They’ll still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing

Libby Anne has another great post on the way the more anti-feminist of the atheist guys use Islamist misogyny and abuse of women as a pretext for belittling women’s issues closer to home.

She starts with something Sam Harris said on that much-discussed Bill Maher program.

Liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy. They’ll criticize white theocracy, they’ll criticize Christians. They’ll still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984. But when you want to talk about the treatment of women and homosexuals and free thinkers and public intellectuals in the Muslim world, I would argue that liberals have failed us.

I have to say, when I heard this bit my jaw just dropped. That Harris could move smoothly from dismissing the very real and very present threat of violence against abortion clinics and abortion providers to condemning the treatment of women in “the Muslim world” is mind boggling. This is not how supporting women’s rights works. But even with that aside, Harris is so factually off on anti-abortion violence that I’m actually honestly surprised. I would have thought him more informed on this topic.

I wouldn’t. I think he really is closed off to the idea that there are still issues for women right here in the US, and as a result I think he fails to pay any attention to such issues or to inform himself about them. I don’t know why that is, I find it pretty mystifying in someone of his type, but there it is. He’s consistently clueless on the subject, and flippant and patronizing as well – when he’s not just downright hostile and contemptuous.

Violence against abortion clinics and abortion providers dates back to at least the 1980s and continues in the present. Eight doctors or clinic providers have been murdered, the last one only five years ago. In fact, the clinic that was bombed in the 1984 incident Harris mentions was bombed again in 2012—and completely gutted as a result. I hear of arson and death threats, and it shakes me. I’ve served as an escort at my local Planned Parenthood clinic. It can be very scary—for all involved. Women often have their license plate numbers recorded by anti-abortion protesters calling them “murderers,” and in some areas of the country doctors who perform abortions have to wear masks when entering clinics to protect their identities. Just recently a writer for the high-profile National Review called for hanging women who have had abortions.

To have Harris present concern about anti-abortion violence as “getting agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984″ is horrifying. He should know better.

He should, but…this is where we are. It’s fashionable (in some circles) to be contemptuous of feminism and thus of worries about violence against abortion clinics. It’s fine to worry about violence against women in Pakistan or Somalia, but it’s merely self-indulgent to worry about it in the US; that’s the view of this brand of atheist. I’ve heard from a lot of them on Twitter, and that’s what they say – and Harris is one of their patron saints.

I’m tired of seeing people emphasize the challenges women face in Muslim countries while downplaying the challenges women face elsewhere. This sort of thing makes it look like it’s more about having it in for Islam (or for religion) than it is about women’s wellbeing. That Harris is willing to dismiss not simply structural sexism but also opposition to women’s healthcare access is bizarre.

It’s not bizarre if he thinks feminists are high-maintenance princesses and/or politically correct harpies just looking for a reason to attack him, the all-important Sam Harris.

It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness that in the second it took me to make that joke about my sex appeal, I worried whether my assuming that most women are heterosexual would offend some number of lesbians in the audience.

She: I’m not saying that women and men are the same.

Me: Okay, great. So I think you misunderstood the intent of what I was saying. I was just acknowledging that some differences in the general tendencies of men and women might explain why 84 percent of my followers on Twitter are men. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into this, because there are 200 people standing behind you in line patiently waiting to have their books signed.

She: You should just know that what you said was incredibly sexist and very damaging, and you should apologize.

Me: You really are determined to be offended, aren’t you? It’s like you have installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.

The reality is, Sam Harris dislikes contemporary feminism in his own part of the world, so it’s actually not all that surprising that he uses the oppression of women in Islam as an excuse to take a potshot at that kind of feminism. He’s not just a confused ally of feminism, he’s an opponent of feminism. Except in Egypt and Saudi Arabia of course; he approves of it over there.


  1. Wowbagger, Heaper of Scorn says

    It goes back to why so many of these assholes are even involved in the ‘movement’: to have their egos stroked. They don’t actually give a shit about the people affected by the bad things the religious do, they just want to hear about it so they can think there are worse people in the world than them.

    Hence the hatred for any blogger/writer who has the audacity to hold the mirror up to show what atheists could be doing better.

  2. Usernames! ☞ ♭ says

    Does anyone take this argument seriously?

    Harris is using his good old Muslim Red Herring: until we provide equal treatment to scary, scary muslims (who will obviously cut off your head if you criticise anything) – we needn’t argue about anything that Harris holds dear.

    Poppycock. Everything is on the table. Harris is at best a bigot (at worst a misogynist) and no amount of tap dancing will absolve him of that label until HE adjusts his attitude.

  3. says

    Thanks for the link. That line about the abortion clinics definitely bothered me. The thing about Harris and Maher with regards to Christianity and Islam is this: When they’re talking about just Christianity by itself, they’ll be very critical. Maher has even pointed out the double standard in not calling Christians terrorists when they commit an act that would be called terrorism when Muslims do it. But, all of a sudden, when they’re talking about Islam, they pretend Christianity isn’t all that bad, hasn’t done anything wrong in a really long time, etc.

    Plus, on top of his dismissal of problems here in the USA, he apparently doesn’t realize that access to reproductive healthcare is important to Muslims as well. By virtue of them, you know, being human.

  4. R Johnston says

    Sam Harris is a shitstain, a genuinely stupid racist and misogynistic asshat. Fuck him. He’s about as relevant and revelatory as Sarah Palin.

  5. says

    It is the same frame of mind used in the recent Alabama court case where the state said that as long as an abortion clinic is within a certain driving distance then it isn’t a burden for women to have to drive that arbitrary distance – totally dismissing the obvious burden of having to have a car, the money for gas, and the time to drive a long distance and back especially if you have to take off work.

  6. Crimson Clupeidae says

    As someone who was living in Wichita when George Tiller was killed.

    Sam Harris, are you listening? Fuck right off and stop pretending to speak for me.

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