Guest post

Originally a comment by Chris Lawson on The worst the Christian community can do in America.

The problem with the Dear Muslima argument:

1. “Dear Muslima” implies that one should only combat the world’s worst examples of a problem and never the less dramatic examples of the same problem immediately around us.

2. “Dear Muslima” minimises the importance of mild and moderate aspects of a problem by asserting that they’re not worth tackling.

3. “Dear Muslima” minimises the importance of geography by assuming one’s efforts are better spent on addressing a problem on the other side of the world in a culture one is not a part of. (Note: I have nothing against people trying to address a problem in distant lands and unfamiliar cultures, I’m only against the attitude that this is the only acceptable way to do it.)

4. “Dear Muslima” assumes that progress on a problem in better-off countries has no effect on progress on the same problem in countries where the problem is more entrenched, when we know full well that as more and more countries adopt a culture change, the resistant countries become more and more isolated and feel more pressure to change (e.g.: the Arab Spring, the spread of gay marriage equality, the rise of democracy in Europe in C18-20).

5. “Dear Muslima”, at its worst, underplays the severity of problems in better-off countries; as Ophelia and Zug have already pointed out, being denied a wedding cake is NOT the worst thing that can happen to gay people in the US.

6. “Dear Muslima”, on the observational evidence, is exactly what Saad says: a rhetorical tool for dismissing concerns about the treatment of oppressed groups in better-off nations in order to maintain the status quo; it is a deeply conservative message that essentially says “no effort should be made to address local inequities until they have been eradicated in all distant parts of the world”, i.e. never.

Let’s imagine these “Dear Muslima” prescriptions being used in international health.

1. “We cannot treat your malaria here in Brazil because the disease is far more prevalent in Africa.”

2. “We’re not going to treat your testicular cancer because it has a much better 5-year survival rate than pancreatic cancer.”

3. “We’re not going to put any money into researching AIDS vaccines because the people who really need the vaccine are in Africa, not here.”

4. “We’re going to stop vaccinating against polio because we feel like ignoring the benefits of vaccinating neighbouring countries to reduce transmission everywhere.”

5. “We shouldn’t treat heart disease because the worst that can happen is unpleasant chest pains.”

6. “Of course we’d like to improve the health of First Nations people in the US, but our hands are tied until Australia and New Zealand close their health gaps; it saddens me to say it, but our First Nations people are just going to have to accept the situation with the admirable resilience they have honed over centuries of mass murder and land displacement. Our thoughts are with them, but not funding or political change.”


  1. sezit says

    I love it when the logic used for counter examples shows up how rediculous the reasoning is. Also, how about using the counter logic with the old powerful male demographic, such as:
    “There’s no point in developing or manufacturing drugs such as Viagra when malaria and Aids drugs are so urgently needed around the world.”

  2. iknklast says

    If Ayaan Hirsi-Ali stayed for the rest of the program (I’m pretty sure she didn’t), she would have seen some examples of why she is wrong about “the worst that can happen”. We had talks about the children who died from parents refusing to take the to the doctors while praying over them. Sarah Morehead gave some transcripts from conversations to the Recovering from Religion Hot Line. These alone were enough to demonstrate the problem, but we also had a talk by Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering. But I suppose if the worst that could happen to you is you have 7 kids when you didn’t want any…well, who are we to complain? After all, women in Muslim countries are also having more kids than they want, and FGM.

  3. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    There is a literature on agenda denial, which is roughly speaking how to get your way by stopping the other side from getting a hearing.

    Ever notice how there never was a ‘right time’ to have a discussion on the CIA torture program? It could not be discussed when the existence was officially denied. Then after the proof came out that it was ordered from the folk at the very top it was ‘old news’ and ‘time to move on’.

    Carly Fiorina, the woman who was sacked as CEO of HP has been calling Tim Cook of Apple a ‘hypocrite’ for taking a stand on the Indiana bigots bill while doing business in countries like Saudi Arabia. Lets unpack that a little.

    Did Fiorina take any stand against bigotry of any type while CEO of HP?

    Does Fiorina propose that the US take action against Saudi Arabia if they continue their appalling behavior?

    The answer is of course not. Fiorina does not want Cook to take action in either case and she certainly does not want the US to stop selling arms to the Saudis. Her demand is essentially that there be no discussion of or action against any bigots anywhere.

    Fiorina is of course not on our side so there really is no reason to listen to her advice. And ‘Dear Muslima’ made it rather obvious that the same is true of Dawkins.

    I don’t need Dawkins to tell me if there is or is not a God and I don’t think the question particularly interesting. What I object to is the use of religion as a spurious claim to authority when arguing against progressive causes. Whether there is a God or not, I think it is self evident that they would have no need of shamans, witchdoctors or priests to get their message across were they inclined to do so.

    Having someone pop up and tell folk that there is no God but it is OK to be a bigot anyway does not help matters at all.

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