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What you can’t say about Islam - The backlash against Elizabeth Moon

Here is the thoughtful, rather temperately-worded blog piece by Elizabeth Moon that led to her being disinvited as a guest of honour at the feminist science fiction convention, Wiscon 35 (to be held in May next year in Madison, Wisconsin).

Moon is actually much less temperate about people like me, i.e. baby boomers, than she is about Muslims (I have no idea what her opening sentences are all about, but do read on). However, her remarks on Muslims in America were apparently considered so inflammatory that she was no longer a viable guest of honour for a relatively small convention held in a relatively small American city.

Shame on Wiscon. If you were thinking of going to Wiscon 35, I urge you to find something else to do that weekend. The Wiscon organisers, of course, have (and should have) the legal right to decide whom they consider an acceptable guest of honour; conversely, you have the right to decide where to spend your money. Don’t spend it on a committee that commits acts of bastardry such disinviting a guest because of something fairly moderate that she said in a blog post.

More generally, it is frightening how much it seems you now have to watch what you say in public if you don’t want to be ostracised. Judge for yourself. Read the entire post by Moon, to get it in context ... but these are apparently the paragraphs that have made her persona non grata:

When an Islamic group decided to build a memorial center at/near the site of the 9/11 attack, they should have been able to predict that this would upset a lot of people. Not only were the attackers Islamic—and not only did the Islamic world in general show indecent glee about the attack, but this was only the last of many attacks on citizens and installations of this country which Islamic groups proudly claimed credit for. That some Muslims died in the attacks is immaterial—does not wipe out the long, long chain of Islamic hostility. It would have been one thing to have the Muslim victims’ names placed with the others, and identified there as Muslims—but to use that site to proselytize for the religion that lies behind so many attacks on the innocent (I cannot forget the Jewish man in a wheelchair pushed over the side of the ship to drown, or Maj. Nadal’s attack on soldiers at Fort Hood) was bound to raise a stink. It is hard to believe that those making the application did not know that—did not anticipate it—and were not, in a way, probing to see if they could start a controversy. If they did not know, then they did not know enough about the culture into which they had moved. Though I am not angry about it, and have not spoken out in opposition, I do think it was a rude and tactless thing to propose (and, if carried out, to do.)

I know—I do not dispute—that many Muslims had nothing to do with the attacks, did not approve of them, would have stopped them if they could. I do not dispute that there are moderate, even liberal, Muslims, that many Muslims have all the virtues of civilized persons and are admirable in all those ways. I am totally, 100%, appalled at those who want to burn the Koran (which, by the way, I have read in English translation, with the same attention I’ve given to other holy books) or throw paint on mosques or beat up Muslims. But Muslims fail to recognize how much forbearance they’ve had. Schools in my area held consciousness-raising sessions for kids about not teasing children in Muslim-defined clothing…but not about not teasing Jewish children or racial minorities. More law enforcement was dedicated to protecting mosques than synagogues—and synagogues are still targeted for vandalism. What I heard, in my area, after 9/11, was not condemnation by local mosques of the attack—but an immediate cry for protection even before anything happened. Our church, and many others (not, obviously all) already had in place a “peace and reconciliation” program that urged us to understand, forgive, pray for, not just innocent Muslims but the attackers themselves. It sponsored a talk by a Muslim from a local mosque—but the talk was all about how wonderful Islam was—totally ignoring the historical roots of Islamic violence.

I can easily imagine how Muslims would react to my excusing the Crusades on the basis of Islamic aggression from 600 to 1000 C.E….(for instance, excusing the building of a church on the site of a mosque in Cordoba after the Reconquista by reminding them of the mosque built on the site of an important early Christian church in Antioch.) So I don’t give that lecture to the innocent Muslims I come in contact with. I would appreciate the same courtesy in return (and don’t get it.) The same with other points of Islam that I find appalling (especially as a free woman) and totally against those basic principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution…I feel that I personally (and many others) lean over backwards to put up with these things, to let Muslims believe stuff that unfits them for citizenship, on the grounds of their personal freedom. It would be helpful to have them understand what they’re demanding of me and others—how much more they’re asking than giving. It would be helpful for them to show more understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship in a non-Muslim country. (And the same is true for many others, of course. Libertarians, survivalists, Tea-Partyers, fundamentalist Christians, anyone else whose goals benefit only their own group. There’s been a huge decline in the understanding of good citizenship overall.)

Now, we could have an interesting discussion about whether Moon’s comments are correct, or the best emphasis, or open to counterexamples, or whatever. I’m not at all sure that I agree with them, myself, or think they are the most helpful thing to say in the circumstances. In fact, my own emphasis would probably have been rather different. But that’s not the point.

Whether or we agree with them or not, I find it extraordinary that her remarks would lead to her no longer being welcome as a guest of honour at a science fiction convention. If Moon’s remarks now count as hate speech, such as to make the speaker unacceptable at venues such as Wiscon, many of us are in deep trouble. As I think of all the things I’ve said in public that are far more provocative than this, I wonder just how anodyne we need to keep our public comments these days, at least if they are about Islam or Muslims, if we are not to lose our speaking platforms.

Forthright atheists are often accused of being prepared to speak out against the wrongs of Roman Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism, but not those of Islam. To a large extent, those accusations are false: we could find many examples where leading atheists do criticise Islam, and particularly political Islam. Still, many of us concentrate on what we know best, which is often Christianity. Furthermore, there’s an intimidation factor: let’s acknowledge it, radical Islamists have done a good job of muting the critique of Islam simply by demonstrating a propensity to extreme violence - think of what happened to Theo van Gogh and the current situation of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who must be heavily guarded wherever she goes. The intimidation factor is raised to an even higher level if it’s reaching the point where comments such as those of Elizabeth Moon can make you unwanted by convention organisers in Madison, Wisconsin. To borrow a phrase, Wiscon is not helping.

In all this, the convention organisers have done a disservice to the free flow of ideas about matters of public interest. They have also treated Elizabeth Moon with outrageous rudeness - there is no indication that she did anything to provoke what has happened to her, except use her blog to express some opinions. The Wiscon organisers ought to feel some rage.

Russell Blackford Ph.D. is a fellow of the IEET, an attorney, science fiction author and critic, philosopher, and public intellectual. Dr. Blackford serves as editor-in-chief of the IEET's Journal of Evolution and Technology. He lives in Newcastle, Australia, where he is a Conjoint Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle.


I think the immigration and acculturation issues the US and other countries in Europe face are not the eternal problems we think they are. The USA is in terminal decline and its ethos will be held up to scrutiny as the Eastern bloc rises. The cultural influence of China will start to dispel the magical ideas we in the USA have about the blessings of multiculturalism. China is far more a ethnocentric nation than we are and in her rise the value of homogeneity in language and ethnicity will become clear. Already Germany, which is developing ties with China, is disowning multiculturalism. Other nations in Europe will follow. Multiculturalism has never been anything other than a faddish movement of hypocritical elites, and is not popular with the vast majority of the citizenry.

... Freedom of thought 0.

We’ve been in deep trouble since the emergence of the meme, which probably pretty much coevolved - it’s not a bug, it’s a feature - with the still-quite-primitive (last update 50K years ago?) and utterly defenseless mind.

The meme is mightier than the mind.

Thanks for letting us know about this, Russell - I agree with what ELizabeth said and it is deplorable that she was disinvited by Wisconsin.  I am an atheist myself and I agree with you, it is important now for atheists to seriously criticize Islam.  I recommend Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s books to everyone and I am currently reading “The Atheist Manifesto” by the French philosopher Michel Onfray - a great read.  The web link “Planck’s Constant” is also very entertaining and informative.

What she wrote is a pretty angry peice of anti Islamic vitriol. She calls the Mosque a “memorial”, she cites a long history of hostility of muslims to the US, and then she hides behind the usual “not-all-muslims-are-guilty excuse” to show that she is not a bigot. How can anyone call a blood libel against all muslims for 911 a moderate rebuke is beyond me. 911 was carried out by al-qaida which is a secret organization like the Mosad or CIA and it has nothing to do with muslims. Blaming muslims for any terror act is a blood libel like “jews killed jesus christ” and we all how that worked out for Jewish people through the centuries. This women should be shunned for instigating hate against muslims and fellow Americans.

Gabaldoon, in which sentence was Moon guilty of a blood libel against all muslims for 911?

Hi Gabaldoon - you are over-reacting and over-stating your case, and you’re demonstrating the same total absence of understanding, compassion, or appreciation of anyone else’s perspective that Elizabeth Moon pointed out in her article.  I am not going to engage in any discussion with you, after this note, because I believe that you are a Muslim yourself, and my personal policy is to avoid useless time-consuming dialogue with people who have irrational belief systems.  I’m an atheist and I am hoping to live on a sensible, atheist planet in the not-too-distant future.  Please consider reading the books and websites I recommended above.

I can see Moon’s comments offended folks, particularly given her military background.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan makes a mockery of the forbearance she mentions. The United States armed forces have kill tens if not hundreds of thousands of Mulsims over the past decade, occasionally with an explicit holy war message. American atheists need to remember the terrifying strains of Christianity within this county’s military and understand the imperialistic political implications of only attacking Islam.

What Elizabeth Moon said was NOT mild, and she was not “disinvited.”  In fact she is still welcome to attend the convention.  The organizers merely withdrew their offer to grant her a singular “honored” status.
  What the organizers objected to was the fact that Moon has lent her voice to a growing anti-Muslim scapegoating in this country.  She repeated several inflamatory falsehoods which, even if you believe (as I do) that Moon wasn’t intentionally lying, she nevertheless added her voice to those who are spreading disinformation.  These were, at best, mistakes that could have easily been avoided by someone not already pre-disposed to believe the worst.  Consider:
  - It is absolutely not true that “the Islamic world in general show[ed] indecent glee about the attack” - in fact the opposite was the case around the world.  For God’s sake, even IRAN expressed sympathy for the U.S. and the victims of the attack, and condemned the attackers! 
  - It is also irresponsible and grossly offensive to call the equivalent of a YMCA or a YWHA a “memorial” to an act of terrorism.  That neighborhood of Manhatten is home to a long-standing Muslim community, one that long pre-dates the 9/11 attacks.
- The phrase “many Muslims had nothing to do with the attacks” is ludicrous in its implication - akin, as one has commenter nateably put it, to saying that many British people are not members of the Beatles.  Ms. Moon is a professional writer, and had to have known the impact of this kind of faint praise.
- Much of Ms. Moon’s argument centered on the need for immigrants to accept assimilation and to forebear initial distrust as part of the price for becoming Americans.  While this argument is debatable, the real problem is the assumption that all Muslims in the U.S. are immigrants.  Yes, many are.  However, many are not, and to unthinkingly assume otherwise only strengthens the element of xenophobic bigotry in the overall scapegoating going on in this country.

You could dismiss WisCon as just a science fiction convention.  And some might avoid dealing with my comments by claiming I must be a Muslim myself, which apparently would negate the truth of anything I may say.  (For the record, I was raised Catholic, an organization I have cut ties with.)  However, the fact remains that there is a growing effort in this country to relegate millions of our fellow citizens to second class status, and however clumsily they may have done it, the WisCon organizers have taken their own small stand against this pernicious tide, and for that they should be respected.

Sentence? She says, “the religion behind so many attacks on the innocent”, “not only were the attackers (911) islamic”, “belief that makes them UNFIT for citizenship”, “totally ignoring the historical roots of islamic violence.” I could go on. An then she concludes by implying that she had it with them. enough is enough. This is a bright green light for anyone thinking about doing something. This is not a question of defending Islam or any other beleif. it is about the tendency to blame minorities for the problems facing a country. Saying that we have terrorism because Islam corrupts the mind of the human being, and turns the individual into a zombie is a disservice to everyone. we expect better from people like miss. Moon.

Thank you Saffi-Anne.  You said better than I what I wanted to say.  And I agree with the views of Galdaboon too.  I am very happy that Moon was disinvited as a guest of honor.  Why was her a guest of honor to begin with? 
I am amazed by the anti-Islam bigotry of so many atheists - including Sam Harris.  I am an atheist myself and I cannot believe these grotesque comments.

Gabaldoon, it’s sad that you must resort to misquoting and truncating in order to attack Moon. You wrote: “belief that makes them UNFIT for citizenship” but she wrote: “I feel that I personally (and many others) lean over backwards to put up with these things, to let Muslims believe stuff that unfits them for citizenship.

You’re under this incorrect notion that Moon means believing in ALL Islamic “stuff” when it is super clear she’s only talking about CERTAIN Islamic “stuff.”

And if she’s leaning backwards to put up with these things, then that’s a far cry from your claim that she “had it with them.”

Further, you wrote, “it is about the tendency to blame minorities for the problems facing a country.” How in the world did you jump from Islamic radicals to “minorities”?

And you point out what Moon wrote: “totally ignoring the historical roots of islamic violence.”

Like you’re doing?

When are people going to realise that these terror attacks and wars have absolutely nothing to do with religion, but POLITICS and POWER STRUGGLES - it IS NOT a holy or religious war, even though Bin Laden and co. wish to promote it as such to antagonise and cause exactly the type of infantile gesturing and support explored here.

If you want to beat terrorism then act - to change minds, through education and discussion.

@ Russell - if you are seriously concerned about the treatment of Moon, then instead of proposing that folks boycott Wiscon, (which is hardly realistic or effective), why don’t you petition or draft an e-mail to the organisers?

Moon has some vague point in her blog, somewhere? (I couldn’t read it all, just too long and tedious), regarding “bending over backwards” for religious groups? But unfortunately, her rhetoric is rather inflammatory, (as intended), and as blind to the real issues of politics and terrorism as with most others, unless that is, she is a believer in this so called “holy war” scenario herself?

In which case, get over it ! get real ! stop the blind confused terrorist propaganda before it leaves the cave ! Use your heads ! (Islam and Christians and Atheists alike). Start having some constructive dialogue concerning politics and manipulation. Start changing minds and memes instead of attacking each other.

Oh yes.. and protect your rights to free speech, promote secularism, and don’t be afraid !

This story is incomplete.

After Moon posted this essay, there were over 500 comments in response, most of them civil, explaining why what she said was so offensive. (screencaps and pdfs of most of the comments: )

She then deleted those comments, describing them as ‘slag,’ and has refused to discuss the matter any more in the community.

For those reasons, the invitation to HONOR her at a progressive feminist science fiction convention was withdrawn. Discussion and self-education are part of the core values of Wiscon. She has shown that she is disinterested in those values.

for Lucette—oh good grief.  You’re an atheist but you don’t like Sam Harris’s attitude towards Islam?  Sam Harris is trying to make the world a better place by ridding the world of dangerous, foolish notions.  You are probably a cultural relativist.  I am not.  Read Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I suggest.  Islam needs an “Enlightenment” in her opinion, or it will continue to create fanatics that use the Koran to justify their behavior, the same way Christian fundamentalists and Jewish Orthodox use their false “holy books” to justify their atrocious actions and ideas.  You say you are an atheist, all right, you might be, but you also have a very conciliatory attitude towards destructive ignorance, and Sam Harris does not.

Hank, your piece on Israeli h+ was a good defense of Israel, without insulting Islam—there is nothing—as far as I know—in the Koran specifically prohibiting transhumanism.
I re-posted your piece on the American Spectator blog, and a conservative at AS went into raptures.

for postfuturist—ha ha, you crack me up.  Thanks for posting me there.  Yes, it is odd, my parents are ultra-conservative Christians, and the only thing we ever agree on is probably Israel

I believe that Moon’s comments, taken in context, were actually rather qualified and nuanced. What is truly sad is that America (and the UK, for that matter) have become so appallingly politicized and intellectually coercive that people cannot voice an opinion, honestly held, without being excoriated and punished.

I’ve been railing against the current right-wing and teabagger phobia and scapegoating of dark-skinned people, immigrants, muslims, etc., myself for some months. It’s out there, and it’s very real. But IMO anyone who reads prejudice or hatred into Moon’s rather thoughtful post is not seeing beyond their own anger and fears. ‘Anti-Islamic vitriol?’ Oh, good grief.

Ms. Moon appeared to me to be voicing some honest concerns and issues that would benefit from public discussion—in exactly the same way as NPR’s Juan Williams was. But neither the Right nor the Left want honest, thoughtful dialogue, do they? Rage and towering indignation are so much easier and deadlier than nuanced discussion and the asking of reasonable questions. It’s so much easier to crucify than to engage.

Shame on Wiscon. When a community of writers and readers becomes so blinkered by an ideology, they do the entire genre a disservice.

I’m a fan of Elizabeth Moon’s work and have met her a few times, including at WisCon when she previously attended on her own. I have always thought that she would be a great WisCon Guest of Honor, both as a feminist and as a good writer. I was thrilled when I found out she was invited. I was dismayed when I read her post. There were so many things that she got wrong, starting with the idea that a community center was a “memorial center”. The idea that there is a limit to how much forbearance we can grant to all Muslims, no matter how innocent and decent they may be, while a few of their distant coreligionists are attacking us, is not only wrong but hurtful. I can only figure that she wasn’t thinking, because I know her to be a better person than that. Unfortunately, Ms. Moon upset people even more by deleting the comments that were critical of her post, while leaving the post standing.

As for your comments, Dr. Blackford: The idea that WisCon is somehow blinkered by ideology is less than compelling. The facts matter in this. You can say “we could have an interesting discussion about whether Ms. Moon’s comments are correct”, but then until we have that discussion and establish the facts it is not fair to say shame on any party.

Ms.Moon may be well-intentioned but her argument is fallacious and dangerous. Co-religionists are not morally responsible for others’ crimes. To promote this fallacy is inaccurate and harmful.

Consider one analogy. What is the percentage of Muslims who have been accused of terrorism? One thousandth of one percent of 1.5 billion Muslims is 15,000 terrorists. By analogy, the percentage of American Catholics convicted of pedophilia is greater than 1 thousandth of 1% (assuming 50 million American Catholics and 500 pedophiliacs, not just priests but priests and congregants). Is Ms.Moon arguing that all American Catholics are responsible for supporting pedophilia?

Take this analogy one small step further. What percentage of Muslims send money to Al-Qaeda or Hamas? What percent of American Catholics donate to support an institution which actively “aided and abetted” felony pedophilia? Is Ms Moon opposed to Catholic Churches near schools?

What percentage of American ministers today preach homophobia? Are all American christians guily of supporting homophobia, even if their church instead preaches GLBT rights?

What percentage of American veterans ( 3 of 1.5 million?) participated in the Oklahoma City bombing? Would Ms. Moon prohibit erection of a veterans monument within blocks of that tragedy?

This fallacy is dangerous. It promotes fear of a broad group based on the acts of a small proportion of the groups members. Fear of the ‘other’ is not a peculiarly American problem; it is a peculiarly Human (mammalian?) problem. But if Transhumanism is to mean anything in terms of ethical progress, it is we as self-described transhumanists who must promote evidence-based limits to ascribing moral responsibility to others.

Richard’s post is a hard one to follow; he said it all.
But, Richard, you might want to lighten up just a bit, politics is a serious game, but a game nonetheless; you don’t have to take it THAT seriously.
At any rate, as long as Israel doesn’t remain the bugbear of the Mideast forever. Israel is so small, holding Israel culpable in the region is like blaming Rhode Island for all of America’s difficulties.
Some bad karma involved on the part of Israel’s enemies as well: there was substantial support for the Third Reich from Israel’s enemies in the region. Naturally, it was two generations ago; however since Israel’s enemies bring up 1948 so much, is it too out of line to mention 1939- ‘45? or is such as tiring as continually mentioning 1948?
Main question: isn’t it as mistaken to blame Israel for the Mideast’s problems as it is to blame Germany for Europe’s?

Voidampersand, the comments you refer to in your closing paragraph were mine, not Dr. Blackford’s.

I say it again: Ms. Moon’s critics are not seeing past their own ideologies. Wrong and hurtful? Wiscon’s uninviting her was a wholly unjustified punitive act against her freedom of speech and ideas. It doesn’t get any more wrong and hurtful than that.

How the Right must be laughing at us tearing our own to pieces in our ideological fervor. I’m a liberal, but one who believes in honestly facing and discussing rights, wrongs, prejudices, and fears as Ms Moon (and in my example above Juan Williams) did. The argument that that Ms. Moon somehow brought everything on herself by deleting the posts is specious and misleading: reasonable people expect reasonable reactions to nuanced opinion, not a flood of anger and invective. Maybe she was naive, but I can well understand her being so sick and horrified that she just trashed the lot.

On occasions like this, I’m as wary and disturbed by the insensate rage I see among fellow liberals than what I see on the far Right. Hell, I don’t even dare post under my own name.

Russell you say:
“I’m not at all sure that I agree with them, myself, or think they are the most helpful thing to say in the circumstances.”

How extraordinarily diplomatic! Surely Moon’s blog is a sightly unhinged diatribe. Not normally worth reading. Does it count as ‘hate speech’? Don’t know. Have never been entirely sure what that actually meant.  I hate John Howard does that count as hate speech?  Do we need to be “anodyne” in our discussion of Islam? I don’t think so but it would be helpful if we actually knew what we were talking about. Moon clearly does not. Had she said “Wahabists are all whack jobs” I suspect the majority of the world’s Muslims would have cheered her on. And – forgive me for saying so – but your comments seem to be perpetuating the myth that it’s particularly dangerous to discuss Islam as such. You name Theo van Gogh (murdered by a nut case) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who purports to be in danger). But consider, at least eight people have been killed by fundamentalist Christians at abortion clinics in the U.S. alone. Does this mean that you are intimidated into silence regarding the discussion of Christianity or abortion? Or is it only acts of violence by the followers of Islam that are intimidating? Should the Wiscon organizers have dis-invited Moon for her comments? (it seems they haven’t anyway) Well, perhaps it was impolite but there is no evidence that it will have the effect of stifling free speech. Surely, as someone who is cyber-savey you are aware that people lose (or don’t get) jobs because of their intemperate remarks on blog sites and the like. I don’t see much difference here.

What one says in public has consequences and one either has the courage to stand by one’s comments or one does not. So what are you actually trying to show? That all conference organizers must invite everyone no matter how offensive they find their views? Writers are somehow exempt from all scrutiny?

Most progressives are very attached to being “multiculturalists’ but I personally regard this as an impossible stance.  Atheists and feminists also frequently support multiculturalism, but this, to me, is equally ludicrous.  I am personally in agreement with thinkers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christopher Hitchens—they are atheists, feminists, radical progressives who correctly see that it is counter-productive to support cultures (like Islam) that promote anti-progressive ideas.  I think supporting and defending cultures that have reactionary ideas is self-destructive.

Richard B writes: “Consider one analogy. What is the percentage of Muslims who have been accused of terrorism? One thousandth of one percent of 1.5 billion Muslims is 15,000 terrorists. By analogy, the percentage of American Catholics convicted of pedophilia is greater than 1 thousandth of 1% (assuming 50 million American Catholics and 500 pedophiliacs, not just priests but priests and congregants). Is Ms.Moon arguing that all American Catholics are responsible for supporting pedophilia? “

I don’t understand why you asked this question. After all, it is abundantly clear from her words (words some people here seem to dismiss or ignore) that the answer is no.

I also don’t know why you’re guessing at percentages of Muslims who support terrorism. Why not link to some sources? Here are two: —“Pew survey finds 1 in 4 support attacks to defend religion in some cases “

One reason the Muslim issue confounds the discussion regarding toleration of differing opinion is the strong whiff of the historical. It is not as if Islam did not attempt over several hundred bloody years to conquer Europe and by the sword convert it to its version of religious truth; and the same counter-argument can and is used as a barb to the “Crusaders” of Europe and by dubious extension North America.
There is no compelling argument I can think of to increase the presence of large numbers of Muslims on our continent. As Lawrence Auster has said, that presence assures one thing : the tedious and wasteful hassles we experience at airports and (count on it) more or less everywhere else will go on forever.
Unless of course a dissenter out there thinks he can out-lobby the Department of Homeland Security?

On the religious side, I see only memes talking.

Maybe you need to get better glasses, Arghtheist?

“I don’t understand why you asked this question. After all, it is abundantly clear from her words (words some people here seem to dismiss or ignore) that the answer is no.”

Richard takes the blog too much to heart. When one arrives at the point of discussing the stats involving jihads and pedophiles, it is time to put a little distance (one doesn’t want to get too close) between oneself and a blog topic. That is to say, there are OTHER subjects for discussion.


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