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Statement from the NECSS

After my last post went live, the NECSS executive committee posted the following statement to their web site:

We wish to apologize to Professor Dawkins for our handling of his disinvitation to NECSS 2016. Our actions were not professional, and we should have contacted him directly to express our concerns before acting unilaterally. We have sent Professor Dawkins a private communication expressing this as well. This apology also extends to all NECSS speakers, our attendees, and to the broader skeptical movement. We wish to use this incident as an opportunity to have a frank and open discussion of the deeper issues implicated here, which are causing conflict both within the skeptical community and within society as a whole. NECSS 2016 will therefore feature a panel discussion addressing these topics. There is room for a range of reasonable opinions on these issues and our conversation will reflect that diversity. We have asked Professor Dawkins to participate in this discussion at NECSS 2016 in addition to his prior scheduled talk, and we hope he will accept our invitation. This statement and our discussions with Professor Dawkins were initiated prior to learning of his recent illness. All of NECSS wishes Professor Dawkins a speedy and full recovery. 

So yes, Dawkins was re-invited.  It’s not clear why, except that the NECSS organizers apparently felt that they didn’t un-invite him properly?  Huh.

Note: When they announced that Dawkins was un-invited, participants were offered a refund on their tickets if they wanted to cancel registration in light of the announcement. No such refund is mentioned here for those who bought tickets because they’d heard that Dawkins was un-invited.

Did Richard Dawkins blame his stroke on feminists?

On Feb. 5th Richard Dawkins experienced a stroke while at home, on the cusp of traveling to New Zealand and Australia for a speaking tour. Fortunately it was a minor stroke, and he was allowed to return home after four days to begin recuperating. He reported later that it was a hemorrhagic stroke in the right basal ganglion, which “affects left-side coordination but does not affect higher cerebral function.”

That update comes from this recording of Dawkins describing what happened. In it he sounds very frail, but not a bit less lucid– quite to the contrary, he takes the opportunity quote both Steven Pinker and his own previous writings on the evolutionary marvel of the human hand. Dawkins’ own left hand’s functioning had been diminished by the stroke to the point that manipulating buttons became difficult. He goes on to reflect that he’d been thought slow as a child for being a late learner of button manipulation as well as shoe-tying, having started life in Africa and not requiring such fastenings on his clothing at the time because of the ambient weather.

And this part of the recording I will simply transcribe, because listeners have reached radically different conclusions about its meaning:

The doctors, obviously, were worried about what caused it. I’d been having blood pressure problems for a while, which the GP and I’d thought were under control, but apparently not. The doctors asked me whether I’d been suffering from stress, and I had to say, yes I had.  They keep advising me not to get involved in controversy, and I’m afraid I had to tell them that controversy– that not getting involved in controversy is not one of the things I’m terribly talented at.

I told them that I’d had a certain amount of controversy and was very distressed, and on the 28th of January I was dis-invited from a conference in America to which I’d previously been asked. This upset me very much. I’m used to getting hate from religious nuts and creationists but when I get hate from what I think of as my own people…the left, liberals, feminists and so on, that directly hurt me. And I might’ve been expected to get a stroke after that, if ever.

But paradoxically, the stroke came after I got a bit of good news. On the morning of February the fifth, I had a very gracious letter from the conference organizers, the committee, graciously apologizing for dis-inviting me and re-inviting me, and I was overjoyed at that. And you might think that’s the last time I’ve have got a stroke, but it was actually the evening of that same day that I got the stroke.

It’s to be assumed that the conference Dawkins is talking about here is NECSS, from which he was dis-invited last month for having approvingly tweeted a video claiming that feminists and Islamists share a commonly ideology.

I did some searching for verification that Dawkins had been re-invited to NECSS, but didn’t find anything. There isn’t any notice of such on their web site— the most recent announcement regarding Dawkins is their declaration to dis-invite him on January 27th called Concerning Richard Dawkins.  I don’t see anything on their Twitter feed, either.  So….who knows?

If I were PolitiFact, I would probably give the claim that Dawkins blamed feminists for his stroke a rating of “half true.” He said that he could’ve been expected to have a stroke, “if ever,” from the “hate” directed toward him by his “own people,” which includes the left, liberals, and feminists.  But in this speculation, he notes that the stroke was more immediately preceded by receiving notification of being re-invited to NECSS.

Matthew Facciani at Patheos wrote a blog post that was originally titled “Dawkins blames feminists for his stroke,” and then changed it after getting some heat from readers.  His post concludes:

I hope Dawkins continues to make a full recovery and I also hope that some of his words from this interview can impact people. 1) It’s another reminder how precious life is and how we should cherish every moment. and 2) It’s also a reminder that we should try to be decent to one another even when we disagree. Perhaps the many Dawkins fans who scoffed at the harassment women face online can take note how serious such behavior can be.

It wasn’t just Dawkins’ fans, but he himself who scoffed at the harassment women face online– and even endorsed such harassment, in the case of Chanty Binx.  I suppose that’s just because he decided that she was “nasty” and therefore “deserves abundant mockery, the more the merrier.”

But here’s the thing– given Dawkins’ comments above, it seems like he needs to make a decision. Either “abundant mockery” can potentially cause a person to have a stroke, or people can “deserve abundant mockery, the more the merrier.”  I suppose a third option could exist– that both are true, and therefore some people deserve to have a stroke caused by abundant mockery– but I don’t want to believe that anyone genuinely thinks that.

It’s common knowledge that there are many feminists, including Chanty Binx, who have become the targets of sustained harassment both on the internet and off because they are well-known feminists. Each of these women has suffered from it. Each has had to make a choice, perhaps repeated choices, about whether to continue speaking out, and to what extent they can handle doing so.  Most of these women do not have anything like the platform and hordes of admirers that Dawkins has, factors that– along with other privileges– have enabled him to have considerable insulation from such ridicule.  It’s a really good thing none of them have had strokes (that we know of) as a result……so far…..isn’t it?

What feminists make noise about

In reply to my previous post, “Jokuvaan” made the following comment:

What you are missing here is the current double standard of european mainstream feminists treating rapes differently depending of the ethnical background of the perpetrators. So far feminists have made more noise about one man comparing women to cars than about taharrush jamai or taharrush gamae in europe. Just recently a all women college in Germany decided to shut down for the time of the carnival so that the students wouldn’t get raped if they left their homes. Some feminists go even as far as victim blaming like women shouldn’t dress so revealingly to agitate the muslim men to rape. No I’m not shitting you. Sure this cartoon is a exaggeration but its not without a hint of truth. Though I’m not blaming you as it seems you are on the other side of the Atlantic and likely have to rely on english news on the subject and frankly most european countries are not native english speaking. 

My reply:

I have a few disparate points to make in response to that so I’m going to just number them for clarity:

  1. Your working definition of “feminist” seems to be “person who makes noise about crimes against women in proportion to what I, Jokuvaan, consider to be their severity.” This is not the definition of feminism. A quick and easy definition of feminism would be “opposition to sexism and enforcement of gender roles.” Being a feminist does not mean one has an obligation to make noise about anything at all, let alone make more noise about some things than others. To say otherwise is to commit a form of moral equivalence fallacy often referred to as “Dear Muslima” after Richard Dawkins famously used those words to commit said fallacy in 2011. You can read more about the fallacy here. You can also read Dawkins’s limp apology for committing it here, though I’d note that he seemed to have forgotten about it completely by the very next day.
  2. Following from #1, a feminist’s failure to “make noise” about something cannot be construed as agreement with it, much less advocacy of it. It’s possible to care about more than one thing at a time, and it’s possible to care about something without “making noise” about it. If you declared yourself to be an animal rights activist, and I noticed that you weren’t protesting the fact that an endangered species of animal is being driven further to the brink of extinction, I don’t get to declare that you share a common ideology with trophy hunters. That would be grossly dishonest of me, especially if I wasn’t an animal rights activist myself. I don’t get to tell you how to do your activism, and I don’t get to claim you side with your enemy because you’re not doing activism in the way I’d prefer.
  3. I cannot verify your claims about what “some feminists” have or haven’t done regarding victim-blaming or reasons for shutting down carnivals, but I do wonder– if it’s the behavior of these feminist that supposedly lends a “hint of truth” to a video which claims that feminism generally has “much in common” with Islamism, isn’t it rather odd that the person chosen to represent feminism in the video is a Canadian feminist? A person who has absolutely nothing to do with any of what you’re talking about? Doesn’t that seem rather odd, that they picked a woman who has been harassed for years for the “crime” of just yelling at some MRAs, rather than one of these people whom you say are engaging in victim-blaming? 

The cartoon is not an exaggeration– it’s a bald-faced lie. It was created by anti-feminists to claim that feminists are just like Islamists if they do not…I don’t know what. Talk about Islamic misogyny all day, every day? Roam the streets trying to attack Muslim men as punishment for Islamic misogyny? Maybe just become anti-Muslim terrorists?

It’s not clear what kind or amount of opposition to Islamic misogyny would convince an anti-feminist that feminists don’t “share essentially the same ideology” as Islamists, and that’s because anti-feminists don’t actually give a shit about Islamic misogyny. They just hate both Muslims and feminists, and so it’s awfully convenient to pretend that two of your enemies are in league with each other so you can swing the same club and hit them both.

In actuality, Islamophobes and Islamic misogynists are both enemies of mine, because I oppose both religion-based and sex-based bigotry. And if you think I’m not shouting about one loudly enough, it doesn’t mean I agree with the other. It means you should do your own shouting.

Dawkins insults feminists, complains when feminists feel insulted

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:

The animated video depicts Chanty Binx sitting at a grand piano, playing it. Next to her stands a man with a long nose and a beard, dressed in jeans, a jacket, and a baseball cap with a picture of what looks like an AK-47 on it. Since I don’t know if this man is supposed to represent a real person or not, I will refer to him simply as “Islamist.”

Their singing is done by a man (“Sargon of Akkad,” I assume), using an a vaguely Arabic accent (which later changes to British) for the Islamist and a whining, nasal tone for Chanty Binx.

Islamist: I am an Islamist

Chanty Binx: I am a feminist. You might not think we have very much in common.

Islamist: But we share essentially the same ideology.

Chanty Binx: And Muslims are oppressed just like every woman.

Islamist: I say “haram.”

Chanty Binx: I say “problematic.”

Islamist: You say everything’s “triggering.”

Chanty Binx: And you say everything’s unquaranic cos you are an Islamist.

Islamist: And you are a feminist.

Both: We have so very much in common.

Islamist: I say “Islamophobia.”

Chanty Binx: I say “misogyny.”

Islamist: I blame the Jewish media.

Chanty Binx: And I blame the patriarchy cos I am a feminist.

Islamist: And I am an Islamist.

Both: A whiny pair of little spastics.

Islamist: You know what makes me feel like really marginalized, yeah? Is when ignorant people remind me that the prophet (alayhi as-salām) had sex with a nine year old girl.

Chanty Binx: Mohammed had sex with a child? Oh, that’s awesome! That means that every white sister and heteronormative pedophile here in the West is guilty of cultural appropriation! And that’s the real societal problem!

Islamist: Oh yeah!

Chanty Binx: See? It’s easy when you look at the world through problematic glasses! (laughs)

Islamist: Oh, who would’ve thought that you and me would get along so well?

Chanty Binx: I say “social justice.”

Islamist: I say “jihad.”

Chanty Binx: I say “Slutwalk.”

Islamist: I say “Whore, where is your hijab?” cos I am an Islamist.

Chanty Binx: And I am a feminist.

Both: We have so very much in common.

Islamist: So do you mind if I rape you now?

Chanty Binx: Oh, don’t be silly. It’s not rape when a Muslim does it! (Both laugh)

Islamist: That is a good one!

Lovely, huh?

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.
    And
  • 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.

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