• Sam Harris, Maryam Namazie and Criticizing One’s Ideological Allies

    When I first considered weighing in on the frustrating debate between Sam Harris and Maryam Namazie, I intended to try and rationalize the latter’s atrocious response to feedback on Twitter. After all, criticism undoubtedly feels more severe when you have tens of thousands of followers. If I write something contentious, I’m likely to hear from no more than half a dozen aggrieved readers. For someone like Namazie, clicking on her notifications must be the social media equivalent of the Normandy landings. And no matter how politely you word the tweet, your opinion is a snowflake within an avalanche of negative feedback.

    Inevitably, some of that feedback will be truly hostile. Even if 90 percent is civil, it’s tarnished by 10 percent of pernicious nonsense. It doesn’t matter that you were cordial or presented a sound argument. You ultimately agree with those bigots on this issue, and there is insufficient time to parse every response. As a result, the recipient’s first instinct isn’t to be fair to those polite people who agree, however narrowly, with the knuckle-dragging idiots hurling sexist and racist abuse.

    As I said at the outset, the above defense was going to be the thrust of my post. However, my feelings have evolved over the past several days. While everything I said in the first couple of paragraphs is true, at some point it ceases to be an excuse for behaviour that continues to be egregious. If you exported the recent content of Namazie’s Twitter onto Nathan Lean’s timeline, very few tweets would look out of place. She has accused her critics—as a group—of racism, misogyny, and guilt by association. I don’t give Lean a pass when he makes similar noises, so it would be hypocritical to absolve Namazie of blame. Here are just a few of her many tweets and approving retweets about her critics.


    Despite repeatedly claiming to only see individuals, she continues to make nasty generalizations about critics of her appearance on the Waking Up podcast. Despite stating that Harris is only responsible for his own words, she has associated him with every ugly tweet directed at her. Despite bemoaning the deeds of the far left, she is currently guilty of precisely the same thing. I rationalized Namazie’s ill-tempered response to Quilliam’s appointment of Adam Deen as their Head of Outreach, but it is simply indefensible to continually ignore her petulant behaviour.

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge my recent exchange with Amir Pars—someone similarly worthy of admiration. I politely questioned his claim that “atheist fanboys” represent the worst of Twitter. It’s fair to say Pars didn’t appreciate my perspective. He responded with all the equanimity of Joe Pesci in a Scorsese movie, before blocking me for querying the reasoning behind his claim. It took all of three contrary tweets for him to permanently retreat from the discussion. The silver lining to all of this is that the whole episode has alerted me to a bias I wasn’t conscious of having. Specifically, I am much more forgiving of people on the left when they express ignorance or act in bad faith.

    When Milo Yiannopoulos agrees with me on an issue, I am never in any doubt that our worldviews could scarcely be further apart. Consequently, I don’t hesitate to criticize him when he inevitably says something profoundly stupid. I should be equally critical of liberals. Endorsing terms like “the regressive left” shouldn’t give anyone license to behave appallingly, yet I don’t think I’m the only one who is hesitant to criticize individuals who agree with me on a pet issue. We only do ourselves a disservice when we fail to be even-handed.

    Category: AtheismFeaturedSecularismSkepticismSocial Justice

    Article by: James MacDonald

    James MacDonald is a freelance writer and featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. In addition to sports writing, James holds masters degrees in both Psychology and Social Sciences and covers subjects including sex, gender, secularism, media, and gaming, among others.