The Women’s Leadership Project Review of 2012

Doctor Sikivu Hutchinson, the activist, scholar, author of what I believe to be the most important atheist book written to date, and huge inspiration to me, is amongst other things the founder of the Women’s Leadership Project, a feminist mentoring program for middle and high school aged women in South Los Angeles. I wrote about them a few months ago in my piece on the activism of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and how I believe atheist activism can and should focus its attentions more on issues pertaining to more than just separation of church and state.

They recently posted a recap of their work in 2012, and what they have to report is inspiring:

  • WLP Wash Prep & GHS developed and facilitated Days of Dialogue, HIV/AIDS, reproductive justice, sexual assault awareness, AB540, media literacy and voter awareness presentations
  • WLP Wash Prep students registered new voters at Wash Prep and Duke Ellington HS
  • WLP launched Wash Prep’s Gay/Straight Alliance
  • WLP students and alum developed and presented at the HRC’s annual Youth Media Education Conference
  • WLP alum joined with community partners Black Women for Wellness and FUEL to conduct four college panels at Wash Prep, GHS and Cal State Dominguez Hills
  • WLP Wash Prep president Jamion Allen spoke before the LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District] Human Relations Commission on bullying and harassment
  • WLP Wash Prep sponsored Chicano student movement activist and change agent Paula Crisostomo for Women’s History Month & the Women of Color Speaker Series
  • WLP GHS member Karly Jeter (class of ’13) won a full four year Posse Foundation Scholarship to the College of William & Mary in D.C.
  • WLP Wash Prep member Victory Yates (class of ’13) was a finalist for a Posse Foundation Scholarship to Grinnell College
  • WLP GHS president Miani Giron (class of ’12) won full scholarships from the Posse Foundation and the Horatio Alger Foundation
  • WLP GHS seniors & alum Lizeth Soria, Janeth Silva, Imani Moses, Brenda Briones, Mayra Burunda, Clay Wesley (class of ’10), Miani Giron, Jimena Villa and Ronmely Andrade received community leadership “First in the Family” scholarships from the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable and the Wells Fargo Foundation
  • Mayra Borunda (class of ’10) made the President’s List at CSU Long Beach during her first semester with a GPA of 3.8 and is currently on the Dean’s List with a GPA of a 3.67.
  • Brenda Briones (class of ’12) got a 4.0 during her first college semester.
The students themselves had a lot to say about how their involvement with the WLP has affected them [emphasis mine]:

“In my home and in my community I have always understood that a higher education is not as important as having kids and staying home to clean and cook like a “real woman/ wife” does.

I think of Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) as the light in the darkness. As a senior at Gardena, I had no hope or desire to go to college before WLP. I used to think it would be impossible for me to attend college because I’m undocumented.”

– Liz Soria

“I never really questioned how the media portrays women of color. So, having WLP teach us how to observe and analyze the media helped me understand why young girls feel pressured to have ‘that long hair,’ ‘those blue eyes’—even if they are contacts, and “that nice body.” Aside from learning how to recognize these issues, we also did a lot of work to fight things that like sexual harassment. I know some people may say, ‘oh, just ignore it,’ but it’s not ok to ignore sexual harassment because by staying quiet, you begin to normalize it.”

– Imani Moses, Class of ’11

In my opinion, the WLP is doing absolutely incredible work, and we as a community of secularists should be bringing more attention to them. This is the kind of activism that our movement should be looking to invest in; fixing the education system using these kind of methods, using skepticism and rationality to help kids who probably never had anyone invested in their successes before care about them and help them learn. When a population realizes just how the world works, as an entrenched system of intersecting inequalities kept in place through convention and apathy, we can really shake things up.
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Papercuts: Transmisogyny, Western Atheists, and the Meaning of Oppression

[trigger warning for transphobia, transmisogny, discussion of gendered violence]

Over the weekend, a giant shitstorm erupted in feminist circles over an article by Suzanne Moore, a British writer, who, in a column for the New Statesman, which is most of the time one of the best news outlets in the world in this blogger’s opinion, made the following comment while talking about discrimination against women:

We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape—that of a Brazilian transsexual.

Now, the rest of the piece being quite good, it’s entirely possible that it was just a case of using an easy stereotype to get a point across. Which still isn’t okay, but it would be miles better than what actually happened. What actually happened was that she doubled down on her bigotry, and she double down hard. From Nico Lang, who recaps the three ways she responded to her critics on Twitter:

1. On using the problematic “transsexual” instead of trans or transgender: “I use the word transexual. I use lots of ‘offensive’ words. If you want to be offended it your prerogative.”

2. When asked why her work doesn’t recognize the intersectionality at hand: “I dont even accept the word transphobia any more than Islamaphobia You are using ‘intersectionality’ to shut down debate. Its bollocks.”

3. When she’s run out of things to say, FTW: “People can just f**k off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.”

Then, it got even worse. Julie Burchill, another well-known British feminist, took it upon herself to defend Moore in a hate-filled screed that is more fitting for a right-wing message board than anything, much less The Observer, a reputable British paper whose editors clearly left their reading glasses at home that day. I’d recommend caution clicking that link above, because it is truly, truly appalling. So much so that The Observer took it off their webpage. And, hopefully, they’ll be hiring new copy editors sometime soon.

The worst thing about this whole debacle isn’t just that it happened in the first place, and in some of the most reputable progressive news outlets in the world, but the fact that it is nothing new. In fact, Burchill has a twenty-year long history of transphobia. This kind of demonization of trans* and non-binary people is a constant fixture of our society. Trans* women in particular are used as punchlines as a matter of course throughout media, as Nico recently explored in the show New Normal. They are exploited for their otherness, made objects, never given their own agency in our societal discourse. And this has an impact.

All in all, trans* people are completely ostracized from our conception, existing in a space outside the norms, where the wider world views them at best as objects of curiosity, at worst subhumans only worthy of exploitation and violence. Even with the passing into law of the Matthew Shepard Act, trans* people face overwhelming amounts of violence and abuse. It was estimated by the William and Mary Law Review in 2000 that murders of trans people worldwide are reported about every three days, and that it is highly probable that many more murders go unreported.* Especially in Brazil, the murder rate for trans* women is staggering, making Moore’s initial comment all the more awful. Furthermore, there are very few places where trans* people are allowed to exist at all, in any way approaching humane; in the US, only a few states and cities have set up laws to specifically prevent discrmination on the basis of gender identity, and most countries have none at all. In many cases, violence against trans* people comes not from the average citizens, but from the police.

I have no idea whether Moore and Burchill know anything about what trans* women face on a daily basis. I suspect they don’t give a damn. And that is a problem, and it’s one those of you reading this who are interested in social justice, and, hope against hope, those who generally are not can realize is one that needs solving.

See, when I came to Chicago three and a half years ago now, I had no idea any of this was going on. I wouldn’t call myself a transphobe or anything like that then, but I definitely had no conception of what transgender really meant, much less did I ever think about the issues involved or that trans* people even really existed. It just wasn’t something that I ever really thought about, nor had I ever received any kind of education on the matter. That in my second year of studying at DePaul, when I was introduced by my best friend here to a group of wonderful people who proceeded to completely change my worldview with their stories, their evidence, their resources, their voices. Old concerns, like those still tightly clung to by the mainstream atheist set who deride the idea of secular involvement in social justice activism,  now, as presented, with only the lense of Western secularism, seem naive and uninformed.

I would argue that there is a distinction to be made between discrmination on the one hand and systemic oppression on the other. Atheists and secular people are certainly not viewed with a great deal of positivity in the US or in most of the world; as Greta lays out, discrimination against atheists has recently turned violent in many parts of the globe, particulary in the Middle East. In every case she lists, it is the police or state criminal justice system that is responsible for the punishment of atheists. In the cases of Alexander Aan and Albert Saber, the police turned a blind eye to violence inflicted upon them by civilians, arresting not a single one of either man’s attackers.

Haven’t we heard something like that before? Systemic violence and incarceration of a dehumanized group? Oh yes, right, when I was discussing trans* oppression a few paragraphs ago.

I would put forth that those like Maria Maltseva who are up in arms over the fact that they Totally Suffer Really Awful Oppression by being atheists in America are out of their damn minds. Yeah, religious people are the majority in this country, and Christian interests in particular exert a huge and unwieldy influence over our politicians. But honestly, to look at the kinds of things that are happening to women, people of color, and trans* people on a daily basis in this country and, frankly, everywhere else around the world, and insist that that Nativity scene on the lawn is a Real Problem, but then not lift a hand to fight against the oppression and war against entire groups of people by our police and criminal justice system is unethical at best, criminally negligent at worst.

American atheists are not oppressed. We are not the Other. We are not dehumanized as a matter of course. We aren’t fetishized objects for audiences to drool over. Our agency and identities are not lampooned and erased because of our atheism. We have blogs read by millions. Heads of our nonprofits get on the mainstream media regularly. Those organizations, for the most part, have good-sized budgets, ranking in the millions of dollars. We’ve got some issues to overcome before we have a truly equal footing in society, yeah. But pretending like getting “In God We Trust” off the money won’t do a damned thing to change the world. We have to use our positions to tackle real oppression, or we’ll never live in a truly free society. In the grand scheme of things, we as Western atheists have some minor, papercut level inconveniences. To pretend that papercut is a gaping head wound is patently absurd, and we need to stop it.

* Frye, Phyllis (Fall 2000). “The International Bill of Gender Rights vs. The Cide House Rules: Transgenders struggle with the courts over what clothing they are allowed to wear on the job, which restroom they are allowed to use on the job, their right to marry, and the very definition of their sex”. William and Mary Journal of Women and the Law 7: 139–145

A Reintroduction

Hi all. I’m back after a bit of a self-imposed break from the internet. I’m going to do my best to get back to regular posting quickly, but given the restart of school and today’s release of the last book in the Wheel of Time series, that may not happen for a bit. We shall see.

In any case, I wanted to take some time not just to talk about the last piece I wrote before going on break, wherein I said some, well, controversial things about two big atheist organizations, but also to give the new readers here something of a reintroduction to who I am and why I think what I do. This blog’s readership isn’t huge yet, but it has exploded over the past four months as I’ve started posting regularly.

So, given that, hello again. My name is Andrew, and I’m a senior studying philosophy and art history at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. My work focuses on ethics, political philosophy, feminism, critical race theory, aesthetics, and how all of them intersect. I’m also, as you might have noticed, an atheist, and furthermore, I’m one of those super evil nonreligious people who think that nonbelievers, and everyone, for a matter of fact, should concern themselves with social justice issues and work to make the world a more just place. i.e. I want to kill your freeze peaches, MRA’s and associated enablers of oppression. To that end, I do activism in not just atheist spaces, but also in the realms of feminism, trans* issues, and race issues.

Regarding that, I write a lot about how the atheist movement works and why I feel it is lacking, particularly in the case of the larger, more recognizable groups like American Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, who I criticized for what I believe is lackluster activism in regards to their activities during the holiday season. There was a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, from a lot of spaces, some surprising, some far less so. I’m not going to go through and respond to every critic in this post, because I just do not have the willpower. Rather, I want to try to explain, in a bit greater detail, why I hold the beliefs I do about those groups, and why I think AA in particular is not doing good activism.

Firstly, I have argued in the past that atheism alone does not engender goodness, or a ethical selfhood. We know this by simple observation of the movement as it exists today; by any decent standard, the people who constantly harass Amy Davis Roth, Rebecca Watson, Melody Hensley, Sarah Moglia, and other feminist atheists, are not good people. They sometimes even put their targets’ safety at risk as did Justin Vacula when he posted Amy’s address on the internet, or thunderf00t did when he hacked FreethoughtBlogs and stole personal information of Natalie Reed’s. The people who do such things are only too proud declare themselves atheists, free of the religious dogma they so love to lampoon, and yet they act like middle school bullies.

I am not lumping Dave Silverman or Annie Laurie Gaylor in with them; I don’t particularly care for the Silverman’s style, but he’s not anywhere near the category that Vacula or Ed Clint are. I merely use the example to illustrate that atheism does not equal goodness automatically, which is a belief that both Silverman and Gaylor seem to hold. At least, this is what seems, to me, to be indicated by their advertising campaigns. American Atheists put up big, flashy, if not particularly well designed or copy edited, PR stunts to drive membership and attempt to bring people to atheism. The FFRF fights for the separation of church and state first and foremost, but also uses billboards to indicate to the average passerby that atheists do exist, are good people, and aren’t baby-eating monsters.

This is all well and good. I would be rightly pilloried were I to say that I didn’t want there to be more people holding a secular worldview in our society, or that I did not want the influence of religion to decline in our government and those elsewhere. However, where it seems Silverman simply wants to get our numbers up, to the point where he seems to deliberately misread statistics to claim there are far more American nonbelievers than there are, I want people to become members of the atheist movement for the right reasons. I want people to be attracted to atheism because atheists are good people who do good works, not simply because we all don’t believe in any gods. I want atheism to be a proper movement, one that works together with our natural allies to end oppression, rather than what it still is now, a white boys’ club that is hostile to traditionally marginalized groups like women, people of color, people outside the gender binary, and people with disabilities. Right now, most of the big atheist organizations are not doing that; they are making PR stunts, looking for numbers, not for complications. We need to convince people to join the secular movement because it is a good thing, because the movement is an ethical, change-driven one, not just because, as AA endlessly points out, religion is dumb.

To that end, what you are going to find on this blog is going to vary widely. I will probably talk about the newest snafus in the movement and try to analyze what goes on. I will talk about feminism, particularly regarding chivalry, on which I plan to have a series of posts coming in the next weeks. I will talk about queer issues, about ableism, about violence, about racism. I will use my training as a budding historian of art and architecture to show how aesthetics and how we interact with our world intersect and work to hold up systemic oppressions. I will attempt to prove to you, using evidence, reason, skepticism, and rationality, backed by my knowledge of philosophy and radical activism, how all of these things intersect, and why we cannot just simply look at religion as the cause of everything that is bad, but how we as atheists can work to bring down the whole structure of injustice and violence that we exist in.

Ambitious, I know. But I’m going to do my damnedest to live up to it. I hope you’ll stick around and join the conversation with me, and with my new coblogger who I will be introducing tomorrow. I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s one worth having.

Feminism as Ethical Practice

My good friend Chana of The Merely Real left an interesting comment on my post about chivalry:

I wonder if there’s a way to salvage the idea of “[Chivalry] is about not harming or hurting others, especially those who are more vulnerable than you” in a world with privilege and power dynamics. Certainly this should apply in all interpersonal relationships and along all axes of power, but if we’re examining the gender relation in particular, maybe a revisited chivalry would be something like, “avoid the harm that comes from your privilege” and that would end up in men doing things like acknowledging Schrodinger’s Rapist, because their size and power and societal stuff makes them scary to women, and giving women extra space and time, and being extra careful about consent, avoiding coercion by all means possible, looking only for enthusiastic consent and taking the responsibility of saying no if it looks like maybe she’s only saying yes because she’s scared, and things like that. Could that work?

And there are definitely parallels in other power relations. Don’t do microagressive shit. Don’t use words you know hurt people. Etc. But maybe chivalry really has too much paternalistic “taking care of you” baggage to function that way.

Well, I think there is. I touched on it briefly in the post; chivalry, if it can be deprived of the patriarchal aspects and becomes an attitude of respect and ethical behavior based on one’s morals rather than archaic gender binaries, what we’ve got is a feminist ethics. This is a huge aspect of the thesis I’m writing, so, to spare you the brunt of my philosospeak, I’m going to try and lay out here, briefly, what this means.

My premise is one that is essentially similar to Chana’s favorite, Richard Carrier’s, that being that philosophy, done well, necessarily leads to humanism, and then feminism. At its most basic, before we add on the layers, feminism is the point of view that women and men should be equal. Now, I ascribe to a more progressive feminism that doesn’t want just equality, but a full breakdown of patriarchy, but equality is pretty much the first thing feminism declared itself for. Now, as Carrier and plenty of others have noted, being against equality in this matter means that you are a sexist. End of. I don’t need to rail off quotes from Hume, Rousseau, Founding Fathers, et al to have to prove that everyone having the same rights and freedoms as everyone else is a moral good. We know it is.

Feminism is a moral good. Feminism, at its best, instructs us to check our privilege and work to break down unjust power dynamics. At its best, it will allow us to navigate our world in much the way that contemporary defenders of chivalry believe that system operates, but when we present our ethics as based in feminism, we not only manage to move past chivalry, which, as Chana said, is far too wrapped up in its baggage, and allow us to present feminism, which has plenty of silly stigma of its own, most of which has been created out of fear tactics and straight up lies, as a moral good that takes the place of old paternalistic points of view. It is a necessary step to making the kind of equal, just world that we want to believe is possible.

I’ll Be A Post-Feminist in a Post-Patriarchy: Why Chivalry Should Stay Dead

The Center for Inquiry’s Michael De Dora brought my attention to a piece in the Atlantic on Monday by Emily Esfahani Smith, who has written an article that comes out every now and again from various writers about how chivalry should make a return to our lives. It’s the kind of bourgeois writing that typifies most pieces in places like this, wherein the prose makes it seems very nice and very reasonable, but in fact it is a veneer over the same old misogyny, sexism, and straw feminism that is the contemporary campaigner for chivalry loves to indulge in.

Now, I write this as someone who was raised in a chivalrous culture. Both my mother and father emphasized and drilled into me many aspects of classical behavior, i.e. holding the door, helping women with their coats, all that stuff. And I still do a lot of it reflexively. Now, though, thanks to the reality checks handed down to me by my awesome, awesome friend group here in Chicago, I like to think I act in such a way that is polite, rather than chivalrous. The distinction between the two should hopefully become clear below.

Smith begins her argument with an utterly bizarre anecdote as to why the world is icky and we need knights in shining armor again:

This past spring marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. On April 14, 1912, as the ship was on its maiden journey from Southampton, UK, to New York City, it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic. About three hours later, it sank. Three-quarters of the women on the ship survived; over three quarters of the men, by contrast, died. In Washington DC, there is a memorial to these men. The inscription on it reads: “To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic…They gave their lives that women and children might be saved.”

About a year ago, a group of today’s men were tested the way that the men on board the Titanic were. When the cruise ship Costa Concordia hit a rock and capsized off the coast of Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, last January, men pushed women and children out of the way to save themselves.

We would think everyone would have learned about anecdotal evidence at highly respected news outlets by now, but apparently not.

Don’t worry, it gets better.

Charles Murray, the libertarian social scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, summed up the study with tongue-in-cheek, writing “the bad news is that gentlemanly behavior makes people happy.” He goes on to ask, “When social scientists discover something that increases life satisfaction for both sexes, shouldn’t they at least consider the possibility that they have come across something that is positive? Healthy? Something that might even conceivably be grounded in the nature of Homo sapiens?”

Yes, you read that right, Smith just cited someone who works at an ultra-conservative think tank in an article about chivalry and feminism. Furthermore, she cited a man who wrote an entire book about how black people are naturally less smart than white people. Oh yes, readers, this article is that kind of fucked up. Now, how about some veiled slut shaming?

Perhaps because of women’s ambivalence about chivalry, men have grown confused about how to treat women. Will holding doors open for them or paying for the first date be interpreted as sexist? Does carrying their groceries imply they’re weak? The breakdown in the old rules, which at one extreme has given rise to the hookup culture, has killed dating and is leaving a lot of well-meaning men and women at a loss.

It is, apparently, now all about teh secks, romance is dead, etc. If you need to throw something at a wall or vomit quick, that’s cool.

Back? Awesome.

After these few paragraphs of unsubstantiated awfulness, Smith’s poor use of sources and reasoning resolves into a fairly simple point; that our society is suffering a breakdown on an interpersonal level, and the reintroduction of chivalry as an essential part of the male psyche would be A Good Thing that would help to save us all from our savage, sex-crazed selves.

She’s right, in part. People seem to have serious ethical issues with how they treat their fellow humans in this day and age, particular when it comes to divisions along the gender binary. However, where Smith gets it wrong is that a lack of chivalry is not the problem; the issue here is that not enough people are down with feminism.

Chivalry, in short, is a gender-based practice of the patriarchy wherein men, being the favored party, treat women as delicate flowers, too weak to go about their daily lives without special assistance from men, who are the strong, rational types. In a chivalrous world, women are still second-class citizens, still treated poorly, and still viewed as objects for exploitation and status building than as autonomous human beings with their own agency. All acting chivalrously does is put a glossy veneer on that, ruffles and lace to draw attention away from the oozing sore of misogyny. That is the reality of chivalry, not the glorious wonderland Smith envisions.

She wants a world where we treat each other better. She implores feminists to link up with “traditionalists,” claiming they are not so far apart (emphasis mine):

Chivalry is about respect. It is about not harming or hurting others, especially those who are more vulnerable than you. It is about putting other people first and serving others often in a heroic or courageous manner. It is about being polite and courteous. In other words, chivalry in the age of post-feminism is another name we give to civility. When we give up on civility, understood in this way, we can never have relationships that are as meaningful as they could be.

If women today—feminists and non-feminists alike—encouraged both men and women to adopt the principles of civil and chivalrous conduct, then the standards of behavior for the two sexes would be the same, fostering the equality that feminists desire. Moreover, the relations between the sexes would be once again based on mutual respect, as the traditionalists want. Men and women may end up being civil and well-mannered in different ways, but at least they would be civil and well-mannered, an improvement on the current situation.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, I do not think she knows what chivalry means. What she’s talking about right here is a basic equality feminism. And that’s awesome, even if she doesn’t know quite what she’s getting at. But I want more, and the world needs more.

We need a feminism that doesn’t simply seek equality for everyone, but a more activist feminism that seeks to end sexist oppression. bell hooks spoke of living in a world “where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction. Imagine living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility.” That is the world we should strive for. For that, we are going to need to broaden our vision, look beyond normative conceptions of equality, and most importantly, refuse to give lip service to outdated and unhelpful concepts like that of chivalry. For feminism to succeed, we need a revolution of thought, on an individual, grassroots level, as well as a revolution of social systems.

In short, feminism offers us everything that chivalry does on the level of interpersonal relations, with true respect and a desire to mak the world a better place. The knights are gone, so let’s have an activist order instead.

UPDATE: Stephanie has written up her own thoughts on the article, and is, as usual, excellent.

Single-Issue Lives: On Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Hero Worship

Note: Adam Lee recently asked me, following a conversation we had earlier this year, to write a post for Daylight Atheism regarding Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and how despite the fact that he, as well as many others, find her story to be very inspirational, her politics are less so. You can find the piece on his blog here.

It is difficult to find out that someone you have great respect for is not perfect. Many of us found this out when Richard Dawkins made his “Dear Muslima” comments, and indeed more recently when he said in a speech that teaching a child about hellfire is worse than a child being sexually abused. Fewer, unfortunately, have found this out about Dan Savage, who, while famous for the “It Gets Better” campaign and catty comments about relationships, spends a lot of time saying appalling things about trans* people, black people, and anyone who doesn’t really fit his normative worldview. When this happens, we find our confidence shattered; we find particularly, as professed skeptics, that what we believed was a conclusion based on evidence has been complicated. This is a problem, and one that is not easy to fix.

Allow me to complicate your lives further, dear atheists, with Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

In a speech earlier this month (June 2012), a scholar [Hirsi Ali] at an influential think tank and flagship of contemporary Washington conservatism, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), gave voice to one of the justifications for Norwegian anti-Muslim terrorist Anders Breivik‘s attacks, explaining that Breivik said “he had no other choice but to use violence” because his fringe views were “censored.”

Hirsi Ali said, regarding Breivik [bolding from ThinkProgress, linked above]:

Fourthly and finally, that one man who killed 77 people in Norway, because he fears that Europe will be overrun by Islam, may have cited the work of those who speak and write against political Islam in Europe and America – myself among them – but he does not say in his 1500 page manifesto that it was these people who inspired him to kill. He says very clearly that it was the advocates of silence. Because all outlets to express his views were censored, he says, he had no other choice but to use violence.

You can find the full text of the speech here.

This is far from the only instance. For example: Hirsi Ali’s story, which has won her so much acclaim, has many inconsistencies. In her public life, working for the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute, has declared us to be “at war with Islam,” and that we should change the Constitution to strip Muslims of civil rights. She thinks that our wars in the Middle East are good things. She claims that Christians are being faced with genocide, and then offers nothing resembling a fact to back up that assertion, resulting a criminally simplistic argument. When asked whether the free market is responsible for class warfare by Daylight Atheism’s hosts, her answer was sickening:

I will give you the example of the man who murdered Theo van Gogh, who was on welfare. Based on that principle, a 26-year-old, healthy young man, and what I took from that and I think what many Dutch people learned from that is he had the time to plot a murder, which in the United States he would not be.

He would be busy trying to feed himself and find a roof over his head. And so the idea that the free market makes the rich richer, the poor poorer, that creates a class antagonism and that that will become a showdown between the two classes and you’re going to have the crime rate go up, and anyway the rich people deserve it. Why don’t they share? I think it’s too simplistic and it’s been tried all over again. It shows that that’s not really how it works.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not a freedom fighter. Nor, really, are any of the so-called “Four Horseman” we have all read. She is a class warrior for the elite, an ally of the same conservatives who we were all railing against a few weeks ago. She believes capitalism establishes moral character, creates a meritocracy, and that, despite numerous studies to the contrary, that the United States is superior to wishy-washy European welfare states.

We know that is not the case. Or at least, we should know that.

We want to think that Hirsi Ali is still a role model, someone to follow in our atheistic paths, a story to hold up as a warning against religious hatred and oppression. And indeed, she has faced great hardship in her life as a result of old patriarchal societies in which she had the misfortune to be raised. But this is not enough to earn our respect, or to hold someone up as a paragon of virtue. Any cursory student of history knows that many a freedom fighter has become a dictator upon gaining power.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not Stalin, but she is a person whose interests are not our own. Even for those of you reading this who think atheists should not be concerned with issues of social justice, I think that you still know that this woman is not your friend. She belongs with the S.E. Cupps of atheism, the ones whose only commonalities with us is a lack of belief in god, which, it has been well documented, does not impart any particular moral goodness. Her views are ones which would keep the working class poor, America as the world’s police, and anyone who disagrees with her in chains, literal and figural. We can admire her story all we like, but she should not be held up as a figure to follow, or look up to; to do so would be to forfeit any pretense of skepticism or rationalism that we aspire to.

Audre Lorde, the great feminist writer and activist, once wrote that there is no such thing as a single issue struggle, for we do not live single issue lives. We would do well, as atheists, as people who wish to see oppression and inequality end in the world, to remember this. We need to pick our leaders and sages with the greatest amount of skepticism and critical thinking which we can muster, and not make do with figureheads who speak of ambrosia, but act with malice. To do otherwise is to take the easy, irrational path. To do that would be to betray ourselves and our fellow secularists, and that, in my mind, is unacceptable.