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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

How The Namazie-Harris Interview Disappointed Me

Maryam Namazie Sam Harris

I made the mistake the other night of popping my headphones in and listening to Sam Harris interview Maryam Namazie while I lay in bed. It wasn’t too long before I was suppressing frustrated groans in fear of waking Godless Dad up. At some point in the podcast, I had to pause and tell myself I’d pick it up again in the morning, because I was on the verge of flying into an upright sitting position and yelling, “just answer the damned question!”

I put it away. I fell asleep with my blood boiling, and I woke up the next day and finished it. This time I was alone and I wasn’t holding back.

I think I yelled, “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” and “that’s not what he said at all!” far too many times to count, as I mentally trudged my way to the finish line.

Do you remember that movie, Kids? It was Chloe Sevigny’s break out role if I recall correctly. About the spread of HIV and how easy it’s passed from one person to the next. There’s that scene (spoiler alert) where Casper has his way with Jennie as she sleeps, passed out on a couch. When she wakes up to realize what he’s done, she leans in and tells him (we assume) that she is HIV positive. His reaction? Exactly the fucking same as my reaction to Sam’s interview with Maryam:

What the fuck just happened?

Let me back up just a little bit, before we dive headfirst into a whole new shitstorm. Maryam is someone I have admired since I first became aware of her. I appreciated the nerve it took to stand up to Islam and extremism. I loved how she used her platform, and I agreed with almost everything I heard her say. When she was no-platformed by the Goldsmiths Islamic Society, I was horrified and shared that distaste with my followers on Twitter. I am a supporter. I am a fan.

Then, the Tommynado struck. Oodles of people were labelled bigot when they shared Dave Rubin’s interview of Tommy Robinson on Twitter, including Dave himself, Sam Harris and of course, yours truly.

While Maryam never said a word to me during this cat-5 twister, I did see her backing up the people throwing out “bigot” with ease. My heart sunk a little. How could someone I had admired so much be treating others this way? I wanted to say something then but decided to let it go, as Maryam had said nothing to me personally, and I didn’t know what sort of rapport she had with the other people she was labelling, if any.

Cut-to: Sam’s interview with Maryam. After witnessing what went down in the aftermath of the Tommy Robinson fiasco, I had to understand where she was coming from. I needed to know why she thought that people like me were bigots. I figured I would get some sort of clarification during the podcast with Sam, so I listened.

I wanted clarity, but I got nothing. No explanation. No understanding. No closure for having been called a bigot myself, which I continue to take exception to as someone who has fought for human rights for a long time. I got nothing. She explained nothing.

What she did instead is avoid questions. Straight up, understandable questions that were communicated clearly. Questions that no one could misunderstand. Questions that, had she answered them, would have harvested some answers I was looking for. She didn’t just shy away from these questions, she avoided them as though she had practised it. Yes or no questions were met with, “Look, Sam…” and then a 5-minute departure into a totally unrelated topic. The questions that sought long-form answers were talked over and missed altogether.

What she did instead of answer questions was to continue to label people. Of course, conversing one-on-one with Sam herself, the language was softened; the word bigot changed to “far-right” or “promoting the far-right narrative."

What she did instead of answer questions was refuse to hear Sam. Sadly, had she heard just some of what he was saying, she might have recognized that they agreed on a few things.

This all fits perfectly into the regressive modus operandi I’ve become so intimately familiar with as of late. It goes something this:

Starting with a person – let’s call him Mr. A – who is emotionally connected to Issue C through personal experience or the illusion of personal experience, or perhaps even just having a friend whose cousin was married to someone who experienced Issue C. Mr. A appears not to have ever really found closure for his experience, either personal or by proxy, of Issue C.

Mr. A is confronted by Miss B with an opinion on Issue C that is just slightly off from Mr. A’s own opinion by about a degree or two. No hostility is present. Instead, perhaps Miss B has just posed to Mr. A an honest question in passing during the course of an otherwise amicable conversation over the internet. This is when Mr. A’s emotional attachment to the subject takes over and kicks reason out to the sidewalk. Mr. A has experienced or known of someone at some point who experienced Issue C, and so Mr. A, and Mr. A alone, is the authority on how to deal with Issue C. Because reason has been set aside in favour of emotion, Mr. A finds it difficult to articulate the reasoning for his opinion on Issue C and this causes him to become more and more frustrated until finally, Mr. A becomes so flustered he pulls out the nastiest, most discrediting insult he can think of. It’s the only way Mr. A can defeat this opposing opinion – not with well-reasoned arguments, but rather with low-blows. This is precisely the moment in the conversation-turned-argument when the word, bigot comes out. Or perhaps misogynist. Maybe far-right or neo-nazi.

It matters not that perhaps Miss B has been an activist for the rights of certain minorities or maybe she herself is a member of a minority. It is of no consequence if she is married to someone who has experienced Issue C or that she herself has experienced Issue C. None of this matters, for the simple act of having a slightly differing opinion makes Miss B a bigot and there is no redemption. Period.

At this point, Miss B has a choice: she can either cut her losses and take off, citing the inability to get through to someone as emotional as Mr. A, or she can stand her ground and try to defend herself. The latter option, of course, just makes the situation worse. The more Miss B says, the deeper she gets sucked in. Now, it’s not just Mr. A calling her a bigot, it’s also Mr. D, Mrs. E, Miss F, Mr. G, and so on. Each of these people seems to pull more emotional individuals in on it, and they draw more people in until Miss B finds herself unable to even follow the conversation anymore. Muting no longer helps, and blocking is being circumvented by Mr. A sending fresh new people after Miss B. She’s being bombarded from every angle by people calling her a bigot and she can’t escape it. It’s even seeped away from the internet and into her real life. What’s worse, it seems her name has become synonymous with bigot. Newcomers to the dogpile seem not to require hard evidence that she’s a real bigot, they’re just there for the ride. She’s become toxic… tainted. Even the people who agree with her have chosen to stay out of it for fear of being painted with the same bigot brush as Miss B already has been. They’re terrified now of even discussing Issue C or so much as mentioning Miss B’s name because that simple act alone has now become the sole qualifier for being labelled a bigot themselves.

Mr. A, along with his gang of emotional bullies, has effectively shut out any dissenting opinion. The conversation, essentially, is closed to all those whose opinions differ in any minute way from the opinions of Mr. A and his fellow Issue C victims.

You can replace Issue C with fleeing your wartorn country of birth in search of asylum.

You can replace Issue C with rape.

You can replace Issue C with being racially profiled.

You can replace Issue C with Islam.

These are all important issues that need desperately to be discussed. These are conversations that are crucial to humanity’s collective progress. Being able to speak freely about them is the only way we will be able to find new solutions; new ideas and new paths to answers.

Instead, the conversations on these crucial topics are being shut down by the Mr. As of the world, through the mass discrediting of any and all who dare to disagree.

In order to keep these conversations going, anyone with a slightly differing opinion must first accept the fact that they will be labelled a bigot, not just once by one person, but relentlessly and incessantly by countless people who seem never to stop materializing no matter what efforts are taken to avoid said people. It will be to the extent that it becomes the norm; it becomes so commonplace for you to be labelled a bigot that no one even remembers why you’ve been labelled one in the first place. From this point forward, it won’t matter if you find the solution to world hunger or the cure for cancer. You will forever be a bigot to a large number of people whose tireless voices are always with you, lurking in every corner of your life chanting their mantra… bigot, bigot, bigot.

Let’s be clear about this: this is professional victimhood; emotional warfare; childish dogpiling. It’s not harmless. It’s not something we can ignore. Not only is it shutting down crucial contemporary conversations, but it is effectively silencing voices like that of our cherished Mr. Stephen Fry. This is a sort of censorship that hurts, especially for those who have spent their adult lives devoted to the fair and equal treatment of all people. To be called a bigot or a racist or a misogynist when you’ve worked hard against those very things… well, it hurts. It hurts a lot.

I never pegged Maryam for a regressive. In fact, I had always suspected she’d be a prime target for regressive smear campaigns. I still don’t really know if “regressive” applies here. This was one interview that she handled poorly and it could have been for any number of reasons. The thing is though, that after the interview ended, the tweets started up all over again; tweets targeted at Sam and Sam’s supporters. While Sam tweeted nothing save for a polite request to be respectful of Namazie, Maryam continued to cut him down to her own followers and seemed to revel in the downpour of tweets that joined her in that. One-on-one, Maryam told Sam she wouldn’t call him a bigot, but once the interview was over, she had no qualms about retweeting a tweet that called him prejudiced. You can’t really deny that her behaviour seems to fit the regressive M.O. like a glove.

I’m disappointed. I feel let down. Namazie’s work is important. She has many common goals with Sam Harris. She has common goals with most atheists and many of the people who’ve been labelled bigots in the wake of the Rubin/Robinson interview. But she is actively undermining these goals as her behaviour and the behaviour of those like her is polarizing the one group that could be strong enough to one day put a dent in the spread of Islamism, if only we were unified.

In this interview with Sam, she was dismissive and monopolizing. She wouldn’t answer questions, she wouldn’t listen and when anything was said that was contrary to her own precise opinions on the matter, she was quick to jump to “far-right” or “promoting the far-right narrative”. How do you communicate with someone like that?

The answer is disappointingly simple. You can’t.

I do hope this is the temporary state of things, though, because we need Maryam. Her voice, her nerve, her style would all be difficult to replace.

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