“No idea is above scrutiny and no people are beneath dignity.”
- Maajid Nawaz
The purpose of discussion is to reveal truth. We pin two ideas against each other and see which one comes out alive. At the end of a public debate, the speakers may still be in passionate disagreement and the audience may still be divided. Nonetheless, all spectators must attempt to reach their conclusion by the same method. One must evaluate the evidence provided by both participants and determine whose argument was better supported. However, the identity of the debaters must not influence the viewer’s vote in any way. Someone’s ethnicity and biology have no bearing on the validity of their argument. The idea that identity can supersede fact has infected both ends of the political spectrum, but in this piece I will focus on its effect on the Left. We can observe this through the lenses of race, religion and gender.
Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day when people would be judged not by the colour of their skin but the content of their character. This is an ideal to which we should aspire. Sadly in today’s conversations about race it seems that we have failed. Many on the far left believe that someone’s skin colour determines the credibility of his/her viewpoint. When a white person expresses concern about the riots conducted by members of the Black Lives Matter movement, he/she is branded a racist. Astonishingly, even white supporters of BLM have been deemed inferior. At a protest at the DNC in 2016, BLM leaders ordered their white peers to go to the back of the crowd[i]. Worse, a black person’s opinion may be dismissed if it does not coincide with the BLM narrative. If they express a differing viewpoint, they are ostracized and labeled an Uncle Tom.
Of course, only a black person can speak to the personal experience of growing up black. However, when one is talking about statistics, the skin colour of the speaker is irrelevant. For example, it should not matter whether a white, black, brown or Asian person says that police brutality is the primary threat to people of colour. Likewise, the ethnicity of a debater is irrelevant if she argues that gang violence is the bigger issue. The skin colour of the participants is meaningless in these conversations because their arguments must be rooted in facts, not anecdotes. All people, regardless of race must be required to provide sufficient evidence to support their claims. And all people, irrespective of their skin colour must be subject to equal skepticism and opposition.
This standard of scrutiny should apply to religion as well. White liberals salivate at the opportunity to criticize Christian dogmatism. They boycott Christian bakeries that refuse to cater gay weddings (which I would as well). They see pro-life people as anti-women. Of course, they have every right to do so. However, all religions should be exposed to equal excoriation. Many leftists declare any criticism of Islam as bigoted. They use the label “Islamophobe” to discredit those who question Islamic beliefs. The label itself is flawed. When one is prejudiced towards Jews we call it anti-Semitism, not Judaismophobia. The term Islamophobia falsely equates criticism of the doctrine of Islam with hatred of Muslims as people. This buzzword is used to quash debate because it labels anyone a bigot who dares to question the morality of Islamic scripture and culture. By stigmatizing these important discussions, they are hurting moderate Muslims who are the most common victims of radicalism. When they condemn conversations that could be used to counter extremism, they fail activists who are fighting for peace and equality in the Islamic world. They have labeled Muslims like Maajid Nawaz and ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali as “anti-Muslim extremists” for speaking out against fundamentalism[ii]. Since the Southern Poverty Law Centre has given them this classification, it has become more dangerous for them to combat the subjugation of women, gays and freethinkers in the Muslim world and across the globe. This label has made Maajid and Ayaan targets for jihadists.
We have to empower moderate voices in the Muslim community. To do so, we must create an environment in which people of all faiths as well as atheists can criticize Islam as openly and honestly as they would any other religion.
Finally, identity politics has poisoned our discourse regarding gender, particularly with regards to feminism. Many on the Left use the terms feminism and gender equality synonymously, which implies that any criticism of the third-wave feminist movement is the same as opposition to equal rights for men and women. This is intellectually dishonest. Just because someone disagrees with an individual claim made by feminists does not mean he is sexist. For example, there is a widespread belief among third-wave feminists that women are being paid 77 cents to a man’s dollar. However, even when female economists provide statistical evidence that this gap is hugely exaggerated[iii], they are labeled misogynists. Christina Hoff Sommers, a feminist democrat has required bodyguards when speaking at colleges. People have threatened to physically attack Sommers because they view her critique of modern feminism as “hate speech.” If we want to have reasonable discussions on woman’s issues, we must be able to acknowledge and analyze statistics. Name-calling and violence are not counterarguments.
In the above examples, the philosophy of identity politics harms our discourse in two ways. First, it validates poor reasoning by claiming that one’s skin colour, religion or gender strengthens one’s position. Second, while it is intended to protect minorities, it harms smaller groups within those minorities. It delegitimizes people of colour whose beliefs and methods of protest do not align with Black Lives Matter. It stigmatizes Muslims who want to reform their religion. It silences women who feel that third-wave feminism has taken a wrong turn. By poisoning debates with groupthink and homogenization, we are hurting those who need our help most: the dissenters.