07 April 2013

A couple of related stories

First, the ever-excellent John at EifD has linked a great article by Glenn Greenwald on the topic of the militarism of Sam Harris and those of like mind within the nouveau atheist movement. As readers may be aware, I am quite far from Glenn’s viewpoint on several issues, but as regards foreign policy I count him amongst those whose head is (for the most part) screwed on straight. There does need to be a deep and trenchant political critique of the nouveau atheists from the left, many of whom have sadly, uncritically adopted them as allies on account of their nominal (and it really is only nominal) opposition to right-wing American Protestant fundamentalism. And even though Glenn Greenwald is essentially wrong on most issues pertaining to economics, as well as on issues pertaining to the influence of money in politics, it is generally on issues of foreign policy that I find him (as with most libertarians) most worth listening to. Please do give the article a thorough read-through.

And then there is the second story, very closely related to the first.

Nineteen-year-old feminist activist Amina Tyler of Tunisia was on the receiving end of death threats and public calls for her corporal punishment or stoning after she posted nude photos of herself online. There were reports that she has been committed to a mental institution. This led to the Ukrainian-based extreme feminist group FEMEN declaring an ‘International Topless Jihad Day’ on behalf of all of the benighted brown women who are being oppressed by Islam. Now, although the prescriptions from certain clerics against the antics of Ms Tyler are undoubtedly extreme and morally abhorrent, it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that practising Muslim women don’t take too kindly to having their entire religious tradition so tastelessly and bigotedly painted with that broad brush.

Hence, the online counterprotest by Muslim Women Against FEMEN.

The responses by FEMEN to the counterprotest were predictable and saddening. The counterprotesters were called ‘brainless’, ‘stupid’ and ‘slaves’. As Callie Beusmann, writing for Jezebel, put it: ‘You know that there's something wrong with your protest when its ardent supporters find it appropriate to repeatedly call the women they are “saving” stupid and to affirm that they have no capacity for making decisions of their own.’

Even more stunning in its eyebrow-raising, jaw-dropping repulsiveness was this quote from the leader of FEMEN, Inna Shevchenko:
They write on their posters that they don't need liberation but in their eyes it's written “help me”.

At first I couldn’t believe what I was reading. FEMEN (of all people!) were using the time-honoured rapist ‘her mouth said “no” but her eyes said “yes”’ line of self-defence to dismiss any claims that what they were engaging in was essentially a neocolonialist political exercise. Now, either this is a huge vindication of the feminist view that the rape culture is so firmly embedded in Western society - so firmly, indeed, that it infects even the feminist discourse itself - or it is merely an exercise in the idea that there are certain things women can say but men cannot. Either way, there seems to be a strong undercurrent in FEMEN’s basic message to the Muslim women which reads, ‘we’re gonna liberate the shit out of you, and you’re going to lie back and enjoy it’.

Full disclosure: my impression from first hearing of FEMEN was that were rather nasty specimens, ever since they took a chainsaw to a wooden crucifix in the Ukraine which had been erected in 2005 to the memory of the victims of Stalin, in order to support Pussy Riot’s anti-Putin protest in Russia.

Islamic fundamentalism is an ideology which, like all like fundamentalisms, needs to be protested. But the best and most consistent critics of fundamentalism are (it cannot be stressed enough) not atheists. The atheists, especially those of the nouveau popular-press variety, themselves are too much like fundamentalists - alike in their violently reductionist ontologies and in the imperialist foreign policy which follows from those ontologies - to pose a credible alternative. The best and most consistent critics of fundamentalism are those who stand in the ancient, axial virtue-ethical traditions which closely link the concepts of the True, the Good and the Beautiful whilst holding them in a sacred suspense.


  1. Hi Matthew, Thanks for the link! I must confess that I don’t understand why FEMEN engages in the kind of actions they do. I know it is supposed to get people’s attention, but it is also likely to turn people off from their message. It almost makes one long for the days of simple bra burnings.

  2. Matthew:

    Greetings. Any particular reason for the change in banner and colour?


  3. Hi John; no problem! With regard to FEMEN, I wouldn't be surprised if there was more than a little bit of old-fashioned Russian nihilism in it. To that extent I can understand some of the way they think, even as I deplore their actions and the consequences of their thinking.

    Idrian, no real deep reason for it. Basically just that my wife liked the red better than the purple, and I just chose a banner to match it.