Taslima Nasrin’s baffling posts on prostitution

So I’m really, sincerely not sure how to react to two recent posts by Taslima Nasrin, the latest addition to the Freethought Blogs team. The first one equated prostitution with slavery. After criticism by Greta and Natalie (as well as a relevant guest post at Crommunist’s blog), Taslima then posted this response. And I have a huge problem with Taslima’s approach to this issue.

The problem I have with is not that she’s wrong. Everyone’s wrong about some things. The problem is, well, let’s start with her first post. There’s been plenty of very good criticism of it (see the links above, including the comments on the post itself), but the worst part has to be the list of “lies” and “truths” that make up the latter half of the post. Some of the lies are easy targets, but others are things like, “Women choose to enter prostitution.” And the list of “truths” contains nothing in the way of counter-arguments, just counter-assertions.

I do not think it is always wrong to call your opponent a liar in a debate. Some people do try to win arguments by lying, and the world (and the cause of truth) needs to be protected from such lies, and the way to do that is to point them out when possible. But to do that, you actually need to have good evidence that your opponent is lying, which Taslima doesn’t present.

Poorly-supported accusations of lying are common enough. Accusations get made on little evidence, or people have good evidence that someone is wrong but unfairly assume the worst about their motives. Those things happen all the time. But in Taslima’s post, there’s little effort to argue that the lies are even untrue. There’s no attempt to argue, for example, that women never chose to enter prostitution, just counter assertions.

So the problem isn’t that she’s wrong, or isn’t up to the level we should expect for reasoned discussion. The problem is that what she’s written is two or three levels below what we should expect for reasoned discussion.

Then we get to the comments on the post. In one exchange, someone tried to argue that one of Taslima’s sources was not credible. To which she responded (this is her whole response):

Free thinkers should believe in women’s human rights. Men and women who treat women as equal human beings do not want anyone to be sex slaves. You are talking like a promoter of sex industries.

To which someone else responded:

Your response there, Taslima, is a breathtaking example of dishonest argument.

Nobody here supports sexual slavery.

We just don’t agree that sex work is by definition sexual slavery.

Taslima does not seem to have understood this response. Then there’s this exchange:

As a sex worker activist and active sex worker, what I want to say the most is *please listen to our voices.* We want rights, not rescue. Those speaking for us have trampled our voices for far too long.

In the United States and around the globe, sex workers are forming collectives and unions to fight for our rights. Mainstream feminism and patronizing anti-trafficking orgs have continually propagated lies about sex work statistics and have actively shut down our organizing efforts. The sex worker led efforts to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco, CA were largely opposed by feminist organization and one of the biggest anti-decriminalization donations came from Gloria Steinhem herself.

Please listen to us. We don’t need to be saved, we need to be supported.

To which Taslima gave this astonishingly insulting response:

House slaves did not want the abolition of slavery because they were treated considerably better than field slaves. Would you say slavery should not have been abolished only because some privileged slaves wanted to remain as slaves?

She got called out on it too, but doesn’t seem to understand the problem with that either.

Then there’s the first paragraph of her post responding to criticism:

I hope we all Free-thought bloggers believe in freedom of expression. My opinion on prostitution  is nothing new. Most feminists believe prostitution or sexual slavery  must end. I do not want to be misunderstood. But  it looks like a war started against me on  FTB because I said something politically incorrect.  I feel suffocated because I am opposed by a group I proudly belong to, a group of atheists, secularists, humanists, rationalists.

No Taslima. No war has started against you. There has been no invasion, no bombings, no blockade. Just reasoned criticism. Nor are you being suffocated. Your expectation that people you agree with on some subjects won’t oppose you on other subjects is completely unreasonable. It makes no more sense than it would for them to expect you to automatically agree with their views on prostitution, just because you’re an atheist.

And it’s ridiculous to imply, on these grounds, that they don’t believe in freedom of expression.

The bulk of the rest of the reply post is links and quotes from other people who agree with Taslima. For example:

What is prostitution? Andrea Dworkin was a prostitute. She knows what prostitution is. ‘Prostitution in and of itself is an abuse of a woman’s body.’ Please read

Yes Taslima, Andrea Dworkin was a prostitute. But so were other women who disagree with her. You have not given anyone a reason to believe Dworkin over them.

The most promising link in Taslima’s reply is one labeled “prostitution researchers.” When I first saw it, I sincerely believed for a moment that Taslima had found some serious journal articles supporting her views, and that maybe I couldn’t criticize her for failing to provide any real evidence for her claims. But when I clicked the link, I found what was very obviously not peer-reviewed research, but an advocacy group (to put it politely–actually, it was the advocacy group whose credibility someone in the previous thread had questioned.)

When I try to think of a time I have seen such an extreme case of unargued assertions, of not understanding what people who disagree with you are saying, I struggle to think of one. Except, maybe, in my encounters with street preachers. But Taslima is not a street preacher, she’s a fellow Freethought Blogger, an atheist who hasn’t been stopped from speaking out against Islam in spite of having had a price put on her head. I’m pretty thoroughly conditioned to put anyone who meets those requirements in my “person who deserves respect” category, no matter what else they’ve done.

So I mean it when I say my brain is having a hard time processing this one. Even though I’ve gone ahead and posted a reaction, while not sure it’s the right one.

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