A Polite Conversation with Maryam Namazie

Eiynah, who blogs at Nice Mangoes, has now recorded a very interesting interview with Maryam Namazie, the first in a projected series of ‘Polite Conversations with Eiynah and Paul’.  Polite it certainly was – but apparently unsuitable for YouTube:

This is the first episode of our podcast that was removed from YouTube almost as quickly as we uploaded it. It was flagged as inappropriate and our brand new account, which had no other content on it was reported has being one that repeatedly and severely violated community guidelines….

However you can listen to it here, courtesy of soundcloud.

Eiynah (who is Canadian) and Maryam began with a discussion of the #exmuslimbecause hashtag, and the opposition this initiative faced, not just from (some) Muslims, but from the ‘regressive left’.   As Eiynah points out (11:35) it’s actually quite bigoted to assume that Muslims will be offended by ex-Muslim activists.  For many Muslims are themselves secularists, and are fighting much the same battles.

She also criticises the double standards of many liberals, mentioning John Stewart of the Daily Show, a comedian who is happy to mock the far right and Christianity.  However he ‘welcomes Reza Aslan with the warmth of a thousand suns .. when Reza Aslan is spouting complete nonsense’, while viewing critics of Islam with suspicion (from 12:00).  Depressingly, Eiynah feels she is viewed as an anti-Muslim bigot even though she consistently opposes bigots.

There’s a good discussion of Maryam’s recent talk at Goldsmiths (from 23:00), and the way in which it was disrupted by Islamists, who ludicrously whinged about ‘safe space’ while behaving in a thoroughly intimidating way.  Maryam described how she later received letters from people who explained that they agreed with her but had found it impossible to speak out at the time because of the threatening atmosphere.

I thought Maryam made an interesting link (from 40:30) between the way two apparently opposed forces, the regressive left and the far right, both see Muslims as a homogenous block, and both of them use identity politics (in different ways) to promote their agendas.

Much of the second half of the interview (from 42:00) is focused on refugees.  Here Maryam emphasised the importance of treating people as individuals and acknowledging that many Muslim refugees are themselves fleeing Islamist regimes.  Her insistence on compassion and rejection of bigotry is sympathetic, but I thought there were some problems in her argument.  For example (from 51:00) she agrees that terrorists should be excluded, but cautions against discriminating against Muslims who may merely be conservative, invoking her own parents (53:15) as examples of benign but ‘very conservative’ Muslims.  Yet there is, I’m guessing, a good deal of middle ground between Maryam’s parents and active terrorists.  I’m not saying her answer is necessarily wrong – but I think the question is rather more difficult than she allows.

This tricky topic paved the way for an interesting discussion about the fault lines within secularism.  Sam Harris (from 54:30) seems to be viewed as an ally who gets some things wrong – for example (it is implied) inviting Douglas Murray on his show.  Inching further along this contentious spectrum, Eiynah moves on to express dismay at being cross-posted without permission by Robert Spencer.  She then (from 1.03.30) describes how she interviewed Tommy Robinson after he left the EDL because she hoped he might have genuinely changed his ways.  I agree with Maryam that these hopes, which I shared at the time, have been dashed.

I find these quarrels within secularism intriguing.  The differences can be subtle, but are perhaps all the more hotly fought over for just that reason.

“It’s why you say it, it’s how you say it, it’s for what ends you say it.” 107.30

I’d say it’s secularists on the left who guard their borders most anxiously – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that secularists across the spectrum are wary of those to their right, wherever ‘to their right’ happens to be.

It is ironic, given its focus on the way in which dissident and ex-Muslim voices get shouted down, that this podcast was silenced before its existence was even announced. Good luck to Eiynah as she tries to get her YouTube channel reinstated – and I look forward to further Polite Conversations.