on the picket line. I’ve taken on any number of ‘Islamism on campus’ fights: Mohammad cartoons at UCL two years ago; at LSE; ‘Islamophobia’ bans there that prohibit criticism; threats of violence at Queen Mary; threats previously at Leeds and other universities; threats I and friends got for writing about those threats;, LSE’s secular group not being allowed ‘ex-Muslim’ in their name; the same group being harassed and threatened at freshers’ fair last year; the measures taken against another group at Reading for calling a pineapple Muhammad; their being banned for it last year. I’m working at present, among other things, on a long, detailed post about segregated seating’s prevalence in British ISocs. But there’s only so much work one feels able to do, and fights are hard. Hang me if I don’t turn up to every last one, every time. Sitting one out now and again doesn’t make me a hypocrite, but even if it did, I’m still not wrong.

Why do we pine perennially at the British left’s reluctance to contend with Islamism, then clutch our pearls tight at the corollary: that the anti-Muslim right, in its absence, holds the floor? Those prepared to make alliances with it, thinking perhaps to take advantage of its firepower, may find their shots at segregation ricochet. You underestimate my boredom if you doubt I can duel both at once till then.


  1. Nick Gotts says

    Very well said Alex. The only point on which I’d differ is that I’m scarcely keener to align myself with One Law For All and its leader Maryam Namazie, for reasons I outlined here, than I am to do so with the Daily Heil and the like. I’ve just celebrated the new year by setting up a regular (though small) donation to Southall Black Sisters, who took part in the demonstration, and who give practical help to black and other ethnic minority women in the UK facing oppression both within and from beyond their communities. I’d urge anyone who can afford to, to do the same.

  2. burgess4321 says

    Another excellent post Alex. You bring much needed clarity to this debate. After the Satanic Versus episode, myself and quite a few lefty atheists fell out with many of our ex-colleagues over what we saw as their willingness to bend over backwards to tolerate Islamic extremism and downplay the suffering of their victims In Australia, for example, Germaine Greer had a go at Rushdie for being insensitive which, coming from her, was a bit rich.

    The debate, though, has become increasingly polarised with both sides essentially screaming at each which has allowed right wing commentators to claim the intellectual and moral high ground and use it to launch an attach on immigrants and immigration. This has also had other consequences. The decline of Human Rights organisations such as Amnesty International as credible organisations to push human rights etc.

    Your articles, especially your masterful forensic analysis of the statistics available on Muslims views (which show a wide variety of opinion on issues such as Gay rights and which are not necessarily anymore reactionary than those of the followers of other religions) have brought a good deal of light to this topic. I thought bringing clarity to complex debates was the type of thing high profile academics such as Richard Dawkins or Nick Cohen were supposed to do. I guess they will have to cope with being shown up by a pink haired 25 year old Doctor Who fan who, judging by his posts rarely sleeps.

  3. A Hermit says

    It’s true both articles gave short shrift to the anti-segregation work of Muslim and ex-Muslim women

    Well yes, and isn’t that a serious problem? If we don’t want to cede the debate to the right mightn’t it be a good idea to highlight those efforts instead of ignoring them or lumping them in with the right?

  4. alliecat says

    @Nick Gotts (comment 1): regarding the “explicitly against democracy” thing, I suspect Namazie (or the WPI if she was just reposting the party’s collective statement) was using “democracy” to refer to capitalist parliamentarism, which is pretty low on the scale of democracy if we use the term to refer to the concept of either majority rule or rule by the ruled. A communist organisation – including, based on my admittedly very limited interaction with them, the Worker-Communist Party of Iran – both practices a significantly higher degree of democracy (by either aforementioned definition) within its ranks and attempts to consistently promote greater degrees of democracy by the latter definition in society, with the aspiration of all aspects of society eventually achieving their highest possible degree of democracy by the latter definition.

  5. freemage says

    I read through this a few times, because there was something off, and I needed to pin it down before I could comment. And eventually, I figured it out:

    While it is likely that you are correct–the right-wing press certainly provided a large portion of the final push on this issue–what, exactly, do you expect Maryam, Students Rights and everyone else to have done about it? There’s nothing here except a vague and indistinct expression of ‘concern’. I looked over your timeline; it’s clear that the opposition started with both Dawkins and the Council of Ex-Muslims, on the same day (Mar 11). The Daily Mail and the others then jumped on, looking primarily (as one would expect) at Dawkins for their quotes, because white, male, right?

    Maryam and other anti-Islamists have two options, here, as I see it.

    1: Ignore the right-wing contribution, and downplay it as much as possible (this seems to be the option they are taking);
    2: Acknowledge the right-wing activities explicitly, in a way that gives them credit for pushing the changes. I can’t see any benefit to this, especially to those who are generally on the Left, which leaves me wondering why you think this would be a good thing.

    If you have a third option that was preferable to the first, it’d be interesting to see it.

  6. says

    @freemage (#6)

    Well, first of all… I think the most factually accurate summation (in my view, acknowledging the influence of the right here) is by definition the most preferable. We have nothing to gain from euphemism. And incidentally, I don’t think its contribution was just a ‘final push’. Look at the March-May period, for instance.

    I don’t fault Maryam or any of her associates for failing to impede that influence. That’s the job of left wing bodies, newspapers, high-profile columnists collectively, etc.

    Do you have a link to the CEMB’s initial coverage of the Krauss-Tzortzis segregation controversy, which you date as simultaneous with Dawkins’ tweets? I’ll add it to the timeline if so.

  7. freemage says

    That was based on your timeline–specifically, this bit:

    The forum of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain publishes a widely-distributed statement ‘by concerned students’ that ‘Sexual segregation at UCL is a scandal’, detailing correspondence with university officials who promised a segregated event would ‘not be permitted to go ahead’. CEMB members Adam Barnett and Christopher Roche are quoted as two of the three male students ejected, as well as a female Asian student named Halima and Chris Moos, a prominent member of LSE’s student atheist group.

    Sure, it was a forum statement, but it identified members of the group among the ejected, and was then picked up the next day by Maryam (who, for the record, had pretty much just gotten back from a conference a day or two before, and so probably passed it along as fast as possible).

    So Dawkins and CEMB both have statements on the issue up the day after the first conference. The Daily Mail (following HuffPo, which it would seem got the issue via Tab, if I’m reading the timeline right) then runs with the Dawkins quote–which they would, because a Pale Penis is a better quote-mine subject for them, as we all know.

    And I’d disagree on the idea that the Left media and columnists should’ve been pushing back against the right-wing coverage of this. Better for them to identify actual cases of Islamophobia (a real phenomenon) while at the same time just covering the leftist side of this protest. At most, their obligation would be to stress that Westernized Muslims and other moderates don’t want segregated accommodations; that’s often why they are in the West in the first place.

    Noting that the right-wing media made their proverbial stopped-clock imitation on this issue just doesn’t seem like a thing that needs to be stressed directly.

  8. Schlumbumbi says

    If these kinds of press outlets, indeed, these outlets specifically, were instrumental to the anti-segregation pushback – if they were the ones with influence enough to make the difference, for which I find the evidence compelling – do you see why I and others are concerned?

    Of course – it’s because they are a public display of your own failings.

    You’re still gently tap-dancing around sensitivies which are morally, objectively unworthy of consideration. And the broader public simply isn’t numb enough to not realise that. They see you as what you actually are – appeasers and weaklings. While it’s your prerogative to intellectualise your leftist lack of convictions, you will eventually have to accept that lots of people are genuinely disgusted by your attitude.

  9. says

    @freemage (#8)

    Yes, I agree with that summary of the CEMB/Dawkins’ participation early on (I ought to, I wrote it) – but I think the point stands that it was Dawkins’ participation via Krauss that prompted the press furore. The CEMB and the members mentioned there have done stuff like this any number of times before without results like this. (And if the press were deliberately choosing to emphasise Dawkins over them, that tells you something of the narrative they wished to weave.)

  10. burgess4321 says

    I think some of this commentary misses the point somewhat. One would really expect academics from the left of centre to the moderate right of centre to lead the debate in this area and add some wisdom to it, isn’t that what these apathetic turkeys are paid for. Unfortunately, apathy aside, far too many people on the left, academia and elsewhere, have been missing in action on this issue for both dumb ideological reasons (shouldn’t criticise minorities, etc.) and because they did not want to play into the hands of racists (which of course they did by leaving this space to them).

    Some left atheists become disgusted with this (Dawkins, Nick Cohen, Christopher Hitchens, Salmon Rushdie, etc) and have tended to react too far the other way (these Muslims twitter by Dawkins, the clash of culture rhetoric, etc) and have played into the hands of the racist right. Meanwhile middle class feminists appear to have little interest in the plight of non-western women suffering oppression and seem far more concerned with taking offence at minor issues (e.g. being politely hit on at an Atheist conference) or getting promoted more rapidly in academia and the public service – the two areas of society where they are not discriminated against. Maybe they should talk occasionally to the contract cleaners at their institutions (or is that to far beneth them) and see what real opression is.

    Those of us who support progressive cauces really need to start speaking up more and saying certain so-called left leaders do not represent us – whether it is the leaders of Greenpeace or Amnesty International. And as atheists we should certainly be holding certain social movements to account for being irrational whether its not being willing to criticise religous extremism when it doesn’t involve Chritianity, opposing GM crops (which have massive potential for good) or simply refusing to allow any debate on nuclear energy as a means of reducing greenhouse gases.

  11. Nick Gotts says


    I don’t want to derail the thread, but I challenged Maryam on her stance on democracy on her own blog, and received no satisfactory response. As far as I can tell, she and the WCI advocate the same structure of multiple levels of indirect election as obtained in the early Soviet Union. This was easily manipulated from the top, giving rise first to the one-party state, and then to Stalin’s dictatorship. Here you can read the thoughts of Mansoor Hekmat, the god-substitute of the WCI:

    The relation of the working class with its representatives, the political movement of the working class, the way that the working class exercises its will, is closely related to the way that its political leadership carries out its actions. The actual leadership of the working class represents much more directly the will of the working masses. In the relation of the working masses with their leaders the procedure of voting by ballots and thus assessing workers’ opinion by the number of votes cast does not occupy an important place. Hence, the argument which claims that after the October revolution the leadership did not base its legitimacy on the votes of the working masses, and also the argument which maintains that the structure of power had not been ‘democratic’, have entered the issue of ‘democracy’ into their analysis of the Soviet Union in a proportion which by far exceeds its real place in the actual history of the Russian revolution. In a strange way, the Bolsheviks and their actions are divorced in this reasoning from the wishes of workers and hastily set in confrontation, as a dichotomy, to the will of the workers. It is said that the Bolsheviks curtailed the authority of mass organs of workers. But it is forgotten that the Bolsheviks themselves constituted and represented a large section of the workers. When the Bolsheviks declared their view on a certain issue, it meant that the advanced section of workers had declared its view on the subject. The Bolsheviks were not the party of the intelligentsia, but expressed the organisation and unity of the most radical sections of the Russian workers. To confront the vanguards of the working class with the working masses is an absurd idea. To contrast the actions of self-claimed and phoney leaders with the will of working masses is quite understandable. But to oppose the working masses with their own vanguards in the arena of class struggle is a contradiction in terms.

    IOW, sod what the actual workers think, and would vote for if they had the chance.

  12. says

    @dereksmear (#15)

    Without speaking specifically to that characterisation of Nick Cohen, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for writers to feel their work should pay. (Though I appreciate that may be beside your point.)

    @burgess4321 (#12)

    I agree on the need for the left to take ownership of anti-Islamism, this issue included. I can understand some people’s reluctance, the well having effectively been poisoned, but to quote Dan Bye (a commenter on my blog elsewhere), the worst time to cede ground to enemies is when they want it.

    I will say, however, that I think that needs to happen at a structural level – via newspapers/publications/organisations and so on. (The AWL have been encouragingly good on this.) I’m not enthusiastic about telling individuals, except ones perhaps with very high personal profiles, what they should write or campaign about – I don’t buy the argument above, for instance, that because the anti-segregation drive wasn’t a fight whose frontline I was on, I’m unentitled to say the right’s clout is alarming. People have all kinds of personal reasons for writing/not writing/campaigning/not campaigning on specific things, and that’s fine. The push I’d like to see is a change in the British left’s shared rhetoric and more nuance in the arguments on Islam(ism/ophobia) we tend to see. Personalising the urge to engage more misses the point, for me.

    I’ll also say, on a related point, that I think you’re guilty of a degree of whataboutism here – it’s okay with me if not all feminists prioritise the same things, and some work on issues like consent/harassment or representation/pay in the academy rather than fighting Islamism. Those are important too. (It is not ‘polite’ to comment during female speakers’ talks on how attractive they are. It is not ‘polite’ to hand naked photos to them during Q&A. It is not ‘polite’ to follow people on their own into lifts late and night and hit on them.)

    There’s certainly a lack of attention toward things like sharia courts, segregation and so on, but I don’t think it stems from contempt toward ethnic minority women – that’s a canard from Anne Marie Waters I don’t buy. I think it stems from sincere if misplaced desire not to engage in racist rhetoric (of the kind shown in the post), and lack of nuanced understanding about power dynamics and conservative leadership within minority communities. I recommend Pragna Patel’s work on that front, if you’re in search of further commentary, or perhaps also this (admittedly quite academic) piece from Gopal.

  13. dereksmear says

    The principle of writers getting paid is fine. Unfortunately, the blog post was highly misleading.

    Mumsnet do pay writers for articles. The webcasts aren’t paid and are for celebs to promote causes. Many companies don’t pay for people to appear on webcasts. In fact, The Spectator don’t pay for people to appear on webcasts and yet Cohen is not boycotting them.

    Cohen has spent years attacking the left for what he sees as their lack of moral integrity. Now, a organisation comes along that, in Cohen’s words, “has a large and interesting audience”, offering the chance to discuss an important issue and he can’t be arsed because their is no paycheck involved. What a big fraud.

  14. burgess4321 says


    The desire not to encourage racism only partly explains the reluctance of the left to criticise Islamic extremism. The intellectual and political failure of Marxism and the decent of the left into post-modernist fog and, often, crude identity politics have left many people on the left without any kind of wholistic framework from which to view things from. The problems within Amnesty International, for example, are a good example of this. Amnesty rightly fought to have prisoners in Guantanamo Bay subject to due process. However, when a British detainee was released, the head of Amnesty went around the UK sharing a platform with him despite the fact he was singing the praises of the Taliban. When the head of Amnesty’s Gender office complained about this she was suspended and later sacked.

    On Feminism I certainly agree ‘It is not ‘polite’ to comment during female speakers’ talks on how attractive they are. It is not ‘polite’ to hand naked photos to them during Q&A. It is not ‘polite’ to follow people on their own into lifts late and night and hit on them.’ However, I don’t know anyone personally who has ever done or would approve of any of this but I do know quite a lot of progressive individuals who question the priorities of middle class feminists and who object to being accused of being sexist simply because they disagree with a feminist or because they question the priorities of many feminists – something some feminists have also been very vocal about. I think Richard Dawkins was quite correct to have a go at an American feminist for complaining publicly about being politely chatted up at an atheist conference and all the woman I know I have spoken to thought Dawkins response was funny and valid.

  15. burgess4321 says

    Maybe you should. I think there are a lot of women fed up with being told what to think by a small group of vocal academic feminists whose main concern is their own career (and being politically correct) and are silent on the rights of low skilled immigrant women or women in developing countries.

    And the feminists I tend to listen to are ones such as Gita Sahgal (who was the head of Amnesty’s gender office sacked by them for criticising their complicity with the Taliban) who are not silent or trivial. One of the things that impresses me about Irshad Manji is that she combines warmth with strength and doesn’t resort to these gross anti-white male generalisations which too many so-called feminists resort to and aliete both men and women and ensure the right stay dominant.

  16. says

    @burgess4321 (#20)

    1. ‘A small group of vocal academic feminists whose main concern is their own career (and being politically correct) and are silent on the rights of low skilled immigrant women or women in developing countries’ is, I think, a mixture of characterisations of Dawkins’ critics here that are untestable and ones that are outright false.

    2. Neither Gita Sahgal nor Irshad Manji has, to my knowledge, expressed an opinion publicly on Rebecca Watson’s experience or any comparable one.

    3. Justice is not a non-renewable resource. Caring about sharia courts, stonings and promotion of groups like Moazzam Begg’s is not an excuse to dismiss women’s (or anyone else’s) anger at having boundaries violated. People do not have to have protested against execution of adulterers or modesty patrols for their concerns about harassment or objectification to be legitimate.

    4. If you want to be a feminist, you need to think about how that might involve changing your own behaviour or other people’s close to home, not just rage opportunistically and selectively at low-hanging fruit a thousand miles from your front door. Salafists are capable of misogyny; so is Richard Dawkins.

    I am placing you on moderation: dismissive comments about women’s complaints aren’t welcome here. I recommend you think carefully about your next one(s), or take a break from this blog.

  17. A Hermit says

    4. If you want to be a feminist, you need to think about how that might involve changing your own behaviour or other people’s close to home, not just rage opportunistically and selectively at low-hanging fruit a thousand miles from your front door. Salafists are capable of misogyny; so is Richard Dawkins.

    This ^ a thousand times!

    It’s easy to complain about the Taliban’s mistreatment of women from half a world away, but it means little if the person complaining can’t make the slightest effort to object to, or even recognize, sexism closer to home. And if they can’t bring themselves to do the latter one has to wonder about their sincerity regarding the former…

Leave a Reply