Over the last couple years the political left, with which I’ve felt aligned by entire life, has begun using tactics and adopting ideas I never would’ve thought I’d see on “my side.”
I’ve seen people arguing that people should be presumed guilty of particular crimes based upon accusations rather than waiting until the evidence is in. I’ve seen innocent people suffer on account of this with little or no remorse from the people who supported mob justice based purely on accusations which later proved to be untrue. I’ve seen any criticism of Islam labeled as Islamophobia (to be certain, Islamophobia exists on the conservative right, but not all critiques of Islam are Islamophiba). It’s just confusing and, frankly, a bit disheartening.
I’m seeing it again manifested at a talk given earlier this week by Maryam Namazie at Goldsmiths, University of London, for the school’s Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society. Namazie is an outspoken critic of Islam, which rubbed the Goldsmiths Islamic Society which sent ASH a letter asking them to keep Maryam from speaking on the grounds that it violates their “safe space”:
As an Islamic society, we feel extremely uncomfortable by the fact that you have invited Maryam Namazie. As you very well probably know, she is renowned for being Islamophobic, and very controversial.
Just a few examples of her Islamophobic statements, she labelled the niqab- a religious symbol for Muslim women, “a flag for far-right Islamism”. Also, she went onto tweet, they are ”body bags” for women. That is just 2 examples of how mindless she is, and presents her lack of understanding and knowledge about Islam. I could go on for a while if you would like further examples.
We feel having her present, will be a violation to our safe space, a policy which Goldsmiths SU adheres to strictly, and my society feels that all she will do is incite hatred and bigotry, at a very sensitive time for Muslims in the light of a huge rise in Islamophobic attacks.
For this reason, we advise you to reconsider your event tomorrow. We will otherwise, take this to the Students Union, and present our case there. I however, out of courtesy, felt it would be better to speak to you first.
As fellow Patheos blogger Dan Arel said, there are many things you should feel safe from on a university campus, things like rape, discrimination, and violence. However, you should not feel safe from words, ideas, and opinions. The idea of “safe spaces” are acquiring a sort of sacred feel among the political left, so much so that minority groups have at times felt comfortable laying claim to public areas and labeling them their safe space which, apparently, allows them to dictate who gets to walk there or what gets said. And somehow anybody who says “Hey, I’m all about supporting minority rights, but I think this particular action by a minority group is wrong” is then imagined to be traitors to the entire cause. It’s ridiculous and something I never would’ve imagined seeing five years ago.
Anyway, the talk went on, and many members of the Goldsmiths Islamic Society showed up to disrupt the event:
These people are behaving like petulant children. They repeatedly interrupt her talk, whistled over her, laughed when Maryam talked about secular bloggers in Bangladesh getting hacked to death, repeatedly yelling “safe space”, raising hell when security is finally called to ask them to leave, turning off her projector to prevent a cartoon of Muhammad from being shown, etc. It’s disgusting. You may not like what she has to say, but that doesn’t give you the right to do any of that. They were trying to intimidate a speaker they didn’t like which doesn’t suddenly become noble just because you’re a Muslim or any other minority (and this is coming from someone who’s done a fair amount of peaceable protest in his life and loves the idea of protest, but that’s not what this is).
All the while Namazie maintains her passion but also a cool head, refusing to be intimidated. It’s really inspiring, actually.
Now, if anybody had done this with a Muslim speaker ISOC had brought in they’d be rightly up in arms. But somehow they imagine they should get to do it to the other side. And yet, amazingly, ISOC said afterward that they wanted to condemn Namazie for bullying them:
Goldsmiths Islamic Society (ISOC) would like to categorically condemn the vile harassment of our ISOC members (both male and female) by the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH).
Muslim students who attended the event were shocked and horrified by statements made by Namazie, and peacefully expressed their dissent to the disrespectful cartoons shown of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). These students were subsequently made subject to unnecessary bullying, abuse and violence by the ASH society and security staff. Some students were even forcibly removed from the event.
Are you kidding me? Watch the video. At what point were they being bullied while they were bullying the speaker? At what point were they subject to abuse and violence? This is so diametric to what actually happened, as confirmed by video, that one can only call it a lie. No wonder they didn’t want to be filmed. Jesus. Some students were removed, yes, not because they were Muslims, but because they were creating a scene.
And I wish I could say that it boggles my mind that the school’s Feminist Society sent out a release supporting not Namazie (who spoke against inherently anti-woman Sharia Law), but instead supporting ISOC and the agitators, but it doesn’t:
Goldsmiths Feminist Society stands in solidarity with Goldsmiths Islamic Society. We support them in condemning the actions of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society and agree that hosting known islamophobes at our university creates a climate of hatred.
It doesn’t create a climate of hatred every time someone calmly criticizes an idea. Jesus Christ, that’s so over the top I’d expect it on daytime TV, not in an actual university.
And the school’s LGBT group followed suit:
Following recent events on- and offline, we would like to state and show our solidarity with the sisters and brothers of our Goldsmiths ISOC
We condemn AHS and online supporters for their islamophobic remarks and attitudes. If they feel intimidated, we urge them to look at the underpinnings of their ideology. We find that personal and social harm enacted in the name of ‘free speech’ is foul, and detrimental to the wellbeing of students and staff on campus.
In our experiences, members of ISOC have been nothing but charming, patient, kind, and peaceful as individuals and as an organization.
Patient, kind, and charming? Were they watching a different video? Because that’s not what the tape of Maryam Namazie’s talk showed at all.
And that’s why I’ve really begun to feel politically homeless over the last few years. There seems to be this growing sentiment that because many minority groups are justifiably angry about the way society treats them that they are therefore permitted to engage in all sorts of unseemly behavior. It’s like it’s impossible to imagine that minorities could do shitty things for which they should be corrected (or that saying so is an attempt to “silence them”). They often proceed to demonize anybody who has spent years supporting and fighting for minority rights who think other people still have rights as a traitor to the entire cause. It’s lunacy. It becomes impossible to have a conversation with people who perpetually frame things so unfairly.
I still support equality for racial minorities, women, atheists. I still think religion is bad for the world and that Islam is the worst of it. But I also still value free speech for myself which means, if I’m being fair, I must value it for others. I want equality, which means if an atheist is disrupting a Muslim’s talk, I’ll call them out on it just as swiftly. I don’t think protesters should get to eject other citizens from public space or to declare the freedom of the press enshrined in the Constitution doesn’t apply on certain parcels of American soil.
But what really gets me about what’s happening on the political left is just the frank dishonesty and lack of consistency I so often encounter. If someone shouts down a black/woman/LGBT speaker during a talk that person is a racist/misogynist/bigot (and yeah, they probably are, but at minimum they’re out of line to do so). But a group they like does it? Then they’re the victims of bullying who were “patient, kind, and charming.” There’s so little charity given to anybody who makes the slightest transgression (or even perceived transgression) and all the leeway in the world given to people on “your side.” And I guess that’s why I feel like I don’t have a home, because a significant number of people on both sides seem to be doing their activism this way, and even though I’m passionate about equal rights (as my writing confirms) I want no part of this cynical, self-important theater.
ISOC, the Goldsmiths Feminist Society, and the Goldsmiths LGBTQ+ Society should all be ashamed of themselves. But they’re so insulated in their respective “safe spaces”, away from any voice that might contradict them, that I doubt they ever will be. And that’s just pathetic. That’s not what a university should be.