Last Tuesday (Jan. 26th), Richard Dawkins made the following tweet:
|Text: “Obviously doesn’t apply to vast majority of feminists, among whom I count myself.
But the minority are pernicious.”
Here’s a summary of what happened next:
Lindy West began a Twitter conversation with Dawkins, informing him that the woman caricatured in the video is a real person called Chanty Binx. Binx was recorded shouting at a group of Mens’ Rights Activists (MRAs) outside of an event at the University of Toronto in 2013, and the video made her the object of ridicule and harassment, including death threats, by anti-feminists who refer to her as “Big Red.”
Dawkins expressed surprise to learn that Binx is a real person and eventually deleted the tweet with the video, stating that death threats are never acceptable—but not before hedging on the deletion and implying that after having watched the original video of Binx, she might’ve deserved them. Even after deleting the tweet, Dawkins affirmed that Binx is “nasty” and “vile,” that she did deserve “ridicule” and “abundant mockery,” suggested that she might be mentally ill, and implied that she made up the threats against her.
The Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) had recently invited Dawkins as a speaker in spite of his known tendency to, as Adam Lee put it, “post a horrible misogynist meme, get called out on it, get defensive, go back and delete tweets, repeat.” However, as a result of this particular Twitter dust-up, the NECSS rethought their decision and uninvited Dawkins on the 27th. Steven Novella, a member of NECSS’s executive committee, made a post on his blog Neurologica yesterday detailing the thinking behind this decision.
Considering that the Center for Inquiry (CFI) made an announcement on the 21st that the skeptic organization would be merging with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (RDFRS), Stephanie Zvan wrote an open letter to CFI’s board of directors urging them to reconsider that merger in light of Dawkins “embracing denialism of harassment.”
Dawkins, you will probably not be surprised to hear, still believes he did nothing wrong.
|Text: “Now I’ve heard it all. Now I’m the one accused of generalising about ‘all’ feminists!
What can you do?
|Text: “Yes, of course many feminists care passionately about Islamic misogyny. They’re
the ones NOT satirised in the ‘offensive’ joke cartoon.”
He apparently believes that because #NotAllFeminists, because he stated in the original tweet that feminists who love Islamists are the “pernicious minority” of feminists, those feminists in the “vast majority” should not be offended by a video which equates feminism with Islamism.
And let’s mince no words—that is absolutely what it does.
It was made by “Sargon of Akkad,” who I’d never heard of before. Rebecca Watson, however, describes him as a “longtime harasser of me and other women” and Zoë Quinn described Dawkins’s tweet as “promoting a guy who built a career of a stalking and harassing my family.”
Here’s a link to the video, but if it you don’t want to watch it I don’t blame you in the slightest. I didn’t want to watch it either, but did so that I could provide this transcript:
So here are a couple of obvious things to note, right off the bat:
The video itself clearly does not consider Islamist feminists to be a “pernicious minority.” Chanty Binx is presented as a feminist– she’s intended to represent feminists generally. The Islamist is, likewise, intended to represent Islamists generally– he’s not merely a “pernicious minority” in Islamism. Actually, Islamism would be better described as a pernicious minority within Islam, and if the Islamist in this video had been described instead as “a Muslim,” then Muslims would be legitimately offended at the generalization. Possibly they should be anyway.
The video mocks concepts that are uncontroversial within feminism:
- Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power (though intersectional feminists refer to interconnecting systems of power and dominance revolving around race, sexual orientation, class, etc. rather than there being just one type of privilege elevating one group over another).
- Misogyny is hatred of and/or ingrained contempt for women.
- Social justice is the entire body of effort to create a more equitable society.
The video equates feminist actions and concepts with elements of Muslim extremism that are their exact opposite, such as Slutwalk vs. calling women “whores” because they are not wearing a hijab. Slutwalk is a celebration of womens’ freedom to dress however they choose without being harassed or sexually assaulted, for crying out loud. On what planet does that indicate that the feminist and the Islamist “share essentially the same ideology”?
Likewise “haram” (forbidden) and “problematic” (problematic)?
Likewise “triggering” (eliciting a negative emotional response such as panic or fear) and “unquranic” (apparently “in violation of the Quran”)?
And of course there’s an element of pretty disgusting ableism thrown in (“a whiny pair of little spastics”) so we don’t have to wonder what kind of people this video is made by and for.
Really, based on Dawkins’s previous comments about Muslims on Twitter, including his bizarre tirade against “clock boy” Ahmed Mohamed, it’s easy to see what he was trying to get at– some feminists have the gall to think that there is such a thing as Islamophobia (bigotry against Muslims) and speak out against it, and in Dawkins’s view these feminists are not just wrong but are enabling Islamism. There are even cultural relativist feminists out there who use the term “Islamophobia” to refer to any criticism of Islam in order to stifle it.
I count myself as the former type of feminist– I’ve seen mosques vandalized or destroyed, non-Muslims denying that Islam is even a religion whose practitioners have the equal right to worship as they choose, and worst of all Muslims (and anyone who looks like they could be Muslims, such as Sikhs) being violently attacked by racist and religious bigots.
However, I’m pretty sure of a few things:
- Islamophobia exists, and it is not criticism of Islam. It’s bigotry against Muslims for being Muslim.
- Chanty Binx is not known for being an Islamist or agreeing with Islamists.
- There is not a feminist alive who thinks that rape isn’t rape if it’s committed by a Muslim.
I would imagine that in addition to considering himself a feminist, Richard Dawkins counts himself as a civil rights activist. And yet I’m trying to imagine him tweeting a link to a video created by a white supremacist depicting a black civil rights activist such as Shaun King singing along with an Islamist, laughing about how they “have so much in common,” because there are a “pernicious minority” of civil rights activists who say that some– or even all– criticisms of Islam are racially-based.
Because hey, he’s not talking about all black civil rights activists (even though the video is)! How absurd would it be for black civil rights activists to get upset about this video equating them with violent bigots when clearly it’s “satire”? When obviously it’s a “joke,” and the joke is not about them? When Dawkins went to the trouble of putting scare quotes around the word “offensive,” to make it clear that only a dimwit would be offended by the comparison?
Dawkins blames Twitter’s “brevity” for the continuing cycle of his stepping in it, over and over again. He says it “forces you straight to the point, which can sound aggressive.” But his extreme defensiveness for being called out after stepping in it, and apparent eagerness to rush straight back to the cannons to fire another volley of assholery onto the internet before the furor over the last one has died down, give the lie to this claim.
Perhaps he thinks that if you say it on the internet, it doesn’t matter. Perhaps he has too much of an echo chamber– his supporters were in full force while the exchange with Lindy West was going on– to be able to recognize legitimate criticism and learn from it. I really couldn’t guess.
But I can be grateful to see, with his “de-platforming” from the NECSS, that this behavior at least has consequences. Finally.