Thursday, 23 April 2015

Simplistic certainties: Has Dawkins chosen the side of the oppressor?

Richard Dawkins has decided to jump headlong into the no-platforming debate with a simplistic tweet about no-platforming in universities. 

To suggest that people should not be at a university of they oppose such a debate is, in my opinion, simplistic, childish and puerile. There is a serious debate to be had about this issue and it appears to be one that people like Dawkins increasingly refuse to engage with. University is not merely about exposing people to old, accepted certainties, academia is about examining the nuances of an issue. I don’t know about Dawkins but my scholarship is about looking behind the obvious, the simplistic assumptions made about the world and exposing complexities, nuances, contradictions and differences which underlie many of the oversimplified assumptions accepted in our daily lives or in public debate. That is what academia is about, challenging certainties and undermining the simplistic. I would even go so far as to suggest that, if you accept the simplistic without question you should not be in academia.

Which is why his simplistic assumptions about the no-platforming debate are disturbing. He has clearly not engaged with the arguments regarding the TERFs, a group of trans-haters, bigots and harassers who hide behind the label of “feminism’ to harm trans people. My arguments against allowing transphobes to speak in universities (which TERFs have conspicuously failed to engage with) are here and here, I have yet to hear any significant challenge to these arguments, the silence is deafening; the issue of no-platforming TERF transphobia is not as straightforward as Dawkins, Bea Campbell or many others would like it to be.

Dawkins’ intervention comes at a time when the TERFs themselves have actually demonstrated how unwilling they are to engage in a genuine debate about their behaviour. Recently pressure was applied by a number of organisations regarding the Michigan TERF Music Festival, a transphobic event from which trans women are excluded. Indeed, in order to prevent TERFs from derailing negotiations about the future of this festival, and ending its transphobic discrimination, a number of people suspended their names from a petition against the Festival, so there would be no impediment to negotiations. But rather than talk to people about the Festival it appears that the TERFs have decided to abandon it completely, in other words when the discussion is about them, the TERFs, when it focusses on TERF behaviour, hatred, exclusion, discrimination, harassment, abuse and violence against trans people, they do not want to engage in that discussion, funny that... 

Yet somehow Dawkins appears to support their right to come into universities and argue against my right to exist. Dawkins also seems to be unaware of the fact that university is the number one place where young trans people come out for the first time, away from hostile or unsupportive homes or stifling and violent local communities, thus rendering any ‘debate’ far from neutral. The mere existence of a debate in a university at all, would be a big advantage to the TERFs. Young trans people don’t want to have to spend their time in halls of residence, the coffee bar, the SU or lectures/seminars/discussions having to justify their existence to other students who have had some half-baked TERF (inevitably untrue) simplistic certainty planted into their heads. They want to get on with transitioning, their lives and their studies. Being "safe" is easy for a wealthy straight, cis, white man. Safety for a young trans person coming out for the first time in a hostile world is very different, as the trans suicide and self-harm statistics suggest.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” There is no neutral position in this situation, a neutral debate cannot be had, there is no fence to sit on, there are no “reasonable” positions to be held in which one can understand the “positions of both sides”. You are either on one side or the other. Dawkins needs to decide which side he is on from a position of understanding the complexities of the situation, not from swallowing simplistic mendacities of the TERFs. He needs to engage in this debate, or maybe confronting these unfamiliar ideas is too far out of his comfort zone...?

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