So, here’s the thing. One of the central lessons I learned after becoming involved with skepticism is that a bad idea deserves to be called out for what it is, and that at the core of your argument for or against an idea you should ensure that you attack just the idea and not the person or people making it, or those who hold the idea to be true. To do so is Ad Hominem and that’s a logical fallacy and those are not cool.
I also know, from experience, that there are some ideas which people get really quite defensive over when you point out how bad or stupid the idea is. For example, when I saw some religious people claiming that their prayers could cure MS and cancer, I told the Advertising Standards Authority, who then told them “don’t do that”. There was a bit of an international drama about it. The idea- that prayer cures -was what was being criticised, but people found it really difficult to differentiate an idea from their right to believe in said idea. Nobody- especially me -gives a crap if someone believes prayer can cure, or that the mother of Jesus Christ himself appeared on a tortilla once -but as soon as you start making claims (especially actionable claims) then it becomes a whole other situation.
I don’t care if it upsets you when people say prayer can’t cure but I will defend your right to believe that it can… just as I will defend the right of other people to say it doesn’t. But when your bad ideas start influencing the lives of others it changes and you deserve to be called out.
That’s why I find it so ridiculous that KPFA radio, after recently de-platforming Richard Dawkins, stated ‘While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech.’
That is some weird doublespeak right there.
Over on The Guardian Comment is Free, Philip Hensher writes that the only way he and friends could participate in Pride 2017 was via corporate wristbands which came with a list of rules. A much different experience, writes Hensher, than previous years and when Pride was a new thing. It reminded me of the closing scene of the movie Pride where the main characters are told that if they’re going to participate in the Gay Pride march with political slogans they’d have to do so right at the back of the procession because this year it was supposed to be a party.
When our lives as LGBTQ people are politicised even today based on the bad ideas people believe, watching that scene was a slap in the face.
When Islamic extremists throw people off of buildings because they’re LGBTQ and people say “Fuck Islamic Homophobia” in response, have they gone too far? Apparently so if the experience of The Council of Ex-Muslims of Great Britain’s (CEMB) at Pride 2017 is anything to go by.
“We need to stand up to racism and bigotry and at the same time, we should be able to criticise religion and the religious right… people should be allowed to criticise without threat or intimidation.” Those are the words of Maryam Namazie, the co-founder of CEMB. They were recently accused by a London mosque of “inciting hatred” against Muslims for participating in Pride 2017 with placard slogans reading “Allah is gay” and “Fuck Islamic Homophobia”.
It is, I suspect, these same sentiments- that religious texts taught by the wrong people with hateful agendas are harmful -that have seen Dawkins de-platformed from a speaking engagement. I think the question we have to ask here is who actually does the most harm – those who criticised precious ideas, or those who don’t allow bad ideas to be challenged for fear of causing offence? Do we not do a disservice to those who suffer as a result of harmful ideas if we do not challenge bad ideas regardless of how it offends others?
Do we not wash away years of struggle, oppression, hate and discrimination when we tell LGBTQ people how to behave at Pride? When we tell LGBTQ people that their spaces are not to be political anymore? Because sweet manufacturers and fast-food companies are now our fucking allies?
‘We used to insist on your silence; these days, we’ve kindly ensured that there is no reason for you to speak up. That’s an improvement, isn’t it? Now go away. Shut up. Listen to our explanations of your existence. Watch the licensed floats of gay-friendly insurance companies go by from behind the barrier. And be as grateful as I tell you to be,’ writes Hensher of the way in which he believes straight people still silence LGBTQ people in spaces for said minorities, such as Pride.
It alarmingly feels, more and more, as though life itself comes with a list of unspoken rules and that we’re all living life, aggressively so, dangerously close to practising abusive speech if we’re not careful. Criticism turns us who would be marginalised into aggressors guilty of a not-yet-determined thought crime where egos are at risk of being bruised.
Where is the tipping point? Where is the happy medium between one minority being allowed to harm another minority? Who should make the sacrifice to spare someone sad feelings? When is fighting back and defending oneself allowed and not allowed? When are people allowed to criticise that worthy of criticism? It certainly isn’t when Pride is commercial, ex-Muslims are labelled Islamophobic and event organisers cower in fear of hurting feelings.