• Why “Dear Muslima” is an unanswerable argument

    Whenever someone brings up the point that the Western feminists, and a certain subset of the Western ‘skeptic’, ‘atheist’ sphere are AWOL when it comes to Islam, there is such a wailing.

     “Do you mean to say that the existence of far worse injustices means you can ignore issues closer to home?”

    In a word: yes.

    You see, there is this thing called ‘opportunity cost’.  We all have only a set amount of time, energy etc. that we can bestow.  In fact we have only a limited amount of care and attention we can bestow.  We devote the majority of our resources to our own existences – which is both unavoidable and right and proper.

    So, when presented with a sob story – such as the “Great Terrible Offer Of Coffee” – my question would be: Why should I care?  Why does your suffering present a claim on the precious resources of my life?  Or the life of anyone who isn’t you?

    There are two ways of answering this question.  The first is the altruist answer.  This goes you should care just ‘cos.  Even asking for an answer is morally suspect.  The simple fact that someone has been negatively effected, even to the extent of having her feelings hurt, is a claim on your time and resources and you have to answer that claim, end of.

    The problem with this argument is that, even granting it, taking the limits on resources into account, it must follow logically that the greater suffering has the greater claim.  In short, under this argument, people like Watson and Benson should shut up and devote themselves to the alleviation of all the suffering caused by Islam, and then all the other suffering in the world, and when that’s done, then, maybe, we can get around to their trifling concerns.

    Now, I am an Objectivist and so set no store by altruism. There is, however, something I set a great deal of store by, and that is solidarity.  Solidarity is not altruism, it isn’t charity, or any other dirty word.  It is the only true foundation of human brotherhood – the brotherhood of values.  It’s a recognition that you have a direct stake in the fate of those who share your values – that those who abuse them are likely to abuse you.

    Under this heading – let’s say Rebecca Watson, Ophelia Benson etc. have a heart attack, or fall under a bus, or are devoured by the hungry earth.  What conceivable loss would that be to me?  What business would that be of mine?  How is anything I care about in this world negatively affected by that hypothetical?

    Lest you think I am cold-blooded here, notice that this crowd show little enough concern about those poor souls who suffer under the Islamic lash – that was the whole point of Dawkins’ post to begin with.

    On the other hand, the loss of, say, Richard Dawkins, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Sam Harris would be a catastrophe.  It would be a loss for the cause of secularism and atheism, especially since we’d lose one of those rare voices that show that there is a secular and atheist way to resist Islamic aggression.

    Similarly, the Jihad attacks on Kenya, or India, or Israel are matters of profoundly personal interest to me.  I want to stress that – when I see the Islamic State wage a war of genocide against the Yezidi, I take that personally.  Why?  Because these bastards come from countries where I live, and I know they would do it to me and mine if they had half a chance, and I have no quarrel whatsoever with the Yezidi people.  The fact that I attend demonstrations against IS and try to do what little I can, is not something abstract or altruistic.  It is a profoundly personal, selfish matter.  The infidels of Kenya, of India, of the Middle East – these are my brothers and sisters, and their struggle is mine.

    So under neither the altruist nor the solidarity premise endorses the complaint above.

    There is, however, one that does.  It goes like this: “Who cares how you justify it – our complaints are those of well off, well heeled Westerners – and much more than that, well off, well heeled Americans!  We’ve always taken it as read that our complaints deserve respect the way all those other people’s don’t!  Who are you to say differently?”

    And my response would be – unprintable in anything that might be read in mixed company.


    Category: IslamJihadWomen's Rights

    Article by: The Prussian

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    • kraut2

      Thanks for clarifying this point – the economy of caring for problems. It is a matter of triage in the end,.

    • So, when presented with a sob story – such as the “Great Terrible Offer Of Coffee” – my question would be: Why should I care?

      That question applies to any sob story, though. Why should I care that people I’ve never met are being sexually mutilated?

      • ThePrussian

        That’s easy – because I have a vested interest in women’s emancipation. The people who perpetuate conditions like the one you describe are a provable menace to me and you and everything worthwhile. Similarly, I have a vested interest in justice.

        • You’ve answered in terms of what you personally value. That isn’t going to be persuasive to anyone who doesn’t happen to value the same things that you do.

          (Also, it remains unclear how cultural practices in Africa are a menace to you and me and everything worthwhile. No one has suggested FGM for my daughter or my nieces.)

          • ThePrussian

            I know that it doesn’t matter to people who don’t value justice or liberty, and that is my point.

            As regards Africa: really? If Africa, the continent with the highest birthrate on the planet falls to Islam where do you think that those forces will march next?

            • We both have a vested interest in justice and liberty, but I also value interpersonal civility within those cultures that have already emancipated women and men. What you call the “Great Terrible Offer Of Coffee” was an attempt to ask someone back to a bedroom before establishing any degree of flirty rapport, and as such it runs afoul or the usual courtship norms, even for Ireland, even at 4am.

    • James

      I have read your blog for some time, though I have never commented before. Perhaps I misunderstand your assertion here, so let me try it a different way.

      So because millions of women are mistreated and untold numbers are killed (though certainly not all) in Islamic countries, we should ignore all those rapes at colleges in the USA? Presumably, rape is less serious than execution or murder. After all, there is only so much one can do. As a commentator below noted, you have to do triage. Rape is less serious than murder.

      Or, because atheists are subject to execution in a number of countries, atheists in the USA have no room to complain, as after all, their plight is comparatively minor compared to beheading. Atheists here should be focusing their attention on Saudi Arabia, where the atheist plight is far worse, than at home where we have it relatively easy (we can still be thrown out of businesses and are almost unable to be elected because of our lack of belief, but hey, we’re not being killed too often). Atheists here are just whiny, well-off, well-heeled Westerners, so who cares about subverting the Constitution with creationism in classrooms?

      As for Professor Dawkins and his apparent [to me anyway] tone-deaf statements, the issue is not so much the “Dear Muslima” message and what it implied (that women here have no room to talk). It paints a prominent, outspoken atheist in a bad light through his own words, and gives ammunition to those who oppose free thought (and freedom of religion). If Professor Dawkins cannot see that minimalising the trials of others with a “look, squirrel” argument is damaging to all atheists (not just him), perhaps we need better speakers for our cause of equality before society as atheists.

      Jessica Ahlquist just had her feelings hurt by a Rhode Island legislator – that is nothing compared to being forced into a child marriage. She should have spent her time complaining about that, not the condescending statement about being an “evil little thing” for complaining about her hurt feelings over a prayer banner at a school event?

      As I understand your argument, the 320,000,000 people in the USA can only focus on one issue at a time. That the unequal treatment of women in the USA pales to the unequal treatment of women in other countries, so -every person- should focus -all their effort- on those other nations? Why, women have had the right to vote here for almost a hundred years, but not so much in Saudi Arabia?

      I am afraid I do not understand. Can you enlighten me? My high school education does not allow me to parse the subtleties of this issue.

      • PubliusCorneliusScipio
        • James

          Yup. I was in the military (the US Navy for seventeen years until I became disabled). I understand the issue of griping up the chain-of-command versus not griping down the same chain. Just about everyone in the atheist “movement” is higher than my paygrade (:: — I believe I would qualify as a private (or since I was in the Navy, an airman recruit). Folk like the Four Horsemen are the generals.

      • ThePrussian

        “So because millions of women are mistreated and untold numbers are killed (though certainly not all) in Islamic countries, we should ignore all those rapes at colleges in the USA? ” – and if I had argued any such thing, you’d have a case. But I didn’t.

        What is interesting here is that, in fact, the argument is always made the other way around. Someone like me tries to kick up a fuss about, say, Rotherham or ISIS and there’s a barrage of complaints along those lines – “But what about the exploitation of women in the America? Don’t you know that there’s this girl who had a cup of coffee offered to her?” The argument I hear is, until things are just the way we like it, the rest of the world can go hang. That people like me should just shut up on this subject.

        Well, I live in the rest off the world. This is my home. I take grave exception to being lectured in that tone of voice.

        If the argument were made that we should all just concentrate on cultivating our own garden, that would be wrongheaded but defensible. I think it’s wrongheaded – I’m an internationalist, what happens with ISIS directly affects me – but we could get along and get by. But that’s not what’s going on, is it? Take the FtB crowd – there is a relentless attack on people like Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins etc. who actually tackle the threat of Islam. So – why shouldn’t I defend those who actually have my back in this fight?

        • James

          I was not attempting to lecture. I was noting that we can work on both problems at the same time.

          As for the issue of the alleged cup of coffee incident, I was not there: I am not a wealthy atheist that can afford to jet off to conferences. So the only conclusion I can draw about it is that I do not know what happened.

          It does seem to me that Professor Dawkins minimised her experiences (whatever those may have been) and when offered an olive branch grabbed for the shovel instead.

          Jere in this country, I once ran a private computer bulletin board for freethinkers, in Dixie. Emphasis on private, by invitation only. That apparently was too much of a threat to Christian fundamentalists in my town when the bulletin board was reviewed in the local newspaper.

          I wound up with a bunch of religious pickets at my apartment, threatening the lives of my baby son and wife over it. The police would not disperse them (they deserved it I guess, or perhaps since they weren’t “really” killed they had nothing to complain about).

          When my terrified wife called me at work (I was in the US Navy at the time), my command sent Shore Patrol to my apartment to evacuate her and my son. We never returned to our apartment – I was shortly transferred out of state. But hey, they weren’t killed: they obviously have it better than atheists in Muslim countries.

          I have been fired from jobs, called evil in the streets, told my child could not play with other children (because his parents are evil), had my child exposed to forced religious proselytisation in schools, threatened with harm (assault). But I didn’t suffer battery, and all those are legal (except the threats and forced proselytisation). So I have no dog in the fight? The only thing I can do is point out that it is only a matter of degree – killing someone for being an atheist versus threatening to do so.

          Today on ABC, Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review magazine (a conservative political policy magazine in the USA) held forth on national television that forced kissing is not sexual assault. (Herpes and other STDs or the issue of force notwithstanding.) In a rare show of journalistic tough questioning, the moderator (another man) asked him if it would be okay if he forced a kiss on him on national television. Rich Lowry ignored the question. Apparently it was not worthy of an answer, because it challenged his assumption.

          So on the question you raised, “What about the exploitation of women in America” as a “look squirrel argument” by Americans to others where women are being treated worse (killed, tortured, raped, &c), it is my firm opinion (your mileage may vary) that we can work on both problems at the same time: they are only questions of degree.

          Moreover, if less egregious behaviour is permitted or overlooked (assault, essentially the fear of the threat of battery being carried out), then the envelope can be pushed further (actual battery being carried out). Assault is still a crime, though there may be no evidence to support the claim. The only other choice (aside from legal avenues) is bring up a discussion of it.

          When one side or another shouts down the issue as being “less worthy” it enables those who would do worse.

          • ThePrussian

            “I was not attempting to lecture. I was noting that we can work on both problems at the same time.”

            I agree that it’s essential to work on both. For example, the high rates of rape – male and female – in the US armed forces is a disaster that needs fixing.

            • Goosebumps

              I’d say it’s okay to talk about medium-level problems as long as we keep the complaints proportionate, and recommend solutions that are not outrageous or highly dubious. So for example, if we wanted to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses, we could discuss realistic measures and that wouldn’t be a waste of time just because ISIS is lining people up and executing them in the Middle East. But when feminism’s current crop suggests things like automatically believing the victim (there was such an article in the Washington Post yesterday) or links the assaults to a “rape culture” generated by entertainment that objectifies women while giving zero evidence for the claim, we have to roll our eyes.

              In the case of Rotherham there were obvious measures that should have been taken to prevent the abuse of girls and weren’t because the authorities didn’t want to look racist. This is infinitely more frustrating than not taking reasonable measures that might or might not work against sexual assault.

            • ThePrussian

              Well, I entirely agree you.

            • James

              I agree too, for the most part. All problems don’t require the same hammer.

              The college rape thing would be fairly simple to resolve: take it out of the hands of school “honour courts.” Schools don’t investigate murders, why should they investigate rapes?

              As for believing the victim, we believe a robbery victim unless the victim is shown to be lying.

              The Washington Post identified a number of flaws in the investigative reporting of Rolling Stone. It did not claim that the woman in question was lying. Rolling Stone made a public apology and stated the error was entirely its, not the woman’s. RS certainly did not help with its flawed story.

    • Clare45

      Good post, and I agree with you about altruism vs. solidarity. I was taught years ago in Psychology classes that there was really no such thing as true altruism. People who practice it always have a selfish motive. They will feel better, assuage guilt or look better to their friends and neighbours, and -most importantly- to their church congregation. Give a goat to the poor people of “Africa”!
      Somehow the minor elevator incident became equated to the threat to all women of being raped in America, so it became so much more important than it should have been. It went from an individual case to a vast overgeneralisation.

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